Matrix Philosophie (CP)

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The Philosophy of the Matrix (Christopher Grau) | [Bildung für alle verursacht Krawalle]



The Matrix of Dreams

by Colin McGinn
It is not that he learns how to dodge real bullets; he learns that the bullets that speed towards him are just negotiable products of his imagination. As Morpheus remarks, he won't need to dodge bullets, because he will reach a level of understanding that allows him to recognize imaginary bullets for what they are. He becomes the ruler of his own imagination; he is the agent now, not the "Agents".

The Brave New World of the Matrix by Hubert Dreyfus and Stephen Dreyfus

That should sound familiar. Indeed, if there are Kantians in the Matrix world, most of their beliefs will be true. They will understand that they are experiencing a coordinated system of appearances, and understand too that they can't know things as they are in themselves; that they can't know what is causing their shared experience of the world and universe. Kantians don't hold that our shared and tested beliefs about the world, and scientists' confirmed beliefs about the universe, are false just because they are about phenomena and do not and cannot correspond to things in themselves. So, as long as Kantians, and, indeed, everyone in the Matrix, don't claim to know about things in themselves, most of their beliefs will be true.

Nonetheless, the Matrix philosophy obviously does not subscribe to the Kantian view that we can never know things in themselves. In The Matrix one can come to know reality. We have seen that existential phenomenologists acknowledge that we are sometimes mistaken about particular things and have to retroactively take back our understanding of them. But, as Merleau-Ponty and Taylor add, we only do so in terms of a new and better prima facie contact with reality. Likewise, in The Matrix version of the brain in the vat situation, those who have been hauled from the vat into what they experience as the everyday world can see that what they took for granted about the causal ground of their experience before was mistaken. They can understand the "thing in itself" as a computer program.

If one jumps from a building believing the fall is an illusion, the computer, nonetheless, gives one the appropriate visual experience of falling, and the fall still looks dangerous, but, if one doesn't believe in the causal laws governing falls, one understands one is free from the causal consequences, viz. getting hurt, and that somehow blocks the visual and tactile experiences one would have had as one was spattered over the pavement. One's disbelief in the illusion somehow forces the computer to give one the experience of still being intact. Or, to take a simpler example, if one doesn't accept the causal relations of rigidity and force, when one's brain gives out the neural output of bending a spoon, the computer is forced to give back the visual input that the spoon is bending. This is a literal example of what Morpheus calls "bending the rules." Likewise, if one believes that one can stop bullets, one will look for them where one stopped them and the computer will obediently display them there. So, after he learns the Matrix world is an illusion, Neo doesn't see things differently - the impulses to his brain still control what he sees - but he is able to do things that he couldn't do before (like bend spoons) and that affects what he sees (the spoon bending). How this suspension of causality works in not explained in the film.

It's easy to think that this is a Gnostic, Buddhist or Platonic/Christian parable, in which what we take to be reality is an illusion, and we have to wake from the world of appearances to some kind of higher spiritual reality. On this reading, Neo would lead people out of the illusions of Plato's cave, the veil of Maya, or the darkness of the world into a disembodied eternal life. But this association would be all wrong! True, the conformist Matrix world is a sort of tranquilizing illusion and Neo will lead us out of it. But this does not mean learning that our mortal bodies are an illusion and that salvation consists in leaving our vulnerable bodies behind in exchange for some kind of eternal bliss. In the film, salvation means the absolute opposite of this religious dream. True, the ones who see through the illusion of the Matrix can get over some of the limitations of having a body.23 But such flying takes place in the Matrix world. In the real world to which Neo "awakes" and into which he will, we suppose, eventually lead everyone, there will be no more flying. People will have earth-bound, vulnerable bodies and suffer cold, bad food, and death. It may look like Neo evades death, but his "resurrection" in the hovercraft is not to a world where death has been overcome by a miraculous divine love, rather, he has been saved by a loving intervention _ a sort of tender CPR _ quite within the bounds of physics and chemistry. So he still has his vulnerable body and will have to die a real death one day. What he has gotten over is not death but the herd's fear of death that presumably inhibits people in the Matrix world, and he has thereby overcome the most serious constraint that people normally accept.

The Matrix - Our Future? by Kevin Warwick

With the port connected into my nervous system, my brain was directly connected to a computer and thence on to the network. I considered myself to be a Cyborg: part human, part machine. In The Matrix, the story revolves around the battle between humans and intelligent robots. Yet Neo, and most of the other humans, each have their own brain port. When out of the Matrix, they are undoubtedly human; but while they are in the Matrix, there can be no question that they are no longer human, but rather are Cyborgs. The real battle then becomes not one of humans versus intelligent robots but of Cyborgs versus intelligent robots.

The status of an individual whilst within the Matrix raises several key issues. For example, when they are connected are Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity individuals within the Matrix? Or do they have brains which are part human, part machine? Are they themselves effectively a node on the Matrix, sharing common brain elements with others? It must be remembered that ordinarily human brains operate in a stand-alone mode, whereas computer-brained robots are invariably networked. When connected into a network, as in the Matrix, and as in my own case as a Cyborg, individuality takes on a different form. There is a unique, usually human element, and then a common, networked machine element.

As a brain ages, or as a result of an accident, the brain's workings can change; this often appears to the individual to be a change in what is perceived rather than a change in that which is perceiving. In other words, the individual thinks it must be the world that has changed, not his or her brain. Where a brain is part of a network, however, there is a possibility for alternative viewpoints to be proposed by different nodes on the network. This is not something that individual humans are used to. An individual brain tends to draw only one conclusion at a time. In some types of schizophrenia this conclusion can be confused and can change over time; it is more usually the case, though, that such an individual will draw a conclusion about what is perceived that is very much at variance with the conclusion of other individuals. For the most part, what is deemed by society to be `reality' at any point, far from being an absolute, is merely a commonly agreed set of values based on the perceptions of a group of individuals.

Neo is kidnapped by Luddites, dinosaurs from the past when humans ruled the earth. It's not the future. We are in reality heading towards a world run by machines with an intelligence far superior to that of an individual human. But by linking into the network and becoming a Cyborg, life can appear to be even better than it is now. We really need to clamp down on the party-pooper Neos of this world and get into the future as soon as we can_a future in which we can be part of a Matrix system, which is morally far superior to our Neolithic morals of today.

Brain-in-a-Vat Skepticism by Christopher Grau

Descartes (Meditations, 15)

Instead of having just one brain in a vat, we could imagine that all human beings (perhaps all sentient beings) are brains in a vat (or nervous systems in a vat in case some beings with just nervous systems count as ‘sentient'). Of course, the evil scientist would have to be outside? or would he? Perhaps there is no evil scientist, perhaps (though this is absurd) the universe just happens to consist of automatic machinery tending a vat full of brains and nervous systems. This time let us suppose that the automatic machinery is programmed to give us all a collective hallucination, rather than a number of separate unrelated hallucinations. Thus, when I seem to myself to be talking to you, you seem to yourself to be hearing my words…. I want now to ask a question which will seem very silly and obvious (at least to some people, including some very sophisticated philosophers), but which will take us to real philosophical depths rather quickly. Suppose this whole story were actually true. Could we, if we were brains in a vat in this way, say or think that we were? (Reason, Truth, and History, 7)

Putnam's surprising answer is that we cannot coherently think that we are brains in vats, and so skepticism of that kind can never really get off the ground. While it is difficult to do justice to Putnam's ingenious argument in a short summary, his point is roughly as follows:

Not everything that goes through our heads is a genuine thought, and far from everything we say is a meaningful utterance. Sometimes we get confused or think in an incoherent manner -- sometimes we say things that are simply nonsense. Of course, we don't always realize at the time that we aren't making sense -- sometimes we earnestly believe we are saying (or thinking) something meaningful. High on Nitrous Oxide, the philosopher William James was convinced he was having profound insights into the nature of reality -- he was convinced that his thoughts were both sensical and important. Upon sobering up and looking at the notebook in which he had written his drug-addled thoughts, he saw only gibberish.

Just as I might say a sentence that is nonsense, I might also use a name or a general term which is meaningless in the sense that it fails to hook up to the world. Philosophers talk of such a term as "failing to refer" to an object. In order to successfully refer when we use language, there must be an appropriate relationship between the speaker and the object referred to. If a dog playing on the beach manages to scrawl the word "Ed" in the sand with a stick, few would want to claim that the dog actually meant to refer to someone named Ed. Presumably the dog doesn't know anyone named Ed, and even if he did, he wouldn't be capable of intending to write Ed's name in the sand. The point of such an example is that words do not refer to objects "magically" or intrinsically: certain conditions must be met in the world in order for us to accept that a given written or spoken word has any meaning and whether it actually refers to anything at all.

Putnam claims that one condition which is crucial for successful reference is that there be an appropriate causal connection between the object referred to and the speaker referring. Specifying exactly what should count as "appropriate" here is a notoriously difficult task, but we can get some idea of the kind of thing required by considering cases in which reference fails through an inappropriate connection: if someone unfamiliar with the film The Matrix manages to blurt out the word "Neo" while sneezing, few would be inclined to think that this person has actually referred to the character Neo. The kind of causal connection between the speaker and the object referred to (Neo) is just not in place. For reference to succeed, it can't be simply accidental that the name was uttered. (Another way to think about it: the sneezer would have uttered "Neo" even if the film The Matrix had never been made.) The difficulty, according to Putnam, in coherently supposing the brain in a vat story to be true is that brains raised in such an environment could not successfully refer to genuine brains, or vats, or anything else in the real world. Consider the example of someone who has lived their entire life in the Matrix: when they talk of "chickens," they don't actually refer to real chickens; at best they refer to the computer representations of chickens that have been sent to their brain. Similarly, when they talk of human bodies being trapped in pods and fed data by the Matrix, they don't successfully refer to real bodies or pods -- they can't refer to physical bodies in the real world because they cannot have the appropriate causal connection to such objects. Thus, if someone were to utter the sentence "I am simply a body stuck in a pod somewhere being fed sensory information by a computer" that sentence would itself be necessarily false. If the person is in fact not trapped in the Matrix, then the sentence is straightforwardly false. If the person is trapped in the Matrix, then he can't successfully refer to real human bodies when he utters the word "human body," and so it appears that his statement must also be false. Such a person seems thus doubly trapped: incapable of knowing that he is in the Matrix, and even incapable of successfully expressing the thought that he might be in the Matrix! (Could this be why at one point Morpheus tells Neo that "no one can be told what the Matrix is"?)