Greatness: Okay, for Real, The Matrix

(Now…I always have trouble in these conversations knowing exactly when to STOP. That is, I can’t necessarily tell when I’ve lain a foundation AND drawn an explicit conclusion. Or, more often, I’ll lay a foundation and think the conclusion is so obvious that it would be insulting to ACTUALLY state it explicitly, and so I don’t, and then find out I was overly obscure.

That will be an ongoing issue. Any time you see me drop a conversation before I’ve made my point, and you’re not quite sure where I was going with it, please mention that in the comments, and I’ll try to fill out my argument.

All that said, today’s post might be going too far. If you already know where I’m going tying in “The Matrix,” please feel free to skip it.)

(See! I made it past the parentheses this time! Well, not yet….)

The Matrix took me entirely by surprise. I suppose it did that for most folks since, coming into the theatre, all we really knew was that Morpheus couldn’t tell us what the Matrix was. And something about Kung Fu.

It was, however, in its entirety a visualization of Post Modern Social Constructionism. I’m not trying to use The Matrix as a metaphor or anything — it was very clearly drawing on these ideas from the beginning. It’s useful to me, as it has provided a very popular, base-level understanding of what Social Constructionism implies about the universe.

(Okay, I’m sometimes a stickler for proper typography and whatnot, but I’m writing this on a forum that doesn’t EASILY allow for hypertext markup, and I’m going to be referring to The Matrix far too often for me to switch into Edit HTML mode, add the less-than-i-greater-than brackets, and switch back out every time I name it. So I’m just going to throw it in title case, and trust that all of us consenting adults reading this article can recognize that I’m referring to the movie whenever I capitalize the “The,” and to the computer construct when I don’t, and make your best judgment calls when I start a sentence with it….)

The Matrix presents us with a universe exactly like our own, reality just as we know it, and then proceeds to demonstrate that this reality is simply a constructed hallucination — sensory input fed directly to our brains. Remember the “brain in a vat” question that I posted about early on? It’s been around for AGES. The Matrix is just another story along the way that has played with the idea.

In the Matrix, all the people are sharing in the same hallucination. They can all point to the same object, and say, “That object is red, and round, and suspended from that tree-shaped thing.” They can coordinate their descriptions of the world, and verify each other’s claims about reality, and successfully build more and more complicated technologies that function more and more effectively based on their observation of this entirely fictional reality.

(Did you catch that? It’s science, as we know it. We SEE it happening within the movie. Neo’s a hacker, after all. Within the Matrix science examines and describes and tests and discards disproved hypotheses and — within the story — all of that only succeeds in supporting the artificial reality, none of it has any ACCESS to the kind of information that would serve to reveal Real Truth. Science can only test the materials of observable reality, which is self-supporting.)

Now, for the sake of completeness, I’m going to make some explicit comparisons. Whereas the reality inhabited by most of the human population in The Matrix was one built using computer code (machine language), Social Constructionism (at least my form of it) proposes that this reality is built out of human language. Whenever we interact socially with another person, we are taking part in (ahem…”jacking in” to) the constructed reality — the shared hallucination of what is real.

In other words, the fake world which we are fed to keep us docile and powerless is provided, not by malevolent machines seeking world domination, but by…us. By our constant desire to understand the world around us, down to the last detail.

So. In The Matrix we have a scene where Neo and Morpheus face each other in a construct training room, and they fight (yada yada), and Morpheus asks, “You think that’s air you’re breathing?” And…well, the whole point of his training is the realization that everything around us is a fiction that we are fed. And, if we choose not to play within the rules, then we can be stronger than human bodies are capable of, we can leap farther, we can defy the laws of gravity (because they’re “rules” that people choose to obey, not governing forces with authority over us).

Christians believe this, on some level. Christians believe that all of natural reality, all the laws of this reality, are “rules” that we, out of politeness, choose to go along with. Otherwise how could Jesus have called a man forth from death? How could Elijah have raised a dead child? They weren’t practicing medicine, they were performing miracles. Walking on water, turning water to blood (or wine), blotting out the sun or causing it to stand still for half a day (or cast its shadow backward several steps). We BELIEVE that the laws of nature are pliable. Social Constructionists explain why.

So why are there walls? Why don’t I have a big pile of gold? Why don’t any of us fly? Eh? Eh???

There’s a reason I keep referring to it as “reality,” in spite of my claims. It IS real to us. There’s a scene in the movie where Trinity looks all serious and says, “The mind makes it real.” That’s exactly it. Social Constructionism is something that happens within our mind — our only connection to our environment. If our mind believes there is a wall ahead of us that will block our way, we will not be able to walk through it. If our mind believes we are bound to the earth, it won’t let us fly.

Yeah. That’s an easy one to prove (or at least, to support) in the negative. Not so easy in the positive, because I don’t know anyone who has achieved transcendence on such a level that he can bestow it on others.

Y’see, even if you MET someone who had freed himself enough from the constructed reality that he could fly, YOU wouldn’t believe he could fly. It doesn’t work within your universe. And your mind would be doing everything it could to keep him from flying or, if not that, to convince you that he wasn’t. At long last, you (and those sane folks around you) would probably just convince yourself it was a dream or hallucination, if nothing else worked.

Right. Tricky. I’m not trying to play word games here to wriggle out of an argument. I’m just recognizing that I CAN’T logically prove to you a system that, at its basest, denies the practical accuracy of logic.

And, to sell out all those Social Constructionists depending on me for a dispassionate, reasoned answer, I can’t provide that, either, because my philosophy was born out of my religion. I already TOLD you where the positive proof comes from, for me. It’s in axe-heads floating to the surface, and snake-statues curing poison, and ten loaves becoming twelve basketsful, and that fig tree and that mountain and the fish with the denarii in its mouth.

It’s right there in Genesis. God made a world outside of Heaven, a temporal place, and in it he constructed Man out of temporal components, but breathed into it Life. He made Man in his own image — Infinite, but wearing a temporal suit.

So. We (the movie and me, both) propose a world of Real Truth, that we can’t see or touch or taste or feel, but that is yet somehow far more important than the environment we experience, and a reality that we CAN see and touch and taste and feel, that exists only as a dream which we are all sharing in.

Not only that, but it’s vitally important to exist within that dream world, but a Man can do SO much more within it once he has recognized it for what it is. He’s still vulnerable — always vulnerable to the seductive lie that imagined reality IS Real Truth — but he’s able to do more than all the dreaming sheep around him and, with any luck at all, liberate a few of them along the way.

There we go. Now I’m done with The Matrix unless (miracle of miracles) we get some comments conversation going.