Tagged: The Matrix

Dennis O’Neil: I Think, Therefore I Yam What I Yam

Descarte Matrix

So, you think you exist, do you?

Okay, you probably do, but not in the way you’ve always believed you do. (And let’s be wary of that word “always.” Might be a slippery one, that “always.”) Way back when, in the seventeenth century, a brainy guy, a philosopher and mathematician named René Descartes put cogito ergo sum” into the world’s head. A lot of you know that René’s observation means, in the usual English translation, “I think therefore I am.”

What he was trying to do, our René, was find Truth with a capital T – some fact that could not be doubted, no matter what, no matter who. He asked us to imagine that there exists an evil demon who has created a vastly elaborate illusion. We’re just a brain, or something akin to brains, floating in demon porridge or maybe suspended from a demon ceiling and everything else is a part of demon’s foolery. It just ain’t. But someone other than the demon must be on the receiving end of the demonic sniggery, or else the sniggery itself couldn’t exist. That someone is me.

popeye the matrixI can’t be sure about you. How do I know that you’re there?

Our movie-going friends may have already noticed something familiar here. Yeah, that flick – The Matrix, written and directed by siblings named Wachowski and released in 1999. Same idea: bad machines have humans in some kind of suspended animation, and the humans don’t know it because they’re being caused to hallucinate a fully populated and developed Earth.

This is a bit like what I do/did for a living. Sketch out characters who don’t exist except as brain blops and jerrybuild an imaginary world for them to inhabit, then present the fruits of this labor to others. Usually, for me, that involved writing comic book scripts.

And you? Well, for purposes of this discussion we’ll assume that you do exist, though how and in what form and why we won’t stipulate.

Here we nod to philosopher Nick Bostrum who, in 2003, offered the theory that the universe is a computer simulation. Some people believed him – Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson among them. It’s been estimated that there’s approximately a 20 percent chance that Bostrum’s wacky theory reflects reality, albeit a reality we can’t comprehend and might not recognize if we found ourselves plunked down in the middle of it.

As for that reality’s inhabitants… who can guess? I’m wondering if they, covertly, interact with us and if they hear what we say and see what we do. And if such is the case, how do we know that they aren’t inhuman doppelgangers able to coexist in the same space that we occupy? And hey, you doppled others, what’s your deal? What are you up to, anyway? Playing a game with a gamepiece that’s me? Running an experiment? Doing something my brain is not configured to understand, or even to perceive?

Waiting for me to make a mistake? Well, that shouldn’t take long, but if you control me, wouldn’t the mistake be yours?

I could get to like this game.

Dennis O’Neil: Descartes, Plato & The Matrix


Okay, wait a minute. You think you’re stacking gifts under the tree, but are you really? How do you know? Maybe you’re not the stacker but the stackee. Not the giver but the given. And about that tree: maybe it doesn’t really look like a tree. Or maybe it isn’t there. Maybe you’re not there.

Pause and take a breath.

Some savants tell us that there’s about a twenty percent chance that we are constructs, like avatars in computer games. Everything we are and believe to be real… isn’t. All just an illusion, and maybe a pretty shabby one at that.

The idea is older than you might guess. Way back in the Seventeenth Century, a brainy mathematician and philosopher named Rene Descartes suggested that a prankster of a demon kept you in a vat and not necessarily a big vat, either, because maybe you are no more than a brain. Maybe the only brain. Everything else is an illusion created by that snarky demon for reasons only snarky demons are privy to.

The idea was updated by the Wachowski siblings in their movie The Matrix. In that story, we humans are the captives of sentient machines who use our bodies as energy sources. We aren’t aware of our plight because the “reality” we experience is a humdinger of a simulation, courtesy of the machines. We languish in storage somewhere, enjoying or maybe loathing the show that we don’t know is a show.

The idea has sprouts elsewhere. Plato, the ancient Grecian savant, thought that everything we encounter is just a copy of an original that exists some non-terrestrial somewhere. Plato, in turn, inspired a group that became known as the neo-Platonists and some notions of a “heaven” are close to Plato’s hypothesis. (I could mention St. Augustine but I won’t because some of you, if you exist, might think I’m showing-off, and even if you don’t exist, I wouldn’t want you thinking ill of me.)

The notion that we’re make-believe creatures in a make-believe world has its attractions. It would explain why, for example, I have no memory of acts I must have committed hundreds of times and why, conversely, I have memory snatches of things that occurred when I was quite little. It also might relieve us of any responsibility for our actions. (Hey, it wasn’t me that broke your window, it was my programmer.) Of course, my lack of certain memories would have to be part of my programming. But wait. Could my lack of memories, and other anomalies, merely demonstrate a lack of competence in who or whatever is running the operation? Could our programmer be mentally challenged? Or a toddler paying with his equivalent of a pacifier? Maybe he’s named Junior and the adults have given him this stupid game to keep him quiet and you and I are part of the game.

Do we care? Is anything changed?

Well, ixpageoratsym. In Junior’s language that’s “happy holidays.” Go ahead – prove me wrong.












Box Office Democracy: “Jupiter Ascending”

The Wachowskis might never reach the heights of The Matrix ever again and, as someone who was 15 when The Matrix was released, maybe it wasn’t that good to begin with—but the films are always wildly ambitious. While Jupiter Ascending fails on many levels, and the script would be generously called hot nonsense, I would much rather see the Wachowskis fail than I would like to see Michael Bay “succeed” at his style of filmmaking. Jupiter Ascending is a film full of interesting ideas and while not all of them get properly explored or pay off in the ways I would like they’re frequently fascinating to think about and that’s way more fun than so many of the incarnations of slow motion explosions I’ve seen in movies this decade.