by Richard Hanley
Did you know that the First
Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none
suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster.
Agent Smith, to
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor
crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former
things are passed away.
Revelation 21:4, King
Hell is—other people.
Garcin, in Sartre’s No
To deny our own impulses is to deny the very thing that
makes us human.
Mouse, to Neo
Cypher chooses the Matrix, and just
maybe, he’s not so crazy. If real life prospects are dim, then even
an apparently sub-optimal alternative like the Matrix might in fact
be better, all things considered.1
But what is the best sort of existence
for individuals like you and me? Philosophy and religion both have
attempted to answer this question, and I think The Matrix gives us
an interesting way to frame it. Is some possible "real" existence
better than any possible Matrix? Or is some possible Matrix better
than any possible reality? With Mark Twain’s help, I shall present
an argument that one important notion of the best existence, the
Christian one, Heaven is after all a Matrix. The point of my
polemical approach is not so much to criticize Christianity, but
rather to bring the issue of the nature of ultimate value into
What is the Matrix?
Morpheus tells Neo it’s a
"computer-generated dreamworld," and a "neural, interactive
simulation"; it is, in other words, a virtual environment.2
Agent Smith assures Cypher that he won’t know he’s in the Matrix
when he returns permanently, and it will simplify exposition to
suppose that this is a necessary feature of a Matrix, while being
computer-generated is not.
The Matrix depicted is a mixed case,
since the cognoscenti can enter it without being deceived into
thinking it is real. Let us stipulate that in a pure Matrix,
everyone is benighted, believing it is the "real deal." In most of
what follows, I’ll be concentrating on pure Matrices (and in the
case of the Matrix depicted, on the condition of the benighted).
Since we’ll be discussing different
kinds of Matrix, we need a name for the one depicted in The Matrix;
Agent Smith refers to a First Matrix, so let’s call the one we see
the Second Matrix.
A Matrix, then, is an interactive virtual environment involving
systematic global deception. Still, there are two levels of
"interactivity" in a virtual environment. Virtual interactivity is
the extent to which the environment allows, and responds to, your
input. Current virtual environments are not very interactive in this
sense, but the Second Matrix is. That’s what makes it seem so real,
at least to the benighted. (For the cognoscenti the Second Matrix it
is too virtually interactive, too controllable, to seem real—at
least compared with the more law-like external world.)
Real interactivity is the potential for
interaction with others also engaged in virtual interaction, and
real interaction is the extent to which this potential is realized.
Compare two kinds of possible Matrix: the Second Matrix is communal,
featuring real interaction between human beings—call this human
interaction; a solitary Matrix lacks human interaction altogether.
Communal Matrices differ in degree of human interaction. In the
Second Matrix, billions of humans share the environment, and if we
ignore Agents, it is fully communal—every virtual human in the
Matrix is an avatar, a virtual persona of a real human being. In the
Matrix training program created by Mouse, on the other hand, virtual
humans like the woman in the red dress are simulacra, not avatars,
and human interaction during the sequence we see is limited to that
between Neo and Morpheus.3
On yet another hand, the fully communal
Construct (loading program), where Morpheus and Neo watch TV, has no
other virtual humans in it to interact with—and unlike the training
program, it’s not "big" enough to be very world-like. Call a fully
communal Matrix that is big enough to be world-like, and has many
human participants, so that human interaction is nearly inevitable,
a teeming Matrix. (The Second Matrix is all but teeming. If we
removed the cognoscenti, there would be no need for Agents, and it
would be teeming.)
Now we can compare three possibilities (obviously not exhaustive)
for human existence, assuming that it involves physical embodiment.
One is the real deal, populated by other human beings: for instance,
if you subjectively experience having sexual intercourse with
another human being, another individual human being shares that
intercourse, from another subjective point of view, because you
really have physical, sexual intercourse with them. The same goes
for non-sexual intercourse.
If I were to meet Mark Twain (through
the time travel he wrote about, perhaps), then Twain and I both
would have an experience of meeting, and we really would meet,
physically and psychologically. Two is a teeming Matrix: if you
experience having (intraspecies!) sexual intercourse, another
Matrix-bound human shares that intercourse, from another subjective
point of view. There’s no physical intercourse, of course, but there
is psychological intercourse.
If I have the experience of meeting
Twain, then he (or some other human being) has the experience of
meeting me-meeting-Twain, and there is at least a meeting of minds.
Three is an apparently teeming, solitary Matrix: if you experience
having sexual intercourse, no other human is having an interactive
sexual experience with you—it is like taking up Mouse’s invitation
to enjoy the woman in the red dress, except that you won’t know
"she" is a simulacrum.
If I experience meeting Twain, then
there is no intercourse with another human being, and neither Twain
nor any other human being need have the experience of meeting
Our ordinary intuition is that there’s something valuable about the
real deal that is missing in a Matrix. Consider your present
situation. You are either right now in a Matrix, thinking that it’s
a certain time and place when it really isn’t, that a certain
sequence of physical events is occurring when it really isn’t, and
so on; or you aren’t, and it really is that time and place, and so
Most of us hope we are not in a Matrix
right now, which shows that, other things being equal (that is,
where the experiences are identical in subjective character), we
prefer the real deal. My hunch is that you also hope that, if your
present existence is not the real deal, it’s at least participation
in a teeming Matrix. Being in the real deal has two distinct
features of apparent value: your beliefs are more connected to the
truth, and you really interact with other human beings.
A teeming Matrix has less connection
with truth than the real deal, but has more than a solitary Matrix,
and it still provides substantial interaction with other human
beings.4 In the case of sex,
there’s a good sense in which you really did have sex with that
other person, though in ignorance of the whole truth.5
If connection with truth matters so much to us, why not have the
best of both kinds of existence—why not have a virtual environment,
without all the deception? Cypher can (and does) go back temporarily
into the Matrix, knowing what it is, and retain that knowledge while
he is in there. But for his permanent stay he chooses ignorance
instead, because "Ignorance is bliss." Presumably, the knowledge
that he is not in the real deal would undermine his capacity to
enjoy the experiences, so he can’t have the best of both worlds.6
Intuitively, Cypher is no different from
the rest of us in this regard. For a typical man, the experience of
sexual intercourse with the woman in the red dress is likely to be
much more satisfying if he thinks it is the real deal.
Which brings us to the First Matrix.
1. What is the
Agent Smith’s remark in the epigraph suggests that the First Matrix
was, like the Second, more or less teeming.7
Agent Smith says about the "disaster":
Some believe that we lacked the
programming language to describe your perfect world, but I
believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality
through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that
your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.
The first suggestion is fascinating.
Given the deadpan delivery, it is hard to say whether it posits a
deficiency in the machines that designed the Matrix, or in us—in our
notion of a perfect world. On the other hand, Agent Smith’s own
thesis seems connected with a tradition of human thought concerning
the theistic problem of evil. If a perfectly good God exists,
why does evil exist? Why is the world full of sharp corners and
A standard answer is that evil is
necessary—it must exist in order for certain goods to exist. For
instance, it is often claimed that happiness requires suffering,
though this is disputable. Even if creatures like us can’t be
maximally happy, this is a reason for not creating us at all, and
creating more felicitously instead. And does our happiness require
so much suffering? Looking deeper, it seems clear that virtues like
courage and generosity indeed require the existence of suffering.
But vices such as cowardice and cruelty
couldn’t exist without suffering, either—are they necessary evils,
The most defensible theist answer to this question is a very subtle
No, But— : God had a choice between creating a world with
free beings in it, or not. This choice is easy, since free will is a
surpassing good. But given libertarian free will, which requires
causal indeterminism, God could not know without creating the
world exactly which possible world would result.8
God might have gotten lucky, and created a world in which all
free beings had only virtues, and no vices. But this is incredibly
unlikely, as is a purely vicious world, and it’s no surprise that He
got a mixed world, with most humans having virtues and vices.
The picture that emerges is that a world
with human beings in it is a world with sharp corners (natural evil)
to provide genuine free choice, and so very likely contains sin
(moral evil) as well. Call this the Free Will Theodicy. Its
assumption that free will is libertarian free will—requiring causal
indeterminism—is Christian orthodoxy, so I grant it for the sake of
Filling in the details of the
theodicy, focus on the will itself.
Our actions are ultimately explained by what we want, most
especially by our non-derived desires.9 In a world of sharp corners,
not all these desires can be satisfied. Indeed, there often will be
conflicts between individuals in what they desire—one person getting
what they want means that another doesn’t. (Presumably, God
could not arrange a concordance of wills—substituting for
conflicting desires, or deleting them altogether—without eliminating
Indeed, the existence of other human
beings in the world is part of the "sharp corners"—a source of
suffering— in addition to being a source of moral evil. And not just
because others are in competition with you for resources—sometimes
others are the resource, as the sexual intercourse example shows. If
you badly want sex with another person and they badly don’t want it
with you, then someone is going to suffer.
If the Free Will Theodicy is correct, then God can only
control the non-human environment. Each human being is a part of the
environment of every other human being, so as soon as you put more
than one creature with libertarian free will into the mix there
will, absent astonishing coincidence, be tears. You can minimize the
effect human beings have on each other, but only by minimizing their
interaction (say, by putting each on a separate planet).
as long as human beings desire interaction (as a means to things we
want, such as to procreate, and perhaps even for its own sake), mere
isolation won’t solve the problem.
The creators of the First Matrix tried to produce a relatively good
existence for Matrix-bound humans. (We needn’t suppose the machines
were benevolent; perhaps the bioelectric-to-fusion reaction process
is more efficient the happier humans are.) In doing so, the machine
creators had some of God’s problems. They presumably lacked some of
God’s creative abilities, but they also had fewer constraints, since
God is supposed to be no deceiver.10 Why was the First Matrix a
If the machines were trying to produce an existence with
no human suffering, then perhaps they tried the wrong design: a
teeming Matrix populated with otherwise typical human beings. Even
if the machines removed a lot of sharp corners (no
volcanic-eruption, or man-eating-shark experiences), as long as
there is interaction with other human beings plugged into the same
virtual environment, someone is going to suffer, as the example of
sexual intercourse demonstrates.
This attempt would not produce a
Matrix where "none suffered," and the suggestion fits badly with
Agent Smith’s remark,
"No one would accept the programming."
Which leaves two basic choices: the machines either substantially
altered the nature of human beings in the First Matrix (say by
arranging a concordance of wills), or else they created a solitary
Matrix for each human being. The advantage of a solitary Matrix is
that the virtual environment can be completely tailored to an
individual’s desires—perhaps the Matrix "reads off" the content of
desires from his brain, anticipating a little, matching its
programming as far as possible to the satisfaction of his desires as
they develop and change.
Perhaps a battery of solitary Matrices was beyond the machines’
practical resources, but let’s suppose not—clearly it’s in principle
possible for them to have done things this way. However, if
Christians are correct, and our wills are in fact undetermined, then
our desires cannot be fully anticipated. There is bound to be a gap
between the evolution of our desires, and the Matrix’s capacity to
satisfy them; hence some suffering is inevitable. This would partly
explain Agent Smith’s remark, but once again would not explain why
"No one would accept the programming."
We are left with two possible explanations of the remark: either
humans by their nature could not be successfully altered through
programming; or else unaltered humans were psychologically incapable
of accepting the relevant virtual environment. The latter seems to
be Agent Smith’s thesis: the "perfect world" was just too good to be
true, and literally incredible.11
Are we human beings simply
incapable of having a happy existence, with no suffering?
Not on the
standard Christian view, according to which just such an existence
awaits us in Heaven.
II. What is Heaven?
The Christian notion of Heaven is far from a settled body of
doctrine. (For instance, are there literally streets paved with
gold, or is this just a metaphor for some barely imaginable,
wonderful state of affairs?)
Nevertheless, it has been asserted with
some authority that the human condition in Heaven will be very
different from that here and now. It is agreed that there is no
suffering (see the epigraph), not to mention "exceeding joy," (an
expression which occurs four times in the King James Bible), but
what exactly will we do there? Some of the common claims about this
can seem puzzling.
In Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain has the
banished Satan report to his fellow angels on the beliefs of mortal
For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has
left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one
ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every
individual of his race — and of ours —sexual intercourse! …
His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing,
grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it
that he actually values. It consists — utterly and entirely — of
diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth,
yet is quite sure he will like them in heaven. Isn't it curious?
Isn't it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it
is not so. I will give you details.
Most men do not sing, most men cannot sing, most men will not stay
when others are singing if it be continued more than two hours… In
man’s heaven, everybody sings! The man who did not sing on earth
sings there; the man who could not sing on earth is able to do it
there. The universal singing is not casual, not occasional, not
relieved by intervals of quiet; it goes on, all day long, and every
day, during a stretch of twelve hours.
And everybody stays; whereas
in the earth the place would be empty in two hours…
Satan’s list is long, and frequently amusing:
I recall to your attention the extraordinary fact with which I
began. To wit, that the human being, like the immortals, naturally
places sexual intercourse far and away above all other joys — yet he
has left it out of his heaven! The very thought of it excites him;
opportunity sets him wild; in this state he will risk life,
reputation, everything – even his queer heaven itself — to make good
that opportunity and ride it to the overwhelming climax.
to middle age all men and all women prize copulation above all other
pleasures combined, yet it is actually as I have said: it is not in
their heaven; prayer takes its place.
His main observations we can summarize as:
Man thinks he will be
blissfully happy in Heaven
no activity that Man finds blissful
on Earth will he pursue in Heaven
the activities that Man
thinks he will pursue in Heaven are ones he avoids whenever
possible, here on Earth
Call this appearance of inconsistent
values, Twain’s Puzzle.
In Mouse’s terms, it seems that we think we
will be happiest denying our own impulses. Satan somewhat overstates
the puzzle when he writes that Heaven "has not a single feature in
it that [Man] actually values." Man thinks that in Heaven he will
still value joy and disvalue suffering, for instance. Satan’s point
is that Man appears to think that his desires will be radically
different in Heaven: he will desperately want the things that he
does not want at all now, and not want at all the things that he
desperately wants now.
Does Man think his will is going to be different in Heaven? That
Psychological hedonism is the view that there are really
only two non-derived human desires: to obtain pleasure and avoid
suffering. If this were true, then Man’s will does not change if he
merely changes his beliefs about what it is that will bring him
pleasure and avoid pain. If psychological hedonism isn’t true (and
Christians seem—wisely—to think it isn’t true), then a case can be
made that (according to Satan, anyway) Man expects his will to be
altered in Heaven.
Contrary to Satan, it can be argued that at least where sex is
concerned, the Christian view is that such impulses ought to be
denied, and the relentless pursuit of gratification is, in a
Christian, a matter of weakness of will, not in its constitution. It
might be further claimed that giving in to such impulses actually
causes you suffering.
This makes some sense in the case of, say, a
married man tempted to adultery, whose guilt may prevent him from
full enjoyment. Suppose that in Heaven, since there is no marriage
(so says Jesus, see for instance Matthew 22:30), there is really no
one psychologically "safe" to have sexual intercourse with, and you
would inevitably feel guilty about engaging in it.
elimination of suffering requires the elimination of sex. (Of
course, Satan and Mouse would no doubt respond, with some
justification, that this is all premised on the belief that sex
outside marriage is something bad in and of itself, a notion you
happily will be disabused of in Heaven. But the question is what the
typical Christian believes, whether it is true or not.)
Leaving aside what you would do there, believers in Christian Heaven
commonly hold the following four theses about it:
It’s possible for a human being to be in Heaven. More precisely,
if all goes well it will be you that survives bodily death and goes
Human beings in Heaven will experience happiness, but no
Human beings in Heaven possess free will.
Human beings in Heaven interact with other human beings in
It’s worth expanding on (1).
Christians standardly expect to
recognize their loved ones in Heaven, which presumably requires
remembering them.12 So it seems that they expect considerable
psychological continuity between their Earthly and Heavenly
existences—perhaps this is even guaranteed by the requirement that
God be no deceiver.
But such psychological continuity sits
uncomfortably with (2).
Christians on Earth are typically saddened
by the fact that unbelievers will not get into Heaven. It seems
that, if anything, they would be sadder still, when confronted by
the wonders of Heaven, knowing that the unsaved are residing instead
in "the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone." And it would
seem to be cause for special anguish if one of your loved ones is
absent from Heaven. (Another version of the problem arises with
missing your loved ones—being sad, not for them, but for yourself,
that they are not around. Even if you don’t miss sex with your
Earthly spouse, it seems you would miss them.)
Heaven is also widely supposed to provide an opportunity to meet
human beings you never knew on Earth. But if I’m in Heaven, and I
really want to meet Twain, then I will be sadly disappointed if he
isn’t there (and angry, if it’s all on account of those Letters).
Moreover, certain truths will presumably be available to you in
Suppose that Mother Theresa is your idol, and you can’t wait
to tell her so. However, you find out she’s not really a
saint—indeed—quite the opposite, and not in Heaven at all. You may
be upset not only for your own sake, but for the sake of humanity
(you may respond with a quite cynical attitude toward human nature).
Heaven seems on the face of it to provide many opportunities for
There are three basic ways around this sort of problem.
suppose universalism—the doctrine that everyone gets into Heaven—is
true. This will solve the problem only if, upon entering Heaven,
Christians no longer believe that there ought to be any
qualification for it (else they likely will be annoyed that others
got a "free pass," especially a holier-than-thou like Mother
Second, God could suppress the knowledge that others are
not in Heaven. But this requires Matrix-like deception (either to
provide the appropriate virtual interaction with non-avatars, or
else to just delete all memory of the missing), and Heaven would not
be the real deal.
Third, perhaps what we care about—our desires—will
change, so that good Christians no longer will mind the fact that
others—even loved ones—are suffering (they might even take pleasure
in it). But to accept this raises an acute version of Twain’s
All in all, it may be better to revise (2) to:
(2*) Human beings in Heaven will be as happy as they can possibly
We may thus grant that it’s not possible for all suffering to be
absent in Heaven—though this requires taking Revelation less
literally than many Christians do.
(4) is taken completely for granted, as far as I can tell. Part of
the point of Heaven is to be reunited with (saved) loved ones, and
to engage in "fellowship" with the other inhabitants.
But what of
(3)? According to the Free Will Theodicy, free will is a surpassing
good, so on the face of it, Heaven must include free will. Yet
Heaven is a place without sin. And according to the Free Will
Theodicy, sin is to be explained by the presence of free will in the
world. To deny (3) also raises Twain’s puzzle. We believe we now
have libertarian free will, strongly desire it now, and are
devastated at the thought of losing it. If God is no deceiver, then
if (3) is false, we would in Heaven know that we have no free will.
Yet, presumably, we would not mind—be blissful, yet not ignorant.
Like the builders of the First Matrix, God has two main choices in
creating a Heaven for human beings: either substantially alter the
nature of human beings in Heaven (say by arranging a concordance of
wills, contrary to (3), and perhaps even contrary to (1)), or else
put each human in a solitary Matrix, contrary to (4).
for denying (4) is that (2) has the best chance of being true, as
long as the solitary Matrix provides plenty of (virtual) interaction
with virtual humans. Those in such a solitary Matrix will think they
are in the real deal. They’ll think they are in Heaven, along with
everyone that they want to be there, and nobody that they don’t want
there. They will think they get along with along with everyone else
just fine; that there’s no sadness, no sin, and so on. God knows
what they freely want, and tailors each virtual environment to
provide exactly that, if possible. (If it’s not possible, because
they freely want to be in the real deal, this lack is not
experienced, and so is not a source of suffering.)
Just as it did with the First Matrix, libertarianism raises a
difficulty, since you might think that God could not know what you
want, when this is undetermined. Some medieval Christians resolved
the problem of the compatibility of free will with God’s
foreknowledge by supposing that changeless, omnipresent God knows
the (causally undetermined) future by, so to speak, already having
been present then, and having seen what happens. God knows what you
do because you do it, and not vice versa, hence you may do it
The same resolution can be applied here, as long as time
exists in Heaven: God knows what you will want before you want it,
by having been in the future and (so to speak) looking into your
Can (3) and (4) both be maintained, given (1) and (2*)?
logical space for this possibility. (3) can be true, and yet there
be no sin in Heaven, if Heaven is like the lucky roll of the
creation die: the world where free beings always choose rightly. In
Heaven, everyone will be free to sin, but just doesn’t. The
immediate problem with this suggestion is that it seems incredible
that such a coincidence will actually obtain. Perhaps we can appeal
to a difference between this situation and that of creation: God has
a chance to observe the behavior of free individuals, and only
admits the deserving—those who actually don’t sin while on Earth.
But this would get hardly anyone into Heaven. Worse, it seems to
give inductive support, but no guarantee at all, that unblemished
individuals won’t sin ever in the eternity they spend in Heaven.
It is standardly claimed that all are free to sin in Heaven, but
none do, because they are in some sense incapable of doing so; no
one can sin when they are at last with God. This raises two distinct
problems. The first is that any such incapability seems incompatible
with libertarian freedom, rendering (3) false after all. The second
is that, if there is no incompatibility between human beings having
libertarian free will and being incapable of sin, then the Free Will
Theodicy seems to collapse.
God could have just created Heaven and
be done with it, a creation with all of the benefits and none of the
In addition to the problem of sin, we might wonder how it can be
managed that free human beings, all interacting with each other,
have no desires in conflict. As Satan observed, it must be that our
desires change radically.
But what ensures this? If it is inevitable
that they change in this way, then libertarian freedom is again
threatened. And if we are somehow free anyway, when our desires are
radically altered, then why didn’t God just turn this trick to begin
with, and spare all the lost souls? Perhaps we should also consider
If our desires change too radically, will we still be
human beings, as (1) would have it?
Perhaps both explanations of the failure of the First Matrix are
correct. Recall the suggestion that machines could not program our
"perfect world." Perhaps our thinking is incoherent: we think that
the best existence is one where human beings interact with each
other and everyone has libertarian free will and nobody suffers and
that someone knowingly arranges this. If this is an incoherent
notion, not even God can actualize it.
In creating the Second Matrix, the machines went for interaction
combined with free will (which we are assuming is libertarian), with
the overwhelming likelihood (inevitability, in practice) of
suffering. We can now explain Agent Smith’s remarks: if we rank the
elements of our incoherent notion of the best existence, human
interaction and libertarian free will rank above the absence of
suffering. And since they jointly require (almost by definition) the
presence of suffering, it can be said more or less truly that we
"define [even the best] reality through misery and suffering."
First Matrix was an attempt to give interacting humans an existence
free of suffering, but this program required a radical revision in
their wills, contrary to libertarian free will, and so "no one would
accept the program." Mouse might say it was an attempt to deny the
very nature of human beings.
If the real deal includes libertarian free will, then so does the
Second Matrix—our desires, though often enough unsatisfied, will be
after all undetermined. (The sense in which humans are liberated
from the Matrix has nothing to do with libertarian free will, which
can be enjoyed behind bars.)
The Second Matrix also features
substantial variation in wills amongst its human inhabitants, and
the interesting ethical choices that arise when this is so. For
example, apart from the Agents, each virtual human is an avatar, and
the "good guys" in the movie end up killing a lot of human beings in
their fight against the Agents. It’s hard to view these human beings
as collaborators, given the nature of the Matrix, so their deaths
presumably are to be regarded as acceptable collateral damage,
inevitable given the difference in desired outcome.
All in all, the
Second Matrix is the machines’ best attempt at matching what
Christians believe God did for us through creation.
When we humans turn our eyes toward Heaven, our ranking of values
seems to change, and Twain’s Puzzle arises anew. In Heaven, there is
a heavier weighting given to the absence of suffering. God can
knowingly minimize suffering in a real deal, while retaining human
interaction, but at the cost of libertarian free will. But given
that Heaven is supposed to involve no suffering at all, and given
the surpassing value of libertarian free will in the Christian view
of things, God’s choice is clear: Heaven is a solitary Matrix.15
machines, not being God, did not know that Heaven is no other
people. Never the twain—Twain and I—shall meet (in Heaven,
anyway—there’s always the lake, I suppose.)
A relative of Twain’s puzzle emerges. We when consider a pre-Heaven
existence, we seem to prefer the best real deal to the best Matrix.
When thinking about Heaven, we seem to prefer the best Matrix to the
best real deal.
This schism in our thinking is represented by the
two competing visions in The Matrix: on the one hand is the Matrix,
and on the other is Zion - named ironically, if I am right, for God’s
Holy City in Heaven - the place in the bowels of the Earth where human
beings not in the Matrix dwell.
1. See Christopher Grau’s essay,
"The Experience Machine." Indeed, I recommend you read Grau’s
essay in its entirety before proceeding.
2. Metaphysicians will not yet be satisfied. "Matrix," is from
the Latin for "mother," and originally meant "womb" (it is used
in the Old Testament five times with this meaning), or "pregnant
female." In several contexts it means a sort of substrate in
which things are grown and developed. Given this etymology, the
Matrix might have been the concrete thing that includes the
collection of deceived humans in their vats. A more modern
meaning of "matrix" is based in mathematics: a rectangular
arrangement of symbols. Perhaps "the Matrix" (an expression
surely borrowed from William Gibson’s earlier use in Neuromancer)
denotes the array of symbols encoding the virtual environment,
which we might distinguish from the environment itself. But The
Matrix gives the impression that the environment just is the
array of symbols that Neo sees when he finally sees in—so to
speak—Matrixvision. Its concrete-world-like appearance seems an
inferior perception. (The Matrix thus seems allegorical in turn
of Plato’s well-known allegory of the Cave; Neo is enlightened
about his own nature by liberation from the Matrix, and by the
end he sees the true nature of the Matrix.) Still, it is the
concrete-world-like appearance of things that I’m concerned with
here, so let’s ignore the possibility of a Neo.
3. I use simulacrum in the following sense: "something having
merely the form or appearance of a certain thing, without
possessing its substance or proper qualities; a mere image, a
specious imitation or likeness, of something." (OED) It is also
a nod towards Baudrillard, whose work Simulacra and Simulation
both influences and appears in The Matrix. See my essay, "Baudrillard
and The Matrix."
4. Here’s an interesting question: which is better, the Second
Matrix, or a systematically deceptive personalized non-virtual
environment—a Truman show—that you never discover the true
nature of? The latter has more veridical human interaction in
one sense, because you really physically interact; but the
interaction is less veridical in another sense, in that other
human beings are willing participants in the deception. Another
case to think about is a solitary Matrix allowing interaction
with non-human participants (dogs, perhaps). Another still is a
solitary Matrix without even the appearance of real interaction
— call this a lonely Matrix. I don't know about you, but I
prefer Sartre's vision of Hell to a lonely Matrix.
5. The Second Matrix may connect with the truth in some
unnecessary ways. One’s virtual body is depicted as more or less
veridical, for instance. (But this may be only "residual self
image," as Morpheus tells Neo. If Cypher were put back into the
Matrix as Ronald Reagan, that would be clinching evidence that
one’s avatar can be strikingly different.) Breaking this
connection would permit interestingly different human
interaction: for instance, you could unknowingly have an
experience of heterosexual intercourse with another (unknowing)
human who is in fact of the same sex.
6. Sometimes it is argued that you are better off—happier—being
a Christian, even if God does not exist. If Christian belief is
easier to maintain inside the Second Matrix than outside it,
then Cypher could have an extra pragmatic reason for going back
7. Is Agent Smith telling the truth? I have no idea. He is
attempting to "hack into" Morpheus’s mind to gain the access
codes to the Zion mainframe computer, so in interpreting the
story we should take everything he says—and so, even the very
existence of the First Matrix—with a grain of salt. For my
purposes, though, we can pretend that he’s telling the truth.
8. We need not fully characterize libertarian free will for
present purposes. The main point is that causal indeterminism is
a necessary condition of it. Causal indeterminism is the denial
of causal determinism: the thesis that every event is completely
determined by causally prior events. A useful and common
illustration is to ask whether or not everything that happens,
or will happen, is in principle predictable — this will be so if
determinism is true, and not so if indeterminism is true.
(Whether the future can be known by means other than prediction
is a different question — see note 11.) The thesis that we have
libertarian free will is called libertarianism.
9. Many of our desires are derived from other desires plus
belief, for instance if Ralph desires to kiss Grandma only
because he desires an inheritance and he believes kissing
Grandma is necessary to achieve this. Non-derived desires, such
as Ralph’s desire to kiss the girl next door, are importantly
independent of belief—they are had, so to speak, for their own
sake—and seem to constitute what we refer to by "the will."
10. Is this a theological guarantee of the real deal? The
Christian can surely deny this. The existence of the Matrix
seems compatible with God’s being no deceiver, given the Free
Will Theodicy, if the machines have libertarian free will. And
if they do not have libertarian free will, as long as they are
the product of human free will, they are not part of the
environment God knowingly created.
11. I am reminded of a passage in William Gibson’s Count Zero:
"Eyes open, he pulled the thing from his socket and held it, his
palm slick with sweat. It was like waking from a nightmare. Not
a screamer, where impacted fears took on simple, terrible
shapes, but the sort of dream, infinitely more disturbing, where
everything is perfectly and horribly normal, and where
everything is utterly wrong."
12. People seem to expect that their body in Heaven will
resemble their Earthly one (just as their Matrix "body" seems to
resemble their real one). Perhaps this is for purposes of
recognition, but it seems unnecessary—common memory can do the
13. It would be intriguing if God could "cheat" by doing what he
does because He sees, from the way the future is, what He will
do. This would raise a fatalist, bake-your-noodle puzzle like
the one the Oracle raises for Neo’s smashing of the vase. But
God is a special case. Being unchanging, He cannot be caused to
act on the basis of future knowledge, and there is little
metaphysical sense to be made of "He did it because He did it."
14. The typical Christian is a Cartesian dualist, believing they
are a spirit or soul distinct from their physical body, and that
embodiment provides the means for human interaction. Loosely
speaking, then, our physical bodies are the "avatars" of the
real us, in a more or less "teeming" physical environment. The
Second Matrix is in this respect almost the converse of
15. Perhaps Christians have had this revelation available to
them all along. Luke 10:20 has Jesus telling his disciples, "…
rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." In Latin,
"matrix" also meant a list or register of names (also,
hence our English verb matriculate). Intended meaning can go
astray: according to some, the notion that the fruit of the tree
of knowledge of good and evil was an apple, rests on a confusion
over the Latin malum, meaning both "evil" and "apple tree." In
like manner, maybe Jesus’s message, lost in translation, was
that Heaven is a Matrix!
16. "People" in the sense of human beings. It might be objected
that there has to be at least one person you are in contact
with: God. I’ll just concede this, since it doesn’t affect the
argument, God’s desires presumably being compatible with yours.
(Real interaction with angels likewise presents no problems.) A
fascinating further suggestion is that you couldn’t be maximally
happy unless the "program" was extremely sophisticated, and then
it might be objected that we should regard the solitary Matrix
as containing virtual individuals—such as your imaginative
sexual partner(s), if there is sex in Heaven—which are arguably
persons you really interact with. (Agent Smith’s impassioned
outburst that he hates the Second Matrix might be evidence of
personhood, for instance.) If these virtual individuals are
persons with libertarian free will, then you can’t interact with
them either, without someone eventually suffering. So we might
have another argument that the Christian Heaven is an incoherent