Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

THE MATRIX

Thanks for the responses.  I get all that stuff about oppressors and so forth.  But I could not figure out at the most basic level what was going on.  When I first heard about the movie, I thought it was a cinematic take on the philosophical problem of "brains in a vat," so-called.  That is, how can I know whether I am really experiencing what I think I am experiencing, or whether I am just lying in a hospital bed hooked up to a machine that sends all the electrical impulses to my nervous system that I would get if I were really out in the world receiving sensory input.  Hilary Putnam wrote an influential article on the subject, as I recall.

But that doesn't seem to be the premise.  I mean, when Neo or Morpheus is lying on a bed, is he simply imagining all the dramatic fighting stuff, or is he, or someone, doing it?  And how can what he is "doing" actually affect the world? 

Maybe I am just thinking too much and not going with the flow.

7 comments:

Don Schneier said...

I'm still waiting for the 3-D version of 'The Thing-in-itself'.

P. J. Grath said...

A young person who loves these movies told me it IS a brains-in-vats fantasy. One problem I see with fantasy cinema at this stage is that so many special effects are possible that it's hard for directors to restrain themselves. They do not understand that sometimes "less is more," and the story gets lost in the effects.

Sean said...

It is indeed brain-in-vats, but the false world being fed to the brain has its own, mostly-internally-consistent (although subject to outside interference) rules. Like a computer game. One might, I think, make the case that shadows-on-the-cave-wall is a better analogy...

LWF said...

Professor Wolff -- The people on the couches are using their brains in order to experience and affect what's happening in the virtual reality. It's as if their minds become computer programs that can interact with the computer programs that are producing the virtual reality. Most of the programs they encounter are run by the machine overlords, but some appear to be rogue programs serving their own or even human interests (like that Keymaker character).

People like Neo (or the programs generated by people like Neo) are very good at messing with the other programs in virtual reality, causing all kinds of havoc in the virtual world (i.e. on the computers in the real world that are running the virtual world).

What I've never understood is why or how a person in the real world can be mightily affected by what happens while visiting the virtual world. How can their experiences in the virtual world kill them in the real world? Is it because the virtual, computer-based world seems so real that their brains can't take the stress of being killed in the virtual world? So they die in reality?

And why do they have to find a special telephone to stop experiencing virtual reality? Can't their colleagues in the real world just unplug them?

I hope this helps. I wouldn't dream of trying to explain all the mumbo jumbo that is discussed in the virtual world involving eternal recurrence and free will. That might not be explainable.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thanks, folks., especially LWF. I think that is about as close as I will ever come to understanding. Now back to Casablanca. :)

Charles Pigden said...

The Matrix is like Berkeley's God. It creates a coordinated illusion which the will of the dreamers can affect to a certain extent, just as my decisions can change the way the world appears to me (and to others) according to Berkeley. Of course in Berkeley's view this only happens because God enables it to happen. Similarly there can only be action in the world of the Matrix because of the fundamental laws governing the play of appearances in the coordinated illusion. These correspond, roughly, to Berkeley's Laws of Nature.

Neo has the power to alter the laws which govern the virtual world of the Matrix in much the same way that a person with the powers of a demi-God might the able to mess with the 'laws of nature' governing the play of appearances that Berkeley's God establishes and sustains. Other entities within the world of the Matrix have lesser powers to bend or break these laws. Thus Agent Smith can 'magically' seal up Neo's mouth.

How can what happens in the Matrix affect the real-world bodies of the dreamers? Need I instruct a marxist on the power of festishistic effects? They suffer because they believe they are suffering, they die because they believe they are being killed.

The story hints at a layered series of virtual worlds, dreams within dreams within dreams (as in Inception) except that there is a suggestion that the may be no 'real world' whatsoever.

Charles Pigden

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, Professor Pigden. This only proves what I have long known: If you are puzzled, and want a real answer, ask a philosopher! Now I need to write a science fiction story about a world in which the thoroughgoing causal determination of phenomena is compatible with the moral freedom of noumenal selves in themselves. Maybe we have hit upon what to do with unemployed holders of doctorates in Philosophy.