Descartes Plato Matrix Rev
[Plato and Descartes in the Matrix]
Finding the truth has always been a fundamental part of the human thought. However, to have a degree of certainty in our lives, we have to believe that what we see and experience is real. Hence, humans build theoretical notions to adapt otherwise unknown sets of experiences in an intuitive way (Dew & Foreman 57). The primary goal of the philosophical skepticism is offering arguments that conclude in the fact that we do not have as much knowledge of the world as we believe. Hence, to understand and address those concerns regarding the things we cannot be sure about, skepticism proves to be an excellent tool to show how biased and incomplete our vision of the world can be; opening the door for myriads of interpretations of the reality, adding to our comprehension of world’s phenomena. Therefore, the question about whether our senses fail us or not has been a cornerstone of Western philosophical thought and shows the passage from the correspondence theory of truth to a pragmatic view popularized by arguments such as Putnam’s brain in a vat. For that reason, if it is possible for our senses to deceive us, it would be possible that humans exist in a controlled reality, much like The Matrix. Consequently, in this discussion, we shall refer to two particular philosophers, Plato, and Rene Descartes, who have a direct influence in the early discussion on whether our senses deceive us or not and illustrate the passage from the ancient notions of truth to modern concepts rooted in the brain and the way we know.
In 1999, The Matrix revolutionized both the movies and the philosophical discussions on the subject of reality and its implications. Consequently, since this is not a film studies essay, we shall explain the plot without much flair. In The Matrix, humans live fake lives they consider real. Their lives are completely run by a computer that inserts electric stimuli in their brain, making them believe they exist in reality that it is not theirs, much like the “Brain in a Vat” experiment. Hence, those who exist within the Matrix do not realize their status as mere representations. Instead, they carry on their lives on the assumption that their lives are the realest lives possible. Plus, following Putnam’s train of thought, if humans were, in fact, brains in a vat, they would never know as in spite of them having the cognitive apparatus to understand such assertion, they lack the senses to confirm their hypothesis, rendering incapable of a true assertion regarding the external reality (Putnam 8).
In the Ancient Greece, Plato began wondering about the possibility that senses were mere channels on which we see things not as they were, but as they are represented. For that reason, it is possible that those inexact representations are prone to deceive us. Moreover, humans’ lack of experience regarding reality does make them prone to these deceptions. In the Platonic world, objects are not as we can see them. Instead, they are representations of an idea that exists outside of their mind and can be approached only by contemplation.
“Compare our nature in respect of education and its lack of such an experience as this. Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light of its entire width. Conceive them as having their legs and necks fettered from childhood so that they remain in the same spot, “compare our nature in respect of education and its lack of such an experience as this. Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light of its entire width.” (Plato 514a-514b)
In this case, light, representing true knowledge is linked to the moment when Neo is separated from his fake existence, and thrown into the real world. These world of experiences contrast heavily with the world senses had shown him. Light, as knowledge is given only to those who seek it, but this knowledge of the reality and the ideas is not applicable to the outside world, which renders Neo incapable of understanding the myriad of stimuli that feel as real as those in the Matrix, but can be considered realer. Hence, it is possible to consider like Descartes did that there is an evil demon that deceive us into thinking our perceptions are real. In The Matrix, the evil demon can be represented by the machines that present humans with fake perceptions to use them as cattle.
Accordingly, Descartes considers that this “evil demon” or deceiver, messes with his cognitive faculties, making impossible for him to contemplate things as they are. Hence, Descartes goal is not to consider himself instantly flawed, but establishing that is possible to doubt in the simplest and most straightforward matters. Descartes tries to offer a non-theistic option, considering that it might be possible that humans do not come from an all-powerful being, but if that were the case, our inherent imperfection would make us deceivable as well, turning doubt into something necessary and a state of mind. Hence, the evil Genius can be seen as a construction that serves him to doubt of the human’s rational nature, considering human beings prone to error instead of bodies with infallible minds (Newman 3).
“… some malicious demon of the utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies to deceive me. … the sky, the air, the earth, colors, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely delusions of dreams that he has devised to ensnare my judgment.” (Descartes 15).
This evil demon Descartes speaks of, refers to our perceptions that seem flawed when compared with the rest of our brain stimuli. If our senses can fail, there must exist a body that regulates our perceptions, much like the platonic ideas. This is one of the most revolutionary discoveries of Descartes as he puts the brain as the receptor of these impressions, and from there it conveys the perceptions of the mind. Hence, the mind remains as a construct of thought, while the brain remains as a factual reality. For that reason, even for him, it would be impossible realizing if there is a demon deceiving him as to notice it would mean having an external stimulus that unplug the cord much like what happened to Neo in The Matrix
Finally, while Plato realizes our senses can cheat us, Descartes opens the contemporary discussion on the labor of the brain as the source of these perceptions, paving the way for a more rational and less ontological consideration regarding the cause of our perceptions. However, as Putnam puts it, it would be impossible without an external factor for humans to realize their place in the world. Hence, without the help from Morpheus and his crew, Neo would never have awakened, and he would have continued living a life of deception in the Matrix.
Descartes, Rene. Meditations on First Philosophy with Selections from the Objections and Replies. Trans. Mike Moriarty. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Dew, J.K., and M.W. Foreman. “4.” How Do We Know?: An Introduction to Epistemology. IVP Academic, 2014. Print.
Newman, L. “Descartes’ Epistemology.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 3 Dec. 1997. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes-epistemology/#3.2>.
Plato. (1990). Republic. In P. Shorey (Trans.), Plato: In twelve volumes. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.
Putnam, H. Reason, Truth, and History. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire: Cambridge UP, 1981. Print.