The Matrix and its connections to Allegory of the Cave and Evil Demon Argument

Two philosophical works will be related to the movie, The Matrix (1999) and these are Platos Allegory of the Cave and Descartes Evil Demon argument.  At the same time, this paper examines how the following explains whether and why people cannot gain knowledge from their experience a) knowledge as justified, true belief, b) the defeasibility theory, c) the causal theory, and d) reliabilism. Finally, it reflects on the possibility of being in The Matrix.

Platos Allegory of the Cave depicts prisoners who have been imprisoned in the cave since childhood, with their backs turned at the source of light. They could not turn their hands or legs, and so they grew up looking at the same part of the cave. These prisoners, however, do not feel that they are imprisoned. In this cave, puppeteers project different objects on the wall and the prisoners believe them as real. One of the prisoners escapes and discovers light outside, and through reflecting about the light and his position in the universe, he realizes what is real and what is true. He decides to enlighten others, but they rebuke him. They would rather believe in shadows than search for and believe in the truth. The main point of Platos Allegory of the Cave is that people are often deceived to believe their senses, when reality is different from perceptions of reality. Plato suggests that in order to determine the truth, people must act as philosophers, who exert effort and time to understand reality and the truth.

The Matrix shares the same scenarios as the Allegory of the Cave because 1) people are also imprisoned in the shadows of reality, 2) many people would prefer their senses over self-analysis and reflection, 3) those who escape the shadows are not widely believed, and 4) there is an obligation for philosophers to help others see the truth. First, the people trapped in The Matrix also believe in their perceptions of reality, in the same way that the prisoners of the cave believe that the shadows are real. They are all used to this kind of reality and it will be hard to help them escape their cognitive imprisonment. Second, many people would prefer their senses over self-analysis and reflection in The Matrix. For instance, there is even a traitor in the side of Neo, because he would rather want illusions than raw reality. Third, those who escape the shadows are not widely believed. It took a while, for instance, for Morpheus to convince Neo about the reality, which is Zion versus the matrix world. Finally, Neo and the philosophers in the cave all have the obligation to help others escape their imprisonment. These imprisoned people, however, have a choice to make, to choose between reality and illusions.

On the other hand, the Allegory of the Cave is different from The Matrix, because people in the former are not under the slavery of robots. People are the only one imprisoning peoples minds in the cave. There is no widespread slavery of the body that occurs in the cave, in as much as it happens for people outside Zion in The Matrix. Finally, there is something God-like in the matrix, wherein people have yet to tap the God-like powers of their minds, which is not present for the prisoners in the cave. Neo has indication of some powers even in Zion, like he is also God with God-like super strength powers.

Descartes Evil Demon Argument argues that people cannot be certain that their sense experience is not caused by an evil demon. It is possible that there is an evil demon that wants to deceive people. Since people cannot be certain that their sense experience is not caused by an evil demon, they cannot be assured that their sense is real. Since there is no certainty that the sense is real, this means that knowledge cannot be acquired through sense experience. Based on this reasoning, there are similar conditions between Evil Demon and The Matrix. In both kinds of world, there is an evil demon with malevolent aspirations. The evil genius also wants to deceive people and takes benefit, from pleasure I suppose, in doing so. The robots in The Matrix also have evil intentions of enslaving people by turning them into batteries. Second, Evil Demon and The Matrix also describe widespread deception. In The Matrix, robots took pains to create a wired world, wherein people are deceived into believing that they are living a real life that they have control of. In reality, they are deceived to believe they are in power and control, when everything is predetermined for the purposes of slavery and oppression of the dominating robots. The Evil demon also wants to create a world of deception, wherein people feel they see the truth, when they are all illusions.

The main difference between The Matrix and Descartes Evil Demon is that in the matrix, people can escape the deception in a way that they escape the whole world of illusions- the escape involves body and mind. People can escape the matrix and go to Zion. In the Descartes Evil Demon, escape from deception only occurs in the mind, and not in the physical world setting. People cannot escape the world and go to another place, another world called Zion.

This essay proceeds to analyze how theories of knowledge  justification say whether and why the people living inside the Matrix are prevented from gaining knowledge through their experience. First is knowledge as justified, true belief. When people in the matrix believe that what they see, feel and know is real, these beliefs become as justified and true belief, by virtue of the senses. As long as they feel alive, they do not need to think of an alternative existence that could possibly exist. Even their experiences then would not be enough for them to even realize the idea of being deceived.

Second is the defeasibility theory, which states that it is not enough to have evidence that warrants ones beliefs, because it is equally important to know that there is no defeating evidence that one has which can contradict knowledge as justified, true belief (Craig 1998, 270). In this case, people in the matrix already have perceptual evidences that their reality is the truth also, and because of these evidences, they are no longer induced to gain additional knowledge through experience. However, it is possible for them to entertain that the truth they know is only an illusion, if they can see evidence that contradicts what they know. This is what happened to Neo. Morpheus gave him succeeding evidence that demonstrate that illusions are defeated and can be defeated. That opportunity, however, is not always present for people in the matrix, since they are not as special as Neo or the one.
Third is the causal theory, which states that people can believe P, only if there is an appropriate causal connection between the state of affairs that makes P true and persons belief in P (Craig 1998, 263). In the matrix, people come to believe that the reality they see is caused by something real also. As a result, they could hardly analyze that they can understand more about the real reality, when they are experiencing connections that they perceive to be real and causative already.

Fourth is reliabilism, which argues that a belief is justified if and only if it is generated by reliable cognitive process (Pollock and Joseph Cruz 1999). People living inside the Matrix are prevented from gaining knowledge through their experience, because they only rely on sensual experience as the cause or justification of their beliefs. Unless they see some evidence that an alternate world exists, they would not have any other reliable cognitive processes to rely on, aside from their current perceptual beliefs.

Finally, how do we know that we are not in a matrix now I believe that through the defeasibility theory, there is no evidence that can defeat an existing belief in our present reality. If someone can show us that there is such a world as Zion, then we can prove that we are in a matrix. Furthermore, if no one can show the alternative reality, and since many of us are already comfortable with our justified beliefs, then even if Zion exists, we would not even know it. Hence, we can never be certain that we are not in the matrix because there is no one to show us the truth and so we will remain trapped in the shadows that are the reality and truth for us.


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