Plato, Descartes, and The Matrix

Question

1. Compare and contrast The Matrix with the readings from Plato and Descartes. What are some similarities and differences?

2. Can we prove that the world we are experiencing is real? How do we know we are not dreaming, living in a Platonic cave, or trapped in some sort of matrix?

3. At the end of the cave allegory, Socrates implies that most men would want to escape the cave and see reality as it really is. However, in his betrayal of Morpheus, Cypher implies that it is better to live in the artificial world of the Matrix. Which is better: the harshness of reality, or the “ignorance is bliss” of illusion? Defend your answer.

4. Since much of our knowledge is based on sensory experience, and since our senses are imperfect and can be deceived, can we ever be certain that our beliefs are true? Defend or explain your answer.

Sample paper

Plato, Descartes, and The Matrix

Question 1

In The Matrix, human beings live in a simulated world, whereby the experiences they go through are controlled through sentiment machines. Although man created these intelligent machines, they went out of control to the point of enslaving the entire humankind in a simulated world. The intelligent machines control the type of experiences that people have. They are capable of this since the machines harvest the minds of humans and pacify them. Those living in the simulated environment believe that they live in reality. However, this is far from the truth, since they actually live in a simulated environment, which they have come to believe is their ultimate reality.

In Plato’s classic work, The republic, Socrates gives the allegory of the cave, where people have been chained since they were born. They only see what is in front of them since the chains that bind them restrict movement or turning of the head. The people chained on the wall could see shadows from people passing near the cave. A fire near the cave projects the shadows since near the fire, there is a footpath and a wall separating all these from the cave. In addition, the people casting shadows on the wall of the cave make sounds while passing, which reverberates off the wall of the cave. Socrates asserts that the people in chains would regard the passing shadows as beings, with the ability to make sounds. The people chained on the cave have never experienced life on the outside. To them, the cave is their real world, and the shadows are human beings.

Comparing The Matrix with the readings from Plato, it is possible to identify a number of similarities. In The Matrix, people live in a simulated environment where their experiences are under the control of intelligent machines. A particular force regulates the sensations and experiences they encounter. This is similar to the allegory of the cave. In both, the people’s experiences are false in some way – the people in the cave believe the shadows and human beings and can talk. They also acknowledge the fact that the life they are leading is the ultimate reality. In The Matrix, the people experience false sensations through simulation, which they have come to believe is the ultimate reality. A difference between readings from Plato and The Matrix is that in the former, people experience real sensations or perceptions. For instance, they can see shadows that are real. In addition, the people themselves can perceive themselves as real as they are in existent. In The Matrix, none that occurs is real in the sense that it occurs through simulation. The images that people see are just visual or sensory distortions in The Matrix.

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In Meditation I, Rene Descartes examines the concept of dreams. He analyzes the concept of reality with regard to dreams and the manner in which they occur. When one dreams, he/she is convinced that they are experiencing the real objects or things in life. Dream images arise from experiences that individuals encounter on daily basis. The meditator likens dreams to paintings – although artists may create surreal art forms such as mermaids, the composite parts are derived from real things such as fish and women. In order to distinguish dreams from reality, the Mediator argues that in reality, things appear more clear and distinct that when they are in dreams. The Mediator argues that objects in dreams appear more like “painted representations”, which only could have been derived from real things. Mediation I is similar to The Matrix since both examine the possibility of people living in dream world, or in a world of simulation. The dream world and the simulated world are quite similar, since both involve distortions of perception. These worlds are not real, but they appear as real to those involved. The difference among the two is that in The Matrix, the simulated world appears more realistic than the dream world, which appears less clear.

Question 2

There are ways that we can prove the world we are experiencing is real. Descartes argues that in dreams, things appear less distinct or clear than when in they are in reality. In reality, one does things deliberately and for a particular purpose. For instance, one may extend the hand and touch his head, or feel the eyes with his hands, and it appears that one is actually doing so. Another way of knowing that the world people experience is real is through dreams. This is because when people sleep, they dream, but these dreams are not as clear or as distinct as the real world experiences. Then one may conclude that, those dreams are just like paintings made by artists; however real they seem, one may still depict differences in clarity and distinctiveness. Another way people can prove the world they are experiencing is real is by analyzing the constancy of things. In dreams, nothing is consistent. In reality, things tend to be consistent.

References

Descartes, R. (1641). Meditations on first philosophy. Retrieved from             http://selfpace.uconn.edu/class/percep/DescartesMeditations.pdf

The Matrix.

Plato. The Republic. Retrieved from http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html

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