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The Books: The Matrix and Philosophy
Hardcover & Paperback: 320 pages, 20 essays
Edited by William Irwin
Collecting 20 essays by 20 professional philosophers, The Matrix and Philosophy remains the best Matrix collection currently available. The essays run from 8 - 25 pages, with most coming in around 10 pages, giving the reader a solid introduction to the theory, but not overloading you with complex material. This book is aimed at readers new to philosophy, using the obvious (and not-so-obvious) philosophical roots of The Matrix as the starting point for a journey into deeper thinking. If you always wanted to know more about philosophy but weren't sure of an accessible path, this is it.
The book is divided into five sections (called scenes), each devoted to examining a particular aspect of The Matrix, with each scene containing 4 similarly-themed pieces. The topics covered include just about any "-ism" you can think of: skepticism, moralism, reductive materialism, fatalism, Buddhism, religious pluralism, existentialism, Marxism, etc. etc. etc.
The essays vary in complexity and writing style, as you might expect with 20 different authors. Many are extremely easy to read, with an inviting writing style, and as little use of jargon as possible. There are probably about 3 or 4 that may be a little too dense for an introductory book. Not that these pieces are too complicated for a new reader, but the book loses its pace when you slow down completely on a complex essay.
One of the especially interesting aspects of the book is that reading it now, after the trilogy has been completed, may be more satisfying than reading it before watching Reloaded and Revolutions. Some of the theories put forth gain additional meaning knowing the events of the sequels. A few, on the other hand, are revealed for what they were: an educated guess that ultimately proved incorrect.
There is some repetition in the book, which is unavoidable when the essays were all written independently. You'll hear the story of Plato's cave numerous times, as you will Descartes' malicious demon, but these are interesting theories, and they are the foundations upon which many other propositions in the book are built, so it's not necessarily a bad thing.
For me, many of the most memorable essays were contained in the first half - the sections that dealt with questions like "Could a Matrix really exist?", "Are we in one now?", "How can we tell if we are?". An interesting argument is put forth in essay 3: The Matrix Possibility, that Neo has no basis to believe Morpheus' story about the real world. Why? He has no frame of reference. His first 25(?) years have been lived a lie. Everything he's seen, heard, tasted, touched, and felt has been a simulation, so he can't know real from fake. In that case, why would he believe anything Morpheus tells him? Could it not just be another level of simulated deception? Of course, it isn't…but how can Neo believe anything when his entire frame of reference, his entire context is false?
Another fave is essay 8: Fate, Freedom, and Foreknowledge, which pretty accurately predicts The Oracle's Gamble. I believe it also sheds light on what The Merovingian was really getting at in his memorable causalism rant in the restaurant. I believe it was a much more direct attack on The Oracle and everything she stands for than anyone realized at the time. But that's for another day!
While there are a few uneven spots, The Matrix and Philosophy manages to hit on all the classic themes you'll find in philosophy - philosophy of mind, the mind-body problem, nihilism, the nature of reality, intellect vs. experience, existentialism and religion (Buddhism and Christianity). And it manages to do it in a readable, well-laid out series of essays that won't make you feel like you need a Ph.d to appreciate it. If you're interested in going deeper, this is the book for you!
Get The Matrix and Philosophy for yourself today!
Did You Know?
Neo's opening scene in The Matrix shows the computer displaying 'Wake up Neo'. This echoes HAL's opening line in '2001: A Space Odyssey'.