What do Plato’s cave analogy, Descartes’ Meditation, and the movie, The Matrix, have in common? The following essay I wrote for my Philosophy 201 class will tell you.
You know you’ve managed to write a good essay when your professor gives you 100% and says, “You should know, I almost *never* award full credit for writing assignments”!
The Reality of Reality
Compare and contrast The Matrix with the readings from Plato and Descartes. What are some similarities and differences?
The greatest similarity among The Matrix, Plato’s cave analogy, and Descartes’ musings is that all three question whether the reality experienced through the senses is indeed tangible and objective, or if it is but an illusion. The Matrix is the story of a computer generated “reality” (“Synopsis: The Matrix,” n.d.), Plato’s cave analogy asks if what is thought to be reality could merely be shadows (Plato, n.d.), and Descartes (1641) reasoned that, since we are capable of being deceived, we could therefore just as likely be deceived about what is truly reality. Based on this reasoning, he went on to speculate which higher power it is that has subjected us to such deception (Descartes, 1641). Though differing in other areas, these three sources all speculate on whether or not our senses, or perceptions, can be trusted.
Another interesting comparison is that Plato, Descartes, and The Matrix all question the realness of reality, but have nothing better to replace our current, sensory-experienced reality with other than alternatives that must also be experience through the senses. In The Matrix, the truth about reality is depicted as being a computer that is holding the minds of humanity hostage to the delusions of a false reality (“Synposis…,” n.d.); however, a computer is a tangible object that can be seen, touched, and destroyed by the main characters through the use of the senses. Plato (n.d.) equated our observable reality to shadows, but illustrated enlightenment, or actual reality, with what most of us would consider to be items within our current observable reality (sunshine, humans, a stone wall, fire, and stone statues). Likewise, Descartes (1641) hoped to come to greater enlightenment as to the nature of actual reality, but in order to do so he had to rely on the power of his current reality (his brain, thinking abilities, and so on). Thus, it appears that the sensory experience of reality is so ingrained in humanity that it is nearly impossible to come up with a reality that differs from it.
The main difference between Plato, Descartes, and The Matrix is that all three appeal to a different source of delusion. The Matrix attributes the human race’s delusional reality to the mastermind of a computer (“Synposis…,” n.d.). Plato (n.d.) did not say who has placed the two cave dwellers in their chains, but the nature of their enslavement seems to allude that elite members of the human race who were enlightened to reality were keeping the cave men in bondage to mere shadows of reality. Descartes (1641) clung to his foundational belief in a Supreme Being of love and kindness who would not purposely subject His children to deception, and thus concluded that our sensory deception must be due to the work of a fallen, sadistic being. If Plato, Descartes, and the makers of The Matrix were to get together today, probably none of them would be able to agree on what or whom is the most likely creator of a delusional reality.
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?
As Hasker (1935) stated, “In order to prove anything, we should first have to prove the premises of our proof—but to do that we must first have proved the premises for that proof—and so on indefinitely” (p. 18). While it is impossible to offer conclusive proof that humanity is not duped under a false sense of reality (Dew & Foreman, 2014), this much can be said: This is the only reality we have. No one has ever experienced anything different. If those who claim that this reality is not indeed reality could provide at least one example of someone who has escaped this reality to the enlightenment of another reality, this would give weight to their arguments. However, we could not trust even that evidence, as we would not be able to know if that person’s enlightenment experience was merely another delusion by a sadistic computer mastermind. This is known as the “egocentric predicament” (Dew & Foreman, 2014, p. 41). What is needed is an outside source, from an entity that is not confined to human dimensions. Such an entity would have to be divine, as no human is able to escape this reality to see if it is indeed real.
I propose that we have such a source available: the Bible. However, some might claim that there are other books that have been claimed to be written by divine inspiration. This paper does allow for a discussion of the superiority of the Bible to other religious books, but suffice it to say I believe that the Bible has the best evidence in favor of having true Divine origins. That being said, what does the Bible say about reality? First, Scripture is clear that God created the world around us and the senses through which we take it in (Col. 1:16; Prov. 20:12, New King James Version). Secondly, it gives indications that our senses can be deceived (Matt. 24:24-26; 2 Cor. 11:14; Rev. 13:13). Then, too, it shows that there are realms and dimensions that we cannot enter or perceive, accessible to angels and to Christ (John 20:19; Num. 22:31, New Living Translation). Lastly, it seems that our senses here on earth are dimmed and imperfect, for one day our senses will experience things that we cannot even imagine now (1 Cor. 2:9). It seems safe to say, from a biblical perspective, that the world and how we perceive it through our senses is indeed tangible and real. Also, though “we can be misled by our senses” (Dew & Foreman, 2014, p. 158), God’s Word will stand forever and can be trusted even beyond what we think we see or think we know.
Descartes, R. (1641). Meditation I of the things of which we may doubt. In Descartes, R., Meditations on First Philosophy. Retrieved from Blackboard: http://www.learn.liberty.edu
Dew, J. K. & Foreman, M. W. (2014). How do we know: An introduction to epistemology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Hasker, W. (1935). Metaphysics: Constructing a world view. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Plato. (n.d.). The allegory of the cave. In Plato, The Republic, Book VII (pp. 514A1-518D8). Retrieved from Blackboard: http://www.learn.liberty.edu
Synopsis: The Matrix. (n.d.). Retrieved from Blackboard: http://www.learn.liberty.edu