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Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and the Religion in the Matrix [Paperback]

Glenn Yeffeth , David Gerrold
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 30 2002 Smart Pop series
This thought-provoking examination of The Matrix explores the technological challenges, religious symbolism, and philosophical dilemmas the film presents. Essays by renowned scientists, technologists, philosophers, scholars, social commentators, and science fiction authors provide engaging and provocative perspectives. Explored in a highly accessible fashion are issues such as the future of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The symbolism hidden throughout The Matrix and a few glitches in the film are revealed. Discussions include “Finding God in The Matrix,” “The Reality Paradox in The Matrix,” and “Was Cypher Right?: Why We Stay in Our Matrix.” The fascinating issues posed by the film are handled in an intelligent but nonacademic fashion.

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The Lord: Is never aught right to your mind?
Mephistopheles: No, Lord! All is still downright bad, I find.
Goethe, Faust

The Matrix Revolutions is out and it is proving to be yet a further intensification of the cult phenomenon generated by The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded and the animated offerings from www.whatisthematrix.com, which have recently been collected on VHS and DVD as Animatrix. Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix is a collection of essays that looks at this popular phenomenon from as many different perspectives as the various essay writers represent. While a few of the essays are truly stunning and thought-provoking, some are uninspired and even grudgingly done. The best of the essays treat the films and the cult following around them as a cultural occurrence deserving of attention. Some of the essays attempt to hijack The Matrix for an ideological joy ride and the worst of them are thinly disguised complaints about the attention the film is getting.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the voices most bitter about The Matrix’s success are those of established S.F. writers James Gunn and Robert Sawyer. Both Gunn and Sawyer begrudgingly catalogue everything in S.F. history resembling even remotely the ideas The Matrix consists of. If only there had been a point to this exercise (besides the obvious effort to downgrade the material in The Matrix)-some meta-observation that served to deepen our understanding of The Matrix phenomenon. Instead, both authors abruptly conclude their essays when their catalogue is complete. Although Gunn is right to give the spiritual godfathers of The Matrix- Stanislaw Lem and Philip K. Dick-their due, his conclusion goes no deeper than “The Matrix is the heir to all this, although the film and its makers may not be conscious of it. What makes The Matrix unique is its integration of various elements of the science-fiction pantheon in a startling new way-the reality paradox, evil artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and, of course, lots of firepower.” The anemic conclusion manages, twice in two sentences, to remind the reader that these ideas originate in the science fiction pantheon and that one should therefore not kneel at the altar of false gods.
Sawyer’s resentment reaches even further. While he does make some interesting observations in his piece (about Star Wars, 2001 and Star Trek) he dismisses The Matrix, and takes a shameless moment to remind the reader, “That’s (AI, i.e. artificial intelligence) what a lot of science fiction has been exploring lately. I did it myself in my 1995 Nebula Award-winning novel The Terminal Experiment….” Sawyer’s conclusion typifies his disregard for The Matrix (and, one assumes, this book too) for it’s so hackneyed that one has trouble believing he actually left it in his final submission to editor Glenn Yeffeth: “…as long as sci-fi authors continue to write about robots and AI, nothing can possibly go wrong…go wrong…go wrong…”
Gunn and Sawyer’s essays do serve a function in the book by reminding the reader that The Matrix is part of a tradition, and while they fail to come up with any substantive insights, they manage to whet the reader’s appetite for the more satisfying analyses of the phenomenon that many of the other authors in the collection are able to deliver.
There are, for example, essays that investigate the Christian symbolism of the film and the excitement the film has generated among devout Christians. Other enlightening perspectives are presented by essayists like James L. Ford, who points out the Buddhist elements; Robin Hanson, who claims that we are already controlled by a meta-intelligence-our genes; Lyle Zynda, who looks at The Matrix’s questioning of the nature of reality from the perspectives of both realist and idealist philosophy; Dino Felluga, who explores the film as an expression of postmodernism; Andrew Gordon, who criticizes the film’s postmodern poseurism; Peter B. Lloyd, who explains, in detail, the technological feasibility of the film’s scientific extrapolations; and Nick Bostrum, whose calculations concerning the odds that we are already in the matrix remind one of Carl Sagan’s mathematical theorizing about the possibility of intelligent civilizations in the universe.
Economist Peter J. Boettke and inventor Ray Kurzweil give only token nods to the film before going off on their respective tangents. Kurzweil, for example, joyfully expounds on how technologically possible the world of the film is while blithely ignoring its cautionary aspect-and that of his own work. He does, however, succeed in thoroughly disturbing the reader by inserting the word “hopefully” into the conclusion of his sunny forecast of the future. All his confident prognostications on how the future’s possible technological terrors will not happen are undone with his last sentence: “We’ll be able to ‘recreate the world’ according to our imaginations and enter environments as amazing as that of The Matrix, but, hopefully, a world more open to creative human expression and experience.” Channeling this vertiginous momentum, editor Yeffeth masterfully uses Kurzweil’s essay to set up the book’s most powerful piece.
Paradoxically, the most powerful essay in the collection makes no mention at all of the film and yet strikes into the heart of our fascination, revealing the deep-seated fears of technological change that power the phenomenon. Bill Joy, Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, originally wrote his essay, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, for Wired Magazine, but it is a perfect fit here. Joy’s presentation of the potential (and likely) horror to emerge from the technological trajectory so explicitly mapped out by Kurzweil in the previous essay makes the world of The Matrix almost seem benign in comparison. What Joy’s essay does in this book of essays on The Matrix is to reveal-without ever mentioning the film-why it has struck such a nerve with the movie-going public: because, to use a popular American phrase, it is founded on clear and present danger. While the full extent of the technological threat may only be clear to men like Kurzweil and Joy, the notion also appears to be sufficiently plausible (very like the phenomenon of the 101 Monkeys) to draw masses of people to The Matrix and now The Matrix Revolutions. And, in the tradition of the Romance genre, the promise of a hero and of a final victory to counter the threat-with both hero and victory coded with religious and philosophical signifiers intrinsic to a wide spectrum of cultures (as the symbolism of the conclusion of The Matrix Revolutions reaffirms)-leads a varied audience to identify with the story.
And it is this universal human hunger for meaning and rescue that drives The Matrix phenomenon. As several essayists in the book point out, the Terminator films stake out much the same territory as The Matrix, but have failed to achieve the same cult following. Writers like Read Mercer Schuchardt and Paul Fontana, who look at the film’s Christian dimension, demonstrate why this is so and come closest to expressing the yearning at the heart of movie-goers’ identification with this film. Both men are able to equate almost any scene in the film to Christ’s passion and Christian theology, and their observations about the Christian and Jewish coding of the film by the Wachowski brothers reveal the extent of longing among today’s young people for a messianic liberation from slavery. This longing, even against all logic and expectations, has led the Wachowski brothers, in The Matrix Revolutions, to paraphrase the salvational ending of Goethe’s Faust II, where Mephisto has actually succeeded in dooming Faust to hell-only to have the divine still intercede on Faust’s behalf. Schuchardt concludes his essay authoritatively by saying, “The message of The Matrix is that we are already pawns in a modern technological society where life happens around us but is scarcely influenced by us. Whether it is by our choice or unwillingness to make a choice, our technology already controls us. In an attempt to wake us up, the movie asks us to question everything we believe about our present circumstances. …the challenge has been made to open your eyes and seek true reality, and ultimately to escape from the matrix.”
Patrick Burger (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

About the Author

Glenn Yeffeth is a writer, editor, and columnist. He is the editor of a biography of Joss Whedon and a nonfiction anthology of essays about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He lives in Dallas, Texas.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
While the stated reason for the early release and accelerated postproduction process of The Matrix was to beat the marketing hype that surrounded The Phantom Menace, it is not without coincidence that The Matrix was released on the last Easter weekend of the dying twentieth century. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Furthur Explorations of the Rabbit Hole Aug. 28 2003
"Taking the Red Pill" is, as its title implies, a collection of essays that explore the scientific, philosophical, and religious content of the groundbreaking science fiction film "The Matrix". There are fourteen essays, each by a different author, and a glossary of Matrix terms as well as short bios of the contributing authors in the back of the book. The essays address a wide range of topics as they relate directly to the film: the nature of reality, the evolution of artificial intelligence, postmodern theory, Judeo-Christian symbolism, Buddhist metaphors, and the science behind the Matrix' technology. The last three essays don't discuss the film itself, but express ideas about emerging technologies which may make a Matrix-like world of human-machine interdependence a reality in our future. Editor Glenn Yeffeth has given us contributors with opposing views in many cases, so many of the essays are grouped in pairs so that we can read them in a point-counterpoint style. The very fact that "The Matrix" can be interpreted as representing both Socialist and Capitalist, Monotheist and Pantheist, Postmodernist and Crass Commercial ideals may provide the greatest insight into the film's genius and staying power. My only criticism of the book is that, among its many interesting essays, there are none that analyze the film's meaning in and of itself, as opposed to discussing its relationship to various external religious and philosophical doctrines. "The Matrix" borrows from and alludes to numerous esteemed schools of thought, but it is the film's own fascinating, complex, and thought-provoking conditions that make "The Matrix" resonate so powerfully with its audience. "The Matrix" has a philosophical identity of its own. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual Thrill Ride April 14 2003
There was a reason that cyberpunk's quick-paced revival resonated with audiences, something more than Neo and Trinity's sexy androgyny, the cool effects and apocalyptic story. Audiences left the theater literally blown away; people heatedly discussed "The Matrix" in the car on their way home.
As I sat in the theater seat nearly four years ago, the screen flashing before me, I got the sense that I was on to something big. There's so much going on, so much packed into the film -- how can you even begin to address it, compartmentalize, etc?
Taking the Red Pill picks up all the threads woven into the film and gives them a good tug. The result? A vibrant plentitude of interpretation springs to view. The book is accessible. It's funny and riveting, and filled to the brim with a diversity of approaches. The intellectual vigorous debate renewed my excitement for "The Matrix."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good and Bad Jan. 5 2004
By A Customer
This is actually a hard book to review because of the essays beign written by many authors. Basically I give this a three because it does not go into great depth. If you have thought about the Matrix while watching you more than likely have an opinion and thoughts on the subjects they write about, for example - Was Cypher right in wanting to be plugged back in? The good part of this book though is that it is a great introduction to some philosophical concepts if one hasn't taken an intro to philosophy course. It does give the background on where the ideas for this movie came from. If you really like this one or don't like it for that matter read The Matrix and Philosophy. This is a good read that goes into a little more depth than this book seems to do. Although everything I have said is not positive I do not want to discourage you from reading this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Every essay in this book will shed new light on the way you view this world. It is so well researched, written, and edited that I'm hard pressed to find another book that I would rate so highly. There are theories presented here that will have you talking to anyone who will listen about the almost unreal possibilities these authors present. They are the top people in their respective fields and were not chosen because they just had cool ideas. They were chosen because they know what they're talking about. I can say this with some authority as one of my good friends is basically 2nd in command at the publishing company. So, do not hesitate to pick up this book and gain unbelievable new insights.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read Nov. 6 2003
Like another reviewer said, I thought the matrix was deep before I read this book. It really shows you just "how deep the rabbit hole goes."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read if you're a Matrix fan Nov. 1 2003
I'm an admitted Matrix junkie, and having just read this book, it's gotten even worse. If you're a newbie to philosophy, yet are a Matrix fan, get this book. It's mostly in essay form, from various writers/philosphers, and relates sci-fi literature, popular culture, and human perception to the story of The Matrix. Read it, it will open your eyes.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Like Most Anthologies, Oct. 4 2003
By Harkius
There are good essays, and there are bad essays.
The book also lacks focus. It seems to be just a bunch of essays that are by people who are famous and who slightly modified another essay that they had already written in order to make them apply to The Matrix as well. Only three or so of the essays directly applied, and one of them didn't mention the movie at all (although that essay was noted as having been written before the movie and was included as a prophetic statement). Of these essays, one focused entirely on whether the technology in The Matrix was possible, which wasn't entirely interesting to me.
Other essays, notably the religious ones, were quite amusing, as religion was never really intended to be a main theme of the movie, although philosophy was. The author (can't remember his name off hand, but I am sure you can look at the table of contents) who said that The Matrix was a Christian movie was quite entertaining, although a bit...inaccurate. He compared Neo to Jesus (of course) and cited Biblical scripture about the Messiah coming and being a military and spiritual leader, which is funny, since that isn't what Jesus did at all.
The author comparing it to Buddhism seemed similarly deluded, since The Matrix is an anthem of personal choice and individuality, which is not at all what Buddhism is all about. Granted, there are overtones of both in the movie, but they are both wrong that the movie instills their religious viewpoints. It is, however, interesting to note that such widely disparate religions could both think that the movie referred to their religion. Perhaps they are not as far apart as they think? Perhaps they simply fell into the trap of confirmation bias.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Better Matrix Books
This anthology does a great job pulling interesting commentary on the movie together. In some ways it's more enjoyable than the movie itself. Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2003 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Why is the Simulacra by Jean Baulldriaud not mentioned?
I have not yet but will read this book because of the reference to the Red Pill concept. But I continue to be curious why authors dont acknowledge that the Matrix was written in... Read more
Published on Sept. 19 2003 by Kina Wai
5.0 out of 5 stars A book for someone prepared to question it all
I picked up this book and read it cover to cover; even the glossary in the end.
I did skim through one essay that seemed to drag on, but overall it was very interesting to... Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2003 by Jimi Michalscheck
1.0 out of 5 stars New(ish) to the Science Fiction genre? Heed My Warning.
I am using "one star" not as a means for expressing my displeasure with the book overall, but as a tool to get your attention -- For I write this not so much as a review... Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2003 by Chaim Krause
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty interesting
I found this book interesting at certain points...and terribly tedious at others. I am definitely not a science person, so some of the hard-core technology and scientific language... Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2003 by S.R.W. Phillips
4.0 out of 5 stars FOOD FOR THOUGHT
With the release of this book before Reloaded dropped, I was able to read and enjoy it before the next installment of The Matrix was unleashed upon the world. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2003 by M. R. ZOGLIO
5.0 out of 5 stars And I thought the movie was deep BEFORE I read this book
Lets face it. If you're reading this review, The Matrix was more than just a movie to you. Something that you saw in it made you question, if even for a moment, the nature of... Read more
Published on July 11 2003 by Derek
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