Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and the Religion in the Matrix Paperback – Dec 30 2002
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The Lord: Is never aught right to your mind?
Mephistopheles: No, Lord! All is still downright bad, I find.
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 Matrixs 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.
Sawyers 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, Thats (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 . Sawyers conclusion typifies his disregard for The Matrix (and, one assumes, this book too) for its 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 Sawyers 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 readers 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 Matrixs 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 films postmodern poseurism; Peter B. Lloyd, who explains, in detail, the technological feasibility of the films scientific extrapolations; and Nick Bostrum, whose calculations concerning the odds that we are already in the matrix remind one of Carl Sagans 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 futures possible technological terrors will not happen are undone with his last sentence: Well 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 Kurzweils essay to set up the books 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 Doesnt Need Us, for Wired Magazine, but it is a perfect fit here. Joys 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 Joys 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 films 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 Christs 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 todays 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 Goethes Faust II, where Mephisto has actually succeeded in dooming Faust to hell-only to have the divine still intercede on Fausts 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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
I did skim through one essay that seemed to drag on, but overall it was very interesting to hear other viewpoints from very intelligent people on the meaning of life and where we might be headed in the next 50 years.
I'm an engineer by trade, but this book is for anyone who is interested in asking the question:
"What are we doing here and what will happen to us?"
It explains things and speaks to people of all levels of experience in a way that will stimulate thinking.
For instance, it talks about nanotechnology and where it could take us if the probability (happens to be 30% currently) of us destroying ourselves is overcome. Nanotechnology (which I never heard of before reading this book) could be small engineered machines that are many times smaller than 1mm and could be inserted into the brain in the future by the billions. There they could take their place in the brain and transmit and receive information via a wireless network. This will allow us to learn about the brain and how it works in a much more detailed manner.
Also, it would allow us to finally communicate with the brain directly (bypassing all the sensories...smell, touch, taste, sight, sound) We might even be able to start downloading information, skills, even create Virtual Reality like the matrix.
This all lends itself to the real question..."If we can get the technology to recreate 'reality' as we know it and create simulations in the future, then what's to say we aren't a simulation already? Or a simulation of a simulation? and so on."
Some people might think that's implausible, but mathmaticians would disagree.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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. Read morePublished on Jan. 5 2004
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."Published on Nov. 6 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. Read morePublished on Nov. 1 2003 by E. Bartoszak
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 morePublished on Sept. 26 2003 by Jeremy Weinstein
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 morePublished on Sept. 18 2003 by Kina Wai
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 morePublished on Sept. 5 2003 by Chaim Krause
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 morePublished on Aug. 26 2003 by S.R.W. Phillips
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 morePublished on Aug. 5 2003 by M. R. ZOGLIO
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