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Matrix: Dream or Evil Demon (Descartes)

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    Evil Demon vs. Dream
    In the movie The Matrix the image of Neo waking up introduces us to the main character. The point of such awakening is to put the viewers under the impression that Thomas Anderson is in fact not dreaming, and back to the real world. Then, after he goes out clubbing, he finds himself turning off his alarm, waking up again. However, no scene in which Neo physically goes to bed exists in the film. Also, the movie builds an unreal environment around the main character. After reading René Descartes’ Meditations on Philosophy, one can find him- or herself debating whether Neo is dreaming or being deceived by an evil demon. Although there is evidence present for both of these possibilities, and we cannot be metaphysically certain of one or the other, the one in favor of Neo drifting away in the dream world seems to be much more dominant and clear through the dialogue, the lighting and other editorial aspects of the movie.

    Primarily, Agent Smith mentions the fact that Neo has “been living two lives”. Of course, this statement can be easily interpreted as an implication of some con art Neo has been a part of (and yes, he does seem to have two separate identities before Morpheus “recruits” him). However, Agent Smith’s words should also be considered very likely to be an indication of the fact that Neo has been dreaming. A connection can be drawn between this scene and Descartes’ claim saying that “there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep” through the fact that Neo does wake up twice in the very beginning of the movie, and yet we do not see him falling asleep (Descartes 13). This creates confusion concerning whether or not Neo is dreaming and “only reinforces the notion that [he] may be asleep” due to the fact that the audience becomes lost while trying to trace Neo’s state of consciousness.

    Another piece of evidence supporting the fact that Neo’s mind functions in the state of sleep lays in the lighting used in the film. Most of the scenes in the film involve spectra of similar colors, making the discernment between some objects in the film quite a difficult task. Most of us would agree with the statement that while what we experience in the dreams might seem real, the objects surrounding us have a sort of a “vague” appearance –
    they do not have much definition to them. The scene that depicts such dream-like illusion best is the interrogation of Neo in the white room. The walls are all the same, and the corners are nearly indistinguishable. Another example that represents an idea of a dream is the great white space surrounding Morpheus and Neo. Once again, Neo finds himself under the impression that what surrounds him is completely real. Let’s not forget that Descartes appears to be under the same illusion. He claims that in his dreams he “has all the same experiences while asleep as madmen” who “firmly maintain they are kings when they are paupers” do “when awake”. However, Neo is not a madman, as far as we know. We are informed that before Morpheus contacted him, he lived a normal life (or rather two lives) and it is reasonable to logically deduce that he was completely conscious of the reality surrounding him, since he was able to maintain an office job and function as a member of the society.

    However, dialogue itself that is one of the main implications supporting the claim that Neo’s experiences are no more than just a dream. When Morpheus engages in a conversation with Neo, trying to persuade him to join his side, he offers him the two pills, red and blue. Morpheus describes the blue pill, which would take Neo back to his normal life, as one that would cause him to “wake up in [his] own bed”. It is important to notice that Morpheus does not say words like “go back to reality” or “I will set you free”. Instead, he specifically stated that Neo will wake up. Therefore, if there is possibility for Neo to wake up in his own bed, he must be dreaming. He cannot be awake and be at the same time able to wake up. Therefore, if he is not awake, he must be dreaming. Throughout the movie, we do not see Neo wake up in his own bed after the two times in the very beginning. Since he does not wake up in his own bed later in the film, and since Morpheus implicitly states that he is dreaming, he must be dreaming throughout the whole movie.

    Next, the dreamer, under a scientific aspect will experience “illogical […] thought”, “fully formed [sensation]” and “uncritical acceptance” of what surrounds the him or her in such state (Schacter 196). Neo could serve as a textbook example of such occurrences. He does not sit there pondering whether the Matrix is real or not. Instead, he simply accepts what Morpheus
    tells him. Neo also experiences a dream-like scenario in the office, where he is being chased by the Agents. Yet, he never questions why they are chasing him. He accepts it and tries to run. The fully formed perception aspect of the dream is quite self-explanatory. In fact, even Descartes agrees with that in his First Meditation when he says that even though when he “stretch[es] out and feel[s] his hand” while he is awake, he is still unable to discern whether he is dreaming, even by sensation, so his sense of perception must be as sharp in his dreams as it is in reality.

    Clearly, it would be also quite logical for one to argue the other possibility of this argument, namely, the feasible existence of a malicious demon, who is just trying to deceive Neo. One main claim that supports such opinion is one that “the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely delusions of [Descartes’] dreams, which [the Demon] has devised to ensnare [Descartes’] judgment” (Descartes 15). This statement sounds a lot like what Morpheus attempts to teach Neo in the wasteland scene, showing Neo what the world really looks like and that all he has formerly believed no longer holds true. However, it is important to remember that even scientists consider uncritical acceptance of one’s surroundings as one of the main characteristics of a dream. We see Neo questioning what happened to the real world, but following Morpheus’ explanation, he just accepts it and assumes that everything Morpheus shows him is real. The argument claiming that Neo is being deceived can be also countered by taking into account the claim made by Descartes immediately following his Evil Demon argument at the end of the First Meditation. He compares himself to “a prisoner who is enjoying an imaginary freedom while asleep”. This can be linked directly to Morpheus telling Neo that he was “born into a prison that [Neo] cannot taste or touch”. It is almost as if Morpheus creates a claim stating that Neo has traveled into a dream world and he doesn’t even know it. Therefore, even though a good amount of evidence supporting the Evil Demon argument exists, it can be easily refuted by analyzing the great amount of cues supporting the Dream argument.

    In conclusion, the evidence supporting the Dream argument is prominent in The Matrix. The dialogue, as well as the lighting and Neo’s actions follow
    what were Descartes’ reasons to consider dreams as a possible cause for him to “hold back assent from all of his former beliefs”. Upon further analysis of the dialogue in the film, the audience familiar with the First Meditation should make connections between what the characters in The Matrix and Descartes say. This evidence would most likely drive one to claim that Neo is dreaming and experiencing a life-like environment. Although it is possible for an evil demon to deceive Neo, it is unlikely. There is less evidence for such a scenario to exist, and the evidence that is present, is weak. In the end, the dream side of Neo’s experience in the movie contains much more convincing support and clearer demonstration of him being in such state of mind, therefore it is logical to conclude that Neo is dreaming.

    Works Cited
    Descartes, René, and John Cottingham. Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print. The Matrix. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss. 1999. Schacter, Daniel, Daniel Gilbert, and Daniel Wegner. Psychology. 2nd ed. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

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    Matrix: Dream or Evil Demon (Descartes). (2016, Oct 26). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What does Descartes think about dreams?
    Descartes holds the common-sense view that dreams, which regularly occur in all people, are a sequence of experiences often similar to those we have in waking life (this has come to be labelled as the “received view” of dreaming).
    What would Descartes think about the Matrix?
    The Matrix was created to control humanity for the intelligence's own gain, so it is inherently evil. Descartes proceeds to talk about how in order to truly be free, one must do his best to resist deception and know what can truly be known.

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