Allegory and Matrix: What Can I Know?

Sunday, December 10, 2006


The Allegory of the Cave and the Matrix are related in numerous ways. It seems as if the producers of the Matrix based the movie on the idea presented in the Allegory of the Cave. People are trapped by the cave just like people are trapped by the Matrix. Both stories answer the three class questions discussed in class, however, I will focus on the question: “What can I know?”

Belief plays an important role in what a person can know. In the Matrix, what Neo can know is limited by the Matrix and what people tell him. He faces decisions that must be made according to his beliefs. Neo has doors to walk through and challenges to face. Challenges like adapting to the real world, saving Morpheus, and becoming The One are presented to him. The challenges he faces helps to determine what he can know.

What Neo believes is what he can know. When he is plugged into the Matrix, he doesn’t believe that he is being used as a battery in the real world. Because of this, he breaks down when Morpheus shows him the truth. Neo says “Let me out. I want to go back. I don’t believe it.” and proceeds to throw up. He was limited to what he could know by being plugged into the Matrix. It is difficult for a person to change the way they have been living and thinking their whole life. This change is difficult for Neo at first. He needs time to think and regenerate his body. Also, Neo’s thoughts need to be regenerated. He has just been shown this whole new world and way of life. He needs time to think about what has happened and how he is going to deal with being The One: Like Cypher says, “What a mind job.”

When Neo gets beyond mirrors, he becomes more and more who he really is. They show literal changes. Mirrors show him who he is at different stages of knowledge about who he is. When he gets past them, parts of his true self are revealed. The mirrors are limited because they are simply a gateway to find his true self. They can’t show Neo who he really is. All they can do is guide him.  After he takes the red pill, he is brought into a room where he can be released from the Matrix. He touches the mirror, essentially touching his real body outside of the Matrix. He is then engulfed by the mirror, and wakes up inside the tube. He has gone past this mirror that has engulfed him. The mirrors slowly spread across his body until it reached his insides. At this point, it showed him who he was in the real world, not the Matrix.  He now knows who he truly is. He sees himself in the spoon when he realizes the spoon isn’t real. Realizing the spoon isn’t real is related to Neo because he isn’t real in the Matrix. He is simply a mental image of himself. If he is not real then he can change the Matrix as he wants. Mirrors on the building break when he does the impossible and saves Morpheus. Neo now realizes that he could possibly be The One. He has just accomplished the impossible, and in doing so has proved to himself that he is capable of great things. Mirrors show Neo’s evolution.

Only your actions and beliefs can determine who you are and what you can know. Throughout the movie, Neo is told that he is The One. He doesn’t want to be The One and have that responsibility, so he is relieved when the Oracle tells him he isn’t. However, she does not directly tell him that he is not The One. He states that he is not The One, and she says sorry, allowing him to choose his own destiny. He feels comfortable knowing that he is not The One at this point in the movie. If he doesn’t believe he is The One, than he doesn’t know he is The One, and therefore he will never be The One.

Knowing you are not the star and responsible for something great allows you to be comfortable in certain situations. The burden of being The One is too much for Neo to handle during the movie. This is similar to being a star player in basketball. Everyone has their eyes on the best player of a team. He is the leader and ultimately responsible for that team’s loss or win. There is an extreme amount of pressure on the star player, just like there is a lot of pressure on Neo to save the world. If you are just another player on the team, you can play your role and go unnoticed. Neo believes he is just another player. He can’t handle the responsibility of being The One at this point. He can’t ultimately know he is The One until he allows himself to believe it.

Neo acts upon what he believes, and he is successful when he takes action. How Neo acts throughout the movie is in part because he doesn’t know things about the Matrix. He is slowly gaining knowledge as he experiences things. He doesn’t know what the agents are capable of exactly. This helps him gain confidence when he stands up to them. Since he believes he can save Morpheus, he knows he can. Because he knows he can, he acts upon what he knows and accomplishes his goal. It is belief and passion that ultimately determines what he knows. If Neo believes he can save someone, then he knows he can save someone, therefore he can make it possible.

Neo begins to believe in himself and what he is capable of when he stands up to Agent Smith for the first time. When Neo turns to fight Agent Smith, Morpheus says “he’s beginning to believe.” Neo has just done the impossible by saving Morpheus. This enhances his own belief that he is capable of being The One. He has dodged bullets, and now will stand up to an agent. The more his confidence and knowledge expands, the more his ability enhances.

Because Neo did not show superior ability when he is first unplugged from the Matrix (failing to jump from building to building), other members of the crew have some doubt about Neo’s ability. However, his actions later on erase these doubts. After he saves Morpheus, both Trinity and Tank believe that he is The One just like Morpheus does. Neo’s actions help determine what he knows. What he accomplishes helps him develop into The One. Neo does things that no one else thought was possible except him. His determination and beliefs allow him to develop.

The realization that absolutely nothing is real in the Matrix allows Neo to ultimately become The One. Neo ends up dying for a brief period of time. Agent Smith shoots him and he dies in both the Matrix and the real world because the body can’t live without the mind. However, nothing in the Matrix is real. Neo starts to realize this throughout the movie. This idea begins when the little kid tells him that “there is no spoon.” This sticks in Neo’s mind. This theory allows him to dodge bullets and save Trinity from the helicopter with super human-like strength. If Neo knows that nothing is real in the Matrix, then there are no rules. There are no real injuries, no real deaths, just the belief of these ideas.

When Neo dies, Trinity brings him back to life with her love and belief that he is The One. She tells his real body that she loves him and that he can’t be dead because he is The One. The Oracle told Trinity that the person that she loved would be The One. When she realizes she loves Neo, she has absolute belief in Neo being The One. Trinity also has a strong trust in the Oracle’s predictions, which helped her gain the ultimate belief that Neo is The One once she realizes she loves him. Belief, love, and knowledge are powerful. They are ideas that can’t be changed or altered. The love and belief that Trinity has for Neo allows him to realize that whatever happens in the Matrix does not actually occur. He is not actually dead because the bullets aren’t real. He has finally grasped the idea that there is nothing real about the Matrix, only the belief that things are real. This knowledge allows him to maximize his ability and destroy the agents.

When Neo is revived in the Matrix, he sees the Matrix in coding. This comes about because he has realized that nothing is real in the Matrix. It is simply a computer program, and because he knows this he sees it as one. He knows it’s a fake world. It is this realization that allows Neo to finally become The One.

Belief, love, ideas, and actions determine what a person can know. As Neo’s knowledge and beliefs expand, he becomes The One. Other’s belief and love for him aid him in becoming The One. The idea that the Matrix isn’t real allows Neo to transform into The One. Because he believes he can defeat the agents and save Morpheus he develops the skills of The One. All of these ideas answer the question “what can I know?”

The same philosophy applies to the Allegory. The prisoners can only know what they are allowed to see. They can see the shadows on the wall and that is all they know. The Matrix is all that Neo knows until he is released into the real world. The shadows are all the prisoners know until they are released from the cave. Just like Neo, if a prisoner is freed, their eyes hurt when they first see the real world. They slowly adjust and adapt to the new environment. Socrates says that they are “Likely to be pained or irritated” (84). The realization that the world they have known their whole life is untrue disturbs the freed prisoners. It can easily cause a breakdown. Neo’s sight had to adjust just like a prisoner of the cave would, “The glare will hurt him and he will be unable to see the realities” (84). It will take time for the prisoners of the cave to see the real world when they leave the cave just like it took time for Neo.

The Allegory and The Matrix answer the question “what can I know?” in the same way. They are extremely similar. The prisoners of the cave are like the prisoners of the Matrix. There is a liberator in the cave just like Morpheus is the liberator of the Matrix. The puppets and puppeteers in the cave play the role of the Agents in the Matrix. When a person exits the cave, they enter the real world, just like when a person leaves the Matrix, they enter the real world.

The cave contains things that can be changed: “Everything you know with your senses will change” (87). Everything can change in the cave just like everything can change in the Matrix. The puppets can disintegrate or the fire can go out. The cave can be changed all together. When things change in the cave, it changes what the prisoners know. On the other hand, the outside world is the source of all things right and beautiful. The forms outside are the pure shape of a pure idea.

Outside the cave is the unchanging realm. Ideas and beliefs can’t be changed. Ideas are intangible. Neo possesses certain ideas and nothing can change what he believes once he is freed. Once the prisoners are freed from the cave, they will have the same opportunity. They will develop thoughts and beliefs that can’t be altered and limited. When you are in the cave, all you know is what you are allowed to know. The shadows are all the prisoners are allowed to know, and when they are released from the cave, opportunity is presented.

Liberators are looked at in the Matrix or in the cave as terrorists. They threaten the order of how things are supposed to be. If the liberator is believed to be a terrorist, prisoners may be resistant in following the liberator out of the cave. Once a prisoner is freed from the cave they won’t be able to see the shadows like they once did. Therefore, the prisoners may not believe the liberator that there is a real world and may consider him crazy. 

The Allegory and the Matrix can be looked at as the same thing. The prisoner’s beliefs and ideas are what they know. They believe the shadows are the real world because that is all they know to be true. If they are exposed to the outside world, their knowledge grows. This is just like The Matrix in the sense that when you are freed, you realize that nothing in the cave is real. The only thing that allows the cave to continue to control the prisoners is because the prisoners do not know that there is a world outside of the cave.

What determines what a person knows? You can only know as much as you allow yourself to. Love, actions, ideas and beliefs play important roles in determining what Neo and the prisoners know. Beliefs and ideas can’t be changed. There are no boundaries on knowledge. However, you have to have the courage to act on your beliefs. Like Morpheus says, “I can show you the door, but you have to open it.” If a prisoner has the courage to act on their instincts, they will ultimately become free. Beliefs and ideas become part of who you are, how you act, and most importantly, what you know. 

Sunday, December 10, 2006
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