In Meditation I: “Of the Things of Which We May Doubt,” the correlation between Descartes’ musings and the 1999 movie The Matrix are pretty easy to see: both address the perception of reality and determining and deciding truth and falsehood in that reality. Both delve into the idea that our very senses are capable of deceit, to the point that we could be asleep, trapped in a virtual reality constructed by an indeterminate power.
Descartes is determined to challenge his past perceptions about reality by deciding to reject anything but that which is devoid of doubt (#2), building up to a conjecture about the suspicion of the actuality of reality. He also notes that our culpability to this lie is in proportion to the power of the deceptive party (#10); in the movie, the robots have taken over the world and stuck humans in pods that prevent them any type of contact with the real world, except for groups like Morpheus’s crew.
To me, this means that the robots suppressed all our individual senses and thought processes, but not our compassion for each other because they could not understand it. In fact, they use the exact opposite of this idea against Morpheus’s crew when Agent Smith to exploits Cipher’s selfish desire to go back into the Matrix (an idea that Descartes strongly objects to, #11).
In Descartes’s Meditation II: “The Nature of the Human Mind: And That It Is More Easily Known Than the Body,” he goes further into the idea of living in potentially false reality (#1), but here is where The Matrix and the Meditations diverge: for while Neo was released into the real world in the movie, and could see the very makeup of the Matrix, Descartes has no evidence to support his ruminations (#12 of Meditation I) about the fictitious world (#2 or Meditation II). So he turns to himself.
Does he exist if his body isn’t real? (#3) But then what is he? (#4) Finally, he determines he is a “thinking thing” (#6), and his perceptions are basically thoughts (#9). This made me think of the part in The Matrix when Neo was uploaded with Martial Arts training and Morpheus challenges his perceptions about the limitations of the Matrix.
This conversation between Descartes and The Matrix reminded me of Facebook. Facebook feels a little bit like those pods the robots created for us: it’s a virtual world that has a basis in our reality, but is in fact a totally new entity. A wall post is a type of communication that is incomparable to any other form, as are bumper stickers, notes, or status updates.
However, Facebook is different than those little pods because we have more of a hand in our self-perception. In the movie, Neo had to live up to being “the One,” as Morpheus believes—but he becomes the One because Morpheus trains him and helps him hone his abilities and believes he is the One. Even when he doubts himself, it is because the Oracle knows he cannot become the One without that self-perception.
In our personal information on Facebook, we can represent ourselves quite easily with our interests, activities, and labels such as religion. This also has a back-and-forth measure because when we write about ourselves, we also have to live up to that person we’ve represented. In the end, that means Facebook is like a virtual reality that runs not on a program created by robots, but a societal program that relates to our self-perception as determined by others.
What do you guys think? Is the name of this post right? Is Facebook the human made, socially run version of the Matrix? Is our communication via Facebook as legitimate as our social lives in the real world?
Finally, in this video, CollegeHumor spins this idea into one that suggests that changing someone’s profile can change them, instead of the other way around.