Facebook is Basically the Matrix, Based on the Ideas of Descartes

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.


3 responses to “Facebook is Basically the Matrix, Based on the Ideas of Descartes

  1. I found your interpretation of The Matrix and Descartes very interesting, particularly the section where you point out that, while Neo is released into the real world and can therefore see the Matrix for what it is, Descartes has no evidence for his ruminations. I would like to suggest that it is not simply that Descartes has no evidence. According to Descartes, there is no real world to be released into. The world only exists, and he only exists, in his own mind. It is as if only the Matrix exists, with no outside world. I would suggest that anyone who is interested in this topic read Douglas Adam’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which is part of the Hitchhiker’s series. Specifically read the section about the ruler of the universe. It is really funny and explores the implications of such thinking.
    I agree with you that Facebook does resemble to Matrix because it limits the use of our real senses, limits our actual human contact and replaces them with digital suggestions of contact. It’s an interesting idea, especially considering how much of my life I spend on Facebook.

  2. I think Cipher is the perfect example the “captive” that Descartes writes about in Meditation I #12, a dreamer who “dreads awakening.” I can’t help but sympathize with the fellow. The life in the Matrix seems so much simpler than life in Zion. I always wonder if the people living in the Matrix are happy. And are the people of Zion happy, living in underground caves amidst death, war, and fear?

    Facebook is an interesting entity and in a way, it is very similar to the Matrix. I don’t think any form of communication on Facebook can be as legitimate as our social lives in the real world. Many people have hundreds and hundreds of friends added on Facebook, but it does not mean that they are actually friends in real life. My friends and I often get friend requests from complete strangers who we have never seen, met, or even heard of before.

  3. Also, this is the trailer for the movie Surrogates. It’s similar to the Matrix in that humans are not living as themselves, but through a computer program. In Surrogates, people are connected to a robot surrogate which allows them to experience life in the comfort of their own homes.

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