According to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, which does reflect philosopher’s vision he adhered to throughout his life. The Matrix and Philosophy essay draws connections between the movie The Matrix and philosopher’s own life story. As Socrates stated, his mission was to “wake up” the people of Athens, which was his hometown. He commenced this mission by applying the Socratic Method, which is the “process of asking questions until the person either contradicts himself or makes a mistake”. According to the Oracle at Delphi, Socrates was the wisest man in the whole world, and this statement has actually fueled Socrates’ will to disprove it; the philosopher strongly believed that he possessed no wisdom and that Oracle’s statement was a paradox.
Apart from the Oracle’s prophetic words that propelled Socrates mission, the Oracle also had two statements of wisdom in scriptures at the temple of Apollo at Delphi (the place the Oracle belonged to). The first scripture is to “Know Thyself”, which means to be self aware and challenge oneself with the help of the Socratic Method. Socrates used this in Athens in order to expose to the people how falsely they perceive reality, which they did not welcome and treated with rejection and refusal. The second inscription was “Nothing in excess”, which means that one must not over indulge in pleasures and must respect their limits. There was a time when the fumes that inspired the Oracle at Delphi were available to anyone, but the people abused this privilege and, in turn, caused harm to themselves.
The essay touches on the story by Plato called The allegory of the cave, in which he describes prisoners, who are enchained in a cave from birth, so they have no conception of any other way of life. These prisoners only see shadows on the cave walls cast by a fire, which deceives into believing that there is no other reality except the cave and the shadows. One day a prisoner is set free out of his chains and dragged outside, where the sunlight unveils him the world for what it is. The prisoner then goes back inside the cave to tell the other prisoners about what he saw, but he is met with mockery and resistance. This story resembles the life of Socrates, who was believed to be insane and in the end has been put to death for trying to draw attention to a higher plane of reality. As Irwin states, “Plato and Socrates taught the importance of understanding not through the senses but through the intellect alone”. According to him, the connection between Socrates’ life and The Matrix are evident because both propagate similar vision and mission of breaking free from mental imprisonment.
In The Matrix the main character Neo is on a mission to save the human race from being enslaved by an artificial intelligence, which is a clear parallel to Socrates, who is also on a mission to “wake up the people of Athens”. In The Matrix Trinity whispers to Neo “It’s the question that drives us”, which is “What is the Matrix” in the movie. The same everlasting question for Socrates the question is “What is good life?” These questions that stir up both The Matrix’ protagonist and Socrates also tend to cause trouble for people around them and for themselves as well. Socrates hands himself to the trial, charged with corrupting the youth, while Neo is accused by the agents of committing all computer crimes. Another similarity between them is that both Socrates and Neo started their journeys after hearing Oracle’s prophecy.
Both Socrates and Neo visited the oracle, and even the words they spoke and heard, and the environment they were in have similarities. Neo resists the idea that his life is predetermined, clinging on to the notion that he is in control of everything. Socrates also had this similar resistance against his fate, which was evident in his determination to disprove the Oracle’s claim that there is “no one wiser”. In turn, however, Socrates soon realized that he is indeed the wisest man, who seeks to expose their own ignorance to the people of Athens. In both cases Oracle speaks without malice, and offers free advice to the visitors. In The Matrix the Oracle points to a sign above the kitchen door and asks Neo if he knows what it says, even though it is in Latin. The sign reads “Know Thyself”, which is the wisdom also inscribed in the temple of Apollo where Socrates visited the Oracle. Socrates realized that interpreting the prophecy is essential and more important than the actual answer from the Oracle, and, thus, it became the mantra of Socrates life that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. In due time, Neo too comes to terms with knowing himself, and in the end believes that he is meant to fulfill Oracle’s prophecy, in which Morpheus finds the One, and Trinity falls in love with the man who is the One.
There is another piece of wisdom that is inscribed in the Temple of Apollo that is also represented in The Matrix, which is “Nothing in excess”. The Oracle in The Matrix offers Neo a cookie by phrasing it as “take a cookie”, instead of “take as many as you like”. In The Matrix the Oracle is also drinking something, possibly liquor, and smoking a cigarette. She shows that she can indulge in these things without going to an excess, unlike the Agents that infect the Matrix like a virus, using up all resources and moving on to salvage more. It is a clear parallel to the enchanted fumes the Oracles inhaled in Socrates’ times, and the people, who abused this privilege harmed themselves just in the same way people do today with alcohol and cigarettes.
The common idea both Socrates and Neo share is the realization that they are mentally imprisoned. Neo does not want to accept the fact that what he once lived and accepted as a reality was, in fact, a dream world, and refuses to believe his eyes when he finally is dragged out of it. The sight of his fellow prisoners in pods of pink goo makes him feel mortified, even after he had his body restored to the normal condition. Like in the story about the prisoners in the cave, in which one of the prisoners finally sees the real world in sunlight, this revelation causes a long period of painful adjustment to the new, suddenly and unexpectedly expanded reality. Socrates’ life unfortunately ended with him taking the poison, but his teaching lived on through his students, such as Plato. Thus, we, as we live in our world, may too very well be looking at the shadows on a cave’s walls and imagining nothing beyond them, not to say refusing, but do not even believing that there is anything else, unless we challenge ourselves and our mental boundaries.
The essay does prove similarities in Socrates’ and Neo’s life paths, on which the Oracle sparked their adventures, which led them through the struggles of finding out their finer purpose in the world. The grander idea that follows up and envelops this is that one must not settle, but should seek ways to make themselves uncomfortable instead, and do not allow narrow-mindness and rigidity to take over their lives under the guise of stability. This is evident in the mission through which both Socrates and Neo had to endure, their visits to the Oracle, and, lastly, finding out about the prison they did not know they were living in. The theme is important to both Socrates and The Matrix is “Self knowledge is the key, and without it we can unlock no other knowledge worth having”, which brings up Socrates’ famous quote “the unexamined life is not worth having”.
The Matrix. Warner Brothers: The Wachowskis, 1999. DVD.
Irwin, William. The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to Desert of the Real. Chicago: Open Court, 2002. Print.