Matrix And Monadology- Leibnizian Themes And The MatrixThanks to Nate Bowditch for extensive and very helpful discussion of all the issues discussed in this paper. Thanks also to Chris Grau for helpful comments and for his patience.
I felt—as many others have felt—that the Monadology was a kind of fantastic fairy tale, coherent perhaps, but wholly arbitrary.
Bertrand Russell, The Philosophy of Leibniz, p. xvii
“I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole.”
Morpheus, The Matrix
Leibniz’s mature philosophical system—the monadology—is a remarkable baroque construction. From its fundamental constituents, the monads, to the doctrines that constitute that system, such as the thesis that there is no causal interaction between mind and body, or even among individual things, Leibniz’s views have proven endlessly fascinating. Yet many readers have shared the sentiment expressed by Russell in the first epigraph of this paper; Leibniz’s presentation of the monadology in The Principles of Philosophy, or The Monadalogy does little to dispel the sense that his philosophical system is arbitrary.All references in what follows are to the translation of the Monadology in G. W. Leibniz: Philosophical Essays, Ed. and trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett, … Continue readingLeibniz did not title his work The Monadology; this title was added by the first editor of the work in German translation. (Thanks to Don Rutherford for bringing this point to my attention.) It … Continue reading The Monadology is a work in metaphysics, that is, a work that tries to uncover the nature of reality,In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York/London: Routledge, 1998), Edward Craig defines ‘metaphysics’ as follows: “Metaphysics is a broad area of philosophy marked out by … Continue reading and although it was written in 1714 as a kind of summation and popularization of Leibniz’s philosophical views, the work neither makes those views readily accessible, nor does it go very far in convincing readers of Leibniz’s account of the nature of reality, as Russell’s remark shows. Leibniz does not seem to give arguments for the positions that he presents in the Monadology, apparently contenting himself with assertions as vatic and mysterious as those of the Oracle in THE MATRIX, and the unfamiliarity and complexity of his views is a further block to understanding.When I refer to the film, I will write ‘THE MATRIX’; I will refer to the Matrix depicted in the film as ‘the Matrix’. Leibniz’s readers find themselves in much the same epistemological position as Neo when he begins to learn about the reality of the Matrix: a strange new world is revealed to them, one quite different from the world that they experience, and they (understandably) resist entering that world. In this paper, I try to guide readers down the rabbit hole of Leibniz’s philosophy and in the process to illuminate some aspects of THE MATRIX. I believe that looking at these works together not only yields new insights into THE MATRIX, but also provides a relatively painless introduction to certain distinctive features of Leibniz’s philosophy. In what follows, I will try to elucidate the evidential support for the views presented in the Monadology, and show, pace Russell, that it is not merely a ‘fantastic fairy tale’. I do not of course mean to suggest that the monadology is an accurate account of the nature of reality, but I will argue that from a Leibnizian point of view, it is the Matrix, not the monadology, that is the ‘fantastic fairy tale’.
I. Monads and the Matrix
I want to begin by considering the fundamental building blocks of Leibniz’s mature philosophy, the monads themselves. Let us consider the first few sections of the Monadology.
1. The monad, which we shall discuss here, is nothing but a simple substance that enters into composites—simple, that is, without parts.
2. And there must be simple substances, since there are composites; for the composite is nothing more than a collection, or aggregate, of simples.
3. But where there are no parts, neither extension, shape, nor divisibility is possible. These monads are the true atoms of nature and, in brief, the elements of things.
According to Leibniz, monads must be the fundamental constituents of the universe, because only monads have the simplicity necessary to be such constituents. Neither material bodies, nor animals, nor human beings (composites of mind [or soul] and body, according to the tradition to which Leibniz subscribed) can be the “elements of things,” because they can be decomposed into further parts. For example, a human being consists of soul and body, and may be distinguished into these component parts. More strikingly, according to Leibniz, bodies have no genuine reality, because they can be subdivided, and Leibniz even believes that bodies are actually infinitely divided. Leibniz notes that “each portion of matter is not only divisible to infinity…but is also actually subdivided without end, and each part divided into parts” (§65). By contrast, souls cannot be divided (what would it mean to talk about half a soul?), and are simple substances that can serve as the metaphysical basis of composite things such as bodies. Leibniz’s technical term for a soul is ‘monad’. Leibniz’s conception of monads encompasses the traditional conception of the soul—monads are immortal, and in rational beings are the locus of identity and moral personality—but goes far beyond that conception. According to Leibniz, nothing in the world besides monads has any genuine reality, and so all things besides monads are mere phenomena, or appearances. (This is certainly not part of the traditional conception of the soul.) The ultimate basis for appearances like the bodies that we see and touch are the monads, which have genuine unity and simplicity and are therefore real. The point is this: on Leibniz’s view, the only real things are souls (properly understood, from his perspective, as monads), and the universe ultimately consists of a collection of souls.
At this point, the reader might object that there is a fundamental difference between Leibniz’s monadology and the Matrix that precludes any comparison between them. The fundamental constituents of Leibniz’s philosophical system are metaphysical points, spiritual entities that take up no space, whereas the fundamental constituents of the Matrix are physical entities of the sort with which we are familiar, the growing bodies of the human beings whose electrical impulses provide power for the machines. (Recall the moment when Neo emerges from the fluid in which he has been contained to see the enormous power grid that is the reality of the Matrix itself). To be sure, the difference is enormous—surely no difference could be greater than that between metaphysical and physical points—but I do not believe that this difference makes it impossible for us to consider the Matrix in relation to Leibniz’s monadology.
There is historical precedent for retaining a broadly Leibnizian metaphysics without following Leibniz all the way to the monads.I have learned all that I know about the differences between the metaphysics of Leibniz and Wolff from Don Rutherford. The account of these differences presented in the following paragraph derives … Continue reading Christian Wolff, an eighteenth-century German philosopher chiefly responsible for the systematization and dissemination of Leibniz’s philosophy, which was never fully explicated and was largely contained in papers that were not published during Leibniz’s lifetime, refused to adopt the fundamental principles of Leibniz’s metaphysics. At the age of twenty-six, Wolff, who had at that time not written a major philosophical treatise, engaged in a correspondence with Leibniz in which Leibniz laid bare his fundamental metaphysical doctrines. Late in their correspondence, however, the young Wolff revealed that he could not accept all the principles of Leibniz’s metaphysics because he rejected Leibniz’s approach to philosophy.See the Briefwechsel zwischen Gottfried von Leibniz und Christian Wolff (Hildesheim: Olms, 1963), p. 142. What distinguishes Wolff’s method of philosophizing from that of Leibniz is that Leibniz takes intellectual intuitions about the nature of things as his starting points in philosophy, whereas Wolff begins from his sensory experience of things in the world.
This is a crucial point, so I want to elaborate on it. According to Leibniz, human beings have the capacity for knowledge of the nature of things, because they have intellects, a special mental capacity dedicated to revealing the natures of things. In contrast to the intellect, the senses do not yield knowledge about the nature of things, but only present things are as they are in relation to us. Consequently, Leibniz believes that we cannot rely on our senses in order to understand the nature of reality and are mistaken if we do so, because the senses only present the world to us in such a way as to facilitate our experience in the world as it appears, but do not function—and are not supposed to function—to reveal the nature of reality to us. Given Leibniz’s belief that there is a cognitive division of labor between the senses and the intellect, he can maintain that we are not being systematically deceived about the nature of the world, despite the fact that it does not appear to us in its true nature, because we have the intellectual capacity to understand its nature.
Wolff, for his part, rejects Leibniz’s appeal to the intellect, and because sense experience does not support Leibniz’s claim that the fundamental constituents of the universe are mental substances, Wolff refuses to embrace Leibnizian monads. Yet Wolff does accept a number of characteristically Leibnizian doctrines, including the doctrine that there is no genuine causal interaction between substances, which we will consider in the next section, and he also believes that there are fundamental constituents of the world: we may call those constituents ‘physical monads’.Immanuel Kant seems to have thought of Wolff’s system in this way, especially in his early writings. Wolff accepted so many of Leibniz’s doctrines that it is commonly believed that they are fundamentally in agreement, and Wolff’s successors, such as Immanuel Kant, treat the thought of Leibniz and Wolff as a unified whole, the ‘Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophy’.
In THE MATRIX, of course, the machines did not merely have theoretical reasons like those of Wolff for refusing to go all the way to Leibnizian monads. They needed to take human beings as the fundamental constituents of the Matrix because human beings—composites of body and mind—were all the materials that they had. Without human bodies to produce electricity, the machines would not be able to generate the power that they need in order to continue to operate. To be sure, there is a sense in which the metaphysics of the Matrix has a Wolffian starting-point: just as Wolff constructs his metaphysics on the basis of human experience, the machines begin with actually existing materials (human bodies) and use them to construct the Matrix. In contrast, Leibniz seems to soar into thin air, carried by intellectual intuitions, and unfettered by his experience of the world. Although we may not want to accept Leibniz’s claims for the power of the intellect, it is of inestimable significance for his approach to philosophy, and the role that Leibniz assigns to the intellect must be borne in mind whenever one tries to understand Leibniz’s philosophy.
II. Causation in the Monadology and in the Matrix
In the initial epigraph of this paper, Bertrand Russell notes that despite the fantastic aspects of Leibniz’s metaphysical system, it does have considerable coherence. In an age known for the construction of metaphysical systems—such as those of Descartes, Malebranche, and Spinoza—Leibniz’s metaphysics is perhaps the most tightly logically constructed system. In the previous section, we considered the fundamental unit of Leibniz’s metaphysics, the monad. In this section, I will examine the conception of causality that Leibniz derives from the nature of the monads; I will use Leibniz’s account of causality to elaborate a criticism of causality in the Matrix.
Some historical background may help explain why Leibniz was interested in causality. One of the great events of the early modern period was the Scientific Revolution, which completely transformed our understanding of our place in the world. It had long been believed that the earth was a fixed planet, the center of the universe; Copernicus’ discovery that the earth moved around the sun exploded this prejudice. The ‘Copernican Revolution’ shattered the belief that humans were at the center of God’s creation. Following Copernicus, new discoveries were made, and spurred by the advances of the ‘new science’, numerous natural philosophers (as scientists were known in the early modern period) undertook experimental work, laying the foundations for modern physics, biology, and even geology. Many natural philosophers—including Descartes, who undertook metaphysics in order to ground his physics; Spinoza, who ground lenses and sought to develop a new understanding of man to fit the new conception of nature emerging from the Scientific Revolution; and Leibniz, who was not only a co-inventor (with Newton) of the calculus, but also did work in physics and even wrote one of the first systematic treatises in geology, the Protagaea—were also engaged in what we would take today to be philosophical investigations that manifested the influence of the Scientific Revolution. Among the concepts that came under pressure from scientific discoveries was the notion of causality.For an extensive discussion of early modern conceptions of causation, see Kenneth Clatterbaugh, The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637-1739 (New York/London: Routledge, 1999).
So what is the nature of causality? In everyday life, we see many instances of causation: sugar dissolves in coffee, thrown baseballs break windows, and a struck cue ball hits another billiard ball and causes it to move. Of course, body-body causality of this sort is not the only sort of causal relation. When I prick my finger with a pin, I feel a pain; when I will to move my arm, my arm moves. But how can something that happens in the body affect the mind, and how can something that happens in the mind affect the body? How is the causal relation to be characterized? Such questions arise naturally in philosophical reflection on everyday events and on science. Numerous early modern philosophers felt obliged to treat the notion of causality. Leibniz was no exception. The Monadology was intended to explain the nature of reality, so Leibniz naturally had to give an account of causality.
My aim in this section of the paper is to use Leibniz’s account of causation to elaborate a criticism of causation in the Matrix. I will make a start on this by examining the nature of causation in the Matrix before turning to Leibniz. Recall that the individuals in the Matrix are part of a power grid, and are connected to a computer program that simulates life in the most advanced stage of human civilization, the twentieth century. Now we have all experienced the ways in which interactions can produce changes in other human beings, and the ways that changes in our bodies can produce changes in our minds, and vice versa. But no human being actually—physically—interacts with any other human being in the Matrix, because only minds are hooked into the Matrix itself, and their bodies are in the power grid.Other authors, such as Dreyfus & Dreyfus, Hanley, and Vasiliou, have claimed that the Matrix allows genuine interaction with other human beings—at least it seems to allow genuine interaction … Continue reading Indeed, people in the Matrix never use their physical bodies. When Neo is extracted from the Matrix, we learn that he has never used his eyes or muscles, even though he has had experiences as of using his eyes and muscles, on account of the computer program into which his mind is plugged. However, the minds of the people plugged into the Matrix do physically interact with their physical bodies, because experiences in the Matrix, which are merely representations in the minds of individuals hooked into the Matrix, affect those bodies. Indeed, it is only because there is a relation between the human mind and the human body that the machines are able to generate electricity from the human beings embedded within the power grid. The Matrix keeps minds occupied, and the effect of this mental activity manifests itself in the electrical energy generated by bodies. We must therefore distinguish two types of causation in THE MATRIX. There are the causal interactions (including causal interactions with other people) governed by the laws of the computer program that constitutes the Matrix, and there are physical interactions, between those minds and their bodies that are in the power plant, that are not governed by the Matrix.
An example may help to clarify this distinction. In the Matrix, when one person appears to cause a change in another—for example, when an agent shoots a bystander while chasing Neo—no physical change takes place. No bullet actually pierces the bystander’s body, for her body is in the power plant, and the bullet is only a representation in the bystander’s mind. In virtue of the computer program that generates the experience of the human beings in the Matrix, the bullet is represented to the consciousness of the bystander as piercing her body, thereby causing pain. Although this experience is entirely governed by the Matrix, the results of this experience are not. If the bullet wound is represented to the mind of the person who has been shot as fatal, then her body—her actual body, which is in the power plant and therefore not subject to the laws of the Matrix—will die and cease to produce electricity. So while the experience of human beings hooked into the Matrix is entirely subject to its laws, the relation between this experience and its manifestation in one’s actual body is not governed by those laws, but by the laws that govern the relation between the minds and bodies of people who are genuine ‘children of Zion’, born outside the Matrix.
How, then, are the minds of the individuals in the Matrix related to their physical bodies? Consideration of what happens to the rebels on the Nebuchadnezzar when they enter the Matrix helps to answer this question. The bodies of the rebels, dressed in shabby clothes, are in chairs on the ship; in the Matrix, the rebels have perceptions of their bodies, quite differently attired (Morpheus calls these representations “residual self-image”), moving through the world of the Matrix. When something happens in the Matrix to one of the rebels—for example, when Neo’s body is battered by the fists of Agent Smith during their battle in the subway—Neo has the experience as of being punched by fists and feels pain. Neo’s actual body, in the chair on the Nebuchadnezzar, also manifests the effects of Agent Smith’s punches: the flinches and jerks of Neo’s body, and the blood that collects in his mouth, are the physical manifestations of his experiences as of being battered in the face in the Matrix. This relation between mind and body (as opposed to the relation between the body that Neo appears to have in the Matrix and his mind) is not mediated by the Matrix. We may therefore conclude that there is no univocal notion of causation in THE MATRIX: that is, there is no single notion of causation, no single causal law, that governs all causal interactions. Instead, there are two distinct types of causal relation: the causality mediated by the computer program, and the causal relation between human minds and their actual bodies.This raises a thorny nest of questions. Consider the following scenario: suppose that in the Matrix, an agent cuts off a rebel’s finger. Now we have seen that when an agent punches a rebel in the … Continue reading I think that this point is significant for understanding the nature of the Matrix, and I will try to show why below, with reference to Leibniz’s account of causation.
In order to bring out this point, however, we need first to examine Leibniz’s account of causation, which follows from the nature of the monads. Leibniz explains:
there is…no way of explaining how a monad can be altered or changed externally by some other creature, since one cannot transpose anything in it, nor can one conceive of any internal motion that can be excited, directed, augmented, or diminished within it, as can be done in composites, where there can be change among the parts. The monads have no windows through which something can enter or leave. (§7)
Causation is a relation between two events, a cause and an effect, and we generally experience causation as a relation between some cause and an effect: for example, a bullet pierces the flesh, and causes one to feel pain. In the Matrix, this relation must be conceived as a relation between a mental representation of a bullet and a pain. Leibniz would maintain that our experience as of a bullet piercing the flesh and causing pain does not accurately represent the nature of causation. Given that monads are simple substances, they cannot be changed by anything, and so cannot really (i.e., metaphysically) be affected by external causal influences. So apparent causation must be explained by changes in the states of a monad. According to Leibniz, the monad is a simple substance all of whose states are representations, or, as Leibniz puts it, perceptions. He explains that “this is all one can find in the simple substance—that is, perceptions and their changes. It is also in this alone that the internal actions of simple substances must consist” (§16) and he further remarks that “the nature of the monad is representative” (§60). Because no monad can be affected by anything external to it, apparent instances of causation must instead consist of representations of the effects of other substances, which appear to, but do not actually, affect the monad.
Mind-body causation is a most familiar experience, so I will use it to illustrate Leibniz’s conception of causality. When a pin pricks one’s finger and causes one to feel pain, it appears that the body affects the mind. But we have seen that Leibniz (in contrast to Wolff) does not believe that appearances are a good guide to the nature of things. According to Leibniz, there are not really any bodies; the perception or representation that human beings have of their bodies is in fact grounded in the states of the monad. (So Leibniz would agree—for quite different reasons—with Morpheus’ remark to Neo, befuddled by the blood in his mouth following their karate fight: “the body cannot live without the mind.”) The upshot of Leibniz’s account of causation is this: no substance can actually change another, but it only appears to change another, and genuine changes are actually internal changes of the representational states of the monads. According to Leibniz, when a pin pricks one’s finger and appears to cause one to feel pain, what actually happens is that one has a representation of a change in one’s body (the pin-prick) that is succeeded by a representation of a pain. So although bodies and minds do not genuinely interact, any more than individual monads do, our experience of those changes presents the world as a product of genuine causal interaction.
This account of causality seems to confirm that the Leibnizian world is no less of a dream world than the world of the Matrix, for in neither world does what one experiences actually take place. (I actually believe that this is true only of the world of the Matrix, and I will return to this issue in §III below.) Indeed, it might even seem that the Leibnizian world is even more of a dream world than the Matrix. According to Leibniz, there is no genuine causal interaction between substances: all instances of apparent causal interaction are, in the final metaphysical analysis, instances of a succession of representational states of one substance that are harmonized with the succession of states in other substances. In the Matrix, by contrast, there does seem to be genuine causal interaction: it is only in virtue of the agent’s decision to shoot a bullet that a bystander comes to feel pain when the bullet hits her. I believe that this is itself only a mere appearance, but I will not press this point here; for my purposes, this contrast is somewhat beside the point.In “The Brave New World of The Matrix” , Hubert Dreyfus and Stephen Dreyfus focus on this aspect of Leibniz’s views, quite correctly pointing out that according to Leibniz, there is no … Continue reading I want to focus on the fact that there are two different kinds of causation at play in THE MATRIX, and how Leibniz’s account of causation points out the problems inherent in this notion. Consequently, I want to focus here on how Leibniz conceives of apparent causal interactions on the level of minds and bodies, apparent interactions that of course disappear at the deeper metaphysical level of the monads.
According to Leibniz, the changes in bodies are determined by laws of efficient causation (laws that govern physical causes), while the changes in souls or minds are determined by laws of final causation (laws governing causality according to reasons). On this account, there is no genuine interaction between minds and bodies; bodies are governed by laws of bodily changes, and minds are governed by laws of mental changes, and the two are harmonized through the representational nature of the monad, which has been established by God, the only being who is capable of creating monads (see §§. 5-6). As Leibniz explains: “Souls act according to laws of final causes, according to appetitions, ends, and means. Bodies act according to laws of efficient causes or motions. And these two kingdoms, that of efficient causes and that of final causes, are in harmony with each other” (§79). So far, it seems that at this level of analysis, Leibniz’s account of causation is akin to the account that I claim emerges in THE MATRIX: different laws govern bodies from the laws that govern minds. However, according to Leibniz, these realms of efficient causes and final causes harmonize; in fact, Leibniz goes so far as to claim that on his account, this harmony reflects an intrinsic relation between physical states and mental states, which are the exact representations of the physical states in question. There is no such harmony in THE MATRIX.
It is here that the difference between Leibniz’s conception of causation and that at work in THE MATRIX is most clearly manifest. The intervention of the machines has altered the natural order of things, and there is no longer any natural connection between human mental representations, the objects they represent, and states of the human body. When one feels a pain as of being punched in the stomach in the Matrix, the pain actually represents only an electrical impulse, and not a physical event, the punch of a human fist, because the human beings in the Matrix cannot punch (they cannot even use their limbs), and they also cannot absorb blows to the stomach. By contrast, one’s actual body manifests the state of one’s mind, and therefore manifests the pain that one feels when one has the experience of being punched. But of course, one hasn’t actually been punched, so one’s body is actually misrepresenting the world! Leibniz would take this fact to be extraordinarily problematic: it manifests the disorder introduced into the natural order of things by the intervention of the machines. This disorder, moreover, returns us to the issue of the illusory nature of experience in the Matrix, to which I turn in the next section of the paper.
III. Freedom From a Fairy Tale: Neo, God of the Matrix
Many of Leibniz’s readers have followed Russell in thinking that Leibniz’s metaphysics has no more chance of explaining the real world than does a fairy tale: Leibniz’s metaphysical explanation of the nature of human experience seems to make it the case that there is no reality for human experience to correspond to, but rather that reality is simply constituted by one’s experience. Such a view would amount to idealism, the view that there are only appearances and no genuine material objects. Now Leibniz’s account certainly is a form of idealism. According to Leibniz, the only substances that exist are the monads, which represent all the very important events that we experience in our lives. This, of course, seems to be the situation of the prisoners of the Matrix: the events that they experience are actually the representation of electrical impulses generated by the computer program that constitutes their ‘reality’.This is just the scenario raised by Hilary Putnam in “Brains in a Vat,” discussed by Chris Grau in §2 of “Philosophy in The Matrix.” Just as the Matrix is revealed to Neo (and the viewer of THE MATRIX) to be a mere computer-generated reality that has no real significance, it might seem that the contents of the monads’ perceptions are also unreal.See Grau, “Philosophy in The Matrix”, §3. So it would seem that the monadology is not just a fairy tale, but a nightmare like the Matrix.
Leibniz insists that the monadology is not a nightmare.In “The Matrix of Dreams,” Colin McGinn argues that it is philosophically important that the people in the Matrix be taken to be dreaming. One might well wonder whether Leibnizian individuals … Continue reading Why? Let us return to the building blocks of Leibniz’s metaphysical system, the monads. The monads are simple substances, so they cannot be reduced to anything else, and Leibniz explains that “one can say that monads can begin or end only at once, that is, they can only begin by creation and end by annihilation” (Monadology §6). Creation and annihilation are actions that are reserved for God; consequently, the monads (and hence their representational states, that present the world to them) must have been created by God. As Leibniz explains in §36 of the Monadology: “the ultimate reason of things must be in a necessary substance…what we call God.” It is of course a tenet of Christian theism that God is a perfect being: He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc.. It is in virtue of His omnipotence that God can create (or annihilate) monads; in virtue of His benevolence, according to Leibniz, we can know that the world He has created, the world that we experience, is a true world, for we know that a good God could not deceive us.Similarly, in the Third Meditation, Descartes responds to the possibility raised in the First Meditation that we are continually being deceived by an evil genius, by proving the existence of God and … Continue reading Given that God is no deceiver, and we have experience as of many substances (which must be monads), we know that it is the case that many monads corresponding to our experience of the world must exist. It’s important to note that these are all truths that we can know (by means of the intellect, as I pointed out in § I). Leibniz recognizes that our experience of the world is different: we experience ourselves as interacting with other real things and people. However, he believes that the intellect reveals that the reality underlying of that experience is quite different from what we might naïvely take it to be, although on Leibniz’s view, his metaphysics does not undermine our confidence in the reality of experience, but confirms it, and should actually assuage any worries that we might have that the world has no more reality than a fairy tale.Secular readers might well find this solution as unsatisfying as Descartes’ attempt to refute the possibility of global skepticism (the evil deceiver doubt) by proving the existence of God.
There is no such guarantee in the Matrix. Neo comes to learn that his experience is merely a series of appearances, with no more reality than a fairy tale, but in order to do so, he must first be liberated from the Matrix, and not all prisoners of the Matrix can come to learn this truth.Leibniz, by contrast, that all human beings, in virtue of the fact that they have intellects, are in principle capable of understanding the nature of reality. Their failure to do so is due to their … Continue reading Leibniz might suggest that this is the case because there is no God in the Matrix, to guarantee our access to the truth and to provide the metaphysical foundation for our experience. Yet Morpheus explains that humans may be redeemed from this nightmarish existence.
When the Matrix was first built, there was a man born inside who had the ability to change whatever he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was he who freed the first of us, [who] taught us the truth: as long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free. After he died, the oracle prophesized his return, and that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people. That is why there are those of us who have spent our entire lives searching the Matrix, looking for him. I did what I did because…I believe that search is over.
The man born in the Matrix had the power to work miracles, a power, according to Leibniz, reserved only for God. According to Morpheus, Neo is the reincarnation of this man, and will undo the machines’ new order of things. By assuming the power of the man born inside the Matrix, Neo will redeem human lives by freeing them to experience reality. Neo’s importance to Morpheus, and indeed to the entire resistance, derives from the fact that he has the power to deliver humanity from the nightmare of the Matrix, and guarantee the reality of human experience. Although Neo may destroy the Matrix—liberating all minds as he was liberated by Morpheus—in so doing he will assume the functional role of Leibniz’s God, freeing minds from the Matrix and opening them to the truth.This interpretation was developed before THE MATRIX Reloaded or THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS appeared. RELOADED casts some doubt on this interpretation, given the fact that we learn that the idea that … Continue reading
|↑1||Thanks to Nate Bowditch for extensive and very helpful discussion of all the issues discussed in this paper. Thanks also to Chris Grau for helpful comments and for his patience.|
|↑2||All references in what follows are to the translation of the Monadology in G. W. Leibniz: Philosophical Essays, Ed. and trans. Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989). I will refer to the Monadology by section number. I will refer to the text as ‘the Monadology’; in referring to the philosophical system articulated in the text, I will write ‘the monadology’.|
|↑3||Leibniz did not title his work The Monadology; this title was added by the first editor of the work in German translation. (Thanks to Don Rutherford for bringing this point to my attention.) It is believed that Leibniz’s title for the work would simply have been The Principles of Philosophy (see Ariew and Garber, p. 213).|
|↑4||In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York/London: Routledge, 1998), Edward Craig defines ‘metaphysics’ as follows: “Metaphysics is a broad area of philosophy marked out by two types of inquiry. The first aims to be the most general investigation possible into the nature of reality….The second type of inquiry seeks to uncover what is ultimately real, frequently offering answers in sharp contrast to our everyday experience of the world.” As will become quickly apparent in my discussion, Leibniz’s conception of the ultimate constituents of reality differs sharply indeed from our everyday experience of the world.|
|↑5||When I refer to the film, I will write ‘THE MATRIX’; I will refer to the Matrix depicted in the film as ‘the Matrix’.|
|↑6||I have learned all that I know about the differences between the metaphysics of Leibniz and Wolff from Don Rutherford. The account of these differences presented in the following paragraph derives from Rutherford’s forthcoming paper, “Idealism Declined: Leibniz and Christian Wolff.”|
|↑7||See the Briefwechsel zwischen Gottfried von Leibniz und Christian Wolff (Hildesheim: Olms, 1963), p. 142.|
|↑8||Immanuel Kant seems to have thought of Wolff’s system in this way, especially in his early writings.|
|↑9||For an extensive discussion of early modern conceptions of causation, see Kenneth Clatterbaugh, The Causation Debate in Modern Philosophy 1637-1739 (New York/London: Routledge, 1999).|
|↑10||Other authors, such as Dreyfus & Dreyfus, Hanley, and Vasiliou, have claimed that the Matrix allows genuine interaction with other human beings—at least it seems to allow genuine interaction with the minds of other human beings in the Matrix. Perhaps. I have my doubts. But my point is somewhat different, and therefore I am not even going to take up this issue. See also fn. 11 below.|
|↑11||This raises a thorny nest of questions. Consider the following scenario: suppose that in the Matrix, an agent cuts off a rebel’s finger. Now we have seen that when an agent punches a rebel in the Matrix, the rebel’s body on the ship manifests the punch. So how would the rebel’s body manifest the fact that a finger has been cut off in the Matrix? Would the rebel’s actual hand now lack a finger? Would the rebel simply be unable to use that finger, because it was dead? If so, would the finger eventually begin to gangrene and have to be amputated? Here’s another way of framing the same problem. Suppose that a rebel who had lost three fingers on her hand in an industrial accident enters the Matrix. Would her body in the Matrix have all of its fingers? Given that it’s easier to manipulate things with five fingers, it would be practical to have all the fingers of one’s hand; but what, then, would be the relationship between the rebel’s actual hand and her experience of her hand in the Matrix? Moreover, suppose that one of the fingers of the rebel were cut off in the Matrix; given that she already actually lacks the finger, how would this be manifest in the actual body of the rebel in the ship? Would she thereby start to have phantom limb pains? To be sure, no such scenario is presented in THE MATRIX. I think that it is a good thing, because such scenarios would be extraordinarily tricky to work out. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what would happen in such cases.|
|↑12||In “The Brave New World of The Matrix” , Hubert Dreyfus and Stephen Dreyfus focus on this aspect of Leibniz’s views, quite correctly pointing out that according to Leibniz, there is no genuine causal interaction. By contrast, in the Matrix, certainly there is interaction of some sort—representations are received from the computer program. I believe that this issue is somewhat orthogonal to the question that I mean to be addressing in this section of the paper.|
|↑13||This is just the scenario raised by Hilary Putnam in “Brains in a Vat,” discussed by Chris Grau in §2 of “Philosophy in The Matrix.”|
|↑14||See Grau, “Philosophy in The Matrix”, §3.|
|↑15||In “The Matrix of Dreams,” Colin McGinn argues that it is philosophically important that the people in the Matrix be taken to be dreaming. One might well wonder whether Leibnizian individuals must also therefore be dreaming. I believe that the considerations that follow tell against this possibility.|
|↑16||Similarly, in the Third Meditation, Descartes responds to the possibility raised in the First Meditation that we are continually being deceived by an evil genius, by proving the existence of God and concluding that God could not be a deceiver. In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes employs the idea of God in order to prove that there must be a really existing external world. As Grau notes in “Philosophy in The Matrix”, “few have followed Descartes in accepting this solution to skepticism.” Leibniz would also reject this proof of the existence of the material world, not on account of scruples about appealing to God in this way (I argue below that Leibniz does crucially appeal to God in the Monadology), but because he believes that only monads are real and that all other substances supervene on monads and therefore there is no ‘really’ existing material world of the sort whose existence Descartes purports to prove.|
|↑17||Secular readers might well find this solution as unsatisfying as Descartes’ attempt to refute the possibility of global skepticism (the evil deceiver doubt) by proving the existence of God.|
|↑18||Leibniz, by contrast, that all human beings, in virtue of the fact that they have intellects, are in principle capable of understanding the nature of reality. Their failure to do so is due to their failure to use their minds properly.|
|↑19||This interpretation was developed before THE MATRIX Reloaded or THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS appeared. RELOADED casts some doubt on this interpretation, given the fact that we learn that the idea that there will be a redeemer, the idea that has driven Morpheus his whole life, is itself built into the Matrix. The idea that Neo is God could then be understood to be a myth deemed necessary by the Architect in order to sustain the elaborate system constructed by the machines, and my interpretation could be seen simply as an explication of that myth. Given that in REVOLUTIONS, Neo seems to have power both inside and outside the Matrix, it may well be that he is more like a God than the Architect could have foreseen. It’s not clear to me whether the developments of the story can indeed be made to cohere. I leave it to the reader to decide.|