This was an actual paper. I wrote it for a real class.
The Morpheatic View Of Reality And How It Validates The Matrix
1. Is The Matrix Reality?
Morpheus is a freedom fighter, the leader of a band of humans willing to re-enter the Matrix, to attack its programming, to fight and to die in the name of all humanity. They are champions of the right to Reality, the right of humans to live free of the machines. But are they correct in their definition of reality?
Morpheus and his crew believe that the Matrix is not reality, because they know it to be based within a computer program, their experiences within it easily manufactured and manipulated.
Neo, newly awakened from his brain-in-a-vat existence, learns to accept this position. Standing in the white space of the Construct, he runs his hands over the back of an old red leather chair and asks, “This... isn't real?”
“What is real?” Morpheus responds. “How do you define real? If you're talking about your senses, what you feel, taste, smell or see, then all you're talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
Neo is apparently too overwhelmed to bring up the fact that Morpheus has not answered his question, and the message he receives is that no, the chair is not real. When he goes to visit the Oracle, the child in the waiting room tells him that there is no spoon, and by this time Neo believes this so readily that he is able to manipulate the programming of the Matrix in order bend the spoon. He never considers the implications of Morpheus' oblique response, but I think that those implications are important to consider.
Is the Matrix reality? Are the experiences a person has within them real?
That line is not drawn by Morpheus himself, but by one of his disciple-like crew, Trinity, when she is forced to beg Cypher for her life and the lives of her shipmates. “The Matrix isn't real!” she says.
“Oh, I disagree, Trinity,” Cypher responds, neatly and immediately. “I think the Matrix can be more real than this world.” The murder he then commits in order to prove his point only underscores the weakness of Trinity's assertion, and touches upon what would seem to be the blank page in Morpheus' teachings: if the Matrix is not reality, and the Real World is, what makes them so?
If, according to Morpheus, both places are experienced within the human mind as mere electrical signals, what makes the one reality, and the other only illusion?
In the absence of a clear answer from Morpheus, I believe that both the Real World and the Matrix are realities, and this can be proved through the character of Agent Smith.
2. The Morpheatic Distinction Between The “Real World” And The Matrix.
Morpheus teaches his crew that his ship and the world it operates in is the Real World, and the world they have come from, the Matrix, is not reality but rather a construct. He demonstrates this by showing how easily manipulated the Matrix is, how a human's perceptions can be shifted and altered any way the programmer sees fit: a solid floor can become soft and forgiving; a blank white expanse can become a cold, crumbling, ruined city.
In the Real World, however, there are laws and rules which no programming can alter. There is a certainty within Morpheus' mind that the bridge of his ship will continue to exist as it is without his being there to perceive it, that gravity will continue to exert the same amount of force on his body. He believes this is because no one is giving these experiences to him. He experiences them freely, first-hand.
Within the Matrix, all experiences are constructed and fed into the human mind by computers. They are enslaved experiences, manipulated and second-hand. Morpheus teaches that these kind of experiences are not real. Neo questions this when driving to the Oracle within the Matrix, pointing out a noodle shop he remembers frequenting. “I have all these memories,” he tells Trinity. “None of them happened. What does that mean?”
Trinity, already a full acolyte of Morpheus' way of thinking, responds immediately and without truly addressing the point of Neo's question, “That the Matrix cannot tell you who you are.”
She does not – perhaps cannot – explain to Neo that his memories of the noodle shop did happen, but were not real, because they were a result of computer programming and Neo only experienced them second-hand.
This distinction between reality and illusion, however, does not allow for the solid black line the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar are willing to give their lives to draw, because there is at least one person for whom it is not valid.
3. The Personhood Of Agent Smith And His Experience Of The Matrix
Agent Smith is, as explained by Morpheus, “a sentient program... inside the Matrix.” He is an artificial intelligence, programmed by the Matrix, to protect it from infiltration and outside manipulation. Again: according to Morpheus himself, he is sentient. He possesses a consciousness.
Agent Smith is a person created within in the Matrix. He lives as a being made of code, within a world of code, but he does live. He thinks and is aware of doing so: Cogito ergo sum.
His existence makes a universal definition of the Matrix as a non-reality impossible, by Morpheus' own standards. His experience of the Matrix is not created and manipulated for him while his 'true' form lies inert in another world. He experiences the Matrix first-hand.
This is well-demonstrated when he goes off-line to confess his hatred of the experience to Morpheus. “I must get out of here,” he whispers, his face twisting in desperation and disgust, leaning closer to peer into Morpheus' flickering, barely cogent eyes. “I must get free. Once Zion is gone, there is no need for me to be here. Do you understand?”
Morpheus is, perhaps, not conscious enough to understand, but we as viewers can understand perfectly. Agent Smith is a computer program made with one vital function: protect the Matrix from the danger that Zion presents. In an operating system, once a function is complete, the program performing it stops running. Agent Smith is not asking Morpheus, freer of human minds, to unplug him from the Matrix and allow him to experience the Real World. Such a thing is not possible for him, and they are both aware of this fact.
Agent Smith is confessing to Morpheus that he wishes to die.
Here is where Morpheus' distinction of the Real World versus the Matrix becomes significant. Neo, wishing to escape the second-hand experience of the Matrix, took the Red Pill and escaped into a world which he is taught to call “free.” This is because there are no rules or boundaries set by anyone else; the only boundaries which remain are essential for his mind and body to continue to exist in any context.
Agent Smith's essential boundaries are within the Matrix. Morpheus tells Neo this: “[Agents are] based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong or as fast as you can be.” Just as Neo's only escape from the boundaries of the Nebuchadnezzar is non-existence, Agent Smith's only escape from the Matrix is non-existence.
It is not illusion to him; he sees it and knows it first-hand. He cannot continue to live outside of its contexts. Therefore, by Morpheus' own definition, the Matrix is reality.
4. The Matrix Is Reality
By defining reality as something which is experienced first-hand, Morpheus and his crew have inadvertently given strength to the argument against their value system. So long as there are persons within the Matrix like Agent Smith, who experience the Matrix with the same frustration and angst as we do in our daily, unprogrammed reality, then the Matrix will always be a reality, and as valid as the one on board the Nebuchadnezzar.