In the time since its home release, and with the proliferation of YouTube and video essays, the film The Matrix has only risen in popularity among movie buffs. Along with 2010’s Inception, it’s one of the only mainstream movies to push certain types of philosophical themes so successfully on the masses.
And if you’re Michael Goldsby, who’s earned his doctoral degree in philosophy and teaches the subject at Washington State University, it’s a movie that best showcases those ideas.
Chief among them are thought experiments posed by 17th century French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. His idea: What if sensory experiences don’t match reality. He considered cases where our senses typically deceive us, such as mirages or when we are dreaming.
He even considers the possibility that we are being systematically deceived by an all-powerful demon. How could one prove that we’re not? If we can’t prove that we’re not, then how could we trust our senses? What would it be like when we discover the truth? Similar to when Neo awakes in the vat of pink goo.
And not unlike Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, wherein a group of prisoners are chained to the wall of a cave. Their whole life is shadows on the wall from objects passing in front of a flame behind them. They’re content, don’t want to escape, until they do, which is when they discover life isn’t what they thought.
“The whole point of the project was to see what one can actually determine,” said Goldsby. “What one could say that they know. Even in the face of that sort of radical, global doubt.”