The Matrix vs. Plato's Cave Allegory

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In Ancient Greece, Plato’s endeavor has been to support rational foundationalism: he argues against coherency to the senses, as he believes that faith is the underlying factor of rationality. In this way, he argues, because our knowledge is based on our belief, there is no way we can prove that what we are perceiving with our senses is reality. He asserts tangibility holds us from an imperceptible realm of reason and understanding, and thus, we are prisoners to our senses. Using this logic, Plato creates his Allegory of the Cave, in which he attempts to distinguish between the realms of reality and illusion by comparing different foundations of knowledge. This allegory has often been used in modern media to allow spectators to contemplate the truth of their existence; John Lennon, The Truman Show, and The Matrix have all referenced Plato. The Matrix, however, remains the best modern media provider of insight into Plato’s rationale, the plot and the characters exhibiting the same characteristics he demonstrates in his Cave allegory.

In the Allegory of the Cave, the prisoners watch shadows on the walls that are cast by puppeteers; they assume the shapes to be reality, as opposed to what is actually casting the shapes. Since they have been engulfed in this ‘reality’ since they were children, it is thus the only truth they know. In The Matrix, these shapes on the walls are not shadows, but rather a continuous world that exhibits the same characteristics: the humans in the Matrix are living unaware of the possibility that their sensory information is false. When Morpheus (who, interestingly enough, shares the name with the Greek god of sleep, who sends images in dreams or visions) introduces this idea to Neo, Neo accepts the red pill to learn the truth about his reality, but is disappointed and disgusted by what he finds. Shortly after taking the pill, he is swallowed up by a mirror where he learns that its reflections – much like the shadows on the wall in Plato’s Cave – are not real. He is overwhelmed by this reality, like the prisoners in the Cave, to the point where he vomits and loses consciousness, regretting his decision. When, shortly after, he is brought aboard the ship Nebuchadnezzar, he asks why his eyes burn, receiving the answer ‘because you have never used them before.’ This is a direct parallel to Plato’s description of the freed prisoner who sees light for the first time – his eyes will not be accustomed to it, and the retinas will burn. Plato continues to say that before the prisoner is truly freed, he will rebel against his realization and the person attempting to free him, wishing to go back – and on many occasions, Neo contemplates what would have happen if he had not taken the red pill. Cypher, another ‘escapee,’ believes that the shadows he once saw are truer than what is now presented to him, and therefore he wishes to escape back into the Matrix – he is so dependant on the false reality that he wishes to protect it. However, according to Plato this is not possible - once one leaves the cave, he can no longer be part of the ‘underground-shadow reality’, and it is his duty to bring others to the truth. Synonymously, Cypher fails to return as he is killed, and Neo gains a wish to share his newfound experiences.

The ‘puppet-handlers’ are the driving force behind the fake reality observed by the prisoners. In the Cave, they cast the shadows on the walls, and in The Matrix, they are present as the machines who enslave humanity so that it gathers the energy they thrive on. The puppeteers decide on the images that the prisoners will see, and they too are thus engulfed in a false world, as they live the false reality they create. This is a very real occurrence in our societies, aside issues like government censorship, which definitely existed in the time of Plato, there are many daily events as well. Take children, for example – a child with an incorrect piece of knowledge, who is sure he is correct,...
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