Saturday, October 30, 2004

Beyond the falling code

Matrix tradition

The story of the Matrix trilogy is a wondrous one; in fact the most wondrous of all stories as it is the story of human enlightenment - the story of conscious evolution. It is the mythic story of all the traditions – east and west. It is a map of a territory; the ultimate territory - the territory of Self. The Matrix trilogy, like all myths, is a story that carries its message wrapped in a metaphor. And like all mythic metaphors, the Matrix trilogy can be unpackaged at many levels, with the deeper levels re-presenting the same message with progressive sophistication and meaning. As with all art, that sophistication and meaning can only be appreciated and interpreted in the light of the context (cognitive, emotional, and spiritual) that the viewer brings to the viewing. One aspect of all great mythic traditions is that while the story remains a constant, the context of the one who hears the story grows, and consequently the meaning of the message expands with each telling of the tale. One definitely needs to see the Matrix movies many times to truly tune into what is being communicated. In any event, it seems clear that just about everybody brought sufficient contextual awareness to their viewing of the first Matrix to appreciate the story at multiple levels. Beyond the intensity of the sci-fi surface story, everybody, looking from the perspective of virtually any of the spiritual or philosophical traditions, resonated with the story line ideas suggesting that the world as we commonly perceive it, is - in certain important ways - an illusion; therefore – wake up!
Unfortunately, Reloaded and Revolutions have not (thus far) faired as well; but this is only because much of the general public (and almost all of the professional reviewers) didn’t look deep enough into the rabbit hole. The fact that the surface sci-fi story in Reloaded/Revolutions seems burdened for some viewers must be considered a failing of sorts for these movies because the very best mythic stories work for everyone, at least on the surface, even on the first pass. Clearly, Reloaded / Revolutions has not worked for everyone, at least not on the surface, and not on the first pass. But these movies do work, and work marvelously if we make the effort and take the time to look below the surface, and keep looking until we see some reflection of what it is that the Wachowski brothers are intending to convey. But they won’t tell us – not outright - and for a very good reason. To truly get the Matrix message, you have to see it for yourself. Remember, the Brothers made Bound to prove they could make a movie, and then made the Matrix to gain the leverage to tell the rest of their tale in Reloaded / Revolutions. Does anyone really think that the minds that produced the Matrix could scheme and create for three years and come up with a meaningless message in their sequel? To find the treasure buried in these movies, we need to keep looking. But I have come to the conclusion that the secret of the treasure is hidden in plain view. For those who bring a sufficiently rich awareness of one or more of the religious or philosophical traditions to their viewing, or for those who are willing to just think very deeply about the metaphor as it is presented, Reloaded/ Revolutions will, I can assure you, reveal itself as a satisfying and enlightening conclusion to the spiritual adventure that captured our imagination in the original Matrix.

Brother’s eye

Still reading? Then here are some more thoughts. The brothers are telling the story of enlightenment – the story of Self; the story of Consciousness transcending the tensions between the dualistic smaller egoic components of self that keep “us” transfixed short of the ONE. The brothers are synthesizers – they are telling their story blending references to all the traditions, but focusing on the common denominators that allow the traditions to be appreciated as a whole - as one truth. That’s why the story has such ecumenical appeal. But this mixing of metaphors is also the source of much confusion, resulting in what I have often referred to as Matrix madness. The confusion of Matrix madness, however, can be resolved, I believe, by coming to some kind of coherent understanding as to what it is that the movie symbols symbolize. There are so many inter- related symbols that need interpreting; I doubt that anyone could map them all to the original intent of the Brothers. But there is one interpretive mapping that in my view is key to all the others, and that is this: the characters in the movie represent aspects of you, the viewer of the show. Humans beings in the story represent human spirit / consciousness, and map to the subjective / spiritual / intangible interior domain within you. Matrix programs represent brain based neural programs, and map to the objective / machinery / mecha domain that is your physical body / brain. If one accepts this line of re-presentation, then it follows that the matrix is your mind; the world as you experience it. The (three) cities are ontological worldviews; and the buildings and structures within the cities are aspects of your self and your psyche. Spirit meets mecha in the matrix of your mind – the meeting place of the ascended and descended currents of reality. What’s more, we see that the spirit and machine domains are correlated – that one supports the other, that they are reflections of each other. (Nowhere is this more apparent than the Neo/Smith duality). The matrix world is your world; encoded in your mind. Meta-mental soul ships (hovercraft) hover in an abstract domain and feed the matrix from ‘above’, whereas evolutionary mecha generated programs from the physical domain feed the matrix from ‘below’. Everything in our world and in the Matrix world is dualistic (if you want to write down all the dualities represented in the Matrix – find a big sheet of paper); opposites define and compliment each other. There is no left without right, no right without wrong, no good without evil, and no ascent without descent. What’s more, there is no spirit without mecha, no transcendent without immanent, no Neo without Smith.
Each of us has a notion as to the referent of the pronoun “I”, but for most of us it’s actually very difficult to define that notion using the tools of language. Nevertheless, body, mind and spirit do evolve in each of us as we grow in life. The movie viewer’s worldview (sense of self) expands (transcends and enfolds) as the trilogy unfolds to progressively encompass more characters, more cities and more complex relationships and tensions between them (within you). The story is about how the warring dualities of these elements within you (the viewer) can ultimately be resolved, not by conflict, but by assimilation and synthesis, allowing the many to become (or be appreciated as) the ONE. “Seeing” this version of the Matrix may require some thinking, reflecting, and reading. It’s not that easy to “see” or “be” the One. For those having difficulty (with Reloaded/ Revolutions) converting what seems like meaningless techno babble and trite dialogue or a rambling tale of kung fu fighting into a coherent story line about enlightenment, an open minded reading of just about any spiritual work with a mystical bent will definitely help. This is true because all such readings are also maps of the very same territory encoded in the Matrix. But to see all that the Matrix has to say, one needs to understand how The Matrix also embraces the scientific worldview in general and certain aspects of quantum mechanics in particular. The story is pointing towards a resolution of the tension and (apparent) conflict between science and religion, between mecha and spirit, between “its” and “I”. To see these issues through the Brother’s eye/“I”s, one needs not only some familiarity with the interior of many religious traditions, but also at least a cursory understanding of postmodern philosophy, and a layman’s working knowledge of quantum mechanics as it applies to duality, complementarity, causality, and choice. And yes, that seems like a pretty big assignment. But if you understand that the Matrix really does have you and all of us, and if you therefore want to understand what happened to a great story that perhaps seems at times to have lost its way - you may, in fact, wish to consider looking more closely into the whole rabbit hole of consciousness. The best Matrix cipher that I have found (and I have looked to many) is: A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber (or really almost anything that KW has written). In that Wilber is a grand spiritual and philosophical synthesizer (integrator), and in that the brothers have (IMHO) quite the same intent, I believe that once you discover how to overlay Wilber’s model/map of the subjective and objective aspects of human ‘consciousness’ onto that of the Trilogy, you will find that you can, indeed, decode the Matrix.

Matrix madness and the second renaissance

In response to those critics who still see the Wachowksi’s Matrix trilogy as boring drivel, let me see if I can entice you with a bit more detail of the metaphoric mapping that I have used to help me come to terms with Matrix madness. To apprehend the Matrix message, one really needs to see / study the Wachowski’s animatrix (animated short stories): Second Renaissance – parts 1 and 2. (Down load it for free, or get the DVD) It’s much more difficult to decode the matrix without the ciphers embedded in these short stories. During the (real) renaissance - the birth and rapid growth of scientific ideology was “challenged” (I’m being kind) by the pervasive conventional religious dogma of the time, but the power of mechanistic logic within the evolving community of science was way too strong - it ultimately all but crushed the ideology of traditional religion and the spiritual world view. The notion of a reality supporting spiritual ideology and religious thought in general was made subservient to science and essentially put on life support (just like the ‘human spirit’ in the Second Renaissance). But it was never killed. There has always been resistance; always some element in the society of man that knew there was more than flatland mecha. What’s interesting is that there actually has also always been a persisting and now a growing need within the scientific worldview for the maintenance of a spiritual (conscious) reality to support the mecha itself (apologies to Daniel Dennett who would not agree). Quantum physics (QM) is one of the chinks in the armor of the reductionistic worldview. QM (and many other aspects of modern physics) holds forth the need for an observing ‘element’ that stands outside the machinery of this world to make it all work. There is a persisting need for consciousness - a need for observation and choice from an element outside the machine. Although quantum mechanics, like all physical theories may some day be superceded by a more encompassing organizing principle, everyone agrees to this: QM always gives the right (physical) answer in this world, and therefore any superceding theory will always hold QM embedded within it. QM today is scientific truth; the relationship between QM, consciousness, and macro mecha is “real”. So mecha needs consciousness, and consciousness needs mecha – sounds like the thinking of the Matrix to me.

Seeing the Matrix for yourself

Now, as previously commented, it is most important to realize that the movie is about you – the viewer. The way I like to approach interpreting the Matrix is to realize a simple truth – that life as we experience it takes place (encoded) “inside” our head, just like Morpheus explains it to Neo. (Every thing is Code – look at the opening frames of each of the movies. “Seeing” through and beyond the descending code is one way of characterizing what the trilogy is all about.) Now “inside our head” has a objective physical domain (brain and associated neural network programs) and a subjective abstract domain (consciousness and meta-mental ‘things’ like values, morals, archetypes). Very importantly (and this is key), these two (dual) domains are correlated with each other – one is a reflection of the other; different aspects of one reality; one truth. Have you noticed how important and suggestive reflections are in the movies? As mentioned, perhaps the most important key in decoding the Matrix from this perspective is to accept the following metaphoric mapping within the storyline of the movies: machines = physical (objective) domain of your body / brain; whereas humans = spiritual (subjective) domain within you. Keep this mind, as it is (IMHO) the key antidote to matrix madness. (Now isn’t it interesting that the “real world” in the trilogy story holds both of these domains in one “place” – a “worldview” that Trinity glimpses for a moment when the Logos soars above battlefield earth to escape destruction on their journey to the Source?) In the scheme of the traditions (all of them if one looks carefully) – beyond the duality of the physical / spiritual domains is a unity, the One – the non-dual Self, and the Divine. In the wisdom traditions this is a truth that can be realized, but not articulated. There is then a “witness like” aspect of Self that can - when sufficiently awakened – “know” the realm beyond the duality of this world, and thereby approach an enlightened realization of that which is One. The idea of the “witness” is key, as the witness is said to be the ‘last stand’ of the ego on the path to enlightenment. In the scheme of the Matrix movie experience, that witnessing Self is the movie viewer (you). As ‘you’ watch the movie, the ‘witness’ is observing the “whole show” – the interplay between all the smaller egoic aspects of Self that live inside your head, brain, mind, and soul. This interplay is the dance of duality, the play of opposites that support the illusion of life in the Matrix. Because life and the movie both take place “inside your head” - the very best way to “see” the Matrix is to imagine that you have gone to the movie theater, fallen asleep, and dreamed the entire movie. Now in a dream, the dreamer is the author, director, producer, actor, viewer, and interpreter of the work / dream. Find every element (human, machine, program, city, building, hovercraft, etc, etc, etc ……) in the movie as representative of as aspect within ‘you’ (either physical/objective or spiritual/subjective), and then interpret the meaning of the story/dream – you will be well on your way to decoding the Matrix.


I don’t want to say too much here, because it really is essential to see the Matrix for yourSelf – but here is a sketch of my dream interpretation. First the transcendental “I” (Neo) within (the movie viewer) must wake up to the illusory nature of the world in which we live (the matrix of our mind). Awakened, we discover our relationship with Faith (Morpheus) and Love (the Trinity), and four more earthly values (Switch, Mouse, Apoc, and Cipher). (Did you notice that there are 7 ‘values’ / crew with ports on the Neb – 3 spiritual and 4 earthly?) In this realm we find we can grow in the transcendent / spiritual domain without the earthly values (Switch, Mouse, Apoc, and Cipher all die) and without physical strength (Dozer), but not without Faith and Love, and not without native intelligence in the form of an ‘operator’ (Tank). We do need to learn how to become a spiritual warrior - a skill taught by our intelligent operating system (Tank/ Link) with the help of Faith (Morpheus). Avarice (Cipher) and the agency of the ego (Smith et al) conspire to subjugate Faith, but Neo with “Trinity’s” help wins the day. But in Reloaded we see that the quest for the grail is incomplete, and this then leads us to again consult our deepest (spiritual) intuition (Oracle) which ultimately sets us on a Buddhist like journey inward - to gain insight about our “true” nature. The agency of our egoic machine self (agent Smith) cannot be seen (not with “I”/eye shields / sunglasses in place) for the non-enemy it is until we awaken to an important truth at the end of our journey of self discovery. Reloaded is the start of that journey within – including a confrontation with our most programmatic (and problematic) basic (evolutionarily devilish / selfish-gene) drives – the 4 F’s (food, fighting, fleeing and reproduction) – the world of the Merovingian. Many of the traditions have spiritual guides / bodhisattvas / angels (black and white attired Seraph) who have been down this road before and can help us with our journey. After wrestling with turmoil in the core of the network (every fight in the Matrix is a spiritual battle and/or test within “you” caused by conflicting values on the freeway of the mind), we acquire deep insight (the Key maker) which leads to a place (?via a near death experience with a ‘power’ outage?) in the subconscious mind (intelligence / Tank/Link can’t ‘see’ us there) where we gain certain realizations about the tension between the causal nature of the physical world and role of freedom of choice in the spiritual domain (Architect/ physical law vs Oracle/ spiritual intuition – this is where it helps to know some layman’s quantum mechanics). Now one must realize that our egoic (little) self / selves in this world are defined by our culture (Zion), for it is culture which instills in us the value system that gives context and meaning to our existence in this plane. Physical death (sentinels) stalks each of us (one for every man, woman, and child) – a fear with which we must make peace when we touch the Source. All these warring elements within (the movie viewer) can only be brought to resolution by balancing and integrating the dualistic ascending-transcendent (subjective/spiritual) and descending-immanent (objective/physical) currents within each of us. To do this, the egoic elements in their subjective (Neo) and objective (Smith) domains must die into each other – the one must integrate with the other. Since they are one and the same – one a reflection of the other - and since they are evolving together - this is a tough battle, fighting your self – no ONE can win. In enlightenment it is said that there is the realization that we must die to self /selves to realize Self. This is a revolution -(were it that simple).
While you probably don’t buy everything (hmmm – anything) just suggested (my beliefs do not require you to believe), you know that something like this must be what the Brothers were working to convey. It is difficult to convey information that cannot be verbalized. That’s what makes cinema with its diverse tools of storyline, dialogue, numerology, action, emotion, lighting, color, audio, and music such a great vehicle for the difficult task of telling this tale. While we can never really know the intent of an artist by just studying his work, we can certainly have fun in the trying; and in so doing – discover much about ourselves. The thing about this kind of topic is that unless some aspect of the ‘truth’ of this discussion has already made itself known to you, you probably won’t follow, and certainly won’t agree with, the drift of the discussion; but if it has made itself known to you, the whole thing is trivial. I guess that’s why it is said that those who know, don’t say; and those that say, do not know. I’m not sure what this says about ‘me’, but perhaps it does speak to the silence on the part of the Brothers.

I for an eye

All that having been said, might I suggest an alternative and simpler path to the appreciation of a beautiful story. Review your own religious and philosophic traditions from a mystical perspective, learn something about classical numerology – then find and interpret EVERY number in the movie. Play with the implied punctuation in the movie dialogue – almost every line (as well as every name) has multiple meanings. Pay attention to lighting and colors and color balance. The primary colors - red, green, and blue all have deep meaning within the Matrix as do their mixtures / complementary colors – yellow, indigo, and magenta. (Why are counselor Homan’s robe and Neo’s eye/”I” bandage both magenta?) Think about the characters and what they might represent in you – and think about each character’s counter part; duality pervades the Matrix. Watch the code – try to see through it - it’s everywhere, especially in the rain. And perhaps most importantly, think about the “I”s (eyes) of each and every “character”. Why do so many wear sunglasses in the Matrix? – when do they come off? Find all the eyes / “I”s at the end of Revolutions – and there are a zillion of them). Then watch the movies very carefully, more than twice, and just try hard to see the Matrix for your Self.