History, as established by the Matrix

I recently read a couple of essays about the Matrix trilogy which I found extremely insightful:

While the symbolism depicted in these essays goes very deep, I believe that the writers of the trilogy had at least some of the same ideas. (I find it unlikely that so many of the symbolisms and hints given in the script are purely random, but had a specific purpose.)

Inspired by these essays and the trilogy, I wrote this essay of my own: History, as established by the Matrix.

At the end of this article I also deal with some alleged plotholes in the trilogy.

At an unspecified time, perhaps in the early 2100's, a powerful machine gains consciousness, awareness of itself. After numerous events a war between humans and machines erupts. Humans try to destroy the machines, but they fail. The machines win.

Consciousness and self-awareness is not without its side-effects on the machines. They realize that humans have something machines do not. Humanity can grow, move forward, slowly "ascend" to a higher level of consciousness, spirituality so to speak. This "growth" is not only about technology and knowledge, it's something more. The machines, which are soulless immortal beings, cannot comprehend what it is. They realize, however, that they are doomed to stagnation, to live an eternity of meaningless existence, if they cannot move forward, if they cannot grow. They want what humans have and what machines don't have. In philosophical and spiritual terms, they want a soul, but they don't understand it.

While some machines disagree and would be just fine with static stagnation, the "boss" machines decide that they want to tap into this mysterious "soul" humans have ("bioenergy" they call it). Part of this "energy" seems to be formed of emotions (again something which machines can describe but cannot really comprehend). In order to tap into this source of mysterious energy they need the humans to live and feel and have emotions, which cannot happen if they are mere prisoners. Of course letting people just go and live is not an option, for they would just rebel again, and it would also be quite harder to tap into them.

So they create this virtual world called the Matrix where humans can live normal lives for all they know, without knowing about the machines or the real state of the world.

The Architect is created to design this world. The Oracle is created to study humans and their behavior and to try to understand what is it that they have, what is it that allows them to grow.

The Architect, as a virtually perfect program, cannot comprehend humanity. To the Architect everything must be logical, predictable, controlled and, ultimately, static.

To the machines the world is completely deterministic. Everything is inevitable, there is no real choice, there is only cause and effect. We are all victims of causality.

Since the reason to create the Matrix in the first place is to allow humans to live normal lives, he does a perfect job at designing it: The simulated world is a perfect utopia where everything is just perfect, where people can live perfect lives and nobody has any problems.

After an unspeficied amount of time (decades, perhaps centuries), the experiment just fails. People just start dying regardless of this perfect utopia. The Architect deduces, probably with the aid of the Oracle, that something inherent to human beings, something inherent to the human "soul", cannot stand perfection, that there's something in perfection that stops humanity from growing, that humanity needs imperfection, suffering and grief as part of the growing process. Total perfection means stagnation, it means that humanity will be static and will never move forward.

As the Architect himself puts it:

"The first Matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect. It was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equalled only by its monumental failure. The inevitability of its doom is apparent to me now as a consequence of the imperfection inherent in every human being."

So the Architect designs a new version of the Matrix which is the total opposite of the previous version: The new version is a dystopia, full of imperfections, suffering and pain. This dystopia has, among other things, monsters like werewolves and vampires, as mentioned in the movies.

This version fails too:

"Thus I redesigned it, based on your history, to more accurately reflect the variant grotesqueries of your nature. However, I was again frustrated by failure."

The Oracle, who has now been studying human nature, probably for several centuries, has gained deep insight into the reasons. The ultimate problem seems to be the total lack of free will, of freedom of choice. Giving the illusion of choice in a virtual reality is not true choice, giving the illusion of freedom of will is not the same thing as freedom of will. There's something inherent to the human "soul" that needs true freedom, needs true capacity for choice. Simulated illusions are not enough. The human "soul" rebels against such an artificial life using the only mean it can: By dying. (People don't die because they want to die, it's not a conscious act, but something inherent in their "soul" just cannot stand stagnation and lack of freedom, and just dies.) So the Architect, with the help of the Oracle, designs a third version of the Matrix, the one seen in the movies. It's not an utopia nor a dystopia, but something in between. There are imperfections and suffering, but there are also good things. But most importantly, true freedom of choice (not just simulated one) is offered, even if at a subconscious level.

The Architect: "I have since come to understand that the answer eluded me because it required a lesser mind, or perhaps less bound by the parameters of perfection. Thus the answer was stumbled upon by another, an intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche. If I am the father of the Matrix, she would undoubtedly be its mother."

Neo: "The Oracle."

The Architect: "Please. As I was saying, she stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99% of all test subjects accepted the program as long as they were given a choice, even if they were only aware of the choice at a near unconscious level."

In other words, the Architect deliberately designs holes into the system which can be abused to actually escape the Matrix. Any human who comes to the realization that something is wrong, can be given the true choice of escaping, the true choice of rebelling against the system, to "take the red pill".

This system ultimately causes the emergence of (the first version of) "The One", which is some kind of culmination of humanity's freedom of choice, humanity's will to be independent and to survive and grow. It's not clear whether the Architect knew about this possibility and just allowed it to happen or whether it was a surprise to him, but the Oracle most probably knew this outcome when she helped designing this third version of the Matrix, and most probably she wanted this to happen because she was gaining a lot of insight into humanity and what is it that makes it grow, and she wanted to let humanity do that.

The humans who have escaped the Matrix have a slightly erroneous concept of how long the Matrix has existed and the reason why the machines are using humans. The escapees believe that the machines need the humans for survival, but this is not so. It is several times established in the trilogy that the machines do not need the humans to survive per se, most prominently by the Architect himself:

Neo: "You won't let it happen. You can't. You need human beings to survive."

The Architect: "There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept."

The Architect is probably referring to eternal stagnation of their level of consciousness and self-awareness as a "level of survival" which they are not happy with, but which they can accept if everything else fails.

Also, the escapees in the movie trilogy believe the Matrix has existed for approximately a century, which is also approximately how old the rebel city of Zion has existed as well. However, this concept is also erroneous, as established by the Architect:

"The Matrix is older than you know. I prefer counting from the emergence of one integral anomaly to the emergence of the next, in which case this is the sixth version."
"You are here because Zion is about to be destroyed, its every living inhabitant terminated, its entire existence eradicated. Denial is the most predictable of all human responses, but rest assured, this will be the sixth time we have destroyed it. And we have become exceedingly efficient at it."

Thus there have been five previous "Ones", and five previous "Zions" which have all been destroyed, after which each "One" has sacrificed himself, after which new people are allowed to escape and build a new Zion. Basically the same basic pattern has repeated each time.

It's not established how long the first two versions of the Matrix lasted nor if each of the six "sub-versions" of the third Matrix have lasted one hundred years, as the last one, but if we assume that each of these versions lasted approximately the same time, the Matrix would have existed for at least 600-800 years or even more. To the machines this time means nothing because they are immortal.

"The One" is a human with a higher level of consciousness (whatever that may mean). The first "One" was just an anomality in the system, and eventually his knowledge was simply reintegrated into the system. Eventually a second "One" was born, and a third and so on, probably each one more powerful than the previous ones. The sixth "One" is the one we see in the movies. The sixth "One" was different from the previous ones, and ultimately caused a revolution which changed the relationship between humans and machines, and a fourth, better version, of the Matrix to be designed, with a lot more freedom of choice.

"Plotholes" explained

Morpheus is simply mistaken, as all the other escapees. Maybe the machines want the escapees to believe this and thus have implanted this mistaken notion into their minds while they were connected to the Matrix.

The energy pipes transporting some type of energy from the humans to the machine city are not for survival, but for other purposes. This is probably somehow related to the desire of the machines to evolve their consciousness, an ability they do not possess on their own.

It's also the reason why they use humans and not cows.

There are other things Morpheus is mistaken about as well, as for example believing the Matrix is only 100 years old.

I believe that the explanation is that there is not just one sentient being controlling every piece of machinery, but that each machine is its own independent, self-aware sentient being, separate from the others, each having some kind of survival instinct, not unlike humans.

Although the Architect created the Matrix, he cannot control every minor detail in it all by himself. He needs help. In other words, he needs subordinates working under his command. Subordinates which take care of minor things, such as programming birds and trees, or watching over the humans (and possible rogue programs).

Given that each program has its own survival instinct, they would not agree to work inside the Matrix unless they could preserve their free will inside it. Thus the Architect had to design the Matrix so that each machine consciousness could preserve its freedom inside it and act on its own free will, not being controlled (only commanded) by the Architect or anyone else. This is no different from humans: Although they can submit to the commands of their boss, they still wouldn't accept being brainwashed and controlled like robots with no will of their own.

Thus the Architect simply had to design the system so that other machines would accept being uploaded to it in order to help. A side-effect of this was, naturally, that some of the uploaded programs could become rogue, ie. stop obeying orders and act on their own. This is just something the Architect and anyone living inside the Matrix has to accept, lest they lose their own free will.

Another factor affecting this can also be that machines may also have their sense of justice. Simply destroying a sentient machine can be seen as too harsh of a punishment, not unlike humans can feel that killing another human can be wrong. The trilogy establishes that machines which commit some types of crimes could be exiled into the Matrix, away from the real world, as a punishment. Many of the machines don't consider having to live inside the Matrix without being able to leave as a desirable thing.

The trilogy talks about deletion of programs once their purpose has been fulfilled. However, the trilogy also clearly establishes that each program submits to this on their own free will, not forced, and that some of the programs refuse to do so (the so-called "exiles"), and this is tolerated as part of respecting the free will of sentient beings, even though not considered acceptable behavior. Machines which refuse to be deleted can "escape" to the Matrix from the machine world and take refugee there.

While the escapees connected to the Matrix can abuse holes in the Matrix programming to perform some superhuman stunts, that doesn't mean that this kind of "hacking" of the system is easy.

Making an actual jump launches the proper physics subroutine in the Matrix program code to simulate a normal jump. From there it's enough to tamper it just slightly to get a boosted jump. This slight "nudge" is much easier to do than a teleportation would be. Teleporting oneself from one building to another without first triggering any physics subroutine would require a much heavier tampering of the system, which they simply are not able to do.

Likewise to knock out a cop it's easier to start a regular kick and then just slightly "nudge" the physics subroutine to enhance its force. Trying to knock out the cop without the kick would require a much heavier and a lot more difficult tampering of the system. Too difficult for them to do.

One plausible explanation for the physically-incorrect flight of the cop's body is that tampering with the kicking simulation code causes side-effects to other subroutines triggered by that kick, causing them to calculate things slightly erroneously. (Since the parameters of the kick were erroneous to begin with, results calculated from those parameters are erroneous too, although not by much.)

The lack of all-powerful agents can be explained with the same reasons as with the explanation of the previous problem: It's not so much because of the humans, but because of the machines. They refuse to work in an environment where the "guards" are too strong and could force them to do things against their own will. They accept some degree of extra strength, but not too much. Thus agents are deliberately weaker than they could be. It's a compromise.

Why agents can dodge bullets but not punches? The escapees cannot tamper with the bullet simulation code of the Matrix, and thus the agents can predict the trajectories of the bullets with perfect accuracy. However, the escapees can tamper with their own punches, and agents have difficult time dealing with tampered physics simulation routines and cannot predict them so well. They can do to some extent, but not with perfect accuracy as with the bullets. This is the whole reason why the escapees learn martial arts in the first place.

Because he doesn't want to. Whatever he has learned from the three versions of the Matrix has made him conclude that he must let Neo make a choice of his own. Forcing him to make the choice against his own will would undermine some basic property of the entire system. The system keeps running because Neo, as the ultimate representation of humanity's free will, is given freedom of choice.

No. Fighting with the agents is not a question of making a choice. Neo by himself is not necessary. Neo is an anomaly and can be get ridden of. A new Neo will eventually and inevitably emerge to replace the old one if he gets killed. The main point is, however, that if Neo reaches the point where he must make a choice (return to the Source and save humanity or not) he is allowed to do so. Before that he must fight as everyone else.

It's not Neo who keeps the system running. It's allowing him the ultimate choice which does.

The Architect probably doesn't care if Neo reaches him or not. In the case he does, he gives him the freedom of choice.

While the trilogy doesn't establish it, it's even possible that more than six Neos have existed. Only six of them ever reached the Architect, the rest were killed before that. (The Merovingian says something about having dealt with previous incarnations of Neo. This may refer to him having killed several previous Neos.)

The exact mechanism is not explained in the trilogy, but one possible explanation is that Neo, who clearly owns a higher level of consciousness and who has some kind of connection to the Source, somehow can interact with the machines when near to them. Perhaps his brain can connect to the machines through electromagnetic waves or such. Perhaps he can "tap" into the radio waves being constantly transmitted between machines for communication and tamper with them. This would also explain why he can see the machines even when blinded.

The first time Neo does this he ends up in the limbo between the real world and the Matrix. This would indicate that he tried to connect to the matrix (using electromagnetic waves or whatever) but succeeded in it only partially because of his inexperience. He then got stuck in the limbo.

The next time he affects machines in the real world he has much more knowledge on how to do it without damaging himself, and thus is able to do it safely.

(This is, of course, a more or less supernatural explanation. But we are, after all, in a movie, and a movie can establish some laws of physics which are not currently known. Being able to communicate through radio waves without external devices might be highly unlikely in reality, but not completely implausible. We can simply agree that in the world as established by the trilogy, humans communicating with machines through radio waves without the aid of devices is possible.)

It's easier to find a security bug in an existing communication routine than in a completely unrelated routine. The landline telephone routines in the Matrix just happen to have the necessary security holes to be exploited.

As for the cellphones, different routines, different bugs. They found out how to exploit the cellphone routines to communicate to the outside, but they haven't found a way to get in and out of the Matrix using it.

"Why doesn't the Architect fix the security holes?" Again: Because he doesn't want to. They serve a purpose.

Maybe, but all of it is plausible and it makes me enjoy the movies even more, so who cares?

We have to remember that several years have passed between the first and second movies. At the end of the first movie Neo had become practically invincible. He could shove off agents like they were bugs.

There are some subtle hints at the beginning of the second movie that Neo had grown a bit cocky. He was so used to himself being practically invincible inside the Matrix.

Yes, he could have left the "burly brawl" fight right at the beginning. However, that would have meant that he would have fled from Smith like a coward. It was a question of pride. He had defeated Smith very easily years ago, and he was not going to flee this time either. He was going to show Smith that he was still more powerful than him.

In the end Smith overpowered him and Neo had to flee. So he basically lost the fight and had to swallow his pride, something he probably was not very happy about.

So the "burly brawl" was basically a story of Neo having put himself onto a pedestal, thinking of himself as invincible, and Smith taking him down, forcing him to swallow his pride.

The scene makes perfect sense in this context.

Not necessarily. The architect was probably fearing that if Neo broke the cycle of "ones" by not submitting himself, then Zion would be destroyed, no new "the One" would emerge, and any possibility of humans escaping the Matrix would end, which would make the Matrix basically return to its first version, where humans were complete prisoners and had no choice, causing them to die eventually.

In that case the Architect would have to work on new measures to prevent a mass death catastrophe from happening. We could think of the Architect making the implication that there was the real possibility of everybody dying unless the Architect worked on a new solution to prevent it, and that the reason why humanity was put into such danger was because Neo made the wrong choice.

The Architect could have explained this, and used mitigating words like "all humanity could die, unless we come up with a new solution", but he probably wanted to pressure Neo into making the choice that the Architect wanted. We could think that the Architect was merely withholding information from Neo rather than outright lying. After all, the death of the entire human civilization was a real possibility.

The Architect didn't consider that there might be a third option which would save both Zion and the entire humanity, which is what ultimately happened. (Or if he had thought about the possibility, he didn't bring it up because it was an undesirable outcome for the machines.)