“What is real? How do you define real?” asks Morpheus in the Wachowski sisters seminal cyberpunk masterpiece, The Matrix.
Those of you who are cinephiles like me will know that the Wachowski sisters took direct inspiration from Plato’s allegory of the Cave’ when creating Matrix.
Parallels between it and The Matrix are clear, neither minces it’s words about how all understandings of reality are intrinsically linked to individual subjective perception; inherent prejudices and assumptions that can be exploited, human blindspots. These distort “objective reality” much in the way the chained prisoners in Platos cave understand objects by their shadow.
Take for example President Bush declaring war on Iraq in response to 9/11. There was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda attack. However, the need to “strike back”– a need exacerbated by media hysteria about WMD’s– meant that Bush didn’t need to prove how Iraq was involved. Emotion overrode logical causality.
It’s this example makes me believe that The Matrix should not be our go-to text for understanding modern applications of Platos allegory of the cave.
That text should be Inception.
While Inception is not a perfect 1:1 parallel for Plato’s cave it better encapsulates how subjectivity functions. The final scene is where this idea crystallises. Cob reunites with his children, we see the spinning top and realise that he might still be dreaming.
Whether Cob was dreaming or not does not matter. What matters is that Cob accepts this reality emotionally. That’s the subjectivity of Platos cave, it’s not intellectual, it’s emotional. That’s why Bush could invade Iraq, that’s how the media manipulates us, that’s why Cob might still be dreaming, and doesn’t care.