Wherein The Matrix is Discussed, The Presence of the Writter’s Mind is Established, The Minds of Students are Questioned and Plato is Wrong

LOL, I agree with your statement Angie, I too am glad there are a few more philosophers coming down the tubes; it’s a little hard to engage with Plato or Aristotle too deeply. I found in class today that it was easier to understand some of where they were coming from now that I can map parallel concepts onto them from Descartes and Locke, i.e. Descartes focus on thought as the undeniable is an analogous foundational point with Plato and Locke and Aristotle share a focus on the objective real as a foundation. This new parallel places me in a new and curious position, which is that I’ve been pretty against Plato’s thought structure of the abstraction being the ideal, or at least I have been until now.


You see, Descartes has a special place in my heart. The Matrix was definitely a favourite movie for me when I was a young man and it was a spring board into an engagement with philosophy for me. If I were asked to select a single piece of philosophy that had the most influence on me, it’d definitely be The Matrix if popular pieces could be accepted. Now, there is no true depth of philosophy to The Matrix, certainly it isn’t a philosophy unto itself, but it’s damn cool! Plus, there are a multitude of pieces of philosophically relevant nods within the piece. (One of my favourite pieces is the ship that the free humans floated along in was called the Nebuchadnezzar, named after a king in the old testament famous for his “hav[ing] dreamed a dream; but now that dream is gone from [him]”.) Descartes “I think therefore I am” comes to him after he’s been hanging out around his fireplace, enjoying some of the leisurely philosophical pondering (that Rousseau apparently hates) when he falls asleep. He then has a weird dream that forces him to question reality. Among his questioning, he speculates some heady stuff about a mad-scientist cutting open his head, scooping out his Descartes-Brains, and then hooking the Brains up to some sort of reality simulation gizmo. Descartes then attempts to refute whether his speculative construction can be refuted and, with the choice argument where:

Let “P” stand for any belief or claim about the external world, say, that snow is white.

1.              If I know that P, then I know that I am not a brain in a vat

2.              I do not know that I am not a brain in a vat

3.              Thus, I do not know that P.

This is obviously a pretty critical piece in the plot for The Matrix and if the argument is unclear, well, go watch The Matrix!


So, The Matrix has helped establish me as an individual willing to question the fabric of reality and all that is around me, or, I find it highly appealing because it helped me realize that I am such a person. Either way, I still love such ethereal concepts as questioning the concrete fabric of our world. So, where does that place me as an educator? Well, I’m been thinking about that and let me try and share with you the results of my own thought experiments, and then I’ll try and get myself out of the corner I paint myself into.


At an emotional level, I find Descartes philosophy certainly reassuring as he is explicit about the immortality of the soul, and he makes one of the surest arguments for the soul I’ve ever heard. This is important to me as a Christian. Plato make an effort to this end but in all honesty, it dosen’t stick with me. Plato’s speculations leave me feeling like, well, he’s speculating. Descartes’ proof of one’s being is foundationally irrefutable. But, it dosen’t help me as an educator, by proving that the students I teach have souls, or even minds to teach. Hah, I guess this is when John Locke might feel a bit cozy, asserting the Tabula Rasa business and all. So, Descartes and Locke steer me to the similar issue of needing to identify that my students even exist, or even have minds that can be taught.


It is usually at this point in room-painting that I start thinking about Solopsism ( http://www.iep.utm.edu/brainvat/ ), and how awesome it is! Then, some of Nietzsche’s unique existentialism comes in and I start feeling totally self-righteous and awesome! (Oh Nietzsche!) However, this can only be sustained for so long before I start figuring that I’m going to have to interact with the objective world at some level and, even if I can’t foundationally prove that it exists, I’d best at least interact with it on it’s own terms. So, it’s back to a little bit of objective empiricism for me.


Thus, we return back to philosophies that depend upon an objective measure of the world, or, in this class to date, Aristotle and Locke’s perspective. Aristotle drops some good stuff in the Telos business and it doesn’t have so much of the speculative quality that Plato’s summations did. I can observe for myself what at least one intended end for an egg beater is. However, I really want to highlight that caveat: *intended*. I might not come back to that today, but I’m going to try to someday. I think that Aristotle’s concept of intention or explicit purpose as an expression of values is critical in our understanding of his philosophy, and it’s implications. By contrast, Locke, as noted above, has already thrown me into some question about the existence of the minds of my students. But, he does offer me an opportunity to get those minds back into (the desert of the) “real life” (as it were) where I can start teaching some minds again. The way he does that is by offering me minds as at least some behavioural response processes. Locke says that I can trust my senses, so I trust my sense that they are responding to my teaching when I observe them demonstrating knowledge through testing or other assessment techniques. I’m going get a little psych[o] here and point out that this doesn’t strictly give me a mind yet, and I’ve got myself a behavioural focus that does not attempt to infer any sort of internal reasoning. I can get a little further with cognitive psychology and speculate that my learners likely have some internal cognitive process, but I’ve still no proof of a soul, nor any out rightly explicit demonstration of a conscious mind anything like my own.


As a sub-note, absolutely everyone should read Daniel Kahneman’s incredible book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”. I feel like it taught me more about how I think in one book than 10 classes in psychology did.


So, I feel that this has placed me squarely in a spot where I absolutely need to consult some faith to believe that my little learners have a soul and minds learning away in the centers of their being. I’m pretty okay with this to be honest. I feel I spend a lot of my time not quite sure if reality exists anyways. I’ll speak more to that later if there is an opportunity. But yeah, I need a faith a faith to believe that there are minds like my own in the world, and I feel that some faith in God is instrumental in this. Empirical observation conveys a great deal to me about what exists, but not everything. Descartes can prove to me that I exist (even if he dosen’t exist), and Plato will suggest to me that maybe some ideals exist. I mean, I guess that’s what Plato was after with all of those shadows and caves allusions. (This is rad and related.) But, I still need some faith to make those leaps. Thus, I don’t know if I can teach a student from my intensely personal state of being without having a little faith in God and his ability to facilitate some part of the transaction. Philosophy, and science, will get me pretty far, but I do still need God for a few difficult leaps.


I will add one related remark that might speak to some of my own philosophy and engagement in the matter. I intend it not as a criticism of Christianity, or any posited belief about how the universe should operate, but rather a guiding principle that has helped me develop a way to live my life. It is surmised that in some religions, you do not simply have a soul, you must earn one through the way you live your life. I would tell you exactly which religions these are, accept I can’t figure it out and I first heard this about this idea while watching the Simpsons. While I don’t know that one must earn a soul, I find it a good guiding principle for morality. If a parallel can be drawn, I think that this is a good way of thinking about the mind. I’m on the same boat as everyone who believe there are some innate processes of the mind that exist at birth, but Locke is largely accurate with the Tabula Rasa business. If I accept that my students have minds that can learn, then I think it is a mission as a teacher to help them earn their minds through hard work and studying. (And Plato is still wrong).



– nathan


One thought on “Wherein The Matrix is Discussed, The Presence of the Writter’s Mind is Established, The Minds of Students are Questioned and Plato is Wrong

  1. Haha I was hoping that the matrix would come up! I still have yet to see the movie but I enjoy listening to your comparisons between class and things outside of class – it makes understanding what we talk about in class just a little easier to comprehend.
    When was it that you realized the matrix to be a philosophy? Can you relate the matrix at all to a philosophy of education specifically?? Or is that taking it too far?
    – Angie

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