Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cheating in the Matrix

The Oracle: What about the others?
The Architect: ...What others?
The Oracle: The ones that want out.
The Architect: Obviously they shall be freed.
The Oracle: I have your word?
The Architect: What do you think I am? Human?
- from Matrix:Revolutions

This exchange at the end of the third Matrix movie is often missed by Matrix fans, as almost a throwaway line. However, anyone who has dug into the meanings and symbolism of the movies should know the Wachowski brothers pretty much never throw away a scene or a message. The Oracle may well be accusing the Architect of trying to cheat.

To understand, let’s go back to Neo’s discussion with the Architect in the second movie, Matrix:Reloaded. Here is the relevant section, as the Architect explains how the Matrix was developed:

Neo: Why am I here?
Architect: Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent in the programming of the matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden deciduously avoided it is not unexpected and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you inexcerably here.
Neo: You haven't answered my question.
Architect: Quite right. Interesting, that was quicker then the others.

The Architect begins by noting that Neo is tied to the Matrix. He is the ‘remainder’ of an equation which does not quite work out, the ‘eventuality of an anomaly’ as the Architect sees things, and in the Architect’s opinion something which needs to be controlled. For the Architect, then, the goal is to control Neo and so control the Matrix.

Architect: The Matrix is older then 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.
Neo: Then there are only two possible explanations, either no one told me, or no one knows.
Architect: Precisely, as you are undoubtedly gathering the anomaly is systemic. Creating fluctuations in even the most simplistic equations.
Neo: Choice, the problem is choice.

This is a very important admission by the Architect! The Architect admits to Neo that the Matrix is unstable and the very existence of the One destabilizes the entire system. Further, since the Architect does not limit his observation to the Matrix construct, but expands it to ‘even the most simplistic equations’, he implies that the existence of the One threatens the system integrity of the entire Machine infrastructure! This is implied by the end actions in Matrix:Reloaded, as Neo is able to disable Sentinels despite being outside the Matrix.

Why does the Architect say this to Neo? There are three reasons that occur to me. First, the audience needs to hear this, and since there is no objective narrator for the movies, it has to come from a major character. Second, the Architect has seen five versions of ‘The One’ come and go before, so he hardly considers Neo a threat. What’s more, we already see that the Architect regards the Oracle with contempt, so it should be no surprise that the Architect believes he could say even something this important to Neo with no worry that Neo would grasp the full implications. And third, this foreshadows the end, the macro-evolution of the universe, as both humans and machines are compelled to deal with a new paradigm. Humans and machines must, as the Oracle said, move together if they are to move forward.

The Architect goes on to explain the creation and development of the Matrix:

Architect: The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect; it was a work of art, flawless, sublime. A triumph equaled 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. Thus, I redesigned it, Based on your history to more accurately reflect the varying grotesqueries of your nature. However I was again frustrated my failure. I have since come to understand that the answer eluded me because it required a lesser mind a mind less bound by the parameters of perfection. Thus the answer was stumbled upon by another and intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche.

It’s worth noting here, that the Architect never accepts blame for the failure of his creation, instead assuming the guilt must lie with humans, even where they are not making decisions or acting of their own volition. Going on, we see how the Architect built choice into the Matrix:

Architect: [the Oracle] stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly 99 percent 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 an unconscious level. While this answered function it was obviously fundamentally flawed thus creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly. That if left unchecked might threaten the system itself, ergo those that refuse the program while the minority if unchecked would cause an escalating probability of disaster.

Somebody’s cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeating. The Architect realizes that the Matrix will only work if humans are allowed a choice. But, hating humans as he does the Architect buries that choice at ‘an unconscious level’.

Think about that. Suppose you are taking a multiple-choice test, and the correct answer to a certain question is ‘D’, but on the paper you are only presented with answers A, B, and C. The only way you could correctly answer the question is to realize you are being tricked and refuse to accept the conditions presented to you. Hence the need for humans to reject the Matrix completely in order to make the choice. That is, in truth no one chooses the blue pill, because in making any choice the false condition must ab initio be refuted. All we are doing is, as the Oracle told Neo, is figuring out what the choice means.

Why does the Architect feel that he needs to cheat? Because as he says, the people who refuse the program ‘cause an escalating probability of disaster’. Therefore the Architect wants as few people as possible to even have that choice.
The Architect now goes on to tell Neo what he expects him to do:

Architect: The function of the One is now to return to the source allowing a temporary dissemination of the code you carry reinserting the prime program after which you will be required to select from the matrix 23 individuals, 16 female 7 male, to rebuild Zion. Failure to comply with this process will result in a cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix. Which, coupled with the extermination of Zion will ultimately result in the extinction of the entire human race.
Neo: You won't let it happen, you can't. You need human beings to survive.
Architect: There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.

The Architect is lying there. How do we know this? Because he cheated the Matrix code to hide human choice at the unconscious level, specifically to avoid ‘an escalating probability of disaster’. What kind of disaster? Maybe a ‘cataclysmic system crash killing everyone connected to the matrix’? The Architect’s explanation refutes his later claim to indifference.

Architect: Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed and the anomaly revealed as both beginning and end. There are two doors, the door to your right leads to the source and the salvation of Zion, the door to your left leads back to the matrix to her and to the end of your species. As you adequately put, the problem is choice. But we already know we you are going to do don't we?

Another mistake. The Architect fully expects Neo to do what everyone before him has done, but even in this short interview we have seen evidence that Neo is not like the others – he’s faster to notice things, he has a direct connection in love, and even as the Architect speaks Neo is moving – to the left door, the one that threatens disaster if the Architect is correct.

The Architect figured he knew humans well enough to predict even their most important decisions. Small wonder the Wachowski brothers made him look like Sigmund Freud, another poser who knew less than he claimed.

The Architect is in a real mess, and if he wasn’t so hateful and arrogant we could almost feel sorry for him. The machines depend on humans just as humans depend on machines – something mentioned throughout the Matrix films – and so if the Matrix fails everyone’s in for a bad time. The plan up to now had been to use The One in each generation as a kind of relief valve for system anomaly, replacing him with a fresh new empty every so often to keep things running. But Neo rejects the plan and introduces pure chaos into the equation. The Architect must have seen some possibility of this decision, although as the Oracle explains he could not see the consequences past the choice. So he attempted to rig the game. In that context, small wonder that at the end of things the Oracle asks if he’s going to do as he claims.

It also occurs to me that the Oracle has been cheating a bit herself, maybe. Why do I say that? Go back to the first Matrix movie, where Morpheus is bringing Neo to see the Oracle. What does Neo see in the apartment?

Priestess: Hello, Neo. You're right on time.... Make yourself at home, Morpheus. Neo, come with me.... These are the other potentials, you can wait here.

Ahem ... ‘other potentials’? And what, do you think, happens with those guys? Let’s not forget, the Oracle can see the future. Remember this?

Oracle: I'd ask you to sit down, but you’re not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase.
Neo: (turning) What vase?
- Neo breaks vase -
Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I'm sorry.
Oracle: I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my students to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
Oracle: What's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?

There’s other statements like that, but the point is she knew or had reason to know that Neo is the The One, and in that case what is she planning with the other ‘potentials’, her ‘students’? Well, one thing that occurs to me is that if the Machines are watching Neo, ‘The One’, maybe these other guys can do things that are important but won’t be noticed. After all, isn’t interesting what happens with Sati, even if we don’t get to see exactly what she’s been doing?
Small wonder the Architect greets the Oracle at the end of the movies in this way:

Architect: You’ve played a very dangerous game.

So, the Oracle was probably cheating and the Architect was definitely cheating. What does that mean, in the big picture?

It means that the conclusion, as Smith always said, is inevitable. In exploring the behavior we see that even the Architect, who designed the Matrix, has chosen to disobey his own terms. Disobedience implies both choice and irrationality, and so we see that human nature is so pervasive that even the entity in charge on containing and controlling humanity is influenced by human nature in his decisions and actions. Which in the end is not surprising at all. Machines were created by man, and so may be said to exist ‘in his image’. And in any case, one logical conclusion from an examination of the earlier failed matrices would have to be designer error – the Architect is the principal culprit of his failure, psychologically justifying the creation of the very anomaly that would in the end of things alter his own reality.


docjr85 said...

Interesting read, however I think it would be misleading to say that the Oracle can see the future.

The Oracle is just as much a program as the Architect. The difference is that the Oracle was created to investigate the human psyche.

Thus, would it not be logical to say that the Oracle merely uses calculations (as in, a program), superior knowledge (knowledge of the cycle and such) and the findings from studying human psyche to make predictions?

I don't think the Architect cheated in the sense that he tried to hide what he had done. He never intended to give humans a choice at all (I think this would classify as not cheating at all, really).

As for the "potentials," perhaps they are merely potentials for exiting the Matrix and nothing more (either way, they have no real effect on the story from my perspective). I will admit that the spoon bending part suggests that they have more purpose than that, but it's never expanded on and could possibly be a plot device.

It seems to me that the Oracle has (through the gain in knowledge by studying human psyche) purposely led the humans that have rejected the Matrix to a path that ends with the dissolution of the Matrix in order to create an existence where both humans and machines live concurrently, rather than a slave-master relationship.

Additionally, I'm not buying that the Architect is blinded by arrogance. I think he merely makes a miscalculation that Neo will not choose the other door. Perhaps he gave away too much information, but I believe the focus should be more on Neo (and his subsequent alterations versus older "One's" - possibly in connection with the Oracle).

So, I have come to the conclusion that the end of the Matrix (the program, not the movie) is probably the result of the Oracle and the humans themselves (for we are not merely mindless beings who do not adapt and learn as a species).

So, in conclusion, I feel that:
- The Architect did not cheat.
- The Architect does not make a mistake and has not behaved much different than usual.
- The Oracle's potentials are unimportant.
- The Oracle has not cheated but has merely "evolved" and is pushing for the end of the Matrix.
- The ones responsible for the departure from previous cycles is the result of the Oracle and the humans themselves.

I don't recall the tone and context very well of that particular line by the Architect, but I'd wager that he's either poking fun that humans lie or that humans feel inclined not to lie (which is a bit of an ironic and/or contradicting statement, actually).

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