THE FIGHTING CONSCIOUSNESS
1. Reduction of evolution?
Ray Kurzweil makes use of virtual dialogs in his book “The Age of Spiritual Machines”; here an example:
On this multiple-consciousness idea, wouldn’t I notice that – I mean of I had decided to do one thing and this other consciousness in my head went ahead and decided something else?
I thought you had decided not to finish that muffin you just devoured.
Touché. Okay, is that an example of what you're talking about?
It is a better example of Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind, in which he conceived of our mind as a society of other minds – some like muffins, some are vain, some are health conscious, some make resolutions, others break them. Each of these in turn is made up of other societies. At the bottom of this hierarchy are little mechanisms Minsky calls agents with little or no intelligence. It is a compelling vision of the organization of intelligence, including such phenomena as mixed emotions and conflicting values.
An offered candy, the question how consciously it is accepted or refused, agents as elements of lower order in a hierarchically structured form of societey and the mention of Kurzweil’s book in the bibliography of “Ultimate Matrix Collection” – these are enough reasons for a closer look:
The Society of Mind
One of the two conceptions of reality which Matrix contrasts was described above under the title “The world is a clockwork”. Minsky is a member of the clockwork faction: The explanation of his material composition is the explanation of the entire cosmos. The perception-theoretical basic assumption behind this model is reductionism: In order to understand the whole, one must understand the sum of its parts. All phenomena of this universe are based on the most basic science, microphysics. If one understands the way the smallest particles function, then one understands all other aspects of reality. In the theory this means that the behaviour of social groups must be derivable via the reductional chain life forms ► cells ► molecules ► atoms from the laws of elementary particles.
“Programs hacking Programs?”
But how is it possible that atoms, which themselves possess neither mind nor consciousness, can produce mind and consciousness? How can intelligence arise from something which is not intelligent? In his book “The Society of Mind”, Minsky attempts to answer this question. He constructs a model of the human mind which is not a unit oriented towards a goal but rather as a hierarchically structured society, composed of countless different simple processes which Minsky terms agents. On the lowest level, these processes are specialised in handling the simplest partial tasks. The agents located at a higher level are also specialised, their task being to activate and deactivate the agents at the lower levels. In order to handle special demands, agents from various levels combine into agencies which attain a higher level of complexity via the networking of their components. These agencies represent various abilities. They react to the corresponding needs and demands and are in permanent competition with each other during their work. All pursue one goal: Influencing subconscious and conscious action. The relationship between the power of the various agents among one another and thus the ability to assert themselves and to influence the action of the individual are – depending on the situation – susceptible to oscillations. An example: At the moment, the agency “writing” has the upper hand with me. Countless lower agents help me with this: “typing”, “controlling”, “deleting”, “revising”, each of which integrates several lower subagents in turn. In the background, the agents “sleeping” and “eating” are waiting for their chance. If everything is running OK, then the chances are not bad that the agency “writing” will stay on top for a while. If it comes to a conflict, for example between the subagents “finishing” and “revising”, then this can weaken the agency “writing” at the level above and thus help “sleeping” or “eating” gain the upper hand.
The intelligence which arises in this model is not one which consciously decides. The environment provides stimuli, the agents react. The mind present in this system is a complex computer, a passive victim of processes which are controlled only by mutual switching on and off. Man – just a machine? An apparatus, which produces reactions to stimuli? Minsky agrees with this estimate, but objects to the “just”: Man can obtain self-respect from the knowledge of what a wonderful machine he is.
The whole is the sum of the parts. Reality is sufficiently explained by the observable. There is no reason to assume that there is something unobservable beyond the observable.
Spirit in action
Reductionism doesn’t explain reality through reduction, it reduces reality! This is the accusation of those skeptical with respect to the model of reductionism. Minsky can perhaps explain the origin of intelligence. But how can our consciousness be explained? A cut in the finger turns on a biological machinery; but why do we experience pain on the inside of our consciousness? What about other complex emotions? Can love be explained as a conglomeration of networked activation and activity processes? What is the biological necessity which allows us to strive towards meaning, the origin of all being, toward truth, the right and good?
The opposite position which results from these questions is holism, represented for example by Ken Wilber. Holism is the second interpretation of our reality which is taken up by the Wachowskis in Matrix.
For holism, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Wilber terms all planes of existence – from atoms to cells and organisms to ideas – as holons. Each holon is both something whole and part of something. When individual fragments of a plane are united, then wholes arise out of the previously unrelated parts. Molecules united to cells, for example, retain their individual existence, but at the same time they allow something new to arise, something which goes beyond the properties of the molecules and thus cannot be explained by them. This is an act of self-transcendence: Previously valid boundaries are transcended, new complex forms are created, a new plane arises. The holons on this plane, the cells, are hierarchically organised on a higher level than the molecules. Each newly created holon has a more complex and deeper organisational structure than the subholons they contain. Quite high up in this hierarchy is the human mind and conscious perception. They are new properties or forms of existence which are brought forth by the complex organisation of cells.
When each new level brings forth new properties and these cannot be explained by the levels below, then the questions “Whence?” and “Why?” are posed. From his description of reality, Wilber concludes that there must be a higher level of existence, a level beyond the material which cannot be directly observed: A level of pure spirit. This highest of all levels is the origin and the goal of all existence. Evolution is a transcendence process. Self-transcendence is built into the stuff out of which the universe is made, the cosmos has a formative drive. This brings life forth from matter and from life mind, consciousness and spirit.
This process of evolution is not based on the concept of randomness. It is directed, for within it spirit shows itself in action, the creative God. The composition of reality cannot be explained by the observable; a further, higher plane of existence – namely an unobservable one – manifests itself in it.
Up and down
If one compares the dependencies between the various planes within these theories, then one sees that they run in opposite directions:
Reductionism runs upwards. The higher and more complex levels are explained by those lying below. The lowest level is the determining one! If one completely understands it, everything can be explained by it.
Holism runs upwards. The drive to self-transcendence brings out of each plane a new complex plane with new properties. The highest plane is the determining one! It is the origin and goal of evolution.
The same comparison once again in reduced form:
2. Matter ► mind ► spirit
Excursion: art and hermeneutics
One still needs a justification for the claim that Matrix contains a sublevel whose contents is conscious wrestling with its own existence. It is based on a statement of an authority which should not be dismissed, a statement by the philosopher Ken Wilber. It seems to me to have been a very conscious decision that the Wachowskis chose him to narrate the audio commentary on the UMC. According to their own statements, Ken Wilber and Larry Wachowski share a high grade of agreement with respect to their perspective of this world. Apparently, they maintain(ed) a lively exchange of thoughts. Matrix was also the topic of hour-long conversations about which however Wilber had to promise non-disclosure. The fact that the Wachowskis chose Wilber for the commentary demonstrates that they wanted someone who knows about the meaning of the films. They wanted Wilber to offer an entrance to the films to those who search for one.
A very ingenious move in the overarching conception of Matrix is the unity of form and contents. On the contents plane, the breakthrough into hidden levels of perception below the material surface is the topic. The viewer has to experience this via the breakthrough to hidden levels of meaning beneath the surface of the film. The actors, the consciousness they symbolise and the viewer – all of them experience a structurally similar perception process: They observe the unobservable! If the perception of the coding is part of the work, then the offer of decoding from the authors carries this conception ad absurdum. At the same time, the hurdles to finding an entrance to the films without help are almost insurmountable. The Wachowskis use a trick to free themselves from this dilemma: They don’t make any statements themselves, but allow someone familiar with their work to sketch the direction.
The three dimensions of consciousness
“It's that overall interpretation which is really that body, mind and spirit appear in the Matrix trilogy both in their alienated forms and then in their resurrected or healed or more integrated forms, which happens towards the end of the third part."
Wilber’s hesitance with respect to the contents during the audio commentary is sometimes quite obvious, but nevertheless there is a basic idea which he recites like a mantra throughout the six hours:
In Matrix symbolise
the colour green (= the Matrix) the mind,
the colour blue (= the real world, especially Zion) the body / matter and
the colour gold (= the machines / the machine city) absolute spirit.
Zion, the Matrix and the machine city: The three central scenes of action in Matrix are metaphors for the three dimensions of consciousness: body, mind and spirit.
If one takes Wilber’s statements seriously and doesn’t reject them, then the result is a bitter consequence for the materialists among the fans: Matrix rejects materialistic reductionism as an insufficient explanation for reality. The trilogy doesn’t present the two interpretations on equal footing: Consciousness is composed of the three dimensions: mind, body and absolute spirit. The presentation of these levels is contrasted by one interpretation from the reductionistic and one from the holistic perspective.
The machines symbolise the spirit, the plane of the immaterial. More precisely: The machines represent the connection between the material and the immaterial, the Godliness within matter.
The level of pure spirit, without any connection to the material, is shown twice by the Wachowskis:
At the beginning of Revolutions, in a creation scene …
... and as Neo and Trinity succeed in leaving the closed system of the Matrix for a moment.
In the past and present, many people have attempted to go beyond their own limitedness and construct a connection to God. The machines in Matrix have achieved this; they have driven their own evolution – and evolution is spirit in action. It is a process of transcendence: The machines transcend their material construction and attain a connection to a higher level.
Only Neo has the ability to see the result of this development. Through his blindness he has lost the ability to perceive the observable, the material surface is no longer visible for him …
… but on the other hand he attains the ability to recognise the reality which lies underneath the surface, beyond the observable.
The individual components of this scenario in the first picture are resolved in the second in an act of self-transcendence; they go beyond the limitedness of their own material existence. The waves flow through this tunnel of light, unhindered by the limits of their material components. Like individual ants or fish in colonies or schools, here as well the sum of the insect-like machines becomes a single organism, a higher form of existence. The new whole is more than the sum of its parts. Neo experiences transcendence in the immanent. The unobservable become observable through the eyes of Neo, the immaterial recognisable in the material.
Why machines? Of all things, why do coldly programmed machines symbolise the connection between spirit and matter in the Matrix trilogy?
The conflict between humans and machines which takes place on the surface reinterprets the subtext. It asks the question: How much machine is contained within man? Or vice versa: How much “man” is contained within the machine? When the Wachowskis create machines with a connection to God, machines which experience love and believe in karma, then the feeling of nearness to God, the perception of love and the belief in a meaning of one’s own existence exist independently of a human carrier. They are independent of human biochemistry, genetics and psyche, they are pre-existent. Self-transcendence is built into the stuff of which the universe consists. The cosmos brings via its creative drive spirit to self-development; it is irrelevant on what material basis this takes place: Spirit is spirit, regardless of whether it manifests itself in silicon, carbon or some other chemical structure.
In brief: The idea of spiritual machines is an opposite perspective to the idea of man as an automaton. It is not matter which forms spirit, but rather spirit which forms matter.
World of thoughts
"It's the question that drives us mad. It's the question that brought you here. You know the question just as I did."
"What is the Matrix?"
Trinity & Neo
In contrast to the representation of spirit through machines, the idea that the Matrix is a metaphor for the human mind is easy to understand. The parallels are obvious: Our mind and the Matrix are immaterial, virtual worlds whose existence is based only on thoughts.
Again, the Wachowskis parallelise the two contrasting interpretations of reality: The sum of the connected brains forms the whole of the Matrix …
… the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
The absolute spirit is reflected in the human mind as part of consciousness, the origin and goal of evolution ...
… which finally will develop itself in the interior of the consciousness being fought over.
The material basis of consciousness, the human body, is symbolised by Zion. Two interpretations are contrasted.
Dance and sex in Reloaded are not two processes which happen to take place in parallel but rather should be understood as a unit.
Considered together, they demonstrate an ecstatic mass phenomenon. Sex is based on the body and transcends it at the same time. The body and the absolute become one.
This message is sent by the humans to the machines which come in order to transform the human body into that which, according to materialism, it is: a machine. The battle for Zion interprets man as machine ...
… as a materialistic hell.
3. Striving towards equilibrium
"That's his purpose. To balance the equation."
"What's your purpose?"
"To unbalance it."
The Oracle & Neo
Every mind contains a concept of the construction of reality. This concept is nothing more than a construction, an inner subjective mirror of the objective outside (if such a thing exists). On the simple plane of the day-to-day control of the environment it is necessary that our construction of reality contain to opposite properties: It must be constant and it must be capable of adaptation. If it were not contant, we would have to continuously revalue and reinterpret out experience. There would be nothing to build upon. However, in order to integrate new experiences, it needs to be adaptable. It becomes problematic when reality and our picture of reality can no longer be reconciled, i.e. the observable cannot be adapted to the existing structures. An inequilibrium arises and as a result the wish to come back to equilibrium. This wish leads to efforts to investigate the phenomenon which cannot be integrated and afterwards to modify the structures in the reality construction so that that which could not be integrated now can be integrated. This modification of the structure increases the degree of complexity of our construction of reality and moves it to a higher plane of perception.
The same mechanisms also exist in the more complex areas of our construction of reality. After a certain age, our consciousness contains a concept of the type of world in which we live. We have something like a system of values, a concept of humanity. We have found an answer to the question whether there is a God; we have decided whether we feel that we belong to a religion, which political concept can best solve the problems of humanity, … These basic concepts are the foundation or our concept of the world. They give us a framework and give us a feeling of safety within chaos. Everyone who has partially or wholly lost this framework and knows the feeling of having nothing to hold onto, of having lost the floor beneath his feet, knows how valuable it really is and what essential services our consciousness is capable of. Our consciousness will thus – at least unconsciously – have an interest in maintaining this basis. The forces within it which are responsible for the maintenance of the existing structures are correspondingly powerful. In the area of the simple adaptation to the world we are relatively quickly prepared to adapt our structures to our experiences; in the area of these elementary foundational structures this is definitely not the case. Correspondingly, we select and interpret all the information and sensations which reach us. The forces whose job it is to maintain balance take care that everything which confirms our foundations is immediately integrated and strengthens that which already exists. Contradictory things, in contrast – a potential danger for the equilibrium – are doubted, reinterpreted, assigned little meaning or completely ignored; things which have a non-unique interpretation are assigned a unique interpretation.
"You've played a very dangerous game."
"Change always is."
The Architect & the Oracle
Only seldom do things take place which are so forceful that they challenge the equilibrium keepers within us. Bad luck of all kinds or other intense external experiences no longer allow a “same procedure as always”. The challenge to the status quo can also come from the mysterious interior of our consciousness: perhaps in the form of an existential desire, which was always present as a seed which previously didn’t have the resources needed to grow. Due to external influences or a weakening of that which preserves the status quo, this seed, this feeling that something isn’t quite right can attain a force powerful enough to shake the foundations of our construction of reality. Consciousness loses its equilibrium! Everything, really everything, which had been previously considered to be true is questioned again. A conflict arises between the preservers of the status quo and the forces behind the scenes. From the external perspective, this event can be understood as an existential crisis; from the subjective internal perspective, this consciousness experiences a phase which seems to bring it to the edge of its destruction.
4. The fighting consciousness
With the Matrix trilogy, the Wachowskis tell the story of a consciousness in turmoil. They tell the story as a reflection of Minsky’s Society of Mind: Consciousness is conceived as a collection of various interest groups whose relationships between each other change as a result of their battle for the consciousness. Also, the Wachowskis prefer to reflect external references as their negative: Minsky builds his theory upon the battle of his actors; with the Wachowskis, this theory becomes one of the fighting actors – in the end, a losing one! Not the smallest units but rather the overarching concepts with respect to reality and the perception of it symbolise the participants in the battle. Opposed are: rationalism, causality, dogmatism and nihilism on the one hand and the belief on an immaterial basis for existence and love as an elementary perception on the other. Grouped around the dimensions of consciousness – body, mind and spirit – they fight a battle for everything. The most basic foundations of the construction of reality are about to fall; consciousness loses its equilibrium and is in danger of being destroyed due to uncertainty, lack of halt and a permanent inequilibrium – if it were not for the chosen one who stops the destructive forces and reorganises the three dimensions of consciousness and creates a new equilibrium.