Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Rules of the Game: Fate & Free Will in the Matrix

(from Matrix Warrior, 2003)

The sorcerer's set-up

“To deny our impulses is to deny the very thing that makes us human.”

—Mouse, The Matrix

The question of fate and free will is as old as philosophical thought itself. Perhaps the matrix gave us this problem to begin with so we’d spend our entire history trying to figure out what was always a foregone conclusion. Whatever we decide to believe, it is already programmed into us. As every Gatekeeper knows, the belief in free will only makes humatons that much easier to control.

To the matrix warrior, the paradox of fate and free will is as follows: as long as one believes one has the freedom to choose one’s actions, one will always be a slave to them. Humatons are confined to the matrix, a program that tells them they are free individuals precisely in order to manipulate them more easily. The moment humatons accept their fate, however, and the unpalatable truth that their acts and thoughts are determined by some outside force vaster than they can imagine, they have taken the first step towards freedom.

The reason for this is that within the matrix there are a set number of preprogrammed responses to any given situation (a situation created by the matrix itself). Whichever one of these a humaton chooses (under the programmed illusion of having a choice), he or she is always only acquiescing to the program. The matrix is like a chess player that has already anticipated every last one of its opponent’s moves—except one. The only way to escape the program is by acting entirely outside the rules of the program. The rules of the program are the rules of reason, of the rational mind. Thus the matrix warrior knows that the only freedom within the program is to act irrationally. This is not to say insanely or foolishly, but rather spontaneously, unpredictably, and above all without personal motive. Here is where the imagination and will come into play. Since the matrix can only imitate and anticipate the processes of reason, any act of the creative imagination is outside the parameters of its comprehension, and will always come unexpected. And since will is precisely what humatons do not have (having been drained of it by AI), the one response that they are almost guaranteed not to give is that of will, the imaginative response. It is this response which is the warrior’s one true option within the matrix. By choosing to have a choice (i.e., to override the program), matrix warriors effectively have no choice, save to act spontaneously and do the one thing that is unexpected of them. To be impeccable, warriors must always follow this inner imperative, that of freedom.

The inner voice of the matrix warrior is a simple but extremely tricky affair. Since warriors know that every last one of their thoughts originates in the matrix program itself, they must learn to ignore their thoughts, to tune them out until they become a sort of background hum, an irrelevant but relentless nag. Long before they attain a lucid state of internal silence, matrix warriors must practise diligently, every moment of their lives, discriminating between their thought-responses so as to isolate this inner voice. Once they have rejected every last one of the false thoughts of the matrix mind, whatever impulse or intuition is left is the one they can trust in. Accordingly, it is the one they act upon. In other words, the only appropriate action in any given moment for the matrix warrior is the unthinkable action, the one that arises from the silent emptiness, behind and beyond all the senseless chatter of the matrix data-feed. Thus, it is a truism to say that matrix warriors are impeccable because they are irrational, and because they dare to do the unthinkable: to act without prior thought or motive.

By continuing to act in this non-rational, spontaneous manner, the matrix warrior constantly confounds the program. The matrix is unable to assimilate the warrior’s choices or to respond adequately to them, just as a sane person cannot hold a conversation with a madman without losing the thread. And so, little by little, the matrix begins to lose sight of the warriors, to loosen its hold on them, and warriors in turn become progressively freer to heed their inner voices and to act spontaneously. Yet, so long as they remain within the matrix, warriors remain caught up by their fate. They cannot change the components of their lives, nor in any radical fashion the events and circumstances that shape them. What they can do is to refine their responses to the events and so alter the manner in which they occur. In this way, by accepting their fate, matrix warriors are able to accelerate the program, as it were, and move through the programmed events in a faster, more economical and empowering manner. After a time (most especially once they connect to the 2nd attention sorcerers in the real world), they are able to see their fate, laid out before them like a map or a blueprint. They can then work within it, without ever being restricted by it.

With great power comes great responsibility. Responsibility is the ability to respond, and this is the only freedom warrior/sorcerers can ever have within the matrix: the power to respond freely to whatever comes their way. Through such a power, warrior-sorcerers begins to transform their world and the matrix turns gradually from torture chamber to playground. Seeing as the matrix program is hardwired to warriors’ own unconscious will, the fate which AI has assembled for them consists of elements drawn from their sleeping minds, elements that must accordingly fit their particular needs as individuals. Even though the matrix has shaped their personalities from birth, it stands to reason that, since AI cannot actually create anything (lacking the imagination to do so), it can only shape and mould what already exists. So each individual’s life-plan, their fate, is actually assembled only partiallyin advance, but mostly through the process of being ‘lived’ (i.e., dreamed). The matrix provides a nearly infinite series of choices, and individuals, from birth onward, select which ones best meet their needs; these ‘choices’ in turn give rise to the events and circumstances of their lives. So although AI may be able to foresee every last one of the countless possible ‘fates’ for any given individual, it cannot know which precise fate will be realized. Logically, the longer humatons remain within the matrix (the longer they are plugged in), and the more rigidly they keep to its dictates, the easier it becomes to predict their fate, to the point that most humatons, by the time they reach adulthood, have their lives entirely mapped out, preordained. The only possibility of breaking out the pattern, then, is via intervention from matrix sorcerers coming from left of field, from outside the matrix program. In just such a way, Morpheus intervenes in the life of Thomas: to make him an offer he can’t refuse.


Le Regle du Jeu

To return to the original question, matrix warriors know that, although their various fates are all preprogrammed, there is a nearly infinite variety of them, and that they are all contingent upon, drawn out of, their own unconscious mind. They are dreaming their lives, and their primary advantage over other humatons is that humatons never realizes they are dreaming, while warriors become aware of this by steady degrees. Humatons never recognize the option of becoming lucid, and so they allow the matrix to make all their choices for them (they are not the dreamers but merely figments of the dream). Matrix warriors strive to become conscious of their unconscious processes and tap their creative imagination, their will—in order to have an active say in their fates. By becoming aware of the actors at play, it becomes possible for them to meet and respond to the events in their lives in a more lucid, controlled, spontaneous, and imaginative fashion, thereby using events constructively, towards their own freedom. By accepting their fate, warriors turn the matrix’s own devises against it, and begin to discover their destiny. Warriors, rather than trying to change their fate, seek to accelerate it. If they can bring about all the events that their unconscious mind has provided for AI to work with—and above all if they can turn these events from distractions and inhibitions to actual instructions—they are able to exhaust the program’s possibilities (to complete its purpose); at this point they may begin to introduce, through conscious will, new possibilities all their own. It is now that the 2nd attention begins to seep through into the warrior’s life, fate segues into destiny, and the imagination takes over from the intellect. Will (imagination) overthrows reason. And it is at this point that the rules begin to change. The matrix sorcerer has freed his mind.

The question remains: how much can matrix sorcerers actually alter their lives from outside the matrix, in the 2nd attention? It seems unlikely that they have the power to reprogram the matrix or to shape events within it, since only ‘the One’ can do this. If matrix sorcerers did have such a power, they would have nothing to fear and could end the whole game simply by programming everyone to wake up. It also seems logical that, the more hacking they do, the more they are likely to draw the attention of the Sentinels (the search and destroy machines) in the 2nd attention, as well as the Gatekeepers in the matrix. Hence, discretion is the better part of valour in the war against the matrix, for the sorcerer as much as for the warrior.

Interestingly enough, this restriction also applies, and maybe even more so, to the Gatekeepers. The Gatekeepers are obliged to act within the rules of the program, because a computer program needs to be consistent in order not to fall apart. It may be that the Gatekeepers cannot afford to break too many rules too often, because then the rules would cease to hold up. Since the matrix is based upon a rational and strictly limited (and limiting) interpretation of reality, any acts or events that are too far outside such an interpretation would threaten to destroy it entirely, or at best cause it to mutate. Humatons would start to stir in their slumber if they were witness to too many marvels. So matrix sorcerers and Gatekeepers alike must walk a razor’s edge in which their magical acts and impossible leaps are as likely to work against them as they are to further their cause.

By performing impossible feats inside the matrix, Neo and the others can let humatons see ‘what you [AI] don’t want them to see: a world without rules’. This way, matrix sorcerers can awaken humatons to their own possibilities. Even more dramatically, by introducing new responses, new options, into the program, they are causing it to mutate, creating new rules and possibilities and so reshaping ‘reality’, redesigning the program, towards the eventual end of cancelling it entirely. On the other hand, if they draw too much attention to themselves, they will be open to reprisals from AI. Since the Gatekeepers can manifest through any plugged in human whatsoever, and since they can monitor all events within the matrix through the humatons, any outrĂ© phenomenon the sorcerous crew perform will quickly bring the Gatekeepers to them. The matrix program will rise up against them, including, let's not forget, those ‘hopelessly dependent’ humatons who will fight to protect their sense of reality. Matrix sorcerers are restricted not by any inherent limitation of their powers, but rather by the limitations of the 1st attention itself. If they stir things up too much, mutating their fates and accelerating the program, they will find themselves faced with more than they bargained for. To this end, they are careful to transform their lives within the matrix a little bit at a time, gently, frugally, with patience and cunning, and above all with a carefully drawn strategy. After all, they have nothing to gain by rushing, and everything to lose by overreaching themselves.

Since the active element in the lives of matrix sorcerers is no longer their reason but their will, and since will manifests spontaneously and non-rationally, there is no longer any way for them to predict their own actions, much less the outcome of them. A matrix sorcerer can have no goal, as such, save the goal of total freedom and complete transformation, a goal as mysterious as it is apocalyptic. Matrix sorcerers are concerned only with the moment, not with yesterday or tomorrow. Time is an illusion, like everything else only more so. Matrix sorcerers are like card sharps who win every time without ever having to cheat. They don’t need to cheat, because like idiot savants they can memorize the movement of every single card, and know exactly which one will come up next. They know not only what their next hand will be, but what everyone else’s will be too! The only thing they can’t control is where the cards will fall; but seeing as the bluff is as much a part of the game as anything (to the card sharp, there’s no such thing as luck), this is of little consequence to the matrix sorcerer. Whatever cards they are dealt, they know how to play them. That’s fate and free will in a nutshell: no one chooses what hand he is dealt; only the matrix sorcerer is free to decide how to play it.

Matrix sorcerers manifest their destiny out of the raw material of their fates. They know exactly what they want and how to get it, because they know that the only way to get what they want is not to want it. And since they don't give a fig either way, they can always bluff their way through, no matter how lousy the hand they are holding may be. Not caring if they win or lose gives sorcerers the calm and the confidence of winners, and so they win every time. In just such a manner, matrix sorcerers handle the elements of their fate and shape them into an enviable destiny. It’s all the same to them if there’s air or not: they don’t need lungs anyway.

This in-the-momentness spontaneity of sorcerers is the key to their power and freedom both. The matrix program is upheld by the code of reason, of language-based, rational thought. This is what gives sequence to the events and beings that appear to exist within it. Sorcerers have unplugged from the matrix through disconnecting from their own rational thought processes, by shutting off their internal dialogue, their false ‘minds’, and attaining a state of inner silence. It is from this state of silence that the will, the imaginative-creative faculty, emerges. This is a most salient point. It is inner silence that makes matrix sorcerers different from their fellow humatons. Even matrix warriors who have yet to unplug are still trapped by the dictates of their fate, of the ‘program’. The matrix sorcerer is outside looking in. The sorcerer’s art is in his or her power to imagine, the capacity for creative thought. Sorcerers ‘think’ in images rather than words. Above all, they act without thinking. By forbearing from rational thought immediately before acting, their acts break the rules of the matrix and upturn the program. The matrix is designed to monitor, direct, and control human thought and so to anticipate every action. From the most trivial to the most revolutionary, all are part of AI’s spectrum and within its power to influence. When matrix sorcerers act, however, they acts impulsively, spontaneously, and without accompanying thought. This makes their acts appear irrational, and come wholly unexpected. It is precisely this that makes them truly creative, and therefore beyond the matrix’s power to counteract.

This is what Morpheus means when he tells Neo to free his mind: to let go of the desire to analyse, interpret, judge, and control what is happening, and simply allow his will to unfold, magically, without interference from reason. Once he is able to do this, Neo’s actions become sorcery. By silencing his thoughts and so becoming disengaged from the matrix, he has tapped his will. The only freedom for matrix sorcerers is to act without knowing what they are doing, to become a witness to their own acts, a midwife to miracles, a true creative force of nature, outside time and space, and beyond the reach of the Gatekeepers.


CCC said...

I wish I had more good to say than that I will not just glaze over your post, JK. Going out now, read the lot later (and keep opinions for myself). Speaking of which I'd love to read the total of your escapades (the Mitch ones) some day; if it's in one of your books, I'll buy (into) it, paperback or hard cover.

Eh.. I just had to post this, hmm, commercial. Sombrero For The Win!

It's like if I act on the compulsion to continually share everything with everyone, laugh at my own jokes, speak with a loud mouth, etc, I'll have nothing, NOTHING, to my self.

Maybe I'll take a few of these yummy gourmet rocks, eh.. for the road.

Jason Kephas said...

The Mitch Escapades are the central portion of a recently completed shamanic memoir, HANG DOG WITH A HARD-ON, which I may end up self-publishing, if no one else will go near it.

I appreciate the interest....

su said...

i too am going to print it out and read it under the fines later.

i sat with ramesh balsekar for 2 months where every day he spoke of the absolute absence of free will.
again and again he repeated to me that all there is is consciousness - who is there to have free will.

returning home unable to blame myself or others anymore i was told on many occasions that i had effectively by knowing the truth of this taken on the vow of hopelessness and powerlessness.

in the absence of the belief of volition the internal censor dies a rapid death.