What do you believe in? Do believe that without hard concrete evidence, you can’t trust that something exists? What about religion? There is no way that we can’t positively prove for a fact that God exists but is it reasonable to believe in it then? W.K. Clifford, a philosopher, believed that it was impractical for someone to believe anything that went beyond the available evidence that is given to them. For all those currently trying to set their Bible afire, hold the phone! Another fellow philosopher, William James, believes other wise.
James, who wrote the famous essay “The Will to Believe”, thought there was both a positive and a negative approach to what to belief in life. The negative aspect showcases a person who is always afraid of making a mistake and sides with the evidentalist’s approach to life who states that it is irrational for anyone to believe anything without sufficient evidence. The more positive approach emphasizes the seeking of truth, embracing it, and not being afraid of making mistakes. This approach to life states that mistakes are a part of life and they are all part of the experience of life that every human being goes through. William James’ main theory was that our beliefs had to be placed at a midway point in reality. Basically he stated that we could not just sit back and wait for evidence to present itself to us nor could we just believe everything we heard without some kind of evidence now and then.
So how does this all apply to The Matrix? Let’s look at James’ two approaches to life first before exploring further. Neo is clearly in the negative aspect when he is still plugged into the Matrix as Thomas Anderson. He does as he is told and is afraid of making mistakes. Nothing is more evident in the original film then when Thomas Anderson tries to elude the agents seeking him in his office building. Neo has a chance to escape but is afraid of falling off the building, thus he gives himself up to them. But as the film progresses, he clearly transitions him more toward the positive thanks the actions and teaching of Morpheus and Trinity. By the time of Revolutions, Neo stands prominently for the theory that William James’ had emphasized.
But James’ Precursive Faith does not just contain that simple theory but branches out further and further from Evidentialism. William James believed that believing in something beyond the evidence presented was known as a “genuine option” and needed three conditions for it to apply to a certain belief.
There is a specific scene within The Matrix Reloaded where Neo has a vivid discussion with The Architect where genuine option clearly applies. The scene is quite difficult to understand due in part to the complex language used but taking it line by line, one can get an understanding of what is going on even if one has to read between the lines to get the straight story.
One of the conditions of genuine option states that a belief must be live. In other words, you must be able to bring yourself to believe it or the option does not apply in the situation. The Architect speaks with Neo and reveals that he is the sixth The One and that The Matrix that had known is much older then he had thought. It is Neo’s next line, “There are only two possible explanations, either no one told me, or no one knows” which shows that Neo finds it probable that this statement is true and as the scene progresses he shows more and more in his emotions.
Another condition, force, says that choosing not to believe something is equivalent to the consequences a person might experience in not believing something. Neo takes a quote from George Moore saying, “Choice. The problem is choice”.
The final condition for genuine option requires that the belief must be momentous. In other words, the belief must have something of great importance at stake and that it may be lost if the belief is not believed in. Neo is given a choice by the Architect to choose either the door on his right, which leads to the Source and the salvation of Zion, or the door on his left, which leads back to Trinity who he knows is being chased down by an agent at that moment in time. Whether the Architect eggs Neo into choosing the left door or not is not clearly known but he does say a simple and obvious truth, “She is going to die, and there is nothing you can do to stop it”, which emphasizes the final condition for genuine option.
The choice that Neo makes must be a genuine option or else he wouldn’t have been able to make it. Neo has to believe that there has to be some way to save Trinity and the people of Zion by choosing the door on the left or else he could not bring himself to make this choice and risk everything for this choice. It is obviously more rational for Neo to choose the door on the right and save Zion but every now and again we must bring ourselves to examine the other choice and take the path that doesn’t always have the evidence laid out for us to make that choice.
Next Time: Part II – Leap of Faith