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Wachowski Window Washers….or Taking the Red Pill…..

September 12th, 2003 · 2 Comments

Watching the movie The Matrix , I always start to laugh at the scene where Neo is being reprimanded in his boss’ office and the window washers working in the background streak squeaky squeegees on the skyscraper glass. I think it is probably the absurdity and humor in the situation, a joke about the mundane work of window washing – or any employment – and the mundane machine of the Matrix – that give me the giggles.

Taking the Red Pill: Science Philosophy and Religion in the Matrix showed up at my house, after I did a library catalog search for the word “matrix” and – in a moment of spontaneity and curiousity – put a hold on all the items that appeared in the list: books, CDs, DVDs. I’m not a “Matrix aficionado” necessarily but I do like the movie and enjoy the opportunity for dialoguing and discussing the ideas that come from it. This was the first book to become available and it will be a hard act for others to follow. I had fun reading this collection of essays. Not only have I learned more about the Matrix movie itself – like the fact that the Wachowski brothers directors had planned to play a cameo as the window washers (giving it up due to safety concerns – must have been real skyscraper heights!), but I’ve also learned more about science fiction, philosophy and religion, as well as science.

The book is a collection of mostly-independent essays – on topics from “AI, Sci Fi and the Matrix” by Robert Sawyer, to “Paradigm of Post-Modernism” (two essays: Dino Felluga and Andrew Gordon) “Glitches in the Matrix and How to Fix Them” by Peter B. Lloyd, an essay on “Buddhism, Mythology and the Matrix” by James L. Ford and one on “Finding God” by Paul Fontana. This collection also includes Bill Joy’s essay, reprinted from April 2000 Wired , “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”, preceded by Ray Kurzweil’s “The Human Machine Merger: Are We Headed for the Matrix?” The essays are written separately, with little reference to each other except occasional one-sentence statements, or editorial parentheses. While more interactive essays, more direct dialogue and debate between the authors would have created a more intense collection, I confess that as a busy mom, it worked well for me to be able to pick up the book, read a short essay and put it back down again.

I’ll try to quickly mention my favorites. I liked the two essays on “Post-Modernism” – a good education for me and discussion (when Neo makes the business transaction in his apartment in his first appearance in the movie – did you notice the book where he hides the disc?…I had no idea of the book’s significance…apparently it is a book the Wachowskis assigned Keanu Reeves to read….)

The big scenes that seemed to be mentioned a lot in various essays: Neo’s “going through the looking glass” and becoming free (he squeaked as he was released from his pod of slavery- I had not noticed the parallel to the window washing…). Neo and Morpheus’ talk in the armchairs about the nature of reality. The dialog at the table about the Woman in Red and Tastee Wheat. Agent Smith’s confessions to Morpheus near the end of the movie, as Morpheus is suffering.

“Glitches” was great – if possibly inaccurate – but I like the idea of working out the details a scientist. I confess I hadn’t really thought about why or how the rebels utilized the telephone for getting in and out of the Matrix, how the human power plant, bio port, red pill or bug bot worked (think I may disagree about the bugbot)…it’s all theory but fun and interesting at the same time, science explored and explained via cinema.

I learned more about Buddhism from the Buddhism essay, my only knowledge of the religion coming from occasional readings and acquaintances. “Finding God” did a bit too many gymnastics for me. For example, I didn’t find an Abrahamic call in the Fed Ex delivery man’s finding “Thomas Anderson?” at his office. My husband Ted and I have our own explanations from our spiritual perspective. (See related blog for a quote on “restoration”)

Bill Joy’s piece “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” is the dessert – the cake – and also the meat of the book. The only essay written in 2000, it was placed as the penultimate piece in the book. The other pieces were written in 2003, so I don’t know if this book was created as a collection around this essay. While Joy does not specifically mention the Matrix, his concerns center on the possibility of a Matrix-type world in the near future. Kurzweil’s piece is there in order to provide the background and contrast. Writes Joy “…it was only in the autumn of 1998 that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the 21st century. I can date the onset of my unease to the day I met Ray Kurzweil….”

What Joy discusses – as you can read here – is where we are now as humanity: “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies–robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech–are threatening to make humans an endangered species.” He describes how “disturbed” he was after his talk with Kurzweil and the journey he has taken both before and since that time. Certainly I learned more about science. But I appreciated his voice: personal, humble, intelligent, concerned, looking back and looking forward, sharing from his life and his thoughts. As I told my husband, I’m sure Joy, former Chief Scientist at Sun and “Edison of the Internet”, could have written a piece that was up in the stratosphere – some of these authors took a bit more for me to try to understand them, utilizing complicated vocabulary and references – but Joy wrote it as if he wants everyone to be able to read it, to understand where we are in time, the dilemma of where we could be headed. He references his grandmother, Woody Allen, the Dalai Lama, the Manhattan Project, the Borg. I found myself grateful for his thoughts but more grateful for his voice itself, and I’d love to read more that he has written. (Note: in the days it has taken me to write this essay, Joy announced his decision to leave Sun…perhaps he will be doing more writing in the future…)

After reading Joy’s essay, reading the final piece – “The Simulation Argument”, an attempt to convince the reader that humanity already is inhabiting a simulation – was like eating Saltine crackers after tiramisu – tasteless, boring and I’m already too full anyway, wanting to savor what I just read. The glossary in the back is fun though – I didn’t realize that even the name “Anderson” had significance….

Come library due date last week, I had to return both this book and Probable Future . I wanted to keep them both and tried to renew each. Taking the Red Pill was available to stay but Probable Future had to go back, with many holds waiting in line to read it. I was surprised. I would rather re-read “Red Pill” (as Abigail calls it) than Hoffman’s book again. And I wish that many others would be wanting to read it also.

Tags: books · matrix

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 jeffy // Sep 15, 2003 at 8:34 pm

    There’s 5 holds on Red Pill now at KCLS. One of them mine. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • 2 Peter B Lloyd // Sep 24, 2003 at 3:35 pm


    Thanks for taking the time to read Red Pill and comment on it. I noticed that you said that my essay (“Glitches”) was “possibly inaccurate” and you “may disagree about the bugbot”. As the essay was 100% speculation, I may have been wrong on lots of things, but I’d certainly be interested in your alternative theory of the bugbot (and, indeed, any of the other things).