I've been fortunate enough to receive a copy of the new book, Taking The Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix and I'm really enjoying it so far. It's an outstanding collection of essays inspired by and looking deeper into the questions raised by The Matrix. From "Glitches in The Matrix and How to Fix Them" - which addresses directly those nagging "people as an energy source?" and " what's the deal with needing a phone line?" questions that message-boarders everywhere have squawked about - to "The Human-Machine Merger: Are We Headed for The Matrix?" - that uses The Matrix as a starting point to look at the technology of the future and how close we really are to being able to be "plugged-in"- each contributor does an amazing job of taking the reader through the looking glass and deeper down the rabbit hole.
Even a dumb bunny like me.
(I shall continue to blame poor translation for the fact that I am still hovering around page 54 of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation I got nearly a year ago. The only time I made any progress was while waiting at the mechanic's and even then I ended up staring at the thing with some sort of buzz/hum in my ears that eventually segued into a local window-tint company's theme song. I can't explain it.)
Each chapter/essay in Taking The Red Pill is amazingly thought-provoking yet completely understandable and easy to comprehend. I've only read a few of them so far and already I can't decide if I want to go and become a complete luddite or be first in line to have the nanobot wireless processors delivered directly into my brain stem. I'm also looking at my concept of "reality" a little deeper and eyeing my genes with suspicion.
Glenn Yeffeth, the editor, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me:
kv: Were you a fan of The Matrix before you began work on the book? If so, what do you remember thinking as you walked out of the theater after the first time?
GY: I was a big fan of The Matrix since it first came out, that's where the idea for the book came from. I loved the movie the first time I saw it, but I have to admit something bugged me. The computers were powered by energy from human beings...this made no sense (because it takes more energy to feed people than they can possibly produce; this is basic physics). Being a hard core science fiction reader, this sort of thing bugs me. Next time I saw it I noticed that Morpheus says "combined with a new type of fusion" which gave them an out. I wasn't the only person who noticed this; three of our essay writers come up with explanations (all different) for why people are really in The Matrix.
kv: Do you think that the second and third parts of The Matrix Trilogy will answer the underlying questions introduced in The Matrix, or will they just take us "deeper into the rabbit hole" and let us wonder for ourselves?
GY:I can't wait to find out...my hope is that they continue raising fascinating questions without ending with a weak attempt to keep the mystery going (i.e. the rebels are also in some layer of The Matrix, a la Thirteenth Floor). I don't expect this - I trust the Wachowski's to do something great for us in these next two films.
kv: Who were some of the contributors to Taking the Red Pill, and did any of them have conflicting opinions of philosophy or symbolism of The Matrix?
GY:Lots of conflicting opinions, and in fact we have two pairs of debating essays. One pair debates whether The Matrix is a postmodernist masterpiece or a mindless action flick with a veneer of intellectualism. Another pair debates whether we are headed towards a world of technological wonders or a Matrix-like dystopia.
The contributors are quite a distinguished group.
(The list is in the extended entry --krix)
kv: Do you have a favorite essay in the book?
GY: I couldn't possibly pick one. Schuchardt's essay "What is the Matrix?" is an awesome overview. Kurzweil's essay is truly mind-blowing. Bostrom's essay is amazing...he makes some basic assumptions and reaches an incredible conclusion. I could go on and on.
kv: Does one have to have a background in philosophy, science or religion to understand Taking the Red Pill?
GY: Absolutely not, it's been carefully edited to be non-academic and fun for the general fan.
kv: Do you believe we all could be "living in a matrix"?
GY:It's impossible to read this book and not realize that we could be living in a matrix of some sort. So, yes I do believe we could be "living in a matrix." Do I believe like Neo believed at the end of the movie?...not yet.
As Mr. Yeffeth puts it:
"This is a book by fans, for fans, but it just so happens that fans of The Matrix include some of the leading thinkers on the planet."
Taking the Red Pill truly is "academic without over-intellectuallizing".
Even if you don't think you have an interest in religion, philosophy or science, these essays will spark something and will help you to enjoy The Matrix (and the upcoming films) on a whole other level, beyond the unbearable hotness of Neo (or Trinity) and the mind-blowing fight scenes and effects.
Plus, it will "free your mind" on a much broader scale as well.
Contributing Authors to Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix
Peter J. Boettke is an economics professor at George Mason University and the author of several books on the history, collapse, and transition from socialism in the former Soviet Union. His most recent books are Calculation and Coordination (Routledge, London, 2001) and The Economic Way of Thinking (Prentice Hall, 2002). Before joining the faculty at GMU, Boettke taught at New York University and was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. Boettke earned his Ph.D. at George Mason University and his B.A. at Grove City College.
Dr. Nick Bostrom is a philosopher at Yale University. He founded the World Transhumanist Association in 1998 (with David Pearce) and is a frequent spokesperson and commentator in the media. Bostrom's research interests are in philosophy of science, probability theory, and the ethical and strategic implications of anticipated technologies (including AI, nanotech, genetics, etc.). He has a background in cosmology, computational neuroscience, mathematical logic, philosophy, artificial intelligence, and stand-up comedy, and is the author of the book Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy (Routledge, New York, 2002).
Dino Felluga is a professor in the department of English at Purdue University, West Lafayette. His first book, The Perversity of Poetry: Romantic Ideology and the Popular Male Poet of Genius is forthcoming from SUNY Press. He is currently working on expanding a Web site (with accompanying book) that introduces critical theory to students and scholars by way of popular culture.
Paul Fontana graduated from Colby College in 1996 with honors in philosophy. This essay was written while he was studying the New Testament at Harvard Divinity School. He currently lives in New York City.
James L. Ford is an assistant professor of East Asian religions in the department of religion at Wake Forest University, North Carolina. He earned an M.A. in 1996 and Ph.D. in 1998 in East Asian religions from Princeton University. Dr. Ford's primary research centers on medieval Japanese Buddhism and he recently completed a manuscript titled Boundless Devotion: J˛kei (1155-1213) and the Discourse of Kamakura Buddhism. At present, he is executive secretary for the Society for the Study of Japanese Religion and serves on the steering committee for the Japanese Religions Group of the American Academy of Religion.
Andrew Gordon is associate professor of English and director of the Institute for the Psychological Study of the Arts (IPSA) at the University of Florida. He has been a Fulbright lecturer in American literature in Spain, Portugal, and Serbia, and a visiting professor in Hungary and Russia. He teaches contemporary American fiction, Jewish-American fiction, and science-fiction literature and film. His publications include An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer; Psychoanalyses/Feminisms (coedited with Peter L. Rudnytsky); and Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness (coauthored with Hernan Vera; the book discusses many films, including the science fiction or fantasy films Raiders of the Lost Ark , Men in Black, and The Matrix). He has written numerous essays on science fiction and science-fiction film, including the films of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Robert Zemeckis, in Science-Fiction Studies and other journals.
James Gunn is both a writer and a teacher of science fiction. His first story was published in 1949; since then he has published 99 stories and 38 books, including The Joy Makers, The Listeners, Kampus, The Dreamers, and The Immortals, which became a 1969 TV film The Immortal and a 1970-71 TV series. He taught for forty years at the University of Kansas, where he still teaches a summer course in science fiction as emeritus professor of English. He has served as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and of the Science Fiction Research Association, and has won the Hugo Award, the Pilgrim Award, and the Eaton Award. Among his academic books are Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction; Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of
Science Fiction; The Science of Science-Fiction Writing; and the six-volume historical anthology The Road to Science Fiction.
Robin Hanson is an assistant professor of economics at George Mason University. In 1998 Robin received his Ph.D. in social science from the California Institute of Technology, and then served as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health policy scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. Earlier he received a master's in physics and a master's in the philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, and spent nine years researching artificial intelligence, Bayesian statistics, and hypertext publishing at Lockheed, NASA, and independently. Robin's work has appeared in several publications, including CATO Journal, International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Journal of Evolution and Technology, Social Philosophy and Policy, and Theory and Decision.
Bill Joy is a co-founder, Chief Scientist and Corporate Executive Officer of Sun Microsystems and has played a critical role in the development of a number of critical technologies, including Jini and Java. In 1997 he was appointed Co-Chairman of the Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee. His many contributions were recognized by a cover story in Fortune Magazine, which called him the "Edison of the Internet."
Ray Kurzweil, inventor and technologist. Mr. Kurzweil created the first reading machine for the blind and is responsible for many other technology firsts. He has founded and built nine highly successful technology companies and is the best-selling author of The Age of Spiritual Machines (Viking, 1999). Mr. Kurzweil has received eleven honorary doctorates and numerous awards, including the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology, and the $500,000 MIT-Lemelson Prize for Invention and Innovation.
Peter B. Lloyd graduated in mathematics at Cardiff University, Wales, where he stayed on to carry out research in solar engineering. He later worked as a software developer in the ISIS medical research group in the University of Oxford, where he expanded his interest in philosophy by studying under Dr. Michael Lockwood at the Oxford University department for external studies. Since 1994 he has worked as a freelance software developer. He has maintained an active presence in the Journal of Consciousness Studies Online, and has self-published two books on the nature of consciousness. He lives in London, England, with his wife, Deborah Marshall-Warren, a leading figure in hypnotherapy.
Robert J. Sawyer, called "just about the best science fiction writer out there" by The Denver Rocky Mountain News and the leader of sci-fi's next-generation pack by Barnes and Noble, frequently writes science fiction about artificial intelligence, most notably in his Aurora Award-winning novel Golden Fleece (named the best sci-fi novel of the year by critic Orson Scott Card in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction); The Terminal Experiment (winner of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year); the Hugo Award-nominated Factoring Humanity; the Hugo Award-nominated Calculating God (which hit #1 on the best-seller list published by
Locus, the trade journal of the sci-fi field); and his just-released thirteenth novel, Hominids, which deals with the quantum-mechanical origin of consciousness. According to Reuters, he was the first sci-fi author to have a Web site; for more information on Rob and his work, visit that extensive site at www.sfwriter.com.
Read Mercer Schuchardt is assistant professor of media studies at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. He is the contributing editor on media and culture for Regeneration Quarterly magazine, founder of CLEAVE: The Counter Agency (www.cleave.com) and the publisher of Metaphilm (www.metaphilm.com), a film interpretation website. In 2003, Spence Publishing will release his first two books, Metaphilm: Seers of the Silver Screen and The Disappearance of Women: Technology, Pornography, and the Obsolescence of Gender. He and his wife home-school their five children in Jersey City, New Jersey. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Lyle Zynda received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1995. After spending a year teaching at Caltech, he took up his current position in the philosophy department at Indiana University South Bend (IUSB), where he is now associate professor. Dr. Zynda specializes in philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, cognitive science, epistemology, metaphysics, and logic. He has published articles in internationally renowned journals such as Synthese, Philosophy of Science, and Philosophical Studies. He also periodically teaches a course at IUSB called "Philosophy, Science, and Science Fiction."