The Matrix Blue Pill Or Red Pill Essay

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The Blue Pill or the Red Pill ??  The tree of Knowledge or Belief

"You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe." Morpheus, The Matrix

VIEW Scene from MATRIX        

In The Matrix Universe, an authorized member of a Zion crew offers a prospective human in the Matrix a choice of ingesting a red pill. Doing so activates a trace program that allows the crew to locate the human's body in the Matrix powerplant. Once the person is found, commands are sent to the pod to awaken the person.

Red pills appear to have either seen "glitches" from the Matrix (e.g. a book continuously respawning on a shelf, regardless of attempts to remove the book), or have such a nature and/or awareness as to question their life within the Matrix, and refuse to dismiss the strange events - basically those who have figured out the illusion of the Matrix.

According to the character Morpheus, exiting the Matrix can be traumatic, particularly to those who have lived in it for too long. As a rule, crews normally only offer the red pill to those no older than teenage. After that, the risk of denial and psychotic episodes from the reality of separation could increase. This rule was violated by Morpheus in rescuing Neo, who was approximately 30 years old.—from Wikipedia

The BLUE Pill  or the RED Pill   

The question is asking us whether reality, truth, knowledge are worth pursuing. The blue pill will leave us as we are, in a life consisting of simple belief and blind faith and unexamined habits with what we have been handed and memorize and hold as truth. The blue pill leaves us with the comfort of the many things we believe we will receive if we take part in the everyday world and do not examine much at all.  We choose this pill if we believe that we do not need truth to live. The blue pill lets us keep our identities and our allegiances with family and friends undisturbed.   source:  VIEW On the choice


On being a blue pill slave

Surveys indicate many people prefer the comfort of the world of the BLUE Pill  See one such survey.

The Blue Pill or the Red Pill question in the story of the MATRIX echoes the old story from the Bible of the Western Religious traditions and the choice of the fruit from either the Tree of Knowledge or from the Tree of Belief in Everlasting Life in the Garden of Eden.

The TREE of KNOWLEDGE or the TREE of LIFE (you can see text below from Genesis)   In the middle of the Garden of Eden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.   The Tree of knowledge was of knowledge desirable for gaining wisdom of all things and of good and evil. Genesis 3: 5  "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 

  The tree of Life was the tree of Belief and the comfort of believing that one will live forever.  Those who chose the Tree of knowledge were expelled from Eden and barred from getting back to the fruit of belief in everlasting life ("a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life."Genesis,3,21).

The purpose for offering this reference to the story in Genesis is to raise the comparison of the choices being given: Knowledge and Belief.  There is no intent here to suggest that Knowledge is morally incorrect or evil or sinful.  The contrast is offered as between an approach to life based on faith motivated by a hope of some positive consequence or result such as everlasting life versus an approach to life guided by knowledge.  Some may criticize either choice as being in some way incorrect or offering the lesser of a life.  Some may even characterize one choice as being morally incorrect.  Such criticism is avoided here as not relevant.  The choices are presented here as relevant to what Philosophy is about.

The BLUE Pill  or the RED Pill   

The RED Pill is the path of Philosophy and Reasoning and Critical Thinking and Science and testing.  The BLUE Pill is that of simple and uncritical belief and emotional decision making.   Which shall it be?   Education and the Liberal Arts and Sciences are about the Red Pill.

One of the core themes of The Matrix is the concept that if you want to transform your world, you must first identify how you have been programmed, decide whether the programming is accurate, then decide whether to reprogram yourself.

You will be challenged in a Philosophy class and in many classes. How will you respond to the challenge that education poses to your beliefs, to your blue pill world?

As a simple start to the Red Pill path or some further steps along that path you might  go to and find five of the beliefs that you have held to be true that are not true and you have just learned that they are not true by going to this site.

Another exercise would be to realize that you already should be aware that things are not always as they appear to be or as we are led to believe. Name one such thing in your life.

This should open up to the possibility that not all beliefs that we hold to be true are actually true and that it might be of some value to question beliefs and to examine them to determine which beliefs have more evidence and reason to support them and distinguish them from others with less support.   Philosophy is a method for doing that examination concerning some of the most basic questions and issues human have ever confronted.

WARNING: the dangers of  the Blue Pill

Thinking that the Blue Pill is the way to go, the Blue Pill will provide you with comfort and security and stability and order will involve great costs to those that use that approach to life.  It will imperil a society dominated by this type of uncritical thinking.  It exposes those who use it to greater risks of infections and diseases as they will not use the latest scientific findings about the causes of illnesses and the spread of disease. It permits people to hold stereotypical and prejudicial notions of other peoples and to act on false claims.  It supports racist and sexist ideas and practices and other forms of irrational discriminations and injustices based on uncritical beliefs. It subjects practitioners of the Blue Pill path to victimization by charlatans and hucksters and those that operate ponzi schemes based on irrational hope. The Blue Pill path is attractive to those with concern for self over others and for the present over the long term but it too often proves to be quite the opposite of what was hoped for when choosing the Blue Pill.


Belief and Doubt are opposing psychological states.  They can not exist with regard to the same idea at the same time.

Philosophy rests on a Process of Inquiry using the dialectical method for thought.  INQUIRY is a process the mind can enter into to get from doubt to belief.

For the method and the frame of mind of Philosophy whatever  position is arrived at should be subject to continuing process of inquiry and examination.

You can not doubt your doubts.  You can subject doubt to inquiry in order to resolve it one way or another and arrive at a belief.

You can doubt or question a belief and subject it to critical examination.  You can not believe a doubt.  You simply doubt.

So, Philosophy is about thinking about beliefs and settling on a belief using reasoning and evidence wherever possible.  It is also about continuing the process of review of beliefs or positions taken using the continuing dialectical method in the midst of a community of inquirers that serve to reinforce the critical element in careful thinking..


The Story of Adam and Eve   from NIV version

Genesis 2

 4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
      When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens- 5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth [b] and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth [c] and there was no man to work the ground, 6 but streams [d] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground- 7 the LORD God formed the man [e] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

 8 Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin [f] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. [g]14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

 18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

 19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
      But for Adam [h] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs [i] and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib [j] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

 23 The man said,
       "This is now bone of my bones
       and flesh of my flesh;
       she shall be called 'woman, [k] '
       for she was taken out of man."

 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

 25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Genesis 3

The Fall of Man

 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

 4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. 5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?"

 10 He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

 11 And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

 12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."

 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?"
      The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

 14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this,
       "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!
       You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.

 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring [a] and hers; he will crush [b] your head,
       and you will strike his heel."

 16 To the woman he said,  "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
       with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

 17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'
       "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,  and you will eat the plants of the field.

 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
       since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

 20 Adam [c] named his wife Eve, [d] because she would become the mother of all the living.

 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

22 And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side [e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Is it better to live a harsh reality or a comfortable fantasy? And why? This is one interpretation of a key question faced by Neo, the hero of the movie The Matrix. Neo has a conversation with the rather enigmatic Morpheus, who explains that what Neo has always perceived as “reality,” including his friends, his job, and his entire existence in 20th century America, is actually a simulation caused by a race of computers that has taken over earth long ago and has enslaved human beings. Our brains, according to Morpheus, are simply kept alive in a fantasy world so that we can provide electricity to the machines. But a few individuals are occasionally able to disconnect themselves from this matrix of fantasy and regain control of their body, thereby fighting a desperate battle for supremacy on the planet. Now, Morpheus says, Neo has two choices. If he takes a blue pill that he is being offered, he will forget about the matrix and go back to his illusory but relatively safe and predictable life. Take the red pill, however, and you will see the world as it really is. The trade-off is clear: comfortable fantasy or harsh reality? What would you choose, and why?

Some philosophy students, who essentially questioned the assumptions underlying the choice, have proposed a radical way around the dilemma. What makes us think that Morpheus is telling the truth? What if it is the red pill that leads to an imaginary world? This is a valid epistemological point. How do you know what is real and what is not? What kind of evidence do you have that you were dreaming last night of being a butterfly, and are you not in fact a butterfly who is now dreaming of being a human being? There are some reasonable, though by no means foolproof, ways out of this basic dilemma. For example, dreams—unlike what we consider reality—have no temporal continuity and are often characterized by arbitrary rules of engagement (contrary to, say, the laws of physics). But Neo did not have such a luxury, since in his case both situations felt very real. Furthermore, some people on drugs, or affected by particular brain disorders, really do have a hard time distinguishing between reality and hallucinations.

However, this kind of existential response based on radical skepticism skirts an interesting question. Let us assume that we have good reasons to believe Morpheus (as Neo does in the movie, given some recent disturbing experiences that had shaken his conception of reality); what would you then do about it?

In essence, the choice can be seen as one between truth and happiness (albeit the latter may be of a rather limited variety). In this sense, the question becomes of utmost interest and of surprising practical relevance. For example, you are faced by this dilemma when you examine your religious beliefs. Since there is no more evidence for the existence of a god than for the existence of unicorns, but believing in god makes you feel more comfortable and gives eternal meaning to your life, should you believe the unbelievable or attempt to find your way through the tortuous road of secular morality and meaning? Of course, most people don’t really choose to believe in a god, they rather culturally inherit such belief from their parents and friends; but most of us do arrive at the rejection of god by an often long process of questioning during which we are faced with terrible questions of existential meaning and of good and evil. In this sense, consciously becoming an agnostic or atheist is indeed more difficult than the other path, and it is like taking Neo’s red pill.

Less controversial (if you actually believe in god and don’t therefore buy the above argument) but equally dramatic is the choice of taking or not taking drugs. The “reality” offered by drugs is more pleasurable (at least temporarily) than the real life out there, especially for poor or psychologically damaged people. Why not avoid the pain and go for the blue option? A minor version of the same question could be framed in terms of choosing entertainment over meaningful activities: why not just spend your life watching TV, or drinking beer, or—when this will be technologically feasible—shut yourself in a holodeck-like virtual reality where you can have all the food, sex partners, and riches you like?

Most people I talked to (but this was by no means an unbiased sample) chose the red pill, yet I found quite a bit of disagreement on the motives. Essentially, however, there are two main reasons that can be advanced for taking red over blue: pragmatic and ethical ones.

The pragmatic motive is that living in an imaginary world can be pretty dangerous. One of the reasons human beings have been so successful during evolution is precisely because our large brains have an uncanny capability of assessing reality, of finding cause-effect connections, and therefore of manipulating the world to our advantage. One could object that plenty of people in modern society believe all sorts of weird things, from astrology to gods, and yet seem to function reasonably well, thank you very much. But this is because, in fact, most of the time they do not act on their beliefs. For example, while many people would claim to leave their lives in god’s hands when they are so questioned, they nevertheless take out insurance policies, look on both sides of the road before crossing, and go regularly to the doctor, if they can afford it. When they do behave according to a strict adherence to fantastic beliefs, bad things happen. A recurrent example is offered by Christian Scientists who die (or, worse, let their children die) because they do not believe in getting medical attention when they are sick. Reality does have a way of biting your back side.

The ethical reason represents an even more general answer to Neo’s question: regardless of practical consequences or of feelings of pleasure and discomfort, it is simply right to choose the red pill. We are social beings, and by nature we have a tendency to relate to other humans and to help them out, especially if they are our kin or friends. This tendency constitutes the basis of most of our ethical systems, and it implies that it is our duty not to shut ourselves out of the world in order to simply seek pleasure or avoid pain. This, however, begs the question of what is right to begin with and of how we determine it, something that I have covered, and will come back to, in this column. Essentially, we are now faced with the radical moral skeptic question: why bother, if it does not affect your own happiness?

The point is, even a science fiction movie can generate profound philosophical questions, and these in turn are not necessarily idle speculations on the sex of angels but give us the opportunity to examine some of our most basic choices and their often far-reaching consequences. And remember, an unexamined life is not worth living. Or is it?

Next Month: "The many faces of anti-intellectualism"

© by Massimo Pigliucci, 2001


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