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The Mind Blowing Metaphor In The Matrix That Most People Missed

Written by: Deirdre Morrison, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

It’s no secret that The Matrix was more than just an action movie. When Morpheus offered Neo the red pill or the blue pill, we were also invited to consider our own choices.


Many of us, of course, took the blue pill, enjoyed the cinematic ride, and went back to our lives.

A few of us took the red pill though, and we could never go back. Because the philosophical musings woven into this dystopian worldview were a little too close to the bone. It pulled at a thread that something had already loosened. We desperately wanted to follow the white rabbit.


The Matrix is an exceptional metaphor, but not at the level most people read it. Sure, it highlights our dangerous dalliance with AI and offers a liberating look at the nature of reality. The power of our brains to bend that reality has been raised in the consciousness of many, thanks to the allure of this now classic movie.


But there’s more. We identify with the rebellious, freedom-seeking human survivors, and we will them to outwit and overthrow the machine overlords.


It is a very clear struggle between freedom and an overbearing structure. But what if that struggle is not one that must be fought with external forces? What if the struggle between freedom and control is actually the nature of our modern human brains?


This is where it starts to get really interesting. The right and left hemispheres of the brain seem to mirror this tug of war. Of course, the discoveries being made by neuroscientists reveal ever more subtle understandings of how our brains actually work. And what we know now is that our society values left hemisphere tendencies, such as structure, control, measurability, being able to categorise and differentiate between things. Our right hemisphere, on the other hand, is all about being connected, seeing the big picture, and being empathetic. These, of course, are sweeping generalisations, and by no means meant to define the operations of either hemisphere.


But if we take the machines with their structure and control to represent the left hemisphere, and the escaped humans to represent the right hemisphere, then we have an equation that bears a striking similarity to some of the profound thoughts that have been put forward by scientists mapping the complex functions and interplay of various regions of our brains.


And as time passes, and our understanding of our own inner world becomes more nuanced and more informed, the stories we tell ourselves also change. As neuroscience bridges the gap between what we do and what we know… and what we know about what we do, then how we think about the internal and the external also changes.


Call it zeitgeist, perhaps. Ideas leak into the general consciousness and become part of the collective story we have about ourselves. Sometimes those ideas are misinterpreted, or plain wrong, and take a long time to replace. There are many myths still in common circulation about how the brain works and evolved.


One example is the shift in understanding our brain’s neuroplasticity, and that learning takes place right through life.


Or there’s the concept of creativity – one which is actually relatively new, as we now know it. In ancient cultures, it was believed that creativity – and the ideas it spawned – was a gift from the gods, rather than coming from an internal wellspring. That creativity was not dependent on divine intervention, was an idea that only took hold after the Enlightenment, believe it or not.


But even the widely accepted definition of creativity, (sometimes seen as a right hemisphere function, thanks to those persistent brain myths), also seems to have a distinctly left hemisphere flavour – “a phenomenon whereby something somehow new and somehow valuable is formed.” Whether a definition of creativity should be tied to value, which by its very nature is subjective, and often related to commodification is another question, of course.


These ideas are not just confined to what we tell ourselves about our brains. They actually shape the very nature of our society.


I think it’s fair to say that society has changed significantly in the last hundred years. We have moved towards greater equality on many fronts, for example, even if we have not reached an ideal set of circumstances. Those changes started with changing stories and having access to new stories – stories about other people and ways of doing things. Crude stereotypes made way for representation.


But in order to be influenced by these stories so that change became possible, we first had to hear them. Stories are the way out of the boxes we don’t know we’re in. They show us new possibilities. They extend the range of what we consider possible. In many ways, they are how we upgrade our personal Matrix.


And in much the same way, the stories we hear about our brains, the nature of our existence, and our place in the wider scheme of things, have to reach us in order to take root.


Slowly, but surely, the ideas germinate. We realise, often over the course of generations, that there are other ways – better ways.


The stories that have brought us this far will not serve us if we want to repair the planet and redress society's imbalances. We must find a way to tell a new story. One that balances the tendency to lean towards one set of tendencies. One in which we embrace the strengths that our amazing brains offer across both hemispheres.


We sided with the surviving humans in The Matrix for many reasons. Maybe – just maybe – one of those reasons is because deep down, we know there are bigger things hanging in the balance than the fate of some fictional characters.


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Deirdre Morrison, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Deirdre Morrison is the founder of The Ambition Incubator platform and podcast. Her mission is to deliver practical tools from the field of neuroscience to help entrepreneurs and leaders be happier, healthier, more effective and successful in all the areas of their lives that matter to them.


Deirdre is a proponent of life-long learning, an interest that ultimately led her to study applied neuroscience.


She works with individual clients and runs group programmes, including The Ambition Incubator Collective, which specifically helps women who have taken a child-care career break to pull off the post-parenting pivot often necessary to reboot their careers.


Her other interests include the Japanese sword art of Kendo, road cycling, and reading. She runs free weekly development groups based on dynamic co-readings of business classics.

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