The difference between Matrix I and II

A few weeks ago, in a review of Matrix II, I suggested the Wachowski brothers had lost sight of their first film's evocation of Mystery. Perhaps now is a good time to discuss the difference between the ineffable (Mystery) and the merely hidden.

An object is said to be ineffable when its qualities transcend description; it cannot be characterized through specificity. The truly ineffable is devoid of invariance; its very nature is subject to interpretation.

Conversely, to say something is hidden presupposes it is a definitive construct; whatever it is will be clearly apparent once the obstructing medium has been removed. Pull back the curtain and the great Wizard of Oz is a man of measurable characteristics.

It is worth mentioning that the issue concerning the difference between the ineffable and the hidden has recently been broached, although inadvertently, by professors Geoffrey Lloyd and Nathan Sivin in their book "The Way and the Word: Science and Medicine in Early China and Greece."

The question the professors ask is why, of the two ancient cultures, only the Greeks chose to pursue the secrets of nature through that endeavor now referred to as science.

It is interesting that the Wachowskis' first Matrix film reflects the Chinese perspective and their second, the Greek. Their first, a Mahayana Buddhist/Taoist perspective and their second, that of faith-based religions.

(When your Sunday school teachers tell you the core teachings of Mahayana Buddhism promote a Buddha as an object of worship analogous to the Hindu trinity, Siva, Vishnu and Brahma or the Christian trinity they are misinformed.)

In Matrix II, the Wachowskis recapitulate the faith-based presumption of hidden truth, and in so doing illustrate the genesis of the divisive tension underlying the relationship of the world's faith-based religions.

Neo finds himself looking for truth in an infinitely long hallway full of identical locked doors. Implicit is the notion that behind one of these doors the determined seeker will find that which eludes all others.

Though they all appear the same only one door permits the immediate experience of the absolute, that which does not change. Or, as professors Lloyd and Sivin (among others) characterize it, behind that door lies the Word. "In the beginning was the Word ?"

Diametrically opposed to the ineffable, such a Word provides the definitive articulation of


The Greeks, like Neo in Matrix I, realized that the knowledge of the senses is illusory. A man in the desert can never slake his thirst through a mirage possessing all the visual characteristics of liquid water.

Neo's doors symbolize the alleged barrier to truth said to be embodied in sensory perception. This is why ascetics, be they Hindu or Christian, abjure sensory knowledge.

But the Greeks, like Neo in Matrix II, assumed that beyond the sensory barrier (the doors) lies truth's definitive articulation, the Word. To this day those representing this epistemological presumption continue their quest through science.

Hence we break things apart, always with the hypothesis that eventually we will identify the invariant substrate of existence and the underlying relationship of these indivisible phenomena.

Cosmologists refer to this millennia-old quest as a TOE (Theory of Everything). In Matrix II Neo believes this explanatory formula lies behind one of the innumerable doors.

He wasn't so presumptuous in Matrix I. The Wachowskis lost sight of this.

Like the ancient Chinese, the Neo of Matrix I became aware "All that is perceived is nothing but mind itself."

More importantly, because all one can know for certain is one's own mind (sensory information being inherently suspect) and an objective appraisal makes clear the knowledge therein is subject to interpretation, "The true man of wisdom never has to leave his room to know the nature of the 10,000 things."

When professors Lloyd and Sivin try to understand why the Chinese never pursued truth through some precursor of modern science they should begin looking here.

In his statement the Taoist (Daoist) patriarch Chuang-tzu (Zhuang-zi) makes clear that from his perspective truth can never be obscured. Like Neo in Matrix I, the Chinese were aware all one had to do is realize the objects of perception are illusory for they are contained within mind and mind is illusory. The commitment of faith is for those frightened of the truth.

Mind embodies Mystery. Existence is Mystery. The wonder of being finds its genesis in the ineffable.

Evidently the Wachowskis didn't realize what they had stumbled upon in Matrix I. Matrix II substitutes a commitment of faith for an immersion in wonder.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.