The Matrix Trilogy and Entropy

The Matrix Trilogy and Entropy

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I had one of those moments: ‘It’s all about entropy…’ I said, ‘The Matrix!’ Of course I was met with the ubiquitous ‘Huh?’ So I then had to try to explain what I meant, for which you should read: back it up. From initial moment to the long and dragged out conclusion was a rocky road. But I still think the initial idea was sound.

So I guess I should start with a few definitions. Entropy: it has been around for quite a while now; so much so it has spawned quite a progeny. We now a statistical mechanics definition of the term; we have sociological entropy; psychological entropy; ecological entropy; even, heaven forbid, corporate entropy.

It started off as a variation on the Second Rule of Thermodynamics (don’t ask), to describe an observable process. It has gone on to try to explain why some processes are seemingly spontaneous, and some not. It has also been suggested as reliable proof of the arrow of time: with entropy we see the decay of materials, that is, their change from original form to a more diffuse, attenuated form.
It is also riffed as a measure of disorder in a system. Now do you see where I’m going? It is how computer programmes develop glitches; it is how things get worse as they go on.

In ‘The Matrix Trilogy’ one of the main story arcs is concerned with the successful running of computer systems, city-sized machine entities or, to use the language, closed systems. In Information Theory entropy is a measure of the uncertainty associated with a random variable (Shannon entropy).
It all comes down to the function of the agents, and the nature of the One, and the relationship between them. Neo is the random variable; the Agents depict the growing instability of the Matrix system.

The Matrix Trilogy makes wonderful use of visual language. Where we have, say, an interface between computer systems, we have on one level a port, plug-in etc; on another level we have programmes specially written for interaction at an interface; on another level we have electrical circuit output configurations and matching input configurations. In film we have an anonymous corridor with doors leading off each side. ‘People’ can walk, move along this corridor. It works, it relays the idea of an interface between multiple systems.

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I have often wondered what would have happened if Neo had ‘taken out’ the Architect in Matrix3. Would the Architect’s programme, his unique combination of distinct types of programmes, then become lost? Would the Matrix not then be able to expand, or continue functioning because there would be no way to arrange its composite functions? All the humans in pods would of course have perished. This, I think, is what Agent Smith would eventually have done, if allowed to continue to run unchecked. This is what Neo meant when, in his comments to the Matrix entity in Matrix3, that Agent Smith would corrupt the Matrix completely, and then move in on the Machine city.

Early on I thought that the main mistake Neo made was when he crashed agent Smith at the end of Matrix1; he corrupted Smith’s programme with his own anomalous, random one. This also seems to be the way Smith continued to interpret it throughout, right up to the fight scene in the Logos, Matrix3 when Smith/Bane has Neo at the end of a blaster; he refers to that similar scene at the end of Matrix1 that he always returns to: how could Neo have survived? And there is Smith as Bane, also surviving. Way before this point, however, when Smith is having his intimate conversation with Morpheus in Matrix1, he expresses high degrees of entropy: humanity disgusts him, the Matrix world disgusts him, and he wants out: he expresses opinions, intents, that are not part of his initial programme but are starting to reel out of control. (And isn’t it interesting how the films portray the security forces as the sources of potential breakdown?).

It is intriguing how Smith was able to extract himself ie his programme, from the Matrix, and run in Bane’s electrical body circuits. He then exists on two levels: in the real world/Bane, and in the Matrix, but is in effect no longer a part of either place. He can no longer access the Matrix’s resources, his thinking continually loops on itself. So when he absorbs the Oracle (Matrix3), deeply linked in as she is, he is easily duped, whereas Neo partakes more and more of the resources of the Matrix.
Was Neo solely responsible for the increase in entropy of the system by crashing Smith? Or was the combining of their programmes a necessary act in order to help identify and mop up errant programmes? It may be that the programmes with which Neo engages in the Matrix, the Merovingian, The Train Man, the bodyguards etc, are the programmes he is meant to attract in order to provide links to so that when he is deleted at the Source, then so are they. After rebooting the system then would replace them with ‘clean’ versions of themselves.

When the two of them combine (Matrix1) they are combined to such an extent that as Neo grows stronger, so does Smith. Although each exhibit different powers that perplex the other, their overall powers are matched, Neo describes the change in Smith as ‘upgrades’. Whereas Smith becomes increasingly an agent of disorder, Neo discovers his function as a ‘means of control’. This phrase expresses Neo’s role as a programme specially designed to hunt out, attract and delete corrupted programmes; he becomes, in effect, the Matrix’s means of resolving the problems of its built-in entropic nature.

It is also interesting that the other programmes are unaware of Neo’s role; they all attempt to thwart him, to prevent him reaching the Source and thereby renewing the system. And they appear to do this not out of self-interest: the Merovingian does not refuse to help because he may lose his power in the reboot, he does not seem to have done so in the previous reboots, for he is, as the Oracle says ‘one of the oldest among us’. But the issue of time is perplexing: in the Matrix it is 1991 when in the real world we are told it is something more like two centuries later. In generational terms at four generations per century that is eight generations give or take since the machine world won the war. We learn that in that time there have been five previous reboots, that is, as we see in the Architect’s room, five previous Neo’s. That is roughly every generation and a half there has been a reboot/ Neo anomaly. About every thirty something years. Plenty of time for the Merovingian to go awry again and rebuild his empire. Of course not every form of the Matrix may survive as long, or be as stable, as every other, and so the duration of Matrix-lives may vary considerably.

How could Neo exist in the Matrix without jacking-in (Matrix3)? This combining of Neo’s and Smith’s programmes produces a hybrid entity; Neo becomes increasingly embedded in his Matrix programme, whilst retaining a strong human element, his ‘love’ for Trinity. His influence ‘extends beyond the Matrix’ we hear, and so he was able to sense the Sentinels whilst in his human form, because his programme-self was established sufficiently by then to function concurrently with his unjacked-in state. Similarly he was able to ‘see’ without eyes, and what he saw, what we saw, was the Smith programme within Bane.

My point is that this was only possible because Neo was becoming more of a programme (how else could he voluntarily return to the Source and deletion?). This was his Matrix role, what the Architect offered him. Yet he attempted to reassert the human within the programme. At the same time Smith was also increasingly showing more human traits, as we witness with his wild laughter, his reckless behaviour, his interest in physical pain (the self-mutilation).

We hear increasingly throughout the films of the importance of choice. Computer systems are basically yes or no systems (this is basically how the Oracle describes the Architect); modern systems modulate this through increasingly refined and complex programmes. Choice is the human element. We see wall monitors of previous incarnations of The One (Matrix3) in the Architect’s room; they are all clones of the same person, their avatars are all, in effect, duplicates of the same programme. They all have had the choice of the two doors in the Architect’s office (did any previous incarnations not make it this far?): to the Source, and deletion, or back to the Matrix and complete collapse of all support systems. Neo chose one and ended up at to the other. This was choice, but so limited as to be no choice.

Another thing that perplexes me is why the machine world sees the remaining humans as a threat at all. The freeing of humans is small scale and does not interrupt the running of their world. Indeed, at the end of 3 we see the Architect agreeing to the freeing of whomever, and presumably however many, want to be freed. This is madness in entropy terms, it just increases the possibility of entropy, of potential breakdown of the system. It is perhaps in the nature of the machine-world not to recognise any other than absolute values: all in, or none in.

As I said at the beginning entropy is just one arc of the storylines; there are many, many others, smaller, bigger perhaps; and we have to be thankful that not one of these ties down the whole enterprise into too neat and tidy an explanation.

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