The Matrix and Gnostic Metaphysics
The Matrix has long been considered a film with overt gnostic elements. The key idea involves questioning our everyday reality and realizing that all is not what it seems.
In The Matrix, the “material” reality of everyday experience is actually a computer simulation controlled or managed by a system of artificial intelligences. The “real” world as we perceive it is in fact a pale, simulated shadow of the true world.
Similarly, one of the foundational ideas in gnostic metaphysics is that our world is not what it seems. Gnostics were heavily inspired by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the perceived reality of everyday matter is but a shadow of the true world, the spiritual world of Forms.
Similarly, in gnostic metaphysics, the material world is a pale imitation of the spiritual world.
And importantly for the purposes of this post, the gods and goddesses of this world, the rulers and authorities of this plane, are not the true God. They are lower gods and, in fact, there is a higher God, a God above gods, a transcendent Monad or unity that the Gnostics called by names such as The One, The Deep, The Invisible Virgin Spirit, The Father, etc.
The key aspect of The One is that it is beyond all human categorization, beyond all limitation, beyond all division, beyond all contingency, beyond all necessity, beyond space, beyond time, beyond finitude, beyond infinitude. It is the source of all being but it can only be approached via negativa.
According to the gnostic myth, The One reflected upon itself and from this thought emanations came into existence. If you are familiar with Qabalah the emanational metaphysics are similar.
Eventually, The One emanated into a number of contrapoised male-female dyads called Aeons. These Aeons are essentially aspects of The One.
As the story goes, the lowest emanation, Sophia (Wisdom) had a thought independently of her male partner and this thought became deformed. Ashamed, she cast it off, outside of the spiritual world of the Aeons into a lower realm.
This deformed child of hers, called Yaldabaoth, was imperfect. Yet he was the first ruler of the material world we live in. In The Secret Book of John he is even described as downright wicked:
[This gloomy archon] is wicked in the mindlessness within him. He said, “I am God and there is no other god beside me,” since he did not know from where his own strength had come.
Furthermore, Yaldabaoth went on to create other rulers and authorities, who were “wicked in their mindlessness” in the same way he was. These are the Archons. The Archons created powers. The powers created angels.
Crucially, Yaldabaoth had a spark of his mother’s divine power within him, so he, along with his fellow Archons was able to use this power to shape and organize the material world. One might even say they manage and control the material reality.
Sound familiar yet?
Let me connect the dots. The reason so many gnostics like The Matrix because it brings the idea of Archons to life. The Archons are the Programmers of The Matrix.
But what if this wasn’t just science fiction? What if it was science reality?
The Simulation Argument
Hypothesis: we are actually living in a computer simulation.
Archons are the Programmers of the simulation. Supernatural phenomena are either glitches in the programming or deliberate experimental interventions on the part of the Programmers.
Hypothesis: The Programmers are humans who live in the distant future. They are simulating our reality in order to learn more about how “magick” works. What is magick?
“Magicians manipulate their inner Imaginal world in order to affect both their growing understanding of the universe and their actions in the world.”(Harvey, Contemporary Paganism, p. 87-88)
The Programmers are trying to figure out if they themselves are living in a simulated reality and if magick is real in their reality. The reality timeline of the Programmers is similar to our reality.
In the Programmer world, there is a giant, interconnected quantum supercomputer that draws on a near-infinite or infinite supply source. This is how they are able to simulate the minute details of our reality.
How can the simulation of water be wet?
Decades of experimental research in quantum mechanics suggests that reality does not exist without a conscious observer. In this case, the conscious observer(s) are the Programmers, who are cybernetically infused with a vast supercomputer network, which itself is long since post-Singularity.
Consciousness is part of reality. Observation (or simulation) can create both other observers (us) or it can create space/time. Our own consciousness is capable of creating consciousnesses inside our own heads (servitors/thought-forms/tulpas/spirit guides/dream realities, etc). We are close to Singularity in our own timeline.
The Programmers have used the Cultural Archetypes of archons/gods/goddesses/daimones/etc. in order to monitor and intervene in the lives of all humans. Since the computer power of the Programmer’s computer is near-infinite or infinite, it is trivial for the Programmers to create sub-programs to monitor each of us. This explains how it is that Hyper-powerful/Hyper-knowing Beings “care” about individual humans and answer our individual prayers/needs/magical requests for intercession. This is essentially how New Thought and magick “work.”
This explains the Problem of Evil. Bad things happen to good people because that’s what happened in the original timeline. In order to simulate Earth and its inhabitants they had to simulate the entire universe and there are only a few ways the fundamental constants can be set in order to achieve “goldilocks” settings so that life forms on Earth. This sets up a fatalistic/deterministic setting. But the Programmers do care about our well-being and try to intervene the best they can in order to make life better. But they have to do so through magick, which is what they are trying to study with these simulations.
Analogy: experiments using rats for research. The scientists care about the rats and take care of them the best they can but ultimately they are being used for experimental purposes. But the scientists still develop relationships with the rats and wants them to have the best life possible. But the experimental manipulation of the rats is for the greater good of the human race.
The Programmers use the same logic. Simulating Earth must be for the greater good. Perhaps they want to learn about magick in order to use it in their own reality to save untold billions or trillions of lives. But since the Programmers manifest to us as Gods, and many Archetypes of Gods are benevolent towards humans, we do have a model by which we can explain how it is God/gods/spirits/magick seems to work to improve the mundane personal lives of everyday people.
Why Think We Are Living In a Simulation?
Nick Bostrom’s argument
At least one of the following three propositions is true:
- Almost all civilizations of our technological sophistication go extinct before they reach full maturity
- All civilizations of full technological maturity lose interest in ancestor simulations
- We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation
Suppose (1) was not true. Then some fraction of civilizations like us do reach full technological maturity. Suppose further than (2) was not true – so some fraction of civilizations do not lose interest in ancestor simulations.
Because of the near-infinite computational resources of these advanced civilizations, it stands to reason that there would be more simulated consciousnesses than non-simulated consciousnesses. Furthermore, the conscious beings within the simulations would, presumably, go on to develop their own simulation technology and create sub-simulations, creating a nesting hierarchy of simulations such that there would eventually be a near-infinite number of cascading simulations.
Thus, more kinds of being with our conscious experiences would be living inside computer simulations than not. Accordingly, we should probably conclude that we are one of the simulated people and not one of the non-simulated people.
But Bostrom doesn’t think we have strong evidence for or against either one of the propositions being true.
But (2), however, is strange. Currently, there are many people alive who would love to run ancestor simulations. There could be ethical considerations at play.
Bostrom discounts the “Glitches in the simulation” hypothesis and dismisses reports of the paranormal as such hallucinations. He writes:
“We should expect to hear such reports occasionally even if we are not in a simulation. Even if we are in a simulation, the most plausible explanation for such reports is not that they result from any real “glitch” but rather that they originate in the ordinary frailties of the human mind (hallucinations, psychiatric problems, visual illusions, self-deception, fraud, and so forth).” (https://www.simulation-argument.com/faq.html, accessed Jan 1, 2019)
But what if the evidence for the paranormal was overwhelming? What if we could build a strong corroborative case that shows the best explanation of the paranormal, in most cases, is to take them at face value? What if as Strieber and Kripal say in their book The Super Natural:
“We are all embedded in a much larger, fiercely alive and richly conscious reality”
If we could do this, then perhaps we could argue that proposition (3) is more likely than the other two propositions.
A Glitch in the Matrix
Bostrom also doesn’t think that if the Programmers had this technology it would be so advanced as to preclude the possibility of glitches. He doesn’t consider:
(1) What if the Programmers wanted to include glitches?
(2) What if the Program was hacked by bad actors with equal technological sophistication?
In regards to the evidence for paranormal phenomena, there are legions of testimony regarding the following being “real” insofar as they are experienced as defying explanation in a materialistic framework:
- ReligionReligious/mystical experience
- Near death experiences
- Spirits, angels, demons,ancestors, etc
- UFOs, abduction experiences
- ParanormalGhosts, etc
- Psi phenomenaPrecognition
- Astral travel
- Near-death experiences
- Past life memories
- Psychedelic experience
- DMT/ayahuasca entities
- Efficacy of Tarot cards, divination, etc.
- The Law of Attraction/New Thought/Positive Mind metaphysics
Even if you think all of these reports, going back thousands of years across practically all cultures, are ultimately just explained by people being “delusional,” that is a lot of apparent “glitches” in the Program.
What if these “glitches” aren’t glitches at all? What if the Programmers designed reality to be weird?
As Jacques Vallee said,
“If we live in the associative universe of the software scientists rather than the sequential universe of the spacetime physicist, then miracles are no longer irrational events.”
Doesn’t Science Show This Is All Baloney?
Science is a method but philosophical naturalism is not necessary in order to use the scientific method or to be a scientist. Philosophical naturalism is therefore not identical to science although it is often assumed in the so-called “scientific worldview”. But worldviews are the domain of philosophy and metaphysics and hard to reconcile with the empiricism of the scientific method. One could quite coherently be a dualist and a scientist at the same time with no contradiction.
That is to say, there is no necessary contradiction between science as an empirical method and the existence of “spiritual reality” (whatever that is).
As Jeff Kripal says,
“It is very easy to explain everything on the table if you have just taken off the table everything that you cannot explain” (2016, p. 12)
How Does the Simulation work?
The simulation would obviously simulate only what it needs to in order to achieve the desired effect, in effect “glossing” over fine details. This could explain the classic indeterminacy of quantum mechanics wherein probability fields are not collapsed until conscious observation happens.
John Wheeler and “it from bit”:
“Every it – every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself – derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely – even if in some contexts indirectly – from the…answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits.” (1999, Information, physics, quantum: the search for links. Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, Tokyo, 310)
The simulation hypothesis could be described as “bit from bit”. Obviously, the Simulation would itself be “bits” so it makes sense that our reality (the “it”) would derive from bits. It from bit. Reality from simulation. A remaining question would be: does this apply to the reality of the Programmers? Or just in our reality? Perhaps they are using our simulated reality to test the theory itself in the ultimate fashion.
The Universe is discrete. Electrons jump from one state to another without going through the continuous values in between. This is a “quantum leap.” This gives rise to the phenomenon of quantum tunneling.
Moreover, quantum mechanics says that a subatomic particle such as a electron can be likened to a field of probabilities – aka the quantum probability wave. We like to think of concrete “stuff” like particles existing in a definite, local place. However quantum mechanics shows quite precisely that electrons exist as probability waves until they are “collapsed” by an observer.
The Double Slit Experiment
In the famous Double Split experiment, you have a laser beam aimed at a plate with two slits in it. The wave-like nature of the beam splits in two and joins together in an interference pattern, which is recorded on a screen behind it. If the light beam was just a wave you’d expect a continuous record of interference on the screen. But in fact, you see a discrete interference pattern which indicates that the light is also a particle. In a sense, it is acting as both a particle and a wave.
Moreover, if you slow down to the particle emitter to shoot off one particle at a time, and then place a detector at each of the slits, you can tell which slit the particle went through. Here’s where it gets weird: if you detect the particle as going through one of the slits, thus, narrowing its likely path, you no longer see the interference pattern on the screen. This indicates that observing the probability wave collapses it to a definite probability and the particle just follows one pathway.
Time-delayed slit experiment
And it gets even weirder. If you determine which path the particle went after it has already gone through the slit, you can retroactively determine its behavior of “choosing” to be a particle or wave at the slits. It was thought that if the photo went through the slits as a particle it had “decided” in the beginning to go through the slits as a particle and vice versa as a wave. But if you change the nature of the experimental apparatus after the photon has already gone through the slits, it will reverse its decision it had made earlier about whether to go through the slits as a particle or a wave. In otherwise, you can retroactively change its “choice” to go through as a particle or wave after it has already been emitted. This holds true even if the photons after been traveling across the entire universe until the experimental apparatus has been changed. According to John Wheeler,
“The thing that causes people to argue about when and how the photon learns that the experimental apparatus is in a certain configuration and then changes from wave to particle to fit the demands of the experiment’s configuration is the assumption that a photon had some physical form before the astronomers observed it. Either it was a wave or a particle; either it went both ways around the galaxy or only one way. Actually, quantum phenomena are neither waves nor particles but are intrinsically undefined until the moment they are measured.”
Implications for the Simulation Theory
If the universe was a simulation it would only be natural to assume the Simulators are not simulating at 100% fidelity, which would require infinite computing resources. Instead, they are likely taking some kind of “shortcut” in their calculations. Quantum indeterminacy could be an implication of this shortcutting process. Maybe the reason that particles have no definite location until observed is because the Simulators only bother to simulate the reality conscious beings are experiencing, as opposed to all of reality at once.
“Many of the findings of relativity and quantum physics make no sense in a purely materialist worldview – that we are living in an immutable physical universe, but make more sense if we are living in a physical universe that is constructed out of information” (The Simulation Hypothesis, p. 13)
Why Would the Programmers Want to Simulate Us?
One hypothesis is that the Programmers want to find out if they are themselves simulating, so they are simulating a reality that appears to be simulated. This is why our universe appears to be so magickal.
Simulation Theory through Philosophical History
Plato and the Allegory of the Cave
We’ve already alluded to Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave. He uses a story of prisoners trapped in a cave as a metaphor for our normal physical reality being an illusion, with the real Reality being composed of Ideal Forms, akin to Pure Concepts (simulations?).
In the ancient Eastern traditions, it is a common theme that reality is an illusion. In Hinduism, it is taught that the world we experience is maya, or illusion. Just like in street magic, an illusion implies there is a hidden reality behind the illusion. This is a very gnostic-ish, Matrix-ish idea.
Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dreams
A famous example of Matrix-style idealism comes from the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi.
“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.” – Zhuangzi
A more modern version of Idealism comes from George Berkeley. He famously said:
“esse est percipi (aut percipere)”, which in English is “to be is to be perceived (or to perceive).”
Principles and Dialogues 4:
It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects have an existence natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding. But with how great an assurance and acquiescence soever this principle may be entertained in the world; yet whoever shall find in his heart to call it in question, may, if I mistake not, perceive it to involve a manifest contradiction. For what are the forementioned objects but the things we perceive by sense, and what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations; and is it not plainly repugnant that any one of these or any combination of them should exist unperceived?
“The vague mythological beings of the past that have focused into the aliens of the present will soon become our selves as we become the very time travelers whose shadows haunt all our history, including the present.” (Strieber, The Secret School, 1997, p. 227)
If you have made it all the way to the end of this post, congrats. I hope some dots are starting to connecting for you. I basically want to emphasize several points in regards to gnosticism, Simulatory Theory, and the Archons
- A key aspect of gnostic metaphysics is that reality is not quite what it seems
- Another key aspect of gnostic metaphysics is the idea of reality being managed in some way by “rulers” or Archons
- Philosophical idealism has a long and cherished history in philosophy, starting with Plato, who influenced the gnostics to the point of parts of The Republic being included in the Nag Hammadi scriptures
- Bostrom’s Simulation hypothesis gives the simulation hypothesis an even evidential weight because “glitches” can be explained away as delusions
- But Bostrom’s fails to seriously engage with the mountains of compelling evidence across multiple fields of study, across the sands of time and across all cultures worldwide, that this universe is fundamentally weird in a way that cannot be explained via pure philosophical materialism
Many modern gnostics argue that the Archons being active forces is just symbolic. It’s just a metaphor. But I hope this post planted a seed of an idea in your head. And that seed is that very real possibility that human reality is being managed, in some way, by powerful beings beyond our reality. The Programmers. The Archons.
However, it is important to keep in mind the most fundamental lesson of gnosticism: there is a God beyond the Programmers. A God beyond the Archons. A True God. A unified Oneness that is transcendent and is the source for the very real spark of divinity insight of us all, programmed or not. Because my contention is that programmed consciousness is real consciousness. And real consciousness is divine.
The Matrix Resurrections: a Trans-Philosophical Analysis
1 thought on “Gnosticism, Archons, and the Simulation Hypothesis”
Nice post! Some things I would like to consider:
1. We have the example of video games. What if that is analogous to what is happening with the simulation? That it is a “game” with unknown stakes, with various players moving in and out? This could explain quite a bit of the weirdness, including things like spiritual possession. It would also help explain why the supermundane is so erratic and attributable to mundane causes. The programming would presumably have constraints that limited the human ability to see the man behind the curtain.
2. What if the simulation has a higher purpose that we are not part of? The idea that we are central to the simulation is a bit too reassuring for me in light of the kind of cosmos we seem to be living in. While understandably anthropocentric, the universe appears fairly hostile to human life. And even if consciousness turns out to be part of the solution to the quantum measurement problem, this does not mean that it is only human consciousness that appears to be causing the weirdness of the programming that it is part of.
3. What we call a simulation might actually be material. That is to say, it may not be that our senses deceive us, as we are touching real things. Programming is just an analogy fit for our present cultural moment; I assume that our current VR is to the Simulation what a children’s play is to a big budget film. There is qualitative and quantitative scaling up involved. This might also ultimately limit our ability to use technology to escape the simulation. And if they are simulating to see if they are in a simulation, this might just be a russian doll situation, or moebius strip if you will. It might be impossible to escape.
Just for the record, I do think that there is something to all this. In my explorations of Buddhism and other forms of mysticism, and in my experiences of synchronicity, I believe that there is something like programming operating here, and that it is deeply tied to consciousness. I struggle to understand what the spiritual implications of this are though. I’m in RCIA now but I’ve floated around in the past and really Buddhism and Gnosticism seem to me to be the more likely possibilities, along with Jungian ideas. But I dunno.