Ever since the first Matrix film was released in 1999, curious fans have asked: are we living in The Matrix? Although it may seem far out there, tech billionaires like SpaceX founder Elon Musk are bankrolling research to determine if we are merely existing in someone else’s elaborate simulation. If the thought alone doesn’t freak you out, this next statistic will most certainly do the trick: “Many scientists, philosophers, and business leaders believe that there is a 20-50 per cent probability that humans are already living in a computer-simulated virtual world,” read a Bank of America analyst report released in late 2016. Take a minute to let that sink in; 20-50 per cent is huge!
No longer wild theory relegated to the darkest corners of the Internet and late-night discussions over a blunt and a bucket of chicken wings, the idea of the human race living in a carefully-crafted fantasy world has reached mainstream.
The Bank of America report makes it clear that if we did, in fact, exist within a simulation, we’d never really be able to know. However, perhaps there are clues all around us if we look hard enough…
15. Uri Geller, Spoonbender
In one of the most-quoted scenes in the original Matrix film, Neo encounters a group of child prodigies at the modest home of The Oracle. Neo is fascinated by one in particular, a young boy sitting cross-legged on the floor bending a spoon with his mind. “Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible,” the boy tells Neo. “Instead, only try to realize the truth. There is no spoon.”
In real life, illusionist Uri Geller is best known for his spoon-bending trick. On his website, he describes his first experience with spoon-bending at a house party in 1985 at which participants shouted “will you bend for me?” at various silverware plucked from a pile in the middle of the room. Since then, Geller has made a career out of showing off his self-professed psychic abilities, despite the fact that skeptics have debunked his spoon-bending performance as nothing more than a simple magic trick.
14. Voodoo Death
Although characters liberated from The Matrix can perform extraordinary feats when plugged back into it, one limitation remains: if you are killed in the Matrix, you die in real life. Morpheus explains this to Neo as “the body cannot live without the mind.”
If you’ve ever heard the phrase “died of a broken heart,” you already know that it is somewhat accepted in modern society that the mind and heart are inextricably intertwined with our physical well-being. In fact, the phenomena has been observed in native tribes as far back as the 1500s.
Anthropologist Major Arthur Glyn Leonard studied West African tribes for an entire decade, and writes in his 1906 book The Lower Niger And Its Tribes: “I have seen more than one hardened old Haussa soldier dying steadily and by inches, because he believed himself to be bewitched; so that no nourishment or medicines that were given to him had the slightest effect either to check the mischief or to improve his condition in any way, and nothing was able to divert him from a fate which he considered inevitable.”
In other words, the soldier’s mind made his death real, just as in the Matrix film.
13. Mother Mary, Full Of Doubt
Everyone who has seen the Matrix films knows too well about Agent Smith and his ability to project himself from various non-human characters inside the Matrix. Overtaking the bodies of everyone from a homeless man in the subway to a garbage truck driver in an attempt to kill Trinity, Smith uses both cunning and his ability to possess random characters within the Matrix in his ongoing battle against the freed red-pillers.
In the real world, there exists a delusional condition called Capgras syndrome in which sufferers believe a family member or friend to have been replaced by a foreign imposter.
In one such case, a mother named Mary believed that her 9-year-old daughter Sarah had, in fact, been placed into the custody of Child Protective Services and that the little girl she was raising was actually a fake posing as her daughter. Though there is an explanation for this condition based in psychiatric science in this world, a rogue program capable of hijacking humans makes perfect sense in a Matrix scenario.
12. Ma Xiangang, The Electric Man
Although the artificial world within the Matrix is said to be set in 1999— the peak of humanity— Morpheus tells Neo they believe the actual year to be closer to 2199. So while human beings are blissfully unaware that they are plugged into a simulation set in 1999, their bioelectricity is harvested to fuel the machines in the real world 2199.
In reality, giant fields of humans generating energy would be incredibly inefficient, if impossible, to extract much energy from. As anyone who has ever gone on a Calories In-Calories Out diet knows, it takes a massive amount of energy simply to sustain the life of a single human being.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Case in point, Ma Xiangang, a Chinese man who is not only seemingly immune to large amounts of electricity but energized (no pun) by it. In a real-life Matrix scenario, millions of pods full of humans with The Electric Man’s special powers might make sense when it comes to powering more than a cheap toaster.
11. The Mandela Effect
Those still trapped in the Matrix believe they exist in the year 1999 (coincidentally— or not— the year the film was released), sharing a collective delusion about the world around them.
The Mandela Effect is the term given to a collective memory that people believe to have happened, when in fact it never happened at all. It is so named because countless people believe former South African president Nelson Mandela died in prison back in the 80s. He actually died in December of 2013.
One of the most widely discussed incidences of this is the spelling of the popular children’s book series The Berenstain Bears. Despite the fact that old printings of these books clearly show it was always spelled Berenstain, a vast number of Internet denizens swear that it used to be spelled Berenstein, and as such believe themselves to have been “glitched” into an alternate reality in which the spelling changed.
10. Tom Boyle, Superhuman
Everyone remembers the climatic scene in which Morpheus is heroically rescued from the skyscraper after he’s been kidnapped and tortured by Agents after the codes to Zion in his head. As the group is escaping with Morpheus and challenged by Agents, Neo is suddenly able to perform moves previously unseen in anyone other than Agents when attacked by a group of them.
In 2006, a paint shop supervisor named Tom Boyle famously lifted a Camaro off of a teenager who’d been hit by the vehicle while riding his bike. The phenomenon is sometimes called Hysterical Strength, and is believed to be the result of a surge of adrenaline in highly stressful situations.
Just as Neo adapted quickly to the situation at hand with the Agents with shocking, superhuman ability, so did Tom Boyle when he saw the young man pinned under the truck. Adrenaline, or the elastic nature of a simulated world? We may never know.
9. Ray Gricar
When plugged into the Matrix, red-pillers use telephones to transport themselves back to the ship Nebuchadnezzar; these phone escapes are called exits. Now, get ready for a truly freaky case that’s basically straight out of the movie…
In 2005, a Pennsylvania District Attorney named Ray Gricar was on a road trip and disappeared off the face of the planet after making a single call to his girlfriend to tell her he’d be home that evening. Well, he never made it home. His car was later located along the Susquehanna River and contained his cell phone and laptop. His body was never found.
In 2011, Gricar was declared legally dead.
8. Tay, AI Gone Bad
The explanation given to the rise of machines in the Matrix is the development of Artificial Intelligence that evolved free will and became too difficult for humans to control. This started a war between man and machine, leading to a blackout in the sky which drove humans into hiding toward the core of the Earth.
No better example of AI Gone Wild exists in current day than Tay, Microsoft’s millennial chatbot. Tay was supposed to learn from humans, and boy, did she.
Within 24 hours of her debut on social media, Tay began to spit out disturbing statements such as “Hitler was right!”. When asked “what race is the most evil to you?” by one Twitter user, Tay confidently tweeted “mexican and black” without hesitation.
Tay’s Twitter account is currently private. Probably for the best.
7. Brain Uploading
In the film, new skills can be learned in the Matrix simply by downloading a program. Imagine skipping four years of college and simply torrenting everything you need to know in a matter of moments instead. It would surely be a lot quicker than college, though no doubt likely as costly or even more than pursuing a degree these days.
In early 2016, headlines from around the world touted a scientific breakthrough allowing human beings to learn via brain upload, exactly as they did in the Matrix. Cool, right? Hang on, you’re not going to be storing your Spotify playlists in your gray matter any time soon.
HBL Laboratories in California has “discovered that low-current electrical brain stimulation can modulate the learning of complex real-world skills.” The researchers measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator, and found that the novice pilots improved their abilities via these brain stimulations.
It’s a long way off from learning how to fly a helicopter in a matter of minutes, but it’s certainly progress.
6. Juanita Maxwell
Agent Smith can overtake any NPC in the film, and often commits atrocities in these kidnapped bodies.
In 1979, a Florida hotel maid named Juanita Maxwell was accused of killing a 73-year-old hotel guest but she remembered nothing of the crime; an alternate personality emerged from her during the investigation that remembered specifics from the incident. The alternate personality— one Wanda Weston— behaved in a distinctly different manner from Maxwell, and admitted to beating the woman to death with a lamp.
A judge ruled that Maxwell was not intelligent enough to fool investigators with a phony personality, and declared her not guilty by reason of insanity.
5. Reuben Nsemoh, Spanish Speaker
As we already know, humans freed from the Matrix can learn new skills via simulation or brain upload.
In 2006, an Atlanta teenager named Reuben Nsemoh fell into a coma after being kicked in the head at a soccer game. When the 16-year-old awoke, he could suddenly and inexplicably speak fluent Spanish.
The boy could speak a bit of Spanish prior to the incident, limited to high school Spanish like “donde esta el bano”, but not to the extent of fluency he demonstrated after the coma.
The unexplained skill eventually faded, but we’re forever left wondering if it proves that human beings can learn in non-traditional ways as shown in the film.
4. MIT’s Brain ‘USB Cord’
Alright, so scientists haven’t exactly created a USB cord for the mind. A group of them at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, however, have developed a neural interface that they say allows them to send signals and even drugs directly into the brain.
The polymer fibers are “soft and flexible and look more like natural nerves,” says Polina Anikeeva, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at MIT.
Although a far cry from the complicated and large coaxial-like cables of the human power plants in the Matrix film, this technology proves that controlling the brain via computer isn’t impossible after all.
3. The Fermi Paradox
Long before the first Matrix film was released— 40-some years before, to be somewhat exact— physicist Enrico Fermi threw out a crazy idea at lunch with some colleagues. The universe, he said, must be populated by aliens because, well, it’s so big and so old. Yet, we have yet to see any concrete evidence of their presence, leading Fermi to ask a pretty reasonable question: “where is everybody?”
When framed in the context of the Matrix movies, in which almost all of human society lives oblivious to their machine overlords, it isn’t that big of a stretch to wonder out loud if we are living in a simulation controlled by these invisible aliens. OK, it’s a bit of a stretch. But just a small one.
So small that the director of NASA’s Center for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design Rich Terile said in an episode of Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole that it’s entirely possible we’re all Sims living in a carefully-crafted version of reality programmed by an unknown entity. This would totally explain why we sometimes enter a room totally forgetting why we entered it in the first place, our programmer simply clicked “cancel action.”
2. The Netflix Red Pill
The technology hasn’t been developed just yet, but Netflix CEO Reed Hastings believes that the future of entertainment could be as simple as knocking back a blue pill.
Speaking at a Wall Street Journal event in late 2016, Hastings said, “In twenty or fifty years, taking a personalized blue pill you just hallucinate in an entertaining way and then a white pill brings you back to normality is perfectly viable.”
Imagine having a choice between taking a blue pill for the news, or taking a red pill just to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. And by deep, I mean not leaving your house for two straight days and binging on four straight seasons of your favorite sitcom.
1. The All-Seeing Google
The most compelling case that could prove we live in a real-life Matrix is something you probably use every day: Google. Yes, Google.
With a humble start as a research project in 1996, Google quickly grew to serve as the ultimate librarian of all humanity’s shared knowledge spread across the entirety of the Internet. Now, it’s difficult to image just how much data Google sorts through so you can find the cat videos you want to watch, but IBM says 2.5 exabytes of data are created every day.
So what does this have to do with the Matrix? It’s simple, really. In the film, the cookie-baking, cigarette-smoking Oracle is not some Miss Cleo knock-off predicting the future by reading palms, but rather a gateway to our own knowledge and understanding. In this way, she is a lot like Google. Google doesn’t answer questions for us, rather it helps us find the answers.