Breaking the Matrix 101
Part 1 of 3 in the Allegory of the Cave series. 
Feature art by the McGill Library for Unsplash.

Why does the holographic steak taste so good in The Matrix?

There’s a scene in the film when Neo plugs back into the Matrix to have a conversation over a steak dinner. Everything around him is a simulation… 

Cypher: “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

The steak locks ignorant eaters into the Matrix. It charms their survival instincts to feel more satisfied in a fabricated space of limitation.

We’re all eating holographic steaks. Even the vegans.

But it isn’t because we’re plugged into a simulation (at least, for the sake of this article we’re not). We are each 100% convinced that the world we think and interact with is REAL. But is it?

“Ok, then how do I know which steak is fake?”

Let’s go back 3k-sh years to the original idea of ‘the matrix’ by Plato in The Republic.

The Allegory of the Cave is about being completely locked into one’s perceptions.

Summary: inside a cave, a line of people sit facing the back wall. On the wall, there are shadows moving that the cave wall observers believe are real life. 

But it isn’t real life – it’s just shadows. Other people control what the cave-dwellers see by carrying objects in front of a fire. Outside the cave, the full daylight shines on the real world, and the cave-dwellers know nothing about it.

Occasionally, a brave soul will turn around and be dazzled by the sight of the fire and the objects casting the shadows. It jars him, and he may turn back around and resume his hypnosis. Or, he may bravely venture toward the light.

Once he reaches the outdoors, he is totally dazzled by the sunshine and full-color 3D splendor of the overland. He rushes back in to tell the other cave dwellers, but they call him crazy. The shadows are real, they say. He returns to the overland to ponder what this real place is, and how he can convince the cave dwellers to turn around.

This is the mythic symbol that our perceptions are our reality. 

We could perceive a world that is completely artificial and have no idea.

How do we know if we’re seeing shadows or real life?

First, by being open to a reset of being and mind. 

Next, by using the cave (or matrix) allegory to look around a bit.

There are 3 ‘caves’ that are useful to talk about for a reset.

  • Cave 1: Inner Experience (Self Image)
  • Cave 2: Personal Outer Experience (Path/Purpose)
  • Cave 3: Collective Experience (Society)

We’ll look at these levels in Western American Post-Industrial society of the 2020s. 

Why 2020 Could Break the Matrix

The opportunity here is that the events of 2020 have made us start to turn around and look at what’s casting all these shadows. Our systems have broken down and come into question, and so have our personal lives and inner experience. Covid took our convenience. It forced us to sit in the environment we’d each built for ourselves and take time for introspection. It was a Great Reset, and many of us have started to doubt the shadows on the wall that seemed so real and normal before.

 Joystick Interactive for Unsplash

Let’s Start With The Cave In Our Minds


Cave 1: Inside the Self

Each of us has an inner dialogue that interprets stimuli and makes a narrative. Most of our attention is in this inner conversation, and the more mesmerized we are by the wall of shadows in our mind, the more we feel a sense of control.

It’s normal. And, you don’t have to watch your brain-cave-wall…

Let’s look at the anatomy of this cave.

Fernando Cobelo for Unsplash
  • The Shadows: These are the thoughts you believe and act on every day.
  • The Objects Casting the Shadows: The millions of triggers your brain created that make stimuli mean ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for survival. We relate to this meaning-making as objective reality, but it’s a shadow cast by an interpretation. 
  • The Light Behind the Objects: The interpretations come from learned behaviors in the preconscious memory, mostly before 7 years old. You don’t remember most of these judgements/commitments, since they were formed from benign occasions that shaped your personality – like a 4 year old thinking, “Mom was scared when I fell: I’ll never make others afraid again”. They can also come from visceral experiences after age 7, but those you tend to remember easily.
  • Outside the Cave: This is objective reality, or ‘what actually happened.’ 

Outside this cave, there’s a gap between the stimuli and our interpretations, and the gap gives incredible breathing room to experience the present moment. That’s not to say that emotions, energy, and intentions aren’t real – they are – and, the caves we learn to make in our minds prevent us from even experiencing those. 

Just like the cave dwellers who turn back around, our true emotions and intentions are often so uncomfortable to face that we’d rather look at the shadow version. 

For a hypothetical example: 

  • Say Bob really feels “I deeply regret that I didn’t express my feelings for her…” 
  • but that’s really confronting. 
  • So instead he subconsciously justify not dealing with it: “Well, people have left me in the past, people just leave me for no reason.” 
  • To continue feeling safe from the hard, deeper emotions, he finds evidence for his interpretation: “She betrayed me, so I’m off the hook to deal with love, fear, courage, and grief.”
  • Alas, Bob.

It happens in our minds every day, all the time. Most of us are running so many interpretations at once that it really is like watching shadows on a cave wall and believing it’s reality. 


How to turn away from the shadows:

Usually, there are people in your life who can clearly see the shadows you’re believing vs the objective reality. That’s the friend who says, “Dude. She didn’t betray you – you didn’t tell her your expectations. She took a clearer opportunity elsewhere.”

There are also really useful ways to learn what triggers and programming are casting your mental shadows in the first place. When you find those, you have a rear-view mirror for your perceptions. Then, you can catch them and walk right back out into the open air before you even believe them.

Here are a few useful questions to leave the over-analysis brain cave:

  • What actually happened? What am I assuming?
  • What do I think I can’t change here? Is that true?
  • Have I had these feelings before?
  • What do I get out of feeling them? Is there a payoff for me somehow? 
  • Do I want to feel right about this?
  • How would Yoda respond to this situation? (Or any other character you admire)
  • Do I want to feel this way anymore? Why am I holding on to it?
  • Have I been trying to get others to believe what I’m seeing here? (kids, employees, boss, vent buddy, bartender, etc).
  • Do I have all sides of the story? What are 2 other perspectives?
The good news is, you have immediate access to leave this ‘cave of your mind.’ That is the first step to get on the bigger path… Leaving the ‘cave’ of the situations, politics, culture, etc. that doesn’t serve us well anymore.

    To continue this journey, check out Cave 2: Leaving the Cave of A Limited Life. It’s about the ‘normal’ stages of life in the west that don’t have to be normal at all… and how to carve your own path instead.

    P.S. These explanations come from my own study of psychology, linguistics, emotional intelligence, and personal experiences. They represent a perspective.

    What resources have helped you to leave your mental cave?

    Comment or reply. 🙂

    Art Deco – Plate 1 of Draeger frères pour glorifier les industries des arts graphiques, a été écrite for Unsplash

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