Friday, October 19, 2007

The dumb thing about "The Matrix"

I really like the Matrix movies, but because I'm a nerdy scientist there is one thing that has always bugged me about them.

Let me explain... The prologue to the movies is that a massive war takes place between humankind and robots. As a desperate measure during the war, the humans intentionally darken the sky to cut off the robots' source of solar power.


But according to the movie, the robots are then able to use the humans themselves as a power source, harnessing the heat energy from their bodies. Under black skies, the robots rear vast crops of men and women in hydroponic tanks, sucking their energy while pacifying their unconscious minds in a virtual reality world called "The Matrix".


It's cool and spooky, but it could never happen because HUMANS DON'T CREATE ENERGY. We get our energy from the food we eat, and our food comes from plants, which get their energy from the sun. So humans are actually solar powered, too. If we blacked out the sun we would soon run out of food and die.
In The Matrix movies they try to get around that by saying that they recycle the humans; liquefying the dead ones and feeding them to the new crops to keep the cycle going. But that wouldn't work because energy would be irretrievably lost with every cycle, just like a bouncing ball always bounces a little lower than its last bounce. If the robots fed the new humans solely on the old humans, each generation would be much smaller than the previous one until they ran out of humans entirely.


Though the laws of thermodynamics would preclude the use of humans as an energy source in a dark world, I can think of some other reasons that the robots might want to keep us around. The main one would be as a source of creativity. Perhaps the robots could get new ideas and inspirations by stealing them from our organic minds.

Wow, I'm a geek.

17 comments:

green_meklar said...

Yeah, I've always thought that was kind of dumb too. I guess they thought they needed it in order to set up the Matrix world properly for the purposes of making a movie. It's not as if other movies aren't similarly devoid of science...

James Douglass said...

Thanks, I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed. You have a good point about lots of movies having bogus science. The Matrix bugs me more than the others, though, because it presents the premise with such a tone of authority that people might think it has a plausible scientific base, when it really doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Ok, pal. First of all, you are a marine scientist. So don't use that as a point of reference. Secondly, there are such things as UV lights. And also, yes, we do create energy. Energy is created in us every day by the food we eat. It's just that instead of us using it up by moving about our lives, it is used by the machines.

And by the way, I'm not being rude or anything. It's just that I don't see any factual support or solid reason for your explanations for the faults in the movie.

James Douglass said...

Anonymous- I appreciate your input, but I think your criticism is slightly off base. Let me address your comment...

1. Yes, I am a marine scientist. That means I have an extensive college and post-graduate education in math, physics, and chemistry, as well as biology and oceanography. In other words, I know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.

2. It doesn't require an expert's knowledge to identify the impossibility of using humans as an energy source in a dark world. Any one who has taken a basic chemistry, biology, or physics course knows about the law of conservation of energy; energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_energy

You say "energy is created in us every day by the food we eat". This is plainly wrong. We are not creating energy from the food we eat, we are merely releasing the energy stored in the chemical bonds of the food molecules.

3. The energy in food molecules comes from the sun. In the case of plants the energy comes directly from the sun. In the case of meat, the energy passes through plants first. Either way, the sun is the source.

4. As you point out, plants can be grown under artificial light. I am aware of that. But you can't get more energy back from the plants than you put in with the lights. You would actually get back a lot less energy than you put in, and you would need an outside energy source to keep the lights on and the system running.

I know the concept of energy is a bit confusing, but I hope now you can see the factual support and solid reasons for my claims. Like I said, it's just the basic law of conservation of energy, nothing fancy. Feel free to post again or email me a reply. I enjoy talking about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

the human energy bit is absolutely the dumbest thing about the matrix. Your picture with the grass and the cows explained it best. Plants use CO2 + H2O + light to make C6H12O6 (glucose, need energy to make bonds) which human cells eventually "burn" (break bonds to release energy) back into CO2 + H2O. Without the light the cycle is broken. Of course this is skipping a lot of stuff that happens in between, not to mention proteins, but that's the basic start and end cycle.

Though something interesting, might be a rumor, was that the original intention of the terminator series was to lead into something like the matrix. Don't know if it's true or not but you can see the AI connection. Though because of the human power bit I think terminator was better off the way it was even with the predestination paradox.

James Douglass said...

Anonymous- Thanks for the good, simple explanation of photosynthesis chemistry. Also, I agree with you that the terminator kicks ass despite the obvious predestination paradoxes inherent in any time travel movie. "I'll be baack..." :)

Anonymous said...

I agree With James.

I'm a Medical doctor, and epidemiologist, (just in case, if anyone consider that relevant for "a valid point of reference". LOL).

the energetic supply issue in the matrix is so bogus and naive.

following that logic, then a solar lamp could obtain perpetual energy with its very own light, using it as a source of energy.

that's nonsense.

ATraveller said...

I'm not going to discuss the premise of the Matrix here, because as you have pointed out then it is fatally flawed as presented by Morpheus in the movie.

However, could one not propose that in the span of time that has passed since the humans "darkened the skies," life may have adapted? There exist species who are not dependent either on sunshine or oxygen, but will still produce proteins (Mponeng microbes).

Life just seems to versatile and hardy to me to die out simply because the sun becomes blackened.

James Douglass said...

Atraveller- Thanks for bringing up the Mponeng microbes. They are a good example of "chemoautotrophs"; organisms that get energy from breaking down simple, energy-containing molecules. Around deep sea hydrothermal vents where volcanic heat reacting with seawater produces a lot of those energy-containing molecules, there are rich biological communities supported by chemoautotrophs. So, yeah, I guess there is some life on earth that can survive without the sun. But it's pretty piddling compared to the huge amount of life supported by photosynthesis.

Kyle G Corcoran said...

Although the movies give us no time period, they do say that Neo was the sixth "One", meaning that the cycle has occurred six times. I like to think that the machines knew this energy source wasn't sustainable, and as a result allowed for the creation of a new world where humans could be free if they wanted to.

Also, in Neo's conversation with The Architect he [The Architect] says, "There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept," which is evidence that the machines do not depend entirely on humans.

Kyle G Corcoran said...

The humans could have been programmed to think they were being harvested for energy, when in fact the machines were studying us until humanity itself faced extinction. After all, would we have the motivation to escape the Matrix if we didn't first think we were slaves to the machines? "F**k that! We're not batteries!", everyone thought as Morpheus held up the Duracell battery.

They [machines] obviously were curious since they created several versions of the Matrix, and there are countless points in the movie where the programs are surprised with the intellect of Neo. Could it be that the Matrix was a way of locating minds of higher intelligence, those capable of questioning their own existence like Neo? Maybe Neo was randomly chosen and observed as he came to realize his life wasn't real. For all we know, the machines found a way to place ideas in our heads that make us doubt what we see around us. The interesting aspect of The Matrix isn't the science of human energy, it's the battle between artificial and human intelligence and the questioning of reality.

James Douglass said...

Kyle- Good points. I especially like your thoughts in the second comment. I agree that AI beings would probably have a lot of scientific interest in studying their naturally evolved creators. Perhaps to see if there were some useful aspects of human consciousness and intelligence that their own AI did not yet possess.

Brokebot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brokebot said...

I'm glad someone else commented on this. I love the matrix movies but since this is the main factor in the story for the development of the matrix it is a fundamental flaw and makes "suspension of disbelief" difficult. The humans from Zion synthesize food which is a valid way to get food but this would require energy as well... which could be taken from the heat at the center of the earth... Which then raises the question why don't the machines use the heat from the center of the earth and cut out humans altogether. It's not like they don't have drills :) I'm a geek too in case you can't tell.

Lol this blog says "Please prove you're not a robot" in order to post. How fitting.

James Douglass said...

Brokebot- Thanks for the comment. I like your avatar. :)

Halman Freud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Halman Freud said...

Yes, but the idea of the Matrix is based on some sociological theorys which are more or less know. I was writting a viber review, so I was thinking how it is possible to speak trhough a system decode through Internet by mobile phones. When I think about it, well it is incredible, I can not explain it.