In the film The Matrix, the character known as Cypher or “Mr. Reagan,” has grown weary of the endless war with the machines and his dreary living conditions. In this scene we see Cypher contemplating a deal with Agent Smith. In return for betraying his comrades, the Agents will return him to the Matrix as a rich and famous person (within that imaginary construct) with no recollection of the true nature of the world:
Here is the dialoge from the scence:
Smith: Do we have a deal, Mr. Reagan?
Reagan: 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? [puts piece of steak in his mouth and sighs contentedly as he chews] ignorance is bliss.
Smith: Then we have a deal.
Reagan: I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing. Do you understand?
Reagan: And I want to be rich, umm, someone important, like an actor.
Smith: Whatever you want Mr. Reagan.
If you are like me, when you saw this scene you thought, “what an idiot.” In order for Cypher to receive the benefit of his bargain, the computer program that controls the Matrix must follow though on its side of the deal. The problem is obvious. Computer programs are amoral. They recognize no moral imperative to keep promises. For the computer program, whether to keep its bargain with Cypher is purely a matter of calculation. Does keeping the bargain further its interests? If so, it will keep it. If not, it will disregard it without a thought (so to speak). And one can easily imagine that after Cypher has delivered his part of the bargain, the program will kill him or, even if it does return him to the Matrix, put him in a virtual prison instead of giving him a life of fame and ease.
The materialists say our brains are nothing but biological computers — not different in essence from the computer on which the Matrix runs. If that is true, when I make a bargain with a materialist – if the materialist acts on the premises of his metaphysics – I will be in exactly the same position that Cypher was in when he bargained with Agent Smith. After I deliver my side of the bargain, the materialist will deliver his side only if he believes it continues to be in his interest. Moral considerations about keeping promises will be utterly irrelevant.
Fortunately, no sane person actually lives their day-to-day life as if materialism were true