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In an unfortunate miscommunication between a director and the special-effects company, a request for a prop version of The Matrix got mistaken for a request for the real thing. The director's going to freak when he sees the final bill, but we'll deal with that later. The real issues is that the director expressed a desire for his series to last longer than the Friday the 13th franchise, which is to say, a really long time, and that means it's built for the long haul giving it plenty of time to perfect turning all of us into batteries (and solving the whole conservation of energy thing... we really do make poor batteries, don't we)

The SFX team took the director's desires to heart, and designed their Matrix to last as long as possible before someone eventually discovered that they're stuck in The Matrix.

My question is this: how should the SFX team design their Matrix to ensure it takes as long as possible for someone to actually discover the Truth, but at the same time make sure that someone eventually does.

  • Answers should provide details of the "flaw" which eventually lets the hero of the story realize they're in The Matrix. The longer it takes for us to eventually discover the Truth, the better. (If clarification is needed, target the statistical expectation of how long it takes to discover The Truth, but creative interpretations if this clause are permitted)
  • Humanity must eventually discover the flaw. This means we have to be careful, because humanity is pretty darn good at demolishing itself. If there's a WWIII, the flaw better present itself before we all die in the nuclear winter.
  • The special effects team made "the real thing," so they don't get to do normal SFX hacks. In particular, anything which is preventing us from finding the flaw must rely on in-world logic to do so. No fair simply declaring "only humans whose ID number is above 10,000,000 can realize we're in the matrix." (If you believe in human freewill, assume that any human should be capable of realizing they are in the matrix, but make it so that its hard for the first few to realize it unless they're really determined)
  • Solutions involving artificial intelligence are permitted. In fact, they're encouraged, since that makes for a more interesting storyline!

The best answer gets to present their bill to the director. After all, SFX companies need to get paid!

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand the question. Are you asking how to design the program "The matrix", or how to design the inside of "The matrix" (as in the actual innards, eg: what time period the people are in, what the earth is like, etc)? Also, this seems really really REALLY story based to me $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 14 '16 at 4:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify I'm trying to figure out what flaw within the matrix would eventually reveal that they are in a simulation, but draw it out as long as possible. An example of such a flaw would be a "garden of eden" construct such as that from Permutation City, which could not exist unless the world was a simulation. in that book, the rules of the simulation prevented any simularcum from "seeing" the garden of eden, so it wouldn't meet my needs. I'm looking for something which the simularca (or denzens of the matrix) could eventually realize. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 14 '16 at 4:51
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    $\begingroup$ "to ensure it takes as long as possible for someone to actually discover the Truth, but at the same time make sure that someone eventually does." These requirements are clearly contradictory. You have to define "as long as possible" and "eventually". $\endgroup$ – Hackworth Jun 14 '16 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Hackworth Eventually is defined as "before humanity becomes incapable of discovering the Truth" I agree there is a philosophical question of "what is humanity," so I suppose it would be fair game to provide answers so far in the future that the concept of humanity is no longer close to what we think of it today. As for "as long as possible," that can be defined at the StackExchange level -- its an objective criterion for deciding which answer is best. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 14 '16 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Hackworth When I was writing the rules, the game of blackjack came to mind. Your goal is to get as close to 21 as possible, but not over -- to make it take as long as possible to find the Truth, but make sure it actually gets found" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 14 '16 at 14:21
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Step one: You need to start your matrix in the [insert really old time, eg: bronze age/stone age/1100's/1300's/1600's/however long you want the matrix to last] time frame.

Step two: Place an impossible construct behind the [moon, or mars, or pluto, or the next closest solar system, etc] which, upon discovery, will instantly reveal that this is a simulation - for example, if you have a set of Penrose stairs on the dark side of the moon, it'll be obvious that its a simulation.

Assuming your humans never kill themselves off completely (Luckily, humanity seems to be pretty good at surviving), this setup allows you, as the writer, to have fairly good control over how long you want the simulation to last. The farther back you start the simulation in time, combined with the further you place your impossible construct from the Earth, the longer it will take for the species to eventually be able to travel to said construct and thus, discover it (and the simulation).

Of course, this would mean that your "hero", would have to live in in a fairly futuristic setting if you placed your construct really far away. Alternatively, your hero could live in the present if you had him be an astronaut exploring the dark side of the moon.

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  • $\begingroup$ 2001 meets the Matrix! Kubrick would be proud! How would my SFX team justify the assumptions that humans never kill themselves off completely when they design the Matrix? After all, in the story, they're doing the design work, and that was one of the requirements on their design. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 14 '16 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon You're going to be relying on humanity being really good at surviving and the fact that almost even the most ruthless rulers and war-starters want to survive their battles. Human greed is a very powerful thing, and to enjoy the benefits of greed people must be alive, therefore most people won't try to get something and then kill themselves afterwards. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jun 14 '16 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ Given that answer I would say we already are in the matrix. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/KIC_8462852 $\endgroup$ – unknown Jun 17 '16 at 20:45
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Give the inner world slightly broken physics. Specifically, metal in the virtual reality doesn't conduct electricity. If this is the only thing that is different, biological processes and pre-electricity tech should work fine, but humanity wouldn't be able to develop information processing technology more advanced than room-sized equivalents to pocket calculators. A bio-computer would be possible, but designing and building one without computer aid probably wouldn't. Science could advance, but post-Renaissance development would be slower and most likely end up steampunk.

After a few hundred years, technology would be advanced enough that people would notice the inconsistencies of metal not conducting electricity, and the question of why will be of similar significance to them as the question dark matter/energy is to us. In our case, the inconsistency is caused by some misunderstanding of how the universe works which will eventually be corrected, but in the case of our simulated world the universe itself will be inconsistent.

The inconsistencies will be the only evidence that the reality they are experiencing is simulated, and without any information processing technology, they will be unable to simulate anything. The thought that their reality is simulated will never cross their minds because simulation as a concept is foreign to them.

The Flaw is there for them to discover but someone with an extraordinary aptitude for abstract thought would need to end up interested in just the right niche of theoretical science/mathematics to even bring up the idea, unlikely enough that statistics would make it take a very long time.

Even after this happens, one person thinking it's possible is very different from an organisation with sufficient resources looking into it and finding a way to escape the system, so far more time is likely to pass before anything resembling the plot of The Matrix comes to pass.

Regarding humanity not dying, measures don't need to be taken. The worst that could possibly happen (human caused or natural) is an extinction level event on par with Chicxulub. Even if something killed everyone in a huge area and caused a huge change in the environment worldwide, humanity would survive. Civilization would likely collapse and need to be rebuilt from almost nothing, but this helps "as long as possible" without contradicting "eventually."

In summary, start the simulation with a pre-electricity civilization and make metals nonconducting. Metal atoms and ions must behave normally, but electricity should be unable to travel significant distances. This is deliberately self-contradictory if you look closely, but limits the development of technology that makes it either easy or useful to do so.

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    $\begingroup$ I've been very vocal about questions on this forum along the lines of "What if we had a universe exactly like ours, except ______" where they add some new law. Your answer here is the first time I've been able to appreciate "a universe exactly like ours, except for this broken bit of pseudo-physics about metal not conducting" because you explicitly wanted to use that inconsistency! I like it! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 16 '16 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ Without metals being conductive, which means without electronics, how do you propose people could explore the nature of subatomics to understand electron behavior sufficiently to recognize the issue? This isn't a long time to discover, this is not being able to achieve a technological state capable of understanding the issue, much less recognizing the deliberately 'incorrect' nature. It would take outside knowledge for comparison - else it is simply the demonstrated nature of the universe. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jun 17 '16 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi: Metal atoms and ions would behave normally because otherwise the effects on anything containing a metallic element would be unpredictable/make life impossible. Actually changing the laws of physics in any way is bound to have side effects, so the inability of metal to conduct must be applied separately by the simulation. Instead of side effects breaking everything, we get inconsistencies wherever there would have been side effects. Most of these inconsistencies would likely require subatomic knowledge to find, but not all. $\endgroup$ – AJMoon Jun 17 '16 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ Further, I don't agree that subatomics could not be studied without electricity. I agree that it would be much harder and possibly impossible to test, but the theory would eventually develop. Consider string theory as a real life analog (a theory that has developed in an environment in which it cannot be tested). $\endgroup$ – AJMoon Jun 17 '16 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ the underlying concepts would have to be developed and built up already knowing how things should be instead of how they demonstrably are to them. Even basic experiments would immediately disprove the nascent theories. It would be like if we put in a flaw like the speed of light appearing to be the same to everyone no matter their reference frame - they would surely recognize all their experiments confirming that is how it works are not real, no matter how often it is demonstrated to be the way it actually works $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jun 24 '16 at 18:01
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I think the Matrix movies already answered this: nested Matrices.

In the first level of the Matrix you want to deliberately create rules that are relatively easy to break (superhuman speed and strength). Hell even prime the pump with a "chosen one" cycle and antagonize them by telling them that their jailers are using them as batteries (they'll believe anything). Be carefull of building the facade too thin, even the machines at this level shouldn't know that they are nested.

Once they have "broken out" into the "real world" you can buy yourself a ton of time. Create the "real world" to be ugly and inhospitable (many of them will actually WANT to go back to the first level). It will take them a good long while to realize that they might have been hoodwinked twice, specially if you make the rules at this level harder to break (the speed of light, quantum decoherence, local realism, etc).

Temper the number of nested levels with the desired run time of the series vs how far you can push the budget without ending up in an unmarked grave.

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Have a matrix inside the matrix, etc. I believe this is a movie-theory as well. (Although wrong simply because the coloring scheme is distinctly different iirc)

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  • $\begingroup$ If you like this kind of thing, I recommend the movie eXistenZ ;) $\endgroup$ – Syndic Jun 14 '16 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ Nice. Kind of a Matrioshka Matrix. It's turtles all the way down! Is there a way to make sure someone actually "takes the red pill" in the topmost Matrix, the one designed by the SFX team? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 14 '16 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ Eh, it's been quite a while since I saw the movies, and I didn't actually like them. So forgive me if my terminology is very rusty, please elaborate on which of the two roles the red pill had and what the sfx team was. $\endgroup$ – InstantMuffin Jun 14 '16 at 14:39
  • $\begingroup$ The red pill is the one that lead you to realize the Matrix was an illusion. As for the SFX team, the purpose of them in the question is to make sure there is a "reality" in this fictional world which is "real." The SFX team exists in this "real world," and they are given the goal of making said Matrix according to the requirements. It makes the matrix they create "special," with certain rules to meet the requirements in my question. Your sub-matrices would have more freedom in their design choices. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 14 '16 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ eXistenZ and The Thirteenth Floor both explore this idea to varying degrees, so does Inception though in a different light. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 22 '18 at 15:39
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The matrix prevents world ending catastrophes in obvious ways. The people say "Huh, the world should've just ended, it didn't. We must be in the Matrix"

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A polygonal scientist grows up in a polygonal world, he was born and raised in this world so he has never had any cause to question it, until one day while walking through a park he finds a little shiny ball bearing. He might consider it nothing more than a pretty thing, the polygon count being so high he cannot see what 2D shapes its comprised of. Obviously everything is comprised of 2D shapes, everyone remembers the class where the teacher folds up a cube explaining how 2D shapes push out into the third axis of 3D space to create 3D objects. That's just the way the world is...

A few months later he's in an insane asylum screaming nonsense about higher dimensions and simulated realities, nobody believes him of course.

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One of the comments the machines make in The Matrix is that "there are levels of survival we're willing to tolerate" meaning that the human crop need not constantly increase. If your Matrix has a hard cap on total population and/or a flexible topology such that population densities can be kept perpetually low you can keep the occupants as a hunter gather society that never develops agriculture. Without the advanced material sciences that can only develop in societies that are population dense, and can thus be highly specialised, measuring physical reality and recognising inconsistencies is impossible. Many inmates may realise that strange things happen but it will take someone exceptional to contribute it to outside forces and start to organise resistance, probably starting with the agricultural revolution. This will happen eventually but it's an essentially random event.

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Use the original idea behind the Matrix as your solution: brain processing power. They switched to "humans be batteries" because they thought audiences wouldnt understand using human brains for processing power. But since you are using the "humans are power" you can use the latent processing power for the Matrix.

The premise: while turning humans to power you use a Matrix to keep them docile. You engage unused parts of their nervous system or when dreaming etc. to aid computers in simulating the entire matrix, this reduces energy requirements as you need less computers and powering something else than the Matrix is kinda the point.

Now each brain helps calculate parts of the Matrix fed to it by computers, which goes pretty fine most of the time. However when a lot of physics happens in one area the brains allocated cant keep up and that local part of the Matrix will slow down...

Like around a Black hole where time dilation takes effect. Now us humans have actually discovered this and have described this graphical bottleneck with physics equations because they cant do otherwise.

So when will humanity discover the truth? During a world war. As people are dying en mass, large sections of the Matrix need rerouting to computers outside/inside the Matrix, which would take time to spin up or clear of the data it held previously. Normally deaths would only create minute errors which redundancy could solve, but the scale of death would make physics and the graphical calculations that come with it go wonky. To make the connection, your inhabitants need to know about computers, the potential that we ourselves are a simulation (and thats likely as a civilization would want to use one for in-depth study of the universe and theres likely more of those simulated worlds than real one's, ergo chances are we are a simulation), and enough physics that we can suddenly discover the discrepancies. If a simple dead pixel wont give it away first ;).

No world wars? Matrix tries to steer clear of large deathtolls by manipulating the inhabitants? Eventually mankind will grow so incredibly fast that their brainpower starts being able to do wonderful things for the Matrix. Such as finally having enough processing power to get physics around Black holes much closer to the intended speed! Whoops, humanity just realized that something's up, lets hope the Matrix doesnt have a failsafe designed to quickly revert it back to older settings so Black holes have slow time again, or you might end up with an even bigger red flag and now not just one but half of humanity knows its a simulation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you find a citation for your first paragraph? That story makes soo much more sense, so if there's an document describing that decision process, I may get to lay to rest a long-standing frustration of mine! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Aug 22 '18 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ This one mentions it as rumors: dwheeler.com/essays/humans-batteries-matrix.html as does this mention it as a likelyhood: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1263/… so if you find the DVD commentary you might find a more definitive answer $\endgroup$ – Demigan Aug 23 '18 at 13:10
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Hide the keys to getting out of the Matrix by scattering various religions/ secret societies with each group having only a piece or few pieces of information, essentially compartmentalizing the Truth. Forcing them to evolve over time, developing technology until global communication is reached. Once global communication is achieved they would put the various pieces of the puzzle together and self realize.

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