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As Morpheus told us in The Matrix, as soon as you die in the Matrix you die in real life.

But once your mind is only a huge load of bits and bytes (otherwise it would be impossible to be transported via wires), why don't they simply make a backup of their minds as soon as they enter the Matrix, and if something dangerous happens to them (like death), the backup will be reimported. Thus their last memories (everything which happened after the last backup) will be lost, but they can not be killed in the Matrix.

Would this be possible?

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“the backup will be reimported” — yeah, just re-import it using the “re-import” button on the back of Keanu Reeves’ skull. – Paul D. Waite Jul 31 '14 at 9:31
Who says the AI computers rely on bits and bytes? They could be organic comptuers for all we know. When talking about fantastical Sci-Fi, you can't use the word impossible :p – Binary Worrier Jul 31 '14 at 9:41
Because the authors didn't know any better. But we do. We now know the heart keeps beating w/o the brain at all (look it up). It is no longer reasonable to believe in death due to dumpshock. The body is resilient. The brain will bring itself back up shortly. – Joshua Jul 31 '14 at 15:33
@Joshua: “the heart keeps beating w/o the brain at all” — sure, but I don’t think the death of the body in the Matrix was meant to be due to the brain/mind suddenly becoming absent. I think the idea was more that if they believed their body was injured, their body would, to a certain extent, react as if it was. I believe there’s some real-world evidence for that too. – Paul D. Waite Jul 31 '14 at 16:01
@BinaryWorrier: I've heard that in the original script, the humans weren't for generating heat (which makes little sense if you think about it), it was that their brains were linked and the linked minds were a supercomputer. And part of that supercomputer ran the matrix. – Mooing Duck Jul 31 '14 at 16:28

11 Answers 11

"But after your mind is only a huge load of bits and bytes (otherwise it would be impossible to be transported via wires)"

From seeing the movies, I would say that it is the opposite; they keep using the hardware for their minds (their brain), it is only that the info about their senses is provided by the Matrix and not their sensory organs.

The opposite would require a means to "imprinting" in their brain the memories about what they did in the Matrix, so that they could remember them when they unplug from it. Nothing in the movies suggest this technology.

And of course, if the Matrix would have been working as you mentioned, people in the Matrix would have never used their brain (at least for superior functions) until they were unplugged.

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I agree with most of this, but in fact the resistance does have a limited ability to write information into a living brain. Remember the disks they used to teach Neo kung fu? – Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 31 '14 at 9:51
But this "fast-learning-technique" seemed to me to be perception-based, too. The speed your brain can save perceptions is maybe faster through the matrix cables than through the normal sensory organs, and therefore you can learn much faster. Just a little bit of retcon speculations... – Benedikt Jul 31 '14 at 11:23
The biggest example of a "brain write" was in Reloaded when Agent Smith killed Bane and took over his body. – mskfisher Jul 31 '14 at 12:37
@mskfisher Reasons that Reloaded makes no damn sense number 71727. – deworde Jul 31 '14 at 13:10
@arc_lupus: "But it was a disaster. No one would accept the program because it was unbelievable. Countless human minds disconnected themselves from the program, accidentally killing themselves. Entire 'crops' were lost." The matrix works because on the subconscious level, the people choose to accept it as truth. (Even those who consciously disbelieve) – Mooing Duck Jul 31 '14 at 16:31

The Matrix only provides sensory information through the jack in the back of the head. The brain is still processing and "experiencing" this information. There is an active two-way connection between the living brain and the Matrix -- this is why the shock of being suddenly unplugged will kill a person who is jacked in.

Morpheus doesn't say this explicity, but he comes close when he is first explaining the Matrix to Neo:

What is real? How do you define 'real'? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

The resistance clearly has some ability to read and write brain states -- this is why they can quickly "teach" Neo kung fu, or Trinity how to fly a helicopter. But it would seem they lack either the knowledge or the hardware to scan an entire personality, save a copy as a backup, and later write it back into a recently-dead brain.

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May be the memory requirement for a full brain backup is too high? – user13267 Jul 31 '14 at 10:53
Right about the Matrix working via an interface, and not scanning and uploading the whole brain. By the way, if the technology to back up minds existed, the Machines would use it as the mechanism of resetting the Matrix (they could loop the same year or month or whatever in everyone's brain) and they wouldn't need that complicated and error-prone scheme about the prophecy and the One to reset the Matrix when too many people start getting aware of its existence. – vsz Jul 31 '14 at 13:50
Perhaps they don't do that every time because it takes too much space to store the backup and much energy restore it. – Luiz Felipe Jul 31 '14 at 15:15
Learning kung fu is not a sensory process. It means learning moves, reflexes, which I am pretty sure does not count as "sensory information". Last I heard the hands & legs were not sensory organs. The "quick kung fu" itself is proof that a lot more than mere sensory information be up/downloaded. – Stark07 Aug 1 '14 at 4:46
@ash_k29 Humans have a lot more than 5 senses – Izkata Aug 2 '14 at 3:04

Plot. Nothing but that.

Movie script writers try to make a challenging story, not a realistic one. It suffices if the fridge logic holds until the movie is over.

If you could get shot in the matrix and just reload, how would the movie be thrilling? If you could make backup copies of your brain and load ten thousand Morpheuses into the matrix (similar to the "guns, lots of guns" that they just create out of nowhere), what would you stop from taking over the world?
Why bother with a haphazard rescue operation in a military-held building if one of the protagonists is held captive by agents? Just pull the plug, and reload.

The whole movie wouldn't make sense that way.

There is no physiological reason why you should die if you get sensory input such as "got hit by a bullet" when there is no actual wound. Yes, an elderly person with considerably old coronary arteries and a heart history might accidentially die from the shock, but that is a different story (and not even old people with a heart disease are that reliable at dropping dead).

Although respiration is certainly dependent on a semi-autonomous region in the brain, it doesn't work that way. On the contrary, the bodies of real dying people are gasping to the last moment as the respiratory center tries to keep oxygen supply up at all cost. Yes, you can willingly hold your breath, up to some limit. That's the "semi" part in semi-autonomous. You can't hold your breath until you die, the "hard wiring" in your respiratory center won't let you.

Similarly, the brain does have some influence on the heart rate, though indirectly (via the sympathic and vagal nerves). Stopping the heart by one's will or such, however, is simply impossible. It's a tale from the movies, and it's a cool plot for James Bond to escape from the secured ICU in Die Another Day, but that's all it is. Your heart will not just stop because you wish that to happen or because you think you're dead.

Also, a non-damaged heart that has been stopped (say, by an electric current during the vulnerable phase) can trivially be reset using defibrillation and will autonomically start beating again. Unless there is physical damage to the conduction system (or to the heart in general), or unless you inject potassium chloride or another deadly poison, there is no way you could prevent a healthy heart from beating. It's what the heart does until you die, literally.

From an information technology point of view, the idea that your mind is "gone" when the cable is cut is wrong, too. This is an often-used movie trope. You make a copy of some data and you have the only existing copy on that USB stick in your pocket. To save the world, the good guys have to retrieve this exact copy. Thrilling, but not the way things work. Making a copy or accessing information doesn't "pull it out".

In order for things to work the way as it's depicted in most movies, you would have to copy data, and then explicitly erase it from the original store. Dependent on where you copied the data from, you may not have permission to do so, or it may simply be physically impossible (e.g. read-only medium).
The human brain in particular comes very close to such a read-only medium. It is not designed for being erased on demand (though one could argue that short-term memory may be considered "eraseable", in some twisted interpretation, by hitting a person hard enough with a hammer).

While nobody (me included) knows or understands exactly what the human mind (or memory) is, it is a very complex, redundant and error-corrected, yet selective and lossy permanent store (lossy both in respect of applying a level of detail on information and in respect of actually losing memories over time). Memory is stored after going through a complicated filter machinery which is not fully understood and is linked with other related and unrelated sensory information.
Memories and abilities can be temporarily suppressed, but cannot be erased other than by physically damaging the brain, although they can be forgotten over time (but forgotten information can be restored from singular fragments, or with very little practice). In one word, it doesn't work like a computer's memory at all. Not in any way.

Now, whether or not the Matrix actually copies the minds of the humans or whether the brains are merely used as "processors", the information in the brain is not affected by that (other than new memories being added, obviously). When someone pulls the cable, your mind is not suddenly "gone", this just isn't how things work.

Your mind doesn't split up and half of it is trapped in a different dimension (Star Trek TNG, "We'll always have Paris"), and you cannot simply be "reprogrammed" to be someone completely different with different memories at the press of a few buttons ("Total Recall"). It's a cool idea for a compelling movie, but that's it.

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+1. Fantastic answer with lots of detail, but I assume the asker was looking for an in-universe explanation. – Dr R Dizzle Jul 31 '14 at 13:24
While this is an excellent write up, I don't think you are taking into consideration that to kill a human, you do not need to stop their heart or their breathing. Stopping their brain will work equally well and that is exactly what is plugged in. People who are epileptic can go into seizure and suffer permanent braindamage from a sensory overload. For all we know, being killed in the matrix (or disconnected early) results in seizures. – Theik Aug 1 '14 at 7:31
Good points, but IMO the film does not say the entire personality is uploaded. It handwaves that disengaging the sensory connection to the Matrix is a delicate process, and must be done correctly using an "exit". If the connection is suddenly cut (either by pulling the plug in the real world, or by virtual "death" in the Matrix) then (I always assumed) some sort of feedback from the connection hardware causes irreversible brain damage and kills your real body. (Unless you're Neo, who somehow avoids death-by-feedback at the end of the first movie.) – Royal Canadian Bandit Aug 1 '14 at 10:07
The handwaving in my comment above would seem to conflict with Morpheus' remark that "the body cannot live without the mind". However, it would not be the only time Morpheus gave a pompous mystical explanation instead of the straightforward one. – Royal Canadian Bandit Aug 1 '14 at 10:17
That pompous explanation, however, is once again there for drama. The whole thing needs not be logical. Morpheus says "cannot live without the mind" and that sounds plausible enough (until much later). Trying to dissect the reason why people die in that movie is somewhat futile, since it's only a plot device. If you didn't have to find an "exit" (and agents didn't know this, and didn't know at least some exits) and if you couldn't die for real, the movie would be totally boring. The same theme is also addressed in the movie Inception, where more of less all of the story [...] – Damon Aug 1 '14 at 11:30

Well one thing to remember is that when a person's jacked into the Matrix, it's not a copy of the mind but the actual digital representation of the mind itself. The people still within the Matrix (non-hackers) and the hackers themselves are in the same state so to speak when within the Matrix. The hackers' awareness of the fact that it's not but a simulation is what allows them to behave differently. Also maybe some admin rights (think sudo)

Since both are using, in essence, the same interface to connect, they both are subject to the same risks. When inside, only the conscious part of the brain is aware that this is fake. When killed within the simulation (or even attacked) the subconscious part of the mind thinks that it is really happening to you.

Neo: I thought it wasn't real

Morpheus: Your mind makes it real

Neo: If you're killed in the matrix, you die here?

Morpheus: The body cannot live without the mind

If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the connection is such that it can transmit some kind of feedback. This feedback would explain the physical damage and injuries seen to the people reflective of the injuries within the system.

A backup is only useful if you have some way of restoring it. Yes, they possibly make backups, the techs is all there; just record the image being sent to the Matrix. But considering that at the moment of death, the subconscious part of the mind responsible for basic survival, i.e., heart, lungs, etc., also shuts down, the person probably would not be alive long enough for them to flash the image.

Another thing to consider would be how the mind would deal with such a trauma. And that is an answer I do not have.

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I disagree. If this were true, then 1) the brain is scanned with perfect resolution, 2) all this data is instantly uploaded to the Matrix [requiring nearly infinite bandwidth!], 3) the biological brain has nothing to do in the meantime [so why can't you unplug and walk away?], 4) when you leave, the digital "soul" is downloaded [infinite bandwith again] and written back into the biological brain. Much, much simpler to just transmit data for what you can see and hear. The Matrix is World of Warcraft with a better interface, and the resistance know the cheat codes. – Royal Canadian Bandit Jul 31 '14 at 9:37
@RoyalCanadianBandit - If you have seen The Matrix, they do have nearly infinite bandwidth! They are streaming all the data live. The biological brain is running the simulation. When you are playing WoW, can you simply disconnect your computer saying "Why can't you unplug and walk away?" ?? There exists a "nearly infinite bandwidth" channel that allows the hackers to broadcast a signal directly into the Matrix. – Stark07 Aug 1 '14 at 4:37
@RoyalCanadianBandit - And what of Reloaded and Revolutions? When Smith overwrote Bane? What of that? Was that "just sensory data"? If an agent can overwrite an escaped hacker, it is certainly possible for a hacker to make a backup inside the Matrix! – Stark07 Aug 1 '14 at 4:40
@ash_k29: I think you might have misunderstood my comment. I agree the biological brain is running the simulation, what gets transmitted is data describing inputs (you see Agent Smith) and outputs (you move your fist in the direction of Agent Smith's face). Yes, it requires implausibly huge bandwidth, but still orders of magnitude less than uploading an entire personality in an instant. As for Bane being overwritten, clearly the machines can replace a personality with a different one, but the original question is about the capabilities of the resistance, which may be less sophisticated. – Royal Canadian Bandit Aug 1 '14 at 9:50
What I am saying is the idea is plausible. The resistance might not have figured out how to do it, but it is certainly possible. We have already seen that hackers are able to send and receive data over The Matrix (Final Flight of the Osiris). So if that is possible, this is just a few steps ahead. And when Bane was overwritten, he was hooked up to the Resistance's equipment, meaning that the Resistance equipment is also capable of sustaining such a transfer. Now all that remains is to write a program to do it. – Stark07 Aug 1 '14 at 9:55

First of all, as plenty of other people have already answered, there is no "uploading". You plug into the Matrix and you receive and send data through the uplink. If you get unplugged suddenly your brain can't handle the shock. Dying in the Matrix is the exact same thing, except the other way around, you got plugged out at the Matrix's end.

There's also pretty big difference between uploading new data to a computer and trying to repair data on a computer that was fried, which is basically what happens when you die in the Matrix. You're not trying to teach somebody to use Kung-Fu, you're trying to salvage what is left of the brain. This is not a matter of uploading/downloading the information, if the computer (brain) is broken, no amount of backups is going to help, so even if they DID have the ability to backup a brain (unlikely), they wouldn't have a brain left to upload it to.

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The first issue would be one of storage. It seems everyone agrees that function still remains inside the "meat", which controls action inside the system. One comment pointed out the "imprint" system used to teach Neo Kung Fu, but that is something fed to the brain, not downloaded from the brain.

With all of the computing power available in the Matrix itself I'm sure that storing the information from a few brains wouldn't be that big of a deal. But storage from all of them? It also seems the master controller would be in charge of storage as well, which puts anyone in the resistance at risk. Especially if the MC can read that information any time it wants.

That leaves storage up to the computing power available in the ship itself. But how much information from the brain would really need to be saved? Would there be enough capacity? If so, for how many, and how do you decide who is kept and who isn't? (Well, other than Neo and Trinity, of course. They are both extremely important, so one would assume they would be backed up.)

Finally, about the "un-bootable" scenario. Assuming the download and constant updating were possible, and the fact that imprinting is already possible, one would think editing of the data is just as possible. So, stream the backups and if someone is killed, edit out the part where they actually died, then re-imprint the entire brain with the backup. If done fast enough (surely an automatic process could be created for this) the body would hardly know it had ever died in the first place.

Now, when it comes to the "soul"... well, that's a discussion for a different thread.

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Yes, but as stated in the film, processing the data from the Matrix without being jacked in is too complicated for live streaming. So any processing like you propose would have a significant delay. And even if they can in theory get around that, it doesn't mean they currently have figured out how to hack it properly without endangering the user. They are just a ragtag bunch, after all. – trlkly Aug 2 '14 at 1:54

While other answers have pointed out that your brain is not completely uploaded to the Matrix, I don't really see any that offer proof from what we see in the movie.

First off, we know they had to be at "broadcast depth" to even jack in. When Morpheus decides to send Neo to the Oracle, he has to have Tank take the ship out of hiding. Now, of course, they could broadcast the users' entire brains, but if so, why do they have to remain at broadcast depth instead of going immediately back to hiding?

Plus why would the EMP endanger Neo if he's no longer broadcasting? Since their equipment isn't completely fried after the EMP, clearly the actual ship has EMP shielding. So what electronic signal would be stopped, if not Neo's broadcast?

Another proof is that we see bodies responding directly to stimulus from within the Matrix. When they are severely hurt or die, something immediately happens to the body. Also, Trinity's kiss directly affects Neo in the Matrix. If they were uploaded, we'd have to wait for the brain to be downloaded or uploaded again for that to happen. Clearly the body and mind are still connected.

Finally, if they were just uploading, there would be no reason to leave them jacked in. There would already be a copy still in their heads. Uploading is not a destructive process. Uploading means making a copy. So just copy people in and then leave. Maybe even copy people in more than once. Why risk your own lives when you could just risk those of an avatars in the Matrix?

Clearly they are continually hacking in the Matrix rather than hacking in once and then uploading themselves. So we have no proof that copying entire brains is even possible, let alone whether they have the required storage space or ability to restore said backup.

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Since the Matrix was designed and developed by AI it's highly unlikely that there is a backup situation for the power-supplies (i.e., Humans). The only purpose for the Matrix was to placate the human batteries, not maintain their survival or increase their odds of surviving. The hardware that humanity was stored in kept the body alive which the Matrix gave the consciousness a place to exist without boredom.

The more likely option would be to register your Matrix-self as an AI (somehow) which MIGHT gain you some sort of cloud-based storage and retrieval options available. But only until the AI's notice... and then you have to ask yourself, would you really want the AI's to have access to your memories via a copy-n-paste version of you?

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I don't think they upload to the Matrix. They log into the matrix, all the "processes" for that character are still running in the persons brain.

This goes for all humanity, the whole point was to trick the minds of the "batteries" into believing the lie. If the minds were uploaded and separate from the "batteries" then there would be no point to it all.

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It is very much possible to have backups. Bigger question is how to restore them!
Here are bits that support my theory:

  1. The biggest proof for this is seen in Reloaded/Revolutions, where Smith has overwritten Bane(A red pill). This itself proves that

    1. Personalities can be read and written from within The Matrix to the real world & back.
    2. Though regular Matrix broadcasts consist of sensory input, the same channel can be used to transfer entire personalities.
    3. Personality downloaded from within the Matrix can be retained even after being disconnected from the Matrix.
  2. Moreover, we see in part 1, that Neo is quickly taught kung fu, drunken boxing, and lots of other skills. This itself proves that the link can be used to transfer not just sensory information, but a lot more than that. Learning kung fu is not just a sensory process, neither is learning how to hot wire a bike, nor is learning how to fly a chopper. These are activities that are known as "Global processes" in neurology lingo.

About reanimating from the backup
The important thing here is, the moment you die inside The Matrix, your brain basically shuts down it's signals to the lungs, heart etc, which kills you physically. And once the lungs and the heart shuts down, the brain does too!

So even if the person's mind is backed up in The Matrix, there is no way to make the brain restart the lungs and heart!

An important point to note here is that The Matrix was originally designed only to generate sensory inputs. Think of it like using your keyboard to delete your hard-disk. This will render your machine un-bootable! Similarly, the sensory input of, say being shot at(Formatting your hard disk), will cause the brain to shut down your body(rendering it un-bootable). So the thing here is, although The Matrix does have the technology to support the process, the only things hackers will need, is how to make the brain think that it is alive once again, despite being dead.

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I didn't vote on this one, but I think that technically a person is not being backed-up in the matrix, but merely running their avatar via remote control, as other answers have pointed out. – Mark Rogers Jul 31 '14 at 22:03
They are not running just their avatar's. It's their residual self image. It is practically their mind. Refer to Morpheus' line in part 1: "The body cannot live without the mind". Does that sound like an avatar? NO! And can the downvoters please explain why this is not a good answer? – Stark07 Aug 1 '14 at 4:35
I think Morpheus is saying that if the mind thinks its dead the body will die as well. But you may have a point, the movie was kind of vague on the exact details. – Mark Rogers Aug 1 '14 at 18:21
I think your answer was downvoted because your title is misleading. Your point seems to be that they can make backups but they can't restore them. So perhaps make the title "It is possible to have backups, but how could they restore them?" – trlkly Aug 2 '14 at 1:49

The answer seems to be yes, with qualifications that the humans in Zion do not seem to have the technology at the time of the events of the movies. Moreover, the technology may be more on the order of an ability only accessible to the One, although it is not clear from the movies whether it is an ability that could be taught or replicated with technology. Neo dies during the climactic scene in the Matrix, only to revive himself moments later. His heart stops in the physical world, only to restart when he revives in the Matrix. I would suggest that the One, at least, could download his mind and reboot after dying in the Matrix, but he doesn't need the ability. However, we can conclude from several events in the movies that it is possible to move in and out of the Matrix, die and come back in the Matrix and outside the Matrix.

First, witness what happens to Neo at the end of The Matrix and the beginning of The Matrix Reloaded. He stops the Sentinels using only his mind, which he could only accomplish by being connected to the Matrix and/or the machine world via some sort of wireless connection.

After that feat, he collapses into a coma and we find at the beginning of The Matrix Reloaded that he is stuck in the Conductor's train station, a gateway between the Matrix and the machine world. At this point, he is still not connected physically to the Matrix, at which point we can conclude without doubt that he can "upload" to the Matrix (and beyond, as he nearly puzzles out how to get to the machine world while stuck in the Conductor's station) without a physical connection.

Next, recall that Neo saves Trinity in The Matrix Reloaded, removing a bullet and restarting her heart inside the Matrix, restoring her physical heartbeat at the same time. I conclude from this evidence that physical bodies and Matrix presences can die and be brought back. The effect is not limited to the One, though the power to achieve the affect seems to be limited to the One.

Lastly, let us look to the evidence of Agent Smith, who manages to "download" himself into a physical host, Bain. As Neo's opposite, he is capable of similar feats as Neo, so from there we can deduce logically that Neo could 1. survive in the Matrix and/or perhaps the machine world after the death of his physical body, 2. download himself into another host who is connected to the Matrix, much like the agents can do to anyone still inside, and 3. replicate himself as Smith did starting in The Matrix Reloaded. Given his ethics, I believe the One would choose not to take the lives of innocents, ruling out 2 and 3. However, I would argue that The One's power is limited only by his will. Given time, he could take over the Matrix, or even the machine world.

Because of all these events, I believe that the humans in Zion could figure out how Neo did what he did and eventually render themselves immune to death inside the Matrix. It would not render them immune to physical death, but if their physical bodies died they would be marooned inside a digital system somewhere. What really fries my brain at that point is wondering what separates digital copies of humans from the machine residents of the Matrix. Could the backups be uploaded into the Matrix and survive like the Merovingian and other long-term Matrix denizens? Could they download themselves offline periodically? Could they then offer these services to the machine residents of the Matrix who don't want to go back to the Machine world?

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