56

What would have happened, within the canon of The Matrix, if Neo had taken both the blue pill and the red pill at the same time?

enter image description here

Let's assume Morpheus wasn't quick enough to stop him.

9
  • 45
    This would have happened.
    – Adamant
    Oct 11, 2016 at 8:54
  • 71
    @adamant actually it's this
    – user13267
    Oct 11, 2016 at 11:22
  • 6
    "Let's assume Morpheus wasn't quick enough to stop him from taking both." Meaning Morpheus just sat there and let him XD we already know Morpheus is wayyyy faster than Neo can possibly hope to be while he's still connected to the system. Oct 11, 2016 at 13:48
  • 18
    As we're talking about computer code that's mutually exclusive, and colors which can be combined, the answer is obvious. Neo's interface to the Matrix would have crashed and thrown a Purple Screen of Death. Oct 11, 2016 at 14:56
  • 4
    it would be like taking sleeping pill and laxative at the same time, it will do the job, but no one dare to do that
    – Pepo_rasta
    Oct 12, 2016 at 12:59

6 Answers 6

92

Both pills have a very specific physiological impact. The blue pill appears to have some sort of sedative effect inside the Matrix whereas the red pill disrupts the individual's "carrier signal" outside the Matrix, causing them to hallucinate and then be ejected from the Matrix.

Taking both pills would most likely result in the taker becoming unconscious inside the Matrix, then being ejected from the Matrix. So basically there would be no difference in the final outcome, albeit the mirror hallucination sequence would have been far less interesting with a sleeping Neo.

20
  • 21
    You could possibly interpret an existential answer to this. The choice between the blue and red pills could be purely symbolic in terms of how Neo progresses through (or out of) the Matrix. There's only the choice of having either one or the other - he can't choose both, he can't choose neither. It's the left or right in the fork in the road...
    – user71418
    Oct 11, 2016 at 9:34
  • 2
    Yes, you're right - I was confusing this with the pill in "Total Recall", I'm always making that mistake...
    – user71418
    Oct 11, 2016 at 9:52
  • 2
    @zack - If you follow the links, you'll see that they have demonstrable, physical actions. The red pill disrupts your carrier code, the blue pill is a tranquiliser of some sort. "Does either pill actually do anything?"
    – Valorum
    Oct 11, 2016 at 14:03
  • 3
    I disagree with parts of this answer. The blue pill is more than a sedative. Morpheus says "Take the blue pill, you wake up and remember nothing". So it is also a memory wipe of meeting Morpheus (and probably more). Thus if we follow your conclusion in this answer, taking both would result in you being ejected from the Matrix, but with no memory at all of the events that might have caused it. Morpheus might still be there to pick you up, but you'd have no clue what was going on (even less clue than Neo actually had).
    – Simba
    Oct 12, 2016 at 16:24
  • 9
    @Simba - Except that isn't what Morpheus says. What he says is "You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe".
    – Valorum
    Oct 12, 2016 at 16:29
40

The Matrix is a computer simulation, not physical reality. This is actually a very common point of confusion in real-world software as well: an object representing a square is not actually a square but a logical model of a square no matter how square-like it looks or behaves. If you say "But I see a square drawn on my screen", then I can modify that object so that it no longer draws a square. The logical object itself is not a square.

This non-thingness of everything in the Matrix was Neo's breakthrough when he realized there was no spoon. The spoon wasn't a spoon, but simply code that at that moment was rendering a spoon in the Matrix, but which he could modify for his own purpose. I think the woman in the red dress was another explicit example of this, but it's been a long time since I last watched it so I don't remember exactly.

Morpheus wasn't physically offering Neo two colored pills, but providing him with two mutually exclusive options in a purely logical sense. It was effectively a confirmation window with "OK" and "Cancel" buttons. And the operation would be "destructive" in that whichever option was selected would close off the other option. "Both" was not a valid choice. Or at least that was the premise he presented, and there's no reason to doubt him considering he was the one presenting the option.

6
  • 18
    I think you may have misunderstood the scene. To quote the makers of the film; What kind of drug does the red pill contain? WachowskiBros: It’s like a computer virus that’s meant to disrupt Neo’s life signal so that they can pinpoint where Neo’s body is in the power plant.. - So the pills don't represent a metaphysical choice, they're simply programs that have a very specific physiological response (much like the orgasm cake seen in Matrix Reloaded).
    – Valorum
    Oct 11, 2016 at 13:09
  • 11
    @Valorum A computer virus is comprised of code, which is exactly what Daniel is saying is "contained" in the pills. I don't think he is misunderstanding anything here.
    – Zack
    Oct 11, 2016 at 13:59
  • 2
    @Zack - There's a marked difference between a hand-crafted code that has a dramatically unexpected effect (q.v. the orgasm cake) and simply utilising the sort of pre-made codes that you find in the Matrix (eggs, flour, mundane ingredients, etc.). It's likely that the Blue Pill is simply Thorazine. or something similar.
    – Valorum
    Oct 11, 2016 at 14:00
  • 7
    There is nothing in the movie to support your conclusion that these options are exclusive.
    – Davor
    Oct 11, 2016 at 17:08
  • 4
    This still doesn't really answer the question though of what would have happened if he took both pills. Are you saying he would have physically or mentally been prevented from making such a decision by the Matrix itself?
    – Ajedi32
    Oct 12, 2016 at 16:13
28

From my programming perspective, it depends on the order he takes them in, and no, I will not be examining "He takes them both at the exact same moment" as an argument, because it's almost certain that one pill will hit his "stomach" and run its code at least a couple of milliseconds before the other even if he swallowed both at the exact same moment, and the topic of what happens if both run concurrently as coroutines is virtually impossible to answer without being able to analyse the exact code used in the pills, which we can't.

If the order is Blue -> Red, he would fall asleep and have his memory wiped, only to then have his I/O carrier signal disrupted and his body ejected from The Matrix. He would then most likely wake up on the Nebuchadnezzar with no memory of the past day's events. He would know about Morpheus and Trinity, as he knew them before anyway, but he would not remember having met them or being interrogated by Agents. The whole experience probably would have been a lot more jarring.

If the order is Red -> Blue, however, an interesting thing happens from a programming perspective. Neo's I/O carrier signal gets disrupted and his body is ejected from The Matrix. After this code has executed, the blue pill's code then attempts to send him to sleep and wipe his memory, except Neo is no longer connected to The Matrix thanks to the red pill, so the blue pill gets what is called a NullReferenceException. This means that whatever reference it needed to run, in this case, a reference to Neo's brain, no longer existed and one of two things will happen, depending on just how well the machines programmed this version of The Matrix.

  1. (Most likely) The machines have cleverly programmed in a null check that prevents such a thing from happening in the first place and nothing happens, Neo wakes up in the machine fields and is rescued exactly the same as in the first movie.
  2. (Very unlikely, but possible) The null reference causes the entire system to crash. Every program inside stops working, and every human inside, again depending on the nature of the Matrix's programming, either dies or is woken up.

So, basically, the most likely scenario is that nothing really changes. He wakes up on the Nebuchadnezzar whatever happens. The only difference is whether or not he keeps his memory of meeting Morpheus and Trinity.

12
  • 13
    So, did you get that username by taking both the pills at the same time?
    – Fiksdal
    Oct 11, 2016 at 14:15
  • 5
    Does this mean the multiple stomachs of a cow or sheep are a type of parrallel processing in order to avoid race conditions in foodstuff consumption ;-)
    – ian
    Oct 11, 2016 at 15:17
  • 3
    @iain Parallel processing would increase the likelihood of race conditions... Also, the extra chambers in a ruminant's stomach are more of a multi-stage pipeline than multiple processors.
    – 8bittree
    Oct 11, 2016 at 16:16
  • 2
    You know, @Fiksdal, I didn't even think about that as I typed this post XD but yeah, that's what happened. I took both, went craaaazy, and they had to get Keanu Reeves instead. This is now canon. The Wachowski sisters can fight me for it if they disagree. Oct 11, 2016 at 17:06
  • 1
    @iain The wink kind of gave it away. I was pointing out that the premises didn't fit though. And the coding properly argument works with single processors as well.
    – 8bittree
    Oct 11, 2016 at 17:41
15

The main thing to understand is that there is no physical pill. Neo is in the Matrix. Morpheus can't get a physical pill to him. It's all just software.

Neo has to make an irrevocable choice. As Morpheus says in the film, and as the Wachowskis have said, once that choice is made then there's no going back. The software represented by the red pill disrupts the Matrix's hold on the person (and allows them to be traced by Morpheus) so that the Matrix dumps them out.

So once the red pill has been taken, there is no blue pill. The Matrix stops running your consciousness and you stop being able to interact with it. Imagine erasing your hard disk; would you then ask "what happens if I try running Minesweeper now?" The answer of course is that you can't because Minesweeper (and everything else) is no longer there. :)

What the Wachowskis weren't really clear on is why Neo can't say "let me think about it" and come back another day - in other words, why there needs to be a blue pill at all. Of course Neo might not survive his next encounter with Agent Smith, but Morpheus doesn't give that as a justification, and the supplementary Matrix literature doesn't make it clear.

6
  • The effect of each pill is opposite of each other. I would expect the effects to cancel each other out if both were taken. Oct 11, 2016 at 13:25
  • 4
    @JasonHutchinson - They were not opposite. The red pill was a virus that disrupts the taker's "carrier signal". The blue pill is simply a sedative.
    – Valorum
    Oct 11, 2016 at 13:27
  • 3
    The red pill wakes you up, and the blue pill puts you back to sleep. How is that not opposite? Oct 11, 2016 at 13:30
  • @JasonHutchinson There's the little issue of the red pill causing you to be ejected from the Matrix and becoming traceable to the Nebuchadnezzar. There's no evidence that the blue pill will reconnect you. You'll still be ejected and traceable, just unconscious.
    – 8bittree
    Oct 11, 2016 at 14:47
  • 2
    @JasonHutchinson - The red pill operates outside of the Matrix; the blue pill has effects that are entirely contained within it. While from a conceptual point of view they may be opposites, from a practical point of view they are so different from each other than they cannot really be compared. Oct 12, 2016 at 21:07
4

The pills represent the illusion of choice. Neo was already on this path - if he chose the "wrong" pill he eventually would be presented with another choice that would have kept him on the path his destiny dictated. Neo needed this illusion because he was not yet ready to accept the mantle of his ultimate calling.

One pill alone shows that he's either not ready for the path yet, or that he's ready for the path, but still has questions and reservations, depending on the pill chosen

Had he taken both pills he would have essentially been saying that he rejects the idea of his choice or freedom, and demonstrating that he has already surpassed the need for the illusion of choice, and was ready to embark the path without question.

Were that the case, though, the pills would not have been needed - he could have broken free from his binding without aid.

Nowhere in the movie does it suggest that this is Neo's first time. We can only assume that it is, but one pill clearly erases all trace of ever having been presented the option in the first place. It's possible, likely even, that this is yet another attempt to awaken Neo, and it's simply the one that worked.

Therefore it's unlikely that he would have leapt from desiring his old life all the way through to accepting his destiny between two attempts, and thus he would not have, could not have, chosen both pills.

11
  • Merv, is that you?
    – user11521
    Oct 12, 2016 at 22:16
  • but he's merely asking the effects the pills would have if he took them both... not whether Neo would've done it.
    – user64742
    Oct 13, 2016 at 14:35
  • @TheGreatDuck It may be interesting to guess what would have happened, but since I posit that it could not have happened, then it's irrelevant. The other answers provide a good range of possibilities if, for instance, Morpheus said, "Screw it, you get both" and forced Neo to take both, but I don't think there's any point in pretending Neo might have chosen to take both.
    – Adam Davis
    Oct 13, 2016 at 15:06
  • @TheGreatDuck in the context of The Matrix though, I think those two questions are the same. The same way "there are no pills", "there are no effects of the pills". The pills are just a mechanism to show Neo's perceptions while in the Matrix. He is on his way out with or without the pills. Oct 13, 2016 at 16:38
  • But the asker wants to know what the pills wouldve done. Saying "neo cant take both" is irrelevant. That ignores the premise that "neo takes the pills" and therefore doesnt answer the question "what happens to him".
    – user64742
    Oct 13, 2016 at 19:35
4

I believe that the red pill somehow updates the Machines' database record so that the person taking the pill reads as being dead, incapacitated, or otherwise outlived their usefulness; that is why that person is decoupled from the power plant.

The blue pill, on the other hand, restores the human to a known checkpoint - recovers the human from a backup, in other words. (A Real Life computer command in a Git repository would be git reset --hard HEAD~1.)

While I subscribe to the theory that a particular program (of the two encapsulated in the pills) will be run first, let's see what happens in each particular sequence. We'll assume that the Red Pill program runs for less time than the Blue Pill one. (After all, real-life backup recovery is slower than media unmounting.) We'll also assume that the computers of the Matrix are not unlike today's computers.

Blue then Red

The recovery program starts running. The person begins to forget last day's events. Seconds later, the person begins being decoupled. Next one of the following happens.

  • If the system is smart enough, it will first stop the restore operation at a safe state (i.e. let it erase one final file). Then the person is ejected and rescued. He/she remembers some things from the last period of time, but not all of them.
  • If the system is less smart, it will break the restore operation in an unsafe state, but still eject the person. That one memory during which the restore operation was broken gets corrupted, and the person now remembers that event with difficulty or with hallucinations.
  • If the system is severely dumb, it will eject the person without stopping the restore process. Worst case scenario, the entire file system gets corrupted and the person is no more. (If you want to know what exactly happens, try unplugging a flash drive from a computer while copying a large file.) However, the process is still running, and if it requres the presence of a brain in the output, it will raise an exception. If not, it will keep on running.

Red then Blue

What happens here is much less problematic for the person concerned, but (potentially) much more so for the Matrix itself.

  • If the neural interface does not require an actual connection to exist (like the UDP network protocol), nothing would happen.
  • If the neural interface has a requirement for the presence of the output device (like the TCP network protocol), then the program will (as said above) raise an exception, and, depending on the system's architecture, either the restore program stops without consequence, or the surrounding programs go nonlinear, or the entire system will crash. Though modern (and super-modern, like the Matrix's) computers are unlikely to break so easily, seeing as it only takes one person to change the rules of the Matrix to his/her benefit, I'm highly inclined to say that something bogus would happen.
2
  • I don't think that the Blue Pill can be remotely compared to a "last known safe state" backup. The concept is that Neo would wake up as if the whole thing were just a dream. He would remember the conversation with Morpheus, but first, just like all the other "dreams" he was having, they would just be dreams to him. Also, no matter how much he tried, he wouldn't be able to contact Morpheus again. Morpheus wouldn't be interested after he'd made that choice. In the system itself, this would be more akin to killing and restarting a process.
    – Ernie
    Jul 17, 2017 at 15:47
  • @Ernie That could be in some form true, but I'm not sure if the canon describes that Neo would wake up as if the thing were a dream. What is said in the movie is that "the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe." And besides, if the system did kill and restart a process, unless it flushes the cache frequently, the Neo that was started wouldn't have the any of the memories of the Neo that was.
    – Danya02
    Jul 18, 2017 at 20:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.