When Neo is fighting Morpheus, Morpheus says

What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are, know you are.

What does this mean?

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    The Oracle: “You know what that means? It’s Latin. Means “Know thyself”. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones"
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 22:46
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    "Do, or do not. There is no try."
    – Buzz
    Commented Mar 22, 2021 at 22:57
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    smbc-comics.com/comic/conscious Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 10:13
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    The full version of the statement in the title, if it's to be taken in isolation, would be "You shouldn't think you are faster—you should know you are faster."
    – Ruslan
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 19:38
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    This is one of the examples of Don't Think, Feel trope (welp, the usual "TV Tropes link" warning disclosure).
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 3:48

6 Answers 6


The difference can be shown by a simple experiment. Answer the following question: can you read English(1)? Do you know you can read or do you just think you can read English? I'm pretty confident you'd say you know how to read. If I give you a text in English, you don't even have to think about whether or not it's possible for you to read it, you just start reading.

All Morpheus is pointing out is that when you know how to do something, you don't need to think about it at all, you can often just do it without conscious thought. In a way, he's pointing out that Neo is stuck in the Centipede's Dilemma; thinking about whether or not it's possible to do something means allowing for the possibility he can't, so he's trapping himself by thinking about it too much.

  1. Substitute for any language the questionee is literate in, of course
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    I wished more people would read this comment since it really pictures out how people always keep themselfs down by overthinking stuff and not just going with the flow.
    – clockw0rk
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 10:56
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    I've never heard of the "Centipede's Dilemma" before now. You might want to add a link to lets people know what it means. Otherwise, good answer! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Centipede%27s_Dilemma Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 15:44
  • What if I said "Can you read?" and you say "I know I can read" and I hand you a German book. Now, instead of knowing you can read, you thought you could read what was about to be given to you. But still, you knew you could read, that doesn't change.
    – n00dles
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 23:51
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    @n00dles, that's why I specified "If I give you a text in a language you know" Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 3:12
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    I had already stated the part in a language they know in the original answer. I clarified it to make it clear for people who had obviously missed the obvious. Commented Mar 25, 2021 at 2:50

Not sure if this question is on-topic.

It's really about semantics; what that sentence is meant to represent. And that sentence is similar to other lines in films that seem to mean something but in fact are meaningless.

What does it mean in The Matrix universe, specifically? i.e. What was it meant to suggest?

Well in English, if we "think" something is true, it implies we don't know for sure. "I think it's true" is inherently an unsure statement. In the Matrix, you have to be 100% sure of yourself and your abilities, you must know it's true; there must be no doubt. I don't think Neo achieves this state of "knowing" he is The One until the end of the first movie.

When you think about it, it makes sense that it's so black and white; either you've reached this state of realization (like an epiphany), or not. If you're not sure (You "think" you have) then you haven't. It's a binary state, which fits the Matrix as a digital environment. Revelations is a strong theme throughout The Matrix movies.

I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it. You have to let it all go. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your Mind.

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    It's 100% on-topic as it quite helps to grasp an important concept of the film, and thus understand and appreciate the movie.
    – Jenayah
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 6:41
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    "until the end of the first movie" → What do you mean "first" movie? They never made any sequels.
    – walen
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 8:41
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    Also, the Wachowskis were big into new age spirituality and this was basically pushing some flavour of positive mental attitude as foundational to success and as a legitimate alternative to actually doing the hard work of learning and practice. It's a fallacious trope that's been shilled by an unending series of self-help writers for decades. It's also popularly compelling, so it sells.
    – J...
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 12:02
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    @J... I agree dude 100% you can't use positive thoughts to succeed at something that, in reality, takes years of practice which gets imprinted into the subconscious to free the conscious mind while performing the activity. Best example is singing while playing the guitar. It has to be practiced (10,000 hours to master, generally). But this is about the Matrix universe. That universe has different rules.
    – n00dles
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 15:19
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    @n00dles Indeed - I mention it only for context. All fiction is a power fantasy of some sort, to be honest. This is just one particular power fantasy that has had a lot of traction as an unfounded belief in the real world also. Nobody goes around waving a hawthorne stick thinking they'll conjure a magic spell, for example, but people do delude themselves into thinking that success needs only a ruthlessly positive state of mind.
    – J...
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 15:31

Rather than take this statement alone, take it from within the context of the full scene.

Morpheus explains first, the program has rules, like gravity. Then he explains that some of those rules can be bent, and others, broken.

The pair fight. Morpheus admires Neo's ability, but says

your weakness... is not your technique.

They reengage, and we see some more impressive moves. It ends when Neo does a run up a support, backflips over Morpheus, and then gets kicked into another support. He collapses.

"How did I beat you?" Morpheus asks.

"You're too fast." says Neo, breathing hard.

"Do you believe that my being stronger... or faster... has anything to do with my muscles... in this place?" asks Morpheus.

Neo looks up at him. Morpheus leans in, and gives one of my favorite lines.

"You think that's air you're breathing?" Morpheus asks.

Then they engage again. Suddenly, Neo's neurokinetics are "way above normal," and Mouse is amazed. But still, not fast enough. So, Morpheus then says the following to Neo:

"What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are, know you are."

And, a bit later:

"Come on! Stop trying to hit me and hit me!"

Suddenly, we see Neo's blows blur, we see several... afterimages? of his fists, and he drives Morpheus back, and back, ending with his fist, stopped an inch form Morpheus' face.

Throughout the scene, Morpheus doesn't really teach, or explain. He does. And in doing, demonstrates the impossible is possible here. Neo picks up on this, and does the impossible. Of course, only a little. His journey's only just begun.

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    After rewatching the scene (you made me want to), I only realised what he means by "you think that's air you're breathing now".
    – Clockwork
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 0:04

The question of the meaning of "know" and "think" comes back in the second part of The Matrix trilogy ("The Matrix Reloaded"), during Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and Merovingio's discussion in the restaurant. The case of which Merovingio spoke, touched another place of live, but the principle is the same. "Know" is the same as being convinced, certain, persuaded, being sure. As long as "think" is near to hesitation, doubt, uncertainty, weakness.

If you "think" in contrast to "know", you can use only some unknown level of your potential. To move the things on or up, you need the access to and get your full power. If you "think" instead of "know", you doubt and you don't mobilise all intellectual and physical resources that you have. If you "know" (fully convinced) who you are in terms of ability, or how the things work, whole your potential can by used.


The matrix isn't the real world, and the laws of physics don't REALLY apply. the only reason they appear to is that the matrix is shaped by the consciousness of the people inside of it, they believe that they are bounded by the laws of reality, and so they are. if Neo can understand that he is in a simulation, and therefore can do much more than typically possible, then he can, but only if he truly believes it, as we see at the end of the first movie.

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    But if it's that simple, then the difference between knowing and thinking wouldn't be as much of an issue, no? Can you explain how this requires the distinction that Morpheus makes?
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 14:20
  • This is getting close to the right answer, I think. The Matrix isn't a simulation that is entirely projected into them from a computer, it is one their minds participate in creating. People's bodies in the Matrix are created by their subconscious self-image. If you believe in your abilities with every part of your mind, then your body in the Matrix can do anything.
    – Robyn
    Commented Mar 24, 2021 at 21:36

Knowing is a state of being and is thus immediate. It is a direct connection between the mind and the world.

Thinking is an act and thus takes time. It is an indirect connection, mediated through the self-reflective layer of consciousness and ego.

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