The problem I fail to understand is, if people in the Matrix have a free mind.

The thing is, in Matrix Reloaded, the Architect tells Neo, that he [the Architect] knew that Neo would emerge. That Neo is a variable in the system which acts to provide balance, eventually resetting the Matrix.

This brings a problem, if The One is actually variable built in to Matrix, how it is assigned to a particular inhabitant of Matrix?

If people are actually allowed to have free will, then the emergence of The One would be a pure random event. If The One is selected by Matrix, then people do not have a free mind and can be arbitrarily manipulated. In the latter case it does not make sense to create any complex simulation, just manipulate the person to coma and problem is solved.

  • 3
    Logic really wasn't these movies strong suit. Mar 14, 2014 at 22:28
  • @RBarryYoung what makes you think that? could you list some exact examples?
    – n611x007
    Mar 19, 2014 at 17:47
  • (May seem nitpick, but I think it's better to get rid of assumptions.) how it is assigned what makes you think variables are assigned? what makes you think the One is a variable? You won't find the word variable in the movie's transcript. I guess you made assumptions from unbalanced equation, but doing so can be quite arbitrary.
    – n611x007
    Mar 19, 2014 at 17:49
  • In regards to your final paragraph, this may provide more food for thought.
    – Xantec
    Mar 19, 2014 at 19:25
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    @naxa Well let's see, 1) the "One", a creation of the Matrix somehow has super-powers in the mundane world outside of the Matrix (end of part 2), the lamest idea for a power source ever proposed in any SciFi story, and 3) as my 12-year old son said after seeing part 2 "Dad, if they're supposed to be computer hackers, why they don't just hack the matrix and re-program it? I mean, if they're programmers, how come they never do any programming?" And I could list many, many more. The matrix wasn't SciFi, it was Fantasy disguised as science. Mar 19, 2014 at 22:32

8 Answers 8


In mathematics there is the concept of what are known as 'attractors'.

These cause some systems to gravitate towards a particular point in their 'space' regardless of the starting conditions of said system.

Simply knowing that the collection of minds, free or otherwise would fit this system, and always produce a 'One' (the attractor), would be enough to predict Neo's continual reemergence without forcing him to appear, contravening the assumption of free will.

In short there is no more evidence for or against free will in the Matrix than in real life, however the continual reemergence of 'The One's doesn't preclude it.

  • 1
    Agree. I recommend reading Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series, which is based on the premise of how a whole branch of science can exist to predict what will happen when dealing with masses of people.
    – Rodolfo
    Mar 14, 2014 at 15:10
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    @Rodolfo I am certainly aware of psychohistory (?) But I'm not familiar enough to include it in my answer. And don't worry, Foundation is on my reading list!
    – AncientSwordRage
    Mar 14, 2014 at 15:25
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    of course, my comment was more for posterity, whoever got to read your very correct answer, invite them to read on the same topic.
    – Rodolfo
    Mar 14, 2014 at 16:24

Assuming we treat the The Architect's conversation with Neo as the gospel truth, we learn three key things about the Matrix and free will;

1) Neo's whole life (indeed the entirety of his existence) is a sham.

The Architect makes it clear that everything that has happened in the previous films, has happened before, not once but six previous times. As far as he's concerned, Neo is simply another part of the program of control as is Zion

Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the matrix

Although Neo and the others apparently possess free will, the sheer similarity in outcome suggests that their actions have been closely controlled.

2) Neo is genetically engineered

The powers inherent to "The One" have been bred into him. The end result is to create a human that a new batch of malcontents will find messianic. Their ultimate aim is to "discover" Zion (after it's been rebuilt by the machines) and to act as a safety valve for those that "refuse the program".

Specific evidence of this genetic manipulation can be seen from the physical similarity between Neo and the former "Ones" displayed on the screens in the Architect's chamber. The Architect makes it pretty clear that our Neo and the other "One's" are engineered, not simply selected at random from the population;

Your five predecessors were by design based on a similar predication, a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species

3) Free will is an illusion, if you remain wired into the Matrix.

People in the Matrix do indeed have free will, but only as far as THE QUESTION is concerned; whether they'll accept the Matrix as reality (in which case their actions are totally at the mercy of the machine mainframe) or whether they'll reject that reality (in which case they'll be gently prodded towards the Zionese Liberation Army).

"nearly 99.9% of all test subjects accepted the program, as long as they were given a choice"

  • 1
    "The Architect makes it clear that everything that has happened in the previous films, has happened before, not once but six previous times." Not true, the Architect specifically said his predecessors hadn't fallen in love as he had: "Your five predecessors were by design based on a similar predication, a contingent affirmation that was meant to create a profound attachment to the rest of your species, facilitating the function of the One. While the others experienced this in a very general way, your experience is far more specific. Vis-a-vis, love." To which Neo replied, "Trinity."
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 14, 2014 at 21:25
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    @Hypnosifl - Very true. The major difference is that the Oracle feels that the system is too stable and needs even more unbalancing. This time instead of leading neo straight to the Architect, she leads him to Trinity first.
    – Valorum
    Mar 14, 2014 at 21:30
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    What scene do you mean by "she leads him to Trinity first"? He was already in love with Trinity by the end of the first movie, I don't recall the Oracle playing any role in that, so this suggests that what happened in the first movie can't be a repeat of what happened in earlier cycles.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 15, 2014 at 15:22
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    @Hypnosifl - The Oracle directed Trinity to Neo and told her that she'd fall in love with him. Arguably this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    – Valorum
    Mar 15, 2014 at 15:33
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    good point, I forgot that the Oracle made that prophecy to Trinity in the first movie, it's possible Trinity wouldn't have decided to help "recruit" Neo if not for the Oracle's words.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 15, 2014 at 19:10

In the same way, you could argue that humans in the real world (our real world, not matrix-real-world) may have no free will.

But to answer your question: The One just is made and then driven by its free will and his opinions and beliefs. When he meets the architect, you can actually see on the screens behind him how the other Ones reacted differently when confronted with the architect.

  • 1
    <comments removed> Take it to chat, folks.
    – user1027
    Mar 15, 2014 at 23:05

One's individual freedom is not affected in any way by the knowledge of others. You may e. g. study a virus or even bacteria well enough to know exactly what it will do in certain circumstances. This does not imply that it will lose its freedom, unless you manage to explain your knowledge of its actions to it in detail.

Thus it is extremely easy to equip any subject with free mind: it suffices to ensure that it/he/she does not know for sure what it/he/she will do in future. Even if it/he/she will know for sure future actions of others, as soon as you only do not know for sure your own future actions you are completely free.

  • I like it, think it's slightly inaccurate. Consider knowing your own genetic program from the ground up. Does this stop your free will? No, as long as someone has no total control over the entire surroundings. You can't predict your behavior from your code alone, since you still do not know what will arise in the surroundings. Example, you know for sure if someone gives you a pink ice-cream you accept it; do you know your future? No. What if noone gives you the icecream? Also consider: what if surroundings modify your code? What if your code explicitly make you give chance to do so?
    – n611x007
    Mar 19, 2014 at 18:31
  • @naxa mmm I think there is subtle difference here. If you know for sure your actions in any given circumstances then you are not free no matter whether you know actual future circumstances or not. Because then no matter what happens your actions will be knowingly uniquely determined for you. On the contrary, even if you do know future circumstances but do not know what you will do in these circumstances, then you are completely free. Mar 19, 2014 at 18:46
  • Because then no matter what happens your actions will be knowingly uniquely determined for you. Are they? I am not sure. Because that could mean that your reaction to knowing your own code is foreknown, however, then, the reaction to that must be also known in advance, etc., for infinity. May Gödel's incompleteness theorems be relevant here?
    – n611x007
    Mar 19, 2014 at 18:52
  • Also, notice the other little question: what if your code dictates that, in case your surroundings want to modify your very code, you must allow it - thus effectively losing your 'pre-achieved' foresight of your own code?
    – n611x007
    Mar 19, 2014 at 18:57
  • This is a different matter. I claimed that in order to lose freedom (A) I have to know all my possible reactions for sure (B). As soon as B fails, also A fails. Another question is whether B is possible at all. Maybe not. Then also A will be totally impossible. Mar 19, 2014 at 19:14

Short Answer : No.

Long Answer (It could get long, but I will try to keep it as short as possible ) :

1st of all, people in the matrix originally (as in at birth and in general life after birth) do not have a free mind, cause if they did they would be able to do what Neo does by default (Morpheus: Free your mind, Neo. Neo: Free my mind. That's right, free my mind. Okey dokey).

Therefore, yes IF people had a free mind then the "emergence" of The One would be "a totally random event" infact the system would crash under the circumstance coz everyone would "potentially" (see how the word is used in the Movie, and the games) be the one. But only a select few have the ability to see beyond the ball and chain programming of the matrix and break free (as in "Free their mind"). The more you are able to bend the chain (the rules) the more closer you are to the ability of The One, and if you break the chain then you are The One and everything below follows (just like the six previous versions of the Matrix; explained below).

Even The One is just another method of control like The Oracle and the System, because he is accounted for and used like a Trojan Horse unbeknownst even to himself until he meets the Oracle in the third part and she tells him.(Oracle:Because it wasn't time for you to know. Neo:Who decided it wasn't time? Oracle: You know who. [She points at the Temet Nosce sign above the door])

And as a statistical genius that the architect is and in turn the machines and The Oracle are (shown time and again in the movies, how the oracle can predict what might the outcome be) they have gathered that once The One has emerged and "freed" the rest of the anomalies, it would be time for destroying Zion or the system would crash as the number of anomalies increase exponentially after the "Emergence"(Morpheus: We have freed more minds in the last six months the we have in the past six years.). For this purpose they also have taken into account all possible responses that this One anomaly would have to all the different situations, emotions etc. and you can see it in the screens as The Architect analyzes them while providing just the right information that is needed by him to get the right response.

Statistically The One, being human, would have sympathy towards his species and would want its survival and would comply with need of the machines i.e to let Zion be destroyed and the Matrix restarted after choosing 16 females and 7 males.

There is a lot more where that came from, but like I said I am trying to keep it short.

EDIT: TO hell with short...

Now if you have read/watched any of the Wachowski Brothers interviews about the movie you may know that they have borrowed heavily from the Hindu (Old/Original Name: Sanātan).

According to Sanātan Philosophy the entire creation is Nothing but Maya (Illusion), and we humans (our Souls, Atma) are like prisioners in this illusion and once we realize this fact, we take the Path to Self Realization (Know Thyself). And only after complete realization (Mind Freeing) will we actually Merge with the Param Atma (The Source of Creation)

Keeping that in mind, know that in the Hindu Philosophy there are three parts to the cosmos, The Holy Trinity, consisting of The Creator, Brahma; The Maintainer/Caretaker, Vishnu (AKA Hari); and The Destroyer, Siva (AKA Shiv, Shiva, Rudra (Old/Original Name);

Now Brahma is one who created the cosmos. In the beginning he created a world where there was no death. Everyone was happy and well fed, the perfect world. But soon it all turned into chaos as it would if there was no death and people kept reproducing also after a while being well fed and nothing to worry about does get mundane. Therefore he created Vishnu and Rudra; One to maintain and One to Destroy (and thus recreate).

When Rudra, The Destroyer/Recreator was told what duty he would be performing he wild with rage, but was pacified by Vishnu when He explained to Rudra that in essence His role was that of a Recreator as Recreation cannot occur without Destruction.

This is the essence of the relationship that The Architect, The Oracle and Neo (The One) shared; they are the Trinity (see how the name Trinity is used in the movie; that Neo was is love with and that which mattered to him the most).

P.S.: There is even more...

Source: The Mahabharata, The Bhagvat Gita, The Ramayana, Ravan Samhita, Shiv Purana, Vishnu Purana,


What is free will if the machines plan all parts of existence? You might feel like Zion ever stood a chance, but the machines just tricked you too!

Remember how Neo stopped the machines (like he usually stops bullets) in "the real world"? Turns out the Zion thing was just another Matrix layer. What's really out there? Who knows? Can you even be sure they're still alive, instead of simulated?

The question that sticks with me is: "Why does Neo look the same in all 7 iterations?". Surely unless he's a clone he cannot look the same. It makes more sense to consider the system as a whole just restarts every so often because the era has the right amount of suffering. The remaining imperfection makes the reboots required.

  • We know that the machines breed people and from "Goliath" we learn that they have advanced genetic manipulation skills. Why couldn't he be a clone?
    – Valorum
    Mar 15, 2014 at 15:34
  • Because he's supposed to be more of a "known and expected bug" and a legend and prophecy than a "cog in the system". It just seems very... offensive that something out-of-matrix (the breeding) is producing an essential part of it's soft-running.
    – Lodewijk
    Mar 16, 2014 at 21:36

tldr: Do people in the Matrix have a free mind? yes it is possible, since the Machines' control over the arrival of the One is less strict than you may think (given the explanation of your question).

I think you made too many assumptions. Consider your central deduction: If The One is selected by Matrix, then people do not have a free mind.

Now consider this: what if the individual, with free will, is allowed to choose to be the One, and the Matrix simply waits until someone does so?

edit The Architect says:

whereby nearly ninety nine percent of all test subjects accepted the program as long as they were given a choice

If ~99% accepts the program and 1% rejects, that 1% still makes a choice, thus using their free will (as well as the others, for that matter). Their choice may lead to someone eventually becoming the One. The machines do not have the same level of control on this, but they can expect it:

While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected and thus, not beyond a measure of control

edit 2 Why does the Architect think that the One would emerge from Zion? Who knows. But consider how hard it is to exit from the Matrix. They may deliberately make it so hard, in order to assure that the freed people either die due to the Agents or, well, gain such powers as the One.

edit 3 you may say that using free will for something that is still 'controlled', or rather, manipulated, is not 'true' free will. You may not be alone with that feeling. The Merovingian says:

Wrong. Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without.

Still, allowing people to choose to reject is technically the facilitation of free will - that's it.

So the Architect knowing, or rather, expecting, that the One will eventually emerge is not actually contradictory with the concept of free will, not this way, for sure.


Free will and choice are at the heart of the entire series. Whether or not they exist in real life are red herrings; it's akin to wondering whether or not transporters are real because they appear in Star Trek, or that beings which live under a red sun would really exude fantastic powers when living under a yellow sun.

The Architect reveals that the only way to prevent the humans from 'waking up' persistently while wired to the Matrix is to offer them a choice to accept it as real.

The Architect: As I was saying, [the Oracle] stumbled upon a solution whereby nearly ninety-nine percent of the test subjects accepted the program provided they were given a choice - even if they were only aware of it at a near-unconscious level. While this solution worked, it was fundamentally flawed, creating the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly, that, if left unchecked, might threaten the system itself. Ergo, those who refused the program, while a minority, would constitute an escalating probability of disaster.

Neo: This is about Zion.

Let's imagine for a moment than the Matrix contains a simple try/except. In computer programming, a try/except or a try/catch is implemented (among other reasons; too numerous to mention) in order to either keep a program running when there's an error, or to quit out with detailed information for someone to correct the issue. If we imagine, then, that the digital aspects of the humans in the Matrix are required to accept the reality of the Matrix in order to ensure it plays out correctly, we could imagine pseudo-code that looks rather similar to this:

if two_objects_collide(object_one, object_two):
        impact_force = object_one.velocity * object_one.mass    #don't ride me too hard on this, it's been a while since Applied Physics
            apply_force_to_object(object_two, impact_force)
        except AcceptException:        #because remember, non-acceptance is an error, not an attribute
            apply_force_to_object(object_one, impact_force)

So what does this do -- this just looks for a condition to be true (two objects colliding, which I hear happens fairly often in real life) and then goes on to apply force from one object to the other. The program will try to apply that force to the other object, and since we expect to be able to regularly just do this (bird hit windshield, ball hit bat, sandwich hit floor, and so on) then most of the time this'll 'just work'.

Oh, but those lousy humans who don't fully accept the program! We already know they cannot be forced to accept the results of this action; forcing the Matrix on people causes issues like wake-ups and other instabilities. So the program catches the error; only it does so by (for example) applying the force of the object onto itself. It isn't terribly realistic, but it's handling the error, and it's probably keeping several other things in check as well -- maybe there are conservation of energy methods making sure that things don't just gain momentum without force acting on them, or making sure that friction is correctly accounted for, or even a method which notes when to transfer energy to heat. So in order to keep complicated systems working correctly, the only option here is to do something with that force.

I think this is a fair example actually, because it frames the notion that 'some people got it, and some people don't'. It isn't as if everyone has an equal level of ability once they're outside the Matrix. Forget Neo for a second; Mouse and Cypher were honestly pretty useless inasmuch as their bullet time feats were concerned, when compared to Trinity or Morpheus who were both willing and able to contend with Agents if need be. So it could be surmised that nearly every action in the Matrix, in order to succeed, is inextricably tied to a similar try/catch; the Matrix's countless controllers try to apply countless functions to the humans inside, and as long as they 'just work', everything's peachy. Neo is referred to as the 'Integral Anomaly'. Integral; meaning he is not 'partially' anomalous as we might derive other freed humans to be, he is entirely anomalous. To the Machines, he's a bad bit of code that throws a lot of exceptions.

Here's the thing about a program exception - they're not just annoying, they're typically detrimental. You can't just swallow every last exception in a program; what if you accidentally create a situation where something tries to divide by zero, for example? Computers famously don't like dividing by zero. What about running out of memory? I have no idea how much memory is required to even run the Matrix, and it doesn't really matter - if memory usage gets up too high in any computer system, things crash. What about an unresolvable paradox - two Red-Pill-like objects that are equally unwilling to accept actions taken against themselves in the Matrix. Can the Matrix handle an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object?

The Architect alludes to 'by design' and 'measures of control' and so on; contextually I believe it's safe to say these were external forces in his life which led him down this path. There isn't really any evidence that the Matrix altered Neo's genetics; they can only attempt to lockdown the minds of the individuals within. So they create situations which should foster feelings in the inhabitants that direct their lives towards something which the Machines can anticipate, something they can attempt to control.

The choice aspect of the Matrix is a giant concession which the Architect is not pleased about, and states that the emergence of an Integral Anomaly is 'assiduously avoided' whenever possible. They don't want to see a One emerge; its existence makes it easier for the other humans to start throwing exceptions!

  • Lots of text, but very little by way of an actual answer.
    – Valorum
    Mar 15, 2014 at 18:51
  • @Richard - something derived from information in the movie wherein issues of free will and choice are stated time and again as being CENTRAL to the plot - the problem IS choice - don't describe an answer, but two paragraphs about "it doesn't matter, because attractors" raises no brows. Makes perfect sense
    – Stick
    Mar 16, 2014 at 0:26
  • Not least because the accepted answer is (imho) plain wrong :-) It's made very clear that "the One" is injected into the system by the machine mainframe. The idea of attractors is attractive (no pun intended) but doesn't fit with the film canon.
    – Valorum
    Mar 16, 2014 at 0:32
  • I think it's clear that the PREVIOUS One is injected into the next iteration of the Matrix in order to maintain The Prophecy, but this is not at all the same as a One manifesting. The Architect uses the word 'emergence' to describe the One's coming into being, and blatantly says that they try to avoid the One's arrival at all. Allusions to 'control' and 'by design' don't suggest he was created intentionally by the Machines for this purpose. Perhaps I have missed a detail - can you enlighten me on where the films state the creation of an Integral Anomaly is at all intentional...?
    – Stick
    Mar 16, 2014 at 1:01
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    What other possible explanation could there be for the phrase "Your five predecessors were by design based on a similar predication" if not that The One's existence is planned for? When they spot that Zion is getting too big, they insert a "The One", he rescues 30(ish) blue pills and they disappear over the Horizon. Meanwhile, the machines kill everyone in Zion, repair the damage and The One's followers 'rediscover' the city a few years later.
    – Valorum
    Mar 16, 2014 at 1:14

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