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In the original Matrix movie, when Neo falls off a building he receives minor injuries in the simulation. When he "wakes up" in the real world, he feels pain and when he reaches for his mouth he sees blood. He asks Morpheus how that was possible if it [the simulation] wasn't real. Morpheus tells him "his mind makes it real."

At one point when he fights Agent Smith, he coughs blood in the real world. Also, death in the Matrix results in death in real life. Is this even remotely possible? If the Matrix is anything like a dream, it doesn't make much sense. I have personally had dreams where I was shot and killed, and I am obviously still here.

Is there any scientific basis for this or is it just a (very contrived) plot device?

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    Never underestimate the power of the human mind. The pain and death could well happen, the blood probably not. I'll see if I can find something to back this up. – Kevin Dec 5 '11 at 17:07
  • A dream is a subconscious experience, regulated by the brain as its own unique environment. The Matrix is, for all intents and purposes, real, at least as far as the brain is concerned. The person is awake and the sensory data is directly stimulated in the brain. – Xantec Dec 5 '11 at 17:34
  • Both points from the mouth? Neo probably bit his lip or tongue from a muscle spasm.. – Izkata Dec 6 '11 at 0:15
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    Does this question even belong here? It seems to ask about real science, rather than SF/F. – sbi Dec 7 '11 at 11:07
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    @sbi - Agreed. This is firmly off-topic, according to our current policy. – Adamant Sep 29 '16 at 0:19
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There's really no evidence (one way or the other) to support this. The TVTropes page for Your Mind Makes It Real has a few instances in the "real life" section that generally do not support this. Namely, a lot of times, what happens in the dream is actually a result of something happening in "real life", such as breaking your arm in a dream means you were lying on it in real life, or wetting the bed in real life results in you falling into the ocean or something in a dream.

That said, the mind isn't really understood, and there are some cases of people "developing" symptoms of diseases or conditions that is often a result of hypochondrasis (where someone thinks they have a disease, but they don't). There's also varying amounts of evidence of the success (and failure) of placebos (most evidence points to a mental improvement, which can sometimes help fight the actual disease). There's also cases where people undergoing brain surgery felt someone there (even though it was a side effect of triggering the spacial areas of the brain). There's also the phantom limb sensation, where amputees feel their limbs, even though the limb is clearly gone.

So, could the mind make injuries in the Matrix appear in real life? In a physical sense, no, if someone breaks their arm in the Matrix, it isn't going to magically break in real life. In a mental sense, it really depends on how the Matrix works. If we assume that the Matrix takes over the connections between a person's body in the real world and replaces that feedback sensation with only the Matrix, then it's possible that someone could experience some side effects of injuries in the Matrix in real life. Namely, if someone dies in the Matrix, it could result in their body in real life shutting down, as a result of shock, a heart attack, or simply the mind "giving up" and shutting itself down. Other physical side effects, though, are likely fake, or a result of the real life body jerking around (as Jeff's answer says, Neo probably bit his lip when he fell).

In real life, we don't die in real life when we die in dreams because, on some level, we understand that it's a dream, and not real. In the Matrix, that fact might not hold true, so it's possible that dying in the Matrix would still equal dying in real life.

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    Furthermore, our bodies are adapted to a degree specifically to protect against this possibility - we are generally paralyzed while asleep. I say "generally" because of hypnagogic jerks, and, of course, sleepwalking. We are adapted specifically to separate what happens to our bodies physically from what's going on in our mind (in dreams, at least). – Chris B. Behrens Dec 5 '11 at 21:03
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    "In real life, we don't die in real life when we die in dreams because, on some level, we understand that it's a dream, and not real." I disagree. We don't die in real live because dreams really aren't real; whether we understand that or not has little or nothing to do with it. It's conceivable that a sufficient emotional shock could kill you, but it's more likely that you'd just wake up. – Keith Thompson Dec 5 '11 at 21:31
  • @Keith That's kind of what I said, just phrased differently. For a lot of people, it's hard to know when you're dreaming, and sometimes, you'll think that a dream felt really real even after you wake up. I guess my point is that, if the Matrix is a "better" version of a dream, such that it is impossible to tell the difference, then dying in the Matrix might cause death in real life. Dying in a dream is different, since (for whatever reason), you know to wake up. – thedaian Dec 5 '11 at 22:45
  • I don't think trauma is possible, but bleeding may be possible through rupturing of capillaries due to a psychosomatic trigger (think of blushing). The movie never shows actual wounds -- only blood, which may come from internal hemorrhaging rather than an open wound. – HNL Dec 6 '11 at 3:13
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    @thedaian I took your statement to mean that we don't die because we understand it isn't real. I argue that that though that may be true, it isn't the reason; we (probably) wouldn't die even if we didn't understand, on any level, that the dream isn't real. It's the actual objective unreality of the dream, not our understanding of it, that keeps us from dying in real life. – Keith Thompson Dec 6 '11 at 5:02
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I'm sure that, since your mind is disconnected from your body - transferred to the program, death is possible. It's unrealistic that your physical body would die instantly when you died in the Matrix as your brain would have to be keeping your lungs going and heart pumping while you were inside. So the instant body death is a plot device - if the mind were to die in the Matrix, the body would likely be in a persistent vegetative state.

The physical injuries, however, don't carry over to the real world, excepting the incident you mention. I think it's worth pointing out that nowhere else in the movies does someone see a physical effect of their in-Matrix injuries, not even later in the first movie.

The most logical explanation is that - while falling in the jump program - Neo bit his lip. It's consistent with later, when we see his physical body jerking during his beating at Smith's hands - some unconscious movement of the body is possible.

  • He also coughs blood in a fight against Smith later in the first movie. – Royal Flush Dec 5 '11 at 16:55
  • @NullUserExceptionఠ_ఠ: True...could be another lip-biting. I'll look at it again later and see. – Jeff Dec 5 '11 at 17:03
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    Maybe Neo had undiagnosed lung disease, which is why he coughed up blood. – Xantec Dec 5 '11 at 17:28
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It has been proven that when a group is given "medicine", that is actually something like water, their mind believes they are taking medicine, and they get better.

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    This doesn't explain how the mind can create an injury. It only explains how the mind (i.e. mental state) can help the healing process. – gnovice Dec 5 '11 at 20:07
  • But it proves that "mind" can affect your body... Same could work in reverse? This is only what I thought of course... – varesa Dec 5 '11 at 20:12
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    I am well aware of placebo effects, but this (the Matrix) is entirely different, since it has an instantaneous and much more drastic effect (eg: death) than placebo medications. – Royal Flush Dec 5 '11 at 20:12
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    The placebo effect does not actually heal people with actual diseases. At best, it works in conjunction with traditional treatments as a method of keeping someone going. At worst, it results in people dying from their disease. – thedaian Dec 5 '11 at 20:16
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    Some placebos work by affecting the cognitive parts of the brain, which in turn stimulates those parts of the brain that produces hormones, resulting in real physiological changes. It does prove that our thoughts affect the brain and the brain affects the body, but it does not prove that it can create localized wounds. – HNL Dec 6 '11 at 3:18
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There is no evidence that if the mind believes it has an injury, that that injury will present. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that if you think you broke your arm, it can break your arm.

However, the mind is attached to the rest of your nervous system, and that nervous system can do damage. In the case of diseases such as tetanus, you can actually contract your jaw muscles with so much intensity as to shatter teeth. The mind has quite a bit of control over the heartrate and blood pressure, and it certainly controls breathing. It would be reasonable for the mind's response to it's perceived injury could do actual damage, though there's no guarantee that that the damage would be the same injury that was perceived.

In medicine, we induce comas in some heavily injured patients because, if they were awake, their actions would hurt their body enough to kill them. We keep the mind unconscious until the body has finished healing enough that it can withstand the actions innervated by the mind.

It is plausible that the Matrix taught people to want to mirror their injury into real life, so that when they break their arm in the Matrix, their mind actively reaches out and tries to break their arm in real life. However, there is no in-world justification for this conjecture, and no real life justification either.

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