The 1999 blockbuster The Matrix has provided plenty of great lines to popular culture, from “buckle your seatbelt Dorothy” to “dodge this”. But perhaps one of the most enduring has been “a glitch in the Matrix”, referring to the scene in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) experiences déjà vu with a black cat. His companions, more experienced in the computer-simulated reality of the Matrix, are put on edge by this, explaining to him that “déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix, it happens when they change something”.
The terms “a glitch in the Matrix” is now used often when people experience something distinctly weird – so much so, that it’s even the official name of a subreddit devoted to Fortean weirdness.
The Matrix draws from a deep well of influences, starting with the 17th century philosopher René Descartes and ending with a melting pot of popular modern culture, including Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell and the collected works of Philip K. Dick.
And it is the latter who seems to have been the origin of the idea that “déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix”. At a 1977 appearance at the Metz Science Fiction Convention in France, Dick told of his own strange experiences, including recovered memories and déjà vu – and the personal revelation that these experiences were evidence of alternative universes (relevant part begins at 3:42):
We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. We would have the overwhelming impression that we were re-living the present – déjà vu – perhaps in precisely the same way: hearing the same words, saying the same words. I submit that these impressions are valid and significant, and I will even say this: such an impression is a clue, that in some past time-point, a variable was changed – re-programmed as it were – and that because of this, an alternative world branched off.
Were the Wachowski siblings, who wrote the movie, aware of Dick’s comments? Or is the similarity between these ideas just one more example of a ‘glitch in the Matrix’…?