The movie Matrix made a big splash in 1999, propelling Keanu Reeves to stardom. He wasn’t the producer’s first pick for the lead, Neo, a programmer who senses something in his environment is not quite right. The matrix refers to a simulated reality, created by intelligent machines. As long as the lives of the actors were contained within this vessel of distraction, their bodies energized the mechanical systems.
The dictionary confers a similar definition for the word matrix:
- an environment or material in which something develops; a surrounding medium or structure.”free choices become the matrix of human life”
Once a surrounding medium or structure looses physical form it can be challenging to see, and we can start to question if it is still there. The mimes from my youth, following the lead of the famous Marcel Marceau, would stand on Paris street corners gesturing in such a way that you could visualize the wall their elbow leaned against, or the box that encased them. See for yourself.
In mathematics a matrix is a grid of numbers, like an excel spread sheet. The numbers are arranged in such a way that they represent value descriptions for a variety of features.
Say life was simple and one could devote free time (time away from a job for money) to one of three activities. Time caring for children ‘x’, time for keeping food in the house ‘y’ and time for exercise ‘z’. Collecting hundreds of these sets would generate some baseline numbers. But soon enough sorting subgroups reveal new environments. And further investigation reveals that groups can have a variety of properties when they interact.
What we are looking for are the numbers that go astray, that vault off the charts, that tell us “This is where we need help!” The numbers will spell out an environment that we cannot see, yet we can still be confident it is defined. And as such it can help us solve for situations that leave others behind. We have to let the matrices, like the mimes, form the space for this type of calculation.