The Enlightenment Pill Cycle
Unless you have been living under a rock for a while, you have probably heard of the Blue Pill and the Red Pill. These concepts were popularized by the Matrix movies.
In the first Matrix movie, where Morpheus, the mysterious man who has figured out the deepest puzzle of the world, says the following about the two pills:
The Blue Pill: “The world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
The Red Pill: (The realization that) “you are a slave. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage. Born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.”
The Matrix movie takes these concepts literally. But smart people can see that they can be taken metaphorically and then they become a lot more powerful and meaningful.
Let us see what I mean by taking them metaphorically.
(But before we get into that, let me provide a disclaimer. The terms Blue Pill and Red Pill have taken on political significance, and the currently popular view is that the Blue Pill represents popular left wing thinking and the Red Pill represents right wing thinking. I am not referring to this meaning. I would like to step a little above the fray and focus on the general idea of being in a prison you cannot smell or taste or touch, and realizing that and waking up from it. It is easy to see that this sort of a thing has happened many times before, with various ideas and doctrines that used to be popular at one point which were then proven to be “wrong” and society moved on to other ideas. The people living in those times probably went through the same “Red Pilling” process i.e. being rudely awakened by a deeper truth. So, in this general context, Red Pilling is not meant to refer to left or right wing thinking.)
The Blue Pill
Essentially the Blue Pill refers to the beautiful or safe lies that society, your parents, friends, school, workplaces, and media have told you about the world. The lies may not always be sinister. At a minimum they keep the peace and keep the world working smoothly. At their worst, they really trap people into prisons for their minds that they can’t escape from. But, also, at their best, they can create a utopian vision of what the society prevalent at the time really wants the world to be. It can take our best hopes and dreams, about fairness, equality, justice, peace, beauty, and so on and give us ideas, rules, customs etc. based on them. Most of us, unless we have had a bad childhood, learn these lies during our childhood itself and take them for granted for a long time. You could say that the Blue Pill gets administered to us early in life.
The Red Pill
As we grow older, we start to realize that some of these concepts that we have been taught don’t always hold true in the real world. What we were told as “facts” or “self evident truths” were actually just opinions of people who came before us.
This sort of “Red Pilling” can occur all by itself, as in life teaching you a lesson, or it may happen as a result of someone you trust and respect convincing you about it.
Once a person takes the red pill, they start to see more and more instances of it everywhere. They start to see the world “the way it is”, not how they were told it was.
This, of course, is both, enlightening as well as very disappointing for most people, at least in the beginning. Everything they had known until then, every belief, hope, strategy, mode of behavior, relation, they had known until then becomes suspicious. The comfort and safety they felt in that delusion disappears. They are forced to reevaluate everything in the harsh light of this newly discovered truth, and it takes time to adjust to it.
To use the Matrix analogy, this would be the part of the movie where, after Neo has woken up on the Nebuchadnezzar, he starts to realize that the life outside the Matrix is really hard and dull. The food sucks, the living arrangements are spartan, the clothes look like they came from the thrift store.
This of course is very hard for most people to take. And that brings us to the Black Pill.
The Black Pill
Taking the Black Pill means the weight of the truth one has discovered after taking the Red Pill has become too heavy to bear. Some people may despair, and some will somehow trudge on. They start understanding and believing in concepts like “acceptance”, “it is what it is” etc. that they used to disregard or misunderstand before.
In the Matrix movie, Neo has a brush with the Black Pill when he gets flabbergasted inside the Construct program and starts shouting “let me out of here!” and “this can’t be real”. An even stronger example is that of Cypher who is so far gone into the the clutches of the Black Pill that he is willing to betray everyone to get back into the Matrix.
But, like Neo, the brave people continue their journey further. It may take a while, but some of them start to see a new dawn start to emerge. This brings us to the White Pill.
The White Pill
Taking the White Pill means one starts to see a new ray of hope through the darkness of the Black Pill. This hope is different from the Blue Pill version of hope though. It is on much firmer ground. And one will have understood why it is on firm ground. It won’t be just an innocent belief.
This is because the process of going through the Red Pill and the Black Pill has given one ample opportunity to process the dark truth, the reason why things are the way they are. It would have helped them adjust their mental models and maybe their skill set and and life strategies for dealing with the world. And with that, a new wisdom may dawn on them that lets them see a path forward. A new kind of hope.
And realizing that they are on firmer ground will help them believe in that hope a lot stronger and they will be able to push harder to achieve it. It might not take them to the same goals and dreams that the Blue Pill promised. They will have much stronger and much more believable goals that are more in tune with their capabilities and the reality of the world. In that way, the goal will be more plausible. And even more importantly, it will be truly “theirs” rather than a function of the societal beliefs and customs that they were obeying earlier.
Once gain, looking at the Matrix movies, this is the part where Neo finally starts to realize his newfound powers. He starts to dodge bullets and move around like the agents. And he sees what he has to do.
(Please note that while the terms Blue Pill and Red Pill have been around for a few years and their meanings have consolidated in the popular culture, the terms Black Pill and White Pill are still relatively new and their meanings haven’t consolidated as much. If you go to different blogs, you may see different interpretations. But I am betting that the world will eventually consolidate around the meanings I have used above. This isn’t just hubris on my part, I have a strong basis for it, which will become clearer down below.)
The story doesn’t end there though.
The Pill Cycle
As you continue your journey after taking the White Pill, climbing to newer heights, things will start to become formalized, routinized again. Habits will form, biases will creep in, your confidence will start building. And once again, you may encounter new life lessons or new ideas or new people that will challenge your new understanding of the world. You will once again start to wonder whether you are going closer to the truth or further away from it.
This process is what I might call “bluing of the white pill”. The pill starts to turn bluish. If you don’t recognize this and just continue, it will completely turn into a new Blue Pill.
And with that, you would have completed a full Pill Cycle.
Hopefully you will recognize this and you will plunge once again into the new cycle, looking for a new Red Pill, followed by the inevitable Black Pill, and then the White Pill. Until the cycle repeats once again.
Here is a diagram that depicts this “Enlightenment Pill Cycle”, or just the “Pill Cycle” for short.:
This phenomenon, that I am calling the “Pill Cycle”, is not new. It exists in various cultures and systems under different names. It might be called the path to enlightenment, the path of creative destruction, the U curve, navigating to the other shore of the turbulent river, the hype curve, and so on. They are all instances of the same phenomenon.
Why does this happen? Why can we not escape this cycle?
It is because the ultimate truth is beyond our reach. It’s like we are all orbiting the truth and each time through the Pill Cycle is like a transition from a higher orbit into a lower orbit. All we can hope for is to get into lower and lower orbits around the truth. But we still, and must, continue this process. Because it is the process of going through the Pill Cycle and the transitions into lower and lower orbits that is the most rewarding activity in the world.
I would go one step further and say that this is the ultimate purpose of everyone’s life, whether you realize it or accept it or not! I myself believe in this and actually refers to why this blog is called “The Deepest Turtle“.
If you are one of the competitive types, then maybe you can say “the one with the lowest orbit around the truth wins!” Or, “the one who has gone through the largest number of pill cycles wins”. Game on!