Human Nature, Society, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullWhat do zombies, mad scientists, human identity, and dualism have in common? Why, they are all themes of the movie the Empire of Corpses. This thought-provoking movie, as I explained in my previous post, has many excellent philosophical concepts woven through its fantastical plot line and setting. But while I touched on the surface of human identity and dualism, there are still more topics. In this post, I will discuss identity, human nature, and society.

One thing that never changes is human nature. On the contrary, our societies are constantly changing around us, evolving to fit our needs. Luckily, we can call to the great minds of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and Postmodernism to help dissect Man. One of the main antagonists of EoC is Sherlock Holmes strangely enough. Holmes is a corrupt government agent that wishes to create the “perfect society.” In translation, he wishes to rid mankind of all emotions to obviate violence and conflict. After his plans are foiled the secondary antagonist, the One, will use Frankenstein’s notes to link the dead and living under a single consciousness. We can split this up easily by comparing the One to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Sherlock to Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes’ most influential idea was the Leviathan. He explained that humans are selfish and will do whatever benefits them most. To keep everything in order, a collective society would have to be made. Thomas called this society the Leviathan. Perhaps the One is trying to create a single society that would get rid of inequality. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought the opposite of his British contemporary saying that man was naturally peaceful and able to exist in harmony. It was only when we formed societies that conflict arose. Our strict morals and laws limited our say and freedom. By removing conflict, Sherlock promises equality. Now that we are looking at this in a brighter light, we must further unravel human nature to find out who the real antagonist is. Niccolo Machiavelli, synonymous with deceit and treachery, was a political philosopher who could be described as cynical, for his views certainly were. In the Prince, Machiavelli describes Man as, “They are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely.” Obviously, we can see some rationale for both Holmes and the One. Let us go even deeper by examining Habermas, Heidegger, and Foucault. Jürgen Habermas’ public spheres were conducive to progressions in technology in communication in society. The classes of a society would allow changes and freedom. In addition, Michael Foucault urged the idea that humanity was a social construct and purely of our creation. Our ancestors would not be able to communicate with us, he corroborated. With these two philosophers, we now know that if these two bad guys in the movie were to alter humanity, it would most likely be for the worst. Not only would society retrograde, but it would no longer be able to produce a meaning. Lastly, we must look at Martin Heidegger. Heidegger was an existentialist and expanded upon the meaning of being human. Pretty much, like any existentialist, Martin conceived the state of being as the ability to question ourselves. He also said that as soon as we are born, we have the innate instinct to set goals.

The third and final part of this trilogy will come out soon. The question remains: Who is truly the villain here? John Watson for pursuing his unachievable ambitions and sacrificing the lives of innocents? Sherlock Holmes for wanting to rid humanity of fear and hatred? Or the One for wanting to bring society together?

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

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Identity, Dualism, and the Empire of Corpses

2d4aad587e07cd65b78984f85fb028531417110767_fullI am not one for anime movies, but over the weekend, I saw The Empire of Corpses. Surprisingly, it was not half that bad. A quick plot summary is as follows (spoilers of course): The 19th century is dominated by the corpse technology that allows the dead to be reanimated. John Watson, our main character, must find Victor Frankenstein’s notes in order to get his best friend’s soul back. Unfortunately for him and his team, there are others in search of the notes for their own needs. This sounds like your average zombie action adventure movie; however, my friends and I were able to uncover the hidden philosophy dealing with metaphysics and morality behind the film.

Let us first deal with the elephant in the room: why re-animate corpses from the dead? To anyone in their right mind, it sounds like a horrible idea. The engineers dealing in “corpse technology” give the bodies artificial souls which, like hypnosis, are prone to suggestion. So, the industrial revolution is revolutionized with dead laborers. This brings up the question of the soul and identity. Friday, John Watson’s zombie friend, has no soul, so Watson wants to find the notes in order to truly bring back his departed friend. We must ask ourselves, “What makes us us?” Again, we are approached by Réne Descartes, Avicenna, Derek Parfit, and Nick Bostrom’s philosophies. The first three were engaged in dualism, debating whether our identities are determined by our spiritual soul or our physical body. In order to find out if Friday really has a soul, we must explain the mind-body problem. Avicenna imagined a flying man. Suspended in the air with all senses blocked off, Avicenna figured that he would know he existed despite the inability to feel, hear, or taste anything. It is kind of like Descartes’ cogito ergo sum. Both Descartes and the Persian scholar agree that the mind is a separate entity that exists in harmony with the body. Derek wondered who he would be if he and an exact, hypothetical replica of himself were transported to Mars. Derek and John Locke reasoned that although they shared the same memories and bodies, their identities were determined by the different experiences. Nick Bostrom then poses the question of what makes us different from A.I. Is Friday still Friday just because he was brought back to life? Does he retain his memories and sense of identity? According to Bostrom and the preceding profiles, no. As I discuss Nick’s philosophy, replace “A.I.” and “simulation” with “corpse” to better understand John Watson’s ambitions. Bostrom noticed the meteoric growth of technology and began to question whether humans would be replaced by artificial intelligence. He claimed that yes, the possibility of machines replacing us is all too real. Similarly, in Empire of Corpses, the dead begin to replace the living. If Watson were to preserve Friday’s brain and upload it to a computer or another corpse, would it still be Friday? What is the distinction between man and machine? What distinguishes us from mindless zombies? There is no real answer, which is why this question is so prevalent and still plagues philosophers today. Perhaps what differentiates man from machine is the ability to think. Sure, simulated A.I. can solve problems, but they cannot think practically and in advance. Without our ability to think and question, we are all mere machines… or corpses. 

 

For further reading: Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought by Tom Jackson (2014)

The Matrix and The Giver

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In my previous posts, I juxtaposed the philosophies of The Giver to those of Plato, Socrates, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. However, there is another theme I noticed that builds upon this theme of philosophy: Skepticism. The famous movie The Matrix utilizes a similar plotline to that of Lois Lowry’s dystopian setting.

It has been several years since I have seen The Matrix franchise, but after reading a summary and multiple analyses of its philosophy, I will do my best to interpret its connection (I could write a whole post on The Matrix’s philosophical influences, but I have chosen not to). One major theme that both works share is, like I said, skepticism. Knowing what is real from simulation plays a key role in The Matrix. Neo is the few that sees the world for how it really is. As with Jonas, everyone around him is living a simulation–a reflection of the true world. The notorious “simulation theory” that states all of us are being controlled in a computer simulation can be found in both the book and the movie. When Neo is released from the mainframe and enters the real world, he is no longer imprisoned in his ignorance. Likewise, Jonas, as he gathers more and more wisdom and memories, finds himself exiting the simulation. He, like Neo, is able to escape from this false reality. I read an interesting New York Times post as well as a brilliantly written SparkNotes article that, in a fashion similar to mine, compares the Matrix to Socrates, Plato, and Descartes (I highly recommend reading my first two The Giver posts and my post on Descartes for more insight). One thing all three of these philosophers have in common is uncertainty; skepticism. Both articles that I mentioned use Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and theory of Forms. Something they said, which I seem to have missed, is Descartes’ “Evil Genius.” The Matrix itself is that little devil inside our heads that has been misleading us this whole time. Unfortunately, Neo cannot blame his peers for believing lies, because Descartes claims we are all living a dream. A simulation.

Another concept that the Wachowskis enforced was a “resurrection.” In an interview with the folks at Movie City News, Lana Wachowski said about the first film, “Neo goes from being in this sort of cocooned and programmed world, to having to participate in the construction of meaning to his life.” Pretty deep, huh? In the giver, we see the same exact thing happening to Jonas. The twelve-year-old boy escapes his sheltered and predestined life and finds he must give his and Gabriel’s life meaning. By forgetting his community to find the Elsewhere, Jonas has left behind his cocoon to become, metaphorically, a butterfly. It can be debated what the Elsewhere really is; it could be death itself, it could be a new start, who knows? I personally interpret it as the darker ending, but with brighter results. In terms of The Matrix, it could be the real world that Neo awakens to. Another notion I have in relation to The Giver’s ending is this concept of a paradigm shift, another intention of the Wachowskis. In agreement with other theorists, I interpret Jonas and Gabriel’s probable death as a catalyst. When Jonas finds the true world, the reality, his memories have come to life; he is in a better place. He and his “brother” may have entered Heaven, but their memories have brought change to the community. Echoing Kierkegaard and Nietzsche’s existentialism, Jonas has created a paradigm shift by going against the norm and against society for the greater good. He and Neo defied what was generally accepted to relieve the people of their ignorance. Both characters are trapped in a simulation, then they are freed to understand their worlds, only to find that they are the Ones that must make a change.

 

For further reading: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/24/movies/philosophers-draw-on-a-film-drawing-on-philosophers.html
http://www.sparknotes.com/film/matrix/section1.rhtml
http://moviecitynews.com/2012/10/dp30-cloud-atlas-screenwriterdirectors-lana-wachowski-tom-tykwer-andy-wachowski/
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)