Froborr d'Wiggy (froborr) wrote,
Froborr d'Wiggy

Otakon Report, Part the First: The Phenomenology of Shinji Ikari

Easily the most interesting panel I attended was "The Phenomenology of Shinji Ikari," hosted by a triad of yaoi fangirls with philosophy degrees.

Their yaoi fandom had no real impact on the panel, I just note it because it amuses me. Only at a con, right?

Anyway, the discussion of NGE was virtually nil, which is good, because at this point I am quite satisfied with my understanding of NGE and frankly starting to get a little bored of it. Mostly they talked about Full Metal Alchemist, Utena, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the Hegelian model of history, and Kant's Knight of Faith.

They pretty much summed up for me that anime, like literature in general, is chock-full of philosophy I disagree with*, but it did at least finally compel me to pick up a copy of The Critique of Pure Reason. I haven't actually cracked it yet, but I bought it.

Anyway, probably the most interesting thing they brought up was also, as far as I can recall, the only testable idea in the whole panel, namely the idea of a system of color symbology in Utena. I intend to test this; basically, if I can find a threshold of significance above which more than 95% of color usage corresponds to the system they proposed (with a minimum threshold that any occurrence of corner-roses and the hair color of any duelist are significant), I will consider the theory established. Of course, I intend to test this by viewing the anime again. The correspondences they claim are laid out below:

Green (Saionji) is memory and the past.
Blue (Miki) is idealism.
Yellow (Nanami) is the Princess.
Orange (Juri) is the miraculous.
Red (Touga) is power and control.
White is the Prince.
Black/Purple is corruption.
Pink is Utena herself.

They posited that each of these colors represents something Utena needs to become the Prince, with White the ultimate goal. Red, in this view, is the closest to the Prince, which is why Utena is pink (halfway between the incomplete Touga and the full Prince) and why Touga, of all the student council, is closest to Akio.

It's a cute theory, and I'd like for it to be true, but I must test it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty cool panel, and I ended up chatting with the panelers (what do you call people who run a panel?) and a couple of other attendees for several hours. I recall a particularly heated debate that arose from a mention of Gnosticism -- the leader of the panel dismissed it as a heresy, and I countered that there was no particular reason, from an unbiased perspective, to prefer the Council of Nicea's consensus over any other interpretation of Christianity before or since. I forget how exactly we got into that.

In the course of that debate she pulled out a particularly silly "proof" of God: that God would necessarily be a being so great that disbelief in it would be impossible, and that therefore if one does not believe in God one is failing to envision the concept properly.

To take this view apart: first, the initial claim, that God would necessarily be so great that belief in it would be impossible, has no basis. Even assuming we are talking about the philosophical God (as opposed to a deity of any particular religion), the sum of all superlatives, there is still no reason to assume that disbelief in it would be impossible. Unless one begs the question by assuming a valuation system in which compelling belief is better than not compelling belief, I see no particular reason to think that encountering an infinitely [insert everything "good" here] being would necessarily cause one to believe it was real. On encountering a being which appeared to be infinitely good, powerful, knowledgeable, etc., the response of most people would be to test its limits in order to confirm it was as it appeared -- in other words, to doubt it.

Second, conception is not the same as belief. Conceiving of a being which causes incredible thirst to any in its vicinity does not actually cause me to feel thirsty. Almost certainly, on some level, some small part of myself believes I am thirsty, but my overall gestalt is of non-thirst.

Third, belief is not proof. Even if merely conceiving of the above being were sufficient to cause me to believe in it, that in itself is not proof that it exists. Most people believe at least some untrue statements, and we know some untrue statements are quite compelling (for example, dehumanizing statements about other tribes).

Even convincing me that I should believe something is not equivalent to convincing me that it is true. For example, I have been persuaded that believing in agency is a good idea, even though there is no actual evidence of a qualitative difference between the stimulus-response of a simple cell and the complex cogitation of a human. Agency is actually an excellent example, since there is a case to be made that disbelieving in agency is impossible for a human being (e.g., that regardless of philosophical stance humans will always behave as if they and at least some entities around them are possessed of agency), yet there is, as I said, no evidence that "agency" is anything other than the complex concatenation of an enormous number of utterly non-mystical chemical reactions.

*This is utterly unsurprising. Reality is interesting in its details, but quite uninteresting philosophically. All the interesting philosophical questions arise from fictitious creations, like free will, the self, morality, and so on. In other words, to be philosophically interesting, an idea must be untrue (either false or lacking in truth value).
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