Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Avatar and philosophy

So my proposal to the forthcoming Avatar and philosophy volume was accepted!  Just like all my other official publications, its on ethics.  Specifically, what we can learn about our treatment of animals from the Na'vi. 

But I want to write about something besides animals and ethics here...  So if you haven't seen Avatar yet, and you don't want it spoiled, stop reading now.

So Jake at the end of the movie undergoes permanent relocation into his Avatar by a tree (it looks way better in the movie than this makes it sound).  Is Jake dead?  One might be inclined to say that his body is dead, but Jake isn't.  This presupposes a couple of things.... That Jake either has a soul that now inhabits his avatar, and that is why he is alive, because his soul is still around.  Or that Jake's consciousness/identity continues to persist in the avatar, and that is why he is alive.

If its the first, that Jake has a soul, then nobody really ever dies, assuming souls are the traditional immortal entity.  So we're just wrong when we say that ANYONE dies.  I think this is a little far-fetched, not to mention metaphysically problematic.  But the other alternative is just as problematic...  We could argue that Sigourney Weaver's character is not dead, just inside the aforementioned tree (I'm betting that in the future sequels [Cameron has already said he envisioned a trilogy] that she comes back via the tree).  Or we could argue that people who lose their memories or have a break in their consciousness (coma) have died and returned to the living.

It is easy to talk about biological death, but its much more difficult to talk about death of an identity...  Do identities die?  And isn't that what we normally talk about when we talk about people?  When I think of my wife, I'm not thinking of my wife's body.... I'm thinking of her identity.  Are they one and the same?  I don't think they're the same, but I find the problem of personal identity maddening on almost every level.... I guess thats why I'm so attracted to identity puzzles.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe a post on what it means to be a person and/or human?

    I remember thinking throughout the film, I AM BETRAYING MY OWN SPECIES by thinking "GO Na'Vians!!! Then I remembered and correct me if i am wrong because i have only seen the film once, the "people" of Na'vi are anthro-like creatures, so we are told. Then this got me thinking, OH! since they resemble us in so many ways this explains my betrayal of the human species... but still something seems wrong here, or maybe the word betrayal is the wrong word. In any case, I was able to relate, sympathize, understand the injustice being done to the Na'vians and this resulted in my hate, or disgust at us (us, being humans).

    I mean it seems like a mistake to claim that I am betraying the human species when I support stopping the murders of dolphins, or any other species fr that matter. So I wonder, is it the person-like qualities, physical qualities, or something else that not only makes us care, but I suppose part of a system (universe) and thus obligated to protect/persevere? My questions seems a bit all over the place... so go back to my original question since i want on a tangent a bit; what makes a person a person, or human? Because I remember in ethics the debate on the definition of what a person is, is important in determining our moral obligation to infants and non-person beings...