God’s in His Heaven–All’s Right with the World

By Jin-yeong Yi

“What is the best consolation in sorrow and in misfortune? … It is for a man to accept everything as if he had wished for it and had asked for it; for you would have wished for it, if you had known that everything happens by God’s will, with his will and in his will.”

—Seneca

“For I am already that which I seek. Whatever I seek or think I want, however long the shopping list may be, all of my desires are only a reflection of my longing to come home. And home is oneness, home is my original nature. It is right here, simply in what is. There is nowhere else I have to go, and nothing else I have to become.”

—Tony Parsons

“A man who moves with the earth will necessarily experience days and nights. He who stays with the sun will know no darkness. My world is not yours. As I see it, you all are on a stage performing. There is no reality about your comings and goings. And your problems are so unreal!”

—Nisargadatta Maharaj

“The Lord is everywhere /And always perfect: / What does He care for man’s sin / Or the righteousness of man?”

—The Bhagavad-Gita

As the world comes to an end–of another year, that is–most of us probably have our heads full with anticipation and apprehension of what lies ahead.

I’m still a pessimistic atheistic nihilist, but I like to indulge in possibilities, so please humor me by considering some ideas that I’ve been turning over in my head.

Since you are here, I invite you to take a moment to look back on the past year. Did you make any decisions you regret? Embarrassing behavior, poorly executed plans, wasted opportunities? Would you go back and change anything if you could? Now take a longer moment to look back on your life up this point as a whole, and ask yourself the same questions.

I’m probably not wrong in guessing that there were a lot of things that didn’t go your way, and that even if things went your way for the most part, you’re still not completely content–you want more of this and less of that.

Some of you may be deeply depressed–to the point where you wish to die or at least depersonalize so you can comfortably observe your life in third person.

Many commentators on Neon Genesis Evangelion complain about Shinji’s constant whining about his woes, but I’m sure most of us can sympathize to some degree: how many of us never find themselves in circumstances and situations they would rather not be in–mundane, tedious, frustrating, arduous, painful, pointless?

Doesn’t the world look awful right now? Doesn’t it look downright hopeless at times? Wars, economic depression, poverty, pollution, overpopulation, ethnic-religious-political strife, concentration camps, environmental destruction, natural disasters, child abuse, breakdown in human relationships…how many libraries can be filled with volumes on what we consider to be wrong with this world? And worst of all, doesn’t it all look meaningless? And even worse…ultimately beyond our control?

As Joseph Conrad lamented in a 1897 letter to Cunninghame Graham:

“It evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! — it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider — but it goes on knitting. You come and say: ‘this is all right; it’s only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this — for instance — celestial oil and the machine shall embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold.’ Will it? Alas no. You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tragic accident — and it has happened. You can’t interfere with it. The last drop of bitterness is in the suspicion that you can’t even smash it. In virtue of that truth one and immortal which lurks in the force that made it spring into existence it is what it is — and it is indestructible!

It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions — and nothing matters.”

Now put such judgments aside for a moment and consider this possibility: that life is a movie written and directed by a cosmic Director–call It God, or Brahman, or Consciousness, or whatever suits your fancy. Suppose that this Director is perfect–It knows exactly what each scene calls for. All of the details are impeccably balanced together. A perfect movie is in the making as we speak–and we are starring in it.

As most of us would agree, a good movie does not necessarily mean a good life for the characters. A director getting his or her way often entails a character not getting his or her way. If movie characters were capable of thinking independently, not a few of them would probably question the decisions made by a director, unable to see how all the pieces fit. If a good director knows what’s best for his or her movie, think how much truer this would be of a perfect Director.

You may not be satisfied with what you are, but as far as the Director is concerned, you are perfect for Its purposes. Your hair color is perfect. Your skin color is perfect. Your height is perfect. Your weight is perfect. Your IQ is perfect. Your knowledge is perfect. Your ignorance is perfect. Your beliefs are perfect. Your likes and dislikes are perfect. Your joys and sorrows are perfect. Your pleasures and problems are perfect. Your thought process is perfect. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. Every single decision you’ve made hitherto is perfect, and every single decision you will make hereafter will be perfect.

If your role is to succeed, you will succeed. If your role is to fail, you will fail. If your role is to die a peaceful death after a long and happy life, you will die a peaceful death (in your sleep, perhaps) after a long and happy life. If your role is to die a violent death after a short and troubled life, you will die a violent death (by your own hand, perhaps) after a short and troubled life. Either way, you will have fulfilled your role–there’s no way you cannot fulfill your role. Your every move, your every line–all of it is without flaw. No matter how insignificant you may be, you complete the picture–that is why you are here.

What you were yesterday was perfect. What you are today is perfect. What you will be tomorrow will be perfect.

If you are uncomfortable with this idea, then allow me to ask you another question: what are you, really? Are you a character in this movie? Or are you the One Who is running the show?

This blog post, written by someone whose writing skills clearly leave much to be desired, is perfect. Your opinion of this blog post, dear reader, whether it is positive or negative, in agreement or disagreement, is perfect.

I am perfect. You are perfect. The world is perfect. Life is perfect. Everything is for the best.

Whether or not we know this. Whether or not we accept this. Whether or not we are at peace with this. God’s in His heaven–all’s right with the world.

It may be so. It may not be so.

It’s possible, isn’t it?

See also:

Ramesh S. Balsekar – A Duet of One: The Ashtavakra Gita Dialogue

The Bhagavad-Gita

Meister Eckhart – Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense

I am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment 

Dennis Waite – How to Meet Yourself…and find true happiness

Paramahansa Yogananda – Why God Permits Evil and How to Rise Above It 

Suicide, Fear of Death, and Fear of the Afterlife

By Jin-yeong Yi

Cinema in Australia

“It will generally be found that, as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life. But the terrors of death offer considerable resistance; they stand like a sentinel at the gate leading out of this world. Perhaps there is no man alive who would not have already put an end to his life, if this end had been of a purely negative character, a sudden stoppage of existence.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Suicide”

What if there is an afterlife, and suicide is punished as a grave sin? This possibility doesn’t worry me all that much. Besides the fact that the probability of an afterlife is minuscule, if not minimal, reward and punishment seem rather meaningless when one considers the fact that we are ultimately not responsible for what we do. We are not responsible for what we do for the reason that we do what we do because of what we are, and we are ultimately not responsible for what we are.

“What is it restrains people from suicide, do you think?” I asked.

He looked at me absent-mindedly, as though trying to remember what we were talking about.

“I… I don’t know much yet…. Two prejudices restrain them, two things; only two, one very little, the other very big.”

“What is the little thing?”

“Pain.”

“Pain? Can that be of importance at such a moment?”

“Of the greatest. There are two sorts: those who kill themselves either from great sorrow or from spite, or being mad, or no matter what… they do it suddenly. They think little about the pain, but kill themselves suddenly. But some do it from reason—they think a great deal.”

“Why, are there people who do it from reason?”

“Very many. If it were not for superstition there would be more, very many, all.”

“What, all?”

He did not answer.

“But aren’t there means of dying without pain?”

“Imagine”—he stopped before me—”imagine a stone as big as a great house; it hangs and you are under it; if it falls on you, on your head, will it hurt you?”

“A stone as big as a house? Of course it would be fearful.”

“I speak not of the fear. Will it hurt?”

“A stone as big as a mountain, weighing millions of tons? Of course it wouldn’t hurt.”

“But really stand there and while it hangs you will fear very much that it will hurt. The most learned man, the greatest doctor, all, all will be very much frightened. Every one will know that it won’t hurt, and every one will be afraid that it will hurt.”

“Well, and the second cause, the big one?”

“The other world!”

“You mean punishment?”

“That’s no matter. The other world; only the other world.”[1]

—Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons 

There’s also another reason why I see little reason to be concerned with the possibility of punishment, and that is the fact that one searches in vain for a “Moral Law” that exists as an intrinsic part of the fabric of reality. If a “Moral Law” does exist, it is so nebulous that it seems most unlikely that one could ascertain whether suicide is “right” or “wrong” in the first place. For all we know, suicides are rewarded and non-suicides are punished in the next life. As preposterous as it may sound to most, it goes to illustrate just how ambiguous and vague this hypothetical “Law” really is.

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet 

But what of death itself? For some, like the late Peter Steele, the thought of “going nowhere” after dying is too much to bear. For these people, I have a simple thought experiment. Think back to last night, when you were lying in bed in a state of dreamless sleep. Try to recall the emotions you were experiencing during that time. Did you feel any anxiety? Any fear? Regret? Sorrow? I doubt it. Chances are, you recall nothing. You weren’t unconscious in that your body was ready to respond to external stimuli, but you were unconscious in that the movie screen in your mind was blank. You were not conscious of being unconscious, and you surely weren’t conscious of how you felt about being unconscious. In the same way, if we assume that death is absolute and permanent unconsciousness, the fear of it is as unfounded as the fear of sleep would be.

Either way, suicide only hastens what is all but completely inevitable, not bring about something that would otherwise never be. If death is nothing but a cessation of consciousness, there is nothing to fear, and if death is inevitable, there is little point in fearing it in any case. In the immortal words of Epicurus:

“Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.”[2]

Infester – Chamber of Reunion

Room of reunion… Join with the departed,
Souls trapped in a timeless sanctuary of darkness.
… Witness the secret places which shall not be perceived by man.
Talisman strung in remembrance of the dead,
Resurrect visions kept in capsules of existence.
Perception enhanced by smoke and hypnosis,
Subconscious prayers for entreaty.
… Come to call, reappear in form!
Transcending through the boundaries of ancient knowledge.
… Notice the transient beings
Which thrive on your fear,
Their meager existence I have already experienced
… Moving closer to the core,
I engulf in luminescence,
Acquired from this cerulean consumption,
The resting place of emptiness…
Where blackness robs the spirit
Chamber of reunion
… I may not return to this chamber.
From the blood, we are born of sadness…
But thy celestial spirits are breathed into me,
So I may never know.

Notes

[1] Chapter III: The Sins of Others

[2] Letter to Menoeceus

Some Thoughts About Life After Life

By Jin-yeong Yi

Illustration from the Egyptian Book of the Dead

“Please don’t think that when you die / You’ll spend eternity up high / When what you really ought to know / Is just how far your life will go”

—Atheist, “Piece of Time”

I desire an afterlife not so much because I fear death (I probably fear pain more than I fear extinction), but because I love life and would like more of it, especially if it can be lived with more freedom and more beauty.

Yesterday I finished reading Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Dr. Eben Alexander, a Harvard neurosurgeon who contracted an extremely rare and extremely deadly form of bacterial meningitis and lived to tell the tale, after spending a week in a coma—and, supposedly, paradise.

Prior to reading the book, I’d read part of Dr. Sam Harris’s critique of it[1], and had thought that it would be an interesting exercise to compare my observations with his. I think Dr. Harris and neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks make persuasive points, but since I’m not a neuroscientist, I think it will take me a long time—perhaps the rest of my life—to draw anything resembling a comprehensive conclusion regarding the nature of NDEs, and the dualism-monism debate as a whole. So for now I shall limit myself to imaginative speculation.

While I’m not convinced that Dr. Alexander’s account constitutes “proof of Heaven,” I found it to be remarkably well-written, engaging, instructive, and even awe-inspiring. Even if his experience took place entirely within his mind, it was nonetheless an amazing and unforgettable experience that would be entirely natural to cherish forever.

In his own critique of the book[2], Mark Martin wraps up by writing:

“What I can say is that Dr. Alexander’s heaven offers no comfort to me. A posthumous future where ‘You have nothing to fear’ and ‘There is nothing you can do wrong’ sounds like infinite boredom — inhuman and alienating in its contentment.”

After quoting a poem by Vladimir Nabokov, Mr. Martin continues:

“‘Proof of Heaven’ sullies the subtle, exquisite, personal and easily forgotten possessions of this sublunary world. Dr. Alexander’s pink fluffy clouds and divine orgasmatrons are a cosmic vulgarity. Thinking so, why would I commit the giant act of condescension required to imagine this vision good enough for others?”

What I got out of Mr. Martin’s critique was mainly further confirmation of the simple notion that we humans will never agree on what is good, what is beautiful, or what is desirable, whether in life or in death. That’s why I think the closest thing to a utopia we could have on Earth is a personal virtual reality simulation for each and every individual.

“I don’t think Hell exists,” says retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. “I happen to believe in life after death, but I don’t think it’s got a thing to do with reward and punishment.”[3]

It wouldn’t make much sense to me if it did. The notion that this life is some kind of moral test is quite preposterous to me, given the fact that 1) so many people are prevented from taking this “test” in the first place and 2) individuals cannot ultimately be held responsible for their actions, since they did not determine the genetic and environmental factors that account for much of their tendencies and choices from the cradle to the grave.

If there is a divine Being controlling this universe from the “outside” (wherever that is), I would imagine that He/She/It is more concerned with imparting experience rather than conducting some kind of cosmic eugenics program (i.e., separating the wheat from the chaff). It would certainly explain the scientific data better.

Remember the short-lived TV series Dead Like Me? I rather like the idea that there is a custom-made afterlife for each individual, specially tailored to his or her deepest desires and dreams that were not realized during life, and I can’t help but hope that that is precisely what we will find when it is time to depart this world.

Notes

[1] “Science on the Brink of Death” by Sam Harris 

[2] “Dr. Eben Alexander’s so-called afterlife” by Mark Martin

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SF6I5VSZVqc

Until Everything Rots in Hell

By Jin-yeong Yi

“[The] knowledge of the non-freedom of the will protects me from losing my good humor and taking much too seriously myself and my fellow humans as acting and judging individuals.”

—Albert Einstein

“Conceive, I beg, that a stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavoring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavor and deeply interested therein, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. Now such is this freedom of man’s will that everyone boasts of possessing, and which consists only in this, that men are aware of their own desires and ignorant of the causes by which those desires are determined….As this misconception is innate in all men, it is not easily conquered.”

—Baruch Spinoza

“To understand everything is to forgive everything”

—Gautama Buddha

“Pardon’s the word to all! Whatever folly men commit, be their shortcomings or their vices what they may, let us exercise forbearance; remembering that when these faults appear in others, it is our follies and vices that we behold. They are the shortcomings of humanity, to which we belong; whose faults, one and all, we share; yes, even those very faults at which we now wax so indignant, merely because they have not yet appeared in ourselves. They are faults that do not lie on the surface. But they exist down there in the depths of our nature; and should anything call them forth, they will come and show themselves, just as we now see them in others. One man, it is true, may have faults that are absent in his fellow; and it is undeniable that the sum total of bad qualities is in some cases very large; for the difference of individuality between man and man passes all measure.

In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards one another.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer, “On the Sufferings of the World”

“Happiness and misfortune, rise and fall, health and sickness, glory and dishonor, wealth and poverty; everything comes from God and must be accepted as such.”

—Elder Michael of Valaam

“Feeble, vain mortal, thou pretendest to be a free agent. Alas! dost thou not see all the threads which enchain thee? Dost thou not perceive that they are atoms which form thee; that they are atoms which move thee; that they are circumstances independent of thyself, that modify thy being; that they are circumstances over which thou hast not any controul, that rule thy destiny? In the puissant Nature that environs thee, shalt thou pretend to be the only being who is able to resist her power? Dost thou really believe that thy weak prayers will induce her to stop in her eternal march; that thy sickly desires can oblige her to change her everlasting course?”

—Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach, The System of Nature

“Everything begins with choice,” says Morpheus. I disagree, not because I think choice is an illusion (pace the Merovingian), but because I think there is something that precedes choice: predilection. The latter makes the former possible. Ultimately, our decisions are predicated on our preferences for (or inclinations toward) one outcome over another, and we certainly could not have chosen our preferences.

As someone who not only believes that free will doesn’t exist, but that it is impossible even in theory, I look upon ressentiment as being utterly empty and meaningless. I can blame and condemn people as much as I want for the “evil” that they do, but I recognize that it is mistaken to believe that the root of “evil” lies within them. The notion that it does rests on the assumption that people somehow designed their natures before coming into the world, which is absurd. It is practically tantamount to saying that acorns determine what kind of trees they will grow into, or that the apples which grow on trees choose to be fresh or rotten. In other words, people did not choose to be who they are. They did not choose their level of intelligence, physical constitution, or character. They did not choose their place of birth, which means that they did not choose the options available to them or the cultural influences that shaped them in their earliest formative years. In other words, they did not choose the initial parameters of the trajectory of their lives, which in turn proceeds via an unbroken process of cause and effect.

The futility of acting on ressentiment is a major, underlying theme of the anime series Hell Girl[1]. Someone requests the damnation of a certain person at the cost of their own soul, convinced that the permanent removal of the offending individual will pave the way for a happy life , or at least a peaceful one, when all they will have done is destroy a manifestation of conflict, not its fundamental cause (a la the classic example of the hydra and its many heads). Conflict manifests itself in an infinite variety of forms, and none of these forms are self-created. The true cause of conflict is not this or that entity, but a whole web of connections between entities. But we tend to blame the manifestations because they are readily perceivable; they have faces, unlike the unseen forces which drive them.

We see the consequences of ressentiment in our world all the time, whether they come in the form of shooting sprees, ethnic cleansing, domestic violence, individual murder, or systematic passive-aggression. These are the ramifications of the mistaken notion that people have chosen to be what they are. If there is something that bears true responsibility for the human condition, it is God–that is, the laws of nature as revealed by mathematics and science. God is the ultimate source of all pleasure and pain, all kindness and cruelty, all joy and sorrow, all love and hatred, all beauty and ugliness. God determines what is possible, what is probable, and what actually takes place, and God’s decrees are absolute. Nonetheless, if we desire change, we must act. If we desire to live in harmony as a civilization, as a species, in the brief time we are together on this earth, we have little to gain from turning on each other under the pretext of “justice.” We can start looking upon what we regard as “evil” as an illness to be cured, rather than a choice to be punished, and treat it accordingly.

Maybe unconditional forgiveness, then, is the way of the future. We might acknowledge that responsibility extends far beyond the level of the individual and learn to forgive others–as well as ourselves–unconditionally, not because we are somehow obligated to do so, but because that may be the only way humanity can break free from the age-old cycle of self-destructive hatred and start looking for methods of healing instead of vengeance. We do not have to forgive or heal. But neither do we have to withhold forgiveness and healing.

Ai Enma, the anti-heroine of Hell Girl, declares that there will be no end to resentment, that it will persist “until everything rots in Hell.” Maybe she’ll be proven to be right. But fatalism is unjustified as long as the future is uncertain. I daresay there’s still hope for us, even without free will, because we still have the capacity to learn and change our ways. We can never turn this world into Heaven, perhaps, but we can always move in that direction, away from Hell. Whether that is something we actually want or not is up to us.

Notes

[1] See Hell Girl: Two Mirrors, episode 6 and Hell Girl: Three Vessels, episodes 9-10.

Visual Novels and Real Life

By Jin-yeong Yi

“When you say that you are free to choose—say, between the train and the surface car, or between the movies and the theater—you are using rather ambiguous language. All common speech for expressing mental experiences is loose and ambiguous. You have the two alternatives—movies or theater—in your mind. You hover between them. You do not feel any compulsion to choose one or the other. Then you deliberately say to yourself—not realizing that you have thereby proved the spirituality of the soul, which has made apologists perspire for centuries—‘I choose Norma Talmadge.’

Well, let us examine it patiently. In the ordinary acts of life you behave automatically. You don your clothes and shave and eat and walk, and even work, in a mechanical way. The motive arises, by routine, at the proper moment, and the action follows. It is only in grave things—such as whether you shall go to see Norma Talmadge or Bebe Daniels—that you use your freedom. To be quite accurate—am I not right?—it is only when two or more motives seem to have about equal force that you are conscious of your freedom. If one motive, if the reason for doing one action, is palpably stronger than the reason for doing the alternative, you do not hesitate. The ‘will’ follows or acts on the stronger motive.

Why, you ask, do I put ‘will’ in inverted commas? It may shock you to know that psychologists are not sure that there is such a thing. You may be surprised to know that your ‘will’ is only a theory (like evolution). What you are really conscious of is a series of acts. It is just a theory of yours that there is a thing you call your will behind them.

Well, to come back to the ‘acts of will.’ When you hesitate between two courses, do you for a moment doubt that your will eventually follows the one which seems to you wiser or more profitable?

Yes, I know. Just to prove your freedom you may choose the less wise course. But in that case you merely have a new motive thrown into the scale. Your ‘will’ always follows the weightier motive. How, then, is it free? All that you are conscious of is the hesitation of your mind, because for a time one motive balances the other. They may remain so balanced that you do nothing, or leave it to others to decide. But if you do decide, you are merely conscious that the battle of motives is over and the stronger carries your will.”

—Joseph McCabe, “The Myth of Immortality”

“None of us enjoys the thought that what we do depends on processes we do not know; we prefer to attribute our choices to volition, will, or self-control….Perhaps it would be more honest to say, ‘My decision was determined by internal forces I do not understand.’”

—Marvin Minsky

“What individuals do, alone or together, over a moment or a month or a lifetime, is really just the product of the process of blind variation and environmental filtration operating on neural circuits in their heads.”

—Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

Da Capo II was the first (and so far, only) visual novel I read. It didn’t take me long to notice just how little interaction the “game” involved. I had more or less expected this, because I’d read a little bit about visual novels before actually trying one out, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the long stretches of passivity that the “game” entailed, especially in the first hour or so. In that time, I probably made a grand total of three to four choices; the remaining hundred were made for me.

What makes visual novels so appealing, then? After thoroughly “playing” Da Capo II, I think I have some idea. To put it simply, the appeal lies in everything that makes the VN different from real life. First of all, the novel has you living in an idealized world with idealized people. What’s more, you are the main character in this world, surrounded by pretty maidens with flawless features and attractive personalities. They don’t exactly throw themselves at you, but you feel quite confident that, with enough effort, you can end up with any one of them, because you know that they are meant for you.

Furthermore, the sense of time passing is somewhat muted in Da Capo II. There’s not a single clock to be seen; the only indication of linear time is the month and day, which is given at the beginning of each day. Time is ultimately moot in this world. You can take as much (or little) time as you like to take in what people say to you, because every word is spelled out for you, and you can even access a “Text Log” if you either forgot or failed to catch some part of the dialogue. Since time freezes for as long as you need it to, you can literally spend an entire year or more (in real time) in making the most trivial of decisions, one that would normally take you up to 5 minutes to make. In this game, life waits for you. You can save your progress at any time and pick up where you left off anytime you feel like it. Above all, you can do what the vast majority of people with any sense of possibility and potential no doubt wish they could do: start over. In Da Capo II, you can start your life over from Day 1 anytime you wish. Having gained knowledge and experience from your previous run, you’ll have a better idea of how you can shape your life in the way you desire. You can explore all the could-have-beens that you didn’t before. So “losing” is a non-issue. Didn’t get the ending you wanted? No problem; just start the novel from the beginning, figure out what you did wrong, and make different choices. In this world, second chances are infinite. Got the ending you wanted, but want more? Same principle applies. In this world, you can eat your cake and have it too.

I was also quite struck by the insights Da Capo II conveyed to me regarding free will. I realized that the very choices that the player makes ultimately depends on his predilections, which are, in turn, shaped by genetics and environment. So simple, yet remarkable. The player is supposedly “free” to determine the trajectory of the story, but in actuality, he is only free to act on his strongest motives—just like in real life.

Although you will be given the freedom of choice at key points in the game, much of the novel is scripted. The overwhelming majority of what you think, feel, say, and do in-game are determined for you. Can more be said of our own lives in the real world? Just how much control do we really have over what we think and feel? Over what we say and do? Over what happens to us? Could it be that we are much like the protagonist of a visual novel, a self-aware marionette being directed rather than directing?

Is True Freethought Possible?

By Jin-yeong Yi

This blog of mine, which is not yet two days old, received its first comment today. The poster, who was commenting on my entry “The Catholic Atheist?,” wrote that it was suggestive of “a true freethinker….someone who maintains an open mind and contemplates the possibilities.”

Though I thought of responding to the poster directly, I decided that his or her comment called for an entry-length response of its own, and here it is. My apologies if it is needlessly convoluted or confusing. My thoughts on the subject have yet to be developed and organized.

Although I was quite flattered by the comment, it also made me ask myself, “Is there such a thing as a true freethinker?” If a “true freethinker” is someone who successfully avoids all logical fallacies and cognitive biases, I’m not sure if such a creature actually exists.

The development of opinion is, it seems to me, akin to the growth of a tree, the process being wholly accounted for by a long, unbroken chain of cause and effect. I strongly suspect that a thorough examination of a person’s history yields an explanation for the opinions he began with and how those opinions changed or remained the same throughout his life.

As I was shaped by the dual forces of genetics and environment like everyone else, none of my intellectual predilections or tendencies were determined by me. If I didn’t set the initial parameters of the trajectory that my mind is taking, and if that trajectory is unbroken, then in what sense am “I” directing it? Could it be that my thought process is something that is happening to me rather than something that I am guiding? Of course, there is always the possibility that, by sheer luck, my mind accurately processed and parsed all or at least most of the data relevant to the formation of my worldview…but what are the chances that I of all people managed to jump through all of the right mental hoops? Blind spots are so called for a reason. In any case, my views will continue to develop as they will, because I have little choice but to follow my reasoning wherever it leads. I have and intend to continue to strive for accuracy, for truth, but I also accept that, in the end, my worldview is nothing more than the product of a long chain of action-reaction/cause-effect.

As I see it, I’m solving equations for which no answer key was ever provided, as in a mathematics textbook. No matter how confident I may be in my solutions, in all probability I’ll never really know whether they are actually correct or not.

Toward True Freedom

By Jin-yeong Yi

“Liberty? Why it doesn’t exist. There is no liberty in this world, just gilded cages.”

—Aldous Huxley

One of the biggest discoveries of my life was the fact that I don’t have free will. Every choice I make is an outcome of the interaction between my mind and my environment, neither of which I created. I am an infinitesimal part of an unfathomably long chain of action/reaction and cause/effect which I did not set into motion. Arthur Schopenhauer summed it up succinctly when he said, “Man is free to do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” I am driven by forces that I had no hand in creating.

Another big discovery for me was the realization that freedom is impossible. I could have all the time and money in the world, but would still be forever bound by the laws of nature.

We want magic in our lives. At least, I do. I respect science and can appreciate the wonders of the natural world it has and continues to reveal, but I do have a longing for more. For all its beauty, the world seems too fixed, too solid, too predictable, too mechanical. I have a deep-seated longing to find a hole within the omnipresent tapestry of unalterable constants, of scientific theories and mathematical equations, a “glitch in the Matrix,”[1] so to speak.

That’s probably not going to happen, unless the universe turns upside down tomorrow. Nevertheless, I think this longing for the magical can be fulfilled, in whole or part, with lucid dreams. It is only within dreams that one can break through the solid barrier of natural laws. It is only within dreams that one can experience the impossible.

Maybe that’s partly why one of the greatest scientists of all time[2] declared, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

[1] See the Animatrix micro-movie “Beyond.” 

[2] Albert Einstein.