All right, I admit I picked this episode of Black Mirror because I wanted to know how the film will portray the public’s reaction to live, unsimulated bestiality by the prime minister. And although this is a pretty lame reason, I wasn’t disappointed. But I’m not here to talk about how Charlie Brooker succeeded in making drama out of such an insane theme become so real and entertaining.  Rather, I’m going to tie this TV episode with one of the most fundamental philosophical questions of all time: Are we free?

National Anthem commends itself to this never-ending topic because of its focus on, well, choices duh, as compared with the other episodes in the series which deal mostly with augmented reality.  It also uses dialogue to tell how the actors think, showing the impacts of their choices.

This film provides a context for my stance that people are free, although how I arrived at that conclusion is more a product of deep thought.  I will take various characters from the film to prove my point. Let’s take the protagonist and the crisis in this film — the prime minister confronted with a hostage situation and the hostage-taker’s demands.  Before leaping to the logical conclusion that there are two choices  — concede or not — let us first consider who lays the decisions on the table?  Where did the concede-or-not options come from? Brilliant! Absolutely correct! It is us, our brains who tell us that among the INFINITE options: 1) ignoring the kidnapper 2) saying yes to the kidnapper 3) spreading the news on social media that the video is a hoax 4) saying no while conducting search-and-rescue 5) holding nationwide beauty pageants to search for an interim princess 6) abolish the royalty… 2 & 4 are the most viable.

Who judges the viability of the options, then? Presto, it is us, our brains who tell us that the best way of saving the princess alive are the two mentioned above.  By what standard do we judge our options? What makes saving the princess the standard? After all, a leftist or a communist might be delighted at this opportunity to choose 6). Merriam-Webster defines “viable” as “capable of working, functioning, or developing adequately…having a reasonable chance of succeeding.” Therefore, we define viability in the same way we define adequacy and success. This is where the problem comes in. Our freedom in terms of our ability to act, is restricted by how we are shaped to define success and adequacy.  The prime minister chooses 2 & 4 while the anarchist says 1 & 6, because the one’s upbringing teaches him to respect law and order while the other’s is the opposite. Is it their fault; can they choose what upbringing they receive?

Or so says those against the existence of freewill.  Thinking deeper, however, I realise that there is one point this argument misses. Humans have the capacity to control themselves, not just in terms of discipline and behaviour, but also in terms of attitudes and beliefs. How it’s done varies depending on culture, such as praying, fasting, &c. However, the point is people can want to change, and succeed. The chainsmoker who resolves to ditch the addiction is an example. His standard of adequacy used to rest on nicotine. He now wants to change it to a happy healthy lifestyle. That he received help from an organisation doesn’t matter, as long as he himself chooses to make that change.  The other side can say that this is not a valid example since he is making a change for the better, which is only logical and therefore proves nothing.  Uh-uh. A smoker to give up his way of life and a source of pleasure? Does this not prove freewill, in that the prime minister in the film could also in the same way rest his standard of success in preserving his physical and marital dignity? Even if he was brought up to live for position and positive rankings, he has the power to say no to them in this scenario.  Every choice, even if lower than one’s main standard of success, still has a positive side.

The other side of the seesaw might say that although one has the power to change one’s own standards or position, what actually inspires him to make that change is still out of his hands, taking freewill out of the equation. For example, if the prime minister didn’t have such a persuasive Home Secretary, he wouldn’t have chosen the pig intercourse. To this, the answer is the person still has the power to say no to that inspiration, no matter how profound it may be. Even St. Paul himself says that “I am not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” The chainsmoker from above can still reject the graphic pictures on the cigarette pack, or he can choose to be influenced by them into ditching his addiction. Likewise, people all over the world have the power to reject their past, their upbringing, and ultimately their own core beliefs. In fact, isn’t this what inspirational movies are all about? Unless you’re a Calvinist, lol. But God is out of the bounds of this discussion, where only the human psyche is being deliberated.

It should be noted that one’s freedom is directly related with the amount of self-control (which gives him power) or the degree of self-awareness (which lets him see that he has power) he has. A baby, having doubtful self-awareness, is not expected to be able to consider denying the milk offered to it when it is hungry, even though it can. On the other hand, the suicidal person who says there’s no choice left has his self-awareness smothered by emotions, so he cannot see that 1) running away, 2) hiding, 3) movie marathon 4) waiting for it to blow over are safer choices which actually help in times of darkest distress.  The student, however, who says that getting a grade below 95 is not an option, is actually affirming otherwise.  So is the spoilt brat who begins every sentence with “I don’t want…”

One parting shot from the other side might be that self-control and self-awareness are products of upbringing, culture, religion, circumstance, &c. which effectively attributes everything produced by these qualities to chance.  The reply to that is that these are products of exercise, and even in the purest, strictest, most orthodox community, the sluggard who refuses to accept what’s around him will not develop these characteristics.  What if he was forced? Again, you can’t force a person to do what he doesn’t like. If under threat of pain, he will outwardly abide but won’t internalise it. What if he encountered something by chance which aroused a desire to learn? Again, he has the power to reject it, like St. Paul. What if he grew up in a dystopian world where self-control is non-existent and self-awareness is drowned in self-gratification?  No matter what world it is, he will learn that every cause has an effect. This will lead him to the minimum amount of self-control conducive to survival, and awaken his self-awareness so he can know when he’ll do something fatal and be able to stop it.

What are your thoughts, guys? Post your questions/reactions in the comments section below!



What the Bleep is Bleep?

Ok, I admit it. This is a school assignment. But a very interesting one. Wait, it’s up to you to define your own reality of “interesting”, so just read on…

If you don’t like words, don’t forget that they’re blipping in and out of existence so you can close this page when they all happen to be toggled to parallel-universe mode — and still say you finished reading. Enjoy the ride!

My first impression of the “What the #$*! Do We Know!?” was the mind-blowing CGI effects. The second was on how similar the feel of the movie is to “Fringe”.  At first I was highly sceptical of the explanations which “tried too hard” to explain away the questions at the beginning of the movie by “stretching” the link between the physical and non-physical. But as the film progressed, I started to wonder what is really physical, what is really “real”, or even what the difference between spirituality and science is. ‘How can you determine what is real if the self that is determining it is intangible?’ The brain whose job it is to determine what is tangible or not is under reevaluation, and this paper is about my insights as I do exactly that — to my own brain. And my realisations are not comforting.

I was struck all throughout the movie by the recurring phrase “creating your own reality”, and the ramifications of this.  Inwardly I thought ‘If what we call reality is actually made by ourselves, how can we become truly objective observers?’ One of the first premises at the start of the movie is ‘An ultimate question demands an ultimate observer.’ I dare not use “the” because there are so many ultimates in the movie, who can define what the ultimate of ultimates is? The Bible verse ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ comes to mind.  The movie helped me accept the first part, although it disproves the latter (against my beliefs) since the relativist worldview defies the idea of wickedness. Therefore we cannot judge ourselves according to our standards because the reality of each person is unique. This is where the church or Ramtha the Enlightened One, if you please, come in.

The movie posits that the brain only matches patterns, or sees what it recalls as real, and that we are conditioned to accept only patterns and recollections which are defined by cultural norms as “real”. Since these societal constructs, or paradigms, have continuously been proven wrong throughout history, then that trend says today’s paradigm is no different — it can still be wrong, and most probably is. I realised that this same standard can be applied to the movie, and that the paradigm forwarded by the movie can be as wrong as the religion it tries to disprove.  I must admit that the “quantum uncertainty” of life as the consequent of quantum physics lends a totally new dimension to the debate which already has too many dimensions to begin with.

The idea of consciousness is the main point of the film, which goes so far as to say that each cell has consciousness. I take consciousness then, not only as a quality but also as a medium, rather like grace, which can be given or taken away. I don’t know by what mechanism this happens, or if the consciousness is just awakened. At any rate, my problem is whether this consciousness is real. For example, watching this movie has made me conscious of subatomic consciousness, but how do I know that the subatomic consciousness I’m feeling right now is the “correct” subatomic consciousness referred to in the movie? Also, is it possible for consciousness to be layered, such that I can be conscious that I’m not conscious? Is this second-tier consciousness the same as the first tier? These are more of hypothetical questions than insights, but they show just what the movie has awakened in me.

The second half of the movie leans more towards biochemistry and neurology, but the big idea is since the self creates reality, only those experiences where we lose sight of ourselves can be truly called “real”.   Forgive me, but I am going to make another connection to religion. I’ve been looking for the mechanism by which Christians know that their encounter with God is truly real, and the movie has just provided that. Like the hymn says, “Let’s forget about ourselves, and concentrate on Him, and worship Him…”  Since the self is deceitful, the proof that an encounter with God is real is when the believer totally loses himself to God, unlike that hypocrite who prayed, “Lord I thank You that I’m not like this tax-collector.”

I approach this movie with a certain caution because it goes through a yarn-ball of unfamiliar science to arrive at the same conclusion as the religions of old — that we are all gods.  Keeping to the scientific track, though, taught me one thing: that the goal of all epistemological pursuits is to create working models of what truly is (I’m not gonna use the word reality anymore), and not an absolute recreation or explanation.  I am not advocating relativism, but working models give more legroom for uncertainty and moral culpability.   The ambiguity of matter at the sub-sub-atomic level showed me that it is impossible, no, laughable, to give a watertight explanation of “the ultimate questions”.  Instead, by using links from the chain of quantum physics and philosophy, a coherent framework can be created.

After all that’s been said and done, I realise that the “physics of possibilities” is not entirely at odds with religion.  Certain key ideas such as “not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery” and opposition to materialism (“being conditioned to buy the idea that the outside is more real than the inside”) are common to both.  In the end, however, it all boils down to the reality which the viewer of this film chooses to take. (My goodness, I haven’t even explored the reality of God yet. )  How to pursue knowledge “without any interference from addictions” is something ultimately you will have to discover for yourself, unless of course, you’re a Calvinist. XD

Poirot and Boxes

11 Dec. 2014

Dear Diary,

It was a brisk, rush-hour walk home from school when the words to a long-persistent yet inexpressible insight finally took form in my head: there is nothing wrong with thinking inside the box, as long as you leave no corner untouched. The over-expired phrase “thinking outside the box”, which somehow had never gained my stomach’s confidence, had often made me wonder why my instincts would align themselves contrary to the adults all around who seem to use it with relish.
I now understand the missing angle.
Hercule Poirot’s brilliance came not from formulating extraordinary ideas, but by putting known ideas together in a way never before thought by anybody.  In fact, come to think of it, all the masters of crime were like that.  Sherlock Holmes, Poe’s Dupin (?), &c., to name a few who have elicited “Why, it’s but child’s play!” from companions of inferior intelligence.  The order, the method, the systematic elimination, down to the love of square shapes, are all against what “think-outside-the-box” touters pride in.
I believe the image of a creative person is not at all the iconoclastic, shifty-eyed youth with a wild shock of purple hair and a can of spray paint.  In my opinion lifting one’s eyes into the wide blue yonder away from the harsh limits of life’s box, or more accurately, constructing a larger box and believing to be looking out of the box, are mere escapism.  I do not deny the occasional fruits of unbridled imagination, but the skill of analysing strictly within parameters, in abstraction of what our supposed creativity adds, is what makes the world turn.
It is infinitely more difficult to make something new of existing stock, of what others already know.  In fact, the stringent attention to detail, so crucial for discoveries of such nature, would require people to dissect the box into smaller boxes for examination!  Enfin, the organic chemist, does he not make most of his discoveries by putting together known components of carbon compounds?  And when he puts them together, does he not do it with method?  In accordance with the logic behind the chemicals?
Like the English say, “Chance would be a fine thing,” but how many discoveries can actually be attributed to mixing strange substances, mon cher?  Method and logic! Ah, here comes Georges with my sirrop de cassis…

©All rights reserved by Melancholia. 2014.

P.S.  I have a nagging feeling that something is not quite right with the arrangement of ideas.  Are there any parts I can  extend, or did I miss some ‘links’?  Please comment on the logic and method behind the analysis, because I feel some ideas can be branched and further discussed.  Thanks! 🙂

Great[-ly Dashed] Expectations

A draught of sweet cold air embraced me as I stepped into the faculty office of the College of Liberal Arts.  It was totally devoid of people.  I surveyed the empty cubicles with consternation, until the rustle of papers in one of the bigger offices revived my hope.  I have to ask about the German course.  Mustering my courage, I gave a hesitant tap on the chipboard door.

The voice that hailed me in was strong and authoritative.   In as few words as possible I introduced myself and asked for the details I needed: that I was from the College of Engineering, that I was a scholar, that I wanted to attend a “Deutschkurs”, how to go about it, &c.   I was trembling with excitement within even as the [obviously] professor’s almost-living spectacle-lenses met my eyes.  No amount of self-study could replace a real course in a real university with real people!

His next words shocked me.

“Oh I see, however I must apologise…”  In short the gist was Goethe Institut has run out of instructors and could not…blah…drone…blubber…

A three-year-old dream.  Vapourised.  Kaput.   Vamooshed.  Because they ran out of instructors.  Ran out of instructors!   Just because they frigging don’t want to spend money recruiting people from the overcrowded streets of Berlin! Or Bonn! Or Whateverdort/dorf/burg/leben!

I know I am not being fair.  Rants hardly are.   It must needs be that frustrations come.  But woe to the one from whom the frustration cometh!

Are you telling me that I have to finish A2 on my own, relying on the frigging handouts and manuals and youtubes and mp3’s for application!  Real-life training is simply irreplaceable!

Ach Goethe, Goethe, Goethe, warum haben Sie mich verlassen!

A Not-so-dreamy Midsummer Night

Summer reigns even over the night.  The evening air is humid and stale.  Not a single breath of wind stirs to relieve the stickiness. The hoards of mosquitoes outside means a pleasant star-gazing stroll is out of the question.

My efforts at the writing-desk are curtailed by rivulets of sweat trickling over my forehead, eyebrows, arms, legs, and dripping off my nose and elbows.  For a while I am fascinated by splotches of my sweat on the foolscap, the blurred ink bearing semblance to a Rorschach test.  The sight of a fuzzy ball, the remains of what used to be an ‘o’, conjures up nightmares of p-orbitals and electron clouds.  See the amorphous fuzz enlarge its borders, creeping along the next line and transfiguring the innocent bystanders into patches of fuzz themselves…

The stifling heat again commands my attention.  After taking another shower, the third time in the evening, I stand by the window hoping at least for a whisper of coolness.

The inexorable summer lends none.

Perhaps it’s a night for an early bedtime.

The End-all and Be-all

It is three days to a month after my high school graduation.  With college looming ahead I seldom retrospect.  The few times I do, though, I am confronted by the same question — what has become of your three years at Hope Christian High School?

I could rephrase the question as “What are the fruits of your three years’ labours…” or “What have you achieved after three years…” or even “What have you done in the three years…”; but nothing could quite capture the essence of “become”.  It covers ‘fruit’, ‘achievement’, ‘accomplishment’, ‘result’, ‘outcome’, ‘product’, &c., yet surpasses all these.  In its completeness it bears what I am looking for — the connotation of timelessness.

What fruit has three years in Hope borne?  “Oh, I was the mayor of the Student Council; I was the Assistant Senior Crew Leader in Boy Scouts; I was (insert accolade).   !?

But what has become of your three years in Hope?

Oh yes, if you talk about legacy and memories and inspirations there are many I upon whom I have left a mark.  I do not presume, but some of my proteges in grade school will remember my name when they go to college.

However I am not looking to be remembered.  I am looking for what I had contributed.

Oh yes, there are those I have helped, when other helpers failed or fled.  Altruism is part of my nature, and taking the step to be a friend, an aid, a hand, uncomplainingly is an inherent part of my character.  I have made many grateful with more than good turns.

I am looking for something that requires the all-availing word ‘become’ — what I had contributed that will last.

This is the cause of my recent numbness when I turn my thoughts to Hope.  Those three years are over, and what others have said about redeeming the time has finally revealed its truth to me.   I now understand what they mean.

Those three years I lived for myself, by myself.  I worked to secure my name, I achieved, which I only thought proper, and out of my good nature I reached out to people by my own effort.  I realise that what I had read as a child about the humanists I have actually been living out these three years.

Now I come to the root of the matter — what comes of man must naturally last as long as man.  All my efforts, distinctions, proteges, admirers, and everything that carries the first-person pronoun can be reduced to nothing by a simple “So what?”

I was a nominal Christian from birth till the day I was converted in spirit, but for the past three years I have relapsed to the state of wearing the dead name.

I put God out of the equation of my high school life.

I was revived for the space of several months two years ago, and brought to Christ my classmate called Kevin.  Thankfully he has remained faithful even after I backslid and built my life around the student council.

What has become of your three years in high school?

I brought Kevin to Christ.


There, I have published by first blog!

Others would have reserved the same reaction for, perhaps, sweets, for children, or a new canvas tote, for Mum; only Amos could be expected to waste his glee on such a total bore as a first blog.

But you cannot deny that posting your first blog is a rich, rewarding experience that spurs you forward to higher literary heights.

More precisely, its effect resembles the warmth of half a glass of pinot noir spreading over your body while you are actually sipping a mug of porter, and your mind is startlingly lucid with the aroma of single-malt scotch.

Ich liebe Wein!


A Novice in the Wonderful World of Blogging

I wish I’d started doing this earlier.  I have always wanted a nook of my own in the web where I can pursue the phantasms of my fractured mind whilst nursing the delusion that someone in the world does appreciate what I write.

All melancholy aside, I am doing this to hone my creativeness with the English language, which has always been my love.   What better way to start than by joining the ranks of those who indulge in the essence of life — emotions, sentiments, impressions, all that is gloriously abstract and philosophical… — those who cannot survive without giving vent to their passions on paper,   those who struggle, or who have realised that those struggles would be more worth it if recorded in words and shared,  people of genius who have been bludgeoned by life, and as such have become altered in a way not even they themselves can fully comprehend…

When I say people of genius I mean those who have broken, or been broken beyond their own horizons — they see through the deceptive facade of life, they can step in the shoes of a third-party observer and observe, even discipline themselves from such a vantage-point,  they have well-trained alter egos which serve to sharpen them even more, and

I have been wasting too many words describing myself.  (cough, but it’s true)  I will have to be more vigilant next time.  Artists do not circumlocute.  (or is that a malapropism?)

At any rate I cannot end this without acknowledging Mr. Anarchy of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, since it was his article I was reading this afternoon that led me to create a blog of my own.

Cheers to individualism!

Now let the strings of the soul move these earnest fingers!


It helps to know that there is at least one person in the world who appreciates the sundries of your imagination…