Saturday, October 28, 2017


1. On the one hand, freewill theists are hostile to predestination. On the other hand, many people are intrigued by coincidences, especially when these don't seem to be random, but genuinely connected at some deeper level. Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli collaborated on synchronicity: a "theory" of meaningful coincidences. For them, coincidental incidents occurred too often, and in ways too striking, to be sheerly coincidental. They dubbed these events to be "meaningful coincidences." 

A world in which meaningful coincidences occur is a world in which events are coordinated behind the scenes. And every so often, that generally hidden coordination surfaces if an observer happens to be at the right place and the right time. The metaphysical chassis to underpin this kind of world would be predestination. But because the outlook of Jung and Pauli was essentially secular, they had to resort to an acausal principle. Coordinating events at this level requires a single overarching mind to plan and execute what happens. God is the obvious explanation. But their secular outlook had no room for that explanation, so they had to fall back on their "theory" of a cosmic acausal principle. I put "theory" in scare quotes because it's just a disguised description masquerading as an explanation. 

2. Chris Carter's Harsh Realm came out the same year as The Matrix. Both deal with minds trapped inside a digital universe. For this reason, Carter was asked if Harsh Realm was influenced by The Matrix. But he says:

I didn’t know about “The Matrix” until our show was shot, so — I saw it and there were elements that I think you’re going to find in any kind of parallel world idea. So I think there were some similarities. I was impressed by a lot of what they did in that movie. I was super impressed by the special effects in that movie. I think that “Harsh Realm,” even though it is a virtual reality idea, I think it is much different than “The Matrix.” And I think that what we’ve done, too, is we’ve set the stage for many episodes of this show, where a show like “The Matrix” I think might have to change its concept a little bit in order to do the same thing.

He goes on to say:

Yes, you’ll see different worlds within the world but they will all be based around the world that you saw, which is a world where there is no government besides the government that Santiago is creating, and there is no morality or no God. These people don’t know of the real world. They may be hearing about it but they were created — they are concepts in this world who see themselves disappear. When someone dies, they evaporate, so there is no reverence for the dead, if you will.

There are tricks and devices. One of the things that interests me is a kind of Greek approach to this storytelling that you’ve got the Gods above in the real world, if you will, manipulating the characters down below and so I think you can plant visions in Hobbes’ head through computer programming, phantoms. You could, perhaps, bring Sophie back to that world as a phantom. Flashbacks, dreams, all these things present opportunities and devices to tell stories with them together. But I think the distance is what creates part of the power of the series.

Unlike The Matrix, Harsh Realm exhibits synchronicity. There are meaningful coincidences between events in the real world and corresponding events in the parallel world of the digital universe. And not just because the virtual world of Harsh Realm is a copy of the real world. The digital universe takes on a life of its own. It has the same past, but the present forks off into a different future. An alternate world history.

Yet despite that, events in the digital sometimes mirror events in the real world. Likewise, some events in the digital universe mirror other events in digital universe. 

Take the "Reunion" episode. In the real world, Hodge's mother is dying of cancer. In the digital universe, Hodge goes looking for his mother.

That's natural. If you found yourself trapped in a virtual world, wouldn't finding your family be your first priority? That's what anchors you. Even if, in the digital universe, your family members are just virtual characters who were copied from the real world, that's still better than nothing.

So Hodge goes back to his boyhood home. He doesn't find his mother, but he does find a snowglobe. The snowglobe is a duplicate of a childhood toy he had in the real world. Then he's captured by the enemy. In the labor camp he discovers his mother. She's dying of cancer. 

In one sense, that's not unexpected. The virtual world was copied from the real world. If his mother had cancer in the real world, it's not surprising that she'd have cancer in the virtual world. On the other hand, the digital universe has an alternate history with an independent timeline. So it's unnatural for events to be synchronized. An unaccountable coincidence.

And at the end of the episode, it begins snowing in the digital universe. So the plot comes full circle. Events in the virtual world sometimes mirror events in the real world. In addition, the snowglobe is a metaphor for characters from the real world who find themselves imprisoned in the digital universe. 

So some events are coordinated in ways that indicate the hidden hand a providence. An invisible, external agent planning and guiding events. To that degree, the worldview of Harsh Realm is predestinarian. And Carter admits that he's using science fiction to provide a secular alternative to divine providence. Moreover, planting visions in the head of a character parallels divine revelation. 

As Carter also explains, the digital universe has two kinds of inhabitants. On the one hand, most inhabitants are merely virtual characters. They are copied from the real world, but they lack "consciousness" in the full sense. Like higher animals that have consciousness without self-consciousness. They are fillers for their counterparts in the real world. As a result, they are atheists. Ignorant of a larger reality beyond the digital universe. There is no afterlife. If you die in the digital universe, you're erased. 

On the other hand, some inhabitants have minds patched in from the real world. They remember the real world. They have consciousness in the full sense. They are "believers". They know there's more to existence than the digital world. 

In addition, the digital universe has virtual characters like Florence who can perform miracles in the digital world. They can't affect what happens in the real world, but they have some ability to change things in the virtual world. Quasi-angelic figures who intervene to heal the injured. Then there's Inga Fossa, who navigates between both worlds. 

On the face of it, Harsh Realm suffers from some plot holes. If a character in the real world dies, their counterpart in the virtual world is erased. But the relationship should be asymmetrical. If a character who has a counterpart in the real world dies in the digital universe, he should continue to exist in the real world. His mind would no longer be in contact with the virtual world. And he could be revived in the virtual world. If, however, he dies in the real world, his digital counterpart might continue to exist in the virtual world, but cease to be self-aware.  

Likewise, some of the coincidences seem to be artificial. The problem is that Carter wants all the benefits of a predestinarian worldview, with God orchestrating events behind the scenes, but without the theological resources that makes that coherent. He makes eclectic and opportunistic use of Christianity and Homeric mythology, so he's unable to carry out a consistent vision. 

Like Jung and Pauli, he years for transcendence, but secularization collapses the transcendent dimension into the immanent dimension. This does, though, bear witness to a stultified yearning that's dissatisfied with mundane existence, yet antipathetic to Christian theism. They're attracted to providence. It's ironic that while freewill theists are hostile to predestination, unbelievers like Jung, Pauli, and Carter are drawn to a predestinarian worldview, even though they stop short. 

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