Philosophy

What has Hollywood got to learn from Game of Thrones?

Hold the door. Hold Door. Hodor. RIP.

For everyone that has read the books or seen the show from season 1, the fifth episode of season 6 named “The Door”, was a heartbreaking one. Every viewer must have been touched by the impact of the sacrifice of Hodor. And in a mind blowing reveal, turns out that Hodor had lived in the shadow of his own ill-omened destiny for as long as anyone could remember.. and that makes me a sad panda.

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But out of this tragedy comes a lesson for all (screen)writers. A prime example of how to write a character’s backstory. Hodor was a minor character. The impact of his death didn’t come from the fact that we had invested so much into him, like when a main character leaves. But the kick came from the way he left, in a completely selfless act and by a sudden revelation in the backstory, that made the viewer reconsider the entirety of this characters life. During the entire time we thought we knew this individual. He had only one word to contribute, what’s there not to get, right? But as it turns out, he had a death that had as much impact to fans as Ned’s decapitation or the Red Wedding.

G.R.R. Martin and the showrunners made the perfect move. They knew that fans were interested in Hodor’s background. The easy way would have been to give a nice juicy bit of expositional dialogue and that’s it.  But that’s not how they roll. They saw a chance for a big revelation, heartbreaking moment and a way to make one minor character become the highlight of the season. They ushered us in with a vision of Hodor’s past, who once was Wyllis, a simple stable boy very capable of having a conversation with more than one word. That made the mystery only larger, as the anticipation grew. Why the hell will this boy be able to speak only one random word in the future?

And in a clever move they made us understand the what and the why. Hodor was never one word, it was three: “Hold the door”, as in “Hold the door and accept that I’m going to die”. By merging the past and the present, by letting us simultaneously see both the moment of the change in Wyllis and the realization of his fate, the show gave us one of the most memorable moments of the entire saga. And it seems to me that it only made sense the way they presented it. There was one way to pull it off and they nailed it. They hit the spot so good that they had to apologize for it:


I don’t even know which scenario makes G.R.R. Martin seem more ingenious – if he planned it since the beginning of the first book or if he just looked on what he had and came up with this solution midway. But the determination of this kind of writing is exemplary. Do not let any opportunity go to waste.

Come up with a backstory. Take time.Build on it. Keep secrets. Reveal.

What comic book movies have been trying to do recently, is achieve the same emotional impact without any of the attachment. Hodor had 6 years, movies have 2 hours. There are franchises, that could gain the same momentum. It would be a delight to see what James Cameron has to offer with his upcoming Avatar sequels and Marvel cinematic universe has also nailed some moments that they have built up with several preceding movies. The recent Civil War was a prime example, as the headbutting of Captain America and Tony Stark felt completely natural, whereas the clash of Superman vs Batman felt utterly rushed.

All in all, Hodor’s demise is a bitter moment, but out of it comes a sweet example of brilliant storytelling that is truly inspiring.

How do deaf people think?

Viljandi Folk Music Festival

My hometown Viljandi hosts an annual international folk music festival. Each year the population of 20000 people doubles for 4 days. The festival is a nice step away from our daily lives and gives a lovely opportunity to listen to unique music that you do not encounter in the mundane world. People get a chance to let loose and let the music carry them throughout the days. Look it up from Viljandi Folk Music Festival homepage.

My band Angus at the festival this year. That's me behind the congas. Picture by Madis Reimund.

My band Angus at the festival this year. That’s me behind the congas. Picture by Madis Reimund.

The quiet stare

During one concert, a young boy, I’d say 2 years old, was sitting in the midst of some dancing festival goers and with a wondering face, stared into nothingness. He seemed to be in a state that we all find ourselves from time to time – the quiet glare into a non-existing horizon, the  face giving away that the mind is only aware of it’s own thoughts at that moment. Everything surrounding you at that state doesn’t penetrate the focus of your mind. Often you find yourself in a fierce inner discussion, but as often the mind is completely empty, not registering anything but a beacon of a concious thought.

How does our inner voice work?

That blond-headed boy struck me with that stare. It seemed so pure. I can’t comprehend how the world appeared to him at that moment. What are you thinking at that moment, when your  personality hasn’t fully developed and the society hasn’t yet wrecked you with things you need to worry about? How do you think at the time, when you can’t even fully talk, yet? It could be that our inner voice develops faster than our skill to use that language verbally. Then it means that we start to talk with ourselves consideraby earlier than to others. Or it could be that the means we have to communicate with ourselves are the same that we are able to use to interact with others. Meaning that we use fragments of language, non-verbal noises, and body language until we are able to fully speak.

How do deaf people think?

It seems like I'm not the only one that has caught up on this one..

It seems like I’m not the only one that has caught up on this one..

The mystery of that blond boy lead me to another conundrum – how do deaf people think? How can they do it if they don’t have „the voice in their head”. Do they use language to make sense of their thoughts? They can’t do it like most of us can. The way they speak to themselves must then involve sign language. We can think auditorily or visually, but are they the only means to understand our thoughts? Is there a way to make sense of your inner world without translating it to a language or visual image? If there is, do you think „faster”. Is there a way to know the answer without a question being asked? Maybe what we experience as a voice in our head is not the best way to think and we are overly attached to it.

Theory of meditation

My theory is that we know the thought in our minds from the very first moment we start communicating it to ourselves. Language is meant for communicating with others, but only as a complementary tool when communincating with ourselves. We have grown too attached to it. With that, we have made us vulnerable to miscommunication and gradually lost touch with ourselves. That’s why I like meditation as an excercise. Take time to clear your mind and, for even a short period of time, try to not think of anything. When you think of something try not to use your voice, but visual images. As a result, you relax your brain and come out with better understanding of yourself. A daily or weekly routine gives wonderful results. Try it!

How do you know, if you’re right?

A book is to a mind what a whetstone is to a sword – means to keep it sharp. For that reason, reading as a hobby should make up at least a small amount of time in all people’s schedules. I enjoy reading and out of all genres I like to read science fiction novels the most. A good science fiction novel encompasses in itself the most potential for provoking ponderous thoughts. Be it new inventions, philosophies, societal norms, political ideas, or even undiscovered ways of looking at our very own existence.

Time travel is a notoriously difficult subject in fiction as it’s very hard to keep logically consistent. When not contained, the implications of even one minor mistake in logic can ruin the entire book (movie, series, etc.). The ground rules must be solid. But if kept coherent, the maze of complex reasoning can truly inspire awe. And sometimes you read a few lines that just get you on the spot. Isaac Asimov’s „The End of Eternity“ got me with a little gem about his rule for time travel.

The book itself is set in a world where a secret group of people range through past and present Centuries, monitoring and, where necessary, altering time’s countless cause-and-effect relationships. A slight movement of a jar on a shelf can alternate and cumulate in effect until it a noticeable change materializes, like setting a car in an exact spot to take part in an accident, killing one man but delaying the invention of atomic bombs by a few centuries.

pi

Some scholars claim that humans are programmed to find patterns in the world because it’s the only way we can give meaning to the world and ourselves. Hence, the obsessive search to find patterns in π.

The protagonist in the book described the many changes in time he had engineered to have had a calculated effect on the future. With every change, the shift brings forth an alternate course of history and would modify the outlook of things to come. And although each alternate timeline had a unique history, there was one commonality – the rules of math. The history and logical system of math would always be the same.

Math isn’t just numerology. Math has a great influence on philosophy. Math is a way our minds make sense of the universe. We would perceive our surroundings quite differently, if we would not use our mathematical understanding to make sense. From physics and chemistry to music and drawing, we use our arithmetical and geometrical powers. And when it comes to decision making, we usually weigh our options and lean towards the one that adds up to bring in more profit. May the profit be financial, social, in the shape of knowledge or leisure time. That depends on each individual’s philosophies.

The point is that math represents a key monolith that you could hang on to get a grip on the surrounding reality and state of development in the society. Likewise, you should try to find out the key monoliths in your life that you could hang on to. Whether it be your relatives, your best friend, your dog, your birthplace, a lot of ease can come from acknowledging them. A good deal of complications can be avoided if you set perspectives in life and try to develop your personal code of ethics. You should not rely on those rocks to get you through life, but use them to gain a better ground in uncertain situations. In situations where you know that whatever happens, your monolith will be unshaken and you can use its shelter to regain your way.

Should you live like it was your last day?

We all like to think that we are very rational people, that our decisions follow a constant set of rules and all in all have a pretty good image of ourselves. When asked why we act in some way, we usually have a rational sounding answer. We  can’t stand having no answer and we don’t love admitting making mistakes.

My friend, who self-diagnosed himself having Asperger syndrome, said in an ongoing discussion that at the last moments of hislife, it seems logical to him to choose having a banana over saving a family’s life. Explaining that the personal gain and expected value of the eaten banana goes up drastically, when your time is so limited – you basically improve your whole remaining life and also, you won’t have to face the consequent problems of guilty conscience.The act changes however, if you’re not going to die at the next moment – if he’d have more time to live, he’d save the family. Now I’m not yet able to perfectly interpret and understand what’s going on in his mind, but I got interested with the possibility of changing personal values when your own state changes. Do we have an inner code that we follow and how often and why do we change it?

Our decisions change, when our situation changes. From mathematics it should be fully logical. You would say that I’m a dummy, if I start thinking why the outcome of A + B is different than A*A + B or  B + D. But outside mathematics, drastic changes of world view seem illogical. Or is it my own rational instinct of holding on to previously made decisions and stay away from contradicting myself? Is the comparison itself so absurd that it wouldn’t come up in reality and my mind can not comprehend a situation, where I would choose bananas over people.

Staying on course of mathematics and physics, Daniel Robinson from The Teaching Company made a good lecture on Newton. As I interpret Isaac Newton’s philosophy, he  was dividing matters into two categories:

  • An ideal situation – the theoretical happening, where everything is “as it should be” and follows a concrete theory.
  • A practical situation – observations and real situations

Hypothetical and approximate results are not to be compared with the absolute truth – observations have variables. So Newton was an advocate of solving problems as ideal abstractions,  returning to the hypothesis and comparing observational data with the ideal theoretical solution and seeing how these two match up. “An idealised model of an imaginable world can be used to frame and test conjectures regarding the facts of the actual world.”

So, according to him, we could have an idealized code that we use to make everyday decisions and the ideal theoretical system should explain all practical situations.

The One Ring

One ideal to rule them all.
One ideal to find them.
One ideal to bring them all
and in the enlightenment bind them.

Following the idea of an ideal, we come to Kant and his moral imperative, which states that you should act in the way as you believe could be implemented as a common practice or law.  That is, find the theoretical ideal code and follow it always. And that means not giving in and no discussions on the “price” of the decision you make. The “price” can be explained by a little joke: A woman, who agreed to have intimate relations(oh, so gently said) with a stranger for a million gold coins, was asked if she would do it for two coins instead. She blurted, offendedly: “Who do you think I am?” The outburst was met with a calm statement: “Well, we made clear what you are, now we’re just determining the price.” So you either follow the rule always or you do not follow it.

That is the way people often act, however. And clearly illustrates the point which came into my interest in the banana case. There are many people who would take the million, but would offend to a smaller offer. Does that say that we don’t have the ideal or that this is just the practical world and we can’t see all the variables.

Now, I embrace the fact that we do not know the reasons why we act. Or that in most cases we go by the “gut feeling”. I think that’s perfectly normal and Kant’s imperative is the theoretical view of life and not quite a practical one. In practice, there are too many different situations and backgrounds to decisions that a presence of one golden rule is nigh impossible. But knowing about the possibility of it creates an interesting goal to work towards.

It’s amusing that people are using “I didn’t have a choice” defence so often. That means, they know they did something that does not go by the(ir) moral norm, but they had a reason for it. But that’s it. You had a choice actually, and you chose your way. You just scaled the options and found one is better for you than the other. It’s as simple as that. It may seem that your hands were tied, but you still chose to act in the way you did. To save their perception of themselves, they choose to believe that it was not them, who must take the responsibility and the situation was caused by something else.

So is the question “was it wrong” a good one? How to start measuring the correctness of these “I didn’t have a choice” decisions? Is there a way? I think that sometimes it is enough that people understand they have a power over their actions. You made a choice that didn’t correspond with your previous ideals. Maybe you should think about that and reorganise your perception of yourself rather than take a defencive stance? Take responsibility in you own mind. It only helps to grow mental powers as you are not shifting decision making away from yourself.

Would you choose artificial happiness?

Let’s get right to it. Would you prefer real happiness or being happier by ignorance? If you had a chance to participate in a program that would make you very happy until the end of you days, would you accept the offer or would you accept the challenges of real life? Why would you make that decision.

Let’s say that you are willing to take part in the program. But what if the program works by sedating you and putting you under machines that prevent you from waking up and create an illusion of a happy life to you in your head. You yourself wouldn’t know the difference. For you, all would seem real and you would not know that you are being fed artificial happiness. Would you still participate? I wish I had a wide audience and a chance to ask people to raise hands, if they would:) Maybe in the future. .

Coming back, I assume that the majority would not go under the machine. But what is the invisible wall that keeps from making this decision and making happiness undesirable? You are essentially sacrificing personal happiness, if looked upon that way. Because it is not real? Maybe it’s because we love control. And going under machines would mean that we would give away that control. Trust issues, that’s what.

Going further, is there a qualitative measure for happiness? Is some kind of happiness better than other kinds? We see from our example that in essence, there might be. The question being, I think, if you feel better when you have caused the rise in wellbeing yourself or is it an uncontrollable phenomenon, coming from outside.

This theory is connected with drug use – consuming chemicals to feel better. As the saying goes, being drunk is borrowing good mood from tomorrow with a large interest rate. Drinking alcohol – you are basically giving away control of yourself and boosting your mood with outside help. In essence, you are  bending the reality.   If you leave yourself for a short period of time, why won’t you do it for a longer period. Then if you don’t have a reason, why do it at all in the first place? What justifies the short term change of reality and doesn’t justify the long term?

I could make a statement that if you let drugs(+alcohol, sigarets etc.) manage your emotions, then you are embracing the possibility of the said machine control. And to exacerbate things, you are accepting the possibility of being just a brain in a jar. Without body and all pleasures and perceptions created by electrical impulses to a brain that’s in a glass tube. You wouldn’t like that would you? l’ll let you figure that one out yourself:)Gotta remember to exercise making confusing and overly jumpy comparisons  for other every day seemingly nonessential decisions in future also, correct or not:).

Not sure id real or just brain in a vat.

Well..yeah..a hard concept.

Justifying these kinds of sayings is hard. And they become harder as the weekend approaches. How come, when you know you will spend half of your next day with a hangover, you still want to drink and feel good with the aid of a bottle of beer(a clear understatement). Many times, the rationality of one’s actions is just not there. We think we are more rational than we are and we cannot explain a large quantity of our decisions. I like the saying that despite what we think, human beings are irrational by nature – we make decisions based on our current emotions and only later try to justify them rationally.