I just finished watching disc 6 of a 7-disc anime series, Chobits. It's fairly well done being it's a few years old; one of the annoying things about watching anime if you're trying to go through their history backwards is that some of the older ones, even the classics like Ghost in the Shell, appear simplistic in their animation styles if not their plots; and certainly this series, like Masamune Shirow's classic stories, have spawned so much imitation, as well as had their ideas actually taken further in constructive ways, that they don't seem as original as they really were.
Chobits is a series that actually starts out slow to me, but by the time you get to discs 5 and 6 its originality and talent really show. This series was first brought up to me by a friend at the second Buddhist retreat I ever attended. She's a doctor, and she was intrigued by what the basic theme of the series - the nature and viability of personal and romantic relationships between humans and their personalized computerized creations. Chi, seen to the left, in one form, is a persacom; most of the PC's in this world, which also function as phones, search engines, and servants, seem to be in the form of attractive young women, which creates some interesting dynamics. Sure, these themes go back to Blade Runner and all sorts of classic sci-fi, but they become more relevant to us as our computers become a bigger part of our lives and the theme is not so far-fetched.
If you're interested in these themes, there's a lot of good anime and sci-fi for you, but I'm not going to try to summarize here. You should be aware of all of Shirow Masamune's work; he was a manga artist and writer whose visionary works deserve much more than I can give them in this article, but check out the anime versions of his Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, and others.
The thought process that that discussion set forth in me, that still continues, is, what does this tell us about the nature of all of our relationships? Is it hard for you to believe you could fall in love with a machine? What if the machine was in no way perceptibly different from a human? If you don't think this is possible, the first thing that jumped out at me is how much this explains about our relationships with animals. While having a romantic relationship with a sheep is still frowned on in most circles, my point is this:
If you've been following this blog for a while, you've read a good bit about my cat, Ms. Johnson, who's 17 years old. At the moment, her odds of making it to 18 seem poor. If you'll remember, she had a stroke last year; she seems to have had another little one, or maybe a series of them, and last night I found her face down in the litter box again. She seems less out of it that last year; she maintains her appetite and thirst, and she still likes to be petted, but she just can't walk, although she can stumble and drag herself about. At some point, she is going to be unable to walk at all, and at that point, or at some other point, I'll probably have to make a decision about euthanizing her. Now I don't have any qualms about euthanasia if a person is able to make his own decision. A cat, like a person in a coma, can't. Now I don't have any of the qualms of the nutballs in the religious Right about the right to die. To me it is the one decision each of us should have the inviolable right to make. But even if Ms. Johnson could entertain that concept, how could she tell me? After all the loyalty she's shown to me for all these years, I don't want to kill her if she wants to live, or to keep her around if she's in pain.
But this isn't about that; although Ms. Johnson's very much on my mind tonight. The point is, I had a cheeseburger for dinner. Now I don't know if a cat is smarter than a cow or vice versa, although I'm sure there are studies that reach a conclusion about that, as if we were able to truly measure the intelligence of another species, or even of our own. But I know that a pig is smarter than either of them and I had a sausage biscuit for breakfast yesterday morning. I've discussed this issue, of our willingness to not only kill and eat animals, but to raise them under unnecessarily tortuous, horrid conditions, just for that purpose. In no way can Stephanie's love of her dog Gizmo and her fondness for pork chops be justified; it just exists.
And we really don't go that far. We'll preserve the life of an aging, ill man with no consciousness left, at terrible pain and expense; yet we're hire the young men of our country, with lies and delusion, to go murder innocent civilians in another country. We wouldn't think of being rude to our neighbor, yet we'll imprison people of another culture with no charge under mind-crusing conditions and torture at Guantanamo. Not of these polarities are justifiable; they just exist.
My conclusion is just that our attachments have nothing to do with their objects; they only appear to do so. In other words, your love for someone has nothing to do with any merit that person, animal or thing possesses or even appears to possess. Your attachments, like your desires are free-floating, determined by your needs. Ms. Johnson is no better than the pigs who are raised in disease-laden pens, yet I will cry when she dies, and I will, against my better judgment, occasionally eat one of those pigs.
I have long thought that all of our joys and fears, our good days and bad days, our suffering or satiation, are like this, free from external cause, more dependent on our brain chemistry than our experience. And further: what does this tell us about who we are? If this is true, can the identities we perceive as ourselves be said to exist in any objective sense?
I think not. But this blog entry is way too long already, so I'll leave you to feel it out for yourselves. I've been chewing on this for years and have yet to find the answer. But if the things we love are really just constructs in our heads:
What about the Rufi?