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November 22nd, 2004


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10:47 pm - Must We Explain the Supernatural?
A novel or a TV show or a film usually shows the worldview of the author or creator. Chris Carter must believe, to some extent, that "the truth is out there" even if we're never able to find it. JRR Tolkien believed that the meek shall inherit the earth...and we see his small hobbits saving Middle-Earth through endurance and humility.

But sometimes I wonder whether the creators get a bit carried away with their own worldview. [don't get me started on Ursula LeGuin's transformation into a rampant feminist.] Is it valid to state one way of thinking as if it were the only way?



Crime Scene Investigation is a detailed procedural show, with the emphasis on piecing together forensic evidence. But half the fun of watching the show is picking up on character clues, piecing together the mindsets and lives of the investigators.

One of the dimensions of life that is rarely touched on is the possibility of spiritual or supernatural phenomena. Given the show's premise--that scientifically tested evidence can explain anything–-this makes sense. It also makes the moments when religion or paranormal ideas intrude on a plot stand out like blood traces under luminal.

Nick Stokes and Sara Sidle are the characters who seem to be most open to "extreme possibilities." In "Face Lift", Sara investigates the case of a woman reduced to ashes and a pair of feet, while the rest of the room remains untouched. "...spontaneous human combustion...what if it is real, and we've uncovered it?" When working the scene of a brutal quadruple murder ("Blood Drops"), Grissom asks her, "Do you feel that?" and her reply is a quiet, matter-of-fact, "Her soul's still in the room." Nick, when confronted by a geared-up scuba diver stuck in a treetop in the middle of a forest fire, tosses out an urban legend as a valid theory: "Well, you know ... Lake Mead is just over the hill and the copters are
dropping water."

In two of these cases, science disproves the wild theories. Catherine mocks Nick's urban legend, and the truth turns out fairly simple, if unusual. Warrick does his best to disprove Sara's fixation on spontaneous human combustion, and in the end, they discover that there is a natural explanation. Grissom's complacent response shows that he does his best to tutor his CSIs in science above everything: "Well, in science we learn through experimentation, right? Sometimes we need to see it to believe it." He has a similar reaction when Sara brings up the supernatural plot of The Turn of the Screw. "It's a mystery," she maintains. "Did the governess kill the boy, or did the ghost do it?"

"It's only a mystery if you believe in ghosts," is Grissom's crushing reply.

Interestingly, there are at least two times when Grissom himself seems to accept the supernatural as complacently as he accepts the results of science. In "Blood Drops", he remarks on the unusual feeling in the murdered woman's bedroom. And when Sara responds, "Her soul’s still in the room," Grissom doesn't blow that off at all. His expression, and next line ("But there’s something else...."), make it seem like he had come to a similar conclusion, even if it wasn’t the only thing bothering him about the scene.

In "Stalker", self-proclaimed psychic Morris Pearson shows up at the precinct claiming to have evidence in the case. Grissom is very skeptical, and annoyed with Brass for wasting his time–-until Pearson makes a comment about a detail he could not possibly know. I thought Grissom would instantly assume that Pearson had to be a suspect. He does approach the situation cautiously, but pretty much from there on out, Grissom treats the psychic's abilities with the same mix of professional curiosity and practical trust that he accords other forensic tools. And his trust is validated, not only when the visions points the team to the stalker's MO, but when Pearson has another vision, shows up at Nick's place, and possibly keeps Nick from being killed by his presence in the house.

Grissom is also the only character we know for certain was raised in a religious (Catholic) home, though he now "believes in God....but not in rules that tell you how to live." As much as he has apparently tried to push beyond it, it's still a part of him. A priest ("Alter Boys") compares his work to Grissom's, and says with great insight that Grissom still carries a Catholic's sense of guilt: "When the light bulb goes out for a Catholic, he stands in the dark and asks 'what did I do wrong?'" Grissom outright denies this, but the final scene of the episode shows him blaming himself for the suicidal death of an innocent young man he could not find enough evidence to clear.

And when a murderer who is grateful that Grissom spoke out for his victim says, "You may not believe in God, sir, but you do His work," Grissom doesn’t seem to know what to say.

So in spite of the solidity of the premise of science on which the show is based, it does leave some cracks open for the inexplicable. I would love to write a story where something ghostly happens in conjunction with a crime...and Grissom has to deal with something he honestly can’t explain.



Another show that at least feigns to have a basis in facts is Stargate SG1. I probably shouldn't be trying to talk about this show, since I have seen only a few episodes. However, it seems to be a typical sci-fi show, in that even what an untutored person would instantly recognize as a "ghost" is brushed off as something outside our own dimension, an energy being, or a "non-corporeal" being. If it can be explained in some pseudo-scientific way, then there's no reason to deal with any spiritual consequences of these things existing.

Admittedly, that's not what the show is for. But still--a show that deals repeatedly with the theme of false gods, with the idea that those who set themselves up over other beings by pretending to godhood are wrong and should be fought.... I find myself really wanting to see what they might not expect (a real God) intervene in their lives. Show them the reality that the Goauld counterfeit so poorly.

I blame this line of thinking on ELG's fic The Quality of Mercy. The author tends to wax long-winded on the angst, but there's a deeply creative plot, and it's well worth reading just for the fantastic scene where SG-1 faces down a pair of Goualds in a local temple. It's a battle of wits and words, centering on the idea that false gods can be brought down.

But it made me realize that SG-1 doesn't seem to bring much to the table, in the sense of exploring whether there might be something true that the Goaulds are imitating.

I just think that would be interesting to see.

Current Mood: nerdynerdy

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Comments:


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:November 24th, 2004 06:13 am (UTC)

Re: A few thoughts

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Definitely interesting thoughts here re: Daniel and Apophis. I guess I didn't immediately think of the Ancients because I've only seen one episode in which they were involved--the one where Ascended!Daniel tries to stop Apophis from destroying Abydos. The fact that he didn't succeed, but that someone (Oma, I assume) "saved" the Abydonians by ascending them all, annoyed me. Not sure whether my writer's copout-meter or my sense of fair play (only a random select few get ascended, huh?) were more to blame for that. Either way, I'm not really a fan of Oma's. At the moment, anyway.
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 23rd, 2004 10:14 am (UTC)

(part 1)

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It's really interesting that you should bring this up now (and a nice fascinating question to distract me away from myself, I need that). Because if you'd asked me a week ago about this, I would probably have had a different answer. But I've just been reading Chesterton's biography of Saint Thomas Aquinas (and no, I don't normally read the biographies of saints, it's just that it's by Chesterton...) and there are some very interesting things that have been said about Science and Religion, and the material and the spiritual, which have made me realize I had been sucked in to an erronious point of view on the nature of Science and Religion (and the Nature of Being). So what has this got to do with the above? Well, I'll get to that. One thing at a time.

Is it valid to state one way of thinking as if it were the only way?

Of course. If one isn't just being self-deceptive, one needs to speak what one understands to be the truth. Anything else is lunacy.

"At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."
-- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Of course, what is really frustrating you isn't that the makers of these shows are sticking to one world-view, it's that they are sticking to a world-view that doesn't fit the world. (Now, last week, I would have said, that the thing that was frustrating you is that they have a different world-view from you...)

"The modern habit of saying "Every man has a different philosophy; this is my philosophy and it suits me": the habit of saying this is mere weak-mindedness. A cosmic philosophy is not constructed to fit a man; a cosmic philosophy is constructed to fit a cosmos. A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon."
-- G.K. Chesterton, Introduction to the Book of Job

So in spite of the solidity of the premise of science on which the show is based, it does leave some cracks open for the inexplicable.

The problem is... people have gotten sucked in to the idea that there is Scientific Truth, and there is Religious Truth, and never the twain shall meet; that there is only room for spiritual things in the cracks left behind by Scientific things. In reality, there is only One Truth, the truth that fits Reality like a hand to a glove -- the hand of its Creator. Now, I knew this, knew this instinctively for a long time, which is why I never had any fear of Evolution "disproving" the existance of God. The truth is the truth. But I've been hanging around with too many Calvinists, and they'd gotten me to agree that man can never find God by using Reason -- only Revelation will do it. Chesterton has just reminded me of that old truth, with a good way of explaining the apparent discrepancy: it isn't that it is impossible to use Reason to find the Truth (otherwise why would Paul have said that Creation makes it obvious that there is a Creator?). It is just that it isn't feasable for most people to spend all their time reasoning it out: that Revelation is God's shortcut.

The whole controversy between Science and Religion (I wish I could quote you the bit I've been reading, but it's rather long) boils down to the impatience of men -- "And unfortunately, nineteenth century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were seventeenth-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation." (Chesterton, "Saint Thomas Aquinas"). So they end up arguing dogmatically about things that may not, in the end, be true.

There is still only one Truth, because there is only one Cosmos.

[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:November 24th, 2004 06:36 am (UTC)

Re: (part 1)

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"Is it valid to state one way of thinking as if it were the only way?"

Of course. If one isn't just being self-deceptive, one needs to speak what one understands to be the truth. Anything else is lunacy.


Succinctly put. "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind..." (if I'm not taking that utterly out of context...).

Of course, what is really frustrating you isn't that the makers of these shows are sticking to one world-view, it's that they are sticking to a world-view that doesn't fit the world.

Yes! Thank you! Science, used as a partitioning tool or a defense mechanism, definitely annoys me. It's all very well to separate things like church and state (not getting into that right now), but when you try to separate the ways we view the world, the possibility for purpose and meaning, from supposedly objective descriptions of the natural world.... It sure limits our ability to come up with any kind of all-inclusive cosmology.

I kind of wish we could go back to the medieval attitude, incorporating religion and science and philosophy in an attempt to understand the world, instead of assuming that only the things we can quantify and measure do in fact exist.

Chesterton has just reminded me of that old truth, with a good way of explaining the apparent discrepancy: it isn't that it is impossible to use Reason to find the Truth (otherwise why would Paul have said that Creation makes it obvious that there is a Creator?). It is just that it isn't feasable for most people to spend all their time reasoning it out: that Revelation is God's shortcut.

Wow. Yeah. [I think I need to read this book.] And clearly, we need the Revelation more than ever now, when people will seek out "natural" explanations (even if they don't fit Occam Razor at all) rather than admit that God might exist or that there are things we will never be able to totally comprehend, nevermind explain.
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 24th, 2004 09:26 am (UTC)

Re: (part 1)

(Link)
I think I need to read this book.
I just have to warn you, though, it's not an easy read. It is sprinkled with gems, yes, but there's a fair bit to wade through too.
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 23rd, 2004 10:18 am (UTC)

(part 2)

(Link)

It's interesting that you cite Grissom being happy to believe a psychic -- that seems typical of modern society. Because with psychics they can have their cake and eat it too: dabble in the exciting unknown, yet not have to confront the aweful reality of God himself.

If it can be explained in some pseudo-scientific way, then there's no reason to deal with any spiritual consequences of these things existing.

Exactly.

But still--a show that deals repeatedly with the theme of false gods, with the idea that those who set themselves up over other beings by pretending to godhood are wrong and should be fought.... I find myself really wanting to see what they might not expect (a real God) intervene in their lives. Show them the reality that the Goauld counterfeit so poorly.

The closest they came to this, as tammy has pointed out, is with the Ascended. Except that, as I kept on saying in that episode where Jack was being tortured and Daniel is sitting there not doing anything except talk at him: "Ascension sucks!" For several reasons.

First of all, they are supposed to be so wise and powerful, yet the only thing they do with that power is -- what? Sit there and be Wise and Contemplative? I've had it explained to me that they are so wise, that they are wise enough to know that they are not wise enough to choose wisely, so they choose to do nothing.

At which I will throw another quote:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
- Edmund Burke

The second problem with the Ascended is a more subtle one. The writers have fallen into the fallacy which seems to be repeated over and over again in SF: that truely advanced beings are bodiless; as if the body was something bad. Which is basically Manicheeism: that Spirit is Good and Matter is Evil.
Except that when God created Matter, "He saw that it was good."

But it made me realize that SG-1 doesn't seem to bring much to the table, in the sense of exploring whether there might be something true that the Goaulds are imitating.

I just think that would be interesting to see.

It would, indeed, be very interesting to see, but I think the only place one is likely to see it would be in fanfic.

[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:November 24th, 2004 06:53 am (UTC)

Re: (part 2)

(Link)
It's interesting that you cite Grissom being happy to believe a psychic -- that seems typical of modern society. Because with psychics they can have their cake and eat it too: dabble in the exciting unknown, yet not have to confront the aweful reality of God himself.

Huh. That puts rather new spin on Grissom's character, particularly his religious background. Catherine is skeptical of the psychic...but maybe this is one thing Grissom's willing to allow in because 1) it gets results, and 2) he can feel like he's being openminded and a good investigator without having to revisit the God question.

*chases plot bunnies off with a 2x4*

First of all, they are supposed to be so wise and powerful, yet the only thing they do with that power is -- what? Sit there and be Wise and Contemplative? I've had it explained to me that they are so wise, that they are wise enough to know that they are not wise enough to choose wisely, so they choose to do nothing. At which I will throw another quote:
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke


Yes. This is something that bothers me about the whole Ascended story arc, even though I haven't seen nearly all the eps involved. And it seems to be true that some of them disagree--Oma goes around helping people ascend, right? I.e., they may not be as wise as they think they are.

Nice point about the non-corporeal thing, too. CS Lewis does exactly the opposite with his version of angels in the Space Trilogy, the "eldila"--can't find my book right now, but he has one character explaining to another that the eldila do have bodies, just ones that "move at a different speed" from ours. Not so different from the Stargate-ish "out of phase" explanations, perhaps. In fact I'll back down on that one...it's just good sci-fi terminology.

But it made me realize that SG-1 doesn't seem to bring much to the table, in the sense of exploring whether there might be something true that the Goaulds are imitating.

It would, indeed, be very interesting to see, but I think the only place one is likely to see it would be in fanfic.


No! More plot bunnies! Where's my zat...?

[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 24th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)

Re: (part 2)

(Link)
No! More plot bunnies! Where's my zat...?
Stop! Only shoot it once! That way it could revive later. 8-)

The idea of "exploring whether there might be something true that the Goaulds are imitating" would take a light touch, I think.

Dipping one's toes in... what about a conversation between Teal'c and the base's Chaplain? (There's got to be a Chaplain, doesn't there?)

No, I am not going to write it myself, but I shall shamelessly nag you to write it. (grin)

From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 24th, 2004 05:57 pm (UTC)

Re: (part 2)

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"Certainly there is life after death, Father Mulcahy. I have seen Daniel'jackson Ascend to a higher plane by Oma Desala. I have seen Major'carter brought back by the Nox. I have seen O'neill rejuvenated in a Sarcoghagus. How would you explain your concept of such?"

"Well, Teal'c..."

:-)

-JD
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 24th, 2004 08:07 pm (UTC)

Re: (part 2)

(Link)
Certainly there is life after death, Father Mulcahy.
LOL!

"Well, Teal'c, the Bible attests to a number of miracles of resurrection, including that when Our Lord resurrected Lazarus, though he was three days dead..."

Actually, though, the Ascended are really rather tricky to deal with in a God-centred cosmology. I mean, even though things like Ascension don't happen in the real world, when one is playing fictionally in another universe, one has to play by their rules. And you can't just call the Ascended ghosts, because they can do things that ghosts can't do...

[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:November 25th, 2004 08:01 am (UTC)

Re: (part 2)

(Link)
Dipping one's toes in... what about a conversation between Teal'c and the base's Chaplain? (There's got to be a Chaplain, doesn't there?)

*sigh* The one problem with that is that I think I'm going to have some trouble writing Teal'c. Maybe. We'll see, after I finish a season or two. It's a good idea, though (and short, yay!).

No, I am not going to write it myself, but I shall shamelessly nag you to write it. (grin)

*headdesk* You're terrible. That TS/Sliders bunny is still gnawing at my toes. Nevertheless...if you nag, I shall likely respond. *sigh* So many good ideas, so little time!

[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 25th, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC)

Re: (part 2)

(Link)
You are reprieved from nagging until you have a better grasp of Teal'c. 8-)
And you can zat the TS/Sliders bunny, because we're all too busy to do that until later. 8-)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 23rd, 2004 08:30 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Quite a good point, I was trying to rack my brain to think up an episode that does deal with the supernatural without trying to explain it...and came up with "Crystal Skull", where the intrepid team meets the impressive Quetzalcoatl.

Then, of course, I remembered Nicholas Ballard's breathless exclamation: "Giant...ALIENS!" So there goes that.

I suppose it's just not in the mind-set of the show to allow the supernatural to exist, it's very humanist, in a way. Sort of says something about the way we meet false snake-in-the-head "Gods" that surely meant something to their (followers/slaves) and they keep dying from torture, explosion, staff weapon blasts...but I digress.

They might explore the nature of the Christian God or even true supernormal events in the future...but I sort of doubt it. The Powers That Be don't seem brave enough. :-)

Still love the show.

-JD
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:November 24th, 2004 07:02 am (UTC)
(Link)
"Crystal Skull"...isn't that the one where out-of-phase Daniel goes wandering intangibly around the SGC? That's what I had in mind when I put that comment about people not knowing a "ghost" when they see it. :-)

I suppose it's just not in the mind-set of the show to allow the supernatural to exist, it's very humanist, in a way. Sort of says something about the way we meet false snake-in-the-head "Gods" that surely meant something to their (followers/slaves) and they keep dying from torture, explosion, staff weapon blasts...but I digress.

ROTFL! A little writerly projection, you mean? God let me down, he must not exist, let's make all the "god" characters evil so we can kill them off? "God is dead," in a few dozen different ways? Heh.

I don't know, though. It's true that the characters, while having room to accept things way beyond normal human experience, do seem to all carry a strong humanist perspective. But is this the way the characters are written, or the way the writers want to portray our actual universe? It's true that shows like SG-1 (sci-fi/fantasy in general) can broaden one's mind...maybe they're just content to do this via the whole extraterrestrial idea, and not take it any farther. That's fair, I suppose, given the genre.

They might explore the nature of the Christian God or even true supernormal events in the future...but I sort of doubt it. The Powers That Be don't seem brave enough. :-)

And that's another possibility. :-) Well, that's what fanfic is for, right?

Still love the show.

Oh, ditto. In fact, I'm logging off now so I can go watch "The Broca Divide" before I have to go to bed.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 24th, 2004 06:00 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Just realized while making a post above...

The Nox! They did not try to explain the Nox! Sure, the Nox have floating cities, and are *assumed* to have high technology so as to be one of the Four Races...but it never was understood how the Nox have such powers to ressurrect, to create illusion, to become invisible. Hmm...

-JD
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 24th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC)
(Link)
but it never was understood how the Nox have such powers to ressurrect, to create illusion, to become invisible.

That's easy! They're just "psychic". End of explanation, and another example of pseudo-scientific site-stepping of spiritual questions.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 24th, 2004 08:55 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Don't encourage them! Now that they have such an easy out, they might bring the Nox back and use it! :-)

-JD
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 25th, 2004 04:28 am (UTC)
(Link)
But I assumed that the "psychic" explanation was what they had intended all along.
They didn't need me to point it out.
[User Picture]
From:kerravonsen
Date:November 24th, 2004 08:10 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Er, I meant "side-stepping", not "site-stepping"!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:November 30th, 2004 08:06 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Now that I recall, the episode "Spirits" dealt with non-apparent spiritual beings, belief and skepticism in them, at least until the beings became apparent. Ah well.

-JD

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