Of Anime, Newton and Philosophy

So I finally got around to watching Full Metal Alchemist, often called the best anime of all time. Full Metal Alchemist is set in an alternate universe where the world and its power distribution is decided not by machinery, but by alchemy, the transmutation of base elements into pure ones, such as gold, and then into the elixir of life. It follows two adolescent brothers who attempt human transmutation, fail, and pay with their bodies, spending the rest of the series attempting to regain their entire human forms.

It’s an engagingly constructed anime, and definitely lived up to the hype. However, what made the anime rise above and really make an impact, at least on my mind, was because of the deep, yet basic, question they brought up, forcing us viewers to think about it.

Every episode began with these lines:

Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To obtain, something of equal value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange.

In  the end however, they question this. Does everything necessarily have a price? And, each time we pay a price, do we necessarily gain anything in return? Infants that die young pay with their lives. What have they gained in return? Most people studying for competitive examinations put an equal amount of effort into their preparations, but different levels of talent are born everywhere. This cannot be made to co-exist with the Law of Conservation, or Equivalent Exchange. Clearly, the price you pay means nothing in and of itself. So where does that leave us?

My first reaction was to bristle and say we at least gain experience, which must count for something, but then FMA replied, saying that the Law of Conservation is merely meant to keep those who pay happy, content in the knowledge that they must have gained something, whatever it may be. Something in that ignited this ever-present vein of pessimism in me, always lurking just beneath the surface. Why put in any effort at all if, at worst, the results are predetermined and, at best, things beyond our control play the greatest part in our endeavors? And the answer came to me just as fast.

Can you imagine not doing anything about it, just waiting around for the results of….what? We would never be satisfied letting things turn out the way they will. We, as human beings, have an innate sense of self-preservation, the need to make sure as far as possible, at least from our own side, that we have the best chance of succeeding in anything we may attempt. That’s who we are.

The Law of Conservation lets us believe, as we so badly want to, that life is fair; that anyone can achieve anything provided they put in the effort or pay the price required; it means nothing is impossible. It is the foundation of civilization today, the law of karma, the basis of trade and pay and money. You sow what you reap. Every action, as Newton said, has an equal and opposite reaction. If that fundamental law were to be disproven, how would courts of law exist, how would society’s standards be upheld in the absence of the belief that there is a objective price to be paid for every action?

So now I believe that not everyone is created equal, that we are not all capable of the same things. There probably isn’t any objective price for any given gain. But maybe, by paying the right price, we can do anything we want to to the best of our abilities.

Why the Internet is Like Magic

Whether you’re in school, in college, working, or retired, I’m betting the debate has been brought to you in one form or the other: is the internet a boon or a bane? Is the internet distracting us from what’s important in life (typical points being family, friends, relationships, etc.) or is it helping us grow and learn more about the world and helping us stay more in touch with each other? Or, if both, then which effect affects us more? Even, is it worth staying in touch with several people across the world at the cost of the person who’s standing there right in front of you? In general I think, personally, that the internet is like magic. Just like Hagrid warns Harry about magic, and how not all wizards are good, I think that no item or invention is inherently good or evil – it depends on the use we choose to put them to. That said, I believe that people love blame-shifting; makes us feel better. “It’s not my fault – the mug just slipped….”, or “I would have been able to find it if I had a better organizer”, or even, “It’s not my fault – the test was just way too hard!” We’ve always loved blaming something  or someone else for our own lapses in focus or responsibility. As the saying goes, a poor workman always blames his tools. How is the internet any different? We had loners and unsociable people before the advent of the internet too, just as we had loafers and discourteous people who ignored people around them for something or someone else. It just so happens that, today, almost all our ways and means of enjoyment or killing time are linked in some way to the internet, so we’ve found a good blanket term to substitute for “laziness” and use as a scapegoat for our own lack of etiquette or priorities. A friend and I share a certain belief regarding the importance of various forms of communication, and the priority that you give people using each of them, that can be expressed like this: someone you’re texting/chatting online with <someone you’re talking on the phone with < someone you’re talking face-to-face with (which should be pretty self-evident, but doesn’t seem to be as important to people as they claim) I think everyone is aware of what their priorities are or should be, and yet chooses to disregard it. We all, as a people, see our guilt reflected in that of those who put the internet above their human connections and relationships, and, to ease our own consciences, blame their lapses on the internet. So anyway, I like to compare the internet to magic – it helps us  stay in touch and learn more and do just about everything with less effort. But, like magic, it can have both positive and negative effects. At the end of the day, it’s the bond we’ve shared with those around us which’ll make our lives worth living, which will make us want to get up in the morning. Nothing should ever get in the way of that – least of all a set of cables, a circuitboard and binary code. And now, I should get off the internet and go spend some time with family. See, Ma? Writing prompts are good for me.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/distractions/