Thursday, November 1, 2012

'Ghost' and the soul pt.1

by Hanno

     The movie Ghost is still, after all these years, quite popular and well known.  In it, the character played by Patrick Swayze, dies.  His 'ghost' arises from his dead body.  It looks like him, but cannot be seen or heard by anyone else until later in the movie.  His ghost is not a physical object, but some sort of immaterial one.  It is a disembodied 'spirit.'  His hand passes right through his own corpse, and just about everything else.  After learning how to overcome the mind-body problem (you have to concentrate), the ghost learns to manipulate the world around him.  He discovers that there are other ghosts wandering around.  He then uses his ability to manipulate the world to save his lover, and cause, indirectly, the death of the two principle villains.
     When one of the villains dies, the villain's ghost separates from his body, and a whirl of shadowy figures drags the ghost away, screaming and whining, horrified at what is happening to him.  Later, when the principle villain is killed, the same thing happens to his ghost.  Meanwhile, after the final killing, Swayze's lover can see him, and they all see many more ghosts in what appears to be some sort of portal to a better place, presumably heaven.  Now that his task is done, he is free to ascend upward.
     I saw this movie many years ago.  (I'm pretty sure I did not see it when it came out, because I was not married then.  But I did see it on VHS.)  It did not strike me that this was in any way remarkable.  I do remember thinking, well, that is a bizarre way of overcoming the mind-body problem, but that Sawyze looked like his ghost, that his ghost was incorporeal (disembodied), that the bad guy has his soul tormented, and the good guy goes to a better place all struck me as not worth mentioning.
     And yet, this is a testament to just how thorough the Greek concept of the soul is for modern American society. These are not universal features of the human conceptions of the afterlife, but rather given to us by Homer and Plato. Homer gives us souls ("psuche", psyche) that are visible, but disembodied, and dragged down to Hades where bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good ones.  The dragging down in the Iliad and in the Odyssey are much the way the movie presents it.
     For example,  in the Odyssey, Odysseus goes to the underworld (Hades) as part of his quest, and sees the soul (psuche) of his mother.  It looks just like her, just as in the movie.  The soul does not recognize him, and another soul explains that she needs to feed on blood before his mother's psuche will respond.  Odysseus tries to touch her:
Thrice I sprang towards her and tried to clasp her in my arms, but each time she flitted from my embrace as it were a dream or phantom,"
Here, Odysseus can see his mother, but she has no substance, no material being.  In a way, it reverses the movie, when Swayze the ghost attempt to touch his corpse, and passes right through (See below).  Sawyze and Odysseus's mother exists as a disembodied 'psuche,' psyche, soul.  She responds to him:
"'My son,' she answered, 'most ill-fated of all mankind, it is not Persephone that is beguiling you, but all people are like this when they are dead.The sinews no longer hold the flesh and bones together; these perish in the fierceness of consuming fire as soon as life has left the body, and the psuche flits away as though it were a dream."

His mother's fate, being a disembodied psyche, is the fate of all mankind.  The body falls apart, and the psyche flits away as substantial as a dream.   Sometimes that psyche stays on earth until the corpse is properly buried or burned.  But in all cases, among the  Greeks, if there is life after death, it is in this disembodied state.
It is the Greek view which has become so mainstream, that we do not even bat an eye when we see it portrayed in a popular movie.  I do not think it takes much thought to see how unusual the disembodied view is:  if we were not used to it, familiar with it, have it passed down to us, we would see this in the movie and boggle.
      The Greek tradition comes to us from the Christian tradition (although the early Christian tradition held the resurrection to be physical, embodied).  Imagine for a moment, that one was not raised in this tradition, or had any connection to the Greek worldview.  What would you make of it?

[Ghost, by the way, apparently comes from the Germanic word for scary supernatural thing, rather than 'soul' or 'spirit.']

The disembodied psuche.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Action Philosophers! Free Preview Edition


“Imagine Plato as a wrestling superstar of ancient Greece, Nietzsche as the original ubermensch, and Bohidharma as the grand master of kung fu. These are not just great thinkers they also make great comics. Action Philosophers! details the lives and thoughts of history’s A-list brain trust in hip and humorous comic book fashion. “
That’s how the Action Philosophers! comic book was pitched when its creators, Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, published it in 2009. The comic book is still in print, and you can read the fun preview edition online. It starts, of course, with the Pre-Socratics — Thales, Anaximander, Parmenides, and the gang. Enjoy.