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Philosophical Fiction

The show “Alice in Borderland” is the best piece of philosophy that I have seen in some time.

In it, people are transported into a dystopian version of Tokyo in which they must compete in games of survival.

If you have watched “Planet Earth,” then you too have a sense of how nature is more like “Alice in Borderland” than our own conception of reality in which we romanticize the beauty of nature (and it is stunningly beautiful) but tend to sanitize from our sensibilities the brutality and unpredictability of nature.

In nature, a deer lies down to sleep. Hungry wolves may find it before it can wake to run. Unlucky deer. Lucky wolves. In a stampede of buffalo, the slowest gets taken down and devoured by a pride of lions. The weak die. The strong survive. Some animals learn to live in packs for added protection or for added predatory prowess. Some tactics lead to better or worse odds of survival.

That is “Alice in Borderland.” People choose different paths to try to survive the games. Their lives depend on chance and on their chosen tactics: deception, trustworthiness, selfishness, loyalty.

But that is not why “Alice in Borderland” provides such rich philosophical potential. As of yet, it is no more enlightening than “Planet Earth.”

The show is the quest of the philosopher residing in all of us.

The parallels are not perfect, but, on the whole, the people/players are trying to find out how they got there, who is controlling the world and making them play these games according to preset rules, and how they might escape to a better world.

Every culture has (presumably independently) come to the conclusion that there is more to this world than meets the eye. Animals do not question their existence and participation in constant games of survival. But humans do. We have evolved to question the game. We do not (when we are using our human capacities) play the games blindly but instead seek the purpose of the game and the truth behind it.

Modern science has not solved this search. In the Big Bang, the origin of life, and the preset rules of nature, many atheists take on faith that there is nothing behind the material. It sees itself as having reached the answer (that there is no purpose or meaning, only nihilism). But it should have the humility to realize that it offers no proof of ultimate answers and abandons the quest instead of realizing that it is simply a chapter in it.

It was only through the most evolved cognition that the world has ever seen that humans realized that there seems to be something more. And cultures have come to remarkably similar explanations: one or more supernatural beings created and exert control over this world. In traditional Greek belief, the gods were mostly just like humans: some good, some bad, prone both to anger and love. In the Christian tradition, God and His angels war against the Devil and his demons.

Not all religions are the same, of course, but they are evidence that all people throughout all recorded history have independently ascertained that there is more to the world than meets the physical eye (all but the most strident nihilists, for instance, still believe in the transcendent/supernatural ability of humans to have free will). This conclusion of virtually unanimous belief in the transcendent, I think, adds tremendous credence to the assumption that there is something transcendent — and, logically, one religion probably represents the truth better than others. But no religion is set in stone. Two thousand years before Jesus, Judaism had long ascertained that God was a loving God, but there was no belief in an afterlife. Shortly before the life of Jesus, Jews and Greeks began to believe in the immortality of the soul. After Jesus, more people believe in Christianity’s message than in any other religion, namely that God loves His creations so much that He sent His only son to die for us to wipe away our sins, conquer sin, prove definitively how much He loves us through His own sacrifice, and allow us to experience that immortality with Him.

Theology, however, is not dead. Theologians and philosophers of every religion and belief still seek greater understanding of the ultimate questions and possible answers. This quest for understanding is, perhaps, the most exciting and terrifying part of this survival game with the highest possible stakes — not only the fate of our current temporal lives but the fate of our potentially eternal souls.

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