Dances with Bioluminescent Wolves... (Wilber's Review of Avatar)

This just in from Integral Life:


"Avatar was a cultural phenomenon from the very first day of its theatrical release. As it exploded onto the global zeitgeist with its revolutionary use of advanced 3D computer visuals and digitally-enhanced actors, we knew this was something to pay attention to from the very first frame. Much has been made of its staggering commercial success, with a worldwide box office of over 2 billion dollars (to date). But even more interesting was the heated controversy that emerged, concerning its themes of environmental warfare and the clash between not just human and alien, but modern and tribal worldviews.

From an integral perspective, Avatar looks at first glance like a classic postmodern romantic view of an alien tribal culture locked in mortal combat with the most extreme forces of modern earthlings—somewhere in the vicinity of Dances with Bioluminescent Wolves, or perhaps Pocahontas In Space.

But after repeated viewings, some more subtle questions emerged. In this review, Ken thoroughly explores the developmental themes that Avatar presents, but also explores whether or not Cameron left the door open for the next film (reportedly already in development) to go beyond mere developmental stereotypes, and really explore about what might happen if the best of human and Na'vi traits actually evolved together in the world of Pandora. Join us as we plug in and link up with James Cameron's sci-fi epic story, Avatar!"



Listen to the (free) review here.

Views: 376

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I would think that what takes place in the movie in terms of shifting ones full consciousness to another organism is an impossibility. I think everyone can relate to having an inner essence that no matter how much you experience or develop in life it never seems to change. If that essence can change local I doubt it would accompany the same mental capacities and filters as before.

There may be an element of consciousness to the various wholes within a holon, but does that mean the holon itself has to be conscious? I don't think so. Also, I think a brain would have to be active in some sense to enact the correlates of the other quadrants. The test tube body in the movie just represents an empty vessel. No ethics involved.

Given the scenario you paint, Ed, I would agree ethics do come into play. I, however, don't think a scenario of such would be a given result. There would be no prior being.

For me it seems to be a bit of a stretch to think we are merely the sum of our unique environments.
I've forgotten almost everything I ever knew about that movie...thank god...but I think the answer to Edward's dilemma lies in whether or not we, the ga-ga movie goers, had any information about the source of the in vitro grown body that our stalwart hero, whatshisname, occupied...such as in Jurassic Park I we knew the whole genealogy of the beast(s). Was this the case it was called? Stupid movie. Was the prima materia such that it gave the pre-occupied (so to speak) body any cognizance of its own being. If the psyche of the in vitro entity was tabula problem.

If we, the ga-ga, had no information on that particular plot point then the point is moot...remember in reaching for real-life meaning in a movie, any movie, no one has ever made a silk purse from a sow's ear.
Speaking of SciFi: Demolition Man just made it to South America via cable...Stallone, Snipes, Bullock. This is relevant Sci-Fi. Where else, even in Avatar, will one hear such a profound line as: "You remind me of an evil Mr. Rogers!"

(Old Hands will recall that for years I referred to KW as Mister Wilber in as much as I always knew that KW and Mister Rogers were twins separated at birth. Don't ya'll just love haute intellectual pomo analysis?)
Part of my inquiry questions whether the avatar body can be a completely tabula rasa, even assuming its history is one of never experiencing waking consciousness. Is that even possible in human(oid) embodiment?

And what about when it is "activated" by Jake's consciousness. Does that not then start its own conscious path when Jake is not there? Even if it is only asleep without Jake it now has his experience, combinded with its own unique and different dna and neurology, that would differentiate itself from Jake in its dreams.

All of which touches on the notion that higher levels of consciounsess completely transcend and subsume lower levels, even in one human(oid) body. This is justified in integraland by the higher level being more inclusive, more comprehensive, etc., but quite a few presenters at the recent ITC legitimately question this. If this idea isn't justified in one body-mind, imagine the eugenic implications* in transcending and including another being, however low on the "awareness" scale.

* Stein noted this in one of his papers, using the term "eugenics" related to the so-called higher level people being the only ones capable of leadership.
i watched the movie 'moon' recently and i think that this issue definitely will come up in the near future as cloning becomes mainstream...this is probably a bit of a tangent to the scenario in avatar but it's going to throw a wrench in the wheel of religion and consciousness studies when it happens.........

Bonnitta posted this very interesting essay by Latour on FB yesterday:  The Compositionist Manifesto.  It draws on Avatar for some of its imagery so I'm posting it here.  It's a timely read for me since the topic of my talk in Berkeley this coming week (Magic Circles, Generative (En)closures, and Kosmic Foam) presents a similar view (via the Sloterdijkian metaphor of foam).

Just reading the first couple of pages his notion of manifesto reminds me of what I wrote recently on the current Congressional Progressive Caucus budget. It is indeed a manifesto in Latour's terms, something that gives vision and hope to what we can and ultimately will become, even if we're not there at present.

On p. 474 Latour said:

"Compositionism takes up the task of searching for universality but without believing that this universality is already there, waiting to be unveiled and discovered."

This was after him talking about progress. And it is here that I find some reservation with Bryant on teleos. We can see that by taking account of the compositional nature of suobjects, their dependent origination as it were, we enact universals without assuming they were a priori Platonist forms.

Same with teleos and progress; it may not be inherent to the world, but by virtue of understanding the compositional nature of it we can shift it into (enact) a progressive teleos that may not have been there from the outset. And by we I mean humans, given we have evolved to a point of self-consciousness, not to be confused with the prehensive sort of translation inherent to all structures, sentient or not. So in that sense this is indeed a developmental correlationist position and a necessary one if we are to actually progress into a fair and equitable society.

We certainly need the speculative realist and object-oriented ontology critique of a modernist universalism associated with correlationism. But then we must recognize humanity's unequal mereological place in the scheme of things and take hold of that responsibility with purpose and progress in mind.

Granted Bryant has recently questioned correlationism per se in this post. He advocates a form of pan-correlationism in that all suojects translate their worlds. But this goes beyond anthropocentric translation. And elsewhere he has noted that all suobject exist equally, but do not equally exist, accounting for the notion of suobjects of more inclusive mereological scale. So the next obvious conclusion is that it is the responsibility of anthropos, with this knowledge, to move forward and progress. Without humanity, at least its more enlightened progressives, we are in very real danger of catastrophic destruction via climate change, possibly even to the planet for millennia if not forever. Hence a return to this sort of correlationism and its enacted teleos might indeed be thwarted if we get obsessed with its modernist manifestations.

In rereading this article today it supports my prior questions above about the 'science' of downloading consciousness into another body. The notion itself is Cartesian and presupposes a mind-as-computer metaphor with its inherent dualism. It is not surprising then that other such consciousness download movies like The Matrix are popular with the kennilinguists, being formal dualists of this type.

Still, I like the metaphor of the modernist Jake getting inculcated by the Na'vi and becoming a centaur. It's just the consciousness download idea is itself one of those modernist tropes based on the disembodied mind.

Anyone who has read my Integral Life article on "Ken Machiavelli" will know that I am a supporter of Integral social pragmatics. Allying with popular, powerful forces and extending positive interpretations to super-successful "blockbusters" is certainly something of which I approve.

On the other hand, as a personal fan of both Integral theory and Science Fiction I hated AVATAR. I hated it like TITANIC and the other dull, pedantic, ideological James Cameron films. Avatar was amazing not only for its superficial philosophy but for its capacity to get really bad performances out of great actors... and to reduce amazing visual effects into exciting but forgettable trivia. 

It's 3D significance was, in hindsight, only because it was early to use this tech. Personally, I never saw a useful application of this technology until Cave of Forgotten Dreams

As I never cease of saying, we must get beyond the "type of content" when analyzing films. Especially if we hope to bring an integral analysis. Levels of complexity pertain to the style with which content is held -- not to the obvious category of content. The "presentation of archaic lifestyles" should not be assumed to have anything to do with the archaic level any more than conformist assertion of postmodern values should be associated with Green culture. We are really limited as long as we try to connect the "content" of artworks to our theories.

The idea that "dances with wolves" is historical or "stars wars" and "avatar" are futuristic is the most conventionalist sort of claptrap. The evocative power of these films is not related to their depiction of so-called 'past' or 'futures'. Rather the evocation is based on its presentation of the structural energies and frustrations which bind our current sociological field. Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror is a generally privileged genre which presents the mythic version of our current ideology. AVATAR is NOT presenting either a "vision of a possible future" or a "green fantasize of tribal life". At least not any more than pornography present actual sexual desires. The sales context of the categorical content of the type of reality presented in these genres should really not be accepted, at face value, as the philosophical communication of an entertainment. 

But again -- I am a big fan of Wilber's cold-blooded manipulation of the movie to lay down his rap on the general Spiral vision and the pre-pluralist reality of pre-pluralist stages of development. And there is no reason why we should not interpret the contradictions and flaws of the reality presented in any film in order to sketch out trajectories toward integrative approaches.

Wilber takes Orange and Green idealism to task and perverts the common idea of this film in order to hammer home his usual diatribe. And that's good.

To take seriously a project of integrative art criticism, we need to examine the levels and domains associated with various lines of intelligence relative to a particular work of entertainment. This present some very well-known problems which usually end up with vague platitudes like, "Art made by people with integral awareness is integral art". We end up with those platitudes because we simply cannot gauge things by the content of the artifacts. A naive dogmatist's film about Jesus is not more spiritual than Van Gogh's painting of French fields simply because it has recognizably spiritual content. If we evaluate the category of presented content then we are not yet in a position to evaluate anything like the sender of the message, the purpose of the message, the style of the message, etc. All these are areas in which the developmental spectrum ought to apply.

In particular we must concentrate our analysis on the way in which content is held -- rather than the apparent "library shelf category" of what is being depicted. Integral economics is MORE INTEGRAL than holistic-pluralistic psychology, spirituality and cosmology. We let ourselves off the hook by performing the common invocation of the content. Examining, for example, the "primitive" or "modernist" groups portrayed in AVATAR allows us to blissful ignore any need to something difficult like determine which primitive or conventional or modern approaches to lighting, dialogue, acting, casting, insight-deployment, humor, etc. are being communicated. Yet this is exactly the effort we would have to undertake in order to begin speaking sensibly in an "integrative" fashion about cinema.

It is almost unconscionable that people take a quick viewing of the "worlds" which a film depicts and uses that to categorize the film generally. This is fine if we just want to initiate a general developmental discussion or (as mentioned in my last comment, above) we want to exploit the film to make a integral case. But as soon as we become serious about integral film analysis we must get over such superstition and deeply "first tier" approaches. 

This should be apparent from the existence of comedy and horror. People are not literally terrified by horror films (such people do not go to see horror films). People do not believe that when Will Ferrel plays and angry patriotic nationalists that either the film, the actor, the writer or the director is communicating forms which should be interpreted at the level of their immediate category. The "joke" comes from the fact that the depiction is clearly from a different level. It contains many small indicators to suggest that its deployment is not specially connected to its general form. This principle should be generalized. We have no more basis to make such simplistic links in dramatic films than in comedies.

So there is something a bit disingenuous about hearing "integral film buffs" speaking as though the developmental significance of a film's communication was connected to the general form of the content. It must try, as best it can, to base itself on the stylistic nuances of the presentation of any content. Especially since, as we know, fiction is not "real". It is not trying to deal in realities. The suspension of disbelief is the basis for a certain kind of pleasure... not for an in-depth analysis.

How's that for a rant?

Reply to Discussion


What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

Notice to Visitors

At the moment, this site is at full membership capacity and we are not admitting new members.  We are still getting new membership applications, however, so I am considering upgrading to the next level, which will allow for more members to join.  In the meantime, all discussions are open for viewing and we hope you will read and enjoy the content here.

© 2024   Created by Balder.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service