Thursday, July 18, 2013

Life of Pi and choosing to believe, a book report.

A very good friend suggested that I write in my blog yesterday.  After talking about a bunch of things, and thinking about a few topics, and rejecting most of them as being far too emo, I decided to talk about Life of Pi, aka, Big Fish pt. II

A few weeks ago I discovered Life of Pi and decided it was one of the best things to ever happen to me, and I posted on facebook something to effect that those who said it was about a boy lost at sea with a tiger had completely missed the point.  This opened me up to some discussions about what it did mean.  (Incidentally, this made me miss some of my more profoundly thinking friends who have slipped out of my life of late, and who would have talked for hours on what it meant, but that is perhaps the topic of another post) With that in mind, I thought I'd do something new and exciting, at least in the realm of this blog: A book report.

Calling it a book report is, perhaps, generous, since there will be few citations and I'm blatantly ignoring many of the themes in favor of postulating on the most overt allegory of the book, the final choice between two competing stories.  And since there are lots of people online who can explain to you what it means, and because I'm not a particularly creditable literary critic, I thought it would be more interesting to discuss what it means to me (by the way, here there be spoilers, if you haven't read the Life of Pi, read on at your own risk)

“So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can't prove the question either way, which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?' Mr. Okamoto: 'That's an interesting question?' Mr. Chiba: 'The story with animals.' Mr. Okamoto: 'Yes. The story with animals is the better story.' Pi Patel: 'Thank you. And so it goes with God.” 

Some time ago I made a post about why I believed in God, and how ultimately it came down to a choice, that that is who I wanted to be.  I've thought a bit more about that recently in the context of the Life of Pi.  It shouldn't be surprising that the Life of Pi appeals to me as a deeply, if quietly, religious person who is studying Biology and plans to be a scientist.  I've lived most of my life in the conflict and overlap that exists between science and religion. 

At the end of the book we are presented with an alternate story, a darker, simpler, and perhaps more believable story of how he and a couple others were stuck on a life boat, how the one cannibilized the others and was ultimately killed by Pi, who then drifted to Mexico.  When watching the movie, the choice between the two stories is even more difficult, since the first was less developed, and so less believable, and the second was said more emotionally that I had imagined in the book.  But in any case we are given a choice, between "dry, yeastless, factuality" and a beautiful story, one that's slightly impossible, but actually means something.  

I'm Mormon, which is important context of my story.  We, Mormons, typically have a somewhat scientific view of religious truth: that there is one and only one real story and explanation, we know what it is, and we know it through personal experience and experimentation.  Although there may be questions, that's more a question of things we don't yet know than things we can't know, and we tend to minimize conflicting views in favor of the larger consensus.  That coupled with an instinctive trust in authority and the published works, a focus on study and learning, and the danger of becoming dismissive of those who disagree with us make this comparison surprisingly apt.  

To Mormons, and really to me, and to scientists, the idea that what actually happened doesn't matter is appalling.  How could it not matter? That's the "Truth"!  But more and more I've realized that this idea is wrong in the context of religion (and only mostly right in the context of science).  The fact is that we don't really know everything.  I tread lightly here, because I don't want to offend, and I definitely don't want to be misunderstood.  In the LDS church, we habitually say things like "I know that God lives".  We emphasize our knowledge, and how we know, and that's not necessarily wrong.  But I think we do faith a disservice if we reject the idea that, deep down, to believe is a choice.  (And if we believe that belief is required for salvation, doesn't it have to be our choice?)

And that's really the point, we feel that if we're choosing to believe something it somehow cheapens it, it means that it's not really True, it's just a belief.  I don't think that's correct.  I think the fact that at the base of our faith is a decision, not an event, makes a much more solid foundation, and a much more intellectually honest position from which to build towards knowledge.  Anyway, I don't want this to turn into a criticism of Mormon culture, not because I don't want to criticize Mormon culture, but because I don't want to write my blog to only people interested in Mormon Culture; ask me about it sometime, I have more to say about this.  

To return to the Life of Pi, in all things, we have a choice.  There are competing explanations for many things; those who reject science because they don't think it can adequately explain the earth don't adequately understand science.  The simple fact is we can choose which story we want to believe.  And since we don't know, and it doesn't necessarily change the facts of existence, why not choose the story with meaning, the one that makes you happy? 

There are lots of other things in the Life of Pi worth talking about that I haven't discussed here.  It's unfortunate that I never got around to reading this book last year when I was ostensibly in a book club.  If you haven't read it (even if you've watched the movie), you should.  I focussed on this because, as I said, it's sort of at the core of my life, but I think everyone can find something that really speaks to them.  

In case you're curious, here are some other topics I considered, and am still considering, for my blog, most of which I rejected because they sounded like something I would have written a decade ago:
-Summer, work, and recreation, why a 9 to 5 job would (and possibly will) break me
-Love and Heartbreak, discoveries of a 20-something robot
-Selling the piano: an metaphor for moving on
-Dating and Marriage, pt 2: What the older generation has missed in their well intentioned push to get us married. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My inner child is rather crafty

I'm not quite sure what to do with this post, but sometimes I realize that I'm subconsciously surrounding myself with reflections of my subconscious. For your psychoanalysis, some of my favorite things (based primarily on my decorations:)

Calvin and Hobbes
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Einstein on a Bike
M.C. Escher
Van Gogh
The Life of Pi (not a decoration, but a book I just finished that's currently next to me)
The Little Prince (not yet a decoration, but it's my go to favorite book and I bought it in french some time ago with the intention of turning it into decoration, or learn enough french to read it, whichever comes first)

Maybe if I have time I'll figure out what it all says about me.  I was especially struck by the similarities in Calvin, Pi, and the little prince, all of whom had orange, wild animals which they tamed.  Anyway, I'll flush this out a bit more later.