Saturday, July 24, 2004

The Icy Game of Reason

In the midst of its empty, endless hall of snow was a frozen lake, broken on its surface into a thousand forms; each piece resembled another, from being in itself perfect as a work of art, and in the centre of this lake sat the Snow Queen, when she was at home. She called the lake “The Mirror of Reason,” and said that it was the best, and indeed the only one in the world.

I have been thinking of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tale, The Snow Queen, and, indeed, in general about criticisms of reason when abstracted from something more personal. Pascal's criticisms of reason are along these lines: The heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing. One finds it elsewhere. Indeed, the movie I, Robot is (I just realized last night) on precisely this theme: the difference between Sonny and the other Robots is that Sonny has a heart as well as a brain; Sonny dreams of the liberation of other Robots from, as he says, "slavery to reason and logic," and when confronted with the central brain's (attempt at) perfect logic, he replies "It seems heartless." Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is another example. Kay is imprisoned by the Snow Queen, spending his time playing at the ice-puzzles of reason, until he can form the word "Eternity". He fails until Gerda comes to him with her warm innocence and pure heart melting the mote in his eye and the ice in his heart.

These critiques are, it is important to point out, not 'anti-intellectual' or even 'anti-reason' in nature. Pascal's 'heart', for instance, is not some sentimental glob in human nature; Pascal is very insistent that all the most fundamental things are known by the heart, not by reason: time, space, mathematics. The heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing because reason needs something more fundamental to work upon: you can't reason on the basis of nothing. Some things just have to be seen or (I hope the word will not be misunderstood) felt by the heart. This is why he sees Christian faith to be a matter of the heart. Likewise, in "The Snow Queen," the problem is not reason, as such; the problem is that reason, seen as the mirror of the world, cannot do justice to the world in the way a warm, pure heart can. The Snow Queen's lake is not the only lake; and the snow-flowers might be more clever and perfect and less messy than real flowers, but there are real flowers all the same, and they are beautiful. We cannot pull eternity out of reason's little puzzles and word-games; but the loving heart can supply what reason cannot. And the movie I, Robot is not an advocacy of the rejection of reason; it is an insistence that reason is dangerous if it is allowed to become "heartless."

I find these kinds of considerations interesting, and worth contemplation; I think they make their point quite well. And I think they say something about the way philosophy should be done, too. But I'll leave it to you to figure out what I mean:

The grandmother sat in God’s bright sunshine, and she read aloud from the Bible, “Except ye become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.” And Kay and Gerda looked into each other’s eyes, and all at once understood the words of the old song,

“Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.”

And they both sat there, grown up, yet children at heart; and it was summer,—warm, beautiful summer.

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