Contemporary Consciousness: Science vs Religion

Over the past two months, as I’ve been looking into and learning more about philosophy of the mind and its theories on consciousness, I couldn’t help but wonder how, or if, spiritual discussions of consciousness fit in.

I feel that a look into how this particular philosophy is being discussed is incomplete without at least addressing religion, since these big questions feature in ideologies outside science and many religions answer the hows and whys of existence without the headache that scientists and philosophers have been facing in their studies.

To figure what current discourse looks like in both fields, I’ve compiled a Spotify story that gives an idea of the relationship between science/philosophy and religion, and how that effects our journey to satisfying answers.

Freedom to Fight: Video Game Rhetoric

“Get off your butt and go play outside or something!” the average mom tells her kid. “You’re going to waste your life away on stupid video games that rot your brain and ruin your eyesight and your health, sitting around in front of a screen all day!”

Hopefully, for all the video game-playing children out there, most moms aren’t quite as harsh as our hypothetical Average Mom. But her sentiments represent the concerns voiced in the general public discussion on the pros and cons of video games. While knocks to video games’ affect on a players physical health are arguably true, there’s just as strong an argument for the educational, or at least persuasive, feature of gaming.

To professor and video game designer Ian Bogost, games create models of reality through which players can explore ideologies and cultural, political, or societal values. The player is presented with a world and an end goal–sometimes it’s war time and you have to capture all the bases, other times it’s a plot of land for a business that you must make profitable, or even an open world for you to create anything you can imagine. Either way, there are certain programmed rules by which you achieve these end goals.

These rules, or procedures, governing the game create what Bogost calls possibility spaces—the multitude of ways a player can work within the games procedures. Some games have very strict, inflexible rules that limit gameplay to a specific story or path, but the most popular games right now take the opposite tack. The Grand Theft Auto series, Skyrim, Minecraft, and the like have complex, open worlds in which you can craft your own story, or at least choose which story lines you want to explore. These games allow nearly infinite possibility spaces.

    Screen shots from Grand Theft Auto 5 (left)
and Skyrim  (below).

Towerfall Ascension, a popular PS4 game released in 2013, lacks the sophisticated graphics and highly detailed world of the Skryim-esque games pictured above, but has still managed to hit success. The visuals hark back to old arcade games, as do the 2-D, static game maps but players clamor for more. The trailer below shows how creators aim to lure in gamers:

The end goal boils down to “kill the bad guys and don’t die yourself” and each map follows the same general “spawn baddies in increasing numbers” setup, but somehow it’s still addictive.

Why? How?

I would say first that the seeming simplicity offers something different from the Bioshocks and Shadow of Mordors of the gaming world, but just as important is the procedural control the creators have given to players.

Questing is simple and goal oriented, but for player-on-player games, you can modify your players abilities, the treasure contents, where the treasure appears and how it looks, and the list goes on, creating multitudes of possibility spaces in which the gamers can follow the good vs. evil story. The simplistic story itself fades in significance—the creators advertised a fight to free the tower from the evil invaders, but in the game play, all you care about is beating the level, unlocking new maps and characters, and playing out the lone assassin/vigilante taking out targets.

The story seems simple, old-fashioned, and not quite as packed with persuasive rhetoric or educational side effects as games like Animal Crossing, as Bogost pointed out in his article “The Rhetoric of Video Games.” However, as you ascend through levels of difficulties, the ease of killing, and even detecting, who the bad guys are decreases. You start off with one-eyed blobs, graduate to knife-wielding reapers, then to humanoid characters close to our level of skill, and finally shadows that take the image of whichever player’s character they see first.

Players select game variants for character battles.

Players select game variants for character battles.

badguy1 badguy2 badguy3

Through the game play, users reenact over and over the game of good versus evil, playing maps repeatedly until clearing the final stage and advancing to the next. Like the more complex, realistic assassin and warfare games, Towerfall Ascension allows players to fantasize about being heroes, vigilantes, and bad-ass warriors who are able to take down any enemy; skillful, athletic, competent killers who are able to enact violence in the name of the greater good.

While recent studies show that violent games do not, as previously assumed, create more violent teens, according to this article. Perhaps, in these worlds, we’re able to release some aggression and find satisfaction in a world where good and evil are simpler. Good will ultimately triumph, no matter what, because you can restart maps at will. We have more control over our world, in this game, and the rules are easy to understand. Unlike life, victory is certain; success is ensured.

The Terrifying Freedom of Anonymous Public Forums

Go on any social media site and you’ll see users sharing personal moments, intimate thoughts, embarrassing stories, and so much more that, before the Internet allowed instant gratification and recreated the boundaries of social norms, would be thought of as inappropriately personal. On anonymous posting sites like Reddit and Wikipedia, and even on smart phone apps like Yik Yak, you’ll find similar and sometimes more intimate thoughts being shared and commented on.

As someone in the generational community of the social media-obsessed, you’d think I’d have no problem ‘putting myself out there,’ so to speak. I’m fairly open on Facebook—I don’t post a status every hour about my every move, like some people, or talk about my feelings and opinions all the time, like others. I really don’t share as much as many of my friends, and even family members. But I would consider myself fairly comfortable with the public forum posting, all things considered.

So you can imagine how surprised I was to be paralyzed by fear when I sat down to contribute to a Wikipedia page for a class assignment. I just couldn’t do it. No, I didn’t really want to. I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute, or that someone probably knows more about the topic and so deserves to be adding to articles. Or, what if I posted and then someone took it down, or changed it, or didn’t like it—that would be even worse.

I wondered to myself why I was so shy about this. I have no problem posting on Tumblr, Facebook, or Pinterest. I have no problem posting my opinions on this blogsite. But for some reason, Wikipedia scared me.

At first I thought it might be because it isn’t just a social site. People go to Wikipedia expecting to find the truth, now more than ever, when so many people are editing and adding to articles. There’s a certain level of respectability and scholarly knowledge I expect from the contributors to Wikipedia that I don’t expect from other sites.

After giving it more thought, I realized that the anonymous aspect allowed for more judgment to be passed. On Facebook, the people reading my words are, or they’re supposed to be, friends, family, at the very least acquaintances. And they know me—they have a general sense of my personality and sense of humor. So when they read my posts, they pass their judgment based not just on the content of the posts, but also on what they think of me. And hopefully that increases the amount of positive feedback I get.

On anonymous sites (Reddit, Wikipedia, Yik Yak) users are judged by strangers solely on the content of their posts. They can, and usually are, harsher because they have no personal connection to the creator of the post. Now I know Wikipedia is nothing like Reddit, but I couldn’t help feeling the pressure when I sat down to contribute to a page. In the end, I changed as little as possible, and mostly polished up phrasing and grammar and made the article have a tone appropriate for the comic book series it represented. Nothing earth shattering, and hopefully nothing that contributors after me would think was dumb, because, even though it’s anonymous, I will forever be wary of the judgment of strangers on the Internet.