Suppose we're in ancient times. I've mislaid the keys to my chariot. Where, where are my keys?
No problem. I can pop a prayer to the deity of memory. Above in the tiled mural, the Greek goddess Memory with a pat on the head helps a mortal recall something. In this classic perspective, my self lives inside my body as a king in a castle. I meet at the castle's doors and windows such visitors as Memory, Prudence, Courage, and Cowardice. I can take their advice or reject it. This view persists today, that I am master of my house. But it is not the only view.
The 2015 Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out portrays a radically different inner life than the solitary pilot of the classic imagination. The inner being of the 11-year-old girl Riley is a team of five emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. Memories manifest not via divine dope slap. Rather, memories are glassy balls that our valiant crew collects and routes to various shelves.
I enjoyed Inside Out! I particularly liked how it portrayed Sadness as vital. I was surprised to find Disgust as one of the fab five, but Joy explains, "she basically keeps Riley from being poisoned— physically and socially." On checking her credentials, I found academic papers on Disgust as a universal emotion. Who knew? All of Riley's emotions—even almost-forgotten fantasies—have value to Riley and as players generally in human development.
Be warned: Inside Out has scary moments, stretches of emotional desolation, and misbehavior. These lead to encouraging family scenes in every respect better than the sum of any ten other Disney cartoons, but it's not an easy road. Pixar knows sad. To parents, I urge a head start, a preview, so as to fruitfully anticipate kids' concerns.
Of its many ideas, I want to ride two trains of thought that rolled through Inside Out: emotions as a team, and how to find a memory.
Did you notice that the Inside Out emotions often fumble individually, yet together as a team succeed? Inside Out is a new example in the great tradition of ensemble shows.
I wondered about omissions. Don't we need an analytic Science Officer or Professor on our ship? Where is the wise Captain or Skipper? How about Greed? Where is Love? But hey, it's a 95-minute cartoon. The engaging characters, sets, and action of Inside Out did not let me sustain such quibbles.
I was pleasantly astonished with how much new territory Inside Out touched. With little exception, older head trips stick to first-person narrative, the classic self. Consider ensembles from Gilligan's Island to Seinfeld to Downton Abbey. I can playfully re-frame these as psychological parables. Inside Out strikes me as ground-breaking in that it explicitly identifies the inner me as a team. The movie dodges psycho-babble and instead makes clever use of familiar terms such as "train of thought" and "memory dump". This movie translates contemporary understanding of the inner and outer worlds into a story that kept my eyes smiling when they weren't a little moist.
Though maybe not in movies, the idea of Team Me has been around a while. There's the scary incident of Jesus' encounter with the infested man who growled, "My name is Legion, for we are many." Walt Whitman observed, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." A formal architecture of an ensemble mind was floated in 1986 by the late Marvin Minsky in his elegant book, Society of the Mind. Minsky speculated that the mind might be the work of an army of purposeful “agents” much like software objects in a computer program. Perception agents on the front lines grab sights and sounds and pass back summaries to analyst agents, who confer with supervisor agents, archivist agents, and executive agents. Like an electoral system, this mental structuring might not always yield best conclusions.
Despite fumbles, these simple but organized cybernetic agents can learn from their mistakes and can re-calibrate and re-group themselves to better handle challenges.
The jury is out as to whether the mind really is organized as such a team. Nevertheless, computer scientists have run with the idea, programming societies of agents to build systems for recognizing faces, for language translation, and for air traffic control. The next time you visit Facebook or the airport, contemplate that a computerized committee of simpletons may be handling your transactions.
Who's in charge?
Focus a microscope or ponder an MRI. The brain reduces to molecules in motion. Maybe. We can pop the bonnet and poke systematically, and sometimes relieve tremors or reduce obsessive compulsive disorder. We don't for now expect to photograph Joy or Sadness.
1. Some venerable philosophies say that without the body, there is no mind or soul or anything else I can call "me." An array of dots on a screen is not Beyonce, but an entertaining image of her. Similarly, mind and soul are useful illusions emerging from biology. Such anthropological monism approximates the view of most Old Testament writers. Job is representative:
"I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God."
The apostle Paul elaborates, "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have?' Foolish person! When you sow a seed, it must die in the ground before it can live and grow. And when you sow it, it does not have the same body it will have later.... It is the same with the dead who are raised to life. The body that is planted will ruin and decay, but it is raised to a life that cannot be destroyed."
2. By contrast, the neighboring Greeks, many other religions, and many today assume that the body and self are separable. The body is just clothing, a chariot, or a house for the self. A recent wit snipped, "What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind." This body/self dualism is a plausible conclusion from Jesus' story of the Rich Man and Lazarus:
"Lazarus died, and the angels carried him to the arms of Abraham. The rich man died, too, and was buried. In the place of the dead, he was in much pain. The rich man saw Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side...."
Tent-maker Paul observed, "We know that our body—the tent we live in here on earth—will be destroyed. But when that happens, God will have a house for us."
3. A variation on dualism sees humans as having three parts: body, soul, and spirit. The soul identifies breath and life, an aspect shared with animals, and an aspect that can die. The spirit is a spark that can exist forever.
"Don’t be afraid of people, who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. The only one you should fear is the one who can destroy the soul and the body in hell."
"For the word of God... penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
In this perspective, virtues are choices. “Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it." The Message here really runs with the clothing metaphor suggested in the original language.
Instead of glowing grapefruits, memories use snowflakes such as this "CaMKII" molecule. These yield for the human nervous system over one hundred million gigabytes, perhaps a billion gigabytes of information. This does not consider 1.5 gigabytes of DNA and RNA memory in each cell, and mug shots of intruders that the immune system tracks.
4. The view of Inside Out and of much recent science holds that our inner self has many discernible parts not unlike software subroutines in a computer. Higher functions such as sadness light up several parts of the grey outer shell of the brain. My high school history teacher frequently misstated this as, "people use only ten percent of their brain, so there is plenty of room for presidents." Memory connections involve much of the unappreciated inner core of the brain. Connections are key. Without connections—an index to the hundred million gigabytes—searching for the memory of where I put my keys would take decades. My mind is full of clutter and competing interests. The apostle James does not paint a pretty Disney picture of the society of my mind.
"What causes quarrels and fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel."
Ugh. Me as Game of Thrones. I suppose this is life for some people.
In any case, there's more to me and to you than meets the eye. Taking my self to the afterlife used to involve a small boat. The modern journey needs a megabus.
Our interior self resists reduction to a single metaphor. It is its own thing. One might fruitfully treat the self sometimes as the pilot of a ship, sometimes as a computer, perhaps as a courtroom or battlefield or small town, and sometimes as an ensemble of actors in a play. That reminds me: How long must we wait for the Broadway musical version of Inside Out?
The Blu-Ray DVD of Inside Out offers a bonus peek at an early story plan. Riley ignores Joy's direction to frolic on the playground but instead chooses to chat with new friends. Goofball gives way to growth. By contrast, in the final cut of Inside Out, emotions generally get their way. Here is a practical question: do emotions control me or just advise me? Can emotions' influence vary with time and vary among persons? If you have doubts on this matter, ask an 8th grade teacher about hormone hurricanes, energy eruptions, sadness showers, quiz-time quivers, and other middle school meteorology.
Every day I lose arguments with myself. Compassionate Me says "be kind". Justice Me says, "be fair". Greedy Me says, "keep it". An intriguing experience in such self-debates is sometimes to receive an insight or proposition that I can't trace to any of myselves onstage. The actors glance around nervously. The work of a muse? The whisper of God's Spirit? Some phantom lurking in the wings? A mental disorder?
Ebenezer Scrooge tries to brush off the invasive warnings of Marley's ghost with a materialistic explanation: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you."
Old pictures of moral deliberation show an angel or a demon whispering in one's ear. I haven't traced where it started, but more recent cartoon art makes the angel and the demon look suspiciously like the subject. This cute convention slams the door on the old Muses, the Holy Spirit, and the Tempter. Those voices you hear? They're in your head. In the movie, the main external voices are simply Riley's parents.
On the inside, Riley's five emotions want the best for their girl but have conflicting ways to help Riley. They each elbow their way to Riley's control console, but Joy dominates Riley's buttons. Intriguingly, we see into the minds of other people. We see into the minds of animals. What do we find? The same fab five, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Different personalities arise from different boss emotions. For Riley's Dad, Anger calls the shots. For Mom, Sadness leads.
Whew. Do emotions have emotions? Several things I didn't notice on first viewing: At the adult consoles, everyone has a seat. The teams show more cohesion. In these peeks, Dad-Anger is more nearly Decisiveness, and Mom-Sadness leads more as Empathy. Do emotions mature? Perhaps Disgust grows up to be... Discernment.
Internal conflict defines the human condition but is painful in anyone's psychology. Paul in Romans chapter seven laments the division between the drive for gratification and the aspiration to do right. He identifies a cure from outside:
“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
James agrees with Paul and Proverbs that wisdom comes from outside, and notes responsibility:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
Memories: Received or Made?
For the society of Inside Out, perceptions automatically record onto glowing orbs. The emotion in charge at the moment influences the new sphere’s color: gold for Joy, green for Disgust, violet for Fear, red for Anger, and blue for Sadness. True superficially to life, when Riley sleeps, the team sends the day’s accumulated memory marbles down to long term storage. These orbs can be recalled and their memories projected for the person. A few particularly bright memories define personality and remain in Headquarters for ready reference. Memories that are not recalled with sufficient frequency, memories with few connections, just fade and evaporate.
The movie gets right a disturbing aspect of memory recently verified. Not only do emotions color a memory when the memory is created; but also what I feel during recall can change the hue of the original memory. To Joy’s dismay, when Sadness touches a bright gold memory ball, its gains a blue hue.
A happy memory can become a longing for that pleasant past. An originally sad memory can become appreciation of the growth that resulted, or at least the better times now. Maturing memories are mottled.
But let's face it. Some memories deserve to die, or at least to be tagged as toxic. These memories are never of natural events. They are sugar-coated microwave burritos of fabrications, lies, and well-fed biases. What should die is that chewing gum jingle. Die, you uglies of the interwebs! You insinuate into searches! You roll that trolls!
Of course, despising some memories just strengthens them. We can't help but observe gossip, self-promotion, and hatred; but we can refuse to treat them as news, entertainment, and wisdom. Emotions such as Greed may have some value for survival, but can get out of hand. Destroying Greed is not the way. Displacing Greed with Generosity is usually a win.
"Those who are stealing must stop stealing and start working.... Then they will have something to share with those who are poor."
"But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ... But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Disconnecting everything unpleasant can cripple. When Riley loses connection to her core memories concerning Friendship, Honesty, and Family, she faces an abyss of despair. For Riley's emotions, the valley of the shadow of death is not metaphorical and threatens to destroy the emotions before they can restore core connections.
To recall a needed memory, rather than pursue an epic search through the hundred million gigabytes of my mind, I can do several things to secure worthwhile memories intact, connected, ready for quick recall. First, use it or lose it. As the winsome governess in The Sound of Music lilts, "When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feeeel so bad." Second, as Inside Out teaches, less pleasant memories can be vital to growth. Judiciously refresh these also. Embarrassing and even painful moments can be lessons learned. Third, for mass recall, one can exploit visual memory by contriving a Mind Palace. Thanks, Cicero and Sherlock. And yet better, be aware and thankful for the natural ingredients of life. Be alert for everyday things that help you appreciate God and people. Reflect. Practice an attitude of gratitude. Link new memories into a vast web of helpful memories. Connections strengthen both the new and the old.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
I find it altogether genius that the Bible links the believer's core memories to eating food.
For Jews, the elements of the Passover meal recall release from slavery and God's protection, family and nation. Later, Jesus took this same freedom meal with its mix of sadness and joy, and made it a serious celebration, an encouragement, an easily-renewed memory:
"On the night when the Lord Jesus was handed over to be killed, he took bread and gave thanks for it. Then he broke the bread and said, 'This is my body; it is for you. Do this to remember me.' In the same way, after they ate, Jesus took the cup. He said, 'This cup is the new agreement that is sealed with the blood of my death. When you drink this, do it to remember me.'”
"Talk amongst yourselves"
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.