Movies as Your Own Informal University

Theodicy is the inquiry into the paradox that a loving God would witness and allow such endless evil as exists in the world.

Movies can be very informative as a parallel university which gives you a visual and story-based entry into such a problem or puzzle or conundrum or dilemma.

Take the Roger Corman classic film (based on the Edgar Allan Poe story):

The Masque of the Red Death from 1964.

Consider the following exchange between Prospero (Vincent Price plays a kind of “evil machine”) from the film:

Prospero: Somewhere in the human mind, my dear Francesca, lies the key to our existence. My ancestors tried to find it. And to open the door that separates us from our Creator.

Francesca: But you need no doors to find God. If you believe…

Prospero: Believe? If you believe, my dear Francesca, you are… gullible. Can you look around this world and believe in the goodness of a god who rules it?

Famine, Pestilence, War, Disease and Death! They rule this world.

Basic Story:

The evil Prince Prospero is riding through the Catania village when he sees that the peasants are dying of the Red Death. Prospero asks to burn down the village and he is offended by the villagers, Gino and his father-in-law Ludovico. He decides to kill them, but Gino’s wife, the young and beautiful Francesca, begs for the lives of her husband and her father and Prospero brings them alive to his castle expecting to corrupt Francesca. Prospero worships Satan and invites his noble friends to stay in his castle which is a shelter of depravity against the plague. When Prospero invites his guests to attend a masked ball, he sees a red-hooded stranger and he believes that Satan himself has attended his party. But soon he learns who his mysterious guest is.

Theodicy and the Explanation of God’s Coexistence with Evil:

Wikipedia informs us:

Theodicy means the vindication of God. It is to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil. Some theodicies also address the problem of evil “to make the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil or suffering in the world.” Unlike a defense, which tries to demonstrate that God’s existence is logically possible in the light of evil, a theodicy provides a framework wherein God’s existence is also plausible.

The German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz coined the term “theodicy” in 1710 in his work Théodicée, though various responses to the problem of evil had been previously proposed. The British philosopher John Hick traced the history of moral theodicy in his 1966 work, Evil and the God of Love, identifying three major traditions:

  1. the Plotinian theodicy, named after Plotinus.
  2. the Augustinian theodicy, which Hick based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo.
  3. the Irenaean theodicy, which Hick developed, based on the thinking of St. Irenaeus.

One of life’s educational tricks (a pillar of Meta Intelligence) is to let the off-campusuniversity” of movies give you an on-ramp, if you know how to take it, into formal academe on the campus.

Multiple Searchlights Give You Understanding

Naive views of world events and world history are mono-causal but the world is always “multifactorial.” The Left and the Right keep on pushing these “perfect myopia” analyses:

For example, in the movie masterpiece Reds from 1981, John Reed (played by Warren Beatty) keeps repeating that the cause of World War I is and will be J.P. Morgan’s loans and profits, a variant of “vulgar Marxism.”

We have already seen that one cannot understand World War I and the “winds of war” leading up to it without several layers of analysis including the globalization forces from 1870-1914 and the rise of an integrated Atlantic economy (Professor Jeffrey Williamson book); the rise of the Anglo-German antagonism (described in Paul Kennedy’s excellent book); the flow of loan capital and debts described in Herbert Feis’s classic, re-issued in 1965 and described here:

“This book, published for the Council on Foreign Relations, does not deal directly with the war or with its origins, but it has been included in this category because few books published in recent years have made more substantial contributions to the history of pre-war international relations in the broadest sense.

Feis’s book is the first adequate treatment of international loans in the years from 1870 to 1914, a subject the importance of which has long been recognized but the discussion of which has never got far beyond the stage of loose generalities. The scientific treatment of it involves a thorough command of the extensive literature of pre-war diplomacy as well as an intimate acquaintance with the sources of international finance.

So far as the reviewer can see, Feis has not missed anything of importance. He not only knows the material, but he knows how to use it; he understands the political motives and considerations which lay behind these financial transactions. A large part of the volume is taken up with a pioneer study of the character of British, French and German foreign investments and the general policies followed by the governments towards investments abroad. The remainder is devoted to a review of the major enterprises—the financing of Russia, the Balkan States, Egypt, Morocco, China and some of the less important countries. Other chapters deal with the vexed problems of Balkan and Asiatic railway. In many instances Feis’s treatment is the only adequate one in existence, but even in the larger sense the book is a reliable and thoroughly readable piece of research, one that no student of international relations can afford to overlook.”

(William L. Langer’s review of Europe: the World’s Banker, 1870-1914 by Herbert Feis)

On top of all this, we have the problem of parochial and tribal and personal “sleepwalking,” captured so well by Professor Christopher Clark:

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is historian Christopher Clark’s riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I.

The drastic changes in attitudes, society, values and mentalities is then captured, for post-World War I England, by Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End:

Parade’s End (1924-1928) is a tetralogy of novels by the British novelist and poet Ford Madox Ford (1873–1939). The novels chronicle the life of a member of the English gentry before, during and after World War I.

Only this type of “multifactorial” panorama—what we call “circum-spective intelligence” or “meta-intelligence”—can give you the multiple searchlights you need.

Where the searchlight views intersect is where understanding begins.

Everything else is monomaniacal cartooning à la the “simp” analysis of John Reed in the brilliant movie Reds, from 1981.

Education and the Question of Intuition

An intuition pump is a thought experiment structured to allow the thinker to use his or her intuition to develop an answer to a problem. The phrase was popularized in the 1991 book Consciousness Explained by Tufts philosophy and neuroscience professor, Daniel Dennett.

We argue in this education-completing book, that our intuitions are puzzling in a way that “intuition pump” talk does not cope with at all.

Let’s go immediately to the example of simple versus compound interest in basic finance.

You borrow $100.00 for a year at an annual interest of 100%, without compounding and hence simple. A year passes and you owe the lender the initial $100 plus one hundred percent of this amount (i.e., another hundred). In a year, you owe $200.00, and every year thereafter, if the lender is willing to extend the loan, you owe another hundred to “rent” the initial hundred.

This is written as A+iA, where A is the initial amount (i.e., $100.00) and i is the interest. This can be re-written as A(1+i)n where n is the number of years. Thus, if n=1, you owe: A(1+i), which is 100×2 (i.e., the $200 we just saw). There’s nothing tricky in this.

You then are introduced to compound interest (i.e., where the interest accumulates interest). You can see where compounding by 6 months (semi-annually, or half a year) or 12 months involves dividing the n (the exponent over 1+i) by 12 months, two half-years or 365 days. You could routinely go to days and hours and minutes and seconds and nanoseconds and you could calculate interest payments compounding for each case.

But here is where your intuition falters and fails: suppose you compound continuously?

You get to the number e as growth factor where e=2.71823

Simple algebra does show that at 100% interest, $100 of a loan becomes $100 multiplied by e1 (hundred percent=1) or just e (i.e., you owe $100e).

This gives you $271.82.

So what has happened?

At one hundred percent simple interest you owe $200.00 to the lender. Continuous compounding means you owe $271.82. Instead of owing $100 in interest, you owe $171.82. Your interest bill has gone up by $71.82 or about 72 percent.

Does that seem intuitive? Probably not.

How could one ever apply an “intuition pump” to this arithmetic? We get to the 72% increase in interest by using e which has nothing very intuitive about it. Thus it’s not clear that “intuition pumps” will work here.

You use compound interest arithmetic to get a number which you would never have been able to estimate based on standard intuition since like the 22/7 or 3.14 for π (pi), there’s nothing to “recommend” 2.71823 in and of itself. This means that the link between computational arithmetic understanding and your “gut” or “sixth sense” is feeble at best.

By exploring this way of thinking you could deepen your “meta-intelligence” (i.e., perspective-enhancement). The British economist Pigou (Keynes’s teacher) says that people have a “defective telescopic facility” (i.e., have a poor or even erroneous sense of time-distance).

How one might strengthen one’s sense of time-distance or “far horizons” is not clear.