Reflection on Life of Pi, 2012.
The story line of this film is evocative of “in a land far away and long ago”, being placed in India. Whereas most films that take morality seriously are placed in another time and place and often in the form of science fiction, this deeply spiritual film takes place mostly within what I call a “literal-metaphor” of a connector to Western civilization. This metaphor is in the ship journey from India to Mexico. This “bridge” is fraught with dangerous gaps, of course, about which I’ll not say much here. The story reminded me of film “The Big Fish” and the Broadway Pulitzer prize winning play, “Doubt”. Like these two stories, it was the occasion for another religious experience of sorts. Contrary to unpopular perception, Hollywood does not cease to help me see deeper into the true nature of things. So many films in the last two decades have helped me come to a better understanding of a lived form of spirituality; an experience of God. Rather than talking about the Idea of God as a “fixed ground” that is far and removed from our lives, film is able to convey the experience of God in a way uniquely fitted to the medium. “Life of Pi” brings God close, in many guises and names. Some of my thoughts follow:
The Mathematical Meaning of “Pi”
First, what is the meaning of “Pi”. Let us put aside the references to the French “piscine” and treat that as a diversion or a literary device to throw the truth seeker off the path. Let us look, instead, at the mathematical meaning of “pi”. Pi is an expression of a unique irrational number. An irrational number in simple terms is one that has an infinite number of digits to the right of the decimal place. The first few digits are “3.14”. It is “irrational” in the sense that we cannot arrive at a definitive mathematical value for it, by virtue of the fact that anyone trying to determine the value of the term would have to go on infinitely to the right of the decimal. Pi does just this at one point in the film, in a way I’ve never before seen in film!
But “pi” also expresses a unique ratio, the ration of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. We can see and know with reason that the circumference and diameter exists in any given circle; that this relationship exists. Pi, then, expresses in a unique form the relationship of something beyond reason, if you will, to the mind that reasons. So, too, does the character in the film, as one recounting a story to a journalist, one exemplar of detached reason in our day as one who neutrally reflects “what happened” factually.
How does this relate to religion? Leibniz once said that the relationship of the mind of God to the universe itself is like the relationship between the diameter of a square to its sides. This relationship, like pi, is irrational, expressed as the square root of 2, or 1.41421356237…. Like pi, the number of digits in this number also go on infinitely to the right of the decimal. The idea here seems to be that if God exists, the relationship between His mind and the universe, including our minds, is analogous to the relationship between two objectively real entities or beings, if you will, that gets expressed in ways we cannot grasp with reason itself. This, of course, is a paradox, because it is reason itself that is doing the reflecting on this relationship.
For Scholastic or medieval philosophy, the foundation of some important Catholic philosophical thinking, the argument I am making here presents a problem. This history is the basis of the recent attempt by some church leaders and intellectuals in the United States to turn Catholicism back in a “conservative” direction. I have in mind George Weigel, who often speaks of “the truth”, not seeming to distinguish between the term “truth” and truth itself. Scholasticism has always leaned much more heavily into the notion that we can, after all, know truths with reason. Fundamentalist as well as Evangelical Christianity has also tended to assume we can know various claims made in the Bible in the same way we can know, say, gravity. While Catholic thought on the matter is more explicitly philosophical and Evangelical less so, they both tend to put a significant amount of pressure on being certain that one is right about their claims about ultimate truths of the universe and human existence.
Since the 1960s, with the influence from the predecessors of Freud and in particular Carl Jung, those of us who grew up in the l960s and 1970s were the first to be exposed to a pre-modern way of thinking about the truths of human existence. Kant was the most important influence on this transition in the modern era to a pre-modern way of thinking about spiritual and “religious” truths. Kierkegaard followed Kant in stressing that the spiritual seeker should not put emphasis on any assumption that he knows or is intellectual certain of his assumptions. This claim goes back to Jesus himself, who if we notice, said that one must believe in order to be saved, not have knowledge of truth. The heart of faith, then, is found in the experience of this belief, and not in intellectually figuring out a specific truth of human existence, e.g. whether God is real or not; whether Christ is divine; whether heaven or heaven is real, etc. In fact, Kant warns, if we knew intellectually that God, heaven or hell, existed, this would seriously undermine the very ability to live in deep relationship to the truth of human existence or what I call the “deep moral spiritual truth.” The entire Greek tradition indicates that one should not put psychological emphasis on their being right about their understanding of truth. In short, I and many others are suggesting that much of modern Western religion is on the wrong track here. But we must, in doing so, avoid the temptations they have fallen to.
Stephen Toulmin in his book “Cosmopolis” offers a reason why modern Western church leaders put so much stress on certitude about faith-claims. He states that prior to the Reformation, Catholic Christianity put very little emphasis on being intellectually right or certain. He suggests that this was a good thing. The new division in Christianity lead to a need for each new “faction”, Protestant and Catholic, to defend its position, and this lead in turn to a situation where we see different Christian sects arguing that their version of the truth is the “one true faith”. The Catholic church is the most adept at using this kind of language. Its structural insularity should make us take heed about allowing speakers to suggest they express the truth, for a hallmark of Western civilization is its openness in public discourse about understandings of truth of human existence. This is not a light matter, simply because it is in human nature to want to be right about what Socrates calls “the most important things.” In Plato’s writing, the philosopher alludes to the desire of the truth seeker or the religious individual to know he is right concerning his assumptions about religion in particular. Nietzsche speaks in the 1800s of the great weight of a living faith, suggesting that faith is near unbearable. How, after all, he asks, can the human person live in a relationship to the most important thing in his life of which he is not even certain is real! This burden, then, and the drive behind many Christian sects stressing certitude is a recent phenomenon, and not traditional. Stressing that I am intellectually right is more reflective of my own psychology and at most the spirit of the Enlightenment, not historical Christianity at its best. It is reflective of a spirit of division, and not of truth. This is an important message of those of us who speak in the spirit of depth psychology.
The Expression of Openness to Uknowable Truth as a Peak Moral-Spriitual Stancevs. the Spirit of the Enlightenment and Rationalism
This spirit of psychological and spiritual openness is expressed at the outset of the film, when the father of Pi tells him that “reason” will save him, not religion. He tells Pi that he cannot have several religions, and he must choose one. While this may be good advice in general, let us remember that the film is an art form, and not a transcript of a real event. The author has an intention of a sort that is not relevant to the description of an event in nature, e.g. planetary motions or plant processes. The life of the human person who seeks truth is grounded in a moral-spiritual purpose, and cannot be explained with scientific reason, after all. More profoundly, perhaps, the intellectual who reflects on these things should not thing that his task is to accurately describe such processes, if “accurate” means “reflective of what happened in time and space”! Truth is experienced inwardly, in the heart and soul, and not “out there” separate from consciousness.
The claim that Pi cannot or should not pursue all the world’s religions points to the suggestion that, after all, no one religion has a lock on the truth, and in Leibniz’s terms, each particular expression of the universe reflections the entirety of that universe from a unique perspective. This points us back to Socrates and Jesus, who both suggested that no one act as if he knows the ultimate truth of existence.
The popular understanding and interpretation of mainstream religions in the West, then, involve some significant philosophical, moral and theological confusion. This is where our artists and depth psychologists have come into the picture since the 1960s. They are expressing in the form of film and story telling a relationship of the protagonist to some particular understanding of the truth that has nothing to do with intellectual certainty or theoretical knowledge.
Key points in the film in light of this analysis:
1) The expression of the desire by Pi to be “baptized”.
Questions here: What is the meaning of this from an experiential perspective? That is, how did the disciples of Jesus experience his engaging this with them? They probably did not experience it like we do in most Christian denominations today. In fact, it is fair to ask: do Western Christians experience baptism today? Does it have any meaning to them other than as a thought about an event long ago and far away, one that is not related to their actual lives? Lesson: we need new traditions to expresses the experience of God. Are we so weak culturally as to be afraid of developing new traditions, ones that perverse elements that are consistent with the deeper insight of the modern era, while leaving those behind that are versions of what I call “petrified Platonism”, double entendre intended.
2) The entire struggle between Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger.
Question here: Who, or what does the tiger represent?
Rather than saying much here, I will point to another part of the film.
Right at the end of the film, Pi , now as an adult in Montreal speaking to an interviewer, tells another story. While I was listening, I began to get bored and started to daydream. I then remembered that it is a tradition of political as well as spiritual writers to “conceal” the most important part of their writings in boring writing that may seem to be rambling and off point. Jesus himself expressed one reasons for this “concealment”: While many will “hear” the Word of God, few will really listen. While many are “called”, few “respond”. This is the fate of all true religion and philosophy. The core of this story comes in what we are not told. In other words, Pi, now as an adult “story teller”, brings the viewer, through the experience of the interviewer, face to fact with a tremendous doubt: Was the story that Pi just told true?
In other words, we are brought to a core issue that is “tripping” modern Westerns up spiritually as well as psychologically: Many of the most sincere truth seekers in American and European society are focused on the wrong question, whether what they believe is true in some intellectual or theoretical manner.
By confronting us with the possibility that the story we were just told may not be true, after all, the writer of the book is not expressing another form a nihilism, so popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather, I will argue, he is suggesting that we are focused on the wrong issue. Many, however, will not get beyond this and will stop at the point they discover that the story “may not be true in the way it was told”. So many of us are Cartesians at heart. But Descartes’ project is not conducive to a spiritual or moral life.
This issue of “what really happened” is really secondary, however, and is meant as a necessary dealing with that part of our culture that insists that spiritual and religious truth must be re-presented in the same way it is in the hard sciences and mathematics: as a rational number, with a finite number of digits to the right of the decimal. It is fitting that this confusion represented in the insurance investigators, who tell Pi that they want him to tell them a story that they can believe. What they really mean is that they want a story that is rational in the way Descrates understands “rational”, an event I can imagine factually happened in time and place.And this criterion, I suggest, is what much of Western “traditional” Christianity has reduced itself to! The insurance men represent the part of our culture that has what we call “bad faith”: We simply want an insurance policy to prevent two things we fear: changing our lives in a way that entails confrontation with the false and true self, and ultimately, dying to self. .
Asking the right question vs. getting the right answer
Good philosophy and religion is not defined by getting the answer right, but asking the rights kinds of questions. The fact that we do not know whether Pi’s story is “true account of something that happened in time”, then, leads me to what I see as major “clue” to the “correct” interpretation of the film. But, note, we cannot determine with any method whether our interpretation is the ultimately correct one. Our story teller has made sure he has not allowed us any method to determine this, and this is a hallmark of all good depth psychology. Again, think of the confused insurance investigators. The writer inserts into the account a “disclaimer”, if you will, that prevents the listener from using modern methods so prevalent in science and the spirit of much mainstream religion, methods and spirits used to demonstrate that I am right in my claim about truth.
Lived truth, after all, is not intellectually known or proven, but shown by the way my living is impacted. Jesus did not say “You shall know them by their theories”, but rather “You shall know them by their fruits”. We can be confident that a spiritual and “way of life” is good by the effects in has on the hearer. He is often portrayed as going through a transformation, and this transformation, in turn, is portrayed as having an effect on the lives of those around him.
The clue to a depth psychological interpretation of the film lies in the fact that after all, there was probably no tiger in the boat. But note that we are not told this as a ‘factual’ truth; as a Cartesian external reality. If the story teller were to tell us this outright we would be back to focusing on truth conceived as something that happened factually. If it is so that there were no tiger, this requires us to ask: What did the tiger represent? To answer this, listen closely to what Pi himself tells the interviewer when he explains just what Richard Parker meant to him. The clue that this is how we, the hearer, are supposed to interpret the film lies in Pi’s claim that the tiger walked away unceremoniously. Pi told the interviewer that he cried when his rescuers came not because of his being rescued, but for this reason.
What was he crying about? Or rather, what moral-spiritual meaning did the film and/or book writer mean by this artistically inserted event? Ultimately, I want to suggest a simple interpretation to the film, partly so as to leave each to his own understanding and partly to reflect the spirit of this essay: to avoid putting too much emphasis on “the right interpretation of truth”. I want to suggest that the experience Pi experienced was one of dying to self, expressed as the peak experience of a good life in both Socratic philosophy as well as Christianity.
So then the question becomes: What is meant by the dictum to “die to self”? What does this very non-rational moral-spiritual ideal point us to? Films like Life of Pi help us see ways of thinking about this.
Life Of Pi by Yann Martel Essay
540 Words3 Pages
Pi’s journey to his faith (Start with some general sentence) In Yann Martel’s novel, ‘Life Of Pi’, the main character, Pi goes through some harsh struggles as he manages himself to survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with his skills and knowledge he has. His whole life is a journey. He learns various different skills that are used usefully in his survival. When Pi becomes an adult, he is left alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a 450 pounded Bengal tiger. Although the fact that he has lost everything gives him a deep depression and makes him feel hopeless, he eventually uses his skills that he has learned when he is young to make himself endure through his painful faith. The skills that Pi learned when he is in India…show more content…
Pi’s journey to his faith (Start with some general sentence) In Yann Martel’s novel, ‘Life Of Pi’, the main character, Pi goes through some harsh struggles as he manages himself to survive in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with his skills and knowledge he has. His whole life is a journey. He learns various different skills that are used usefully in his survival. When Pi becomes an adult, he is left alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a 450 pounded Bengal tiger. Although the fact that he has lost everything gives him a deep depression and makes him feel hopeless, he eventually uses his skills that he has learned when he is young to make himself endure through his painful faith. The skills that Pi learned when he is in India were preparation for his own faith. Pi spends most of his childhood life in Pondicherry, India, learning and experiencing various skills that eventually help Pi to survive. Unlike other people, he encounters religion in interesting way. The way how Pi understands religion is significant because later it helps Pi to get rid of hopelessness, and gives him courage to keep trying to survive. He also learns the behaviours of the wild animals and how to deal with them. “(He watches his father feeding and communicating with animals in his father’s zoo)” (chapter around 10~12). The knowledge of the animals
Lee 2 is one of the most important part when he is in the Pacific ocean with a hungry tiger which can consume Pi anytime, and it allows Pi to