Amy's Whimsical Musings

Poetry, Music, Sunrise, and Puppies: What Equilibrium Tells Us About Being Human #edcmooc

When thinking of what it means to be “human”, I keep coming back to the 2002 Christian (love him!) Bale film “Equilibrium”, a dystopian look at the future where emotions are suppressed with drugs, and anything emotive (art, music, literature,etc.) is destroyed. Why? Because emotions can lead to very negative by-products, like civil disobedience and war. People are convicted as “sense offenders” (nice play on words!). Christian is part of the law enforcement until his wife is arrested and killed.

Here’s the Trailer for an overview:

I wondered if we could boil down “humanity” to our sensual perception of the arts (music, poetry, etc.) and the nuances of our aesthetics (like being overwhelmed at a sunset), or the inexplicable heart melt syndrome of interacting with puppies. Here are some scenes that illustrate my point.

His partner goes to the other side (the resistance) after falling in love with Yeats (funny it’s the same passage Sir Ken Robinson uses in his TED talk)

This is my favorite scene, particularly because I feel music is the most powerful force binding humanity. Bale is in a resistance hold-out chock full of emotive paraphernalia when he comes across a phonograph and Beethoven record.

OMG! The sun! It’s, like, so amazing! (this scene reminds me of my favorite Dr. Zhivago scene where Lara is leaving for good and Zhivago is grasping at the window pane to see her in the distance until he finally smashes it)

And then we come to the puppies. Bale is not supposed to feel. But since he stopped taking his drug he lets this puppy get to him. As humans, it’s the universal cave-in – who doesn’t like a puppy?!

What do YOU think? Are there other essential qualities that define us as humans, or do you think emotions and aesthetics trump all?

4 comments on “Poetry, Music, Sunrise, and Puppies: What Equilibrium Tells Us About Being Human #edcmooc

  1. nkilkenny
    February 10, 2013

    This is one of my favorite dystopian films. Mainly because it describes the power of art and emotion to our culture and it’s well being. Art is what holds us together, it’s probably what kept early human culture going and held together.

  2. librarianDV
    February 10, 2013

    Art (music, painting) seems to have been present since the beginning of mankind. See for example Andrew Graham-Dixon ‘s BBC program on Ice Age Art –

    Probably there is some connection in the evolution of language. An interesting book describing the current knowledge about this is “the singing Neanderthals” by Steven Mithen (2005). I think there is no specific need to define us as humans, but more importantly to define us as natural in our behavior.

  3. MOOC_space
    February 10, 2013

    Interesting post Amy, and a fascinating movie.

    However, with reference to the final clip, your claim that emotion defines the human seems to deny the puppy the capacity to feel this same response. Yet, the very ‘humanness’ that you attribute to the character played by Bale appears to derive from his recognition of the animals ability to feel emotion. He picks up the puppy because he recognises that it feels emotional rejection. His ‘human’ response is to recognise that his actions emotionally effect the animal.

    Is emotion really what separates us from animals? To provide an example in response to the above, if you walk your dog on a beach, does it not have a different emotional response than it might if it was walked as usual in the park? Is it not responding to the environment as you might?

    Or is the difference in the ability to feel emotion qualitative?

    • amyburvall
      February 10, 2013

      Thanks for commenting, and for bringing up that point. I wasn’t necessarily making the claim that emotions make us distinctly human (although maybe a sense of aesthetics does but then again I’m not so sure). I do think we share the ability to have and express emotions with other animals. Maybe not robots…yet. My next post might be on some things I’ve been checking out concerning robots and emotion…we’ll see. When we study “Emotion as a Way of Knowing” in Theory of Knowledge, I ask my students to keep these questions in mind:
      – In what ways are emotions activated by internal and external factors?
      – What are the dangers of emotion?
      – What are the strengths/ benefits of emotion?
      – What is the relationship between emotion and intellect?
      – How do we recognize and categorize emotions?
      – How does body language and facial expression exhibit emotion?
      – What is the importance of emotion in human affairs?
      – What is the relationship between emotion and reason?
      – How are beliefs and emotions tied together?
      – How do chemicals, altering substances, and technology affect emotions?
      – Can a machine have emotion?
      – What role does emotion play in decision-making?
      – Are emotions/feelings essential?

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