Benjamin Button, Internal Logic & Religion

Benjamin_ButtonMy 11 year-old daughter watched “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) last night with my wife. They both really enjoyed it. It really made my daughter think — she loves stories about people much more than adventure flicks. I had watched it before but joined them on and off last night because I too love the movie.

This morning, still reflecting on the film my daughter asked me, “Dad, how did the baby die in the end? Babies don’t die like that.”

Benjamin (if you haven’t seen or read about this movie) is born in an old man body, but has a normal baby mind.  His mind ages like any “normal” human, but his body then gets younger throughout the movie.

So following this logic, when Benjamin is about 80 years old (mentally), his body is 7 years-old. He was an 80 year-old mind in a 7 year-old body.  But was his brain 80, or just his mind — ah, the dualism problem enters.

At 80 (in his 7-year old body), Benjamin was showing dementia.  But was it a brain disease or a mind disease — hmmmm?  Benjamin then ages-down to be an infant (still with demented adult brain) and dies.  But if he has a healthy baby body (liver, heart, brain and all) he shouldn’t have died — my daughter understood that.  But can a mind kill you?  I guess my daughter has not yet learned to separate the two. (Neil inspired part of this post)

Anyway, you get the problem.

I told my daughter, “Good point.  It is a cool story, but it is a totally made up, contrived story of impossible stuff — that is what makes it fun. And when a story is made up, if you start thinking and ignore the entertainment, the contradictions jump out.  Just like religion.”  She understood.

Logicians have two categories to judge formal logic with: soundness and validity.  The best a screenwriter or a Christian or a Hindu can hope for is entertaining, fairly consistent story.  That consistency is “validity” or “internal logic”.  “Soundness”, however, means you start with true premises.  Well, that ain’t goin’ to happen!

Note: HT to Neil.  I had a post brewing about internal logic, just read Neil’s post early this morning and had this conversation thereafter.  This post is the blending of those three things.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Benjamin Button, Internal Logic & Religion

  1. But was his brain 80, or just his mind — ah, the dualism problem enters.

    Of course, we don’t expect fiction to match reality.

    To me, part of what distinguishes the brain from the mind is the body. The idea of the brain growing younger makes more sense than the idea of the mind growing younger.

    If the brain has grown younger, it has become more flexible, more adaptive. So it has adapted well to an aging body. And since “the mind” metaphor has to do about thinking about our actions, then adaptively thinking about the actions of an aging body would seem to suggest an aging mind.

    If, however, the brain has grown older and the body younger (as in the story), then presumably some of the adaptive ability of the brain has gone. So that younger body should be having serious trouble keeping balance while walking. The aging brain just could not adapt its physical management of the body fast enough to keep up with the changes to the body.

    I’m not familiar with the particular story, so I don’t know how it actually turns out.

  2. @ Neil: Yep, the mind-body issue feeds all sort of cinema, novels, religion and philosophy. What fun.

  3. I loved the movie too.
    I don’t think there is a difference between mind and brain. There is no duality

  4. Awesome movie – it made me think for several days, not just about mind/body issues but about so many other things important to our humanity. I love the points you made in this post. Thanks!

  5. It echoes the presupposition of dualism of sorts in the philosophical zombie of David Chalmers. Chalmers defines his zombie as being just like a human in all behaviour but with consciousness removed. It presupposes consciousness is something additional to a behaving brain. If to remove consciousness requires removing, or at least altering, the brain, then the arguments Chalmers builds on top of his zombie don’t hold. As you say, sound arguments need true (proven) premises; but often merely valid arguments are presumed to be sound because the proponent thinks the premises obviously true.

  6. TWF

    The body cannot live without the mind.” – Morpheus, The Matrix

    😉 Great tie-in to religion. Of course, The Curious Case of Contrived Religion is that it is presented as true. For the deep thinkers who accept the faith, that opens up all kinds of entertaining forms of thought to twist, bend, and redefine the words to make that religion work the way it should in their eyes. It’s quite an intellectually entertaining endeavor to turn fiction into reality.

  7. Hello Sabio, the story sounds really great!

    You’re probably aware of this website

    gathering a great number of stories and movies about “age regression”, aren’t you?

    Like William Hasker

    I am an emergent dualism, which means that while the mind is not the same thing is the brain, it emerges from the brain according to the principle of strong emergence.

    I give one of the reasons why I don’t believe that the subjective experience of a sentient creature is IDENTICAL to its or her brain processes here:

    So for me, it is entirely expected that if the brain gets damaged in certain ways the mind also gets damaged.

    I’m very curious to learn your thoughts on that.

    Lovely greetings from Metz (in Lorraine), Marc.
    (Sorry this saluting habit is so deeply anchored in me that it is hard to let go of it :=) )

  8. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that internal logic is actually quite low on the storyteller’s list of priorities, for the most part. This is doubly true of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    In sci fi and fantasy, you do have to get the pseudoscience of the universe somewhat consistent, because otherwise you risk a deus ex machina moment.

    For most storytelling, satire, fable, and mythology, what is far more important than consistency, and more achievable that soundness, is verisimilitude. George Orwell’s Animal Farm contains a hell of a lot of truth, even though it’s about talking animals.

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