Not long ago, Ace and I were discussing how the wizards in the Harry Potter universe never seem to grow as a society. They are still stuck with very basic technology, and while many tasks are certainly made easier with magic, no one can deny that Muggles seem leaps ahead of wizards in a lot of ways. From being able to explore space, to using computers, to even having pens, Muggles have it better — seriously, why would I ever use a quill? But this got me thinking: this isn’t just in the Harry Potter world. A lot of magical societies in fiction seem to be stuck in a more medieval era. This led me to consider how we evolve as a society. It is just a fact that human beings are more likely to grow and change to fulfill a need. It’s easier to wash clothes with a machine than by hand, and having a computer makes it easier for us to access information, keep in touch with friends, or learn new things. But for magic users, when you can wave a wand to conjure fully prepared food or teleport yourself somewhere in an instant, is there ever really a need or desire to grow and change?
Like most of you, I grew up devouring Harry Potter, but I’m not sure how many of you had problems understanding just how the big prophecy worked. I know I did. Basically, Voldemort’s stooge overhears a seer prophesy that a true adversary to Voldemort will rise, and that “neither can live while the other survives.” Much ink is spilled, both in fandom and in the canon, over just what this prophecy means. Does it mean that Harry is fated to kill Voldemort (or Voldemort, Harry) or does Harry’s free will operate outside the confines of this prophecy? If the prophecy is true, it means Harry really is the Chosen One, chosen by fate to confront Voldemort. But that could mean that Harry doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. In the final book, Harry doesn’t seem like he does have a choice; the universe seems like it’s manipulated him to the point where he feels utterly compelled to fulfill the prophecy. The conflict is between fate, or providence, and free will. If we look at real-world ideas about providence and free will, we can get a better idea of how these might work.
When you are as obsessed with Harry Potter as I am, you start to notice some of the overarching worldbuilding issues that affect the characters you love so much. One big issue is definitely the Statue of Secrecy, which has been the cause of a lot of conflict in the Harry Potter universe. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that all wizards have to hide themselves and their magic from Muggles. However, there are a lot of problems with this, and Grindelwald certainly seemed to have a point about the Statue of Secrecy at the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the video below, Grindelwald (still disguised as Graves) states that the Statute of Secrecy is a law that “has us scuttling like rats in the gutter, a law that demands we conceal our true nature, a law that directs those under its dominion to cower in fear lest we risk discovery. I ask you, Madame President, I ask all of you, who does this law protect, us or them?”
Grindelwald’s words seem to ring with a terrifying truth in that moment after the death of Credence, a charge that none of the other wizards present truly seems to be able to answer. Granted, Grindelwald’s plans to take over the world and enslave Muggles are neither good nor reasonable, but I can certainly see why he seemed to draw a larger following than someone like Voldemort. The Statute of Secrecy makes it so that wizards really can’t do much to help Muggles or even help themselves. It definitely causes issues with the worldbuilding in the series as well, and it would be beneficial to have a character who could better show the complexity of this issue.
Let’s face it, 2016 was tough, and 2017 doesn’t look to be much easier. So let’s delve into some of our favorite geeky romantic pairings to help us cope! Yep, it’s Valentine’s Day, that sickeningly sweet holiday when our authors nominate and then vote on ships for our Top 20 Romantic Couples in Geekdom (10 Canon/10 Fanon) list. It is now my duty to present to you the super cute and sexy ships of 2017!
Well, it looks like we here in America will soon be wreaking even more havoc on our environment. Trump’s recent attacks on the EPA and other scientific communities and his support of climate change denial are terrifying. Add to this his approval of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline, along with a wall that will potentially endanger over one hundred different species, and we certainly seem to be gearing up for not only a humanitarian crisis but also an environmental one. Now more than ever we need strong messages in support of the environment and animal rights. That’s why I am so glad that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out recently.
Harry Potter has indisputably become an important part of our modern mythos about witches, wizards, and magical know-how. We’ve discussed the series a lot on this blog, but as I was randomly thinking the other day, what exactly prompted Rowling’s choice in animal companions for her young magic users? Creatures like toads and cats have long since been staples of witchiness in the current pop media consciousness (although as far as cats go, Hermione’s fluffy ball of grump Crookshanks isn’t exactly the stereotype), and rats kind of fit in by virtue of so many people having an aversion to them. But owls? From where I stood, owls seemed like a random choice. Rowling has stated that she chose the creatures because they’re “traditionally associated with magic” and just because she likes them—both valid points—but in my pop culture experience, owls aren’t the go-to bird for shorthand magical implication. No, that honor goes to ravens. Still, this got me thinking further: what are the symbolic differences between owls and ravens when it comes to magic? Surprisingly, their purpose in folklore and their general symbolism are quite similar.
Recently, I have started watching Vsauce3, a great YouTube channel that discusses a lot of interesting philosophical and scientific theories. It’s really cool, and if you have never watched it, definitely check it out. I became particularly intrigued by one video that discussed four logical paradoxes about what really makes you, you.
The Theseus Paradox considers Theseus’s ship as an example. Say you have this ship, and after a while you replace the sails, then the mast, and all the rope, and eventually you even replace all the wood so that none of the elements of the original ship are there anymore, even if it looks exactly the same. So then the question is: Is it the same ship anymore? Furthermore, it also states that if you took all the parts you removed from the first ship and used them to build a second one, is that actually the original ship? Or are they both entirely new ships?
Another paradox discussed in this video is the Sorites Paradox, which asks: If you have a heap of sand, and you keep taking away one grain of sand until there is only one grain of sand left, at which point during this process does it stop being a heap of sand?
Then, if you combine the Theseus and Sorites Paradox and apply it to a person, we ask the question: when do we stop being ourselves? If your leg is cut off, yes, you are still you, but think about how most of your cells have replaced themselves since birth. You look different, act different, maybe even have different opinions and a different personality since you were a baby or even a little kid. Is the you who was a baby the same person as the you you are now?
Finally there is the Teletransportation Paradox, which discusses being in a transporter where you are broken down into little pieces and then rebuilt somewhere else. It would essentially kill you and then put together different atoms in order to remake you. The last you would remember is stepping into a transporter and then coming out the other side. You would have all the same memories and same personality, but we wouldn’t know what happened in between moving from one location to another. And really, how can you even be sure you do have the same memories and personality? So then the question becomes, is the person who walked into the transporter the same as the person who came out?
I started to wonder about these paradoxes in relation to the soul and religion. Most religions believe that there is more to a person than just their body; their soul is also a key part of who they are. In some religions the body takes second place, and the body is viewed as an illusion or a prison for the soul, while other religions see the soul and body as very much linked and equal in value. For example, in Christian sects, gnostic Christianity views the body as less important than the soul, but most mainstream Christians view the body and soul as equally important. Because I am Christian, I will talk about the mainstream Christian view of the soul and body, but I would love to know what other religious belief systems have to say about this issue, so please let me know in the comments! Are any of the Star Trek characters still the same person after having been broken down and rebuilt in the transporter? Is Voldemort still Voldemort even after he split up his soul and then basically built himself a new body? Let’s dive in!