What is real? Are we real if we believe we are? Philosophers have pondered this question for centuries. We all know of Descarte’s famous theory, ““Cogito, ergo sum.” (“I think, therefore I am”).
The other day I stumbled upon a fantastic audio version of the Velveteen Rabbit. Let’s face it Meryl Streep sets the bar high. At its center is nothing less than the seminal question of existence, of prescience, framed in a children’s story. There’s something magical about the belief of children; its certainty, its purity. Often we, as adults, get caught up in the knowledge we’ve gained over the length of our education. We become absolutely certain of many things. But that worldly knowledge comes at a cost. We stop seeing the magic of possibility.
This summer we binge watched Westworld. At its center are the same questions, viewed through the lens of AI. The hosts, humanoid robots, are so well crafted, guests in the park, interacting with them, cannot tell them apart from the actual humans. Partially it’s an experiment in human nature: what would we do if we could act with impunity and zero consequences? But there’s a deeper question, one just as important, regarding the hosts themselves. What if, as they interacted with human guests, they were able to evolve? And what if that evolution created the ability to understand who they were, not just what.
The other day my boyfriend asked me what I thought the “soul” was. Is it our morality, our personality, the life force that animates our physical body? Obviously, a toy rabbit does not have any of those. And yet, it believes with its entire being, that if the young boy who loves him, loves him enough, he will become, more. He will become real.
For me, love embodies this quality as well. When we are loved, when we are greatly loved, we become more. It’s a force that is transformative in nature. One cannot say when it happens exactly. Or even how it happens, as it’s different for each person. So why can’t it also happen for our leporine friend? Or for the hosts in Westworld? Can absolute belief make something impossible occur?
Isn’t that the definition of faith?
Winston, George and Streep Meryl. “The Velveteen Rabbit,” Dancing Cat Records, 1984.