Thursday, February 09, 2006

On Midi-chlorians

Attention: first geeky “Star Wars” post on this blog.

When the original Star Wars came out I was 13 years old and was duly blown away. I thought the "Force” was a pretty cool aspect of the movie, but that was as far as it went. Later on (college?), I heard some fans talk about the Force as if it were a seriously interesting philosophical idea. I disagreed and thought it was actually pretty lame on closer inspection.

Obi-Wan explained the Force thus: “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” Why is the Force only associated with living things (although it somehow binds the galaxy)? It seems like a kind of old-fashioned vitalism. There seems to be a kind of interactive dualism of Force and material world – this is basically is a traditional Cartesian template. This was reinforced when Obi-Wan’s spirit appeared after death. As an aside, I also thought the idea of the dark and light sides of the Force to be naïve and simplistic.

My kids are into Star Wars now, and as a result I’ve watched the prequel trilogy several times on DVD. And in contrast to my thoughts above I actually kind of liked the “Midi-chlorian” idea (once I made out the dialogue). Here’s Qui-Gon: “Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force.” He goes on to describe the relationship of humans and Midi-chlorians as symbiotic. Now, I think the status of Midi-chlorians as natural entities is an improvement on the mysterious spirit world of the force. I still don’t like that they are limited to living organisms – I think a system in which livings things are more clearly co-extensive in nature with the non-living world would be better. (Also, let me steer right past Anakin’s immaculate conception via Midi-chlorians). Still, I liked the fact that Midi-chlorians at least partly put the force back into the natural world. This is closer to a more interesting panexperientialist or pantheist worldview than the original dualistic worldview of the force.

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