Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Who Frames Roger Rabbit? - Cartoon Characters as Recognized Individuals (Part Six)

Part Five

Section Three: Mickey Geist - The Ontology of Mickey Mouse

“For experience is just this, that the content - which is Spirit - is in itself substance, and therefore an object of consciousness. But this substance which is Spirit is the process which Spirit becomes what it is in itself; and it is only as this process of reflecting itself into itself that it is in itself truly Spirit...the transforming of that in-itself into that which is for itself...of the object of consciousness into an object of self-consciousness, i.e. into an object that is just as much superseded, or into the Notion”
(Phenomenology 802).

When we speak of the ontology of Mickey Mouse, we are of course not discuss a living, self-conscious organic being. But simply saying that Mickey Mouse is not an organic being does not tell us just exactly Mickey Mouse is, only what he is not. In this section, I will discuss Mickey Mouse as an object of consciousness, as an artificial self-consciousness, and as a function of self-consciousness.
At first glance, the question of Mickey Mouse as an object of consciousness seems like a simple one. Wouldn't the object of consciousness be the ink and paper of which a drawing of Mickey is made up? After all, Steamboat Willie is composed of a series of paper and ink drawings which have an actual physical existence.

However, while we could legitimately point to a particular ink and paper drawing as an object of consciousness that makes up Mickey Mouse, there are any number of other physical objects that could just as easily and just as validly described as “Mickey Mouse.” Moreover, these disparate physical objects have contradictory elements which make basing our definition of Mickey Mouse on them as invalid as defining both a solid which conducts electricity and a solid which does not as “Copper” invalid.

We could use the definition of “ink and paper,” but a Steamboat Willie is not simply a series of ink drawings on paper, but also a series of ink and paper drawings converted into film cells. Even then, consumers do not view the films cells directly, but rather as light filtered through the cells and projected on a screen. The majority of people who have seen Steamboat Willie have never seen the unprojected film cells, let alone the original ink and paper drawings. Furthermore, we can just as validly refer to a digital stream of binary code which shows the same sequence of images as Steamboat Willie.

Furthermore, not all depictions of Mickey Mouse were originally executed in ink and paper. Epic Mickey and Kingdom Hearts both use computer-generated polygons to depict Mickey, electronically stored zeroes and ones which consumers never see. Instead, they see an interpretation of the zeroes and ones projected onto a television screen, which is just as much of a trick of the light as Steamboat Willie. Even if a consumer were to read the series of zeroes and ones which define Mickey in these video games, they would be unable to interpret them as “Mickey” without the extremely rare ability to read binary code.

In all these cases, the majority of consumers at no point interact with what we originally considered to be the “object of consciousness,” but with a trick of projected light. How then should we understand Mickey Mouse as an object of consciousness? Is he the ink and paper? The electronic code? The illusion of form and movement created by projection?

What becomes clear is that the “object of consciousness” is not a physical object, and in fact has very little relation to any physical object. Whereas “copper” exists as a physical object which our concept of copper can be compared against, “Mickey Mouse” does not. We can test the validity of our concept of copper by comparing it with the physical object. It does not matter if we use “Lump of Copper A” or “Lump of Copper B” (assuming they are both of sufficient purity); either one will have identical physical properties that can be used to test our concept of copper.

However, we cannot test the validity of “Mickey Mouse” in the same way. “Ink Drawing of Mickey A” and “Binary Code Model of Mickey A” would naturally have massively conflicting physical properties, and yet can both be reasonably said to be “Mickey Mouse.” Ink drawings and computer renderings are manifestations of Mickey Mouse, not the object of consciousness itself.

(Continued in Part Seven)

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