Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Dystopian Japan and the Sibyl System

Located in a dystopian Japan under the full control of an all-knowing computer called the Sibyl System, Psycho-Pass raises profound questions. This investigation goes beyond mere philosophy. Interestingly, it delves into the field of science. In the universe of Psycho-Pass, the Sibyl System determines every aspect of our existence, including our jobs and the likelihood of our involvement in criminal activities, through continuous brain scans and constant surveillance. This comprehensive assessment is someone’s Psycho-Pass, which serves as the foundation for all decisions the Sibyl System makes.

Enter Akane Tsunemori, a rookie Criminal Investigations Department inspector (CID) inspector. Her role resembles that of a police officer, albeit with the caveat that she must strictly adhere to the system’s directives rather than the law. Instead of using traditional police dogs, they employ Enforcers, individuals who were once potential criminals but have been granted limited freedom by the system in exchange for cooperation. To fully understand this dynamic, we must delve into the intricacies of the brain and the decision-making process. Most contemporary neuroscientists propose the existence of two distinct systems within the brain. The first system is essentially “us”–our inner voice, emotions, and conscious thoughts. It encompasses our awareness. Although we tend to believe that decision-making primarily occurs within this system, the reality is more complex.

Unveiling the Hidden Neuronal Network

Below this system, another intricate network of neurons governs various functions ranging from spatial processing to respiration. Interestingly, this secondary system remains an enigmatic puzzle, resistant to our attempts to uncover it, no matter how often we engage in contemplative discussions. It is where the scientific examination of free will becomes relevant.

In the 1980s, Benjamin Libet conducted an innovative experiment that addressed this issue. He instructed participants to look at a clock and, at their discretion, flick their wrists. Libet then meticulously recorded the electrical signals emanating from their brains, referred to as “readiness potential.” He compared this data with the time the participants believed they had consciously decided to initiate the wrist-flicking action. The results indicated that the readiness potential preceded the subject’s conscious awareness of their decision by approximately half a second. In simpler terms, the choice to flick their wrist seemed to originate within the unconscious part of their brain about half a second before they believed they had consciously made the decision, similar to thunder following a lightning strike.

While it is important to acknowledge that Libet’s experiment had its limitations, such as relying on self-reported data, it is worth noting that subsequent research with better controls has produced similar findings. While we cannot definitively assert a causal relationship, it does suggest, to some extent, that the decision-making process may initiate within this unconscious realm of the brain. It raises the intriguing question: Do we genuinely have full control over our choices, and if not, how can we claim ownership of these choices?

Exploring Philosophical Themes in Psycho-Pass

Psycho-Pass explores various philosophical concepts, including questions about freedom, social control, and ethics in a constantly monitored society. Libet’s philosophical theory can also be applied to specific narrative aspects, particularly social control and individual freedom. Psycho-Pass depicts the Sibyl System as an entity exercising complete dominance over society. This society is continually monitored by the Sibyl System, which assesses the mental condition of each individual. It creates a strong form of social control that restricts individual freedom. Within the framework of Benjamin Libet’s theory, individuals may have already forfeited their freedom even before they realize it, similar to how the brain makes decisions before individuals perceive them.

Questions about individual freedom and the influence of the Sibyl System can be discussed in the context of Libet’s theory. According to Libet’s theory, an individual’s actions may have already been “determined” by the brain before they feel they have control over those actions. In Psycho-Pass, the Sibyl System can be seen as the “collective brain” determining whether someone is guilty based on their thoughts and emotions. It raises ethical questions about whether individuals are genuinely free or merely functioning as “tools” of a larger system.

Ethical concepts also play a crucial role in Psycho-Pass. How society grapples with the conflict between individual freedom and public safety, as well as how society assesses the value of human life in a system that continually monitors and measures the potential for criminality, are philosophical questions in this story? Libet’s theory can serve as a tool to delve deeper into these questions and contemplate the extent to which individuals have control over their actions in a strict surveillance system.

Libet’s Experiment

Libet’s experiment contributes significantly to understanding the world depicted in Psycho-Pass. After all, why do individuals allow a computer to assess them preemptively and dictate every aspect of their lives? The reason is that an intelligent system like the Sibyl System has a complex understanding of how the brain works, essentially possessing a deeper knowledge of individuals than they have of themselves. The system understands the workings of the subconscious mind so well that it can even identify potential criminals from a young age.

In a sense, the relationship between the Sibyl System and its citizens mirrors the relationship between the two systems in our brains. Citizens go about their lives with clear emotions, thoughts, and choices, while beneath their feet lies an extensive network of sensors, processors, and fiber-optic cables responsible for exerting control.

If our subconscious mind influences our conscious decisions, it raises the question: What influences our subconscious mind? Predictably, the Sibyl System takes this matter very seriously in influencing the minds of its citizens. The system is almost fixated on maintaining the mental state of its society to the extent that it continuously monitors stress levels in public spaces.

The Sibyl System’s Focus on Citizen Well-being

Considering its focus on safeguarding the well-being of its citizens, it is not surprising that the system also imposes media censorship in the name of the “greater good.” Various forms of creative expression, such as music and art, also face restrictions. This situation closely resembles a dystopian scenario akin to George Orwell’s nightmares. However, is the Sibyl System justified in regulating freedom of speech?

As unsettling as it may seem, science might argue otherwise. Humans possess an exceptional ability to mimic others, often instinctively and unconsciously. Research conducted by Andrew Meltzoff reveals that even babies will imitate unreasonable actions, such as a 14-month-old imitating strange gestures like using their forehead, not their fingers, to operate a touch sensor light, just by observing an adult doing it. Interestingly, evidence suggests that children excel at imitation because the parts of their brains responsible for inhibition have yet to fully develop. However, this propensity for imitation does not diminish with age; adults are equally prone to mimicking their peers. Observing an action performed by another person significantly increases the likelihood of emulation. This phenomenon is called the chameleon effect and is attributed to specialized brain cells called mirror neurons, which activate when we observe others performing actions. It occurs in all of our interactions, often without conscious awareness, within the intricate confines of our minds.

Introduction to Meltzoff’s Chameleon Effect

Meltzoff’s chameleon effect is a concept in social psychology that refers to an individual’s tendency to mimic or adapt their behavior and facial expressions to those of others in specific social situations. In the context of Psycho-Pass, we can observe how this concept can be applied to the characters and society within the story. In Psycho-Pass, society lives under the strict control of the Sibyl System. People in this society often adjust their behavior to the norms and rules the Sibyl System sets. It gives rise to the chameleon effect, where individuals tend to conform to existing social rules and norms to appear “normal” and avoid suspicion by the system.

The chameleon effect is also related to the concept of identity. Characters in Psycho-Pass often express themselves in ways that reflect how they want to be seen by others or the system. They may suppress their emotions or behaviors considered “dangerous” by the Sibyl System to maintain their identity in line with existing social norms. Social influence is highly potent in the world of Psycho-Pass. People often strive to adhere to social norms and avoid behaviors that might increase their criminal potential. It can be seen as a form of the chameleon effect, where individuals adapt themselves to the demands of social expectations and the existing system to function in society.

Sometimes, the chameleon effect can refer to a sense of self-loss to align with social norms and an authoritarian system. Some characters in the anime may experience a loss of their identity due to social pressure and the strong control of the Sibyl System. The chameleon effect can help us understand how individuals in the Psycho-Pass world adjust their behavior to strict social control, existing social norms, and strong social influence. It creates a complex dynamic in the anime’s story, which questions the concepts of individual freedom and identity in a highly monitored society.

The Sibyl System’s Preventive Measures

So, why does the Sibyl System need to prevent crime before it occurs? Because human behavior is contagious, ranging from laughter to acts of violence. There are consequences when faced with the latter, even in the ordinary world. This phenomenon is evident in the world portrayed in Psycho-Pass. As the city becomes flooded with low-level criminals wearing helmets that block the Sibyl System from reading their Psycho-Pass, we witness violence spreading among the regular citizens with an almost contagious enthusiasm. The Sibyl System is determined to strip its citizens of their autonomy. It leads us to the central question in Psycho-Pass: What is the purpose of living in a society without free will? It is precisely the question that motivates Shogo Makishima, the first season’s antagonist. Makishima is driven to assess the importance of free will in a society where it has been considered outdated.

In advocating for the necessity of free will, Makishima draws inspiration from Immanuel Kant, who believed that true morality could only be achieved by following moral principles willingly. Makishima goes to extreme lengths to test the resilience of individuals’ wills, aiding one criminal after another who seeks to challenge the system. However, Makishima is portrayed as the antagonist in the series. Throughout the storyline, Akane demonstrates a distinct sense of individualism. She was such an exceptional student that the system deemed her suitable for virtually any profession. Upon joining the CID, Akane begins questioning the wisdom of blindly obeying the Sibyl System’s directives, culminating in her refusal to carry out her boss’s order to kill her enforcer, Shinya Kogami. Although she reluctantly allows the system to persist by the end of the first season, she does so on her terms.

Kant’s Perspective on Morally Valuable Actions

Kant argued that morally valuable actions are those performed out of moral duty rather than personal impulses or desires. In Psycho-Pass, characters like Akane and Kogami often grapple with moral conflicts when deciding their actions in the face of crime. They strive to act according to their moral duties, even when it contradicts their emotional impulses or desires. Kant stated that ethical actions can be universalized, meaning one should act according to principles acceptable to all. In the series, the Sibyl System measures an individual’s potential for crime based on universal norms established by the system. However, ethical questions arise when characters like Kogami begin to doubt the validity of these norms and attempt to act according to their moral principles.

Kant also posited that individuals possess moral dignity and should be respected as ends in themselves, not as a means to achieve other ends. In Psycho-Pass, the Sibyl System often disregards individual dignity, viewing them as tools for social stability. It raises ethical questions about respecting individual dignity and their freedom in decision-making. Kant emphasized the importance of personal responsibility in moral decision-making. In the series, characters face difficult choices that test their responsibility for their actions. They must consider the moral implications of their actions, even when the Sibyl System attempts to guide them.

Akane’s Role as a Middle Path

In this context, Akane represents a middle path. Indeed, her decisions may be influenced by the subconscious mind or the Sibyl System, but ultimately, those decisions remain her choices. Despite endorsing a system that curtails some of her agency, Akane still maintains the appearance of free will. However, when it comes to stopping Makishima, Akane cannot do it; that responsibility falls on Kogami. According to Makishima, society no longer depends on others. They can always find a replacement for any talent. Makishima believes that allowing the Sibyl System to control our lives prevents us from being individuals. Without free will, we are not true humans but mere components of a larger system. It is why Kogami, the man willing to live as a fugitive from the system to stop Makishima, is the only person Makishima genuinely cares about. In the end, Kogami is the only one who acts independently; in this sense, he is the only person with a sincere connection to Makishima.

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