The Prisoner (of Zen[da/do])

September 3, 2014


The final episode of The Prisoner, puzzling and infuriating to so many, but in my view, one of the historical high-points of television, is supposed to be when No.6 finally gets an answer to his ceaseless query, “Who is No. 1?”  We have written earlier about No. 6 as The Prisoner of Love, but perhaps he is really a prisoner of Zen, rather than Zenda. (That was a successful novel from the 1890s that was adapted many times for the cinema.)

In the literary Zenda-Prisoner configuration, the heir to the throne of a fictitious nation is drugged and held captive by an evil minister to prevent his coronation.  An Englishman, with a fortuitous resemblance to the heir is used as a double/decoy, to get around the political impasse.  So, is the king-to-be No. 1, or perhaps the evil minister?  Is No. 6 just a decoy…for whom?

When No. 6 rampages through the rocket in the underground chamber where his ‘graduation’ circus is being staged, he is chasing No.1.  He finds him, confronts his masked face – a repeated motif in the show – and rips off the masks, one after another. Finally, he finds, himself, while the sound track says, “I, I, I, I…i…i…   I love you, love you, very much!”  and music plays to a images of the Rover balloon bubbling and boiling, while the rocket starts to launch.

No. 6 is simply a prisoner of himself, his ego, his attachment to the “I”.  Trapped in his worldly illusion, as any Zen master could have told him.  He’ll never get out of that zendo, also known as The Village.

What a lot of fun!



February 2, 2010

But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of  compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience . . . In short,  all the materials of thinking are derived either from our outward or inward sentiment: the mixture and composition of these belongs alone to the mind and will. 

Time was, I liked to knock the English empiricists hard, love them though I might.  Nowadays, I think they, especially Mr. David Hume, had it just right as far as the Theory of Knowledge, aka epistemology goes.  Consider this article (Abstract Thoughts?  The Body Takes Them Literally)  in the New York Times today.  It’s all about how we don’t just “think” with our brains, where all our linguistic nattering goes on, but with our bodies.  Indeed, our brains treat many abstract concepts quite concretely, as instances of physical activity, translated into linguistic metaphor. 

As Hume would say, our most abstract ideas spring, eventually, if you trace them back far enough,  from genuine physical sensations.  As the psychologist Julian Jaynes remarked in an earlier chapter of his book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

… the relation between an analog map and its land is a metaphor.

That is, just as a paper map relates to the actual terrain as a linguistic metaphor to reality, so too do our abstract ideas relate to physical reality and sensation.  (Maps are not as cut and dried as you might think, either!)  Our ideas are, in the end, analogs, a notion that would have made Plato vomit, I think.

BTW, I most certainly do not recommend Jayne’s book, although the first chapter or two are masterful descriptions of what thinking is actually, as opposed to what epistemologists like to pretend it is.  He was, however, a very creative fellow.