It’s not necessary to wax philosophical about Haruhi Suzumiya’s SOS Brigade to enjoy the clever, absurdist humor of the franchise. Yet, as the Brigade searches out the mysteries of the Universe, how could I resist joining them? Thus, in these coming weeks, I’ll be engaging with some of Koizumi’s philosophical theories from my own Thomistic tradition. How, why him, and why Thomism? Read this.
Let’s put this world into motion!
“Quite frankly”, Itsuki Koizumi tells our protagonist in a taxi heading to an unknown destination, “I do not believe that an omniscient, omnipotent God created humans. However… we have our suspicions.” A dramatic pause follows.
“Perhaps we are just clowns standing on tiptoe… at the edge of a cliff? I kid”. Kyon doesn’t respond with a “Yes, by heaven”, a “Proceed with the inquiry” nor a “Why?”, as a good Socratic disciple would. He is more frank: “I don’t understand a thing you’re saying”.
And so it’s up to us to figure out what Koizumi is implying.
The Cosmological Suspicions of Itsuki Koizumi
Koizumi & Co. suspect that there is more to the Universe than meets the eye, and they do so because they saw it move. Three years ago, this young man’s mind was opened to new aspects of reality: pocket dimensions, superpowered beings, and the cause of this existential revolution—a certain Suzumiya-san.
Careful observation allowed those with new ESP powers to congregate in the Agency, and to ascertain the correlation between Suzumiya-san’s mental state and the drastic changes taking place in the very fabric of reality.
The now 16-year-old Koizumi compares this experience to the Anthropic Principle. This idea purports to explain the remarkable coincidence that the Universe is precisely the right age and has the fundamental physical constants necessary to accommodate conscious life—life that can observe it from a privileged standpoint. In other words, humans. Us.
Of course, that all these factors would come together so perfectly is spectacularly improbable in statistical terms. This, in turn, questions a “billiard balls randomly colliding” cosmological model. To account for this, the Weak Anthropic Principle hypothesizes a Cosmic selection bias that favors conscious observers, while the Strong version postulates a Cosmic principle of finality towards the development of conscious life.
What links the Cosmos and perception? An Universe that is myriads of light years in expanse, about 13,800 billion years old, and where space itself seems to be expanding, all while consisting of particles of wave-like infinitesimal points, and a random schoolgirl looking out the window. That’s a very Haruhian question, indeed.
There are alternate explanations as well: postulating an infinite multiverse or the possibility of non-carbon-based life forms to somewhat alleviate the improbability of the universe, or explaining the Principle away as gratuitous speculation, a tautology or a reversal of causality. Koizumi himself considers it non-scientific, but he’s as cool as a cucumber with that. You know, the usual scenery.
Haruhi’s Abyss and Koizumi’s Clowns
Koizumi’s theory is that our minds influence physical reality. The world conforms to the observer. In his view, the ultimate observer is Haruhi, who is consequently the cause and measure of everything. Given the magnitude of her power, the existence of any other causal power is mere speculation.
The present order of the Universe, including humanity, hasn’t any intrinsic meaning apart from her. It could be preserved by carefully manipulating her perceptions, though.
Humans are thus primarily Haruhi’s entertainers, her “clowns”. They are standing “at the edge of a cliff” because she might erase their existence at any moment. To trick her into not doing so, they should keep her intrigued. And this is the role Koizumi wants Kyon to play, given that she finds him and him alone… interesting.
But Koizumi’s metaphor (along with other clues, too) suggests an inability to get to the root of the problem. If Haruhi ends up destroying this world, it’ll be due to her melancholy, the soul-crushing vertigo caused by her impression of an immense, blind Cosmos, seemingly without meaning or direction. That’s the abyss near the cliff, the void waiting over its edge, and no clown can keep Haruhi from it forever.
Koizumi’s subjective approach to perception allows for some semblance of meaning. But it’s frail and fleeting, a manufactured mystery, a refined version of the polite lies Haruhi rebels against.
Haruhi is… Haruhi?
Kyon will have none of Koizumi’s theory. “That’s just ridiculous. It doesn’t matter if humans are around or not. The Universe is the Universe.” To the existential question that Haruhi’s power poses for him, he will respond: “Haruhi is Haruhi”. They’re still humans, and she’s still the girl that sits behind him in class.
Kyon’s response has to do with “being”. He’s no philosopher, yet here he inadvertently recreates the fundamental principle of identity according to Aristotelian metaphysics: “A is A”. Kyon is basically saying that the Universe and everything in it has some form of identity, unity and continuity, its own specific way of being. “Haruhi is Haruhi.” Perception discovers that identity. This is called “philosophical realism”, the intuitive position of most humans.
But what makes Haruhi, Haruhi? While matter changes, an immaterial principle of unity and order—or a “form” in Aristotelian terms—remains constant, causing a being to keep being itself, and distinct from the rest. This order is one that we can imprint on our minds through perception and abstraction, like a seal leaving its mark on the sealing wax. When my mind perceives that order again, I ascertain that this person is Haruhi.
Note that having this “form” in our minds does not produce a new Haruhi in us (I’m sure everyone, friend and foe, would agree that one Haruhi is enough). Consequently, there’s a difference between the “form” of a being and its actual existence.
When “form” and existence come together, we have, in Aristotelian terms, a being “in act“. A “form” that isn’t in act right now but could be, is a being “in potency”. The composition and interaction of act and potency explain why things change. In episode 1 (Kyon’s order), Koizumi himself explains this to us.
The episode follows Haruhi’s attempt at being a movie director. In the ultra-crazy The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina 00, the hero and villain—played terribly by Koizumi and Yuki Nagato—improvise a little conversation in their second confrontation. The result is hilarious. “Itsuki Koizumi. You should not choose her. Your power will only become effective at my side.”
Koizumi, being Koizumi, shows no alarm at a girl climbing into his room through a second-storey window, as a very frustrated Kyon tells us. Instead, Koizumi questions her in an awfully straightforward manner. Nagato responds: “You can join me and help advance the universe toward its ideal form, or you may side with her and snuff out the possibilities of the future.”
“I see. So either way, he… or, in this scene, it would be me, I am the key, am I not? And the key itself has no power. At best, a key can only open a door. When that door is opened, something will change. The thing that will change is…” Dramatic pause. Smile. “I understand, Nagato-san”.
I kid you not. (That exchange foreshadows the central conflict of the entire plot, but that’s a subject for another time.)
The philosophical problem here is change, Aristotle’s Cosmic “movement”. Plato saw a Universe of interconnected, knowable essences, ideas or “forms”. Aristotle added that these “forms” are present in individual things, and that “movement” happens when beings “in act” bring potential forms to actuality.
In other words, a key is internally ordered in such a way that it will open a door. This is what makes it a key (i.e. this is its “form”). But the key is powerless by itself, and it’s ability to unlock is merely potential. Something else “in act” has to interact with the key in order for it to be able to fulfill its order by fulfilling that potential. That is, a key is not entirely actual, but rather a composite of potency and act.
The Hope of Haruhi
Everything around us is like that. At least, everything is a composite of potential “form” and actual existence, brought about by a “key”. Haruhi herself was once a possible “girl with such and such traits”, potentially present in the order of Humanity. That potential was unlocked by her parents, the part of Humanity “in act”. Now, she exists, and the rest of her potential is being fulfilled with this received actuality.
There are all sorts of potential aspects to Haruhi right now, too. She “moves”, changing her potential aspects with that act of being, knowing and willing, or being changed by what she receives. She has a derived, mixed actuality. She is ordered in a way that requires others to exist and to change things. So, pointing beyond herself in her very being, Haruhi cannot be the cause or the measure of every given order of things.
That’s hopeful. Her power is not self-sufficient. Instead, it entails potency, or an openness to other orders, to other things and other people. So Kyon seeing Haruhi as Haruhi brings her hope. Rather than a mere subjective entertainment, he is, potentially, a key.
Haruhi suspects that her potential may be realized one day in a way that is coherent with the Universe as a whole. And thus, she begins to move, clumsily, strangely, bringing everyone in this show with her, Koizumi too. She’s not running towards the abyss.
The Way of Act and Motion
Koizumi’s ESP powers or Asahina’s “Mikuru Beams” don’t come from them. Their human “form” alone can’t explain such things. “Psychic” and “Superheroine” are possible potential orders, but they don’t exist yet “in act”. Thus, theirs is necessarily a derived power.
If, on a given day, they become able to use their powers, then this will be proof that there’s an active source of such powers (ahem, a certain someone) in existence that day. Haruhi is their key, the mover. But Haruhi has a mixed actuality, remember? So we must look beyond.
Haruhi has her own keys. Among them, is a Humanity actualized by an order of Life, actualized in turn by an Universe in act. I’m not talking here about these things as parts of a process in time. Their existence and interaction right now is necessary for Haruhi’s movement to happen.
Philosophically, there may be an infinite process in time, an actually endless Endless Eight. It may be a cycle or a line. Yet, a hierarchical series like this cannot be infinite. Here we go.
If Haruhi paints an alien sign with a stick, the stick, Haruhi’s hand and Haruhi’s will must all be simultaneously in act for it to happen. The other elements of this series must be too. They are all moving one another, and so an infinite series of this would be a “turtles all the way down” kind of solution.
This line of reasoning led Aristotle to conclude, all the way back in 335 BCE, that if there’s a change at any given time, there must be a Pure Act, a being in act without mixed or derived actuality. A being in which essence (order, “form”) and existence are one, and not just an actualized possibility. A being that is Act.
And there can only be one such being, because if there were two, the difference between them would be potential: it could potentially exist or not exist in a Pure Act. That would make one of the Acts, or both, not Pure.
A Pure Act is a fascinating notion. It has the positive characteristics we see in both changing and stable realities. It is a supremely dynamic being that, nevertheless, doesn’t change, because of its plenitude of existence. Everything else is potential in relation to its actuality.
This is St. Thomas Aquinas’ First Way to the existence of God. You have his formulation here.
God Knows? What a Pure Act entails
The rest is a bit like a Rubik’s cube. St. Thomas devotes the next 400 pages of his Summa Theologica to the implications of his First Way (and the others), but I’ll do a meteoric outline of them. A crazy ride, in the spirit of the SOS Brigade. Ready?
One. The Pure Act is immaterial, because matter, being ordered by the “forms”, is potential. Two. Existing beyond change entails eternity and timelessness. Three. Nothing else has pure actuality, so the Pure Act cannot be contained in any order of being: it’s transcendent. Four. In turn, the essence of all things would derive from its own plenitude of order. Since the Pure Act is immaterial, all things would exist in it as abstract ideas.
Five. Having abstract ideas entails being intelligent. It’s how we understand things, after all. Six. Having all the abstract ideas of everything that is and could potentially be makes one all-knowing. Seven. An intelligent Being acting as a mover from its own actuality has free will.
Eight. Unity, intelligence and will imply personhood. The Pure Act must be a personal Being.
Nine. If evil is an absence or deficit of what should be there, the Pure Act, not lacking anything real, would be purely good. Ten. All things being potential with respect to the Pure Act means that every possible order of being, as long as it’s not self-contradictory, may be actualized by the Pure Act without requiring any other source of actuality. Thus, it’s technically omnipotent.
Eleven. The actuality being pure, it is also infinite. Mixed beings are limited by their form, by what they are. But a Pure Act is not this or that. It just is, with the unlimited fullness of all Being.
Time for a breather!
Here we have an argument for the source of every movement as being an omniscient, omnipotent, personal Creator that is maintaining the existence of all things right now through a free act of will that gives us the power to change things. Not a Cosmic Watchmaker who simply gets things started and then lets them play out, perhaps interfering now and then to fix things, but something like a beating Heart.
You see, physical motion has inertia, but existence does not. The second I stop thinking something, the object of my thought loses all existence, because it depends entirely on my own act of being. And the second the human form “in act” stops informing my body “in act”, it will be dead flesh. You pull the plug, and the video game turns off. That’s how being works. And this is more or less what Koizumi fears Haruhi will do.
But St. Thomas shows that the Pure Act is not as variable as Haruhi, or us, or the mind. It’s pure stability. It exists beyond time, but its actuality is transmitted again and again in every given moment, making all moving things exist and move, and giving some of them the actuality required to move themselves freely.
Saving the World by Overloading it With… Motion?
The Catholic Church holds that Romans 1:18–20 implies that the existence of God is knowable by reason, but doesn’t say how. So, this argument we’ve just considered could be wrong. Even if it isn’t, although it may prove the existence of God and some of His attributes, it still doesn’t exhaust His infinite, mysterious richness.
It doesn’t work as a substitute for faith, either. Yes, if you’re convinced that there’s a Pure Act, you may conclude that something pretty much like the Biblical God exists: personal, eternal and stable, yet with free, dynamic initiative. But the Pharisees believed in such a God and still rejected Christ. Faith is personal trust in God, His Revelation and His plan.
The First Way, though, helps me in loving and admiring God. I also think it just fits. God presents Himself to Moses as a burning bush that is never consumed, telling him: “I AM WHO I AM…. You shall say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS has sent me to you”. Haruhi is Haruhi. God… is—a way of being necessarily united to an infinite Existence, a Supreme and Personal Act of Pure Being, leading His People to move.
“Before Abraham was”, Jesus would say in the Temple, “I AM”. Jesus, Y’shua, means “He Who Is, Saves”. Perhaps the world, created by love and sustained by love, moves towards love as well, a movement we can embrace or reject. And Christ, God Incarnate, is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
Humanity, made in the image of God, is given life and freedom. It walks towards a fulfillment that involves the whole Cosmos. That’s my own explanation of our improbable tuning to this Universe.
So, yeah, Itsuki Koizumi, I believe that there’s a way to jump beyond the abyss. It’s an adventure, right?
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya can be streamed at Funimation.