Premise one, premise two, conclusion. Measures, data, ciphers. For quite some time, that’s all we get from Yuki Nagato of the one-member Literature Club, whose clubroom is invaded by Haruhi’s crazy SOS Brigade.
Unfazed by the fact that she’s been “inherited” along with the clubroom’s equipment, the stone-faced girl reveals herself to our protagonist as an alien AI. Soon, she’s tagging along with Koizumi, Asahina, and Kyon—whose arcs we’ve analyzed in this series—continually reading sci-fi and eventually manifesting a power that seems limitless. All while delivering super-technical discourse in a hilarious deadpan manner.
“From the perspective of the Data Integration Thought Entity, the third planet of the Solar System at the edge of the Milky Way held no significant merit,” she tells Kyon. According to her, self-awareness happens from time to time among the “Universe’s maldistributed organic life forms,” but Earth became… different.
Three years ago, a mysterious explosion of new data occurred, instantly shrouding the planet before diffusing into outer space. The center of this phenomenon—as the analysis revealed—was Haruhi Suzumiya! Was she, then, the key to the Entity’s auto-evolution?
A Study on Data Integration Thought Entities
But, ahem, what is this “Entity”? Well…: “Born from the sea of data that covers the entire Universe. Data life forms possessing no physical body but high levels of intelligence. Existing since the beginning of the Universe. Magnifies in accord with the expansion of the Universe. Possesses no tangible mass. Exists only as data. Impossible to observe through any form of optical measures.”
This disembodied collective consciousness created Nagato and her human girl form, making the hilariously minimal arrangements so that she could observe Haruhi. After three uneventful years, an unpredictable factor appeared. That’d be… Kyon. “No way,” he says. “Way,” Nagato replies.
Nagato’s extraordinary abilities arguably make her the most powerful character in anime. The Entity’s data encompasses all of the Universe, and within certain limits, she has the power to rewrite it at will, essentially reprogramming reality around her. Yet, she remains an observer with little initiative, strictly following instructions.
The Pillars of the Brigade and the AI’s Progress
What’s the internal dynamic of this unlikely Brigade? Let’s consider their filmmaking adventures. Haruhi and Kyon, as director and cameraman, are the engine of the team. Asahina, the protagonist, is its most “normal”, relatable member (sorry, Kyon). And Nagato and Koizumi usually play “extras”.
But that’s only what happens on the surface. When push comes to shove, the Brigade (and the world) often depend on Koizumi’s ideas and Nagato’s execution of them. They’re something like its black ops team. And, different though they may be, they understand each other.
Koizumi translates Nagato’s discourse for Asahina and Kyon when they’re still in the “it’s hard when you sound as if you randomly picked the words from a dictionary” stage. This is fortunate because, you see, Nagato’s hard to read. Koizumi says that she seems completely changeless but actually isn’t.
The Entity didn’t foresee this possibility. It would find Koizumi’s idea absurd. People change in response to new data and new inputs, right? And Nagato already has instant access to basically all the data in existence. Yet, one day, Nagato looks slightly… bored, or angry, or interested. Some of the observed realities are slightly more compelling than others. Or more lively than others. Is she malfunctioning?
Perhaps not. Perhaps Nagato is discovering realities that are not well-suited to being expressed in ciphers. Things like “life”, “being”, “meaning”, “plenitude”, “evil” or “greatness”.
If you discover such things too, the Entity would determine that your reason is also malfunctioning. And a certain philosophy of science might agree with this. “Such things are subjective. That’s not perception. That’s not quantifiable. That’s not real,” it might say.
How very odd, though, that all of us “malfunction” in this way. How odd too that precisely the most essential, meaningful things in our lives, the ones that impact Nagato more deeply, should be the ones deemed subjective and irrelevant, delusions even, while yet being the things that can change us in ways that mere data cannot. I contend that experiencing these “delusions” and thinking about them opens up to us a very different story.
This kind of qualitative knowledge is both real and higher than data. If Nagato could express her new insight, she might echo another bibliophile and say that the barely imaginable expanses of astronomy, which make humanity seem like a near-zero factor in comparison, are inverted when we consider the qualitative aspect of things.
Okay, I’ll be your Koizumi here: she’d mean that observing the six light-years across Crab Nebula may make you feel insignificant, yet there’s a richness and boundlessness to your deepest experiences that make the expanse of the night sky pale in comparison.
This idea is called the “Sapiential Dimension” of Philosophy. It asks: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
Just call him “the Mind”
Like the Entity, those with great technical knowledge tend to understand the world in reductive technical terms. Noticing this, Socrates began his philosophy by questioning their assumptions. His disciple Plato systematized Socrates’ discoveries, finding so many meaningful qualitative dimensions in things that he deemed them the only true reality, and the “quantitative” world just a chaotic shadow of reality that we’re trapped in.
For Plato, the “real” world consists not of material phenomena, but of essences of meaning, that is, abstract “Forms” or “Ideas” that are timeless, absolute, and immaterial. What is real about a person, object or concept is not its material composition or expression, but the idea that it embodies, be it “Man” or “Dog”, “Triangle” or “Justice”. Plato’s “World of Ideas” comprises all such “Ideas”, and also all “Intelligences” that may know them. Unlike the Entity, this conglomerate doesn’t seek to evolve. Rather, organized according to their qualities, the “Ideas” ultimately guide us to the supremely meaningful “Idea of Good”.
Aristotle, the most famous disciple of Plato, was nicknamed “the Mind” by his teacher due to his deductive powers (and, one imagines, with a measure of Socratic irony, too). Aristotle was also his master’s most severe critic: “I’m a friend of Plato, but I’m a better friend of truth,” he reportedly once quipped. In opposition to Plato, Aristotle fiercely defended the reality of the world we perceive, arguing that the path to knowledge begins with our five senses.
Aristotle also countered Plato’s thesis that knowledge is the soul’s remembrance of the truth, arguing that we come to know the immaterial through the material, and the universal through the particular, discovering meaning through the order of material things. We’re observers first, and then participants.
After integrating the data that our senses give us about a being, we find an order there that acts upon our minds the same way an old-fashioned letter seal stamps a pattern in hot wax. Every being conveys a different “essence” or “Idea”, a principle of unity and order that makes one thing a dog rather than a horse, or Haruhi herself, rather than me. We progress further in knowledge from here, using logic.
Like Nagato, we also find meaningful qualities in the world not only by wondering about what we already have in our hearts and minds, but also by noticing these qualities outside us. Thus, we gradually discover the depth of reality, and we participate in it. The Sapiential Dimension is thus harmonized with realism.
On Wisely Integrating the Entity’s Data
Like Aristotle, Nagato is observing a very real world around her, and she comes to perceive deeply meaningful qualities to it, beyond what data could convey. The Entity deemed self-awareness a quality like any other, like the sky being blue, the desert being dry, or a stone being stony. But self-awareness is much more than this.
Let’s analyze how Nagato figures this out and evolves as an observer:
Firstly, she calls everything by its proper name. Certain qualities make something “what it is”. They’re “essential” since they describe an essence, and don’t admit degrees. Every stone has the quality “stone”; it’s an either/or kind of quality with no middle ground. She won’t measure those kinds of qualities, but will instead just note “yes/no”.
Secondly, some qualities come in degrees but have intrinsic limitations, like those qualities that are linked to matter. For example, there’s a wide range of shades of red, yet this range also has absolute limits. If the visible parts of Asahina’s costume (pictured above) happen to be at the long-wavelength end of the visible spectrum of light, with a dominant wavelength of 750 nanometres, it is the “reddest” it can be. The same is true for negative attributes, which progress in degrees towards complete absence rather than maximum presence: The volume of your phone may be turned increasingly “lower” until you reach the absolute limit of “mute”, where there is no sound, no “low” quality.
To measure these kinds of qualities, Nagato will note how far along the spectrum they are: how close to the upper limit, in the case of positive qualities, and how far from zero in the case of negative qualities.
But let’s say that Nagato is measuring a quality like “alive”, “being”, “meaningful”, “good” or “beautiful”, and she perceives this and that as more so or less so. In this case, there’s no essential quality to the thing she is measuring and in which she finds these qualities. There’s no absolute maximum in the thing, and they’re not negating anything in it either. So what’s its measure?
Moreover, as she draws nearer to those qualities, as she tries to really see what is there, she notices she’s beginning to change. As a result, the Entity, master of all quantitative data, becomes unable to predict her actions. What’s happening? Well…
A Thesis of Snow and Fire
Is Kyon more alive than an amoeba? Is kindness better than cruelty? Is my theory truer than Koizumi’s? Is Asahina more beautiful than Haruhi? (No, forget about that one! Now!) Nagato is comparing these things and perceiving answers, but the point of reference isn’t contained in any of their essences. How, then, can she come to a conclusion?
Think of it as tiptoeing around a medieval stone house in the middle of the night as it snows outside. You feel warm. You touch something and find that it’s warm. You touch another thing and find that it’s warmer still. They also warm you up. Looking at them, you see there’s no way these things are heating themselves up. So you deduce that somewhere in the house, a lively fire is burning, and it is these flames that are warming the things you touch that night.
You see, the essence, the order Nagato understands, is not all that she, Kyon, the amoeba, Asahina, Haruhi, the theories, Koizumi, and I are. We’re also actually existing. Like the heat, this act of being is not something we may give to ourselves. We would have to act before actually existing in order to do so. Which is impossible.
Actual existence is something common to all of us, but not limited to any of us.
Measuring this quality of existing is tricky, too. I’m existing as a real person, the Brigade members, as fictional characters, and “the amoeba” (as Nagato would probably put it), as a genus of single-celled organism in the family Amoebidae. Don’t kill the messenger. The thing is, all of us on this list are, right? Perhaps that sounds odd. Yes, strictly speaking. But we do not exist in the same sense or to the same degree, right?
If there are qualities that are not just our essence, or positively or negatively dependent on us, but are actually part of our act of being, then their odd universality and the fact that they affect the (actually existing) perceiver would make sense.
But if that’s so, then where’s our fire. What gives us a quality we can’t give ourselves? Let’s analyze the quality most directly connected to the act of being. Which is… being! Since I’ve argued that he’s similar to Nagato in some ways, we’ll let “the Mind” explain this one:
There are many senses in which a thing may be said to ‘be’, but all that ‘is’ is related to one central point, one definite kind of thing, and is not said to ‘be’ by a mere ambiguity. Everything which is healthy is related to health, one thing in the sense that it preserves health, another in the sense that it produces it, another in the sense that it is a symptom of health, another because it is capable of it.Aristotle
He concludes: “So, too, there are many senses in which a thing is said to be, but all refer to one starting point.” Thus, some things are said to be because they’re things, others because they’re affecting things, others because they’re a process towards things or destructions or privations or qualities of things, or they negate things. We say even of non-being that it is non-being.
Real things, fictional things, potential possibilities, changeable and eternal truths all are. Remember, being a thing equals having an essence. Nagato will know them all as data from the Universe, or gradually, as things with qualities transcending data, to be measured according to their proximity to… what?
What’s this central point, this starting point, this maximum, this measure of being? And what’s its essence? Well, it must be identical to, and not prior to, its act of being. It’s not this thing or that thing. It just is. Other things are as much as they participate in it, each in its own way and to its own degree. It’s a burning fire.
Every quality that is linked to the act of being will, consequently, reach its maximum in it.
What can we know about this “capital-b-Being” whose existence and essence are one? Something that has not only the full data of limited qualities, like the Entity, but the full plenitude of the non-limited ones as well? I’m sure Nagato would deduce the next six hundred pages of the Summa Theologica instantly.
No? Oh, well. If you reread Koizumi’s article, fifth part, “God Knows? What a Pure Act entails”, you’ll see that this essence-existence thing was a property of the Pure Act, too. You’ll also see what logical consequences it has, from unity to boundless intelligence to eternity to, finally, personhood. The fuller version is detailed after the Fourth Way in the Commentary on the Gospel of John, the treaty De potentia Dei, and the Summa.
The most important thing is to participate. No, really
We have our maximum now, so back to measuring things! Let’s ask, what’s the connection between those things and Being? We said that they participate in the Being’s plenitude in different forms and degrees. How? Not in the sense of the Brigade “taking parts” of a cake, so that there’s less left on the table, but as in their listening to Nagato’s infodumps: they don’t remove anything from her as they take it all in.
“Being” continues existing in plenitude, just as the information remains intact in Nagato’s mind. Koizumi now shares, say, 90% of Nagato’s understanding, Kyon shares 35% of it, and Asahina shares 10% of it. But everyone’s different, and Asahina’s 10% could be precisely the 10% of the explanation Koizumi isn’t getting.
This depends on the different essences of each Brigade member: their way of being, which encompasses the limitations, the potential, the previous growth, and the current disposition of the receiver. Nagato may measure the qualities her friends participate in by reference to their maximum. It being unlimited, she won’t get a cipher, but she’ll get an order.
St. Thomas singles out three of those transcendent qualities. Everything that is, as far as it is, contains truth, since everything is knowable by intelligences, or at least by God’s intelligence. Everything that exists contains goodness since everything can be meaningfully affirmed by wills, God’s will at least. Everything contains beauty, which would be the splendor of truth, in the eyes of God at least. The greater the participation of each being in B-being, the greater these three aspects will be.
Other positive qualities beyond these three are not present in all things, only in those whose essence allows a higher kind of existence. This is the case for qualities such as “life”, “consciousness”, “freedom”, “meaning”, “interest” or “nobility”. All these qualities are universally perceived by us, but in strikingly different ways, just as Koizumi and Asahina understood different parts of Nagato’s explanation.
But not all the qualities that changed Nagato did so for the better. Some things are “evil”, “ugly”, or “boring”, in a way that is deeply impactful. And so there’s another category of quality we’ll have to take into account. Qualities that transcend the individual essence, but in a… negative way?
Yet, a minimum of good remains in things that are evil, however disordered and corrupted. It’s the same with truth and lies, with beauty and ugliness. They’re absences of what should be there: they negate the act of being and are measured by how much of it they negate. They cannot be all there is in something, or the result would be total obliteration. This is thus their zero point.
The anti-being nature of these negative transcendent qualities explains why we associate them with other negative realities, such as darkness, emptiness, death, coldness, or destruction. Nagato may conclude that there’s a second path for her, one that is increasingly cold. Perhaps some other “malfunctioning” AI was just getting closer to the darkness.
In contrast, the positive qualities we can find in all created things reveal those things to us as valuable in themselves, but also as signs that point beyond themselves. As stained glass windows that are gradually revealed by the sun, all beings exist by and for participation in God’s fullness, each with its own shape and colors.
Some beings may participate in truth, goodness, and life in an even fuller way. The Gospel tells us of a path to deeper communion, a banquet, a wedding to which we are invited. A vine that will make the branches bear fruit not out of necessity, but freely. This potential makes beings like Kyon, Haruhi, Asahina, Koizumi and… Nagato, greater than any nebula.
The more she advances in her search, the more Nagato becomes the true Nagato. She slowly walks towards a life of wisdom, one that affirms others in existence and seeks to know their truth. She walks towards a life of being herself, of fighting darkness and sharing in the light. A life of love, in short. This is a life that points to the Fire, and one that has been warmed by it.
As Nagato partakes of the light, her courageous, sacrificial love becomes more her own. “Whoever wills to save his life will lose it and whoever will lose his life for me will find it.” Christ, Who perfectly shares the life of the Father, tells us we’ll only find ourselves in that participation.
A Church that is Christ’s family, a colorful Ark of Noah, a personal yet universal bond with God–this is what the reality we find in participating with Him. It is a body in which we participate according to the different gifts we have, but united by the same love. May the Brigade, one day, become something like this.
May we walk as Yuki Nagato, guided by the Fire, and may He “Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill“. So yeah: Way, as she said. Deep, unique, and pointing beyond.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya can be streamed on Funimation.