The Existential Christmas


With the onset of December, my life is spirals into a nebula known as Chrismasville (or HoHoHo-44554). 

My desktop wallpaper has been changed, my apartment is soon to be garland with lights, green/red novelties, and Christmas yarns, and feel-good holiday classics will replace my usual movie regimen. The most recent in this years run being the Santa Clause (1994). This movie, along with other recent choices such as Elf (2003) and Prancer (1989) are about Christmas Spirit or more specifically, the lack of it.

These movies philosophize about children’s innocence which, like John Locke's Tabula Rasa, includes a child’s ability to completely believe in something without empirical proof. This, to an industry based in the North Pole, powered almost entirely by magic and belief, is a particularly important subject. They stress the importance of maintaining a belief in magic throughout our lives, using phrases like ‘believing is seeing’ and children simply know Santa exists.

In Elf, belief is the energy substrate actually fueling Santa’s sleigh, provoking the image that a cranky non-believer could actually lead to the gruesome plummeting death of our favorite apple cheeked gift giver. As an obnoxious empiricist, it's my duty to ruin children’s entertainment for my family and friends, as I have with Spongebob, Pixar movies and anything involving the ability of evolution to create flamboyant, nonsense superpowers. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these shows and movies too, and look forward to deluding my children with them, but I still believe it’s important to point out the obvious irrationalism within the genre.

In the Santa Clause, no one over the age of around 10 believes in Santa, magic or much of anything. We are all a bunch of staunch, white-collar realists whose innocence died long ago. Only by the end do the adults come to ‘believe’ as Santa abandons his stealthy tactics and reveals himself to be a genuine person, capable of actual magical abilities such as flying, telekinetic house reconstruction and the ability to conjure matter in any form from a large, cashmere bag. Elf follows similar premises, whereby Santa can only escape a crash in central park once people sing (which doesn’t necessarily imply a belief in magic or Santa). This culminates with his final ability to slip the surly bonds of earth to the amazement of people watching and again, ‘believing’.

Now you might see where I am going with this and why as a scientist this tends to prevent me from allowing those I love to enjoy a movie by obscuring the screen with my soapbox. By revealing himself to the masses, as he typically does by the end, Santa has opened Schrodinger’s box and revealed a truth, that he is REAL. Belief is no longer a factor. If I saunter into a street illegally, my belief of cars is irrelevant; I will be struck if my timing is off. Your subjective experience doesn't dictate objective reality.

Anthropomorphism dictates that we assume every phenomena is like a giant Truman Show device, meant to somehow affect our lives and thinking in some way. In contrary, there are planets out there where it rains iron, where the air is made of lethal gases and gravity would crush us into small pebbles. This is an objective reality. In science, we are merely attempting to understand the rules of a game we’ve been thrust into with no prior instruction. As Richard Feynman put it, ‘the rules of the game are fundamental physics.’

A scientific fact is nothing more than an agreed upon rule we think might exist in governing this reality we live in. The Santa/belief agenda in Christmas movie’s tramples all over this idea by disregarding the complete paradigm shift Santa has initiated by revealing himself and some of his abilities, thus changing fundamental physics.

I am sorry, Christmas elf, but believing is most definitely not seeing.

Merry existentialist Christmas!