Sometimes there is a single moment in a show where it writes its main theme large for all to see.
That moment comes when Shinji is isolated in the darkness with only himself (and his mother) in Episode 16. I know a lot of Eva’s titles are meaningful, but the title on this one has a particular meaning. The first half is “Sickness Unto Death, and…” The second half is “Splitting of the breast.”
A quick recap for the people who haven’t seen this episode. It starts with Shinji getting praise from Misato for having the best sync ratio. This sets up the entire conflict of the episode because Asuka immediately becomes upset because she isn’t the best child.
This is the first point we see the cracks in Asuka’s personality start to show. If she can’t plaster over her overall sense of worthlessness with love from adults, then she has to feel that emotion.
But that comes later.
Next, a new and strange angel appears and Asuka goads Shinji into taking the lead. When Shinji does, he gets sucked into a pocket dimension.
This is where the fun begins. Shinji slowly sinks into himself.
There is a point in the middle though where everything gets revealed. As Shinji is near death he has a vision of himself sitting on a train. We see this Shinji through a fish-eye lens. This is the image we get.
We see a Shinji in a wide-angle lens that takes up nearly the whole frame. Not only is he open to the world, he is the world.
Across what appears to be a train car or a narrow hallway from him is another Shinji. This one appears to be a child with a blacked-out face. The blacked-out face is important because it hints that this Shinji doesn’t really have a singular identity.
So on one side, we have fisheye Shinji who is all internal Shinji, On the other side, we have Shadow Shinji, a Shinji who has other faces applied to him.
In that conversation between the two Shinji’s we get this line:
“The self is composed of two selves. The self which is observed and the self which observes itself.”
This is the line that defines this entire show. It’s the reason why Gendo started the human instrumentality project. To understand this line, I think we need to talk some psychology.
Schemas and self
One of the most interesting things about psychology is that we don’t really have a unified model for how people “think.” The theories run anywhere from Freud’s belief that we’re driven by subliminal desires to the Behaviorists theory that we are all just a collection of responses.
Somewhere in the middle is Cognitive Behavioral Theory. So the theory, much like existentialism, is less of a unified set of beliefs then it is an overall mindset about how we look at thinking.
These psychologists basically believed most human reactions worked like this. There is a stimulus. We have an emotional reaction or some sort of thought about the stimulus, and then we take some sort of action.
This was a change from behaviorists, like Pavlov and Skinner, who believed we would have a stimulus and then reaction. There was no thought in between.
So if we have thought, we must have some sort of framework we see the world through.
Here is where this was different from Freud and other psychoanalysts. Freud said all behavior is driven by subconscious desires. Cognitive Behavior theory basically says thought exists in an “observable” fashion.
Basically, we can build a model around how people see things. In cognitive behavioral theory, one of those models is called a schema. (There are other things like prototypes and stereotypes which don’t really apply here.)
Here’s how to think of a schema. Take everything you think and feel about roses. For instance, it’s a bush, and it has thorns and it has flowers. They are generally red. Your grandmother grew them in the back yard. They’re in some love songs.
That is your schema about roses. It’s everything you associate with it from it’s physical make-up to the emotions that you have about them.
You have these schemas about everything in your life. You have them about chairs and your teacher and cats.
Now here is where Evangelion comes in. If I believe that most roses are red, and Jenny believes most roses are white, who is right.
Well, I am, of course. But maybe Jenny is right too.
But I’m not going to change my schema to fit Jenny’s world view. Well unless I’m confronted with something pretty traumatic.
Like I said, we have these schema about everything, even ourselves. So when Shadow Shinji says, there are two selves, what he’s saying is that there is the schema that Shinji has built for himself, and there is the schema that Misato and Asuka and everyone else built for Shinji.
If you have ever wondered why it’s hard to get someone to change their mind, this is why. Well at least according to this theory.
So if Shinji sees himself as a loser, but Rei sees him as a really nice person. He’s not going to change his opinion of himself because Rei sees him differently.
Human Instrumentality and the schema
So why is this idea so important?
Because that separation between the two schemas is what the Human Instrumentality project is trying to strip away.
Evangelion asserts that the root of all human suffering is the fact that these multiple selves exist. If Misato’s father really understood how important he was to her, would he have still abandoned her? If she understood how important his work was to him, would she have felt so abandoned?
If Gendo Ikari could really understand Shinji, then he could really love him, and vice versa.
We can do this with all of the characters. All of their pain and suffering was because they had built an image in their mind of who they are and who the other people are, and the other people aren’t able to communicate in a way to change that image.
This is because we are all separate beings. But if everyone were to become one being, or at the very least connect on a truly direct level, then we wouldn’t have these misunderstandings.
At its heart, this is what Eva is about. It’s trying to say the only way we will ever be happy is if we evolve beyond being human.
Otherwise, we’re all screwed.
As always, thanks for reading.