Fringe Review: Anomaly XB-6783746 ~ Fringe Television - Fan Site for the FOX TV Series Fringe

Fringe Review: Anomaly XB-6783746

      Email Post       12/23/2012 05:30:00 AM      


Epistemology is the study of how we know. It’s a fascinating field, and one that has preoccupied philosophers for years, as they’ve asked how the mind works, how sensory input is processed, how we learn, how we recall, how we categorize what we know. In recent years, psychologists have entered into the debate, which gave rise to a new way of understanding epistemology: EQ vs IQ, related to the “empathizing/systematizing” paradigm.


The theory of “EQ” explains the “Emotional Quotient,” which is opposed to the Intelligence Quotient measured by an IQ test. One of many varieties of intelligence, emotional intelligence is the ability to know others, and to understand oneself, without recourse to specifically analytical means. It may not get you a perfect score on the SATs, but it might lead to successful job interviews and happier marriages, since interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions form such a huge component of everyone’s life. The more recent theory of the “empathizing/systematizing” paradigm contrasts emotional knowing with a systematic intelligence—the sort of mind that likes to puzzle out problems rather than intuit a solution.

This episode is about that contrast: the Observers are systematizers, and their anomalous un-child Michael doesn’t fit in, because he is empathetic. Windmark’s interrogations of the Ministry of Science employees emphasize the difference: he “reads” them and understands them. “I believe you,” he says, but what he really means is, “I’ve analyzed you and found the data valid.” Michael, on the other hand, “reads” something else: emotional honesty, the kernel of truth that explains not just what happens, but why.

We’ve known the Observers were analytical; their ability to read timelines gives them the data they need to understand what people will do with such accuracy that the “why” isn’t important. But as Nina implies in her beautiful final speech, there’s a terrible price for that sort of analytical brain: the loss of emotion, compassion, empathy. Peter refused to give those up and took out the tech that made him Observerish; the regular Observers don’t have that choice, as their evolution (which is to say, our evolution) has replaced empathetic knowledge with systematizing knowledge.

Windmark asked Nina, “What is it about the fugitives that inspires such misguided loyalty?” If he had emotional intelligence instead of a lizard brain, he would know: hope. But he doesn’t know, because although he can read minds he can’t read hearts.

Michael, on the other hand, can—and I suspect September could, too. Empathy, it seems, will be the answers to the problem of this miserable future. It will be the key to the revolution, and—I suspect—the key to the plan, which I’m pretty sure will involve someone’s (likely Walter’s) dramatic self-sacrifice in a triumph of empathetic goodwill over the nihilism of analytical intelligence. If I’m right, Nina’s suicide in this episode is foreshadowing. If I’m wrong, we can just add this paragraph to the long list of erroneous predictions I’ve made about this show. :-)

What great poetic justice, by the way. Michael, an anomaly meant to be destroyed, might be the key to the Observer’s downfall. Human empathy isn’t enough; the revolution requires the distilled empathetic power of an anomalous Observer to counteract Windmark and all the others. Take that, Baldies!

This episode, of course, was incredible: although it was mostly just dialogue, I was riveted. It passed by in a flash, even on re-watch. Michael crying made me cry (there’s that darn empathy at work). Walter’s flashback-mindmeld moment made me cry and not just for the perfect score. Nina’s sacrifice made me cry. But I have to agree with Walter: we do have a world to save, you know. Perhaps the last three hours, set to air on January 11th and 18th, will be an epic blockbuster revolution and all the waiting will be worth it.

That’s one prediction I’m pretty sure is going to come true.

Recommended Reading for the Winter Hiatus:

• I’ve simplified the above theories with wild abandon. If you want to learn more, I recommend Howard Gardner’s book on multiple intelligences for more about intra- and interpersonal intelligence and “EQ.”

• I also recommend Simon Baron-Cohen’s website, which includes tests where you can figure out whether you’re empathetic or a psychopath. He’s the one who came up with the empathizing/systematizing paradigm, which he links to male/female “hardwired” neurological difference.

• For the record, I think a lot of Simon Baron-Cohen’s work is horrifically sexist, and his experiments horribly planned. For more on that, see Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, an incisive takedown of the pseudo-science behind neurological justifications of socially-constructed behaviors.

• And, obviously, all of these ideas are related to the much earlier Myers-Briggs test, which is a lot of fun to take.


Four out of four Ninas

4 Comments:

Lccf said...

Interesting and well-written review.
I reacted the same way as you when Windmark asked why Nina helped "the fugitives" : in my head I answered : "It's LOVE, duh ! She loves Olivia like a mother ! You know, love ? The thing you tried to weaponize when you killed Etta or tried to crush Peter's heart in a fight, but that you won't ever, ever, understand, you bastard, may you rot in Observer hell !!!" OK, there weren't so many words, but you get it ... I think I've never HATED a villain in the show with so much passion as I hate Windmark ...

Briar said...

There is, of course, a catch in polarising the equally human qualities of rationality and empathy. We need both. Moreover, to elevate empathy over rationality in a story which repeatedly shows our heroes brutally "blowing away" their opponents, seething with hate and lusting for vengeance suggests that empathy without conscience and principle, both aspects of reason, is just as cruel and harmful as intelligence without compassion. Fantasy of course tells lies - it says our enemies are not really human and so can be mowed down without pity. In real life, our enemies are just as human as we are, and to hate them and lust to destroy them makes as just as bad as they are. I used to think Fringe was better than that. But sadly by turning the Observers into monsters it has turned itself into just another shoot 'em up, good guy versus bad guy excuse for slaughter.

DocH said...

Sounds more like sympathy than empathy. Emp is when you feel what they will, exactly, with no consideration of your own condition. Symp is when you feel 'like' they feel, applying it to your current state

Simpatico - no?

Zepp said...

In this struggle between the dominant species, an anomaly is a great evolution. If on one hand this is a defect anomaly, an aberration, on the other hand, this same anomaly is salvation. It is an anomaly with feelings, cry, feel the loss of another similar, is fragile, afraid, like any other human, but is also possessed of the same powers extra-ordinary, featuring its origin from symbiotic beings-men lizard. In this quest for hope, emerged itself, personified a boy.

For me, this boy Michael, this fragile child, who is regarded as a resource to defeat Winmark and their minions, I think he is not only an asset or a mere appeal any war, and, yes, I think he is the very final victory, named hope. Michael is Fringe!

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