Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Theory of Mind and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(This blog was originally posted on July 11, 2014)

(Warning: this blog may contain spoiler information about the film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Please do not read any further if you have not yet watched and plan to see the movie.)

Photo by Rick Hustead

I remember the day a science teacher told my high-school physics class that mosquitos can see colors on the light spectrum that humans can’t ever imagine and certainly are not capable of seeing themselves. I don’t know how Mr. Kirby knew this fact, or even if it was true. But the comment has stuck with me all these years and even created a great context for tonight’s blog.
The entire time I watched the movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I couldn’t help but consider the cinematic and dramatic themes of the film in the context of John Kappas, Ph.D.’s Theory of Mind. To be honest, my curiosity about the ways in which this theory would apply to Dawn was the primary reason why I wanted to watch it. When I was very little, my family used to watch the Planet of the Apes television series, but I never saw 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and knew very little about it except James Franco starred in it. Therefore, I was able to watch to the sequel with no (well, few) expectations about what it would be like except for the suggestions of the plot that had been featured in countless television advertisements. Let’s just say that my expectations about what could/might/would happen—and why—were very consistent with the knowns in my subconscious mind.
According to Dr. Kappas, the subconscious part of the mind is uncomfortable about and resistant to doing new or different things even when the conscious mind (logic, reason, will-power/free-will and reasoning) says that it’s okay to do so. The SCM likes and wants to stick to what is familiar, comforting and safe: i.e., what it knows. Going back to my science teacher’s comment about mosquitoes’ visual perception, it is very difficult if not impossible to even imagine doing something that we have never done before. The writers, director and producer used plenty of imagination and computer-generated effects to bring the story to vibrant life on the screen; however, they were still limited by the scope of their own “known” experiences.
Long story short: as humans, we have no real experience or idea what apes feel or think beyond what biologists have already observed these sentient creatures doing. Even then, how much can and do humans really know and understand about these animals’ emotions and motivations? Since apes do not speak English—or any other human language, as far as we know—the sound of their “voices” could only be as realistic or fantastic as the imaginations of the cast and crew that created the sound of those words.
Dawn also emphasizes the importance of trust in the human-human, ape-ape and human-ape bonds. As I described in a previous blog titled, 7 Keys to a Successful, Long-Term Relationship, this concept is a very important part of successful human partnerships/relationships. However, it is a human word. I am not saying that apes (or any other non-human animal) do not have trust or a similar construct in their social relationships; but why should our word be theirs? Once again, consider Dr. Kappas’ Theory of Mind: trust is a known in the SCM of the humans who made the film; but, also, the apes in the film who say this word were the ones who apparently had the most contact with humans in the previous film.
In another example, the animals that had experienced non-violent relationships with humans in the past were willing to trust the people currently in their midst because their known was a positive association with people. Conversely, those who had negative experiences with humans expected to receive pain and be tortured or killed because that was the mental script (known) of these animals. The same is true of Dawn’s humans: the people who associated the apes with causing a pandemic that decimated the world’s population (and their families) with danger. Those who knew and understood the biology/science about the virus seemed to empathize with the simians’ point of view and just wanted both species to get along.
I will probably revisit the themes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in a future blog. Meanwhile, please let me know what you think of these observations when you have seen the movie. What do/did recurring characters seem to learn from their old and new relationships and circumstances in this movie and in Rise of the Planet of the Apes? I would love to read and learn about other connections you find between this film and the ways characters in this film respond to the relationships and circumstances in each of these movies.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit http://www.calminsensehypnotherapy.com/.
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