Philosophical Experiments Lain: Ambiguity and Theory

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SHOW SERIAL EXPERIMENTS LAIN.

Hey everybody, here again with another Lain article. I mentioned I was going to take a break from writing articles about Lain (unfortunately for the most part this meant a break from writing at all) so I didn’t burn myself out but now that it’s been over a month since my last article on Lain I’m raring to go again. There were quite a few topics I still could have covered that I hope to get to in the future, notably Psychology, Sociology, and Technology within the world of Lain as well as whatever other thoughts come into my head once I sort out my thoughts a bit more. But as I haven’t gotten to write out a proper article about the philosophy in Lain as the show presents it and my own thoughts. So here we go!

To begin with I’ll try to approach this article by breaking it down by each category I want to cover. Granted, as with most things in Lain, I won’t be able to give a complete 100% breakdown of all the thoughts, theories, and questions posted here but I’m going to try to provide context for why they’re being mentioned and what relevance they have in the show as well as my own interpretations or answers to questions if they’re relevant. Even though Lain itself has a lot of material packed into twelve episodes, that MATERIAL has a lot of material packed into it, especially the philosophy side of things. Religion, existentialism, morality, and utilitarianism are some examples of what I’ll be looking at.

Reality and the Wired

First off I’d like to look into one of the most constant themes of the show. The idea that reality and the Wired are intertwined is one that has varying degrees of ambiguity depending on what episode of the show you’re looking at and the viewer’s interpretation of what’s real. Much like the dream world and reality in Christopher Nolan’s Inception, there is no clear-cut answer as to when Lain is in the “real world” and when she is in the Wired. Even from the beginning, what the viewer thinks is reality is skewed and warped as Lain begins to see blood drip from the telephone wires and warps from place to place, the Wired seems to be asserting some control on reality.

One of the more interesting theories/ideas I’ve heard on the merging of the two worlds is the shadows that are so constant within Lain. They are certainly abnormal; red splotches (sometimes blue or purple) that dominate the shadows. But given the chatter that Lain hears when surveying the shadows themselves what if the red splotches and the shadows were indicative of people who were in the Wired and trying to exert their influence on reality? What if the shadows were a symbol for the two worlds converging? It’s interesting to think about due to seeing Lain enveloped by shadows every so often; does it mean she’s getting closer to the Wired or does it mean the Wired is slowly influencing reality?

Religion

Mentioned several times throughout the course of the show, religion and the case of God is brought into question by Serial Experiments Lain. The first big question that presents itself is if Lain is a goddess by the end or not. The answer seems to lean towards “no” but if she’s all powerful and all present within this world (even going as far as to suggest restarting the universe AS its new god) then what’s the point in differentiating? Masami Eiri is pretty thoroughly shot down as a “god” as he presents himself as one and essentially forced his followers to “believe” in him where as Lain had it occur naturally.

Which leads into another question about God. Does a god/God have any power at all if no one believes in him? As I’ve made mention of previously in other articles/discussions, this isn’t an idea exclusive to Lain. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has the same concept – a god can come into existence with enough followers and grows in power as more followers join their rank. Junketsu no Maria brought up the same idea. In Lain, though, the question seems to be rooted in legitimacy. Eiri isn’t “legitimate” because he believes he is a god and tricked the knights into believing in him. Plus, as he only existed in the Wired he didn’t have the power to become a “god” in the real world. Lain managed to surpass all of Eiri’s shortcomings and become the “true goddess” even though she may not be a “god”.

That can additionally lead into more questions about what God/a god is, but that tangent is too long for me to explore in this article and all those branches of discussion aren’t necessarily related to Lain.

Memories

Obviously a favorite of mine, memories are also at play in Lain. It’s how she commits “suicide” and how she learns how much influence she really has on people and the world around her. While not always taking center stage throughout the course of the show memories end up being one of the most important aspects of the plot. But one moral question that can be asked is was it okay for Lain to restart the world/effectively remove herself? Committing suicide is a hugely moral question anyway and one that doesn’t have an easy answer.

One way to answer it would be to look at Utilitarianism, in which Lain would have been acting solely to better society. In this instance committing suicide is encouraged; Lain apparently had nothing to offer society by existing within reality/within human consciousness so she disappeared. Whether she ended up re-creating certain aspects of the past or not, removing herself, for all intents and purposes, appears to create a better world for those around her. But other schools of thought have different opinions on this matter. Was Lain still human? Did throwing away her life still equate to having a human throw away theirs?  In the end, I buy into the idea that it was better for Lain to “clean up her mess” so to speak. She had screwed things up and was planning on meddling in affairs even more so she did the “right thing” and tried to fix all of her mistakes.

Another question that can be brought up by Lain erasing memories is, if an event occurs and no one is around to see it, hear it, or remember it occurring, did it happen in the first place? If yes, does it matter that it happened at all? Did Lain even exist within the world of Serial Experiments Lain by the end, or did she erase herself so well that it didn’t matter if she existed or not? Moreover, once you think about what Alice had to go through, knowing that her secret had been exposed but having no one else remember it must have been terrible psychologically for her. But since Lain reset it all it doesn’t matter right? Well, this question is a little bit harder to get at because the story is told form Lain’s perspective and we know she remembers everything occurring. But since no one even knows who she is those memories are stuck with her and will disappear with her should she ever die or vanish.

Existentialism 

In my opinion this is the biggest philosophical aspect of Lain. The struggle of Lain to figure out who she is, why she exists, if she REALLY does exist. Her low self-esteem combined with her dissociative identity disorder  cause her to question her existence time and time again within the show. “I’m me, right?” and “Who is Lain?” are two quotes that seem to be brought up all the time. Most if not all of the existential questions from the show were directed at Lain herself and for good reason.

First Lain had to primarily deal with the question of whether she was human or not. Being quizzed on her parents, uploading a computer to her mind, and experiencing all these out-of-body events took a toll on her mind and caused her to become mentally distraught. From the beginning of the show she seemed to be content with the idea that she was a socially quiet 14 year old girl. Any human going what she went through probably would have broken down as Alice did; Lain was able to push on due to her own strength combined with Alice’s help.

Second, Lain’s DID caused her to hardly even know when she was in control of herself or not. At the beginning she just thought it couldn’t have been her as she didn’t remember these events. But she never directly states that she’s not appearing at Cyberia; she just doesn’t say anything and Alice/Juri/Reika answer the question for her. But eventually she realizes something’s up and it delves even further into Lain questioning who she is, with the viewer not getting a clear answer either.

Lastly, beliefs seem to be the cause for existing in the world of Lain. They influence the direction of everything around them and they cause Eiri to become a god-like figure due to the IDEA that he is one, not the FACT that he is one. Many people believed Lain was a god with all this power as well, so she became one. In the end the question would be how much does your belief influence your reality? Was it the power of belief that was causing the Wired to merge with realty? What WAS reality in the confines of the show? It is never really explained; there’s constant hints that, similar to Inception, Lain was never in reality and was always being influenced by the Wired. But there’s plenty of hints towards the opposite as well.

Morales

A question not quite as ever present is what makes right in Lain. Lain is able to shape memories and reset events and influence other people’s lives, but the question of whether she SHOULD be doing these things remains unanswered. It can be argued that, in the end game, she was perfectly justified in resetting the universe because it was she who had screwed everything up in the first place and was just trying to make amends for what she had done.

Suicide can tie into this theme as well. Even though Chisa knew she was going to be able to survive on the Wired was it right for her to throw herself off of a building just because of that? Was it right for Eiri to run in front of a train so he could become the false god of the new world? Is suicide EVER okay even with all these extenuating circumstances? What about in Lain’s case, where she did it for the betterment of humanity?

What about the doctor in charge of the KIDS experiment? In the end, he seemed to have forgiven himself for the atrocity he committed and didn’t seem too concerned that it was back and causing deaths again. Was it okay for him to have come to peace with what he had done even though it wasn’t over and then pass away silently?

Conclusion

In the end, there’s a lot that Lain leaves open ended on purpose. The writers themselves never even agreed on what the show meant or the interpretations they got out of it, so of course, there’s going to be disparity amount the viewers as well. But the fun of Lain is trying to figure out what they were trying to tell us, what Lain CAN tell us, about issues that don’t always have an answer. It’s a series that could easily be used as a teaching device for philosophy (as well as psychology). I’ve gone over the extent of what I know about Lain and how it relates to philosophy, yet I’m always eager to learn more since I will never claim to have a “mastery” of the show.

So, as usual, I want to say thanks for reading 🙂

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