S1: So from
S2: a slightly.
S3: It’s a new year and time for some new ideas as we finish up this fifth season of Hi-Phi Nation. For the next few episodes, I’m bringing in a co-host.
S4: I’m Christina van Dyke, I am a Merita Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College, and I’m going to be visiting professor of Philosophy at Columbia University this spring.
S3: Christina van Dyke is medievalist and among a lot of other things, the study of medieval times means the study of demons and monsters.
S4: I was thinking about the idea of how many philosophers talk about monsters and their philosophical work, because there are all these great ways in which these this kind of supernatural other sorts of beings illustrate all these philosophical points that people want to make.
S3: For the last episodes of the season, we’re going to be talking about monsters in popular culture and imagination. And the first monster in our series will be vampires. OK? Christina, I found a vampire researcher. His name is John Edgar Browning, and he’s so into studying vampires that he decided to let one suck his blood. Could you describe the experience to me? Sure. John Edgar Browning.
S1: It was a little difficult for me because I’m a homophobe, basically a person who is afraid of sharp objects. I was like, OK, I’ll let you do it. He took an area from the upper back because it typically doesn’t scar very easily, and it’s out of view washes. His hands wears gloves. He uses a sterile scalpel after he cleans the area and then makes a very small prick. Or two and then squeezes the skin around it and the blood begins to come out a little bit. It was just deep enough to where it would draw the blood. He sucks on it squeezes more suck trying it again and did that for five or eight minutes.
S4: Oh, there are real vampires.
S3: There are people there all over the world who feel a very strong physiological need to consume raw blood from humans, from animals, and they have to do this regularly or they don’t feel right.
S1: Initially, they don’t realize they have this problem. They just know that they can’t eat healthily or do enough to make themselves healthy. This is just after puberty. They always feel sluggish and weak and lethargic, and often by accident. They come in contact with blood or human blood animal blood. Either they get in a fight with someone or they your mother brings home a steak and there’s some blood type liquid at the bottom. And sometimes they have friends who were just like, Hey, I just cut my finger, you want to drink it? And they’re like, Actually, yes, and they find it that way.
S4: How much blood are we talking
S3: about a shot glass full
S4: jaw? That’s a very vivid image.
S1: The blood tasted very, very metallic and they like that metallic taste and taste that metallic, you said. We know the person doesn’t drink enough water, and of course, I never, ever drank enough water, which is fine that he could point that out.
S3: And in addition to people who need blood, there are these psychic vampires where they don’t actually need the blood, but they need to suck the energy out of their donor.
S4: Well, so is the vampires getting some kind of psychic energy, as well as blood from a person that seems like it could be really unhealthy? Are there any long term health effects on either the vampires or their donors?
S3: My understanding from John Edgar Browning is that for the donors, the vampires are very clean. They wash their mouth out with Listerine right before they start sucking. And they’re they’re trained to dress wounds in such a way and know where to cut where there’s no scar. So my understanding is that for the donors, there are no long term side effects. But interestingly, there are short term side effects.
S1: He had warned me that later the donor can feel this huge wash of being really tired. We went on to do this feeding for the homeless, for Easter in Jackson Square and new ones, because the vampires there will do a lot of charity work and they cooked meals for the homeless there for Easter. And suddenly I felt just extremely exhausted. Like my the blood sugar had just kind of dropped really heavily, which was unusual, and I brought it up at the table and I just saw like five or six has nodding go, Yeah. Uh-Huh. I found that fascinating because psychic vampires say that. They’re taking psychic from the person, saying when Aryans are taking the same energy, but they have to take it from the blood and psychic vampires can leave out the blood as the intermediary. And they said that the people they take psychic energy from also feel the same way. Extremely exhausted and tired afterwards.
S3: For the vampires, it’s kind of like a narcotic. They keep needing cyclically the feedings or they can’t function.
S4: Oh, does it sort of increase in need? Do they need more overtime or is it pretty constant?
S3: I think it’s
S1: constant. They had no way of proving that they have this need. I mean, doctors have tried diagnosing them. They’ve tried taking their vitals and checking their blood, and there’s no evidence of it. But it touched me because as a gay man, myself and as other gay people can point out, there’s no way for us to test ourselves. There’s no way for us to prove, you know, emphatically, that we are what we are. And when you think about what the real vampires are doing, I like what they’re doing because they are walking, talking critique of normalcy.
S3: So you only really ever approach the community as a scholar, you’re never yourself felt attracted to join that community in any way.
S1: No, not at all. But I’ll have people ask me all the time, did you drink any blood to see if you would like it? And I usually ask them, Well, I’m sticking to a guy. Have you tried having sex with a dude just to make sure you’re not gay? And they’re like, Well, no. I’m like, Exactly. Well, me having sex with a woman brings the same feeling to me. OK, you don’t have to do that to know whether you’re that. No, the thought of blood it never crossed mine also would be in many ways, I think, rude to say I could try and become a vampire. That would basically mean that it’s just something you just try and you become that way. So it would be almost in a way discount what they’ve been saying from Slate.
S5: This is Hi-Phi nation philosophy in story form recording from Vassar College. Here’s Barry Lam.
S3: Both the real vampire and its fictional counterpart depend on the blood or energy from healthy people to survive. But that’s where the similarities end. If John Edgar Browning is right, the real vampire has a stable kind of identity. It’s something you discover about yourself as a teenager and then live with your entire life with little change. Like a lot of things about ourselves in life, vampirism is not a choice, but in the popular imagination, it often is a choice. In vampire lore, regular people can succumb to the temptations of vampirism and choose to be one. This choice is a very interesting one philosophically, because it is the kind of choice that transforms a person from one kind of thing to another where you have no idea what that transformation will be like until after it’s done. While real life vampirism probably isn’t going to be one of those choices any of us will be called to make. There are plenty of other momentous choices that look just like choosing to become a fictional vampire. On today’s episode, we’re going to use the vampire to think about this kind of choice, which is called a transformative choice. And that leads to a transformative experience.
S3: All right, Christina, why are vampires philosophically interesting?
S4: I think that there’s something inherently fascinating about creatures who look human in lots of ways. But then they have these superpowers. They move really fast. They’re really strong. They’re immortal unless something kills them in a lot of vampire mythologies. They’re really wealthy. Being around for a long time means that they can amass all these riches and they have these fabulous wardrobes and they live these really luxurious lives. But there’s always this cost you have to drink blood. You may lose your soul depending on what kind of vampire you’re talking about.
S3: It wasn’t always this way. The vampire of folklore was never an attractive monster. Instead, it was created to explain everything medieval Europeans didn’t know about death, disease and decomposition. Vampires most likely arose to explain infection.
S1: Somebody would die often of some very quick disease. They would be in the ground and suddenly somebody else would get sick. And during their fevered dreams, they might have visions of the person who had previously died. They would go through a lot of the same symptoms. And so they’re probably thinking, Oh, my God, is this coming from what’s his name, who died? Eventually, the family and the villagers, because they don’t want it spreading to them. They would go and exhume the body,
S3: not knowing the stages of decomposition and already predisposed to think a dead person can rise from the grave. Medieval eastern European peasants would notice features of a corpse they didn’t expect features that became characteristic of a vampire.
S1: The body might appear plump or well-fed. Its position in the grave might be different than one they had buried. There would be blood flowing from all of its orifices its nose, mouth, ears, eyes. Its limbs are pliable, not stiff. And of course, when they’re burying them, the body is going through rigor mortis. They might open the chest and find that there is liquid blood inside of it. All these things might be signs to them that that the person had, in fact, become a vampire and had been feeding on the people around them.
S3: The explanation available to pre scientific villagers is that the dead person is rising from the grave to feed on blood, and that by doing so, it’s killing other people of the same disease they died of and that the only way to stop this is to do the kind of thing we now associate with killing a vampire.
S1: And so they would take matters into their own hand and stake the vampire.
S3: The original purpose of which is just to keep a dead body in the ground and prevent it from emerging at night.
S1: The vampire at that point, we got this loud moan which totally convinced them that they had made the right decision. Some of the villagers might even have gotten too close to the corpse when trying to look at the signs, identify they might have a torch with them and the reports of these bodies spitting fire out of their mouth. And all of these different things are common decomposition processes,
S3: blood coagulate and then liquefies. As a natural process of decomposition, decomposing bodies release methane that can blow up the body and then travel through the voice box. What a snake is driven through the torso, making a vocal noise and even igniting on release. Methane also explains the origins of another trope of the vampire.
S1: That idea of the vampire having a very strong sexual appetite also comes from the fact that the methane gas had blown up more than just the stomach. It had blown up a certain private part as well.
S3: And then at the height of English romanticism in the early 19th century, you have the first appearance. Of the attractive vampire. And it’s modeled on Lord Byron. What was the last time you saw a picture of Lord Byron?
S4: Embarrassingly, really recently?
S3: Look right at his picture. I want you to tell me what your opinion is of Lord Byron.
S4: OK. Oh, oh, he’s very dreamy.
S3: Here’s the story of how Lord Byron became the model for the modern day vampire
S1: Lord Byron’s traveling physician was John William Polidori. Polidori was probably gay. Byron was at least bisexual.
S3: Byron and Polidori found themselves holed up together on a famous trip to Lake Geneva, where they invite Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin, who would eventually be Mary Shelley. They all tell monster stories that would eventually become famous Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori.
S1: The vampire story that Polidori wrote was the foundation for the way we see vampires today.
S3: After the trip, Lord Byron, who by all accounts was a philandering, petulant manchild, fired Polidori and left him embittered. And Polidori took some of the vampire stories that Byron had told on the trip and transformed the character into, well, his old
S1: employer or lover. We have this vampire who is very attractive walks into a room. Everyone turns wonders who. They are very pale. He’s very wealthy, essentially from aristocracy, and does a lot of bad things. Even while we’re reading about these bad things, the readers are still wanting this person, Lord Ruthven or Lord Riven as it would be. Call them going after them and taking their life, only to be around this person who’s so beautiful and fascinating.
S3: But the Polidori vampire permeated popular literature and film for decades and decades. It was a parable warning people to separate male beauty from male virtue as attractive as the young by erotic vampire. Succumbing to it was always giving up your soul to a demon. It was always evil, always selfish, and always to be killed. And then in the 90s and 2000s, that all changes. Now, go back to the Buffy and Angel story. Is it true that up until that point, vampires were just bad and Buffy’s job was to kill them?
S3: Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire
S4: Slayer At the beginning, vampires are very much this kind of literally soulless demons that she has to slay. But then she meets Angel. Of course, she falls madly in love with him and he with her. But Angel is a vampire with a soul. So he’s been coerced to have his soul back and experience, you know, regret for all the horrible things he did.
S3: And Angel is hot, too.
S4: Oh, Angel, is your Lord Byron on steroids? He’s got the dark, brooding soul. He does lots of staring across rooms at Buffy.
S3: On the heels of Angel. You have Edward from the Twilight series
S4: The Twilight World. Is built around this high school student named Bella Swan, who moves to this little tiny Oregon town named Forks. And the very first day at school, she meets this mysterious Edward. We saved her life a couple of times, and she eventually figures out that he is a vampire and she’s impossibly in love with him. Pages and pages about how devastatingly attractive he is, but he’s noble. He won’t drink human blood. He only drinks animal blood. And he’s really worried about spending too much time with Bella because he’s terrified that he’s going to sort of, you know, give in and drain her.
S3: Do they have superpowers?
S4: Edward can usually read the thoughts of the people around him. So one of the reasons he gets really interested in Bella at the beginning is because he can’t actually read her mind. They’re strong, they’re rich, and they’re impossibly beautiful. And the reason this is the part where a lot of people just jumped off the boat. The reason they can’t go outside in the sun is not because they go up in flames. It’s because they literally sparkle like diamonds.
S3: Angel and Edward represent the transformation of the bionic vampire from demon to him pathetic monster to borrow a term from feminist philosopher Kate Man. Their bloodlust for the female protagonist is only demonic through no fault of their own. If anything, by the sheer will of their virtuous character and virtuous love of Buffy and Bella, they’re going to vanquish their base desires through suffering and self-denial. For these newer vampires, the beautiful, powerful young male is just too attractive to be evil. Whatever seems evil must be a misunderstood virtue.
S4: Because they’re noble, right, so they’re both impossibly hot. They refuse to take advantage of these girls in any way. You have this person who’s just completely interested in you, right?
S3: And not your blood. So I mean, like, Dracula is a dirty old man. He’s the person who is interested in your fluids, literally your body fluids and nothing else. So what they did with. Angel and with Edward is to have the hardships of a vampire together with this moral characteristic, which is body defying. Their attitude towards the women is not like the lust that comes with Dracula. That’s what makes them even more attractive.
S4: Oh yeah, and they they’ve constantly got this inner struggle.
S3: It’s the context of the attractive male vampire making an offer to a female protagonist that sets up the philosophical question that vampires raise. It’s a common theme in the novels of Anne Rice, for instance, were male and female alike. See vampirism as something to choose, not something you are.
S4: When Bello falls in love with Edward Bello, once Edward to make her a vampire for the first three books, this is a four book series. Edward’s response is no, because he worries that there’s no way for her to really know what she’d be getting herself into. The kind of thing or person a vampire is is so different from what it is to be human that he doesn’t want to take that away from her.
S3: And this is why vampires are such a good way to explore the philosophical question we raised earlier. Can it ever be a good idea to choose to be something so different from what you are now so different that you can’t possibly know ahead of time what life will be like
S6: as this new person?
S2: I open the book with a question for the reader.
S3: This is Laurie Paul, philosopher at Yale University and the author of Transformative Experience.
S2: And what I ask is what if you had a one time only chance to become a vampire? I’m going to give you several hours to think about it. I’m going to come to the window of your Airbnb at midnight if you’d like to join me. Leave your window open if you think you’d rather not become a vampire. This is your only chance. Keep your windows shut and in the morning, leave this place and never return. The reason why I think this is an interesting example is because you’re being set up to reflect on a particular kind of decision. It’s what I call a transformative decision. The decision involves a transformative experience, and why I think this is really cool is because vampires are like at least potentially sexy, powerful, intelligent, amazingly fast, fascinating creatures, right? I mean, you, it seems like it could be extremely appealing to become a vampire.
S4: And I think another reason why the vampire case is such a compelling example is because there’s no going back. That’s right. You can’t undo vampire yourself.
S2: It’s a one time chance. So it’s not like you’re going to get the chance later on, so you really have to think about it now. And that’s right, it’s irreversible.
S3: So another way of thinking about this is Bella right now as a human really wants to be a vampire. But there’s this chance and maybe even a good one that once she becomes the vampire, she’s no longer going to want to love that word or even have the same feelings as she does when she’s a human because she’s a vampire.
S3: And Edward sees that ahead of time, but she doesn’t.
S4: Exactly. She isn’t as interested in becoming a vampire for the sake of being a vampire. She just wants to be with Edward forever, and Edward is worried that once she becomes a vampire, what she wants is going to change is some pretty radical ways.
S3: The other defining feature of transformative experiences is that you don’t know and you can’t know what it’s like to be a vampire before you’re actually a vampire, and this is unlike a lot of smaller decisions, like the decision to order chocolate lava cake for dessert rather than apple pie. You know, pretty much what it’s going to be like to eat the lava cake. In fact, that’s why you choose it. But for a transformative decision, you have to make a choice without having any of that knowledge. This is why choosing to become a vampire is a particularly interesting philosophical issue. How do you make a reasonable choice when you have no idea what it’s like on the other side of that choice?
S2: I don’t know about you, but when I think about what I want to be doing in the future, I’m very interested in the nature and character and quality of life that future lived experience. And that’s important for big life choices. I mean, and also how I’m going to be if I embody whatever that new life state is, that’s going to affect lots of things like my relationships, other people and all kinds of things.
S3: Now what are the range of things? Not science fiction and not fantasy that go in the category of transformative experiences?
S4: The paradigm case that Laurie is used is having a child. Your perception of the world, your experience of the world. Your reaction to the world changed so radically. After you have a child, you can’t make a sort of rational, informed decision about whether to have a child based on what you think it will be like.
S3: Right now, you can be worried that if you have a child, you won’t get to eat at a fancy restaurant anymore for many years, and you take that as a strike against having a kid. But it might be that once you do have a child, you’re not going to care that much anymore about eating at fancy restaurants. Your values will change. So can you issue the fancy restaurant thing as a strike against having a kid now? This is the problem with deciding rationally about transformative experiences. You can’t really do a cost benefit analysis right now to make a transformative decision. Everything you might count as a plus or minus might not count at all as a plus or a minus after the decision. For Laurie Paul, transformative experiences raise a problem for something called decision theory,
S4: decision theory tells you to take your preferences and kind of run that cost benefit analysis, assuming that your preferences remain more or less the same across the decision. But a case like becoming a vampire is a case where your preferences, even like your higher order, not just like your basic preferences, like I want to drink coffee, but like your higher order preferences, like I’m OK with slaughtering people for food. It’s like your really important thoughts about what you care about and who you are and what’s important to. You are likely to change when you make this decision. And so the you that’s making the decision is is importantly different from the you that on the other side of the decision in such a way that you can’t. Laurie says you can’t rationally choose for that other person.
S3: Other examples might be religious conversions or leaving a religious community, and some people argue with me all the time that certain hallucinogens and mind altering drugs induce a transformative experience, and all of these cases, no matter what people on the other side report to me about what it’s like. I don’t get to know about what it’s like from those reports. Transformative experiences exist precisely because human knowledge is limited. We can’t know what’s on the other side of that experience, not even if other people tell us about them.
S2: There’s a way in which we represent ourselves and understand ourselves as inherently prospective, all involving a kind of character that that we grasp from the first person perspective and this kind of perspective or what its likeness that in nature and character of the lived experience of being a vampire is what you can’t get just from that kind of testimonial information or knowing that vampires are this way or that they can fly fast or they’re super powerful or whatever.
S3: Laura, if every person who became a vampire, the vampire then told us, actually is great being a vampire, and I remember what it was like before I was a vampire and maybe I wouldn’t have chosen it. But now that I’m a vampire, I definitely recommend everybody be a vampire. If all vampires did that, and then there were all these people who were resistant, they had these pressures and such. I don’t think I want to be a vampire. Is that evidence that you should be a vampire? Like, is that evidence that these preferences that people have pre vampire are insufficiently informed so that it might even be rational to all of us to push them towards being a vampire or the vampires to then descend on them and say, You may not think you’re consenting now, but if I turn you into a vampire, you’re going to be really glad you became a vampire and every vampire is telling you this. Now what? What do you think about that kind of situation?
S2: There’s an important difference between not having access to what you’re deep in real preferences are and having your preferences replaced. The problem is that we don’t know just from getting all this testimony from the vampires, whether when they look back and they say, you know, Oh yeah, I remember when I was like, four, I remember what I cared about. I, you know, they can now call you whatever their interpretation of their past mental states. The problem is that all of that is consistent with the transformation implanting in them new preferences. And the analogy here is, again, parenting. Let’s say there’s a bunch of people that don’t want to become parents. They see all these people who are parents, and they’re told by those parents that, Oh yeah, well, we didn’t want to become parents either. But now I really see what it’s like, and I really love my child and I would never go back. Does that mean that we should go and kind of force all of them to become parents because we know that, well, those preferences would just be revealed if they actually had children? I think the answer is no. I mean, it could be that some people have preferences that are not revealed to them and they’re not able to access. But I think there’s a very good case to be made that these preferences are implanted when you have the child in virtue of having the child, then you have preferences to have had that child. That’s a way of saying that the testimony of the parents is in some ways not relevant to the decision that’s being made by the non parent
S3: in the same way that what makes you happy before a transformative decision can’t really tell you about what will make you happy after it. What do you want after a transformative experience? Can’t really tell you about what you want before it, either. You might think as a transformed person, that your past self could only be happy as this current transformed self when in actuality your past self was totally fine. It would have kept living a perfectly fine life, getting what it wanted without any transformation of the South. When Laurie Paul says that transformative experience makes certain decisions, the kind of things you can’t calculate. Does that mean that whether you go for a transformative experience or not is a non rational choice? Does it mean it’s equally OK to go one way or another way?
S4: At the end of the day, she’s she’s going to say, Yeah. It’s going to be kind of been a rational choice like you might still choose to have a child, but you’re not doing it because that’s the rational thing to do.
S3: And so Bella, in her case, would be a case like that, right?
S4: Oh, definitely. The way the books end up running it out even is that she ends up getting turned into a vampire halfway through the last book only because she’s dying, that Edward finally goes ahead and does it.
S3: The lesson from the vampire for Laurie Paul is that life is not only a matter of making choices by investigating yourself, figuring out what you really want or who you really are. Some of the really important decisions you make for yourself might not paradoxically involve you at all. Nothing about your current self is going to prepare you for what it will be like to be a different self, and nobody can possibly say anything to you that will make for good advice. Even people who have gone through the transformation. A transformative decision is a decision to change so much about you that taking it is a leap of faith, a leap that even your transformed self couldn’t tell you objectively whether it was a good or bad decision, how nerve wracking and how exciting.
S5: Hi-Phi Nation is written, produced and edited by Barry Lam, associate professor and chair of Philosophy, Ambassador College.
S3: Co-host This Week is Christina van Dyke
S5: executive producer of Slate Podcast is Alicia Montgomery, Editorial Director for Slate Podcast. Is Gabriel Roth, Senior Managing Producer for Slate Podcast. Is June Thomas, managing producer for Slate Podcast is Asha Saluja, editor of Slate Places Me Chao, two production assistants this season provided by Jake Johnson. Visit Hi-Phi Nation dot org for complete transcript. Show notes and reading list for every episode that AHIP Nation Talk. Follow Hi-Phi Nation on Facebook and Twitter and at the website for updates on stories and ideas.