How A. T. Fields from Neon Genesis Evangelion can relate to Real Life
Author: Josh Clarke
Dated: March 22, 2004
Comments: This essay is essentially about the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it is also about so much more than that. Evangelion has so many themes dealing with sociology, psychology, philosophy, theology, eschatology, science, mathematics, literature, the human mind, and social interaction; therefore it is easy to find dozens of topics to write essays about. In writing this essay I frequently found myself losing track of the original theme and writing about tangents, but I thought that was a good thing and decided not to worry about that too much. If this were an essay for a college class I would be more concerned about making the essay flow smoothly, but the human mind does not naturally move so smoothly, so why limit creativity by imposing order where there need not be any? Please be patient if you find parts of this essay boring or confusing, and keep in mind that the last page should relate everything to everything else, and it will hopefully all make sense. Also, this essay is strange, but don't take it too seriously or worry about the more depressing passages. At this point I should add a warning because this essay contains plot descriptions and spoilers about Neon Genesis Evangelion, so if you have not watched the series you should not read this essay until after you have watched the series and the two movies.
Part One: Introduction, A. T. Fields, and the Human Mind
At any time, in one single minute consisting of 60 seconds, there are so many thoughts going through a person's mind. You can be thinking about the book you read this afternoon, what you would like to eat for dinner, what television shows will be on TV tonight, whether or not you should ask out a member of the opposite sex whom you are attracted to, and you could be thinking about how to prepare for your class tomorrow, what clothes to wear, and should you put more gas in the car or is the tank still pretty full. All these thoughts are going through your mind in one minute, in 60 seconds. Additionally, your mind is also receiving sensory input. You see what is before your eyes. You see colors, depth, and movement. You hear people talking, music playing, or someone in the next room yelling, laughing, sneezing, and sometimes even snoring. You smell whatever is nearby: food, coffee, flowers, body odor, perfume, or an air freshener. You taste the food you put in your mouth, and you feel hot, cold, pain, warm, damp, wet, dry, or whatever. You're also even aware of gravity keeping you planted on the floor. All of this sensory data is entering your mind at the same time that you are thinking about so many different things. All in just 60 seconds. But we're still not done yet. Not even close. You're also feeling emotions at the same time that you are thinking and receiving sensory input. You're feeling bored, happy, sad, melancholy, depressed, lonely, scared, or jealous, or a combination of emotions. Clearly, there are a lot of things going through your mind in one minute. That is the simple part of what I am describing. This is where it will get complex.
There are a lot of things going through your mind in one single minute. It would be absolutely impossible for you to describe to any person exactly everything in your mind in any given minute. It would take more than one minute just to describe the basics of what you were thinking about and feeling emotionally in one single minute. By the time you described the basics, the minute in question will have ended long ago. You will then be experiencing another minute, and even if you just describe the basics of that minute, you will still take more than a minute to describe it. You will be falling behind, reporting to your friends about things that you were thinking about five minutes ago, and then ten minutes ago as you continue to describe what happened in your mind in one single minute, just 60 seconds. Then you will be falling behind by 15 minutes, then 20. To put it simply, you will not be able to keep people up to date on your current thoughts; you will always be describing thoughts that you had in the past. More importantly, you will never be able to let even your closest friends or relatives know even a small percentage of all the thoughts you are having, emotions you are feeling, and sensory input you are receiving. Since these thoughts in your mind are what make up your mind, then most of your mind will always be shut off to every other human in the world, for all time. Every single human is essentially alone. And this is where the A. T. Field theory comes into play in the explanation of why humans act the way they do.
What is an A. T. Field? It is a concept from a Japanese Animation television series that I have watched many times and spent several dozens of hours contemplating: Neon Genesis Evangelion. However, I do not refer to the kind of A. T. Field surrounding angels and Evas that was mentioned in Evangelion, the field that protects them from conventional weapons. I refer to the description of A.T. Fields in episode 24. I am merely borrowing the phrase because it is similar to what I just described in the above paragraphs, the part about how each human is alone because we can never share more than our most basic thoughts and feelings with other people. One character from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Nagisa Kaoru, who was the fifth child and the seventeenth angel, described an A. T. Field in episode 24 as "the wall that surrounds every person's mind." He also described his own A. T. Field by saying: "This is the light of my soul: a sacred territory in which no one may intrude." Every single human has an A. T. Field. It is the wall that surrounds our minds. This wall is what prevents us from ever really knowing any other person. This A. T. Field wall is what is created by the human inability to communicate all of his or her thoughts and feelings experienced in one single minute to any other human being. Now this may sound crazy. This A. T. Field concept is something I have been thinking about for a long time, and if you keep an open mind, it is not really nonsense. A person must rationally admit that no human being is able to communicate every thought and emotion he or she has to another human being. Therefore, most of our mind is shut off to everyone else because no other person can know what we are thinking and feeling. To make our mental isolation even worse and our A. T. Fields stronger, people tend to keep secrets deliberately, facts about themselves they do not want to share with anyone because they are private, embarrassing, shameful, or too confusing for another person to understand. Furthermore, our society has rules about socializing, taboos and mores, topics that we are not supposed to talk about with others. There are also restrictions on behavior that is considered socially unacceptable. For example, in American society men are usually required not to show much emotion in public; oftentimes only anger or rage are socially acceptable, which can result in all kinds of stress when we are not even allowed to reveal to others what we are really feeling. The result: A. T. Fields become even more of a barrier than they have to be. It is also the fact that humans have the ability to lie that causes barriers between effective communication.
A. T. Fields can vary in strength. Introverts have strong A. T. Fields; we have built mental walls around our minds to protect ourselves from getting hurt because other humans in relationships hurt us when we were younger. Extroverts have weaker A. T. Fields. They are more capable of letting other people know what they are thinking and feeling. They are not as afraid as introverts to let someone into their minds. Introverts use their A. T. Fields as a defense mechanism. The A. T. Field can prevent people from getting into their minds, or starting a relationship, because a relationship could end badly and the individual in question is afraid of getting hurt. Thus, the A. T. Field is a defense, a mental barrier against getting hurt by other people in relationships. But introverts have to learn to lower their A. T. Fields at certain times to let other people into their lives. They should lower the A. T. Field so that they can let people into their lives and into their minds. Failure to let people into one's mind results in loneliness. This will relate to the case of Shinji Ikari from Evangelion in part two of the essay.
In the next part, I will continue with an analysis of A. T. Fields and human relationships in modern society. Shinji Ikari from Neon Genesis Evangelion will be the primary example.
Part Two: Shinji Ikari: Example of the shy, introverted individual with a strong A. T. Field
Shinji Ikari is a 14-year-old boy, the main character from Neon Genesis Evangelion, who is very shy, introverted, and therefore has a strong A. T. Field. Dr. Akagi Ritsuko has some insightful comments on Shinji. In episode three, Ritsuko says, "It seems that he simply does what he's told to do. It's just his way of getting through life."
Shinji is quiet and shy. I can identify with him because I was like that when I was a teenager. I am still like that a lot today, but I'm getting more social. During adolescence people often ask questions of themselves like "Does anyone like me?" "Am I going to spend my whole life alone?" I guess sometimes we never really outgrow these questions. Without the ability to really know what others are thinking we can't be entirely certain that we know anyone's true thoughts about us.
The ultimate dilemma that faces Shinji is whether he should stay lonely but comfortable with his life's routine, or if he should take chances that could result in happiness but have the risk of resulting in tragedy instead. That is a dilemma most people have to face at one time or another. The fear of being rejected may prevent someone from socializing with a person or group of people that the person wants to be with. The decision not to get involved brings loneliness and frustration. The risk of rejection may be better because if the people like the person, then good friendships can result. Shinji needs to take the risks that come with being part of a social society.
Later in episode three Ritsuko tells us of the fable of the hedgehog's dilemma: "Even though a hedgehog may want to become close to another hedgehog, the closer they get the more they injure each other with their spines. It's the same with some humans. The reason he seems so withdrawn is because he's afraid of being hurt." In that scene Ritsuko compares Shinji to a hedgehog, but once more of the Evangelion episodes are watched we realize that an A. T. Field explanation also explains Shinji's behavior.
In episode three, when Toji Suzuhara clobbered Shinji Ikari for hurting his sister while using Eva Unit 1, Shinji defended himself by saying: "I didn't have a choice; they made me pilot the stupid thing." This comment is not what an existentialist would say, because one always has a choice. Not only is Shinji extremely introverted and afraid to communicate with people, but also he is afraid to make decisions that could affect his life. Before moving to Tokyo 3 Shinji lived with his teacher. Life was boring there, but he was content because he had no responsibilities. Then, when he became the designated pilot of Unit 1 life was no longer boring, but he had to make important decisions all the time. He was very stressed out over these decisions, and he was stressed at the relationships he was thrust into. He had to deal with his father after not seeing him for 11 years. He had to deal with the enigmatic Rei, the extraverted Misato, and the kids he went to school with. Shinji is frequently faced with dilemmas, and we see how anxious he is when he is often shown to clench his right hand into a fist, then relax his fingers, then make a fist again, etc. This is a sign of how frustrated he is, and he does this countless times throughout the series, usually when he has to communicate with another person. He can handle an angel attack more comfortably than talking to his own father or the kids at school. However, Shinji does seem to develop some social skills as the series progresses to the end.
In episode 2, Shinji needs to have an assignment for where to live. He does not want to live with his father, so he decides to live alone in his own apartment. He tells Misato: "I'm alone anyway." He understands that he is alone, isolated from every other human, so he might as will live alone in a solitary apartment. Living with other people would give the illusion that he is not alone, but it would only be an illusion. In the final analysis, Shinji would still be alone, separated from all other people by his strong A. T. Field and his shy, introverted personality. It is only upon Misato's insistence that he moves into her apartment.
An important conversation revealing Shinji's introversion is in episode 24 when he spoke with Nagisa Kaoru, the 17th angel who looked like a human. Kaoru began by saying, "You are afraid of any kind of initial contact, aren't you? Are you that afraid of other people? I know that by keeping others at a distance you avoid a betrayal of your trust. Although you may not be hurt that way, you mustn't forget that you must endure the loneliness. Man can never completely erase this sadness because all men are fundamentally alone." Kaoru is talking about how humans are alone because they are unable to ever fully reveal all their thoughts and feelings to another person. This is clearly a reference to an A. T. Field surrounding every human's mind, as Kaoru explains later in the same episode when he does battle with Shinji in Terminal Dogma. He described A. T. Fields as the walls surrounding every human's mind. The A. T. Field is "a sacred territory in which no one may intrude."
Some humans are more afraid of communicating with people than others. Shinji is very afraid of talking to people. The fear of communication may result in avoiding the pain of rejection or betrayal, but the person will have to live in deep loneliness.
Part Three: Rei Ayanami: "I am not a doll"
Rei Ayanami is an interesting person. Her body is made from cloned cells of Yui Ikari, Shinji's mother. There are hundreds of Rei clones, all ready to be used as Evangelion dummy plugs. Only one Rei at a time can have a soul, and that is the one who pilots Eva Unit 0 and interacts with other people, including Shinji and Gendo. Rei barely seems human most of the time, but she develops humanity over time, through contact with other people. She is often said to have no soul, not a human soul at least. And she is accused of being unemotional, but that is not true either. A revealing conversation between Rei and the 16th angel occurs in episode 23. Rei and the 16th angel's minds merge when the angel makes contact with Eva Unit 0.
Rei: Are you one of the beings we call the angels?
16th Angel: Don't you want to become one with me?
Rei: No, I am me, not you.
16th Angel: But you shall. I will share part of my mind with you. Let me share with you these emotions. This is pain, do you feel this pain?
Rei: This pain? No, it's different. Loneliness.
16th Angel: Yes, loneliness.
Rei: You don't want to be lonely.
16th Angel: That is what your mind is. It is what fills your soul. You are that sorrow.
The angel is trying to make "first level contact with a human" to quote Ritsuko. Is first level contact a method of penetrating the A. T. Field that surrounds a human's mind? The angel tried to share part of its mind with Rei, share emotions and thoughts. Normally, an A. T. Field cannot be pierced, a person's mind is closed off, "a sacred territory in which no one can intrude" so the act of minds merging must be a terrifying experience for the person involved, Rei in this case. Humans are used to being mentally isolated, so the sudden sharing of minds must cause a shock. Then again, there is something tempting about the ability to fully know and be known by other people. This is the idea behind the Human Instrumentality Program.
Another interesting insight into Rei occurs in episode 14 while she is attempting to synchronize with Eva Unit 1, which is usually piloted by Shinji. Rei has some interesting interior monologue, which is also called stream-of-consciousness in literary terminology, during this scene. Rei speaks to herself about many subjects, and asks many questions, including: "What are humans? Are they creations of God? Humans are that which are created by humans. . . . I am a vessel for my thoughts. The entry plug: the throne of the soul. Who is this? This is me. Who am I? What am I? I am I. This object that is is myself. That which forms it is me. This is the self that can be seen, but this is not like that which is myself." Rei is getting very philosophical in this scene. She is pondering that which makes humans be human. She refers to herself as a vessel for her thoughts. Perhaps she means that her thoughts, her mind, is all that is important and her body merely exists to contain the mind. Once again the series gets deep into what it means to be human and what the human mind is all about. The concept of the A. T. Field as a barrier or wall that surrounds the human mind is hinted at here. Later, in the last volume of Evangelion, it is explained that because an A. T. Field separates all humans from each other, we all have an impression of what our friends, acquaintances, and relatives are like. A copy of that person exists in our mind, but it is just a copy and may be quite different from what the person's mind is actually like because we cannot really know anyone very well. That is what Rei is saying when she said, "This is the self that can be seen, but this is not like that which is myself." The Human Instrumentality Project was designed by Seele to erase this problem. There will be more written on that matter later in the paper, and there will be more about stream-of-consciousness as well.
Part Four: Perception and Perspectives (Prologue to Part Five)
When you step off the elevator at the library, the north side of the building is to your left and the south side of the building is to your right. But if you turn around 180 degrees then the north is to your right and the south is to your left. Reality has changed because your perspective has changed.
The purpose of the previous paragraph was to illustrate an example of an idea I have been thinking about for several months. An individual's perception of reality is more important than actual reality. People will act and react according to what they believe is the truth of a situation, even if their perception is incorrect or exaggerated to some degree. For another example, a man who is incorrectly told by an incompetent doctor that he has only six months to live will begin to act in a certain manner. He may quit his job, take that vacation he had always dreamed of, and tell people things he might not otherwise have said. He could do all this because he believes he will soon die, even if the truth is that he is perfectly healthy and the doctor just got his blood or other tissue sample mixed up with someone else who is really dying of a terminal illness. That is the power of perception. An individual's perception of reality is more important than actual reality.
Part Five: How A. T. Fields influence behavior. Why Seele wanted the Human Instrumentality Project, also known as the Human Complement Program. Early 20th century literature that can loosely be related to Evangelion.
A. T. Fields have an effect on human behavior. A major step in child mental development is when children learn that their thoughts are private, and so if they tell a lie their parents will not necessarily know it's a lie. A mother asks her son where he went after school, and the son can tell her some fictional story instead of admitting that he went to some forbidden location. This mental development is when a child becomes aware of the boundaries of the A. T. Field: "No one can really know what I'm thinking so they won't know when I'm lying. On the other hand, I won't know if people are telling me the truth or a lie when they talk to me."
Another development in childhood is the step of learning that you can use your mind, your brain, to control your own body but not the bodies of other people. You can raise your arms for example, but you are unable to make your brother's arms move. This seems obvious, and we all understand it unconsciously, but it's important to write it out explicitly because it once again reveals the border of the A. T. Field.
Another consequence of an A. T. Field is how it prevents the people we are in relationships with from fully knowing us. Oftentimes, people spend years afraid to admit to someone how they feel about him or her. In episode 21 Kaji left a message for Misato on her answering machine in which he first apologized for all the pain he ever caused her, then he said, "If I can see you again, I would say the words I could not say eight years ago. Bye." Kaji knows that his action of kidnapping Fuyutsuki will get him killed, and only imminent death is able to get Kaji to admit to the woman he loves how he really feels about her.
Of course, A. T. Fields are also what cause loneliness. Isolation from other people because of mental barriers, and the fear of rejection can keep people alone. In episode 23 Misato said: "It's true, anything is better than being alone. And I'm the one who's lonely." Shinji is naturally the perfect example of an Evangelion character who is alone and isolated because of his introversion, his strong A. T. Field.
Additionally, A. T. Fields trap people in their own minds, so each person has a different perspective of reality, a different way of perceiving the world around us. Think of how several people can witness a crime, but when they all testify in court to what they saw they tell different stories because each person has a different way of perceiving the world. This is the idea I was getting at in Part Four. However, I believe that the multiple perceptions of reality that exist in a population are a good thing. Variety is a good thing, so it is good that there are many kinds of people, all kinds of personalities and philosophies on life. These wide ranges of differences of opinion are what make life interesting. If everyone were the same then life would be boring. Kaji told Shinji in volume nine that most people can't even understand themselves, much less another person. Although this may seem sad, it just makes attempting communication more interesting. Individualism is an important idea. The idea that each person is unique and has something different to offer is a great concept. It is sad that Seele wanted to combine all human minds into one single organism, because that would be the end of individualism. Because each human is trapped inside his or her own mind, it is hard to ever truly sympathize or empathize with another person. This is why many people are greedy, selfish, egocentric, and have no problems with causing other people to feel pain. They can hurt people because someone else is hurting, they don't feel that person's pain.
Seele, the secret organization behind NERV, planned the Human Instrumentality Project to eliminate A. T. Fields. Seele, which comes from the German word meaning "soul", believed that A. T. Fields were preventing humans from evolving to a higher form of living. They decided to use artificial evolution to advance the human race, and A. T. Fields must be eliminated so that all humans would be combined into one single mind instead of billions of individual minds. They figured this would cause all of humanity's problems to vanish. If every mind joined together, then there would be no more selfishness, greed, warfare, and the other negative effects of individualism. I believe that the negative consequences of the Human Instrumentality Project far outweigh the good.
As a final note, and this is mostly a tangent which could be launched into another whole essay, I want to mention the creative ideas behind Neon Genesis Evangelion and how they are related to other creative concepts used in literature for the past century or so.
Neon Genesis Evangelion, like all series, owes it existence to many people, but it is directed and created by Hideaki Anno. Many of the episodes contain surreal and extremely deep sequences. Images and words flash across the screen almost too fast to read. The last two episodes, in volume 13, are directed and produced so strangely that watching them can be an experience that leaves one exhausted, startled, amazed, or disturbed. Some people enjoyed the first 24 episodes but hated the last two. In any event, partly to answer questions that were not answered in volume 13, the two Evangelion movies were made. End of Evangelion begins normally enough, just like a typical episode in volumes 1 through 12. Then, the surreal and disturbing scenes begin. Shinji merges with Eva Unit 1 as it changes into the tree of life and begins the Human Instrumentality Project while Third Impact is occurring. Personally, I love these strange and unusual scenes. As Shinji must choose what will happen to the human race he is bombarded with memories of his past, and he has confrontations with Asuka, Misato, and other people he knows. He slowly loses his mind, and as we watch the nontraditional direction of this episode, we almost feel like we are losing our minds, too. That is what the director wanted. If he had directed it in a more traditional method, we, the audience, would be less likely to have empathy for Shinji's trial at the end of the series.
The way that several episodes of Evangelion were filmed is admirable; I really respect it. The directing of the story is as impressive as the story itself. Evangelion is told very differently from how movies are made here in America, where movies are so formulaic and you can predict the ending when you're just twenty minutes into the movie.
In the early 20th century, James Joyce and other writers began to experiment with new ways of writing. James Joyce is one of my favorite authors, and he revolutionized modern writing by introducing stream-of-consciousness into his stories and books. He attempted to write his books and stories in a manner that is very similar to how the human mind works. Writing is so linear, but the human mind works in strange and unpredictable manners, anything but linear. Stream-of-consciousness makes writing more like what really goes on inside the human mind. I'm sure James Joyce did not invent stream-of-consciousness writing, but I know he was one of the first to use it. The scholar Stanley Appelbaum wrote that the German author Arthur Schnitzler published a story titled Lieutenant Gustl in 1900, which is considered the first or at least one of the first examples in European literature of interior monologue, or stream-of-consciousness, and it preceded James Joyce's Ulysses "by two decades" (Appelbaum). Authors were trying to find a way to represent the human mind more accurately than regular writing was capable of doing. Similarly, the surreal and unusual scenes throughout Evangelion do for movie and television what James Joyce and others like him did for the written word in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is a revolutionary development in motion pictures, an attempt to simulate the experiences of a human mind with moving images and sound.
The short story Araby, by James Joyce, tells the story of a young boy growing up in Dublin at the turn of the century. He has a crush on the older sister of a friend of his. His friend is named Mangan, so the narrator describes the young woman as Mangan's sister, never telling what her actual name is. This character is similar to Shinji Ikari in many ways. Both are shy, very introverted, and afraid of making initial contact with another person.
As the 20th century continued, World War I occurred and thrust the world into the bloodiest conflict it had ever known. After the war, T. S. Eliot wrote his famous poem The Wasteland, which incorporates many new and creative writing techniques, which in some ways resemble the strange scenes found in several episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Finally, I want to mention the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. I first read some of his poems in a literature course three years ago at around the same time that I first saw Neon Genesis Evangelion. Although these poems were written in the early 20th century, the theme of isolation, alienation, and loneliness was strong and often made me think of A. T. Fields and Evangelion. Rilke's frequent reference to angels also reminded me of Evangelion, because of the entities called angels from the anime series. The angels of both Anno and Rilke are different from the traditional concept of angels in Judaism and Christianity. At this point I may seem to have totally deviated from the original theme of the essay, probably because I have done just that. However, the reason I mention James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Rilke is because all three writers revolutionized writing styles in the early 20th century, and they all deal with isolation, alienation, loneliness, and a sense of not belonging to the society one lives in. These are some of the same themes found in Evangelion. Just as the early 20th century saw new developments in writing and creative expression, the 21st century can have new developments as well, probably in the area of motion pictures as well as other areas, with Neon Genesis Evangelion being a series that can lead the way into a new way of presenting a story and creative ideas.
Part Six: Conclusion
What does this essay mean? Maybe it should not be taken too seriously. I just wanted to write down some of my deep thoughts because I have been a quiet person for most of my life and people frequently ask me what I am thinking about; they wonder what is going on inside my mind. This essay reveals some of the kinds of thoughts that flow through my mind. Maybe these thoughts are different from what most people think about, but maybe not. I know that I am, like all humans, trapped in my own mind. I have been alone a lot, so the loneliness coming from the barriers of an A. T. Field and the prison of introversion are well known to me. My personal goal is to become more social, to let more people know me and understand me, and to get to know more people. Perhaps by writing this essay and letting people read it I have taken a second step in that direction.
What I know is that having fun and being happy is very important. Enjoying life is important. Friends and family are important. And, of course, watching Japanese animation is very important.
I dedicate this essay to the woman who awakened me from the long sleep. I work every day to lower my A.T. Field because of her. She may be the only person who has ever tried to understand me. But maybe I just imagined the whole thing.