I was looking around for interviews with Philip Pullman, and came across this very recent one
. The very first question had to do with the potential watering down of the anti-religious content of the books upon being made into film:
PTC: First, the obvious hook for this story is the upcoming movie version of The Golden Compass, and there has been some talk in the entertainment media of late about the movie "toning down" the perceived anti-religious elements. Nicole Kidman, for example, was quoted as saying that she would never have signed on to the trilogy if she had thought there was anything "anti-Catholic" about the movies; and Chris Weitz has said the focus of the trilogy will be on "Authority" rather than "God", per se. From your perspective, is this an acceptable adjustment? Or has an important element of the book been lost? How do you anticipate the sequels, which in book form were more explicit about the religious-mythical elements than the first part of the trilogy, will deal with this? Can they be purged in a way that keeps the story's narrative and thematic integrity? And how would you respond to, say, Kidman's characterization of the trilogy?
PP: There are two ways to make a film: one is to spend several hundred million dollars, and the other is to spend about twenty thousand. Each imposes its own constraints. In the case of an expensive film, the people who put up the money obviously deserve to have their concerns taken into consideration. So do the stars. I know that Nicole Kidman, for example, was persuaded to take the part because she knew that the whole arc of the story of her character Mrs Coulter (and I hope I'm not giving away anything for people who haven't read the story, but I can't make this point without doing so) included not only great wickedness but also a great redemption, brought about by the growing love she helplessly feels for her daughter. That is only one of the moral turns and complexities that make this story very far from the simple "Pullman says that evil is good" nonsense put about by some stupid and tendentious journalism. As for the "Authority" business, I've always made it clear that theocracy - the political exercise of religious authority, which is what the Magisterium in the story embodies - is a special example of the regrettable tendency of humankind to believe in "one size fits all" answers: to cling to the extreme of dogmatic fundamentalism whether religious or not. In fact (and I've pointed this out too many times to go through it all again) the purest example of theocracy in the twentieth century was Soviet Russia. So I have no problem with the way the film has put the emphasis; it could hardly have done otherwise. Finally, as for the second and third films, no decision has yet been made to go ahead with them. It will depend on the box office returns, as everyone always knew.
Eh, like I've said before, the first book doesn't really get that much into issues of religion anyway. It may be a moot point if the movie doesn't do that well and they end up not even making the sequels, but I'd be interested to see how they handle those elements.
Some of his other answers were interesting as well. Here's what he has to say about consciousness:
PP: Deep waters here. Those who are committed materialists (as I claim to be myself) have to account for the existence of consciousness, or else, like the behaviourists such as Watson and Skinner, deny that it exists at all. There are various ways of explaining consciousness, many of which seem to take the line that it's an emergent phenomenon that only begins to exist when a sufficient degree of complexity is achieved. Another way of dealing with the question is to assume that consciousness, like mass, is a normal and universal property of matter (this is known as panpsychism), so that human beings, dogs, carrots, stones, and atoms are all conscious, though in different degrees. This is the line I take myself, in the company of poets such as Wordsworth and Blake.
So he thinks everything in the universe is conscious. Including carrots. Ooookay. I guess I could have guessed that he was a bit woo-woo, just from reading his books.
I've always found it strange that nearly everyone wants to treat consciousness as a special case. When you combine certain lower-level elements in particular ways, you get certain properties in the whole that the unconnected parts did not have. A bridge exhibits the property of support if you build it the right way, which all the materials and parts do not exhibit when they're lying around in pieces. A vehicle has the property of transport, while a pile of car parts does not. Any machine or structure is this way. What we call consciousness is a property of neural systems with a certain level of complexity and structure. Why do we need to account for it any more than we need to account for the properties of support, transportation, corkscrewing, leverage, protection, or any other property that any system exhibits?
I'm not what's called an eliminative materialist
, as Pullman states Watson and Skinner to be, who deny that consciousness even exists. I think it exists just as much as I believe timekeeping is a very real property of clocks and protection from rain is a very real property of umbrellas. I just don't think it falls into a special class separating it from all other properties, which are all abstract and emergent, if less complex.
Anyway, he talks about all sorts of things, from the popularity of the recent atheist books, to the issue of free will, and though I don't find him a very rigorous thinker, it's still an interesting read.