A 10 Dollar Truth


Thoughts on Five Ghosts, Volume 1: The Haunting of Fabian Grey

It is easier to control someone else than it is to control your self.

The Haunting of Fabian Grey illustrates one of the most apparent yet ignored truths about being human. Why did I decide to purchase this comic? I can perceive two reasons. The first is that I thought the cover looked cool. The second is that it was only 10 bucks. Am I happy I purchased The Haunting? I suppose so. Although I don’t think I will buy the next volume of the series. But I will say this, the art is cool. Very cool. And the concept behind the main character, Fabian Grey himself, is also very cool. This character concept is also very profound, for reasons I will now explain.

Fabian Grey has super-powers. These super-powers are not his own, they are lent to him by five literary ghosts, Robin Hood, Merlin, Sherlock Holmes, Mushashi, and Dracula. Each provide him with their own set of abilities upon his beckoning. However, these personas are beginning to get cold feet about associating themselves with Fabian. By the end of the first chapter it is apparent they do not always choose to answer Fabian’s calls for their assistance. And here’s the thing: when they decide not to show up Fabian is able to accomplish relatively fuck-all.

Fabian Grey gained these powers because he found the Dreamstone. Or, to put it more accurately, because he stole the Dreamstone. And it wasn’t just that he stole the Dreamstone, in order to keep the stone for himself he betrayed the friend who helped him get to it. Fabian Grey is able to accomplish incredible things now that he has the powers offered by the Dreamstone, but the powers are not his own. Fabian contributed relatively little towards the events that led to him being associated with the Dreamstone’s powers. He did not make the stone, he did not find the stone on his own, and he can only use the powers when the five ghost personas feel like it.

Fabian Grey has almost nothing to do with the powers of Fabian Grey.

So, here we have this super-hero, who without a support network isn’t able to do anything super at all. I think super-hero mythos too often lose sight of this fact, that we are nothing without others. Would Bruce Wayne have been able to become Batman without the massive wealth he inherited from his parents? Would Superman have been Superman had he not been born Kryptonian, with all the abilities such birth circumstances bring with it? None of these super-heroes are much in and of themselves, it is where they came from and who was around that made them what they are.

But I am writing this article to illustrate human truths, not comic book truths (if there is a such a thing). Let’s review the reasons I decided to purchase The Haunting of Fabian Grey, because they show that I really had nothing to do with my decision to purchase the comic at all. The first reason was that I thought the cover looked cool. At face value this is a simple proposition, something about me made it so that when I looked at the cover of this comic, I wanted it. Why did I prefer this cover to the cover of the comic next to it? Why do people prefer anything over any other thing? We cannot choose our preferences, if I do not like tuna fish I can not will myself to like it. Tuna fish will be gross no matter my intention to perceive otherwise. I like or do not like certain foods based largely on what sort of foods I grew up around. Simply examining cultural-geographical preferences of food tastes reveals this. To bring this reasoning to my decision to purchase Five Ghosts, I liked the cover and could not choose to like a different cover which I found repulsive. It is what it is. Perhaps I was born with certain predispositions towards certain colors or shapes which in turn determined which cover I liked most. I didn’t choose my birth circumstances. They are what they are.

I had almost nothing to do with the fact that I liked the cover.

Let’s now examine the other reason I decided to buy the comic, the fact that it was 10 dollars. Well, why would I find 10 dollars to be a reasonable amount of money to spend on a comic? No matter what reason we select here, chasing the path of ‘why’ will inevitably lead us to conclude it had nothing to do with me. Let’s say I find 10 dollars to be reasonable because the job I have allows me to occasionally make 10 dollar impulse purchases. Well, why do I have that job? Because I went to college. Why did I go to college? Because I graduated high school. Why did I graduate high school? Because of social pressure, it is what all my peers did in my upper-middle class suburb. Why did I live there? Because my parents thought it would be a good place to raise a child. Let’s stop there, we could keep going forever. Now we find that perhaps it was my parents who caused the 10 dollar price tag to sound so enticing. Perhaps I could have navigated an alternate path of ‘why’ and determined the state of the American economy caused the 10 dollars to sound inconsequential. No matter which path of ‘why’ we take, the final conclusion is the same.

I had almost nothing to do with my reaction to the 10 dollar price tag.

And an obvious counter to these musings will now be addressed. Regardless of the fact that the opinions which influenced my purchase decision were not formed through my own conscious effort, I still ultimately made the decision to purchase it. In that moment, in the comic book store, I decided to purchase the comic book. And I could have decided otherwise. I had something to do with that, right? The reality is, it isn’t that simple. To clarify I cite the results of Benjamin Libet’s (although it really isn’t in the spirit of this article to grant anyone ownership of anything) groundbreaking work on studying human consciousness [1]. Libet and his team instructed study participants to press a button whenever they wanted, and to remember when they first perceived the internal decision making process causing them to press the button. While this was occurring, a device was wired to the participants head to measure their brain activity. Libet and his team found spikes in brain activity before the participants claimed they internally decided to press the button. Libet’s team found that the participants brains had decided an average 200 milliseconds before the participants themselves were aware of the decision. Research in 2008 using more advanced brain scanning techniques found evidence that a decision was made in the brain up to 10 seconds before participants consciously knew so [2]. Further research has shown that people can be tricked into believing they were responsible for actions which they were actually not [3], tricked into believing that they expressed opinions which they actually did not [4], and that their actions are frequently influenced by sensations they were not consciously aware of [5].

Fabian Grey had almost nothing to do with the powers he had been granted.

I had almost nothing to do with my decision to buy Five Ghosts.

And between these facts lies a truth about being human.

People have almost nothing to do with the decisions they make.

[1] Libet, Benjamin; Gleason, Curtis A.; Wright, Elwood W.; Pearl, Dennis K. (1983). “Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity (Readiness-Potential) – The Unconscious Initiation of a Freely Voluntary Act”. Brain 106: 623–642.

[2] Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H. J., & Haynes, J. D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature neuroscience,11(5), 543-545.

[3] Aarts, H., Custers, R., & Wegner, D. M. (2005). On the inference of personal authorship: Enhancing experienced agency by priming effect information.Consciousness and cognition14(3), 439-458.

[4] Hall, L., Johansson, P., & Strandberg, T. (2012). Lifting the veil of morality: Choice blindness and attitude reversals on a self-transforming survey. PloS one7(9), e45457.

[5] Van den Bussche, E., Van den Noortgate, W., & Reynvoet, B. (2009). Mechanisms of masked priming: a meta-analysis. Psychological bulletin,135(3), 452.


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