Hey in case none of you know, I’m actually an old English student and it was when I was doing an essay on the limits of human knowledge and it’s presentation within Oedipus that it sprung to mind that within Fullmetal Alchemist this theme is also very prevalent.
I know a lot of anime fans joke that if we could study anime we would, (or at least I do, even my friend just said Why don’t you just go study anime and animation? Ahh the dream XD) so I figured why not do a blog on this.
I hope you all enjoy this, sorry if it’s not as light hearted as the title makes it sound, lol (like 10 tonnes of light heartness) and hopefully comment, discuss and like of course.
Without further ado let’s begin:
The limits of human knowledge is a debate that doesn’t limit itself simply to literature and other forms of media, but also to real life debates, for Fullmetal Alchemist this is what allows it to stand above shows when it comes to the themes that are tackled, this show does a brilliant job of exploring this idea.
This blog hopes to provide an interpretation on what I believe is a very evident link in Fullmetal Alchemist, and how it’s ironic that a show about alchemy, where it’s primary instruction demands comprehension, decomposition and reconstruction is also a show that’s all about what we cannot comprehend.
The limits of human knowledge doesn’t limit itself to being ignorant, such as Ed and Al, but it is also may be a reference to foolishness and naivety which can be seen in the past King of Xerxes and possibly even within Scar. One of the most basic themes of Locke’s epistemology is that since we cannot know everything, we would be well-advised to observe and respect the extent and limitations of human knowledge. Following this line of argument, it can be said that Fullmetal Alchemist is used as a social commentary for Hiromu Arakawa to emphasis the importance of respecting such boundaries.
Primarily and most obviously we find this message resonates most with the main characters: Edward and Alphonse Elric. Although we may derive sympathy towards these characters due to their naivety, Hiromu also makes certain to emphasis how significant they play in presenting the theme of limited human knowledge. The first limit to human knowledge in Fullmetal Alchemist is that is that the value of a single human person is immeasurable.
Through their hubris, they attempt to perform human transmutation and in return Ed loses his leg and arm.
He lost his leg as a passing fee when he saw the gate and his arm when he tried transmuting his brother’s soul to a suit of armour. Alphonse had his body taken to the other side of the gate and almost lost his soul as well when it was somehow taken by the monster, but luckily was rejected because the soul is only compatible with certain media.
In a way that suit of armour is like a time bomb because he will never know when and if that suit of armour will reject his soul. In this sense it can be said that Al has been condemned to be punished more severely than Ed.
There’s even room for argument that the homunculus are perversions of mankind’s attempts to break the boundaries of science, and are an exteneded consequence punishment for these alchemists.
The simple conclusion at the end of the incident being that human transmutation should never be performed. However it should be noted that despite this scientific principle being repeatedly established as being unbreakable, many alchemist within the show seem to be looking for loop holes. This reflects the darker side of science, that many scientists/alchemists are obsessive perhaps even relentless in their pursuit of knowledge. This all reinforces Hiromu’s message that there are simply some things mankind may not be ready for, and that the boundaries of human knowledge at points should be respected.
This message continues to resonate with the characters, primarily in their belief that alchemy can solve all, and that the more skilful an alchemist is, the greater power he has.
In truth, alchemy is just a form of faith – a faith in our ability to change the world. The show shows alchemy as more wish than science continuously, and many times it is only Ed and Al’s conviction, not their reason, that gives them strength. Their belief that either alchemy or their own strength can bring out the desired result, in spite of all evidence against it.
Whilst there is not such an obvious consequence of Ed’s limited knowledge of this, perhaps the consequence can be found in the emotional burden he feels from believing something falsely. He wants to think he rules his own destiny, and because of this, the idea of surrendering your agency to something irrational and beyond yourself is an anathema to his values. Ed’s initial faith in alchemy is so strong, his need to believe in its promise so great, that he often frames terrible actions from others not just as “how dare they do this,” but as “how dare they use alchemy to do this.”
The Dwarf in the flask is also another prime example of one that breached the boundaries of human knowledge (although he’s not a human technically). In his pursuit of knowledge he lost something significant, similar to Ed and Al he was hubristic, and believed himself worthy of becoming the “perfect being”. By separating himself from the seven sins, and the seven kinds of emotions, desires and experiences he lost his humanity, his emotions, his belief that he didn’t need them all contributed to his perishing at the hands of his own arrogance.
In this case the limit to knowledge could be seen in that there is no such thing as perfect, the idea of perfection doesn’t exist. It is wholly subjective, and whilst there may be at points majorities who perceive a certain condition of perfection to be the pinnacle of what they can achieve, the truth is that complete agreement will never exist. The Dwarf in the flask was foolish in trying to attain something beyond the limits of human knowledge, but also at the cost of others, meaning that he ended up being isolated, and bound to the very thing he wanted to escape from.
However this is not to say that Hirmonu completely ignores the idea of pursuit of knowledge being to the benefit of others. Professor Korista provides an alternative interpretation of this debate: She comments that despite humans constantly setting limits on their knowledge. Every so often somebody writes a book either declaring what we cannot ever know or that we now know all there is to know. Both are soon shown to be wrong. Science is progressive and incomplete by its very nature. It can never become static or complete. This message is also significant within Fullmetal Alchemist, because despite the loss of their bodies, had they not continued to pursue information it is very likely that Fullmetal Alchemist would have ended earlier, and a lot more different than we had expected.
Had Ed and Al Elric not continued to push the boundaries of their knowledge it goes without saying that it is completely possible that the Homuculus’ entire plot would have continued, and resulted in the death of many (50 million minimal).
Hiromu ultimately justifies the pursuit of knowledge that will bring benefit to those around them, as opposed to the pursuit of knowledge in which the benefactors are only those who pursued the knowledge, and often also those who are selfish. This is a pretty universal theme within various anime that those who are selfish, evil and suffer from hubris will fall. However it is quite unusual that the protagonists also be the ones breaching the limits of human knowledge, and suffering thoroughly for it, which is makes this theme in Fullmetal Alchemist so interesting.
As Alphonse Elric puts it ‘I think that seeking possibilities without being bound by laws is necessary for mankind to advance’ it is entirely possible that these aren’t just the words of Alphonse, but also Hiromu. Similarly God, the world or truth, whatever you want to label the creature within the Gate himself never actually criticises specifically the pursuit of knowledge.
In conclusion, Hiromu Arakawa presents the theme of limits to human knowledge on what may be considered two side of a coin. Whilst there are points at which the limits of human knowledge should not be breached or rather there are risks to the pursuit of knowledge, ultimately it is a scientists’ (alchemists’) sole purpose to try and push these boundaries regardless of the risks that may ensue. Being able to distinguish which lines are to be crossed, and which ones aren’t is where true wisdom shows, and at the end it is possible to find a glimmer of this in the characters of Edward and Alphonse Elric.
As the series concludes, Edward learns that his simply part of a much bigger whole, and his use of alchemy is but one way of taking part in a much grander design, this is particularly evident in FMA the 2003 version. Perhaps more specifically Hiromu is critical of hubris and arrogance as opposed to limiting one’s knowledge.
The conclusion of the series, particularly FMAB seems to suggest that neither viewpoint is wrong, that at points it isn’t right to push the boundaries of human knowledge, whilst at others, there is simply much more to learn.
*heavy sigh of relief. Phewey, I actually ended up doing a lot more research than I meant to for this! Well either way, I hope I pointed out a very significant theme within FMA for you or whatever. This was actually a lot of fun to write, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I liked typing it up. The conclusion is a little generic, and I apologies for that, but hey this isn’t my English paper, so hopefully you’ll forgive me on that. If you haven’t then please do comment, I would love to hear your view point on this.
I’m going to go and watch some dumb dumb anime now lol. Thanks for reading, commenting or liking if you did : Until next time!
Neon is out!