Insights from Rick and Morty
Myths are stories that are told to help explain nature, including human nature. While academics will point to such cultures as the Greeks or the Egyptians and will spend entire books analyzing the potential representation of human nature, it is important to note that mythology isn’t just in the past. Modern mythology exists in the form of books, TV shows, and movies as a mirror onto present day society. I recently was introduced to the show Rick and Morty which works as a perfect example of such a mirror. The show of course follows two characters: Rick and Morty (specifically those ones from Dimension C-137). These two characters represent opposite ends of a presented spectrum.
Rick is a scientist who is ruled by reason but frequently lacks compassion. He represents a perfect case where what we see and reality are two different things. Despite trying to put on an unfeeling and uncaring exterior, facilitated by being almost constantly inebriated, we later find that he is a tortured soul underneath the mask. Things are not always as they seem and reality often has many hidden layers. This is brilliantly portrayed when it is revealed that his light-hearted catch phrase “Wubba Lubba Dub Dub” actually translates as “I am in great pain, please help me.” He may be brilliant in many respects and able to face the crazy situations life throws at him, but he is incapable of resolving his own emotions and connecting with those around him. Essentially, life has become pointless to him because of the feelings of disconnection. We additionally are informed at one point that “Sometimes science is more art than science.” As a scientist at a university, I couldn’t agree more. Things are rarely clear cut and simple and there are often layers of complexity that take time and effort to really understand.
Morty is a young boy who is governed by empathy, presented at coming at the cost of intelligence and being constantly fearful of the universe. However, unlike Rick, he is frequently inspired by how incredible the universe can be even if it doesn’t make sense to him. His fear often causes him to be overwhelmed, to which we get the advice that the way that we grow as people is to face that which we find scary head-on (unless doing so threatens our continued survival). Unlike Rick, Morty is unable to face the situations that life throws at him and is frequently overwhelmed by his emotions, but exhibits a great inter- and intra-personal intelligence. Yet we learn that, while we cannot control the oncome of emotions, we have the ability to control how we react to them.
What we observe in the multiverse presented in the show, that these two need each other to really function. This is represented as their brain-waves canceling each other out and allowing them to camouflage. Essentially this can be interpreted that as humans we need to be somewhere in the middle to succeed in overcoming our internal conflicts. We need to use both reason and empathy, to be able to have emotions and learn how to adequately handle them. Arguably one of the most successful characters that has managed to at least partially implement this middle ground is “Doofus Rick.” This Rick is often ridiculed for his lack of scientific intelligence, yet chooses to invest his effort into inventions that will cheer people up, exhibiting a remarkable degree of selflessness. He has a greater degree of interpersonal intelligence and empathy that the others simply don’t understand. As such, we see that he makes friends almost instantly with other non-Rick characters and continues to be a team player despite the criticism of his peers. The lesson, as I see it, becomes that people will try to put you down, but despite that just keep giving your best and look to improve the lives of those around you.
One of the central themes in the show is that in the crazy universe that nothing really matters. Despite how much we may want the universe to run the way we think, it’s going to work in its own way and our actions will inevitably seem small and insignificant. Some people spend their whole lives trying to understand the underlying order and meaning to the point that we frequently overthink it. Our ego becomes inflamed in a hunt for why it is important. And yet, it’s often the situations where we feel the smallest that we are at peace: gazing at the stars, wandering through the woods, even sitting quietly in a sacred space. The solution the show seems to offer is instead of delving into existential crises, simply enjoy the ride and be at peace. Instead of obsessing in the search for a divine purpose, create your own purpose by calming your mind and positively impacting the lives around you.