On Van Helsing

Professor Van Helsing is a tribute to rational empiricism that has met the supernatural and had to back off because the experience did not square with reality. I like Van Helsing because he is so grounded in his science and empiricism that he is the true paradigm of rational thinking and practice. Yet, Van Helsing is faced with a situation that does not fit within the neat theories and hypothesis of his enlightened scientific experience. Through observation and experimentation, Van Helsing has cast his lot in life far from emotion, superstition, irrationality, and the supernatural. He writes books, carries out experiments, teaches his classes, is a paradigm of the enlightened scientist, the rock on which we build our reality. Yet, his situation, though a completely imaginary one, is problematic in the sense that he is faced with the larger problem of a reality–an undead, dead person–that cannot exist in his world. The philosophical implications of facing the existence of Dracula are vast and troubling. You are either a rational empiricist who cannot “believe” in such things, or you abandon your empiricism and throw in with the holy water, garlic, cross, and stake. Our empiricism protects us from foolish pseudo-science such as astrology, palmistry, quiromancy, numerology, tarot, Big Foot, the Loch Ness monster, werewolves, vampires, and necromancy, but is that all there is in this world? I have always sided with Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – Hamlet (1.5.167-8). Still, the philosophical problem persists even if only in our imaginations, hoping against hope that we never have to face this situation in the real world.