Mon Nov 17, 2014
This post contains spoilers (at the end). Read on at your own risk.
Interstellar takes on black holes, relativity, and the politics of space exploration - grounding these topics in an emotional and gut-wrenching family drama. It’s a great movie.
Among the various weighty philosophical questions posed in this Christopher Nolan epic, one stands out - are we alone in the universe? I’d like to frame the movie around this question alone. So, you see, this is only sort of an Interstellar review.
The universe is unimaginably vast, yet we have yet to find any life outside our own planet. Well, that’s not quite true - the “unimaginably” part I mean. Plenty of imaginative thinkers have come up with numbers that will blow your mind. Tim Urban is such a thinker - check out his post for an extremely comprehensive read on this subject. Also check out this i09 post.
So yeah, maybe extinction events are more common than we’d like. Or maybe we are of the first emerging sentient species in the universe. Or maybe we aren’t mature enough to join the United Federation of Planets and the Prime Directive prohibits any superior species from making first contact with us. There are a lot of maybes.
There are a lot of questions too. What are the chances that any intelligent aliens out there are humanoid, animals, or even organic? Or that these aliens have developed a similar cultural and sociological value system that places emphasis on altruism and exploration? Or that their method of interpersonal and interstellar communication even closely resembles ours?
With so much uncertainty about anything that exists beyond our exosphere, there are a lot of theories out there on what is called “The Great Silence”. Personally, I love the theory put forward in The Egg, a wonderful short story by Andy Weir.
What strikes me as extremely arrogant though, is that we don’t just ascribe our failure to simple human deficiency. I mean, we threw hundreds of millions of dollars into finding Flight MH370, a plane that disappeared into a relatively defined area of the Indian Ocean, and came up empty-handed. So why assume that we can so easily find intelligent life in an infinite universe?
Now, I don’t know if aliens exist or if Jesus can turn Coke into Pepsi. What I do know is that when we throw reasonable science or dogmatic religion aside and just think outside the box, then we have ourselves some excellent cerebral entertainment. And that’s what Interstellar is.
In Interstellar, a benevolent alien presence opens up a wormhole somewhere in the vicinity of Saturn. This same alien presence manifests itself as a poltergeist in a rambling old farmhouse by throwing books off of shelves and manipulating the downward floating trajectory of dust.
By the end of the movie, we discover that these aliens are actually ourselves in a distant future where we have evolved / transcended into beings of the fifth dimension who can manipulate time and space. Well, technically the protagonist of the movie is actually the ghost because he ends up in a construct of the 5th dimension by flying into a black hole, but I don’t want to overcomplicate it - cause really, it makes sense when you watch it.
But to answer the original question - are we alone in the universe? In Interstellar, it seemed there were intelligent extraterrestrials aiding us, but they were just humans. Or were once humans. So, the answer is yes, we are alone. Although just a movie, this premise seems realistic to us.
The truth is that we are such megalomaniacs, we have an easier time believing that we can become omnipresent gods in the far-flung future than believing there is some sort of alternative intelligence in this universe. An intelligence so far removed from our own that it is simply incomprehensible to us. I’m not sure yet if this is a failure of imagination or an unbridled imagination.
If we ever find Flight MH370, then maybe we can talk about how intelligent we are. In the meantime, just enjoy Interstellar because it actually is a fantastic movie - two thumbs up.