The Science of Interstellar by Kip S. Thorne
DO NOT GO HUMBLE INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT
The book discusses the movie, so it is only fair that I use most of the space to discuss the movie as well. I will discuss the book itself in one of the sections below. To get a better understanding, we can break our discussion it up into three overlapping sections —
The Three aspects of the movie that has to be examined to get at its core Premise:
1. The Future
2. The Science
3. The Dreams
Book Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads); Movie Rating: 9/10 (IMDB)
Caution: Spoilers Ahead; Spoilers Abound
“The overriding question, ‘What might we build tomorrow?’
blinds us to questions of our ongoing responsibilities
for what we built yesterday.”
~ Paul Dourish
Interstellar is about mankind’s future and about the options we face. It challenges us to think about how we should react to that future.
It starts from the premise that the Earth has been wrecked.
We have become a largely agrarian society, struggling to feed and shelter ourselves. But ours is not a dystopia. Life is still tolerable and in some ways pleasant, with little amenities such as baseball continuing. However, we no longer think big. We no longer aspire to great things. We aspire to little more than just keeping life going.
Humans have coped with their sudden tragedy by shutting down technology, engineering, research and all the marvels of science. This was the only option left to them.
But why this extreme reaction by a species that was not frightened even by Frankenstein’s monster? Presumably science/progress had something to do with unleashing the blight? My guess would be too much monoculture.
Most of them seem to think that the catastrophes are finished, that we humans are securing ourselves in this new world and things may start improving. But in reality the blight is so lethal, and leaps so quickly from crop to crop (there is also a bit of unscientific nonsense about Nitrogen versus Oxygen, but let us not be too critical), that the human race is doomed within the lifetime of Cooper’s grandchildren. The only hope is to start dreaming again. To get back on the Science Bandwagon.
And (thankfully?) there are dreamers, who refuse to give up to this sub-par, non-imaginative existence.
We are explorers, we are adventurers. Humanity is not meant to give up like this, Nolan tells us. And uses Dylan to drive the point home (too many times!).
The prevailing attitude of stopping progress and just focussing on ‘surviving’ is seen to be a regressive step by our intrepid explorers.
Instead our heroes decide to risk it all on a cross-galaxy exploration. To find a new home for humanity, out among the stars.
In the process Nolan also attempts to reverse the message of Kubrick’s Space Odyssey and portray technology as a friend to humanity (TARS), instead of an unknown and volatile threat (as embodied by HAL).
This is an eminently plausible future. It is also an eminent plausible reaction to such a future. In face it is very close to what Naomi Oreskes imagines in her own Near-future scenario: Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. A dictatorial regime, community-based (communist, in fact), strictly controlled, paranoid. We have seen these things before in history, during the dark ages. It is one of our worst nightmares.
A totalitarian govt is pretty much what would be in store in such a future. Freedom comes with trade-offs — the more we can indulge now, the more we restrict humanity later.
The only problem is that by the time we have had time to degrade so much, to feel the hopelessness, to tighten control over a society so much with so less technology, it would probably be too late to be even thinking of interstellar travel.
And that is where the Future that is shown to us breaks down. It shows us an agrarian world that is still capable of inter-planetary travel. That would require a very fast breakdown of things. Fast enough to not let the technology or the knowledge wither away. One bad generation would enough to lose the skills that were required for the Exodus. The plot had to assume an almost impossible fast degeneration and a lot of coincidental happenings in that very small window allowed even in such a world. That is not very realistic.
Lucky we had a miracle to bail us out. Read the rest of this entry »