5X5 Episode 19
|5X5 Episode 19|
|11th May 2008|
|5X5 18||5X5 20|
|S: Steven Novella|
|R: Rebecca Watson|
|B: Bob Novella|
|J: Jay Novella|
|E: Evan Bernstein|
The Science of Science-Fiction Movies
You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.
S: This is the SGU 5X5 and the topic for this evening is a recent article in the New Scientist which discusses five science fiction movies that get the science right. This is an article by Michael Marshall and he discusses five fairly good science fiction movies - 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Alien, Gattaca, and Solaris [1972 and 2002.] Why don't we begin with 2001.
B: It gets one thing right that so many movies don't get right, is that it is perfectly quiet in space.
S: But there is one thing in 2001 where I think they got the science wrong, and that was when they were on the moon base, when inside the buildings on the moon base, they're at earth's normal gravity —
S: — and there's no reason for that. They should still be bouncing around as if they were on the moon even though they're in a room with an atmosphere et cetera.
B: The spaceship Discovery is basically a spinning centrifuge to create artificial gravity, which is great, but at one point an astronaut climbs up towards the center of the centrifuge and as he did that you would be getting lighter and lighter until eventually you would weigh nothing towards the center.
S: Mmm hmm.
B: And he's obviously not getting lighter. You know, a subtle point but still it's interesting.
S: Let's go on to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
R: I don't get it. It's not a sci-fi movie, like it's one of my favorite all-time movies but I would never call it a sci-fi movie and it has really nothing to do with real science at all.
S: This is the movie with Jim Carrey where he has his memories selectively wiped. But I guess that element is science fiction, so that was enough. Actually, you know, speculative fiction or science fiction actually is a very broad tent. You can very very broadly define that, and since that element was enough I guess to make him think that this was a science fiction movie.
J: But Steve, aren't memories in multiple places in the brain?
S: Yes, actually I disagree that this is a very plausible thing. In the movie the character like wipes his memory for, or attempts to, for all of his memories of his relationship with a person. The author of the article is arguing that that is plausible because, for example, certain types of dementia may wipe out certain types of memory, like semantic memory, not other types of memory, like personal memory. But I don't think that's a good analogy actually.
R: Yeah, the movie doesn't actually borrow from that at all.
S: I think that's implausible because memories are so massively parallel and so massively interconnected, I think it would be probably difficult to impossible to completely extricate one entire theme from your life's memories you know.
B: Alien's a great movie.
S: Alien is an awesome movie and do you guys know that the bit he's praising in this article?
J: Well isn't it the suspended animation?
S: Well yes, so they put the crew in suspended animation because traveling between star systems will take a really long time, because, you know, faster than light travel is not plausible. But actually if you do the math the ship's still going awfully fast. (laughs)
B: Well yeah, but if by 'awfully fast' you mean faster than light, I still think, I mean Ripley missed what, she was 50 years behind the times when she got back for the second movie?
S: Mmm hmm.
B: Man, that's assuming that the star system she was at was farther away than Centauri stars, still I think that's cutting it real close. But yeah, still great great stuff, I still love it.
S: If you're going 30, if she was 30 or 40 light years away from the earth, that's no —
S: — that's still going awfully fast, right.
S: — that was, yeah, not, didn't necessarily go faster than light. The fourth movie was Gattaca which is based upon —
(talking over one another)
R: — nobody actually saw, so that's alright, we'll just skip that.
E: — Well it was Ethan Hawke.
S: — Well I saw it.
B: — yeah great movie by the way. I enjoyed it. I liked it.
S: It was about a future in which everyone is genetically identified and you can do DNA analyses and you know and maybe —
B: In a moment.
S: — Yeah, pretty much made by comparing your DNA, and most babies are conceived with IVF (in-vitro fertilization.) He's praising this one because of its, the way it dealt with the issues of genetic determinism.
B: But that's also its failing as well.
B: Because it's all determinism in the movie, at least that's how most people believe, although at the very end they kind of show you that it's not, but most of the movie is all, the whole society is about determinism, and I can't imagine a society that sophisticated believing it to that extent.
J: It also shows that the people that were truly imperfect were the ones that were supposed to be perfect, which is interesting —
R: — Oh the irony.
S: Yeah, I mean —
S: — that's kind of, the point of the movie was dealing with that issue, the whole issue of how much of ourselves is really determined by our genetics. And the final movie is Solaris which I thought was a very weird movie actually.
R: If by weird you mean boring as shit, yes.
J: Yeah, it's..
E?: That's one definition.
S: The article makes it seem like you have to have read the book, read the novel in order to really get what the movie was about, which I believe. And the central point was that extra-terrestrial intelligence would be so bizarre and strange that we really wouldn't be able to understand it, which I guess is why the movie was incomprehensible.
E: That's a fair point though.
J: So basically talking to aliens would be a mind-screw.
S: Yeah, basically. And actually I totally agree with that. I think that science fiction movies in general grossly underestimate the alien-ness, both physically and mentally, of aliens.
E: Except Star Trek.
S: Right, certainly you know Star Trek is a good example why that is done for practical purposes, but just in terms of the science and the fiction, you know I do appreciate it when writers try to make aliens truly alien. Some do.
E: There was a sixth movie that was supposed to make the list, Planet of the Apes, but unfortunately it got booted from this list.
S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.