Archive for ‘Movies’

June 15th, 2011

The Philosophy Behind ‘Source Code’

by Max Andrews

Ben Ripley and Duncan Jones’ recent film Source Code is loaded with philosophical underpinnings and pushes the edge of current science.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays the role of an Army helicopter pilot (Colter Stevens) who faced a near-death injury in battle but wakes up to find himself in the body of another person, Sean Fentress, on a Chicago bound train.  Colter, while embodied in Sean’s body, needs to gather vital intelligence on the terrorist attack that is going to happen on the train in eight minutes to help prevent a future attack soon to come.  Though at times I got tired of monotonous scenes after Colter’s failed attempts the plot and philosophical and scientific edge makes a great film for those deep thinkers out there.

Inside the Source Code

This is how it works.  The Source Code is a computer program that takes the electromagnetic field from one person’s brain and allows that person to assume the role of another individual bearing the same likeness.  The personal duplication only lasts for eight minutes because that’s how much memory can be accessed by the electromagnetic field of the brain (per the movie).  The first important metaphysical question to be asked is how does this work with personal identity? For clarification I will refer to Colter’s embodiment of Sean on the train as code-world and Colter’s consciousness reflected in his personal self as real-world.  If real-world Colter assumes the identity of code-world Sean then what happens to code-world Sean at the moment Colter assumes his identity?  Now remember, code-world Sean was once real-world Sean during those real-world eight minutes Colter embodies Sean.  Also, code-world Colter was once real-world Colter at the same moment of code-world Colter going “back” as code-world Sean.  This begs the question, to whom do we predicate personal identity to Colter when he is in the code-world?  This isn’t so much of a time travel issue rather it’s related to parallel realities.  This may seem like Hollywood’s inability to be philosophically trained in consistent metaphysics but perhaps Ripley’s writing isn’t inept, perhaps it’s pushing the edge of contemporary philosophy and science!

Now let’s look at the issue of the parallel realities.  Max Tegmark is a leading proponent of the multiverse.  His is a little more extreme than many other proponents since he advocates a fourth-level multiverse, which is to say that mathematics is equivalent to physical reality.  The Source Code would be equivalent to the third-level multiverse.  The third level multiverse assumes unitary physics and that every possible physical particle interaction actually does occur.  Consider the illustration of a man and a woman who meet up for drinks.  It could go a number of ways, she could say, “Sure, let’s have a drink” or she could say, “No, I’d rather not.”  In this scenario both outcomes actually occur and reality splits and each story continues its course.  Now this model assumes that consciousness may be explained on the quantum level.  Source Code is consistent here.

The issue now is getting from one reality to the other.  Columbia University physicist Brian Greene is one of the leading string theorists and he believes there is a way to verify whether or not this can me done.  At the Large Hadron Collider in CERN hundreds of physicists from around the globe gather together and construct high energy particle experiments.  What happens is that they accelerate particle beams near the speed of light with the potential of producing 14 TeV.  These particle beams collide and reveal smaller sub-particles.  It works in a way similar to building a block made of legos and when you throw one block of legos at another block it was come apart and the smaller components will be left.  That’s how sub-particles are discovered.  Greene’s prediction is that when collision events occur and the data reveals that less energy is present than there should be then it may be that some particles, or energy, have been transferred into another brane (or another reality).  It’s not as though this idea is so far fetched or that it is unfalsifiable, branes may actually exist.  In regards to the modesty of the position this interpretation is known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (though it still faces its physical challenges and dissenters).  The MWI was developed my Hugh Everett and Tegmark is the contemporary who has carried the torch at this point.

In order for Source Code to be achieved there would have to be a tremendous amount of concentrated energy, that would be the consciousness of Colter, and specify that on the consciousness of Sean (or the electromagnetic field).  The precision and energy are almost certainly impossible to harness that energy in such a specified way to be able to determine the specified outcome of each particle interaction from one brane to another.  It’s the concepts of merely transferring energy from one brane to another that is possible.  Source Code takes the advances of modern high energy physics and fictionalizes it to be able to traverse realities.  It certainly raises metaphysical questions of identity, which are quite worth entertaining.  We shouldn’t always shape our metaphysics to what knowledge of the physical world we do have.  Our physics may not confirm or suggest certain ideas like this but these hypothetical thought experiments are great mental exercises and thought experiments.  I really enjoyed this film simply because it made me think about how this could actually work.  The physics are next to impossible but the philosophy behind it is what makes the movie worth it’s praise.  The plot and character development isn’t horrible but, hey, there has to be some milieu in order to portray the idea.

March 6th, 2011

The Philosophy Behind ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

by Max Andrews

George Nolfi and Phillip Dick’s recent movie ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘ is certainly a film that can get you thinking and asking the questions, “How?” and, “But why?”  I had no idea this movie was coming out until a friend Tweeted it to me a couple of days before the premiere, which made for a great date night.  Before I get into the details, my opinion of the film is that though it was entertaining and had an ‘indy-esque’ vibe to it, though it made me frustrated.

David (Matt Damon) falls in love with Elise (Emily Blunt) in the only-in-the-movies-could-it-ever-happen type moments.  They hit it off and we begin the story line.  David is heading to work a few months later after his mysterious run-in with Elise and Harry, a bureau case officer, is supposed to make David spill his coffee by 7:05 AM.  Well, it doesn’t happen and it becomes a problem because it has compromised “the plan.”  David sees Elise on that bus and they reunite.  Not good for the bureau.  Once David gets off the bus he walks into work and notices that his staff is being tampered with (for lack of a better word).  They are scanning their brains in the moment as time seems to have frozen.  Because David had not spilled his cup of coffee he witnesses what is going on.  David meets the bureau and finds out what they do and then we continue on with the plot.

Source: IMBD

Going into the movie I didn’t know what to expect as far as how they were going portray human freedom and the bureau’s providence.  There’s a clear and distinct correlation between the bureau’s chairman and God; and the case officers with angels.  The case officers are limited in their scope of abilities by the chairman, they report to the chairman, they are not perfect, and they do work for the chairman.  The chairman is the one who makes the plans.  The plans are referenced by the case workers in these books they carry around.  Here’s where I get frustrated because there seems to be an inconsistency.  Throughout the film you’ll come to understand that humans really do have free will.  In the scene when David enters his office and finds the case officers tampering with his colleagues brains, they are doing that in order to change their minds about something.  Here we have the classic illustration of soft-determinism/compatibilism.  Say there’s a scientist who plants electrodes in my brain.  I’m free to act according to my will as long as I do what the scientist wants.  Now, say I’m in a room with you.  I can either shoot you or I can walk away and we both live.  Now, I don’t want to kill you, but perhaps the scientist wants me to kill you.  Because I don’t want to do what the scientist wants me to do he activates the electrodes in my brain, which causes me to kill you.  Now back to the film.  We have David’s colleagues doing something that requires a strong-actualization, an introduction of direct causation into the states of affairs (directly causing the changes in the brains).  Now, we don’t know the efficacy of these changes, whether it’s merely an introduction of new information to be considered or if it’s something that necessarily brings about the change, we don’t know but it seems to be the case that it was actually changed.

Later on in the film you come to learn that every historical event happened to bring about the state of affairs David finds himself in.  The black plague existed to bring about this certain aspect in David’s life, the Enlightenment was brought about so that David will be reasonable, etc.  David seems to be a focus of a theodicy.  David’s not allowed to be with Elise because if he is with her then he will not be what the bureau needs him to be.  We now find ourselves with counterfactual knowledge.  If David does this, then this will happen.  If David does not do this, then this will happen (and this will not happen).  You also find the bureau using terms and phrases like “you would do this” or “you would have done that.”  So there seems to be an indication of a knowledge of counterfactual human freedom.  Okay, this makes sense.  If all these historical events were brought about so that a particular state of affairs would obtain that seems to be quite providential given that these humans have free will.  It sounds like good ‘ole Molinism! (But… it’s not).

Source: IMBD

I would not be surprised if we find this film being referenced as illustrations for openness theologians in the time to come.  It really is an excellent depiction of overall openness providence, since the climax and denouement will help shape how you interpret the earlier parts of film.  The two writers could have made a clearer distinction on how free will is portrayed and how it relates to the bureau’s providential plan.  The film is quite entertaining and you find yourself caught in the middle of David and Elise’s relationship.  One moment you want them to make it and the next you don’t because you’re too mad at David.  However, a word of caution to you philosophically minded folk, you may find yourself with the same frustration I had in trying to get a consistent depiction of human freedom and providence.