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Meditations on Interstellar - The Revenge of the Nerds


Recently, I have been following Space exploration with some kind of awkward enthusiasm. Reason for the enthusiasm is because I was deeply moved by the movie "Interstellar". Reason for the awkwardness will be dealt with in another blog post. It is not often that you watch a movie which makes you groping in the dark uncharted spaces of your mind. Watching Interstellar filled me with deep wonder about the nature of the universe and such. The closest experience similar to this is perhaps the movie "The Matrix". It is not just the experience of watching the movie but the after taste keeps you ruminating on the many questions that gets explored during the movie.

Christopher Nolan is a genius. He is a master of creating a world. And when you play god and create worlds of your own, you cannot help painting the world with your own ideologies. These prejudices are so clever because they are so subtle. One specific idea that I found fascinating is Nolan's idea of what role Scientists play in society in general.

In Interstellar, the main plot line is about a problem which needs a technological solution. This is not uncommon in Hollywood. There are many movies which explore this. However what is unique about Interstellar is that all the main protagonists are scientists. There is no mission commander who goes about ordering the scientists what to do. The Lazarus mission seemed to be driven by Dr Brandt without any other military or political oversight.

Another interesting idea is that the scientists in Interstellar are not just weirdos with balding heads and unruly hair. Interstellar takes on Hollywood's stereotype of the Mad scientist. The average scientist in Interstellar has a family, kids and has real emotions. And not just that, some of these scientists seemed to be driven by these emotions. Nolan has made an effort to humanize the scientists in his movie by showing them joke, laugh and cry.

And did I forget to say that these scientists were also looking gorgeous? ;)

Perhaps the most important theme in the cinematic world of Interstellar is that Science and Scientists seemed to be really saving the world. Compare that with say the how scientists were positioned in any regular doomsday movie. Say Armageddon. Considering that the mission in that movie involved detonating a nuclear device in an incoming comet, scientists were hardly celebrated.

The more that I think about it, the more it seems to me that Nolan believes (perhaps subconsciously) that scientists are generally good and they matter. Big Time. I found this notion quite tenable and hopeful.

The obsession surrounding Interstellar led me to read the book "The Science of Interstellar" by Kip Thorne (who happened to be a real physicist as well as one of the executive producers for the movie). Kip's words did not explain away my wonder. It deepened it. The following are some representative quotes from his book:

“Everything likes to live where it will age the most slowly, and gravity pulls it there.” 

"singularities...places where space and time are infinitely warped” 

“We don’t know what triggered the big bang, nor what, if anything, existed before it. But somehow the universe emerged as a vast sea of ultrahot gas, expanding fast in all directions like the fireball ignited by a nuclear bomb blast or by the explosion of a gas pipeline. Except that the big bang was not destructive (so far as we know). Instead, it created everything in our universe, or rather the seeds for everything.” 

“We humans are confined to our brane.” 

― Kip S. ThorneThe Science of Interstellar

The final quote that we humans are confined to our brane indeed seemed to be dare. Obsessing about the questions opened up by Interstellar was strangely calming. I guess it is the edge-of-the-solar-system perspective that makes you aware of your position in the cosmos. There have been some moments in the night that i found myself mulling about many of Interstellar's cinematic devices. For example, what would be the life of Dr Amelia Brandt while she is setting up the human colony in Edmunds' planet? Why does gravity dilate time and space? I understand it does, but why?
I found those moments humbling, fascinating and profound. I cannot help myself from quoting Sadhguru here.

PS: Its been close to 9 months since I saw Interstellar but I continue to obsess about it. This obsession led to an interesting nugget: The golden record. It is amazing. Take a look!

planet montage
The golden records refer to the recordings that NASA put on board the voyager space probes before sending it out of the solar system. It is supposed to contain representative images, sounds, music and messages from Earth. Chances of anyone accessing this information is infinitesimal however when I read about it, it gave me the goosebumps.
As Carl Sagan put it:
“The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space. But the launching of this ‘bottle’ into the cosmic ‘ocean’ says something very hopeful about life on this planet.”



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