Riku Sayuj's Reviews > The Science of Interstellar

The Science of Interstellar by Kip S. Thorne
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bookshelves: sci-fi-lit, science-gen, books-about-books, companions, media-hyped


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

THE FUTURE

Scenario

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).

Commentary

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.



An illustrative chart of Fictional Futures:
See high-res Here: http://goo.gl/x0eoa

THE SCIENCE

Soft Science

This is where science comes in. Under what scientific capacity we have, and with what technology we can reasonably expect in the near future, we cannot really travel inter-galactic distances in a time span that is remotely realistic, at least for current generations. Nor do we have the cryopreservation methods to take any live humans across such time spans.

And if we were capable of sacrificing our present for the future generations...? Well. Umm. We wouldn’t be in a fix in the first place, would we?

The nearest star (other than our Sun) thought to have a habitable planet is Tau Ceti, 11.9 light-years from Earth, so traveling at light speed you would need 11.9 years to reach it. If there are any habitable planets closer than that, they can’t be much closer.

Voyager 1 is traveling out of the solar system at 17 kilometers per second, having been boosted by gravitational slingshots around Jupiter and Saturn. In Interstellar, the Endurance travels from Earth to Saturn in two years, at an average speed of about 20 kilometers per second.

Even if we imagine an extreme 300 kilometers per second, we would need 5000 years to reach Proxima Centauri (nearest star to earth) and 13,000 years to reach Tau Ceti. Not a pleasant prospect!

Using twenty-first-century technology, we are stuck with thousands of years to reach other solar systems. The only hope (an exceedingly faint hope) for faster interstellar travel, in the event of an earthly disaster, is a wormhole like that in Interstellar, or some other extreme form of spacetime warp.

So a major inter-galactic, centuries-spanning exploration is out of the question.

What then?

Luckily we have the Gods helping us (well, 5 dimensional beings - “them” for short) out.

They make our job a lot easier with a strategically placed wormhole - not too near to rip earth apart, but not so far that we don’t notice it, or will have to spend too much time reaching it. And it takes us to a place with multiple earth-like planets. And we go there on LAZARUS missions (Get it? Christ will walk amongst us at The End of Days — as Technology!). Resurrection itself, no less, is on display here!

Talk about miracles.

“And whoever They are, They appear to be looking out for us. That wormhole lets us travel to other stars. It came along right as we needed it.”

Well, what do you know, we are a lucky species.

Hard Science

I have heard a lot of people criticizing the science behind the movie. To me that is the most acceptable part in the movie. The science mostly makes good sense, except for a few artistic liberties here and there. Also the story was written first and the science was made-to-order. But despite that, it hangs together well.

The movie is exclusively based on a String Theory interpretation of the universe. Most of it won’t make sense unless you accept all the premises required under String Theory.

So we live in a “Brane” inside a “Bulk”. Our universe is the Brane and the Bulk Beings live in higher dimension, in the Bulk. The movie simplifies matters a bit by assuming the Bulk to be in only 1 dimension more than ours, while String Theorists tend to assume 5-6 extra dimensions in the Bulk. Also they are supposed to be curled-up microscopic dimensions, certainly not big enough for Cooper to be floating around in. Nolan didn’t want to confuse a mass audience. Let us accept that as fair.



All this is beautifully explained in the book and reading it will make you respect the rigor and faithfulness to scientific principles that is on view in the movie. Everything (including all those stunning visuals) is modeled based on equations and backed by scientific possibility (speculation at best). The movie allows us to visualize what a wormhole, black-hole, accretion disks, tesseract, world-tubes, etc. would look like IF they were real. And they allow us to do so with scientific rigor. Nolan brings String Theory to spectacular life. So this movie sets a pretty high standard as far as fidelity to science is concerned. Let us give full points for that.



I am wiling to defend most of the science on display in the movie. Please feel free to fire away in the comment section.

They even use realistic equations in the movie. Gotta give points for that too.



Even when the equation is attempting to “solve gravity”. *chuckles*



In short, it is easy to be skeptical of the science, but this companion book does a good job of shooting down most objections you might have and proves how well-founded most o the exotic stuff in the movie is. The really exotic things turn out to be closer to home, in the Future that is depicted and in the Dreams we are being asked to nurture! I started this book being very critical of the movie, looking for weapons to bludgeon it with, but the constant doses of science has softened me up. Reading this book will probably make you respect the movie much more too. Highly recommended.

Artistic Licences

That said, Nolan does take many liberties with science in the movie, but mostly they are for visual effect.

As Kip says, If Chris had followed the dictates of Einstein’s laws, it would have spoiled his movie. So Chris consciously invoked artistic license at some points. Although I’m a scientist and aspire to science accuracy in science fiction, I can’t blame Chris at all. I would have done the same, had I been making the decision. And you’d have thanked me for it.

Truth, Educated Guesses, and Speculations

The science of Interstellar lies in all four domains: Newtonian, relativistic, quantum, and quantum gravity. Correspondingly, some of the science is known to be true, some is an educated guess, and some is speculation.



That is why throughout this book, when discussing the science of Interstellar, Kip has to explain the status of that science—truth, educated guess, or speculation—and he label it so at the beginning of a chapter or section with a symbol:



TO SUM UP

The thing is that a wormhole cant work (they are just not stable enough to be traversable, even if they actually exist — admitted freely in the book, in fact Kip goes so far as to almost admit that Wormholes are the most impossible outrageous idea in the book, and he was also the one responsible for introducing a wormhole into Contact and thus into mass consciousness!), time can’t be fixed, and if you have enough energy/tech to make a new planet habitable, you will definitely have enough to make earth re-habitable!

So we will never actually face a choice — either we will be capable of saving the earth AND colonizing a new planet. Or we will be incapable of both. And if the earth is in a bad enough condition it is unlikely that a true centuries-spanning mission is going to get funding anyway. And if we can fix the planet, how can we choose to leave all the other species behind? (Diversity being so important, as mentioned in the movie — and true genetic diversity should also include species diversity.)

The Science in the Movie DOES NOT matter. Because it is not a question of what is possible, but of what we want to believe in.

Cooper = Christ

This movie is about Miracles & Dreams, not of Science. And, to drive it home, religious hints litter the movie, as pointed out with the Lazarus missions above.

We thus have Cooper in a double role, as a Christ figure who brings God’s message to a Prophet, and also as an Apostle-Prime, who alone has experienced divinity, who is convinced that the miracles are being performed by The Children of Men. That men will become Gods one day, capable of miracles. Get it? The Bulk-beings, the 5-Dimensional Gods are nothing but the Children of Men, conceived immaculately through a Technology-Mary)

“Not yet,” Cooper says, “but one day. Not you and me but people, people who’ve evolved beyond the four dimensions we know.”

Traditionally, when you fall into a black hole, you should get pulled apart, instead the movie itself gets pulled apart by its seams. It was a plot necessity. Of course, our new understanding of singularities allow a slim chance of survival, but certainly not for the Nolan-esque climax. It’s a brave plunge, either way.



THE DREAMS

The real message of the movie might very well be to show how difficult it would be to find an inhabitable planet and get to it, even with plenty of miraculous deus ex machinas thrown in. And we still need to have an infinite source of energy — gravity itself — to have any shot at a humane solution (of transporting everyone instead of having to deal with the rough job of choosing WHO gets to go!)

In the move, it all ends in an optimistic note in COOPER STATION, but what of the Earth? Kip admits in the book that to “harness gravity” to get off the earth would probably require a complete destruction of the planet (through extreme compression).

If they had access to enormous energy, through “solving gravity”, then surely they could have fixed Earth instead? Given the choice between a beautiful Earth and an artificially recreated station (limited by man’s imagination, even if by the imagination of the most brilliant among us), where would you choose to live? What would you choose for your child? Even today, would you rather stay in a magnificently designed IT park imitation or actually go and visit the original? And what of the history, architecture and ecology we have to leave behind? I know what choice I will make. I might make a visit, but I would want come back to earth.

A Cut-And-Run Theme

As an article puts it:

At first glance, Interstellar does seem to have a green message, warning that climate change could make the world uninhabitable for humans (and, presumably, other species). Yet there's an odd twist. The tag line for the film is, "The end of the Earth will not be the end of us." And the lead scientist, played by Michael Caine (no longer Alfred the Butler), says at one point: "We are not meant to save the world. We are meant to leave it." In other words, if humans do trash the planet, don't worry, some super-smart folks will help us make a nice get-away somewhere else in this swell and expanding universe. Given that Grinspoon researches life and planetary development, I wondered what he thought of this cut-and-run theme.

Once we cut out all the fantasy elements, Interstellar has this dire projection for us:

1. We are ruining the planet

2. We need to look for options to save ourselves.

Now, I have no objection to Humans leaving the Planet. Best case might even be that Humans leave the Planet to save the Planet.

3. But, whatever solutions we want to imagine/implement, we need to do it before it is too late.

By the time it is too late for the planet, it is bound to be too late for our technology too.

Cut-And-Run is not a feasible option. Deus Ex Machina happens only in movies.

As I have repeated many times by now The Science of Interstellar is the least questionable aspect of the movie. Its core premise (the Future & The Dreams) is what is really questionable.

Interstellar operates from a premise that it is never too late as long we keep the flame of exploration and technology alive. It ignores the ethical dilemmas of leaving a planet and most of its inhabitants (including humans) to die. It also ignores the more present question of how to avert a cut-and-run scenario from ever manifesting itself. That is the real question in front of humanity today. By skipping ahead and showing us an imaginary solution to present day problems, Nolan is indulging in a sort of escapism.

Let us just deal with it:

The right dream to have might just be of saving the planet and thus ourselves, and not of leaving it.

The movie was good entertainment and the book does a wonderful job of backing it up scientifically. But having the right dream is important too, to direct Science, which is merely a tool.

Humanity was not meant to die on Earth.
Earth was not meant to die of Humanity either.


VERDICT: THE SCIENCE IS SOLID. THE FUTURE IS SHAKY. AND THE DREAM IS JUST PLAIN STUPID.

Arthur C. Clarke took us on a similar journey in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he asked us uncomfortable questions: Where are we headed? Are we ready to rely on Technology? What hidden dangers lurk in the Highway of Progress?

Nolan instead chooses to allay most of those uncomfortable questions and leaves us with a too simple an answer: Trust in technology, keep the spirit alive and everything will be fine.

I am not sure that is the right message for our times. It needs to be examined, and hence the review. I have done a shoddy job of it, but it is something.

All this is not to indulge in technology-bashing. Our scientific knowledge and our capacity for improvement are still our best bets to continuing survival. But “Solutionism” is not the answer.

This is how “Solutionism” is defined:
“‘Solutionism’ interprets issues as puzzles to which there is a solution, rather than problems to which there may be a response.”
~ Gilles Paquet

We should be optimistic, but only cautiously so. We should not ride headlong into a future we don’t want, expecting a miracle at the end of the lane to bail us out. We should respect science and trust in it, and expect it to not only be a miracle, but also a path-finder. Science should show us the way, it should show us the means to avoid the unwanted future. It should be a companion, not a god-of-last-resort, to which we turn only once we have ruined ourselves by ignoring it.

Let us use science to chart the best course. Let us respect what our scientists tell us instead of allowing our politicians and our run-away consumerist economy to take us to a cliff from which even Science cannot be expected to work a Miracle.

Even though the movie was supposed to be a powerful message about Man’s power, in the end it turns out to be about man’s desperate need for miracles, for easy answers. That is its failure.
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Reading Progress

November 14, 2014 – Started Reading
November 19, 2014 – Shelved
November 19, 2014 – Shelved as: sci-fi-lit
November 19, 2014 – Shelved as: science-gen
November 19, 2014 – Shelved as: books-about-books
November 19, 2014 – Shelved as: companions
November 19, 2014 – Shelved as: media-hyped
November 19, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 84 (84 new)


message 1: by Zadignose (last edited Nov 19, 2014 03:05AM) (new)

Zadignose I'll read more of this later, I promise.

To be a gadfly, I picked this out: "rigor and faithfulness to scientific principles..."

String theory itself doesn't even show a rigor and faithfulness to scientific principles!

All right, sorry, moving along...

By the way, awesome review... massive undertaking! Yowza.


Riku Sayuj Zadignose wrote: "I'll read more of this later, I promise.

To be a gadfly, I picked this out: "rigor and faithfulness to scientific principles..."

String theory itself doesn't even show a rigor and faithfulness to..."


I am no String Theory fan. But I am okay with Nolan sticking to a framework which at least some serious scientists consider to be a probable reality...

I know that this review would look like a massive waste-of-time... couldn't help it. Too much yammering on social media to block out.


message 3: by Zadignose (last edited Nov 19, 2014 03:19AM) (new)

Zadignose I am no String Theory fan. But I am okay with Nolan sticking to a framework which at least some serious scientists consider to be a probable reality...

Fair enough, and talking about science is always fun, and speculating about it too. But at the same time, once liberties are taken such as ignoring the size, scale, and number of dimensions in things, and adding in some mysterious higher beings to intervene on our behalf... it's not any more "scientific" than Cyrano traveling to the moon by tying bottles of dew to his body and waiting for them to naturally rise in the twilight of morning. Which, by the way, I don't object to at all.


Riku Sayuj Zadignose wrote: "I am no String Theory fan. But I am okay with Nolan sticking to a framework which at least some serious scientists consider to be a probable reality...

Fair enough, and talking about science is al..."


All science texts compress dimensions for illustration. Nolan has done the same thing. But there being only one dimension is not essential to the plot... I am okay with that, I think.

The Five dimensional beings and the bit about Love... those are not scientific, but at least the five-dimensional beings cant be ruled out. Though going strictly by the equations they would have to be quantum (planck-length) beings! And the part about Love -- it is just an explanation given by the humans, there is no guarantee that is what actually happened.

He has also reduced the number of black holes required for the movie, Technically it would have taken a few more black holes near Gargantua to be able to achieve the kind of velocity shifts they mange in the movie.


message 5: by Manny (new) - added it

Manny Indeed, indeed.

It is such a disappointing simplification of 2001's interestingly ambiguous message. Quite apart from the fact that it's just a vastly inferior movie at every level.


Riku Sayuj Manny wrote: "Indeed, indeed.

It is such a disappointing simplification of 2001's interestingly ambiguous message. Quite apart from the fact that it's just a vastly inferior movie at every level."


Nolan didn't have equally good source material to work with. :) Wonder what will happen once Ridley Scott is done with 3001: The Final Odyssey


Riku Sayuj If anyone is an expert in String-Theory minutiae, I would like to know if these two items can somehow be jelled with it and shown to derive from some exotic interpretation of it:

1. Why Rommily could not send info back to earth through the wormhole even though info could reach him (one-way flow, like a black-hole!)

2. Why Bulk beings cant directly interact with Brane beings. (I have a theory on this...)


Riku Sayuj Everything else in the movie fits.


message 9: by Calico (new)

Calico I loved Kubrik's 2001, which had absolutely nothing to do with outer space.


message 10: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Okay, so I didn't read your review. I just scrolled down and gasped. My Adam's apple is throbbing. Bravo!


message 11: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Calico wrote: "I loved Kubrik's 2001, which had absolutely nothing to do with outer space."

out-back you mean? :)


message 12: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Caroline wrote: "Okay, so I didn't read your review. I just scrolled down and gasped. My Adam's apple is throbbing. Bravo!"

I wanted it to be a one paragraph review. damn.


message 13: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King Sorry Riku, This is way out of my league. I'm a simple soul with simple tastes like eating, and reading books!


message 14: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Lynne wrote: "Sorry Riku, This is way out of my league. I'm a simple soul with simple tastes like eating, and reading books!"

No movies? :)


message 15: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King Well yes I do love movies!


message 16: by Ted (new)

Ted Riku, what a thoughtful review (of a book and movie which I know nothing about)!

I love the graphics, especially the "graph" of the fictional futures. (view spoiler)


message 17: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Ted wrote: "Riku, what a thoughtful review (of a book and movie which I know nothing about)!

I love the graphics, especially the "graph" of the fictional futures. [spoilers removed]"


What is your trick, Ted? How did you shield yourself from the marketing machine of Interstellar??


message 18: by Joshin (new)

Joshin John Riku - Let us assume that M-theory is right. How can we say for sure that the strings that define a human will retain the exact same properties (spin) when he/she moves from earth to a place where 1) gravitational field is several million times than our sun 2) Velocity is ~ c/2. What happens to a human if some strings oscillate differently (what if some Dirac Fermions - matter become Bosons - light?)


message 19: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Joshin wrote: "Riku - Let us assume that M-theory is right. How can we say for sure that the strings that define a human will retain the exact same properties (spin) when he/she moves from earth to a place where ..."

Unless the equations predict they will behave differently, it is not an issue, right? And they don't, as far as I know. They break down only when confronted by a singularity. As far as we know, even next to super massive black holes (like in the center of galaxies), matter still behaves the same way... am I correct?


message 20: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj M-theory doesn't have to be right, it only has to be within the realm of possibility... and it is still the most elegant framework we have. :)


message 21: by David (new)

David Cerruti Thanks for another jaw-dropping review, Riku.
I won’t be reading the book, but may see the movie.
The science section of the NY Times has a review of the movie, with comments on the science and the book: “But I wonder if a movie that requires a 324-page book to explicate it can be considered a totally successful work of art.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/18/sci...


message 22: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj David wrote: "Thanks for another jaw-dropping review, Riku.
I won’t be reading the book, but may see the movie.
The science section of the NY Times has a review of the movie, with comments on the science and the..."


Thanks! Glad to see a review by someone who has bothered to read the book (though it shows signs of a hasty reading -- Kip explains the ice clouds, he does not wince at them). The movie doesn't really need an explication, but its underlying science does, and Kip thought it was a good vehicle to carry his pet theories to a mass audience.

I do like that NYT's take is on the same overall lines as mine. :)


message 23: by Ted (new)

Ted Riku wrote: "Ted wrote: "Riku, what a thoughtful review (of a book and movie which I know nothing about)!

I love the graphics, especially the "graph" of the fictional futures. [spoilers removed]"

What is your..."


I think I have seen something about it. It did look somewhat interesting, but I go to the movies so infrequently that I wasn't moved to further exploration. I like reading movie reviews though! If the New Yorker has had one on this movie I think I missed it.


message 24: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Ted wrote: "Riku wrote: "Ted wrote: "Riku, what a thoughtful review (of a book and movie which I know nothing about)!

I love the graphics, especially the "graph" of the fictional futures. [spoilers removed]"
..."


I think this is the third movie I have gone to this year. All three were good, thought-provoking ones, so I am okay with Hollywood for the time being.

I too read movie reviews without watching the movies, but only of exceptionally bad movies. This site: http://mumbaiboss.com/tag/the-vigil-i...

Everything you need to know about Bollywood is there. :)


message 25: by Joshin (new)

Joshin John Riku - Or by counter logic, if one of the equations does not allow the strings that comprise a human to remain in the same state, we have an issue right? (a serious one?) :)


message 26: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Joshin wrote: "Riku - Or by counter logic, if one of the equations does not allow the strings that comprise a human to remain in the same state, we have an issue right? (a serious one?) :)"

But such an issue does not arise. It is pretty much established that our mathematics hold as long as we are not in a singularity. So we are safe. Otherwise what is to stop someone from speculating that at very low speeds too strings will start misbehaving? ;)


message 27: by Joshin (new)

Joshin John Just to pick up a trivial example, in a nuclear fission reactor, when energy is produced by collision of particles, strings change their spin. Is there a singularity on earth?


message 28: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Joshin wrote: "Just to pick up a trivial example, in a nuclear fission reactor, when energy is produced by collision of particles, strings change their spin. Is there a singularity on earth?"

The nature of matter does not change right? Why go to strings, electrons, atoms, all of them react to energy. But physical laws are maintained. At a singularity, the laws themselves break down. Again, the issue does not arise. You are not getting away with suggesting that Physics is fungible, Joshin!


message 29: by Joshin (new)

Joshin John Yes, the nature of matter do change. When fission happens,
1 neutron + U(235) -> Rb(89) + Ce(144) + 3 electrons + 3 neutrons, the total mass before reaction is 266.0021 atomic mass units while that after the reaction is 235.8007 atomic mass units. The difference is converted to energy which basically means that some fermions changed into bosons. Coming back to our point, strings in human body need not be inside event horizon to change its spin. We could just be vapor or electric charges or radiation or something very different from flesh and blood :)


message 30: by Joshin (new)

Joshin John 236.0021* not 266


message 31: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Re Cooper = Christ, I'd be interested in your thoughts about some of these issues:

(view spoiler)


message 32: by Zadignose (new)

Zadignose If a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump it's rump when it jump. (Grammar rules may be bent for effect).
-----------------------------------
I read the whole article, and I like the way you approached the themes and what is implied. (By the way, I'm learning about this movie from your review. Haven't seen it, haven't had it described to me in any detail, haven't seen a trailer.)

However, the conclusion you reach that is untenable is: "THE SCIENCE IS SOLID."

Well... only in the sense that science tells us nothing in this movie could possibly ever happen.

But that's the nature of science fiction, isn't it? It pretty much is an inversion of science, i.e. anti-science. It takes what we know scientifically, then asks "but what if...?" where the fundamental premise is a denial of what we know.

The Science of Interstellar is: THIS IS ABSURD AND UNFOUNDED SPECULATION. Actually, speculation is almost too generous word, since speculation can be read to imply possibility, rather than impossibility.

Let's start a scientific inquiry into this movie based only on what you supply in your review.

Step One: There are no wormholes.
....End of story.

--------------------------
Okay, wait, that's inconvenient. Let's take a little liberty and assume that first fact away:

Step One: There is a remote possibility that some far-out speculative sciency type people have put forward that a wormhole MAY exist.

Step Two: But even by these guy's estimation, a wormhole would be a phenomenon on a subatomic scale, not capable of transporting live humans, not really manipulable by ANY known science.

...End of Story.

--------------------------
Woops, that was inconvenient too... Hmmm... Okay, let's just pitch out what we know about the science behind our most fundamental premises... what if... what if... okay, I got it, let's just pretend there are wormholes and that they ARE capable of transporting entire populations, AND supernatural creatures we don't understand are going to help us by creating such a phenomenon and directing it to exactly the place where we need to be to continue our survival and....

NEXT STEP: That would still require an infinite power source, likely destroying the earth...

Oh, hell, there's science again!
------------------

As a counterpoint, Jack and the Beanstalk is far more scientifically valid. For instance, we know scientifically that beans, if planted in the soil, provided with water and sunlight, and enough time to grow, can produce full grown bean plants... it's almost magical! Just assume a minor change in size, proportion, amount of time needed, amount of soil and energy and water required for the process... well, it's physically possible to conceive a 30 kilometer tall beansprout growing overnight, and with the right formulas we can even show exactly how much energy, water, etcetera would be required... so, it's scientific if it can be modeled in math, right? (And thankfully, unlike the science of Interstellar, we don't have to factor in any infinite variables, or divide by zero, or do any other funky speculative mathematics to do it).

Now, we also know that gold actually does exist... and, assuming we don't really know where it comes from... well, it's got to come from somewhere... goose eggs seems plausible if not yet actually established in fact or demonstrated through experimentation. And giants... well sociology and philosophy combined will demonstrate that tall people tend to wield authority and power, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so if there were a race of mutated humanoids with overactive pituitaries, who evolved to the scale of dinosaurs, they would probably also be very greedy, corrupt, morally degenerate... etc.

In fact, we can speculate on pretty much anything. Calling it science, though, is something else entirely.


message 33: by Lilo (new)

Lilo Wow! What a review! -- Due to lack of time, I rarely read very long reviews. Yet I read this one. And I am impressed.

Unfortunately, the science (behind the movie, the book, and the review) is beyond my horizon. If I were younger, I'd try to catch up, but 75-year old brains balk at quantum physics and string theories. :-)


message 34: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Zadignose wrote: "If a frog had wings, it wouldn't bump it's rump when it jump. (Grammar rules may be bent for effect).
-----------------------------------
I read the whole article, and I like the way you approached..."


HAHA!

I have to admit it. I have taken a few liberties in my review too. But that said, most of the problems you point out (which, to be fair, I had highlighted), are in the Terra Almost Incognito territory. So the assumptions they have made, though outrageous by current conventions cannot be dismissed. To dismiss would be as unscientific as to accept. So we have to give the benefit of the doubt there.

When I say the science is solid, I mostly mean their commitment to providing a scientifically reasonable basis to their story is impressive, even though it is all based on a very narrow interpretation of an esoteric theory, which in turn had to be simplified so much that it cannot be called a theory anymore. All in the spirit of illustration. Every scientific textbook condenses dimensions for the same reason.

I like the Jack and the Beanstalk approach! The only difference is that we can say it is observable and hence non-observation can be grounds for dismissal. In this movie’s case, we are operating in the realm of the currently non-observable and hence still non-dismissible.

Thanks for the enthusiastic comment, I had a lot of laughs reading it.

But in the end the purpose of my review is not to defend the science, but to deflect the discussion of the movie away from science — towards the premises it operates under and questioning the answers it is so keen on pushing down our throats. Answers that are quite welcome for the majority, unfortunately.


message 35: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Joshin wrote: "Yes, the nature of matter do change. When fission happens,
1 neutron + U(235) -> Rb(89) + Ce(144) + 3 electrons + 3 neutrons, the total mass before reaction is 266.0021 atomic mass units while that..."


I don't understand. None of the things you describe violates any physical laws or constraints. Why should we worry about things misbehaving unless the laws/equations predict they will?


message 36: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Lilo wrote: "Wow! What a review! -- Due to lack of time, I rarely read very long reviews. Yet I read this one. And I am impressed.

Unfortunately, the science (behind the movie, the book, and the review) is bey..."


Thanks! Did you watch the movie, Lilo? In that case the review should suffice. :)


message 37: by Riku (last edited Nov 20, 2014 05:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Neil deGrasse Tyson twitted a series of nine "mysteries" about Nolan's Interstellar. He is happy about the overall scientific accuracy in the movie, but there are still some things the famous astrophysicist doesn't fully understand. Check them here (spoilers ahead):

1. If you can poke through a tesseract and touch books, why not just write a note & pass it through.
2. Stars vastly outnumber Black Holes. Why is the best Earthlike planet one that orbits a Black Hole
3. Who in the universe would ever know the titles of all their books, from behind, on an bookshelf.
4. How a pickup truck can drive with a flat tire among densely planted corn stalks taller than it.
5. If wormholes exist among our planets, then why can't one open up near Earth instead of Saturn.
6. Gotta tell you. Mars (right next door) looks waay safer than those new planets they travelled to.
7. If you crack your space helmet yet keep fighting, the Planet's air can't be all that bad for you.
8. Can't imagine a future where escaping Earth via wormhole is a better plan than just fixing Earth.
9. In this unreal future, they teach unscientific things in science class. Oh, wait. That is real.

8 -- that is the crux of my review :)


message 38: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj My Answers:

1. You can't poke through a tesseract. You can only interact at the intersection.
2. Black Hole was needed for the wormhole, so it is not the Best Earth Like Planet, It was only the best accessible Earth Like Planet.
3. He can look at the room from all angles from inside the tesseract.
4. How do they even have pickup trucks and gasoline? Pass.
5. It would cause anomalies great enough to disrupt life?
6. Mars is not habitable. One of those were. The Bulk Beings must have done the calculation. LOL
7. Yeah, what's up with that? Probably low CO2 content in the atmosphere. Wouldn't be toxic.
8. Never gonna happen. Fixing the Earth is always going to be the smartest move.
9. Yeah.


message 39: by Zadignose (new)

Zadignose Actually, number eight has been my default argument too for all escape-the-earth scenarios. Re: colonizing mars, for instance... how bout planting gardens in the middle of the Sahara desert? Sound hard? Damned right... but it's still wetter than Mars, has, you know... earth air... and it's here, not there. Even full on-nuclear war with nuclear winter, or post-comet collision scenario would probably leave an earth that's more habitable than Mars... and we're already here... and our plants are here... and... etc.


message 40: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Zadignose wrote: "Actually, number eight has been my default argument too for all escape-the-earth scenarios. Re: colonizing mars, for instance... how bout planting gardens in the middle of the Sahara desert? Sound ..."

I think I am going to save that for quoting. I agree entirely.


message 41: by Joshin (new)

Joshin John Let's take baby steps here Riku! Do you agree that matter can change its nature without needing a blackhole singularity?

I'll try to make a decent argument on the impossibility of some events in the movie - it would be too easy and in this context reasonable to argue that if the movie is possible then so is Alladin and the magic lamp! :)


message 42: by Riku (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Joshin wrote: "Let's take baby steps here Riku! Do you agree that matter can change its nature without needing a blackhole singularity?"

Not arbitrarily. And that is the point.


message 43: by Lilo (new)

Lilo Riku wrote: "Lilo wrote: "Wow! What a review! -- Due to lack of time, I rarely read very long reviews. Yet I read this one. And I am impressed.

Unfortunately, the science (behind the movie, the book, and the r..."


I'll try to get the movie from our library, today.


message 44: by Lilo (last edited Nov 20, 2014 11:13AM) (new)

Lilo Zadignose wrote: "Actually, number eight has been my default argument too for all escape-the-earth scenarios. Re: colonizing mars, for instance... how bout planting gardens in the middle of the Sahara desert? Sound ..."

Instead of planting the Sahara or booking on a space flight (I let someone younger have the seats), I think I'll stock up on food for us and our animals. Don't tell anyone, or we might also have to stock up on my husband's weapons arsenal. :-)

One good thing about getting old is that you don't have to worry so much about the future, at least, when you don't have any living descendants.


message 45: by Riku (last edited Nov 20, 2014 12:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Riku Sayuj Ian wrote: "Re Cooper = Christ, I'd be interested in your thoughts about some of these issues:

[spoilers removed]"


I missed this! Sorry. Caine should be more of a John the Baptist, no? in a pre-biblical role, of inducting Christ to the mysteries of the new Gods.

The Library is the portal. A proto-church/portal on which from from now on worship and access has to be modeled.

Rolling of the stone... yeah, could work. The point where he reveals himself as the Redeemer. But the Church of Murph chooses to ignore the real Christ. That was a twist!


message 46: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye Yeh. The end seemed to be an immaculate misconception!


message 47: by Calico (new)

Calico Ian

If there's a Biblical parallel, was it well executed? Manny's review was so condemning that I decided not to go, but you've a good eye for allegory.


message 48: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye It was pretty well executed...somewhere between a hanging and a crucifixion! I would definitely see any Christopher Nolan film, but I'd only rate this 3-4 stars. I didn't quite get everything that was going on, and Riku definitely seemed to get more out of the film than I did. (view spoiler)


message 49: by Calico (new)

Calico Thanks.


message 50: by rahul (new) - added it

rahul A big thank you, Riku.


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