Isolation Experiment: One Small Step to Mars?

After a long leave of absence Future Hope is finally up and running again along with a much needed face lift.

Last week a 520 day isolation experiment involving six “voyagers” concluded.  The six volunteers, including three Russians, two Europeans, and one Chinese researcher, began their experiment on June 3rd of 2010 and left their isolation on November 4th of 2011.  I have very mixed feelings about this experiment.  In many ways it is quite underwhelming that this is the biggest space news that we’ve had for a while and that it is not tied to any actual planned mission to Mars.

Also it is frustrating that there were no Americans involved in this experiment.  Can America slip even further behind in world space exploration?  I didn’t think so, but at this point it  looks like the future of space travel may lie in some combination of private interests and other governments with the US one member among many.  This may be a good model, but I only hope that the US stays a major player in the future of space exploration and doesn’t take a further back seat to Russia, Europe, and China.  No matter how you slice it humanity’s future ultimately lies in space and I hope that the United States keeps an important role in that future.

All of that being said, I do think that this experiment and others like it are important to do before a mission is planned and executed.  The astronauts only had about 550 cubic meters to live and work in, which replicated what actual astronauts would have traveling in between Earth and Mars and as a habitat on Mars..  In addition to space limitations they had to perform many experiments and tests, deal with limited food and water, and perhaps most difficult of all deal with isolation and unchanging routine for a year and a half.  Overall, I think the experiment was a success and an important, if small step, on our journey to the stars.

Follow this link to read an article and see a 15 minute video detailing their 520 days in isolation.


Suvudu Cage Match 2011

The Suvudu Cage Match for 2011 is well under way.  The cage match pits science fiction and fantasy characters from various works against each other winning or losing based on fan votes.

My favorites that still remain are Martin the Warrior, Jon Snow, Paul Atredes, Pug, and Vin.  Follow this link to see the current bracket of present and past matches.


Transcendence vs. Modification

I recently read an article on Wired that highlighted the growing trend of body hackers who perform self surgery to add modifications to their own bodies.  Some of these additions literally give the hackers new senses and abilities such as being able to control your digestion, see in different wavelengths of light, feel the shape of an electromagnetic field, or sense the direction of magnetic north.

The one big problem with these types of modifications is that no licensed doctor will perform them because they are seen as not being medically necessary.  This could open up a whole line of argument about what it means to call some procedures medically necessary and others not.

In any case, while I do not applaud the hackers disregard for their own safety I do recognize their drive and passion for pushing boundaries and exploring the new, which is a rare thing these days.  So while I am intrigued by the level of technology involved in these modifications and I think that in the future this will become more common and accepted by our larger culture.  I am also disturbed by the spiritual implications that these surgeries and their intended purpose bring up.

First off, by spiritual implications I do not mean to suggest that these types of body modifications or others such as putting ID chips in our hands are a sign of the end times.  While they may not on the whole be a healthy sign for our culture I don’t believe that they are a problem by themselves.  People have been modifying their bodies as long as there have been people.  I don’t believe that these types of modifications are inherently different than adding pacemakers or artificial limbs to our bodies.  While there may be many valid concerns of privacy, safety, and equity in this arena I do not believe that our souls are in danger if we modify our bodies.

That being said, I am troubled by the idea that modifying our bodies alone can somehow lead to transcending our humanity.  These body hackers are part of a growing “transhumanist” movement, and while I understand that they are transcending many of humanities’ past natural physical limits they are by no means changing what it means to be human.  No matter the body or the abilities of said body our human soul is above all what defines us as humans.  This is a lesson that we are still learning or perhaps are relearning in the 21st century.  We are not defined by our physical differences or modifications, but rather by our inherent value as human beings and as children of God.  Again while I am not against these types of modifications in principal, especially if they can be done safely, I do wish that people and our culture in general spent as much time and energy as we do on our physical selves on our spiritual selves as well.

You can read the full Wired Article here.


Reviewing the Legacy


Tron: Legacy is a fast paced special effects ride through a literal computer generated landscape.  The plot picks up about 27 years after the original Tron ended.  Kevin Flynn disappeared 7 years after his original adventure leaving his son Sam Flynn as an orphan.  Sam, now an adult, doesn’t have much that he cares about in his life and is little more than a rich prankster.  Out of the blue he is called to his father’s old video arcade by a mysterious page and is quickly trapped inside the computerized world that his father created.  There he participates in deadly games and must help to free his father from his runaway creation, Clu, who has become a virtual dictator on the grid.

The strongest points of Tron: Legacy are without a doubt the special effects and the music, which are consistent throughout the film.  The special effects sell themselves and are worth the price of admission alone.  While some may feel that they are too flashy and that it’s hard to see what’s going on I thought that they were crisp and clean and worked very well.  The soundtrack, performed by Daft Punk, also helps to set the scene and develops a transcendent atmosphere.

The character devleopment and the acting are also fairly strong.  Jeff Bridges’ rendition of Kevin Flynn and his alter ego Clu are distinct and create depth and emotion in the characters.  The dichotomy between Flynn and his created program Clu is the single best plot point of the movie and it is acted very well.  Clu was originally created by Flynn to help him create a perfect world, but the search for perfection eventually consumed him and he rebelled against his creator.  Flynn’s search for redemption for his sin of pride is a major theme of the movie.  The other main characters, the independent program Quorra and Flynn’s son Sam, are also both portrayed fairly well especially when you consider that the majority of their acting was done surrounded by green screens.

Where Tron: Legacy fails the most is in realizing its potential for a great plot.  Alan, Flynn’s friend and the creator of Tron, tells Sam: “He (Flynn) said he was about to change everything…science, medicene, religion.  He wouldn’t have left all that.”  The implication is that the digital world that Flynn created somehow has real world implications that will literally change how we see and live in the world.  This sounds very compelling, but it is not really supported throughout the movie.  There are occasional lines that point to religious or spiritual ideas, but they are not really followed up.  For instance, Flynn talks to his son Sam about the importance of doing nothing and waiting, and while he is not a complete hypocrite as his hand is forced, shortly after he says this he proceeds to do quite a lot.  The other big religious implication is the development of the Isos.  The Isos are independent programs that emerged or evolved inside Flynn’s world without Flynn’s direct guidance.  They are literally a new form of life.   This is truly an amazing idea, but unfortunately it is not explored and is little more than a throw away line to provide a back story.  What made the Isos so unique?  Where did they come from?  Unfortunately these questions are not answered, but the good thing about Tron: Legacy is that the action is quick and engaging and the audience doesn’t dwell on these questions for too long.

Despite its lack of a solid plot or any 3 dimensional ideas it is a fun movie and worth watching, especially in 3D.
2.5 out of 4 stars!

– Kevin

In the not so distant future…

A Review of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Published in 1993 this novel tells the story of a future in decline where hope is hard to come by and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened to a nearly impassable chasm.   Extrapolating from trends that she saw in the late ’80s and early ’90s Octavia Butler writes of a future where America, and the world at large, begins to slide backwards with too many people, too much corruption and not enough resources.  Amidst souring food, water, and service prices, exotic and dangerous drugs, and many other dangers young Lauren Olamina must struggle for survival against overwhelming odds.

The novel is told entirely from Lauren’s perspective as she writes entries in her journal.  The narrative begins in a gated community, which has become an island of relative stability in a sea of chaos and poverty.  From there Lauren’s story takes us on the road north to the rumored safety of Oregon.  The story covers 3 years following Lauren from age 14 all the way to 17, but in those 3 short years she is forced to grow up very quickly as she encounters the worst of human nature and searches for the ultimate limited resource, trust in a world of the vicious.

Overall, the story is very powerful and told in a strong and clear voice.  The characters are well drawn and deep, and the pace of the narrative makes for an engaging read.  I also really enjoyed the level of detail that Butler went into concerning the society and one very possible future that we may face in some form.  She also didn’t focus too strongly on the technology, but rather focused on the people and the circumstances that they encountered deepening their characters along with the impact of the story.

My only major qualm concerning the novel was the religion that the main character develops based on her own experience with the world.  The religion, called Earthseed in the book, is not so much a religion as it is a way of life.  It borrows from many religious traditions and philosophies, primarily Buddhism, Confucianism, and a little Greek philosophy.  It also shares some of the same language and discussion points as Tielhard de Chardin, a catholic monk who wrote about the end result of evolution, what he called the Omega Point, among many other topics.

The central belief/paradox of Earthseed is that God shapes us and we shape God.  In fact, in the Earthseed religion God literally is Change and vice-versa.  Unfortunately, in the novel these ideas are not supported by much other than the character’s disdain for traditional religions and her own experiences with the world.  Certainly an unstable foundation to build a new religion on.

While I see some appealing aspects to it, especially its focus on humanity and the spiritual nature of our journey to the stars, I believe that Earthseed ultimately fails as a complete religion because it lacks numerous aspects that I have found to be essential to my faith such as revelation, prayer, and a transcendent God just to name a few qualities.

Despite its lack of development in the novels the idea of Earthseed has taken root in the world and many societies and groups such as SolSeed have taken its main principles as their own.  It also works well within the context of the novel as it is a new religion for a people who are struggling to recreate themselves in an old and failing world.

Unfortunately in this case, getting rid of Christianity while shedding the trappings of a consumerist society is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.  What we will need in the future is not a new religion divorced from the past, but rather an ancient religion rooted in the past, looking to the future, and living in the present.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book.  It is thought provoking, powerful, and above all enjoyable to read.  In my opinion, this is one of Butler’s best works second only to her Patterner series of novels.  Enjoy!


Kevin’s Top 50 Sci-fi Movies

Despite the biased nature of this list I tried to primarily include groundbreaking films that changed the industry and had a strong moral or thought provoking point.

15. The Fifth Element, 1997 (PG-13):  Space Opera with an actual opera scene in space.  The fifth element is love, which shines in the night and pushes back the darkness.  Overall, it was a fun look at the future.

Priest Vito Cornelius: “Because it is evil, absolutely evil.”
President Lindberg: “One more reason to shoot first.”
Priest Vito Cornelius: “Evil begets evil, Mr. President. Shooting will only make it stronger.”

14. Bicentennial Man, 1999 (PG):  A fascinating movie that despite some pacing and scripting issues deeply explores what it means to be human and to become human.  Also based on an Asimov short story.

Andrew Martin: “In a sense I have. I am growing old, my body is deteriorating, and like all of you, will eventually cease to function. As a robot, I could have lived forever. But I tell you all today, I would rather die a man, than live for all eternity a machine.”

President Marjorie Bota: “Why do you want this?”

Andrew Martin: “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but, the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”

13. The Abyss, 1989 (PG-13):  A film with everything.  Complex characters, special effects, and exploration of the final frontier: the oceans.  At first it seems like it’s a run of the mill action/disaster movie, but it quickly gets much deeper in more ways than one.  Lessons learned: nitrogen bubbles in your blood can make you crazy, and deep water oil drilling is dangerous…too late.

Lindsey Brigman: So, raise your hand if you thought that was a Russian water tentacle.

12. Alien, 1979 (R):  A true classic of both horror and sci-fi.  It explores our deepest fears  about the unknown both within (literally) and without.  It also contains many classic scenes and characters and in my opinion this movie holds up and is one of the least dated of almost any other movie from this time period.  “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Ripley: “Ash, that transmission… Mother’s deciphered part of it. It doesn’t look like an S.O.S.”
Ash: “What is it, then?”
Ripley: “Well, I… it looks like a warning. I’m gonna go out after them.”
Ash: “What’s the point? I mean by the, the time it takes to get there, you’ll… they’ll know if it’s a warning or not, yes?”

11. The Empire Strikes Back, 1980 (PG): Far and above the best of the Star Wars movies.  This has it all from romance to lightsaber duals.  I still remember the moment where Darth Vader reveals the nature of his relationship to Luke.  What sets this movie far and above the rest of the saga is really the depth of the story and the character development that all of the characters go through.

Yoda: “Stopped they must be; on this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now – if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did – you will become an agent of evil.”

10. Children of Men, 2006 (R): A more recent movie that explores an apocalyptic future where hope takes the form of a baby, the first baby to be conceived in over 18 years.

Theodore Faron: “I can’t really remember when I last had any hope, and I certainly can’t remember when anyone else did either. Because really, since women stopped being able to have babies, what’s left to hope for?”

9. Pandorum, 2009 (R): An amazing exploration of the depths of space and the depths of the human soul.  It also takes an interesting look at what happens when man plays god.

Payton: “I can’t remember any of my life before this flight began.”

8. The Fountain, 2006 (R): Directed by Darren Aronofsky The Fountain explores life, death, and rebirth in three different time periods.  Throughout the narrative it jumps from a Spanish conquistador in 1500, to a scientist in 2000, to an astronaut in 2500 all exploring the purpose of life and death.  The cinematography is also beautiful and breathtaking along with the story.

Tom Creo: “Death is a disease, it’s like any other. And there’s a cure. A cure – and I will find it.”

7. Akira, 1987 (R): An animated film about a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where the government is developing psychic children to be used as weapons.  Some of the children are immensely powerful and quickly escape the bounds of their program wrecking havoc in the city.  Akira also largely brought Japanese anime to the US in the ’90s.

Kiyoko: “The future is not a straight line. It is filled with many crossroads. There must be a future that we can choose for ourselves.”

6. Primer, 2004 (PG-13): A scientifically sound and very complex movie that was released in only a few theaters but is definitely one to catch on DVD.  It involves two part time inventors who invent a time machine that allows them to travel back in time six hours repeating a part of each day.

Aaron: “You got anything to eat? I haven’t eaten anything since later this afternoon.”

5. Forbidden Planet, 1956: The oldest on my list and a true classic.  Based partly on Shakespeare’s The Tempest this groundbreaking film takes place on an alien world with Robby the robot, a human crew in a flying saucer, and a real monster from the Id.

Commander John J. Adams: Alta, about a million years from now the human race will have crawled up to where the Krell stood in their great moment of triumph and tragedy. And your father’s name will shine again like a beacon in the galaxy. It’s true, it will remind us that we are, after all, not God.

4. Gattaca, 1997 (PG-13): A man classified as flawed due to his genetic makeup fights the system and tries to make more of himself than people expect from him.  There is no gene for the human spirit.

Vincent: You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.

Vincent: For someone who was never meant for this world, I must confess I’m suddenly having a hard time leaving it. Of course, they say every atom in our bodies was once part of a star. Maybe I’m not leaving… maybe I’m going home.

3. Blade Runner, 1982 (R): Deckard, a blade runner, must hunt down 6 violent replicants (androids) in this thought provoking sci-fi thriller loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story and directed by Ridley Scott.  Blade Runner was truly groundbreaking combining cyberpunk with film noir and many other influences.  Besides its significance to the genre and to the history of film in general it is also a great movie in its own right exploring artificial life and the nature of what it means to be human.

Deckard: “She doesn’t know.”
Tyrell: “She’s beginning to suspect, I think.”
Deckard: “Suspect? How can it not know what it is?”

2. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (G): Mankind finds a mysterious, obviously artificial, artifact buried on the moon and, with the intelligent computer HAL, sets off on a quest to find their destiny.

Dave Bowman: “Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”
HAL: “Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”
Dave Bowman: “Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
HAL: “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Dave Bowman: “What’s the problem?”
HAL: “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”

1. The Matrix, 1999 (R): I still remember the shock when I realized what the Matrix truly was.  This movie has great action, writing, and special effects and it delves into many deep ideas touching on many aspects of our lives.  In many ways the essential question of the matrix is the question that we must answer every day:  Do we take the blue pill and stay in a false world, or do we take the red pill and see just how deep the rabbit hole goes?

Morpheus: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo:”What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”