Clash of the Titans: A Movie Review
(Actually, more of a meditation)
by John Lobell
Ok, a mish mash of plots and stories, quarrels and backstabbing among the Greek gods (no Titans, despite the title), confused story lines, and lame dialogue. So, should we just appreciate the great special effects (love that Pegasus) and dismiss the rest?
Maybe not. There is an idea here, nothing less than the human attempt to overthrow the gods. Pretty profound, if taken seriously. Of course it is mixed in with one of these Father (Zeus) and Son (Perseus) things that have been big in movies since Star Wars, but let’s stick with overthrowing the gods. We might think first of Nietzsche’s “God is dead,” but he is more observing than advocating. Or Faust’s embrace of reason and science, but Faust never had a chance; the game was rigged against him from the beginning. Or Roberto Calasso beautiful <<The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony>> which ends with the demise of the gods. So it is not a new idea.
One might say that in our secular world, we have already overthrown the gods, but perhaps we have only changed their names. How else might we explain those who profess no god, but speak like Old Testament profits in their demands that we halt the quest for scientific and technological knowledge? There are numerous examples, but one might point to Jeremy Rifkin. He has become a major policy advisor based on books such as his 1977 <<Who Should Play God? The Artificial Creation of Life and What it Means for the Future of the Human,>> which seeks to stop genetics research, missing the genetic manipulation that doubled the world’s food supply, and his 1980, << Entropy: A New World View,>> that argued that technological progress was over, that we would now encounter more diminishing returns than progress. Oops, missed the computer and Internet revolutions. Ok, on to global warming.
At which point we realized that all this is not just a matter of scientific debate, but also religion. Those who profess no religion cannot get on without one, and so have adopted dire warnings as the current incarnation of their god, and for themselves, the roles of Old Testament profits, disguised by skipping the beards.
Now some disclosure. I have been hanging around people doing genetic research to find the cause of aging to be able to turn it off. Think practical immortality. So I am with Perseus. We will indeed overthrow the gods, take over the universe and improve it. We can now write in DNA code creating new life as easily as we can write in English or C++. We will download ourselves onto backup drives. We will surround our sun with a Dyson sphere, and eventually move to the center of our galaxy to create a controlled chain reaction of supernovas to generate the energy for serious computational activity.
Seth Lloyd, a leading quantum computing scientist, has written a book called <<Programming the Universe,>> sub titled, <<A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes On the Cosmos.>> I guess he couldn’t decide if it is the universe or the cosmos he was taking on – as someone seeped in mythology I would suggest he stick to the universe, but it’s brazen either way.
Just as brazenly, the futurist Ray Kurzweil writes:
<<The explosive nature of exponential growth means it may only take a quarter of a millennium to go from sending messages on horseback to saturating the matter and energy in our solar system with sublimely intelligent processes. The ongoing expansion of our future superintelligence will then require moving out into the rest of the universe, where we may engineer new universes.>>
Kurzweil is not speaking metaphorically. He has carefully mapped technological growth over the past hundred years, and he closely monitors technological developments. He is predicting a merging of human and machine intelligence. He is predicting the continued acceleration of technological growth to the point where intelligence, human and machine combined, encompasses the earth, then the solar system, and then the galaxy, then the universe.
Arrogant? Of course. At the turn of the twentieth century, the architect Daniel Burnham wrote:
<<Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.>>
I say, Go for it.