The Real Alternative

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William Gibson’s influential “Neuromancer” – A thought-provoking review at Stuff Jeff Reads


Forget loving the alien… AI raises new questions about consciousness, the soul and love

Back in the 80s David Bowie’s song, “Loving the Alien” anticipated an idea which would become more mainstream with the proliferation of specialty TV and radio channels: Would it be possible for a human being to fall in love with an alien?

Today’s hot question again reflects pop culture and recent tech. Aliens are old hat. But computers, well, that’s a whole new vista. We’re seeing a lot more stories about the possibility of artificial intelligence possessing actual consciousness. And sci-fi movies and novels about human beings and machines falling in love are on the rise.

Whether or not AI really possesses consciousness is something we may never know. One could say that AI is just organized energy. And so are we. Therefore both have consciousness created by our respective degrees of energy organization.

Others, usually religious people, insist we have souls but machines do not. And the soul, they say, is the true center of consciousness. So soulless machines simply mimic consciousness.

But how do these religious believers know that God would not bestow souls on machines?

Can religious traditionalists be 100% sure?

Artificial Intelligence (John Cale album)

Artificial Intelligence (John Cale album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look into the human body, it really is an electro-chemical apparatus. Those nerve impulses scientists are always talking about, well, they are transmitted through electrical changes within the body.

So fear not. If you happen to be falling in love with your computer or talking car, you just might not be a social misfit compensating through imaginary love.  And even if we never know for sure, the future no doubt will see closer links among men, women, and machines.

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Could consciousness be uploaded?

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Star Wars a modern myth

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Donnie Darko – Review

So it took me a while to get around to watching this movie. I suppose the promo image for Donnie Darko was a bit of a turn off. Someone in a hoodie looking ominous with fire in the background. I imagined it was like Firestarter (which I haven’t seen… but you get the idea).

Image via Deviant Art

All I knew about Donnie was that it had something to do with alleged psychic abilities and time travel, and that it was a bit dark. Even the opening scenes are a bit dark (exposure-wise). This made me think I’d be suffering through the grainy bummer of old movie prints that aren’t remastered. But I persevered and after a few minutes was pleasantly surprised. In fact, Donnie kept growing on me, right up to the grand, freaked out finale.

Set in 1988 but filmed in 2001, this is an interesting time loop in itself. The past looking at the past. On the whole the retro fit is done well. Rounded CRT TVs. VHS tapes. That era. The only anachronism I might have detected is the Panasonic Ball Radio. I owned one of those, and that was the 1970s, not the late 80s. Oh well. I guess you could say the character who owns the radio gets it from her parents.

Donnie Darko (soundtrack)

Donnie Darko soundtrack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This film touches on several key issues without going overboard on any of them. Time travel, premonition, the idea of mental illness, bullying, racism, child pornography, the hypocrisy of some self-help gurus. All these provocative themes are wrapped up into a tight ball that steadily unravels as the film progresses.

The acting is pretty much fabulous throughout. I didn’t see any weak performances and lots of strong ones.

Rather than break it down (you can get that at more conventional sites), I suggest watching this film with as few preconceptions as possible. Wikipedia helps make sense of it. But I wouldn’t read that until after seeing this skirmish into darkness, light and emerging new ideas about space, time and alternate universes.

Sometimes mystery is good, and spelling it all out beforehand can detract from the magic.



Pixels – DVD Review

Official poster for Columbia Pictures’ film “Pixels” – Wikipedia

Last night I returned some library material to a branch that I don’t visit too often. Browsing the DVD section I saw a fresh copy of Pixels. I’d been curious about it, so checked it out.

I was drawn into the film fairly quickly. Being about 20 yrs in 1982, where the movie begins, it brought back a host of memories. Some good, some not so good.

Adam Sandler plays Sam Brenner, a “loser” working as a tech installer. His orange outfit even has the word “nerd” in the corporate logo. Sort of a cliche these days, one which I doubt actual tech installers would appreciate.

On the other hand, Sam takes on an attractive “snob” (Michelle Monaghan) who wouldn’t kiss him because of his lowly status. And he does it well. So the film is a bit more complicated than merely perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

What really grabbed me in this movie was its integration of early video games, 80s pop culture, and the idea of an ET invasion. If you extend your imagination a bit, I think this movie is pretty good. I laughed here and there. Yes, drifted a few times… but one can always hit the pause button and get a coffee or snack when that happens.

On the whole, I felt that Sandler and the supportive cast did a good job. I wouldn’t say “great” but again, it was the synthesis of old, new and the beyond that made the difference.

More or less panned on other web sites. I think this film was just a bit too clever for some learned “critics” whose minds are too regimented to appreciate a flick that doesn’t fit into the current sci-fi box.  True, it appears stupid and silly. One reviewer just called it “tediously bad.”¹ But something higher was going on. At least, it was for me.

Final word – Pleasantly surprised.



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Star Trek Memories – Thanks Spock!

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Michael Clark

Born in 1962, I was almost too young to really appreciate Star Trek by the time it had run its course from 1966-69. Seven years old, and Star Trek had been cancelled.

My first memories of watching Star Trek are in the basement on Saturdays. It might have been a black and white or maybe a fairly primitive color TV. I can’t remember. What I do remember, though, is that the picture was pretty snowy. So it could have been a Buffalo NY channel. Or possibly a Hamilton ON channel. A snowy picture wasn’t uncommon back in the 60s and early 70s—if a household didn’t have cable, that is.

Even though the picture was fuzzy, I was captivated by Trek‘s faraway ambiance. It was low tech, for sure. But very high on the imagination. And that’s what really counts in storytelling, sci-fi or otherwise.

A few years later, the show came back as daily reruns. My friends and I would watch Trek, almost like an after school congregation. Sometimes we’d watch two episodes a day. The reruns were that popular.

Star Trek – “City on the Edge of Forever” – via Wikipedia

One of my favorite childhood episodes took place on a planet similar to Nazi Germany. Another great episode saw Kirk being accused of witchcraft on a planet similar to Earth’s European Middle Ages. And then there was Trelane, that Renaissance spoilsport who played the harpsichord, mostly concerned with his own pleasure.

There are several other outstanding episodes. Some explore the notion of parallel universes. Others, the merging of fantasy and reality. And others, the pitfalls of gangland violence or hippie idealism. But my all-time favorite, “City on the Edge of Forever,” won a Hugo award.

In this episode, Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy (Bones) travel back in time through a doughnut shaped portal to America’s Dirty Thirties. Kirk falls in love with the beautiful and insightful Edith Keeler. Unfortunately, she dies at the end of the episode. So Kirk must return to the Enterprise, to his own time, and suppress his feelings in order to command the starship.

It was a brilliant episode about time travel. One of the first to blend metaphysics and human emotion.

English: Jolene Blalock in Cairo

Jolene Blalock in Cairo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for Leonard Nimoy, he was forever clever, funny and played the role of Spock perfectly. Jolene Blalock, who expertly portrayed the Vulcan T’Pol in Enterprise, once said that Nimoy was a hard act to follow.

Spock was groundbreaking because he was, perhaps, the first ET on TV with a full personality. As a self-proclaimed Vulcan, he was also half-human, a being who’d been taught as a boy to bury his emotions. That’s what Vulcans did. But the inner conflict was always lurking, just waiting to rise to the surface.

Despite his apparent rationalism, Spock would fall in love. He’d be reckless. He’d exhibit great valor. And when teased by Bones and Kirk, Spock would coolly rationalize his underlying emotionalism, in true Vulcan style.

Nimoy certainly was the man for the job. He played the innovative, complex character of Spock to a T. So Mr. Nimoy, thanks for the memories. And to you in the next life:


About the Author

Mike Clark earned his Ph.D in Religious Studies from the University of Ottawa. He’s an ardent supporter of dialogue and free-thinking. Not one to uncritically accept the latest politically correct, scientific, religious or trendy opinions, Mike wants to get at truth. But as a limited human being, he realizes he’ll probably always have to settle for (hopefully better and better) theories about truth.