Before I go any further, I want to say this is not a review. I read quite a few reviews, but I noticed most of them focus primarily on the technology or the science or the acting/plot. The science is mind-blowing and the technology is something we can look at in awe, but for this blog entry, I will take a different approach & point out the 5 most interesting ideas/concepts in the movie as I saw it. I avoided spoilers for most part, but if you have not seen the movie yet and hate spoilers, do NOT read #3 on this list!
From Least Interesting to Most Interesting (from my perspective anyways!):
5. Blackhole Effects in Interstellar
General relativity is well-represented until the blackhole scene — as far as everything we know of blackholes (which is not very much). If you flew into a blackhole, first you would be stretched out like spaghetti. Nothing can escape a blackhole (except Hawking Radiation and certain other particles) so you have to conclude that normal matter in a large clump like a human-being would be violently shredded into pieces. Second, time would continually slow down & down forever as you get closer to the center of the blackhole and gravity becomes stronger than anything in the universe that we can imagine or create in a lab. Instead, we see the main character Cooper goes in instantly, and he comes out physically being perfectly fine with only a regular space-suit on & no scratches. Not even a hero of Hercules stature can come out without a single scratch! That was the thing that was out of reach of reality and made no sense to me. (just my criticism/rant).
A lot of viewers probably were baffled by what they saw once Cooper entered the blackhole. The term ‘blackhole’ is misleading as somebody with limited science knowledge may think that it is like falling into a hole in the ground, but it is simply a rip in spacetime continuum where the gravity is so powerful that we have no grasp of it. There is absolutely no way to know what the conditions are inside a black hole unless if you have an understanding of the physics – sadly, Einstein’s general relativity or quantum mechanics is not enough. It must be something related & more complex but yet undiscovered by humans. General relativity and our understanding of the universe breaks down completely at the singularity (center) of a blackhole. That means, I guess, you have to leave the plot for that scene simply to the imagination of the writers. From that view, they would have been fine taking any approach they wanted.
Visually, the approach they took was just mind-blowing, and I left the theater stumbling trying to wrap my mind around it. Scientifically, it made little sense but it also made a lot of sense at the same time. I was in awe thinking and reflecting on how little we know about the universe. It is hard to believe that even geniuses like Einstein, Newton, Hawking, Maxwell, Tesla were just smart enough to scratch the surface of physics of the universe. Imagine how smart the genius (or group of geniuses) that is able to successfully reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics will have to be! This is arguably the GREATEST problem that the world of physics faces today. Once we can reconcile this disconnect, the technology and the ideas that will come from that will be nothing like we can imagine today. I left the theater in awe thinking about this and the wonders of the universe yet to be understood.
4. Time Dilation
Just to quickly summarize, time dilation is where time is observed differently for different observers depending on 2 things: a) how fast you are traveling (farther you’re from speed of light, the faster the time moves for you.. closer you’re to speed of light, the slower time moves for you) and b) gravitational force (weaker the gravity around you, the faster the time moves for you.. stronger the gravity around you, the slower the time moves). More on it here: http://harshmode.com/time/
This entire concept is very well represented in Interstellar. I was subtly impressed that Hollywood did not get this wrong or completely exaggerated the effects (woohoo, they hired an actual physicist when writing the plot!). The science mixed with the imagination of the writers of the script did a great job of encapsulating the two into something that we humans can be inspired by.
Imagine if you were a mere human being in a space ship and able to travel through a wormhole to save your civilization from a certain death. When you return, almost everyone you knew are long gone, and everything has changed. Except you. You are the same age as when you left. Imagine that even your grandchildren are the same age as you, but you feel inspired to tell them about your world (their distant past). You know more than any history books can tell as your memories are fresh. You’re practically a time-traveler from the past! It was a very powerful scene at the end when Cooper meets his daughter Murph for the first time since he left on his journey. She was almost 3 times his age in a world much different from when he left just couple years before (from his perspective). Without the human touch and emotions, the scene would be pointless and would be just hanging there shrouded in awkwardness. The connections we build with friends & family are timeless, and as Brand says, “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space”. I thought that entire scene was encapsulated in that quote perfectly.
3. Time Paradox
The time paradox was well-done, but there is a reason why it is a paradox. A paradox as a whole is a flaw (either in our understanding or the logic itself) as it leads to an endless loop that cannot logically stop once you enter it.
*MAJOR SPOILER – SKIP THIS PART IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE*
First paradox that I have seen and read people talking about has to do with the future humans that put the wormhole in place (a review I read called it ‘bootstrap paradox’). How they knew that it would be Cooper entering it as the pilot or that they would hit complications that would force him to jump into the blackhole is problematic. Lets ignore that problem for now and instead focus on the paradox. If Cooper & his team had not saved humanity, how were there future humans to begin with? Without those future human’s help in creating and getting through the wormhole, Cooper and his team would have never gotten through to save humanity AT ALL! This becomes an endless loop. I have no idea how to overcome this paradox. This reminds me of a random joke I read (I forgot the exact wording): I am like a blind man trying to guide someone past a minefield with verbal directions. I feel like that right now.
Anyways, one good point I read on twitter is that maybe Cooper was wrong and “they” were not future humans but a completely different alien species looking out for humans. But then why the hell would they wait until humans were on brink of extinction to help us? And if they were so much advanced that they could surpass time & space, is this the best solution they have? WHAT?? Furthermore, why would they even care? It is like humans going out of their way to save an ant colony. Altruistically, it might make sense but logically, it makes no sense at all. Humans were the ones that screwed up with their own bad decisions that brought them to their knees so why would an alien species care what happens after we’re almost extinct but not earlier? Future humans might care as they would be us, but then we enter the paradox above with no way out.
There is another issue that could be considered paradoxical.. After falling into the blackhole, Cooper tries to communicate with his daughter Murph. He wanted Murph to make him not leave on the mission (through Morse code spelling out ‘STAY’). Now, here is one issue. If Murph had convinced him to stay then he NEVER would have left & therefore, she never would have received the message from her dad to make him stay. That would mean that he never would have been in the position to send her that message to begin with. So how could he have ever left if that were the case? That’s the obvious part, but that was not the case.
Now, if she had not convinced him to stay, then he would have still left (that was the case). That would mean that Cooper trying to tell his daughter to convince him to stay is useless as he would have left no matter what. The future humans or alien species knew Cooper would be the one to enter the blackhole so they knew everything as it would happen from the beginning to the end. That would mean they also knew that Cooper would be trying to convince his daughter to make him stay. So now that both in-fact happened (and happened at the same time to the 5-dimensional beings) and that they knew what the end result would be, does Cooper even have a free-will? Furthermore, what is the beginning and what is the end to those 5-dimensional beings if past/present/future can happen at the same time to them? Conventionally, if there must be a present then there must be a past, and if there is a past then there must also be a future. For the alien species or future humans, it would all be the same as they are 5-dimensional beings. That is somewhat paradoxical, but what do I know? I am like an ant trying to comprehend the world of a towering giant human.
*END OF SPOILER*
Interstellar does a good job building up these issues, but director Christopher Nolan refuses to answer what he foresaw happened. Even the movie stays FAR away from explaining any of it, which was a smart decision. People (including physicists and philosophers) have tried to explain how to overcome bootstrap paradox and many other spacetime paradoxes that we know of, but to not much success. I am sure a much more advanced alien species would laugh at us about how little we know as I am sure there are ways to overcome a lot of these ideas we call paradoxes through more complex logic that maybe current humans are not yet capable of. Maybe it will take a human species 1% smarter than us homo-sapiens to solve some of these paradoxes.
2. Breakdown of Humanity
Before talking about how this relates to Interstellar, I want to make an observation that is completely related to Interstellar. You will see.
I have noticed over the years that too many people think too small in terms of scale or too short in terms of time. Best example I can give concerns politicians. Many of them (if not majority) are concerned with their next term election, which might be 2-5 years away. Instead of thinking of long-term consequences, they are only concerned with tomorrow or next year. I fully understand that it is tough to foresee things 20-30 years down the road, and you can only make changes to an entire bureaucratic nation in short-term increments. That does not mean you focus only on one or the other. As for thinking small, politicians of this world are mainly concerned with the area they are assigned to run – this might be on city scale or state scale or country scale. Very few are concerned with the world at large or planet Earth so they make decisions that usually concerns local consequences while often ignoring what their decision might do outside the area they are running. (Of course, many politicians are not like this, but I believe majority are.)
I am going to put this into further perspective with another analogy. Imagine trying to jog down Times Square in New York City and looking down ahead only 2 feet ahead of you. While doing that, you put ear-plugs on, put your hands inside your pocket, keep your mouth shut, and run down the sidewalk as if only you are relevant. What would happen? You will not get very far without getting pummeled to the ground as you walk into somebody or slam into some obstacle in the way. The person who walks while looking forward and around while dodging all obstacles & taking into consideration the crowd/debris around that will have the greatest chance of running freely and successfully down the sidewalk.
Focus on the short-term only or small-scale only by the nations/people on Earth is why things get broke and close to shambles. I am afraid too many people’s concerns are small-scale or very short-sighted. This is the biggest issue that humanity must face head-on if our species is to exist altogether in 500 or 5000 or 5,000,000 years from now in this universe (this solar system, Milky Way Galaxy, or elsewhere).
We saw in Interstellar that over time the priority of the people shifted to not on the future but entirely on the present. Funds to scientific research & chasing curiosity shifted completely to agriculture. There was an indication in the movie (with the attack drone) that one of the things that led up to it was constant warfare between nations in the near past. NASA was no longer important as developing new technology was no longer on the agenda. Books were changed with their own history. The bearing on Tomorrow’s compass pointed wholly to today & today’s compass froze wholly on today. That led to the end of technological innovations and the end of a long string of thinkers, engineers, and scientists (except the ones we see working underground in hiding). Every country was looking out only for themselves and their own survival while ALL of humanity was on the brink of extinction. It brought humanity to its knees as everyone was only looking out for the next day and only themselves. This is the ultimate fear I have going forward as I sit here contemplating whether humanity will make it forward to the next century and next millennium and perhaps to the next million years. The only thing that can stop humanity is humanity itself.
1. The Human Spirit
Now with the depressing aspect in #2 out of the way, the most powerful idea in this movie concerns the power of the human spirit. Humans have overcome many obstacles since the very beginning. We have come up with many great ideas and innovated wonderful technologies to help with survival and ultimately becoming the masters of our destiny.
We have conjured up how to make a fire, how to do agriculture, and how to domesticate animals. We have setup great monuments, temples, churches, mosques, etc to honor those we consider most spiritually respected. We made the printing press, created computers, put up the Hubble telescope, came up with understanding of our universe with quantum physics & relativity. We had a Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Dalai Llamas, Mother Teresa, etc that were some of the greatest peace-makers. We had powerful military leaders like Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, etc that willed themselves for power. We can destroy things for personal pleasure just as much as we can build things up out of simple curiosity. We can scrape, we can fight, we can crawl, we can push ourselves to survive. At the foundation, the entire movie was based on this very simple notion and celebrated everything humanity stands for.
At the core, we are animals of instinct, intellectualism, and curiosity. We are explorers & pioneers, as Cooper expresses in Interstellar. If we can made it to today, I have my complete faith in humanity going forward. If we made it to today, we WILL make it to tomorrow if we simply have those willing to stand up for things like justice, righteousness, freedom, curiosity, thinking big, and whatever else they believe in.