Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Long View - Magical Thinking

One of the big reasons I hated AI, that stupid Spielberg movie about the kid robot, was because not once did anyone ever mention the fact that (cover your ears now) ROBOTS NEED A POWER SOURCE, MORON. Did little Aryan boy have to be plugged in? Did he have an atomic reactor in his chest? Did he absorb the rays of the sun like a Kryptonian? Heavens no! He just magically lived forever because he’s a robot. Which is how Hollywood takes the science out of science fiction, and people just line up to take money out of their wallets to buy it, because it buys into a prevailing myth we all share about life on earth. What myth is that, you ask? Silly rabbit -– the one filed under M for Magical Thinking.

I am the exception to everything. Magical Thinking takes many forms. Here’s one from the movie Manhattan Melodrama:

MYRNA LOY: Don’t you ever figure ahead further than 15 minutes?

CLARK GABLE: Aw, sure –- I already got bets on the World Series in October.

And here’s one from the play I’ve been working on since this time last year:

HAMLET: I made my peace with death when I was your age. It will come when it comes, and what comes after will not concern me. It will happen when it happens, and nothing I can do will either stop it or prevent it.

PHYLLIDA: I don’t believe that.

HAMLET: Of course you don’t –- you’re twenty-three. Death is what happens to other people. Not you -- you can kick Death’s ass. And every time you do, every time you take a stupid risk and walk away unharmed, you will believe you are immortal. And Death will smile and say, “Just wait, just wait. One day you too will melt into a grave, and be a soup for worms.”

Change? What change? That’s the core of any kind of magical thinking, the sword in the stone that we all yank out like it’s stuck in butter and not a rock, because the writing on the stone says WHOSOEVER PULLETH THE SWORD FROM THIS STONE IS RIGHTWISE POSITIVE THINGS WILL GO ON FOREVER LIKE THEY ARE NOW.

And we do. We all think magically about everything from our own lives (“I am the one who will beat this death thing; you wait!”) to the state of the world (“The USA will be the first country to ever last forever; you wait!”) to sports rivalries ("The Red Sox have always had the Angels' number in the playoffs!"), and it only works because we ignore either the obvious or an unpleasant truth (people always die; empires always fall; team players change from season to season).

So what obvious, unpleasant truths are we all ignoring at the moment? Here’s a big one, and it’s directly related to the logical error underlying the plot of AI (you can uncover your ears now):

The Internet runs on a non-renewable resource called electricity.

(You all went "Whoa!" just now, didn't you? Come on--admit it.)

And what does that mean? Think about it and come back for tomorrow's post, entitled Entropy, Class War, and the Death of Newspapers.

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