• Life doesn’t find a way: the most memorable but completely senseless sci-fi movie lines

    Talented screenplay writers  have helped craft the most beloved films. This is usually thanks to richly drawn characters you can’t help but care about and suspenseful plot arcs where they struggle toward some goal. Science fiction writers add fictional elements that heighten or sharpen the drama. This is much riskier, more difficult to do well, because they tread into non-fictional territory of philosophy, science, and psychology that they are not experts in. So it is, we get pithy, emotive dialog delivered by brilliant actors that plays well to the audience, even though it makes no sense at all.goldbluming

    By the way, I am not saying these lines are bad for the reason they do not mesh with our reality, but because they do not mesh with that of their own movie universe (though, they tend to mesh with neither).

    Life finds a way | Jurassic Park

    Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way. [Quote from the book by Michael Crichton]

    No, Dr. Malcolm, it usually doesn’t. One might argue this quote is defensible in the larger sense of the adaptive tenacity of living things; I don’t think that it is, but regardless, Malcolm’s character is speaking directly to the current situation. He is saying the JP scientists won’t be able to maintain control of their dinosaurs in spite of their efforts to genetically sterilize them. It is little more than the well-worn “you’re playing God!” trope, and it is absurd on its face. Here’s a short list of reasons why.

    1. If those creatures were so good at “finding a way” they would not have been absent 65 million years waiting for meddling humans to resurrect them.

    2. The K-T extinction, one of several mass extinction events, exterminated 75% of all species on Earth.

    3. Humans are fantastic at controlling or annihilating other species. For example, most of the large mammals that populated Europe and North America (Mastodons, and the like) are thought to have been killed off by humans. Wild populations of many animals such as fish and deer, are artificially managed with hunting/fishing permits and policies.

    4. In the time the book and film were produced, man-caused extinctions were common and rapidly accelerating. Attempts to save species, not to contain or limit their reproduction, is what proved to be challenging.

    Humans are like a virus | The Matrix

    I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

    More than other entries on this list, this is something people often believe to be true, even though every word of it is wrong and uncomprehending. Let’s break it down.

    Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not.

    This is something biologists believed in the mid-twentieth century. Zoologist V. C. Wynne-Edwards formalized this idea that animals will instinctively predate less for the good of the group, now sometimes called naive group selectionism. It was debunked by George Williams and others soon after. It’s simply untrue. If they can, mammal predators can, will, and have hunted their prey to extinction before perishing themselves. We often see predators and prey at relative equilibrium, but it should be obvious why: the ones that don’t achieve equilibrium both go extinct and aren’t around for us to see.

    You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area.

    Yes, because humans have not survived in one area for very long… unless you consider tens or hundreds of thousands of years to be long. Societies from urban cities to small-scale tribes live quite sustainably, and have for thousands of years. We do tend to spread and are better at it than most species (I’d say insects and bacteria are far superior), but every species spreads if it can.

    There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.

    A virus is, technically, not an organism. It is entirely unable to spread itself. Viruses don’t have motility, they can only hitchhike. They also don’t need to spread to “survive”. They can apparently remain in stasis and wait. Or they can become endogenous, a part of the host genome; or they can become mutualistic, like the bacteriophages that infect bacteria that in turn aim to infect animals.

    You’re a plague and we are the cure.

    Er, what? The machines depend on the humans for their own survival (albeit for nonsensical reasons). And how are the machines different? What species do they co-exist peacefully with? Looks like none. Even after they clearly won the upper hand and are basically in charge of the planet, they still seek total domination or eradication of humans. Like a virus might.

    The main idea of humans being especially selfish and destructive agents among the species can only be called spectacularly ignorant. Humans, for all the faults, mistakes, and selfishness, seem to be the species that brought true senses of justice, foresight, and respect for life for its own sake to planet Earth for the first time. Bacteria, wolves, and chimpanzees will gladly destroy their own ecologies, their own prey. They won’t think of the long-term consequences, they won’t shed a tear. They just don’t have those abilities. So far as we know, humans (or at least, hominins) are the first to be able to do that. The first to care about whether a species lives, for the sheer sake of its right to live. We’re the first to genuinely care about sustainability and modify our behavior as a result.

    Agent Smith wasn’t just wrong, he was 180 degrees totally-backward as wrong as he could possibly have been.

    Anger leads to the dark side | Star Wars

    A majority of Yoda’s bits of advice and wisdom turn out to be wrong, even if we ignore the prequels, which reduced Yoda to a befuddled, incompetent Jedi cabinet member:

    If you end your training now — if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did — you will become an agent of evil.

    Nope. Luke left, but failed to become Vader II. Please don’t correct me by citing the books or extended universe. I am restricting comments here to the films.

    Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained.

    Apparently Yoda forgot that he signed off on training Anakin, and approved his promotion to Jedi Knight, causing the downfall of the Jedi Council. Maybe Yoda’s indignancy is overstated.

    A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.

    Say what? Luke wanted to join a military struggle against evil oppressors, an existential fight for freedom against tyranny; who considers that “adventure seeking”? Also, if he had focused on “where he was” he would have been a terrific farmer with no flight experience when he met Obi Wan. That would have made it real hard for him to blow up the Death Star a week later.

    Do or do not. There is no try.

    So… don’t ever practice anything? Don’t attempt anything you’re not 100% sure of success at? Great training advice.

    That is why you fail. (Reply to Luke’s “I don’t believe it”)

    Or, maybe the reason is Luke has had days of training, not years or decades, as Yoda and every Jedi Yoda has ever met had?

    One of the most central tenets of Jedi theosophy is among the starkest and wrongest bits, and is also among the most memorable quotations:

    Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

    Anger, fear, and aggression can be bad things that prompt people to regrettable, impulsive actions. But they are also very momentary emotions that fade quickly, and do not damn anyone to some inevitable fate. They are normal, healthy emotions everyone feels at times, no matter the goodness of their character. Indeed, they can often serve very positive ends, such as correcting an injustice or opposing aggressive invaders. Even in the Star Wars universe, Luke’s fear that his friends would be harmed and resulting anger allow him to defeat Vader, who subsequently kills the Emperor, ending the Empire’s reign of galactic tyranny.


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  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.