19/08/2016

2001: A Space Odyssey - Something From Something From Something From Something From...

Thoughts On: 2001: A Space Odyssey


I've covered this film before, but as it's such an expansive artistic labyrinth of themes and ideas, I've decided to cover it again, this time in long form, and with chance provided by the Receptacle Series.


The fundamental philosophy of 2001 is found in the singular image of the monolith.




In fact, it's the monolith that represents the most crushing existential question anyone can ask themselves. Where does this all come from? The answer for billions of people and for thousands of years has been, God, in many shapes, forms and interpretations. It's God that gave life, God that decides, God that is in control, that at least set this all up. The most obvious question we've all then asked is, if God created us, who created God? This is a question that has plagued many philosophical minds, with answers sometimes in referral to absolute power, infinite existence, essence and many other abstract thoughts. Another answer to the question, where does it all come from?, is scientific, is usually the big bang. About 13.7 billion years ago, something happened which led to our universe exploding from a point infinitely small and infinitely dense. As anyone who's sat in a science class could tell you, something doesn't come from nothing, energy and matter are not destroyed nor created - never completely. They simply change forms. So, like with the idea of God, we can turn to the big bang with many questions, like: where did it come from? What caused it? What was there beforehand? Answers to such questions are abstract, and for me, almost impossible to comprehend. The hardest concept for me (as I presume is the same with many people) to actually see and come to terms with is the concept of there actually being nothing before the big bang. The implication of this is that with the big bang came the birth of space and time. That means there is no where and no when for us to question when it comes to the precursing environment to the big bang. In sometimes accompanying addition to this idea comes other explanations to 'the before' of the big bang. Other explanations pertain to our universe expanding and contracting infinitely, meaning that the big bang was just the point of a new beginning for our universe. What came before the big bang would then be this universe, in a different form, milliseconds from collapsing in on itself. Another explanation to what came before the big bang comes with a multiverse theory. In this theory, universes are born in an interuniversal space, maybe from other universes, maybe from their deaths, maybe from contact amongst blobs of universes. What would trouble anyone with the concept of energy conservation at hand, of something not being able to come from nothing, would then be their capacity to ask: what if you zoom out? The exact same question may be asked with the theory of God, of multiverses and of our own universe expanding and contracting.

What if you zoom out? has us all squeezing our heads, wanting to cry, just hopelessly having to accept that we live in a reality tantamount to the 'chicken and egg' metaphor. This reality seems to infinitely perpetuate with Gods creating Gods, with universes being inside universes, multiverses within multiverses. There is never an end, nor is there a start. This is then ultimately troubling because, to quote my favourite band, "Stay. You don't always know where you stand until you know that you won't run away". It's stood still in ambiguity, in the dark, in perpetuity, that humans fidget, get scared, want to run away. Without knowing where it all starts on a cosmic, theological, universal, multi-universal, level we don't know our place in this world, in time, in the vast breadths of reality. This is why questions of our origin and end haunt us, this is why answers are so eagerly sought out, the truth that we simply don't know so often looked past, so hard to swallow. Kubrick offers no solace to this existential plight with 2001. Instead, it's the monolith, that is implied to have given us a step up in the evolutionary ladder, that almost mirrors theories of a God or the big bang. The monolith with its basic shape, lack of colour, simple looming presence, is what perfectly represents our question of: where does it all come from? The monolith, as presented by Kubrick, may have given us our last huge evolutionary jump, just as it may have provided all those ahead of us and all those before. The monolith may have been responsible for the jump from basic life to complex life, from no life to simple life, from there being nothing in this universe to there being something. It's with Kubrick's monolith though that we still have the What if you zoom out? paradox. But, it's with the rest of his narrative that he makes clear why this existential plight is fruitless, why our origins, our ends and all that perpetuates toward and away from them, are inevitably irrelevant to us, ourselves, as singular brains, minds, selves.

His point comes both with the design of the monolith and the paradigm of characters' behaviours. The monolith being a basic oblong is an extension of the stargate sequence...


This is visual poetry. And what it's saying is WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU... Kubrick has no other way to show the journey Bowman takes. Just like he throws a dazzling display at us here, he shows us simple mundanity with the monolith because it represents incomprehensibility. It's recognising this that we can see the leading force of this film to be the confines of human perception. And it's with that theme that we must then look at the characters of 2001. We start with the intro where we are given Moon-Watcher (the monkey thing), later our other key characters become Heywood (the chairman guy who gives a speech) Bowman (the main astronaut) and of course Hal 9000. What connects and separates these three characters is simply the fact that they are consciously alive. With life they are given the drive to continue living. Moon-Watcher doesn't want to be eaten by predators, Heywood wants to protect and find the monoliths, as does Bowman and as does Hal. What's then clear is that the main bulk of 2001 is a race towards that next big evolutionary step as given by the metaphorical monolith. The monolith, as mentioned, is almost God. It's a force that gives something where there was not much before. Kubrick's use of the monolith is then a very reductive view of the world, and it mimics us and our What if you zoom out? because there is the essential requirement of reason, of an image that explains it all. This is so crucially important as it mirrors the drives shown by characters. They want to survive, they want more. All characters understand there is something attainable that will change the state of their existence and, without any other reason beyond curiosity, maybe fear, they want it. It's often what we refer to as the human condition that explains this contradiction. We want goals, material representations of our time and efforts, when the physical truth of reality is that there is no better, there is no worse, only a transference of energy and matter. Having more money, knowing the truth, where this all comes from, isn't going to do anything to the world, only make you feel better about it (on the largest, truest scales). It's then perception that has us race, want more, that gives us the stargate sequence. What Kubrick's ultimate message here comes down to is a universal disconnect between us and the cosmos.

I touch on this point quite often with the blog, but, without emotions, without conscientiousness, the world would be a much better place to look at, it'd be easier and nobody would be worrying, and all because we fundamentally wouldn't be seeing the world, we wouldn't be interpreting energy, matter and happenings with emotions. The disconnect between ourselves and the universe is then in us, is in our emotions. Why, if we are the product of a bigger picture, would we be created to view it without answers, without the means of being ultimately satisfied? This question is often materialised with a question of God. Why, if God exists, if God created us, wanted us to be, if maybe God loves us, would he have us suffer? I don't think this is a practical question though, nor one we should be asking. Fundamentally, this is a rhetorical question. It asks: why do you believe in this guy if he's such a dick? However, this could be a question asked without ulterior motive. And when you face this question head on you can conjure up answers such as a universal correctness, maybe karma, you may even say that God doesn't in fact love us, or maybe that he's testing us all. I still say this is a question we should ignore. Why? It puts us at the centre of the universe and demands an emotional reading of a reality operating on levels completely different to ourselves on a psychological and emotional basis (if we can assume the universe and reality has either of those basis). Instead, I revert back to the similar, but much more objective take on this question pertaining to disconnect. If you look at certain physical laws around diffusion, osmosis and thermodynamics, you can see the universe wants equilibrium. It wants to spread its energy throughout itself equally and kind of snuff itself out with inert serenity. How do we fit into this paradigm? We have a perception that doesn't align with the universal flow towards serenity. We seem to be a stick in the works with our emotions and disconnect. The only reasoning behind why we then exist may be that we either serve as a way to contaminate the mix of the universe to stop it evening out, or that we are here to speed the progression towards nothingness up. Maybe we're a product of life becoming more and more complex, to the point of understanding the universe enough to give it that kick in the black hole and end it all. On the other hand, maybe that kick in the black hole could allow the universe to start again, or live on? It would then makes sense that if the universe and all its laws are in us that it too wants to live forever. Maybe we are part of an evolutionary line towards the universe being restarted, living perpetually. Maybe the universe is internally trying to hack a system of detriment and a slow death?

It's with this view of the universe that introspection is the only way to understand reality. It's us then assuming we want to live forever, and so the universe must also want this, that gives us our place in the big picture. We are a tool of perpetuity. We are a means to prolonging an end. It's the monolith in 2001 that then represents an intrinsic connection between us and the universe. The monolith is our drive towards living forever meeting the universe's. There's a race between us and A.I (Hal) because there is a sorting process of the universe working out who is the best candidate to evolve towards something that could save the universe's life, to continue its existence on forever. Whilst I think this is the key concept of the movie, and a great way to interpret many of the questions raised so far, we still have the question of what came before all this, and what if you zoom out?

Well, the answer comes right back to perception. It does not matter if there is something beyond the big bang, beyond our universe, beyond God or the multiverse. It doesn't matter because there is a seed within us all that is selfish. That seed does not care about above and beyonds, not truly, it's only concerned with infinite directions away from itself in relation to itself. It only wants to survive. This idea is closely linked to those captured by Un Chien Andalou, and is all to do with the journey. We only fear or are curious of beginnings and ends because we are so in love with the road underneath our feet. We, to varying degrees, all want to live, and maybe forever. If this wasn't true, we'd all kill ourselves without hopes of a heaven, of something better. Because there is a drive within us that wants to simply live on, we can care only about our own worlds, about the things close to us and the things we can effect. If we were given the means of  understanding everything that is, what would be the point of existing? Ultimately, you wouldn't see one, and so everything would become nothing. Everything would become inert. A being that fully understood reality would understand so thoroughly what all that was around it was that it'd become numb to it. And, in terms of perception, reality would evaporate. Something would become nothing to a being that could perceive utmost truth. For that nothing, for that meaningless to become something, you'd have to want to see it as such. The way in which this seems to happen is that within your perception is planted a seed, a promise that there is something more worth waiting around to see - some kind of meaning. This drive is life, is why we perceive, why a plant photosynthesises, why a bear catches fish, why a mosquito reproduces, why the universe maybe wants to live on forever - and it's a lie, a ruse. Despite this, it's irrational to want to understand all that is, because, perceptually, we would see everything turn to nothing, we would lose consciousness just like memories fade, the feeling of the clothes on your body dissipates, the rancid smell of your room simply goes away. It's for this exact reasoning that there is the stargate sequence. You don't want to know what all the answers look like. That's just a trick your mind is playing on you to keep you interested in reality, to keep you living, to keep something from falling into nothing. Why? Well, why not? Maybe not all matter gets to perceive reality consciously, maybe we live in a mathematic playground of nothing and something. Some of us get nothing. Some of us get something. Maybe there are varying shades of this something. Nonetheless, ask yourself, would you want to give up your something? Your answer is either, yes. Or, your answer is no because you are curious, and built to want something else even if that something is what you perceive to be nothing - and all for a reprieve.

In the end, you better hope that something comes from something comes from something comes from something... God created God created God created God... a big bang followed a big crunch followed a big bang followed a big crunch followed a big bang... that when presented with a universal zoom button you can forever scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll... because whenever you reach the end, the program shuts down, your eyes close, darkness becomes epitome, something becomes a tree fallen in a pitch forest of nothing.

So, maybe to keep the ground under your feet and truth from destroying everything, please find out why 2001 is apart of the Receptacle Series by reading...


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