=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Monday, November 26, 2012

Bones 8.8: The Talking Remains

See also Bones 8.9 review: I Am a Camera

This could have been a review of The Walking Dead.  But it's a review, instead, of Bones 8.8.  And rather than up-in-your-face horror, this Bones is falling down funny, one of the funniest Bones in years.

Fisher remarks that "it's weird when the remains talk," and Bones is off and running with a master, secret, street artist who falls from the side of a building into a corpse, with the result that the corpse is literally stuck to his - Zed's - back.  This leads to all sorts of gags, including Zed saying he felt something move when Angela kisses him, when all he was referring to were bugs inside the corpse on his back, or maybe the corpse sliding off because of the peanut butter applied to remove it.  Yeah, it was that kind of Bones.

But why did Angela kiss Zed?  She admires his daring art, and this is what the show is really about - artistic talent, whether in art on the sides of buildings or in stand-up comedy on stage.

The victim - that is, the corpse - was a stand-up comic, if not quite a stand-up guy, and to solve the case we even get Booth up on stage tossing out a few gems, like talking about shooting an unarmed man whose arms had been shot off  (you had to see the delivery to fully appreciate the humor).   If you think this episode was in the toilet, you'd be right, because head bashed on toilet was the commodus operandi of the crime.

Ok, I'll stop now.  Because comedy is serious business - anything is, where money and careers are involved - and the victim was done in by someone who found with the comic's career-move no laughing matter.   And before the show is over we have Angela's artistic talent confirmed (and good to see the "Angelatron" in action), Fisher's dark comedic talent revealed, the poor Three Stooges put down as "psychopaths," and Booth and Bones riffing about a Steve Martin-like arrow in the head.  Another arrow in their Cupid's quiver, ever flying in Bones close to thanatos and libido.

See also Bones 8.1: Walk Like an Egyptian ... Bones 8.2 of Contention ... Bones 8.3: Not Rotting Behind a Desk  ... Bones 8.4: Slashing Tiger and Donald Trump ... Bones 8.5: Applesauce on Election Eve ... Bones 8.6: Election Day ... Bones 8.7: Dollops in the Sky with Diamonds

And see also Bones 7.1: Almost Home Sweet Home ... Bones 7.2: The New Kid and the Fluke ...Bones 7.3: Lance Bond and Prince Charmington ... Bones 7.4: The Tush on the Xerox ... Bones 7.5: Sexy Vehicle ... Bones 7.6: The Reassembler ... Bones 7.7: Baby! ... Bones 7.8: Parents ...Bones 7.9: Tabitha's Salon ... Bones 7.10: Mobile ... Bones 7.11: Truffles and Max ... Bones 7.12: The Corpse is Hanson ... Bones Season 7 Finale: Suspect Bones

And see also Bones 6.1: The Linchpin ... Bones 6.2: Hannah and her Prospects ... Bones 6.3 at the Jersey Shore, Yo, and Plymouth Rock ... Bones 6.4 Sans Hannah ... Bones 6.5: Shot and Pretty ... Bones 6.6: Accidental Relations ... Bones 6.7:  Newman and "Death by Chocolate" ...Bones 6.8: Melted Bones ... Bones 6.9: Adelbert Ames, Jr. ... Bones 6.10: Reflections ... Bones 6.11: The End and the Beginning of a Mystery ... Bones 6.12 Meets Big Love ... Bones 6.13: The Marrying Kind ... Bones 6.14: Bones' Acting Ability ... Bones 6.15: "Lunch for the Palin Family" ...Bones 6.16: Stuck in an Elevator, Stuck in Times ... Bones 6.17: The 8th Pair of Feet ... Bones 6.18: The Wile E. Chupacabra ... Bones 6.19 Test Runs The Finder ... Bones 6.20: This Very Statement is a Lie ... Bones 6.21: Sensitive Bones ... Bones 6.22: Phoenix Love ... Bones Season 6 Finale: Beautiful

And see also Bones: Hilarity and Crime and Bones is Back For Season 5: What Is Love? and 5.2: Anonymous Donors and Pipes and 5.3: Bones in Amish Country and 5.4: Bones Meets Peyton Place and Desperate Housewives and Ancient Bones 5.5 and Bones 5.6: A Chicken in Every Viewer's Pot and Psychological Bones 5.7 and Bones 5.8: Booth's "Pops" and Bones 5.9 Meets Avatar and Videogamers ... Bad Santa, Heart-Warming Bones 5.10 ... Bones 5.11: Of UFOs, Bloggers, and Triangles ... Bones 5.12: A Famous Skeleton and Angela's Baby ... Love with Teeth on Bones 5.13 ... Faith vs. Science vs. Psychology in Bones 5.14 ... Page 187 in Bones 5.15 ...Bones 100: Two Deep Kisses and One Wild Relationship ... Bones 5.17: The Deadly Stars ...Bones Under Water in 5.18 ... Bones 5.19: Ergo Together ...  Bones 5.20: Ergo Together ... Bones 5.21: The Rarity of Happy Endings ... Bones Season 5 Finale: Eye and Evolution

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dexter 7.9: Two Memorable Scenes and the Ascension of Isaac

Dexter continues to surprise and satisfy in its seventh season, which is also moving faster than any of the other seasons, which I also like.

Isaac finally turns out to be one of the more interesting and multi-dimensional of Dexter's arch-antagonists, engineering Dexter into actually working with him to get Isaac killers.   Dexter at first turns down Isaac's kind offer to give up his quest to kill Dexter if Dex helps, but Isaac's kidnap of Hannah and threat to kill her convinces Dexter to cooperate.  Of course, Hannah is so adept at killing people who threaten her that she kills Isaac's man, who nonetheless manages to stab Hannah.  This sets up the scene at the end of the episode, as Dex visits Hannah, recuperating.

This whole episode is really about true love - as the last few episodes have been - of Isaac for Victor, and Dexter for Hannah.  Isaac, in a memorable death scene (he's shot on the boat by his nite-club running underling), talks to Dexter about true love, and how there may be still be hope for Dexter.  This scene in itself has to be one of the best between Dexter and an antagonist - because the antagonist is really trying to help Dexter.   In this one scene, Isaac has moved up, if not into the pantheon of antagonists of Rudy, Lila, and Trinity, at least on a par with Miguel Prado.

Now Dex, as he always does, alerts us in his internal narration about his concerns about letting Hannah knows how deeply he feels about her.  He knows she's attracted to his killing side.  Will she feel the same if Dex shows her his finally emerging human side?

We find out in that hospital scene.   The close-up on Hannah's face when Dexter tells her he feels safe with her tells it all.   She's ambivalent.  Having Dexter or anyone feel safe with her is not what she ever expected.   Will she embrace it, and Dexter, wholeheartedly, totally?

Your guess is as good as mine, and we'll know the answer in the final three episodes of this superb season.

And see also Dexter Season 6 Sneak Preview Review ... Dexter 6.4: Two Numbers and Two Killers Equals? ... Dexter 6.5 and 6.6: Decisive Sam ... Dexter 6.7: The State of Nebraska ... Dexter 6.8: Is Gellar Really Real? .... Dexter 6.9: And Gellar Is ... ... Dexter's Take on Videogames in 6.10 ...Dexter and Debra:  Dexter 6.11 ... Dexter Season 6 Finale: Through the Eyes of a Different Love

And see also
 Dexter Season 4: Sneak Preview Review ... The Family Man on Dexter 4.5 ...Dexter on the Couch in 4.6 ... Dexter 4.7: 'He Can't Kill Bambi' ... Dexter 4.8: Great Mistakes ...4.9: Trinity's Surprising Daughter ... 4.10: More than Trinity ... 4.11: The "Soulless, Anti-Family Schmuck" ... 4.12: Revenges and Recapitulations

And see also reviews of Season 3Season's Happy Endings? ... Double Surprise ... Psychotic Law vs. Sociopath Science ... The Bright, Elusive Butterfly of Dexter ... The True Nature of Miguel ...Si Se Puede on Dexter ... and Dexter 3: Sneak Preview Review

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Foundation, Dune, and Laplace's Demon

The Invigoration of a Philosophic Issue in Science Fiction:  How Laplace’s Demon Finds a Stage in the Foundation and Dune Trilogies

by Paul Levinson

Note: An earlier version of this brief essay, then entitled “Fantasy and Science Fiction Rooted in Fundamental Concerns,” was first published in Media & Methods in 1979. I expanded and re- published it in 2009 on Google's Knol system, which was shut down a few months ago.  

Most educated people acknowledge - grudgingly, or happily, or somewhere in between - that science fiction is a very useful source of information about science.    So the proposition that a work of science fiction can be valuable in helping to teach children or adults about science is, I think, a rather easy proposition to prove. 

What I am going to be discussing in this essay is something a little different, and it stems from my experience over decades of reading and thinking about science fiction - which has convinced me that science fiction is also a great source of material to teach people about philosophy.  And actually this is a point of view I have had for decades.  I began thinking about it when I first read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy - that would have been in the late 1950s - and then in the late 1960s when I began reading Frank Herbert’s Dune series.   And so, what I’ll be discussing in this essay is  how those two great classic science fiction series in particular can help us better understand a very profound philosophic problem. 

I would say that there are probably hundreds - even thousands – of philosophic problems that science fiction can help us understand.    But for the purposes of this essay, I am going to confine my discussion to just one philosophic problem. It is a very rich and deep philosophic problem and it concerns the role and nature of knowledge in our lives.  This is something Plato wrote about in his discussion of the “Meno” paradox, in which Plato said that in order to know something we have to already know it - how could we know that what we have is knowledge if we did not already possess some basis to make that judgment, that is, if we did not already have some knowledge of that area?  Philosophers have been thinking about such questions about the role of past and present and future knowledge for millennia, but here I want to focus on an issue that a mathematician by the name of Pierre-Simon Laplace considered a few centuries ago. He asked a hypothetical question:  if  a super intellect, call it Laplace’s Demon,  had sufficient knowledge of everything that was going on in the Universe at a particular time, could it then predict everything that would happen afterwards?  In other words, if we had sufficient knowledge of initial conditions, could we then predict everything that would happen thereafter?  Laplace’s answer was yes.

Now I think most people would acknowledge that it is impossible even in science fiction to have a situation in which we have complete knowledge of everything presently in the Universe, or even in our world.  But in the two great series of novels that I mentioned – Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Frank Herbert’s Dune series – the proposition of what we can know and do in the future, given some valid knowledge of that future in our present, is given brilliant, riveting, and instructive exposition.  

Let us start with the Foundation trilogy. First of all, the Foundation trilogy comes from a series of shorter works of fiction that were published in Astounding Magazine in the 1940s, with the final piece published in 1950.  Asimov credited Astounding editor John Campbell with encouraging him to develop the stories, including suggesting important elements of the plot. The stories were collected into the Foundation trilogy, published by Gnome Press in the early 1950s. The trilogy has been reprinted many times, and Asimov later went beyond the original trilogy with some additional novels in the 1980s.  I am going to confine myself in this essay to the original trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.   

In those stories, Asimov sets out a proposition: a mathematician by the name of Hari Seldon is able to devise mathematical equations which summarize the important events in human life and society that are occurring at the time.  And having posited these “psychohistorical” equations, Asimov wants to investigate the extent to which Seldon and his successors can predict the future on the basis of these equations.  What makes the story wonderful fiction is it seems at first that the future can be predicted.  There are a series of developments in which the evidence at the time, a hundred or more years after the creation of the equations, seems to be going against what the equations are predicting - but at the end of each of those stories it turns out that the equations put people in just the right place at the right time, so Seldon’s original equations did indeed predict the future, and predict it successfully.  The equations are so good that they allow the heroes of these stories, the First Foundation,  to survive against overwhelming military odds.  As long as they are in the right place, at the right time, as projected by Seldon’s original equations, nothing can harm them.

But then things begin to go wrong.  A mutation arises – “The Mule” – who, as a result of being a mutation, has not been accounted for in Seldon’s equations.  (In his 1980s, novels, Asimov suggested that The Mule might have been an android – I prefer the original biological mutation genesis.)   The Mule is Asimov’s first indication that the future cannot be infallibly predicted.   And the episodes involving The Mule make for some of most exciting parts of the Foundation saga.

Fortunately for the good guys, it turns out that, at the very beginning, Hari Seldon/Isaac Asimov set up a special group of people who not only understood the import of the equations but were able to revise them as time progressed.  In fact, prior to the appearance of The Mule,  the First Foundation leaders really understand very little of the equations.  They just know that they have to get out of the way of events in history to let them happen as the equations predict.  But the second, more sophisticated group – the Second Foundation – has a “meta”-position in the saga. They are, in effect, Hari Seldon’s insurance policy, in case blindly following the equations does not work out the way the equations predict – which is exactly what happened with the unexpected appearance of The Mule.

And this, I think, brings home an extremely important point in the philosophy of knowledge, and its value in predicting the future.  The fact that human intervention is required, even in a situation in which equations seem to predict what is going to happen – human intervention to insure that those things happen – shows that there is no such thing as perfectly predicting the future.  Even accepting the premise that we could have a mathematics so sophisticated that it could encompass all human activities and therefore permit us to perfectly  predict the future – even with such a Laplace’s Demon realized - Asimov is saying in his Foundation trilogy that there is still an irreducibly open-ended quality to the future.  Which means that Laplace’s Demon is crucially less than a perfect prognosticator.

We might think of this as an open versus a closed system – an open Universe versus a closed Universe. This kind of territory is addressed not only in philosophy but in systems theory. 

But in a philosophy classroom, if you want to teach students to at least begin thinking about this particular kind of problem – if we have sufficient knowledge can we predict the future? – there is no better way than having them read the Foundation trilogy.  Like all great fiction, it puts abstract ideas into a setting that commands your emotional allegiance.

Now, Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy – also started under John Campbell’s tutelage, and published as a series of novels beginning in the 1960s – is really a very different kind of story.  There are no equations in that universe – that is, no equations that enable people to predict the future.  What moves events in Dune are people who have the power to see the future - in particular, the hero of the original Dune trilogy, Paul Atreides, who becomes Muad’dib, whose combination of genetic make-up and exposure to a powerful spice, a certain kind of drug, gives him the capacity to see the future.  And so we once again have the question: if someone has the ability to see the future – this time not through devising and understanding of mathematical equations, but as the result of some kind of metaphysical, drug-related, genetically-based conditions – can that person be successful? Can he triumph over his enemies, right the wrongs in his world, and find personal happiness and satisfaction?

And once again, the answer in the Dune trilogy is similar to the answer in the Foundation trilogy, because at first Muad’dib does well with his ability to predict the future. He is able to foresee what his enemies may do and take appropriate actions to make sure those things do not happen.   But what then begins to happen, inevitably, is he not only sees certain things in the future not to his liking, but begins to see that if he tries to prevent those things from happening he will cause other bad things to occur.  And in the end, he is actually destroyed by his ability to foresee the future. He loves a woman by the name of Chani, and she is captured by one of the bad-guy groups, and they offer to give her back to him, and he loves her very much but he can foresee in the future that if he takes her back she in effect will be someone that he cannot rely on – she will not be the person that he previously loved, even though she seems, for all intents and purposes, to be that person.  And so Paul Muad’dib decides not to take Chani back – to let her die - and as a result, he winds up tearing himself apart. He is caught between the rock of his love for her and the hard place of his capacity to see the future. He wants with all of his soul to take her back but he can foresee that she is not going to be what she was.  Neither solution – taking her back or not taking her back – is acceptable.  So he walks off into the desert, a broken man.  Another victim of the capacity to have knowledge of the future.  A capacity which, in Dune, is almost a curse.

So what the Foundation saga does on a mass-societal level, the Dune stories do in a personal dimension.  But as for the philosophic question of what value does knowledge of the future have? – once again, in the Dune series, the answer provided is: it does not give you the ability to necessarily succeed.  Because whatever you might see in the future can put you in an untenable situation in the present where there is no way that you can succeed.

For people, then, who are interested in philosophic questions – students, teachers, everyone -  I  would  recommend the Foundation and Dune novels as vivid introductions to one of our most profound philosophic problems.   And they are more than introductions.  They are stages upon which this problem is acted out, upon which the ironies and paradoxes of predicting of the future are invested in dramatic characterizations which give them a compelling, almost flesh-and-blood appeal.

We can read, with great profit, Plato and Laplace and other philosophers on these and related subjects – which come under the headings of epistemology and cosmology, the nature of the Universe, and to what extent can it be determined.  But the science fictional setting gives us something unique.  As we come to identify with the characters and enjoy the stories, we internalize the philosophic issues in a way that makes them a permanent part of our thinking.  I became a philosopher, without realizing it, and wrestled with Laplace’s Demon the day that I first started reading the Foundation trilogy – when I was twelve years old. And the trilogy has never left me.

See also postcard from Isaac Asimov to me, 1979

podcast of this essay

Skyfall Great with Barely a Bond Girl

SkyfallThere was barely a Bond girl in Skyfall - no double entendre - and it is still one of best Bond movies ever made.  Certainly better than any non-Connery Bond, and right up there with Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which of course wasn't a Connery, but Lazenby looked just like him, and it was a powerhouse of a personal and spy-thriller story.

Which describes Skyfall, easily the best movie about Bond's life, along with OHMSS.   There's not a weak or wasted scene in Skyfall, from the stunning opener in which Bond is killed to the last in which Moneypenny is revealed and Bond reports to the new M for work.   Of course Bond isn't killed in that opening segment, and the fact that we know that and still find the opener a shocker is a measure of how good this movie is.

The villain - Silva - is excellent and close to exceptional.  Played by Javier Bardem with a blond wig, Silva is probably most reminiscent of Christopher Walken's Max Zorin's in a View to a Kill (probably Moore's worst), except Silva is a little more intense, brilliant, cracked, and makes a pass at Bond.   Silva's also a lapsed MI6 agent, which also gives him a kinship to Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye.  These similarities to earlier Bonds are actually one of the best features of Skyfall, which also brings back and nobly sacrifices Bond's Astin Martin and its firepower, which served so well in Goldfinger, Thunderball, and other Bond movies, and also has a call-out to Jaws' teeth,

Ah ... noble sacrifice.   Skyfall is as much M's movie as Bond's - she more than Bond is the target of Silva's sociopathic anger - and the curtain call for Judi Dench's M is memorable indeed, and gives Skyfall another kinship to OHMSS.  Just as Bond's beloved Tracy dies in his arms at the end of OHMSS, so M dies in Bond's arms close to the end of Skyfall.  But rather than losing the love of his life, Bond is losing his metaphorical mother, another milestone in the gradual growing up of this Bond.

There's a wonderfully winning balance of old and new in Skyfall, with Bond at the fulcrum.  M literally passes, Albert Finney puts in a strong appearance as Kincade (and old friend of Bond's family), and we see the gravestone of Bond's parents.  On the new side of the ledger, we have a sharp young cyber-arrogant Q and a bright new Moneypenny - who actually is the first Moneypenny in Daniel Craig's Bonds and in this incarnation a field agent who comes in from the cold to take up residence in M's office.  Ralph Fiennes is the new M, who comes in the from the cold of being Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and is pretty good with a gun.  It's assuring to see Fiennes, who played Voldemort, put his acting power to the good.

Craig's performance is altogether perfect, ranging from the near-derelict Bond to the full tuxedoed casino man.  The action scenes take him from the top of a train to nearly getting hit by a train from above in the Tube, with a man against helicopter, man on the underside of elevator, and all sorts of other goodies thrown in.  There's gunplay everywhere you turn, from courtroom in London to misty fields in Scotland.  Craig does these better than well, and the sheer intensity of the cinematography and speed of the scenes make the movie breathtaking.

Bond is in bed with just one woman, once, and Silva kills her before she has a chance to do much in the movie.  That's the only fault I can find in the film, which was otherwise so extraordinary that it almost didn't matter, and maybe didn't matter at all.  What Skyfall has finally given us is a Bond for the 21st century, as strong in its own way as Bond through the 20th, and I'm looking forward to many more.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Homeland 2.8: Personal and Professional

Homeland has now settled into a riveting mind game between Carrie and Brody, and, of course, the viewers.   Each of those two searing leading characters has enough truth and deception mixed into their motivations that we can't be 100% sure in any scene where the truth and deception reside.  This makes for riveting television.

In Homeland 2.8, for example, we have Carrie and Brody making passionate love in a motel room - with video of the scene, of course, online for Saul and the team.   Carrie's cover story, to herself and the team, is that she's doing this as the only way to bring Brody back into the fold after the blow-up with his daughter last week and this.  But we - watching how much Carrie enjoys this gambit - know a little better.  Carrie, if not in love with Brody, is certainly in lust with him.

Brody's motives are even more complicated.  Unlike Carrie, whose loyalty to her country is unquestioned, we still can't be 100% sure that Brody has left Nazir,   And that puts in a dose of ambiguity as to his motives for sleeping with Carrie.  Yes, he's attracted to her and enjoys their time in bed.  But is he playing her in some way and therefore our CIA in some way, too?

Later in the episode, the questions continue as Carrie disregards her orders and goes after Brody in the field.   Is she doing this, as she says, because she thinks our mission demands it - that we need to  keep an eye on Brody and his safety because he's the only asset we have now in the desperate attempt to stop Nazir?  Or is she so concerned about Brody's safety because of her feelings for him, with her actions not necessarily the best in terms of the CIA's and America's interests?  Obviously, she has feelings for him, so the question really boils down to whether she is compromising the team's mission when she acts on her personal feelings.

What continues to make Homeland so strong and appealing is the way it deftly mixes the personal and the professional, i.e., spy thriller parts of the story.   24 did this pretty well, though Jack Bauer's personal life sometimes verged on the soap operatic.  Not so Homeland, where the personal is so good that it could make a strong story on its own, but indeed makes the spy-among-us thriller that much better.

See also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional