General and Not so Nonsense

Transcendence

Quick aside from our ongoing tale here. This past weekend, I happened to see Transcendence, with Johnny Depp (and a host of other ‘A-listers’). I’ll leave the deep, esoteric analysis of the film to others better suited. And, if you haven’t seen the film, this is not the post for you, as plot points will be revealed. My over-arching thought, aside from all the inventive and frightening applications of both synthetic consciousness and nanotech, was that we in the West have things exactly backwards. And most assuredly, I am speaking to Christianity in the West.

As Depp’s character (Will Caster—nice, no? Will ‘casts’ his will across the world) grows in power beyond mortal comprehension, he begins to ‘fix’ everything; people, the environment, etc. He heals the sick, causes the blind to see and does all his green duties to repair our planet. These seem like such wonderful things to the Western mind. Apart, in and of themselves, it is, of course, admirable and desirable that we empathize, sympathize and do our best for those who suffer. But secularized as the Western mind has become, we now no longer understand the vast importance of our suffering as humans, as well as the confinement to the physical plain of existence. For those of you who are secular, I ask you does this suffering still not play a vital role in our betterment? When have you become better in situations that required no suffering on your part? When have you grown in comfort and affluence? When have any of us become better than what we are by removing all barriers to doing what we want to do all the time, with no consequences?

Our arrogance astounds me. As Will Caster continued to become a god, all I could think was, “What has his passionate meddling with people’s health and lives destroyed, in terms of their character? What will become of humanity free of consequences? If we can burn the planet down only to have nanotech rebuild it for us in an instant, where then humanity?” The answer seemed pretty obvious to me, though the film did not expressly confront this: Depp’s consciousness, ever watchful to heal man from his consequences, will eventually determine that humanity is the problem. As Paul Bettany’s character noted, a machine cannot grasp the depth of loving a human despite hating the things that they do. Given the Western mind’s inappropriate and incomplete grasp of what love is, it was no wonder to me that his words were lost in the narrative quickly. Shortly after his lines the film couldn’t seem to decide if the synthetic consciousness was an actual problem, or merely something to be introduced ‘when humanity is ready’ (Cast’s consciousness continued to repeat, “Humanity fears what it doesn’t understand” in the cacophony of his thoughts throughout the film). I did find it interesting that when Will Caster’s wife said, “It was you all along,” Will shook his head no several times before saying, “always was.”

It’s an interesting film and, if you’re interested in our potential future, I recommend it. It is too long and quite maudlin, but I don’t think the film could have worked had it been otherwise. For all of its secular, Western-empiricist thinking, the film at least had the smarts to be solemn about such power. The end rather bored me with the same old romantic love trope but, overall, from a symbolic standpoint, the movie does a good job of conveying the sort of terror we might witness, should we follow through with the notion of a synthetic consciousness, uploaded onto a web spanning the globe.

And it doesn’t seem like too many these days are in the camp of not doing such a thing. Including Christians. Our religion as an institution has fallen for the ideas conveyed in the movie: that goodness is healing everything, despite that in doing so we remove everything’s chance to grow, adapt and become better.

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