Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dark City and Last Thursdayism

In a discussion of the recently released movie Avatar over on Adrian McKinty's highly recommended blog, the

conversation veered toward other sci-fi movies hailed as landmarks, formative, influential and so on. Dark City came up in this context. Although wikipedia cites it as a cult classic, many may agree with McKinty's implication that this is now largely a forgotten movie. And though that itself might make good fuel for a blog about lapses of memory, in fact, it is the movie's subject matter that makes it rich material for this blog.

A man named John Murdoch wakes up in a bathtub not remembering too much about how he got there, but he is soon on the run from the law and other forces with other ends. A nice little intro to the film can be found here. You might like to stop here and start with that if you haven't seen the film, which deserves to be watched without a lot of spoilers...

...If you are still with me, though, I will go on to say that Dark City is a stunning film about lost memory, recreated memory, and how much we should trust memory at all. Personally, I'm a sucker for movies whose theme is "reality as we know it is not as it seems", like The Matrix, Groundhog Day, Truman and, well, the list goes on and on, doesn't it? Put differently, how do we know that everything we believe about the world is true?

This film, perhaps even more than the others cited, makes the very foundations of our memory suspect. The analogy is most closely related to dreams, where premises we find ourselves adhering to turn out to have been created in the moment based on suppositions that wouldn't hold water if we could really think about them. But how much can we really think about anything, given that we have to use our own thoughts and memory as the very basis of our inquiry?

As for Last Thursdayism, I learned about it in the course of doing a little research for this post. According to Skepticwiki, Last Thursdayism is "the unfalsifiable belief that the whole of the universe was created Last Thursday with the apparent age of an ancient universe". It is apparently a parody of many Creationist arguments about the earth being only 6000 years old, in contradition to the geological record. Well, I'm hardly a creationist, but these kind of mind games do lead to the more difficult question of what it is we really know--one which I expect in the last analysis is unanswerable.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Unfortunately, I have been at one remove from several major accidents involving concussion over the past couple of years. (Two of these involved flukey bicycle accidents, so wear your helmets, people, even if for some reason you think it's uncool to do so. Spend some money on a comfortable and super hip helmet, and think of it as a gift to future generations, who, as small impressionable children, will adore your great look from afar.) I used to think that concussions were serious in the moment, but then you 'woke up' from them, so to speak and went on with your life. I now understand that concussions can have a more lasting effect, and that it isn't always clear, at least to the casual observer, what is just temporary and what is long term or permanent.

For this reason, I was especially interested in the recent 60 Minutes segment on professional athletes, concussion and memory loss.

I'm sure that helmets for motorcyclists, cyclists and basically anyone who rides around on things with wheels and no windows will eventually become de rigueur. But a designing genius may well come up with a helmet that everyone thinks is great to wear, and thus prevent many unnecessary accidents from keeping those hazardous slips on the ice, inadvertent walking in front of buses, and, well, general clumsiness from becoming the life altering accidents they could be.