Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Random Thoughts: Perception

Recently I came across a clip from the following documentary, narrated by Gillian Anderson. Aside from the serious cultural and sociological themes inherent within the piece, the impending destruction of Amazon tribes that have never encountered modern ‘civilization’, and while this is a very serious subject that should not be trivialized, some strange observations popped into my mind while watching it.

I have written frequently about how we can only perceive something, we can’t process, if we have a point of reference. It occurred to me that from the perspective of this indigenous Amazonian tribe, in the same manner with how we view extra-terrestrial crafts, they would see this plane, controlled by human hands, as something extra-terrestrial or ultra-terrestrial.

A giant metal bird with living beings residing inside, how could such indigenous people not regard us as living Gods, from their own point of reference?

Sadly, the outcome of this documentary might have already had a tragic outcome, as militia might have already engaged in cultural euthanasia in this region.

To digress, I was watching the audio comments for the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” recently, a delightful adaptation of Douglas Adams’ book. Adams colleague Sean Salle observed the impact of Adams’ work on other filmmakers, and pointed out how ‘42’ has been referenced by others, citing that Mulder’s apartment number at his Alexandra, VA address is ‘42’. I can’t corroborate, nor confirm, nor deny, that Douglas Adams was an influence on Chris Carter or Frank Spotnitz, but I can’t say it would necessarily be much of a surprise if that was the case.

Douglas Adams’ wonderful brand of philosophical satire, has held a profound impact for many in pop culture, as well as scientists who’s theories on multiple dimensions, and string theory have been enhanced in their own work by Adam’s lop-sided sensibility and willingness to think outside of the box. This clip offers many dense ideas, many of which are the central thrust of the final half to the film. I realize many hard core fans of Douglas Adams had problems with the liberties in the film, but I loved it.

While I must admit to being a casual fan of the book, I love many of the conceits posed in the film. The belief in Ancient Astronaut Theory has become a common meme within esoteric circles. But I love the expansive, and broad approach taken by this material, I love the conceit that extra-terrestrial life could be filled with just as many eccentricities, and foibles, and could be stumbling about as much as us mere mortals. Often the portrayals of aliens in film has been so faceless, and neutral, that Adam’s absurdist sensibilities seemed so truthful to the mere state of existence.

Adams was known to be a stanch atheist, but it is difficult to reconcile that when you consider he was able to produce work that captured such a sense of wonder about the universe and existence.

Many hardcore fans of the books and radio programs had problems with the film adaptation, yet they seem to overlook the fact that Adams developed many of the new ideas in the film, the middle second act was all of his creation, the further development of the romance between Arthur and Trillian, and the ‘point of view’ gun. It should be added, it is a real testament to how elastic his material is that so many incarnations could have been developed, the radio programs, the books, T.V. adaptations, and the film.

While this sequence is dense with ideas, probably what remains a favorite, is also the most subtle, a couple of dialogue exchanges between Arthur Dent and Slartibartfast. The first dialogue cited would be Slartibartfast’s observations:

"Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I think the chances of finding out what’s actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is say, "hang the sense of it" and keep yourself busy, I’d much rather be happy than right any day."

When Arthur asks "Are you?”, he has to concede, “No, that’s where it all falls down of course.”

After Slartibartfast reveals that Earth was commissioned, paid for, and run by mice, who were pan-dimensional beings, that Earth is a giant computer, and humans are just programs all designed by an alien computer to answer the riddle about life, the universe, and everything. Arthur’s observation is priceless:

Arthur Dent: Actually this explains a lot, you know, all my life I’ve had this strange feeling that there’s something big and sinister going on the world.

Slartibartfast: No, that’s perfectly normal paranoia, everyone in the Universe get’s that.

In some respects Douglas Adam’s shares a similar world view to H.P. Lovecraft, but it is the inverse…while Lovecraft observes in mortal terror that mankind is a mere spec in the universe, that at best, these alien gods are indifferent to. Douglas Adams acknowledges the same point, but laughs at this realization, and with a dose of humility.

I suppose the connecting tissue to these two sources would be a kind of fatalism about mortality, and to a degree, The X-Files explored this same fatalism. Do we just accept this reality, and shriek from without, or do we carry on in spite of it?

While many might be preoccupied with esoteric subjects and the paranormal, and focused on intangibles, perhaps they should remind themselves to onto a sense of wonder about the natural world, there’s some astonishing things that exist if you keep your eyes open for them.


Raj said...


A very interesting post. I'm a big fan of the novel Hitch-Hiker's Guide, as well as the film version - so this is right up my street. My take on the unfathomable infinity of the universe and our place in it is usually a lot closer to Douglas Adams than Lovecraft.

Although Hitch-hiker captures how tiny a human life is amidst the vastness of space, it also honors human life by showing us how a human life can in fact be enfolded throughout all of time and space. As you mentioned, the genuine awe and wonder and good-humor that Hitch-Hiker embodies hints at a kind of bewildered scientific mysticism - where literally anything is possible simply because the universe is so vast.

Sure, a human life can be snuffed out in the infinite coldness of space - but it can also get caught up in all manner of temporal paradoxes and reality-shifts. What I see in Hitch-Hiker is a genuine love of the human spirit, served with a huge helping of extremely wry humor and the willingness to imagine that anything is possible.

Adams may have been an atheist, but that's about as authentically mystical as you can get. In my opinion, anyway.

The X-Files Lexicon Blog said...

Hi Raj,

Thank you for insightful comments, I had a hunch you'd like this thread. Well said.

Eziliveve said...

What a wonderful and timely essay. When we're bombarded on a daily basis with new images and information to be processed and explored, do we rejoice in the opportunity to expand our knowledge and experience or do we get a little cranky? Or both? So much truth is out there.

A lot of people laughed when
transcendentalist Margaret Fuller declared "I accept the universe " (''Gad, she'd better!" said cranky philosopher Thomas Carlyle). But grandiose as it sounds when you say it like that, it's a pretty big undertaking and not always a pleasant one. And there's still a lot of wonder even for our info overloaded tribe to find. We just have to let ourselves feel it.