Thursday, February 14, 2013

We all can see the future...

though the details may be fuzzy

The 2012 film Men in Black 3 has many virtues. These include Will Smith, Emma Thompson and Tommie Lee Jones. Josh Brolin, playing his best role yet--a young Tommie Lee Jones--is in it, too.

The story is simple: Alien arch-villain Boris the Animal ("It's just Boris," he says with repeated exasperation) travels back in time to kill Agent K (Jones) before the MiB agent can capture Boris and thwart his plan for an invasion of the earth. Only Agent J (Smith) realizes that the new version of the future he is inhabiting, the one in which K has been killed and the path to an invasion has been cleared, is the result of a temporal disturbance. J goes back in time to save K and, in the process, save the earth.

As the story unfolds, J and the young K navigate the late '60s, meet Andy Warhol (who it turns out is also an MiB agent) and thwart Boris. All of this happens in the company of Griffin, the sole survivor of another alien race whose planet has already been destroyed by Boris' predatory species.

Griffin has a well developed ability to see alternative futures as they arise out of current events and to compute the relative probability of each one he can see. The details sometimes elude Griffin, but often he can describe, with some precision, key events which will increase or decrease the probability of a specific bend in the timeline.

"Agent J: How's it going?

Griffin: How's it going? Well, that depends. For me personally, it's good. Things are good. Unless, of course, we're in the possible future where the muscle boy near the door gets into an argument with his girlfriend, which causes her to storm away and bump into the guy carrying the stuffed mushroom, who then dumps the tray onto those sailors on leave and a shoving match breaks out and they crash into the coffee table here. In which case, I gotta move my plate like right now. 
[as he speaks, the events he narrates occur]"

For Griffin clarity about the details of future events seems to accompany alternatives that are most imminent, though he can see some disasters, like the destruction of the earth, coming from further away in time. In that respect, Griffen seems uncommonly human, able to look at what is happening in the present and project outcomes into the future, both near and far.

Of course, for most earthlings, this ability is not generally nurtured or formally guided. So our predictions frequently go wrong; e.g., we have been predicting the end of the world frequently and for thousands of years, yet it staggers ahead. But there are also many better examples of comprehensive predictions of the future that stand up decently well. John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar is one.

In 1968, when the book was published, 3.5 billion people lived on the earth. In 2010, the era in which Stand on Zanzibar unfolds, 7 billion people live on the planet. Brunner's dystopic vision was largely focused on the destructive consequences of urban overcrowding and, to a lesser extent, endless war. Environmental destruction was also a subtext. Though our future may not have evolved exactly as Brunner predicted, Stand on Zanzibar, is a good argument that we humans have a capacity for predicting the future that compares favorably to Griffen's abilities.

So, let's use that capacity. Let's stand with the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the major cause of global warming and that the damage from climate change is already devastating and will get worse. Let's stand against climate change denial and against the Keystone pipeline. Let's show up in DC on Sunday, February 16, to stand in solidarity with thousands of others to demonstrate in favor of federal action to mitigate and reverse global warming.

No comments:

Post a Comment