Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryScience Fiction

abandoned-railway-tracks-in-the-desert-namibia-stockpack-adobe-stock
Abandoned railway tracks in the desert, Namibia

The MacGuffin: Big Fuss About Nothing Is Not Good Science Fiction

A MacGuffin creates a lot of action but doesn’t in any way advance the plot

As with Time Travel, the MacGuffin plot risk comes in a variety of flavors. People bicker about the term, but Alfred Hitchcock (1863–1942) summarized the gist of it: A MacGuffin is “the thing the characters on the screen worry about but the audience don’t care.” The MacGuffin creates a lot of action but doesn’t in any way advance the plot. The action is not the problem. If the item contributes to the plot in a significant way — the One Ring from Lord of the Rings or the Dragon Balls from the Dragon Ball Series, for example — then it isn’t a MacGuffin. But if the item is inert and chased mainly because the characters want it, then it is…

the-butterfly-effect-big-blue-butterfly-appearing-to-create-ripples-in-pink-green-water-surface-with-plenty-of-copy-space-below-stockpack-adobe-stock
The Butterfly Effect - Big Blue Butterfly appearing to create ripples in pink green water surface with plenty of copy space below

Science Fiction: Time Travel Can Work — If Clear Rules Are Chosen

I despise the Butterfly Effect in time travel stories because there is simply no way to establish what is at stake

Time travel is such a familiar story element (trope) in science fiction that it has a name, the Time Travel Trope. It annoys me — though much less than others — is the Time Travel trope. These story elements can drive classics such as The Terminator (1984) and utter garbage like A Sound of Thunder. (2005). Establishing the rules for time travel The main reason is that there are many different types of Time Travel stories as well as a variety of rules to go with them. The rules depend on which approach to time travel the writer chooses to take. The writer can chooses to go with the idea that the present and future are fixed, and regardless of…

the-rainbow-colorful-multiverse-art-background-stockpack-adobe-stock
the rainbow colorful multiverse art background

Madness: Why Sci-Fi Multiverse Stories Often Feel Boring

In a multiverse, every plot development, however implausible, is permitted because we know it won’t affect our return to the expected climax

Filmmakers communicate with audiences using common and accepted story devices (tropes) that viewers identify with — maybe the “average person takes the crown” or “love triangle.” Some tropes are overused or used in ways that undermine the story. In discussing what I think went wrong with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) and some similar films, I’ll use the word trope to refer to any story element that is used to push the plot. I find four tropes particularly annoying: the Multiverse, Time Travel, the Liar Revealed, and the MacGuffin Chase. Because I’ve just finished reviewing Multiverse of Madness, let’s start with the Multiverse trope. Before reviewing the Dr. Strange sequel, I’d written an essay, “Dr. Strange: Can…

futuristic-multiverse-world-concept-downtown-with-skyscrapers-skyline-under-and-cityscape-over-two-parallel-worlds-alternative-reality-dimension-stockpack-adobe-stock
Futuristic multiverse world concept. Downtown with skyscrapers skyline under and cityscape over. Two parallel worlds. Alternative reality dimension

Multiverse of Madness?: It’s a Letdown for the Marvel Universe

I can’t really recommend it because spectacle trumps any sense of the story hanging together and we can infer nothing from past events

The Multiverse of Madness ends with America Chavez training at Kamar-Taj while Dr. Strange and Wong have a final conversation.All the Characters say their goodbyes and Dr. Strange returns home, prepared to move on with his life. Thing’s are looking pretty chipper — that is until a third eye opens on his forehead. This isn’t a big deal but I did think it was a little ridiculous to have a cliffhanger ending followed by a post-credits scene. At any rate, the post-credits scene includes a mysterious woman played by Charlize Theron show up out of nowhere. She tells Dr. Strange that he’s caused an Incursion — a collision between two universes, possibly as a result of multiverse travel. And together,…

planet-illustration-earth-apocalypse-stockpack-adobe-stock
Planet  illustration Earth Apocalypse

It’s the End of the Multiverse — And Yet No One Is in a Hurry?

Until close to the end, everyone continues to behave as if previous events and circumstances have no consequences and vital information is optional

Where were we? After the Mouse decided to disappoint the fans and humiliate a large portion of the Marvel Universe, we find Wanda chasing America Chavez, Christine, and Dr. Strange. She’s bloody and limping because she walked on a bunch of broken glass — and yet, our heroes are terrified of her. The scene looks great, and the concept was terrifying, so long as one forgets the fact that Wanda can fly and doesn’t ask why in the world she’d walk on glass when she could just float over it… At any rate, they reach the door leading to the Book of Vishanti, figure out the combination, and hop onto a platform where the book is resting on an odd-looking…

the-big-bang-stockpack-adobe-stock
The Big Bang

James Webb Space Telescope Shows Big Bang Didn’t Happen? Wait…

The unexpected new data coming back from the telescope are inspiring panic among astronomers

Physicist Eric J. Lerner comes to the point: To everyone who sees them, the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images of the cosmos are beautifully awe-inspiring. But to most professional astronomers and cosmologists, they are also extremely surprising—not at all what was predicted by theory. In the flood of technical astronomical papers published online since July 12, the authors report again and again that the images show surprisingly many galaxies, galaxies that are surprisingly smooth, surprisingly small and surprisingly old. Lots of surprises, and not necessarily pleasant ones. One paper’s title begins with the candid exclamation: “Panic!” Why do the JWST’s images inspire panic among cosmologists? And what theory’s predictions are they contradicting? The papers don’t actually say. The…

first-person-perspective-shot-from-a-hiker-sitting-at-the-edge-of-a-cliff-at-angels-landing-in-zion-national-park-stockpack-adobe-stock
First person perspective shot from a hiker sitting at the edge of a cliff at Angel's Landing in Zion National Park.

Multiverse of Madness Skirts the Edges of Story Collapse

Oh well, it IS a multiverse, so maybe, in this reality, all the heroes stink

Just as Wanda Maximoff is about to catch America Chavez, she is met by the Illuminati, a team of superheroes which comprises Captain Carter, Captain Marvel, Black Bolt, Reed Richards, Mordo, and Professor X. Mordo and Professor X are not present, but Wanda must still face four heroes at once. There is only phrase which can describe the ensuing scene and that is missed opportunity. To understand why, we must first look at two major factors at play. First, the actor chosen to play Reed Richards is none other than Jared Krasinski, who is famous for his roles in the TV series (2005–2013) The Office and the film A Quiet Place (2018). Now, anyone remotely familiar with comic book films…

these-two-are-little-genius-mixed-media-stockpack-adobe-stock
These two are little genius . Mixed media

Why Breeding Smarter Humans Won’t Work: Basic Genetics 101

Biochemist Michael Denton explains that, in human genetics, everything is connected to everything else; geneticists call it pleiotropy

Recently, we looked at the question of whether human IQ could be artificially increased via genetic engineering. One proposal was to mass produce human embryos, implanting only the smart ones and discarding the rest. All other issues aside, it’s unclear how to determine which kids will turn out to be the smart ones. Now biochemist Michael Denton, author of a number of books including the recent Miracle of Man (2022), writes to tell us that the idea won’t work due to fundamental genetics. Noting that theoretical physicist Stephen Hsu, who advanced the idea of discarding embryos above, is not a medical geneticist, he told Mind Matters News, Its true there are many genes involved in brain development but most genes…

black-hole-bending-the-event-horizon-3d-stockpack-adobe-stock
Black hole bending the event horizon 3d

Dr. Strange Finds a Universe Almost Like the One He Left…

But, like Schrödinger’s famous Cat, he is alive in one universe and dead in another

In the Multiverse of Madness, where were we? Ah yes, Dr. Strange and America Chavez finally find themselves in the multiverse. They teleport through several universes until they land in a reality similar to their own. The first thing Strange wants to do is return to their reality, so he can save Wong, who is still trapped in the temple. However, America reminds him that she cannot control her powers, so they decide to visit the Dr. Strange of this world to see if they can find a way to help America. When they arrive at Strange’s home, they discover that the Dr. Strange of this world is dead. A monument to the fallen hero says he died defeating Thanos.…

rock-paper-scissors-stockpack-adobe-stock
rock-paper-scissors

Marvel Universe: Being All Powerful, It Turns Out, Is Very Boring

The Mirror Dimension in Multiverse of Madness dispenses with sharp intellectual conflict, opting for unexplained power plays instead

Last time, we talked abut the absurdity of the way the conflict between Wanda Maximoff and Dr. Strange is set up. That’s the conflict which leads us to the attack on the ultimate fortress of the Sorcerer Supreme, Kamar-Taj. Considering what we’ve been told, the temple and its defenses are lackluster, to say the least. Wanda breaks through them with ease but there is a more fundamental problem with the struggle as a whole: The writers appear to lack a proper of the understanding of how the magical characters in the Marvel Universe operate. Marvel’s original genius in developing superheroes included giving every character different strengths and weaknesses. The game is somewhat like Rock–Paper–Scissors where Superhero A can beat Superhero…

Computer algorithm productivity efficiency, cyber security concepts

How China’s Pre-Crime Algorithms Work — and Their Fatal Flaw

The algorithms target, for example, those who complain about or draw attention to social injustices and abuses

In a previous article, we looked at the way George Orwell ’s dystopian 1984 is looking less and less like fiction as the Chinese Communist Party exploits the capabilities of AI and Big Data to surveil its entire population. But beyond surveilling citizens’ movements in real time, the CCP also hopes to predict crimes and protests before they happen. In a follow-up story in the New York Times, Paul Mozur, Muyi Xiao, and John Lui look at how the CCP is also bringing the dystopian world of Philip K. Dick ’s Minority Report (2002) to real life, with one difference: Rather than human “precogs” who can predict the future, the CCP relies on algorithms that can interrogate large swaths of…

fantasy-landscape-with-fog-water-and-stone-stockpack-adobe-stock
Fantasy landscape with fog, water and stone.

The Only Mad People In Dr. Strange’s Multiverse Are The Writers

We don’t know why Wanda has morphed into a villain or why good and evil have become morally equivalent

On our last delve into the Multiverse of Madness (2022), we followed Dr. Strange to Wanda Maximoff’s house. As the scene opens, it is clear that, controversially, Wanda has faced no repercussions for the events depicted in WandaVision. (2021). Tragically, Wanda has chosen to follow the words of the Dark hold — and those of us who watched WandaVision on Disney Plus will never get to see her struggle. So we don’t understand why she chose to listen to the words of the book. Nothing is accounted for. Wanda is just bad now, and we must accept it. Except — this is and isn’t true at the same time. On the one hand, the writers want us to understand that…

businessman-and-technology-stockpack-adobe-stock
businessman and technology

Sci-Fi Predictions for the Future That Really Happened

The 1950s was often right too. It may depend on how badly we need something to happen

Last week, we looked at a 1964 prediction of life in the 2020s that definitely did not happen: chimpanzees driving cars and doing housework. Back then, people who recognized that chimpanzees were intelligent seem to have known little about their natural characteristics. But in fairness, many predictions did come to pass, including the pocket-sized phone that could relay facial images, predicted in a 1956 magazine article: The journalist, Robert Beason, wrote about features such as touchtone dialing, video calling, voice recognition and small colour screens capable of being used as tiny televisions, built into compact devices. His interviewee, Harold Osborne, the retiring chief engineer of American Telephone & Telegraph also foresaw other common features of modern smartphones, such as quick…

doctor-strange-is-coming-stockpack-adobe-stock
Doctor Strange is Coming

Do Life History or Moral Choices Matter in a Multiverse?

In this third part of my extended review of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, I look at how characters suddenly alter with no accounting

Last week we covered the first scene of Multiverse of Madness (2022). This week, we’ll try to move a little faster. After a travesty of an opening scene, Doctor Strange wakes up from his dream about the multiverse just in time for his former girlfriend Christine’s wedding. Strange tries to be happy for her but it’s clear he’s not in a good humor. However, he doesn’t get to brood for long because a sudden attack from a random monster occurs in the city, and he flies off to save the day. During this fight, he discovers America Chavez. With some help from Wong, they manage to slay the monster and lead her to safety at a local restaurant… because, apparently,…

terrariums-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
Terrariums

Dartmouth Physicist Slams Matrix Idea That Life Is an Aliens’ Sim

A number of prominent people have taken philosopher Nick Bostrom’s idea that our universe is a computer sim seriously

Matrix fans, take heed: Dartmouth College physicist Marcelo Gleiser is not a fan of the idea that we are all living in a giant simulation created by intelligent aliens. He takes issue with it for ethical reasons as well as physics ones: “It is little more than a fancy excuse for escapist fantasizing.” Well, some prominent people in our world are escapists! That would include science broadcaster Neil deGrasse Tyson, driverless car entrepreneur Elon Musk, and former Astronomer Royal Martin Rees. Gleiser, author of The Island of Knowledge (2014), traces the idea that our universe is a computer simulation by advanced aliens to an influential 2003 paper by Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute and…

Close up of a Chimpanzee-family (mother and her two kids)

Retro Future: In a 1960s Take on the 2020s, Chimps Do Our Chores

And drive cars. The Rand Corporation actually put out a video promoting the idea…

Our “past future” — that is, what people fifty or sixty years ago thought life would be like today — can be instructive and sobering. In 1964, the Rand Corporation put out the idea that by 2020, chimpanzees would be doing household tasks and (safely) driving cars. (The chimps are from 40 seconds to 110 seconds.) The idea that chimpanzees are just furry people must have been well entrenched in those days. It was during the same time period that some prominent scientists, including Frank Drake and Carl Sagan (1934–1996), were actively researching the idea of communicating intelligently with dolphins as well. But the sad reality is that efforts to integrate chimpanzees (and dolphins) into the human world have often…

multiverse-conceptual-illustration-stockpack-adobe-stock
multiverse conceptual illustration

Dr. Strange’s Multiverse of Madness Features Infinite Problems

The extensive edits to Sam Rami’s work as a director have left it riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies

In my review last week, I ranted about the multiverse as a concept in storytelling, and how the Mouse has used it an excuse to turn Wanda Maximoff into a sorry shadow of her former self. If I could describe the problems overall with the movie in one word, that word would be laziness. The multiverse is used as an excuse for all kinds of incoherent nonsense. Before going into detail, it is important to note that Multiverse of Madness (2022) went through massive reshoots before its release. Film aficionados have said that, while there are hints of Sam Rami’s directing style, they were very few in number and it is evident that the edits to the film were extensive.…

parasaurolophus-in-the-forest-two-parasaurolophus-dinosaurs-browse-on-foliage-of-the-montezuma-cypress-tree-as-cronopia-mammals-scrurry-to-safety-stockpack-adobe-stock
Parasaurolophus in the Forest - Two Parasaurolophus dinosaurs browse on foliage of the Montezuma Cypress tree as Cronopia mammals scrurry to safety.

Where We Stand Today With Jurassic Park

There have been a number of unexpected finds of from dinosaurs besides bones; some paleontologists dig hopefully

The recent find of a complete, well-preserved baby mammoth was greeted with gasps: She’s over 30,000 years old, and yet her preservation is astounding: She has her skin, her tiny tusk nubs, her toenails, and her little tail. She still has tufts of fur, and her trunk—with its prehensile tip—is complete and malleable. Looking at the initial photograph from where she was found at a Yukon gold mine, she looks like she only recently met her demise. Jeanne Timmons, “‘Gasps’ as Scientists Reveal Preserved Baby Woolly Mammoth” at Gizmodo (July 2, 2022) It’s easy to see why: And the find naturally renews questions about resurrecting much, much older extinct life forms through via recovered DNA. Never mind whether it’s a…

face-in-multiverse-stockpack-adobe-stock
Face in multiverse

Dr. Strange: Can the Multiverse Really Work as a Plot Device?

That’s a question Disney's Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness begs us to ask — though but the screenwriters’ answer might be disturbing

Before reviewing the movie in detail, I wound up writing this little prelude regarding the problem with the multiverse plot device in general. It spilled onto the page before I could stop it but then other viewers might be asking some of these same questions. Disney, or as I like to refer to this hell-spawn of a company, the Mouse, is at it again. Where is the Pied Piper when you need him? There are many bad movies in the world, but very rarely does one deserve the term, cinematic abomination. The last time I used that loathsome title, I was watching Luke Skywalker suck green milk from an alien walrus. What is the common factor between The Last Jedi…

brown-brick-wall-stockpack-unsplash
brown brick wall

New Military Technology Can “See” Through Walls

Military? How long before our nosy civilian neighbors have one?

Xaver 1000TM, a new gadget from Israel-based imaging specialist firm Camero, doesn’t provide a video of what’s going on behind the wall; it detects and pinpoints evidence of activity: The technology can display live objects, behind walls, in such high resolution that it can detect whether a person is sitting, standing, or lying down, even if they have been motionless for a significant period. Specific body parts are also detectable, the company said. Operating it is easy and requires minimal training, Shephard Media reported, and it only requires a single user to make use of a simple interface on an embedded 10.1-inch touchscreen display. It can penetrate through most common building materials, Camero-Tech said. Joshua Zitser, “New Israeli military technology…