The 43 Things 'Prometheus' Taught Me (About The Future & Science)

*spoilers obviously*


Films, books, comics and so on are important topics to look at critically. You use the evidence presented in the medium to see whether the action depicted stands up against the light the plot provides: if it does not, it's inconsistent and probably bad. You, as an audience member, will probably be insulted if, say, a film treats characters as strong, then weak, red-haired then black-haired and so on, for no discernible reason. One just needs to consider the mess of Southland Tales to realize this.

I just recently saw the film 'Prometheus'. I loved this film: visually stunning, some great performances, and plenty of openness about tackling major themes of creation and meaning. However, despite my love of this movie, there are still some elements that I found wanting. Specifically with the story and writing.

'Prometheus'... "taught" me a number of things that the creators, particularly Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelhof, think the future will bring. I'm glad they've provided me with an education.

Here's a list of 43 things that I am now aware of (apologies for the weird spacing and font-size. I'm not sure what's happened.)

1. English girls grow up to be Swedish women.

2. Little hammers can excavate entire caves; it's possible to date cave-paintings from a casual glance.3. When going on 4-year space missions, it's silly to ask what the mission is.

4. Having exactly the same genetics means we can still look completely different; also, chimpanzees are an anomaly. And who said anything about dinosaurs?

5. After billions of years, there's no point evolving or having an anatomy change. And yes, this is despite the fact that your species is shown creating life, possibly on Earth, which, according to 'science' started billions of years ago.

6. Speaking of science, we learn biologists, when confronted with the corpse of an alien, run away.

7. Aborting aliens is an everyday occurrence that is not worth mentioning to fellow crew members, none of whom have really done anything but follow your commands.

8. After having your stomach ripped open and an alien ripped out, you can still walk, scream and run away.

9. Black goo can turn you into one of the infected from '28 Days Later' or give you eye fish. Whatever.

10. It's possible to leave an alien planet on an alien ship to find the original aliens, with nothing but a vaguely headless android and a sense of revenge. Food and water are not necessary.

11. People in impressive recorded videos, from four years before, know the positions, even seating-wise, of the audience members in the present.

12.When casting for old men, it's better to take a good-looking middle-aged actor and let a retarded bonobo loose in the make-up room with the actor tied to a chair.

13. Sex between two extremely beautiful specimens of humanity is not worth showing, even vaguely, in a movie focused on beautiful visuals.

14. Military trained pilots can immediately detect the entire basis for alien buildings from casual glances.

15. Geologists who map complex cave-systems using fancy round robots, who are in constant contact with the ship, who have a live-feed hologram of the entire cave, can still get lost.

16. When making the greatest scientific discovery in the history of our species, it's not important to be in awe, celebrate, or show normal human emotion that would convey how enormous it is.

16. Sprouting nonsense statements like "I choose to believe" is something a scientist from the future will say because we all know science is based solely on personal choice.

17. After one day of investigating an alien building, because there was no friendly alien there, ready to tell you all its secrets, it is necessary to turn to alcohol.

18. Androids will kill humans to test a vague scientific theory.

19. It's not necessary to tell anyone you're pregnant with an alien baby creature monster. Indeed, it's necessary to treat everyone as if they're trying to harm you, despite them having given you no reason to think that and despite the possibility that they would probably want to help you.

20. Biologists will stick their hands into cobra-snake-penis monster aliens but run away from long-dead headless alien corpses.

21. It's ok to take your helmet off, despite the fact that oxygen is only one aspect of what makes breathable air and doesn't mean there aren't alien bacteria and spores that could probably kill you (since we have no defenses having never been to this place before).

22. It is necessary to allow your android to press as many buttons as possible on an alien artifact.

23. It is completely fine to walk into a foreign, alien place without armed protection because … science.

24. You shouldn't take it personally or even care when the person funding your missions says he's dead but then isn't. And then he really is.

25. People have different surnames to their daughters, despite the daughter conveying every reason to think she's not married (get billions of light-years away from Earth, sleep with good-looking men because they ask if you're a robot).

26. Science has decided there isn't that much difference between billions and millions of miles because... lightyears.

27. Running in a straight line is the only strategy from a donut-shaped ship that is collapsing perfectly on its side.

28. It is necessary to assert yourself as "in charge" of this ship and dictate what scientists may and may not do, despite them thinking otherwise, and then never leave the ship.

29. You can burn a person's lover and she won't yell at you or show that much contempt for you.

30. Fire destroys everything, including alien bacteria and diseases.

31. Disparate human civilizations all pointing to a cluster of round things in the sky over hundreds of thousands of years means you can plot those objects perfectly on a "star map": despite not knowing what those objects are (stars? planets? moons?) and knowing that despite these maps are from thousands and thousands of years ago, those objects - like the Engineers' anatomy over billions of years - won't be altered because... in the future, space objects don't move.

32. When you see weird hologram recordings of the Engineers, you don't need to question too deeply what they're running from (can't be the black goo, since they run into the room with it).

33. You don't need to wonder why the Engineers were leaving star maps to a weapons testing facility.

34. Learning human languages means you can read and speak alien languages perfectly, enough to make a big green-grey guy stroke your hair (before ripping your head off).

35. It's OK to destroy all life as long as you created it. It's not important to wonder why they want to kill all of us and want to do so, in such an ineffective manner. 

36. You can persuade a pilot you've spoken to a few times to commit suicide because he's a "soldier".

37. Also, it's not necessary to inform him there might be other ships that the Engineer pilot can use anyway (to be fair, I don't think she knew, but that's still her ignorance that David quickly overcame).

38. If a pathetic, tiny pink creature who is sweaty and yells at you (i.e. a human female) tries to kill you, it's more important to kill her than simply leave in the hundreds of other ships on the planet. This is despite the fact that you could probably have gotten onto one of these ships and used a big gun on her tiny ship, which you could identify because you have eyes.

39. Despite the 'Alien' franchise indicating aliens start off as small as puppies, then grow, it's OK to show the 'first' alien as almost adult size despite the Engineer not being that much bigger than us and matching us 100% genetically.

40. It's not necessary to go back to Earth to warn your species about a possible threat and the findings of your mission; instead you should try find that threat yourself with all the power of your… revenge and a half-broken android, to "get answers", because your previous encounters with this species indicates they're willingness to do so.

41. You can't immediately go back to Earth, to stock up, supply, get an army, and then find these giant, powerful and smarter beings because… you'll waste time. They only haven't bothered humans for billions and billions of years but you never know! No time for restocking.

42. How does Weyland know the Engineers would have the secret to immortality? (Real Answer: The fact that they haven't evolved over billions of years might be an indication. But Weyland doesn't know that they looked the same billions years ago. Only we do.)

43. Why does Weyland think they will tell him the secret, assuming they have it?

I also highly recommend this video by the wonderful guys at Red Letter Media which raises many similar questions (promise I only saw it after my own list), but done in a much more humorous way. Please do add your own and also let me know if you can think of an explanation for some of these. Some have already tried (and seem reasonable).

UPDATE: I hadn't seen it before writing, but the best (film) critic, Film Crit Hulk has just recently published his review. As always, he is a must-read for brilliant insight, remarkable arguments and lessons in creating beautiful and fulfilling works.

Image Credit: 'Prometheus poster'/WikiPedia (source)

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Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.

Psychoanalysis

Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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