spoiling the fun with explanations, a horrid thought

From: Damien Broderick (d.broderick@english.unimelb.edu.au)
Date: Thu Nov 08 2001 - 20:28:12 MST

On another list, a guy wrote of the `midichlorians' in THE PHANTOM MENACE:

>virtually everything in the Star
>Wars universe turns out to be lamer than you think as soon as Lucas
>takes the time to explain it more, the Force being no exception

[I then commented:]

Same as the let-down when Arthur Clarke `explained' in rather clunkingly
realistic terms what Kubrick had shown as luminous and numinous and
incomprehensibly awe-inspiring and all.

But maybe that's what *has* to happen when scientific understanding--or its
simulacrum--is brought to bear, despite Richard Dawkins' raptures in
UNWEAVING THE RAINBOW (frequently echoed by me in science-booster mode).
Maybe the ancient sensawunda module only works when the rest of the
reality-checking brain is pushed offline, paradoxical though that might
seem when the ostensible format is `mind-blowing adventure in a
scientifically understandable universe'.

[another pal adds:]

Indeed. Leaving aside all questions of cinematic preferences for the
moment, the question of why almost everybody disliked the midichlorian
stuff is interesting. After all, it isn't an nonsensical idea; the Force,
"mystical" or not, is an empirically measurable energy field. It has real
effects on the material universe - moves solid objects, crushes throats,
etc. And sensitivity to it is inherited, so is presumably due to some
physical variable affected by genes. So it's hardly surprising that they
have developed a method of diagnosing force-sensitivity. The idea that it
might be expressed in sub-cellular structures like mitochondria is even a
bit interesting as an idea. It's probably the closest thing the Star Wars
films have come to actual science fiction. And I like science fiction.

So why did I hate it all the midichlorian stuff so much? I think that it
actually makes sense in functional/developmental terms. The moment of
understanding is a thrill, but understanding itself is just a fact. Useful,
but not moving, because it is now merely an accomplished fact, without
challenge, threat, or promise of future reward. Understanding, Dawkin's
raptures aside, is yesterday's news, a done deal.

There may also be a simple psychological reason; incomprehension and a
feeling of being overwhelmed are how kids feel all the time when
contemplating the vastness of their world. To feel the unknown is to feel
like a kid again, which can also be enjoyable in the right circumstances.

All of which explains why I, a science fan of long standing and unashamed
supporter and apologist for technology and modernity, cannot deny a feeling
of wary disappointment at the notion that scientists may one day find a
unified theory of everything that would take all mystery out of the
material universe. Cut it down to size, so to speak. This despite the fact
that as a more-or-less extropian, I am rooting for them to get on and
explain it all in time to save my butt.

The Loch Ness Monster as a mysterious, unexplained phenomenon is exciting.
Like an unopened Xmas Present, it is full of possibilities. Explained, even
as something as unusual as a living plesiosaur, it is just a zoo exhibit.
Sigh. Face it, a mysterious universe will always be more entertaining.


It's worth musing on this observable effect, I think. I now expect to read
a dozen rants explaining why *knowing* is better than *nescience*, and more
satisfying, and more deeply numinous than nay-saying ignorant bullshit...
but the fact is, it often isn't experienced that way. We might need to take
this into account.

Damien Broderick

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 11 2002 - 17:44:18 MDT