November 30 – Time/Space

//November 30 – Time/Space
November 30 – Time/Space 2018-01-07T15:01:49-04:00


Kubrick, Stanley. 2001: A Space Odyssey. New York, N.Y., 1968.(Amazon, iTunes)

Doctor Who: Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead. Season 4, Episodes 9 (Amazon) and 10(Amazon) (iTunes)

Cosmos, A Space Time Odyssey. “A Sky Full of Ghosts.” Season 1, Episode 4. 2014. (Netflix). (here is a weird YouTube version)

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. “Travels in Space and Time.” Season 1 Episode 8. 1980.

Theory and Commentary

Gorman, Alice. 2005. The Cultural Landscape of Interplanetary Space. Journal of Social Archaeology 5(1):85-107. [This is a new link, to replace the one that didn’t work. Article is also available on our NYU Classes site under Resources.]


First Prototype Due


  1. Sigrid von Wendel November 30, 2016 at 12:15 am - Reply

    Class survey: If given the opportunity for a free trip to space, would you go?

    The Dr. Who episodes reminded me of the Black Mirror episode that Stacy is doing her prototype on… Would you upload a person you love if you could?

    Gorman’s article brought to mind defund NASA efforts that argue there are enough problems on the earth to focus resources on. I don’t think she is arguing for an end to space exploration, but reading about the damage, death, and waste space exploration has left in its wake is troubling. How do we balance spending resources on current terrestrial realities vs. the great murky unknown? What is the relationship between the two?

    Just as SF is a reflection of our present world views, science is as well. Einstein disproved years of scientific thinking with his cosmic speed limit. How do we know that all of our current notions are just as flawed?

    How far off is 2001esq space travel? Would it be worth the unknown consequences?

    Watching Cosmos and rerealizing our planetary smallness changes the way I look at pretty much everything. It’s a relief to remember that we are specks.

    • Kimon November 30, 2016 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      The Total Perspective Vortex derives its  picture  of  the  whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses.

      To explain – since every piece of matter in the  Universe  is  in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of  creation  – every  sun,  every  planet,  their  orbits, their composition and their economic and social history from, say, one small  piece  of fairy cake.

      The  man  who  invented  the  Total  Perspective  Vortex  did  so basically in order to annoy his wife.

      Trin Tragula – for that was his name – was a dreamer, a  thinker, a  speculative  philosopher  or,  as  his  wife would have it, an idiot.

      And she would nag him incessantly about  the  utterly  inordinate amount  of  time he spent staring out into space, or mulling over the mechanics of safety pins, or doing spectrographic analyses of pieces of fairy cake.

      “Have some sense of proportion!”  she  would  say,  sometimes  as often as thirty-eight times in a single day.

      And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex – just to show her.

      “And into one end he plugged the whole of reality as  extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw  in  one  instant  the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

      To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock  completely  annihilated  her brain;  but  to  his  satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a Universe of this size,  then  the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

      The door of the Vortex swung open.

      From his disembodied mind Gargravarr watched dejectedly.  He  had rather  liked  Zaphod Beeblebrox in a strange sort of way. He was clearly a man of many qualities, even if  they  were  mostly  bad ones.

      He waited for him to flop forwards out of the box,  as  they  all did.

      Instead, he stepped out.

      “Hi!” he said.

      “Beeblebrox …” gasped Gargravarr’s mind in amazement.

      “Could I have a drink please?” said Zaphod.

      “You … you … have been in the Vortex?” stammered Gargravarr.

      “You saw me, kid.”

      “And it was working?”

      “Sure was.”

      “Sure. Really neat place, you know that?”

      Gargravarr’s mind was reeling in astonishment. Had his body  been with  him  it  would have sat down heavily with its mouth hanging open.

      “And you saw yourself,” said Gargravarr, “in relation to it all?”

      “Oh, yeah, yeah.”

      “But … what did you experience?”

      Zaphod shrugged smugly.

      “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really  terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!”

      His gaze passed over the machinery which powered the  vortex  and suddenly stopped, startled.

      He breathed heavily.

      “Hey,” he said, “is that really a piece of fairy cake?”

      He ripped the small piece of confectionery from the sensors  with which it was surrounded.

      “If I told you how much I needed this,” he  said  ravenously,  “I wouldn’t have time to eat it.”

      He ate it.”

      Excerpt From: Douglas Adams. “HHGTTG 2 – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.” Chapter 11

  2. Ivan! November 30, 2016 at 9:42 am - Reply

    WOW I almost cried with that silhouette of Carl Sagan… Cosmos is so damn good it is like a black hole, so grand that entire worlds fit within just one episode.

    Now, first to answer Sig’s inquiry: This might sound silly, but I would absolutely grab the opportunity to visit a spacescape, but is this a co-ed thing? Are there girls joining me on the trip? I would go on a space trip to satisfy my intellectual curiosity, but underneath it all I’d still be an ape like the ones in the better part of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I have a biological need to extend my species. Anywhere I go on earth I know there will be girls and I can have kids. But not space. They just don’t make humans there. So that would discourage me if there weren’t any girls. But even if it’s just me I think I’d still have to do it.

    Given how time and space interact, I feel like it would only be worth making a journey through space if you’re gonna be there for a reasonable amount of time, and then come back to find that many more years have passed on earth than I have experienced. Now would you leave your earth?

    Now, changing the subject. About 2001, it’s a masterpiece, but I don’t know man, I liked the Russian Solaris better. Could it be said that when 2001 was trying to prove something big about our humanity by holding up a mirror, whereas Solaris showed us as much about ourselves through a mind-blowing planet-alien?

    Astray comment: I like the moment when Carl Sagan points to the fact that this reality is like a Civilization game in which we did kind of shitty, and that we could be way closer to a scientific victory by now if we didn’t interfere with Greece.

  3. Stacy Shirk November 30, 2016 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Sigrid, to answer your question, I would need a lot more information than price – how safe is it? How long would it take? If there’s a destination, what would it be? How many years would have passed when I got back? There’s a lot to consider, but I love the question! Gets me daydreaming about hopping around on the moon.

    I have to give a shout out to the music of 2001, because DAMN. I forgot just how amazing it is. Also the sense of doom felt when HAL calls itself foolproof and completely reliable – makes me think of White Star Line calling the Titanic “unsinkable.” My mother would say that’s calling down the evil eye.

    What really struck me about 2001: A Space Odyssey was the 1960s elements – the interior design, the Pan Am flight attendants, the interaction with the Soviets, and the clothes from the space suits to the dress that Dr. Floyd’s daughter wears. How much of that is a reflection of the era vs. the film having an impact on visuals of the coming years, and therefore our perception looking back? Even as it is pretty obviously a product of the 60s, it influenced so many future projects, from Star Wars to The Leftovers. Putting it in a historical context, the film was released a year before American astronauts landed on the moon and a year after the launch pad disaster that killed three astronauts. Of course, Kubrick and Clarke had been working on it since 1964, but it was made and released in the midst of fervor over the space program. Does this film ultimately inspire hope? Fear? Neither?

    I think 2001 would fit just was well in our Human/Machine discussions – there is so much about HAL that could go either way (that red “eye” is totally watching all of us, forever, though I may have teared up at “I’m afraid, Dave…” and “Daisy”).

    What do we think of the first action after the apes discover the monolith being violence? Does your perception of the movie change at all in the context of “survival of the fittest”?

    • Kimon November 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm - Reply

  4. Sam November 30, 2016 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Sigrid, can I get on the TARDIS? Then, absolutely. Otherwise, I share Stacy’s skepticism, but would probably go. But if this was some kind of question of everyone I love growing old while I remain the same age, or if there was the possibility of encountering a monolith that transformed me into a skybaby, I would probably reconsider.

    1. So, about that monolith, what is its nature? Does it reveal unspeakable, boundless knowledge that changes perception? Does the cosmic light travel Dave goes through represent the imparting of that knowledge? Is it somehow like the gift of language given in Arrival? Or does it somehow act as the impetus of evolution to any species that encounters it? Is Dave as skybaby evolution? Can the monolith function as the black holes described in Cosmos, transporting one to different times and space?

    2. The River Song story line for Dr. Who is a really interesting way to look at time– two people living the same story backwards. I found this flowchart (, that is rife with ~spoilers~ of their story, but I like the idea of re-watching the River Song arc, like watching only the X-Files mythology episodes, but much less of a commitment. Focusing on this episode, it would be where River “dies,” but she refers to the day as one where nobody dies. Do we consider those saved in the hard drive alive? How do we define alive? Do they age? Do they remain cognizant of what this constructed world really is?

    3.How do we better honor and acknowledge the problematic history associated with space travel that Gorman illuminates? How do we better address the complexities of our “space heritage?” How do we put a “cultural landscape approach” into practice?

    • Kimon November 30, 2016 at 5:57 pm - Reply



  5. Johnathan Peter McCauley November 30, 2016 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    Sigrid: heck yes.

    The monolith. What the heck is it? If it is a mirror of sorts, then is self-awareness the gift it gives to the primates in the beginning of the movie? If so, is the connection between self-awareness and self-preservation tight enough? (I think so). Also, what way does this ray of insight move? (from SP -> SA or from SA -> SP) Furthermore, that beginning segment with the primates is so complex and intricate. So awesome. All my questions are about this section. If I remember correctly, before the monolith, the different camps of primates “battled” for the watering hole with demonstrations of power verbally, by roaring, and physically, by pounding their OWN chests / jumping around. The monolith arrives and everything changes. The primate makes the connection between the bone moving on the ground and influencing the physical positioning / makeup of the bones that are smashed. The tool (or weapon – watch out for the wormhole hear leading to a connection to the awesome movie Arrival and the tool/weapon debacle) is used to smash the animals. They start eating meat. Then, the next time to battle over the watering hole takes place, one band of primates smash a rival primate and win the watering hole. This all takes place in about 8 minutes of film but has so much to say about, as it says, The Dawn of Man. I could go on about this forever so I won’t because if I do, before I submit these questions, there might be another planet alignment event.

  6. Matthew Dischner November 30, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Sig: Yep, in a heartbeat. No reservations. I’d go one way if that was the case.

    1) My question about the monolith, how does it effect intelligence? We see it either elevates mental capacity or possibly spurs on evolution. Does it change the nature of the species, though? How related are the apes at the beginning with the Starchild at the end? Does HAL recognize the animal nature in Frank and Dave? I’m reminded, in fact, of the first episode of TNG, where Picard and the Enterprise are put on trail for the nature of humanity and how it was in the past.

    2) This is a, big, question, but how do time and space function in 2001? Everything seems pretty straight forward, of course, till the last section. Bowman moves through space, certainly, and time seems to affect him. But does he move through time as all that happens around him? Is the Earth he returns to as the Star Child the Earth he departed, temporally or otherwise (there is an answer, thanks to the sequel book “2010”, but still I wonder)?

    3) Is the Starchild the next form of human evolution? Or is Bowman an anomaly? Evolution is, by all accounts, as series of accidents or mistakes. Are the changes wrought by the monolith accidents? Did the men on the moonbase change or experience evolution? Does the monolith affect natural evolution, or is it something altogether different?

    Also, for your viewing/listening pleasure, Kubrick initially wanted Pink Floyd to provide the soundtrack for the movie, but they were unavailable. This is what could have been:

    • Kimon November 30, 2016 at 6:06 pm - Reply

      Pink Floyd over Strauss and Ligeti

  7. Sophie November 30, 2016 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Wow, so many great comments/questions…

    1. I must ask, what is the significance of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey? How can we create parallels between the film and what we know of space and time?

    2. How is the Neil deGrasse Tyson version of Cosmos a very ‘american-centric’ perspective on space exploration and our knowledge about it throughout time?

    3. What is the purpose of the rather long opening section of Kubrick’s film? Is that truly the beginning of mankind as we know it now?

  8. Charlie Peterson November 30, 2016 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    1. Is there a fundamental relationship between consciousness and time? In the Doctor Who episodes it is clear that time passes very differently in cyber space – dream like. Would a disembodied mind always experience “dream like” passage of time. Is disembodied consciousness possible?

    2. I found the time bending and “ghosts” of Cosmos very out of place. Compare the time-bending of relativity to the time-rewriting of Doctor Who. The Doctor doesn’t look into his own future. This would break the rules. Relativity does not do this. Causality is preserved. So is this really science fiction or just plain science?

    3. American Philosopher Richard Weaver said in Ideas Have Consequences (1948), “The simultaneous perception of successive events if the crowning achievement of the philosopher.” Is this what the end of 2001 means? The opening of 2001 reminds me of the end of Lucy. Is this time transcending object the cause of the transition from ape –> human?

  9. jpetinos November 30, 2016 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    1) In “Doctor Who: Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead,” a spectrum of reality, or consciousness, is explored. What makes one reality (a file on a hard drive, Cal’s constructed reality, the ‘real world,’ the future, etc.) any more real than the other? Do they exist simultaneously?

    2) How does HAL’s killing the crew members parallel any other survival effort made by a human? How are we affected by his pleading? At what point are we affected?

    3) When River Song gets uploaded from jump drive into a computer reality, are we seeing the same River Song that we’ve seen so far, or we seeing a clone or simulation? Is there a difference?

  10. Jane Excell November 30, 2016 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    In her article on interplanetary space, Gorman states that it is, “no longer the last wilderness or the final frontier” (86), but I don’t see why the fact that it has now become ever-so-slightly more accessible than it was before the launch of Sputnik has rendered it so familiar that we can no longer call it a new frontier. Why does she insist that the mere trace of humanity on the interplanetary landscape means that it can no longer be considered a new frontier? What is her definition of a “frontier”?

    The Cosmos episodes brought home to me just exactly how tiny, brief and insignificant Earth is in the grand scheme of the universe, yet so many of these futuristic space shows revolve around Earth and the activities of humans within a relatively short span of time. I appreciate what 2001: A Space Odyssey does to cross the expanse of time as well as space, but could this be taken to an even higher level, that really depicts the incredible smallness of Earth in relation to the universe? What might such a film look like?

    The intricacies of navigating a relationship from different perspectives in time makes my head spin. I understand the urge not to “contaminate” the others’ timeline, but aren’t they all tangled together already? Why bother trying to keep things straight at all when two people’s perspectives on time have become so strangely intertwined?

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