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"I wanted to do a show about people who are not 'super,' just working-class people, the people history steps on. (Joss on Firefly)"
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October 03 2008

Serenity one of New Scientist's top Sci-Fi films. Serenity was a runner-up to Blade Runner in a poll of New Scientist staffers favourite Sci-Fi movies. There's also a chance for readers to vote for their own for a Sci-Fi special in November.

I haven't voted yet, but I bought a subscription to New Scientist. We're a lucrative market, here at the W.

I always used to read it at the library, but I hardly ever go there anymore, and I miss New Scientist.
Good magazine. I used to subscribe but ended up just not having time to read it. Took a box full to the charity shop the last time I moved and had to take them out of the polywrap beforehand. Dunno, maybe i'll ask Santa for a renewal, 'Fringe' isn't looking great and T:TSCC is on shaky ground so that's an hour and a half a week right there ;).

Always good to see the BDM getting its props. And 'Primer' is also a pretty decent little flick IMO but yeah not entirely straight-forward, worth watching a couple of times. But i'd always have to put 'Lifeforce' near the top of any gratuitously naked list, 'Barbarella' barely holds a candle to it (not that i'm necessarily complaining you understand ;).

The reason scientists like Serenity was because it was scientifically rigourous. Dollhouse, however clearly isn't, therefore we're not going to get the key scientific backing why even film more episodes?

Have to agree with the worst-movie vote for "Dune".
'Fringe' isn't looking great and T:TSCC is on shaky ground so that's an hour and a half a week right there ;).

I've been trying a self-improvement project of less TV and internet, more reading. If all it took was to give up Fringe, I'd be there already. I seem to be congenitally unable to connect with J.J. Abram's shows, no matter how interesting the premise, or how brilliant the cast, or how the writing doesn't entirely suck. They all bore me almost comatose. I have no idea why.

Dune has some amazing stuff in it. Try watching while not expecting it to be like the book, or good in any conventional way.
Dune movie fan here. If it touches one of the best novels of all time it's probably something I like in some way, shape or form.

So far I'm liking Fringe!

Hopeless Dune movie fan here too.
Even when they're bad ( and some of them are ) I still watch.
The books are my all time favorites, so how can I resist?

Aren't they making a new Dune movie?
I can't really take any of this seriously. Although Blade Runner and 2001 both deserve to be on that list (I haven't seen Solaris, but I just read the book and loved it), I have a hard time accepting that Serenity is one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. Of course, I might be in the minority around here.

Also, Lynch's Dune is not particularly bad. It's insane, and not particularly faithful to the book, but it's still well made. Considering all the hundreds of schlocky sci-fi films out there, singling Dune out just seems ludicrous.
Paul Atredies: thinking "I will not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will allow it to pass over me and through me. I will not fear."

Pytr deVries: "It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It by the Juice of Safu that the thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion."

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen: "You wish to join your wife? Is that it, traitor? You wish to join her? Join her." Yeuh gets stabbed in the back

Dr. Wellington Yeuh: "Grrrghrk!" sinks to his knees, raises his eyes to "the floating fatman" "You think...I don't know...what I gained...for my wife!?"

Alia: "And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!!"

Yeah. Dune fan here. C'mon - Kyle MacLachlan, Everett McGill, Jurgen Prochnow, Dean Stockwell, Patrick Stewart, Linda Hunt, Max Von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Sting...stellar cast right there. And, despite what one of my classmates in high school said, it's not "three hours of sand." It's about a promised messiah and the machinations put in effect on both sides to create and prevent him from becoming. It's about free will and flying in the face of convention.

Were you using the sarcasm font? What makes you think Dollhouse isn't "scientifically rigourous" ? I don't think there is any magic involved. You don't think it might be possible to wipe minds and download new data. It is just science fiction because it hasn't happened yet.
You don't think it might be possible to wipe minds and download new data.

Are you using the sarcasm font or do you actually think it will be Anonymous1 ? Cos a mind is not only a helluva thing to waste, it'd also be a helluva thing to read and store too. That said, I can believe the reading/storage much more readily than I can believe the "downloading" (or, closer, "uploading"). Still, the idea of transferring consciousnesses is a very well-worn sci-fi trope, it's just one of those conceits you have to accept to watch the show (there're more and less believable ways of portraying it of course but, to be honest, I really doubt Joss is going to spend too much time trying to justify it scientifically - that sort of thing isn't really his style).

And besides, there's more to scientific rigour than just adhering only to the possible.

Although Blade Runner and 2001 both deserve to be on that list (I haven't seen Solaris, but I just read the book and loved it), I have a hard time accepting that Serenity is one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. Of course, I might be in the minority around here.

The poll isn't about greatest though, it's about favourite and though I personally agree there're many greater sci-fi films, it's still one of my (and their) favourites.
ShadowQuest, it might technically be about those things (or perhaps is supposed to be) but the movie version of Dune you reference is mostly about being overblown and ultimately kind of boring after the first time through, IMHO.
The slow shields were cool though.

Must get around to reading the books sometime.
Saje -

I'm shocked. I would have assumed that you had already read the Dune books seeing as you seem to be a scifi movie/tv/book fan from your posts here (or are you using the sarcasm font also?).

You should at least read the first book. Some of the later books are quite a bit different and some don't appreciate those as much. I enjoyed them all, but the first three are the standouts imo. My favorite books of all time, and the only thing I've ever found myself "proselytizing" about other than FF. I buy extra copies of the book at library book sales just so that I can give out copies to new friends.

Brilliant books. And ahead of their time, particularly in their treatment of ecology.

[ edited by JossIzBoss on 2008-10-04 15:55 ]
Ooo, Blade Runner. One of my favorite movies and favorite books. Also like the Dune novels for much of the same reasons outlined by ShadowQuest and JossIzBoss above. As for the movie- the worst thing about Dune is that it wasn't true to the book; the best thing about it was Sting. He was HOT. And if you're past a certain age, he's still hot. While I'm on this topic, I didn't find that scene in The Fifth Element gratuitous at all. I thought it was artisitc, unlike Barbarella, which was just well, uck.

I'm probably in a minority here, but I don't understand the hype about 2001. I have yet to see it without falling asleep.

And thanks, ShadowQuest, for that quote about fear being the mind-killer, one of my favorites but for a different reason. It was the mantra of Earthworm Jim's sidekick, and if we were doing a poll on favorite science fiction cartoon series, that would be my pick. Brought a smile: :)
I've read all the Dune novels (including the ones written by Frank Herbert's son, Brian, and Kevin J. Anderson) and seen the original movie as well as the two Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. I found both the books and the various filmed versions of the Dune universe to be highly addictive.
I honestly could never get into the Dune books after the first . . . but the first is one of my all-time favorites too. I enjoyed the movie, but couldn't stand the mini-series, which featured one of the most egregious miscastings ever, IMO, in the actor who was chosen to play Paul.

Seems too complicated and beyond our understanding now. Now. Study of the human brain advances everyday. Storage capabilities increase everyday.

What science unbreakable law would stop it from ever happening?

We are not talking time-travel or faster-than-light travel here.
Heisenberg's uncertainty principal would make it pretty tough to record the mind I think Anonymous1, though it may depend how high a "resolution" would actually be required.

Well i'm most definitely not a neuro-biologist so i'm reaching a bit here but as to fast (e.g. minutes to hours) imprinting of a mind, you're talking about halting the brain and then arranging the precise state of 100 billion neurons and the 100 trillion connections between them. All the nerve impulses, all the sodium and potassium atoms within each neuron all the axons and dendrites, all the synaptic gaps exactly the same width, every neurotransmitter of exactly matching concentration and all the receptors in the same quantities and the same places etc. The brain isn't plastic enough to change in that way that quickly and I guess much of that is determined by our genes so to keep the brain running along exactly the same lines as the imprint's brain for any length of time (i.e. minutes to hours) you might need to rewrite some DNA too (otherwise which chemicals are produced and in what quantities etc. would vary and the minds would start to diverge). Seems to me that it's not like just loading another bit of software because with the mind/brain relationship the hardware determines the software.

Apart from that it's a walk in the park though ;).

(none of which matters of course, it's a sci-fi idea, it doesn't have to be possible, it just has to be made plausible through the suspension of disbelief. Vampires and werewolves wandering around didn't stop me watching Buffy for instance)

I'm shocked. I would have assumed that you had already read the Dune books ...

They just never really appealed to me JossIzBoss, i'm sure they're very good, everyone raves about them etc. but for whatever reason I just haven't got around to it (yet, I probably will at some point). Not read 'Lord of the Rings' either *returns geek badge* ;).

I bet that is exactly why the Dolls start to become aware of there base personhood or prior downloads. They are probably not rewriting the whole brain just parts of it.

Are we are assuming that the Dolls have a whole human brain. Maybe part of their brain has been replaced. Is memory being erased or being supressed? Do we actually know that they are human? Naturally born humans?
Saje, how about this possibility from NLP (Neuro-linguistic processing)? Frequently used synaptic paths tend to be thicker than others. New paths can be created. Increased use of new or pre-existing paths can be "trained", thus becomming thicker and more easily accessible. In the case of Dollhouse, supress the actual memories by "shrinking" those paths, thereby making them less accessible, and program by either creating new paths or altering any pre-existing ones that might still be relevant. SF meets an existing nuerological theory, but the technology doesn't exist yet. As a theory, it would also explain how Echo could retain some awareness, ie. the paths aren't shruck enough.

We were talking about Dune, right?

Who's Heisenberg? ETA: Never mind. Durrrr...

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-10-04 20:04 ]

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-10-04 20:22 ]
Police office pulls over a guy speeding down the motorway and realises it's professor Heisenberg.

"Professor" he says "do you have any idea how fast you were going?".

"No" he says "but I know exactly where I was".
Saje -

Okay, yeah, I understand that. There are numerous books I've been meaning to get around to for years. I believe it took me about 15 years to get around to Dune. :)

Even then, I didn't really get intrigued by Dune until about 75 pages in because the writing style was so different that it threw me. Now I would term Frank Herbert's writing style as "genius" in Dune - not so much for his other books (at least those I've read) - a distinction which I find a little perplexing.

Don't let the movie dissuade you from trying the book. One has very little to do with the other.

And that's as far as I'll go in trying to convince you. :)
I love that New Scientist (which is probably my favorite popular science magazine, internationally) has a SF special. I've been wanting to contribute to something like that for ages (or, possibly, for two years ;)), for the Dutch popular science magazines I write for.

I remember New Scientist staffers liking Firefly as well, so it makes sense that they also really like Serenity. It's nice to see it pop up in such a respected magazine, though. This is exactly the kind of cultural longevity I was hoping for when the movie got released.
They are probably not rewriting the whole brain just parts of it.

Again, not a neuro-biologist but if you rewrite part of the brain why wouldn't its state be affected (i.e. changed) by the rest of the brain (i.e. the part that's not changed) ? The areas of the brain are obviously connected to each other after all. In Joss' words the actives actually become whoever they're imprinted with, they don't just "know Kung-Fu", they actually are an entirely different person.

And besides, rewriting "just parts" of the brain has all of the problems I mentioned limited only in scale (and not much even then really - a few orders of magnitude don't amount to a hill of beans in that crazy 100 trillion connections ;), there's still Heisenberg, re-arranging neurons etc. (maybe they do have computers implanted or whatever, that seems like a possible phlebotinum but as far as reality's concerned that's just swapping one thing we don't know for another - and you still have to read the personality somehow).

(and as I say, I suspect Joss isn't going to bother too much with it anyway - the science is a hook to hang drama on as far as he's concerned and I personally wouldn't have it any other way. So long as his explanation is vague enough or plausible enough that I can still suspend disbelief then it's not an issue for me)

Frequently used synaptic paths tend to be thicker than others. New paths can be created. Increased use of new or pre-existing paths can be "trained", thus becomming thicker and more easily accessible.

Ever had training or learned a new skill MysticSlug (i'm betting yes ;) ? Did your personality completely change afterwards ? No, right ? Because training certain neurons is a world away from molding an entire brain and fundamentally changing, at every level, not just what the brain thinks but how it thinks it.
Here is hoping Joss comes up with "explanation is vague enough or plausible enough".

I think he can do that!
"Did your personality change afterwards?"

That's actualy the point of NLP. It's based on syntaptic plasticity. It can be used to change less desirable habits of thought to more positive ones, and yes, part of the result is an altered personality. Athletes use it to train their minds to succeed. It is not used, and you are right to question that, to change someone's identity, which is a completely different thing. It's a distinction between who a person is as opposed to how a person thinks, and then acts on that thinking.

The point though was to find some scientific theory to hang the programming of the dolls on. This actually exists, but we don't use machines or chemicals to make it happen, and as it exists today, it falls far short of a method to (un? re?)program dolls. It's too time consuming and there's the issue of memory and knowledge. To actually "become" another person, memory and knowledge also need to be completely altered. My point is that if we take NLP to its absolute extreem, that's exactly where we would end up. And at that point, I'd just lke to say that's it's a very good thing we don't go there in the real world. That would be a very frightening place.

Personally, I'm hoping Joss injects them with something and puts a helmet or whatever on thier heads and leaves it at that.

Is this Heisenberg you're talking about the same who developed quantum theory? How is that relevant to neurons?

[ edited by MysticSlug on 2008-10-05 19:14 ]
Yep that's the guy (well he was a major contributer at least). And it's relevant because Heisenberg's uncertainty principle tells us that we can never know the position and momentum of a particle exactly, which seems pretty much essential if you're copying something that relies on particles for its operation (like a human brain does with, for instance, the atoms of neurotransmitters in synaptic gaps).

The problem as I see it with the brain is, it's always "moving" from one state to another so that at any instant some nerves have electrical impulses travelling down them and some impulses have already arrived at their synapse with the subsequent release of neurotransmitters across the synaptic gap. So you need to know the concentrations of neurotransmitters in those gaps at that instant (and how close they are to their receptors etc.) otherwise you can't reach the next brain state.

(and the "instant" thing itself could also be a problem - you'd need to "read" the entire brain at once, instantaneously, otherwise you'd be reading parts of it in one state and parts of it in the following states. Course, it depends on how the mind/brain thing actually works as to how damaging that would be, maybe the system is self-correcting because that sort of thing happens all the time in normal day-to-day operation, as far as i'm aware, we don't yet know how consciousness arises from brain operation)

And again, I don't know much about NLP (beyond the fact that most psychologists don't seem to have much time for it ;) but the idea that you can totally, from the ground up, rewrite a brain with what amounts to an intense form of learning seems a bit far-fetched to me (not just unlikely and not just requiring NLP taken to its extremes but not actually doable in principle). As I say, some of the structure of the brain is determined by genes and no amount of NLP can affect those, surely ?
Good question on the gene issue. I have no idea. As for the other part about whole brain or not, keeping things modualted might help, but again, it's just a theory.

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