One of my favorite television miniseries is the HBO production, “From The Earth To the Moon“. This series details the saga of the Apollo space program, with the goal (in President Kennedy’s words) of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth”.
Although I’m not a supporter of government-funded science for the same reasons Ayn Rand laid out in her essay “Apollo 11“, like Rand I still marvel at this tremendous achievement which was a triumph of man’s reason and courage.
Of the various episodes in the series my favorite is probably episode 5, “Spider“.
“Spider” depicted the development of the Lunar Module (LEM) by Grumman Aircraft, led by engineer Tom Kelly. Kelly and his team solved engineering challenge after challenge through a combination of reason, ingenuity, creativity, intellectual integrity, and above all an utmost respect for the facts of reality. The episode is upbeat and nicely captures the joy of engineering.
The whole episode is superb and worth watching. But I was especially glad to find this short excerpt of the final 5 minutes on YouTube:
Kelly’s musings about how each LEM has a “soul”, consisting of the souls of all the men who built her, designed her, and dreamed about her was very reminiscent of Dagny Taggart’s musings in Atlas Shrugged during the first run of the John Galt Line when she thought that the motors running her engines were alive — operated by remote control by the souls and minds of the thinking men who designed them.
(The video track just above is from a different television show, but the audio track is from the HBO series.)
I’ve always thought of these as wonderful musical concretizations of the optimistic American sense of life that was so widespread and normal just a few years ago.
So if you find yourself getting depressed over current events, just remember that many Americans still retain that marvelous implicit sense that life is good, happiness is desirable and attainable, and great achievements are possible to men. And as long as we still have that, this country still has a chance.
Joss Whedon really got my attention with his wonderful but sadly shortlived TV series Firefly and its related movie Serenity. So when I found the premiere episode of his Dollhouse series on Hulu last night, I was eager to check it out.
Quick review: I’m intrigued. Excellent production, solid acting, short skirts. And most important, a sci-fi premise that will make you think about the nature of personal identity. What if you could copy aspects of people from a library of personas to create an amalgam in a host, tailored for some particular application? Need someone who flies helicopters and has a doctorate in neurobiology? Coming right up — but you’d better hope that the amalgam is stable and that none of the donors’ psychological quirks mess things up before the mission is completed and the host is wiped clean again.
Which brings us to the hosts, the agents used in these missions. What would be their motivation for undertaking such a lifestyle? Who would volunteer to become a vessel forever filled and emptied by someone else? Sure, whatever horrible memories they’ve accumulated in life would be erased, which sounds appealing. And they would get to be and do an amazing variety of things — presumably bringing about happiness and justice and so on. That’s pretty cool, too.
But who are you, if not the sum of your choices and actions and experiences? And what is any of it worth to you if you have no knowledge of what “you” did?