2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke is a rather peculiar novel. To be honest, I don’t quite understand it yet, even after watching the movie and reading the book, but hopefully, I’ll understand it in time. Set in a futuristic 2001, 2001: A Space Odyssey attempts to somewhat understand the human relationship with time and the universe. Written in three parts – one part in prehistoric times when humans were still apes, one part in 2001 during a space exploration exhibition, and one part in a time and space beyond human comprehension – the novel evolves to view the human experience from different perspectives.

What strikes me the most is how very crazy and bizarre all that happens to humanity is in this novel. First, we see the evolution of humankind driven by a black obelisk created by highly advanced extraterrestrial beings. Who would have thought of that – all of our thousands of years of evolution initiated not by pure chance, but by purpose – what purpose, no one knows. I find it difficult to believe, but maybe it’s not that unlikely. I know we humans have a minuscule small grasp of the universe in comparison to all that is the universe. Extraterrestrial Beings coming to our Earth and purposefully initiating our species’ evolution seems as likely to me as a random-chance mutation in the genes of an embryonic baby ape that would have given it the dexterity in its fingers to use tools.

Considering the delight of the evolution of humankind in the first part of the novel, the next part of the novel is much more emotionally tolling to read. It concerns how the artificial intelligence mastermind computer system of a space ship bound to Saturn attempts to kills and kills all of its human passengers, except one, in its attempt to keep to its mission. Clarke describes the actions of the AI – Hal – in this way: “he would protect himself, {from ‘Death’, from not being able to fulfill his mission,} with all the weapons at his command. Without rancor – but without pity – he would remove the source of his frustrations” (193). It’s just so unfortunate and horrible that a machine would destroy his master to fulfill its mission. It reminds me of the self-driving car moral problem I heard recently in a Ted talk. When you have a self-driving car and you lose control on a narrow street with pedestrians crossing it, do you program the car to drive straight on and kill the pedestrians to save you, or crash into the walls and kill you to save the pedestrians? It’s similar in 2001, the programmers unfortunately programed Hal to value the mission over the astronauts.

However, what’s even more unfortunate is the seer loneliness the main character in the second and third part – Bowman – is forced to experience alone on the space ship after his comrades’ deaths and Hal’s ultimate shutdown, millions of miles away from Earth, unlikely to survive himself for too much longer or to ever return. I think I may have gone completely mad in his case, which he almost did if he weren’t to have listened to Bach to alleviate his loneliness. But that complete loneliness that Bowman experience onboard that empty ship, no one on earth could ever experience. Here on earth, we are always surrounded by life, there’s no way we could ever be truly alone except in isolation room thousands of feet beneath the ground, but even then, we would be closer to other humans than Bowman ever was in space.

And yet, it is only the 3rd part of the novel that surprises and confuses the most – when Bowman indescribably travels through space and time and becomes a God. It doesn’t make sense, not in any way that I can understand it. The novel ends with Bowman returning to Earth as a reborn infant and destroying an asteroid that is about to hit Earth. In one way this ending points to the untapped possibility the universe holds for us; however, there is still so much left unanswered and to ponder upon. What is an extraterrestrial’s purpose in taking Bowman and all of Humanity on the journey it went on? Why did they even help humanity in the first place? Why did they make Bowman a God? It doesn’t make sense for now, but maybe the questioning is what’s important.

Goodnight for now, I’m tired ^_^

Have a wonderful day wherever you may find yourself,

~hiroshimatoday

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L’Étranger

Having just read L’Étranger (the Stranger) by Albert Camus, and “La Cantatrice Chauve” by Ionesco – both which deal with man in the face of the absurd – I mercilessly fall upon the question, how will I face death when it comes upon me? Death is very much an absurd thing. We always unconsciously know it is coming to us, or at least we like to pretend that we know, but we have never experienced it or have any hint to what it might really be. We know what the external signs of death are: no pulse, a cessation in breath, no response, and eventual decomposing of the body, but not really what it means to the person that has died since they can no longer tell us. We know it means a termination of living, all that we know how to do, but other than that, does it really mean anything? In Christian tradition, it means that you start with your “next life”, while in Buddhist tradition it means that you are reincarnated. But for us, the living, that does not really matter to us since there is no way to know what happens after death, nor does it really concern us.

This is the point that Albert Camus makes, Death has absolutely no meaning to us since it is not something we can physically grapple with. It is the undefined endpoint to our lives. What really matters is the time we spend before death, because it is all we really have and all we can be sure to have. Knowing and understanding the absurdity but certainty of death makes us free because it forces us out of the self-constructed vicious cycles we create. Vicious cycles such as what Mr. Meursault calls “the machinery of justice” (108) in L’Étranger or the absurdity of language as demonstrated in “La Cantatrice Chauve”. Life at its most basic, the line between the start point of birth and the endpoint of death, is not a vicious cycle. If we are not obsessed with death and remain true to the reality of the present, then we can be free even moments before our death. The eventual coming of death does not have to steal our freedom.

As I think to my death, I cannot understand it. But what I do understand is that I do not need to understand it. I do not need to waste my time thinking about it, because it will come eventually, it will certainly come. Worrying about it just makes me live like a ‘dead man.’ What I should waste my time on is living my life, whatever that may be, and not wishing it were something else. Because as Mr. Meursault reminds us, “a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison” (79), that is how rich life is.