Sunday, October 02, 2005

On Astrology
I notice in my Blog profile, my sign of the zodiac is listed. I regret this, but it comes with the territory.

I would rather not have my sign showing, for the simple reason that it reinforces the fraud/delusion/hoax that is astrology. You may say, “Come on, it’s just for fun. Nobody expects that the little reference to astrological sign will have any significant effect.” Try saying something similar to Big Tobacco, which pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a star smoke a cigarette once in a picture, just an incidental smoke. Tiny references add up.

Astrology, horoscopes, signs…the whole thing is of course demonstrably false. Experiments show that the location of Mars, say, in the sky when you were born has zero effect on whether you will lose your wallet today or marry a tall, dark stranger tomorrow. Same with the Sun. And to top it off, the dates are wrong. I’m supposed to be a Virgo, meaning that the Sun was in Virgo when I was wrong. Well, it wasn’t. ALL the dates are wrong. Yours, too. That means you have been reading the wrong horoscope in the newspaper all your life. You’ve been waiting for, or avoiding (they cover themselves by giving two options) the wrong person all this time!

Seriously, the fact that so many people accept astrology (and ghosts, ESP, werewolves, psychic fairs, etc.) as valid is disconcerting to me…especially as I am a physics teacher. Carl Sagan said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence before they should be accepted.” I find it unfortunate that so many people accept stuff for which there is no evidence or even evidence to the contrary.

Pertinent quotes on this subject:
Sagan – “Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
Person sitting before a “psychic”, after being asked his name, “Why do you need to ask?”
Me: Did ANYBODY forecast 9-11? (Answer: no.)
A Challenge for the Reader

I have been working on a science fiction novel recently. To help me, I bought most of the How-To-Write-A-Novel books at the local bookstore. Now when I read novels, instead of being able to enjoy them, I find myself looking to see if the author followed the instructions in the books.

I also do this with movies, which are novels writ small. One technique that I notice is how the movies tell us the backstory, the background of the major characters and how they got to the position they occupy when the movie begins. Usually one character will say to another, in the first few minutes, “I know you have been a cop for the last five years…” or “Remember when we were together in college and you fell for that girl?” The characters are really telling us, the viewers. It’s so obvious when you know what to look for.

Something really clever, though, is the way well-written movies set up later events or conversations by an earlier image. I don’t mean the obvious way where, in a murder mystery, the camera lingers on an upside down book. You just KNOW that when the hero wraps up the case, he or she will link the book to the murderer.

No, I’m talking about something deeper. Let me illustrate what I mean. Many superb examples occur in one of the best-written movies, The Right Stuff. For instance, near the beginning Chuck Yeager gets knocked off his horse by a cactus plant. Did you know that it was the SECOND time we saw his arm get struck by a cactus plant? Find the earlier interaction, which must surely have been in the script to set us up, if only subliminally, for the bigger one. Others are needed to make sure the viewer is informed. When you see Glamorous Glennis painted on the plane, how do we know who Glennis is? The author made sure we heard Yeager call his wife by name earlier. How do we know the CEO of Life Magazine is important? We saw Cooper reading an issue of Life earlier (twice). How about Glenn’s humming during his descent…when did you hear that before? And look at Cooper sleeping in his capsule before its launch…when did you see that before? Another purpose of this technique is to hint what is to come. What did Cooper foreshadow when he dropped a tiny toy capsule into Gus’s glass of water? I can find over a dozen examples where the screenwriter or director set up a later event by an earlier reference. I challenge you to find them (and enjoy once again an excellent movie.)