Sunday, January 05, 2014

Exploring Ibn-Sina, Wormholes, and Technological Singularity: 3 films to look for in 2014

by Salman Hameed

The year has just started, but there are a number of films that look interesting from the perspective of science and religion (loosely speaking). Just to mix it up, I have also added a play at the end as well (thanks to Nature for pointing me in that direction).


First, there is the film adaptation of The Physician by Noah Gordon. The novel was released in 1987 and has been a huge hit in Europe, but not in the US. Now a German production company is behind the cinematic adaptation, and the movie includes, among others, Ben Kingsley and Stellan Skarsgard. The movie is set in 11th century and the story revolves around a surgeon's apprentice in England who travels to Persia looking for one of the best known physicians at the time, Ibn Sina (played by Ben Kingsley). Here is a bit from an interview with the author, who also co-wrote the screenplay:
One of the main themes in both the book and the film is the contrast between eleventh-century medieval England and the Persia of the day, which was both scientifically and culturally very advanced. During this period, Greco-Roman medicine almost died out in Europe: there were no doctors and no hospitals, only so-called barber surgeons with a limited understanding of the healing arts. At the same time, in Persia, there were
accomplished doctors who were practising and becoming pioneers in their field. It was a golden age of medicine: Persia had a well-developed hospital infrastructure, as well as medical schools. 
"Personally, I like the fact that the film portrays a world in which Europe is actually the backward region, and the Orient and Arabia are where you find high culture," says Stölzl. Nowadays, he adds, we tend to regard the Arab countries as being stuck in the Middle Ages: it would do us good to be reminded of how much of our own culture and the things we think of as progress actually come from Arabia. "Be it mathematics or philosophy, there are so many things that we think of as being a normal part of our civilisation that actually came from the Islamic world," Stölzl points out. He hopes the book and the film might teach people to acknowledge the achievements of the Arab world, and respect it accordingly.
The movie has been released in Europe, but I have not seen any release date for the US. Here is the trailer for the film:



Another film that grabbed my attention is Transcendence. It deals with the idea of technological singularity - "the moment when advances in artificial intelligence tip humanity into a radical new mode of being". The movie is directed by Wally Pfister, who was the cinematographer for Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy - so if nothing else, we can at least expect a moody, broody sci-fi. Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, and Morgan Freeman are part of the film, which is set for release on April 18th. Here is the trailer:



And then we have Christopher Nolan's new film, Interstellar. I was disappointed with Dark Knight Rises. However, we know that he can make outstanding films (Memento, The Prestige, Inception), and the premise of Interstellar looks promising: a set of explorers use a newly discovered wormhole to journey to other stars. Wormhole was, of course, used by Carl Sagan for his book, and then the movie, Contact. Physicist, Kip Thorne, had advised Sagan on the theoretical ideas regarding the possibility of wormholes, and he is again advising Nolan for Interstellar. This sounds really exciting. On top of that, I think Alfonso Cuaron has really upped the anty with Gravity on what can be filmed with existing technology. The movie is set to release in November (nooooo - we have to wait for so long…). Here is a teaser trailer:



All of this is very exciting. But then London will also see the premiere of a play titled The Valley of Astonishment by Peter Brook. Here is the description of the play whose title is inspired by a 12th century sufi poem by Farid Attar, The Conference of the Birds:
Imagine a world where every sound has a colour. Where every colour has a taste. Where The Valley of Astonishment is a kaleidoscopic journey into the wonders of the human brain, inspired by years of neurological research, true stories and Farid Attar’s epic mystical poem The Conference of the Birds.
the number 8 is a fat lady. This breathtaking new play explores the fascinating experiences of real people who see the world in a radically different light. 
Hope you get to see at least some of these.

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