The 15 Big Ideas in Prometheus

#14 “To Create one Must First Destroy”
As humans, we are emboldened by both our creations and destruction. Prometheus is keen to point out that we a) could have been created by aliens and b) other beings might share our appetite for destruction.

The Engineers built us, and we built David. Then David destroyed us, and everyone was against the aliens. Earth was created, but the civilization that created it seems to be made up of destroyers. It’s a completely circular logic, but it maintains that energy is finite, and nothing can be created from nothing.

Of course, then you do a little research, and realize David’s quote comes from Stalin, and you’re shipped right back to go, fumbling about for answers.

Okay, let’s wrap this us with …

#15 The Quest for Revenge (Super Cooperators)?

Noomi Rapace in PrometheusAt the end of the film, Shaw decides she’s had just about enough of being attacked. She wants answers. (“You want answers? I want the truth!!”) So she’s headed back to the home planet of the Engineers, and David is going to take her there. For science? Maybe? But more likely it’s for some element of revenge. A peace-loving Shaw tries to go home, doesn’t she? A Shaw looking for scientific discovery realizes that it’s not important that only she attains knowledge. This feels more like a suicide mission than anything else. Which brings us to the topic of revenge. I believe Shaw is headed back to teach The Engineers we’re not to be trifled with.

Revenge is another word with a negative connotation, but it actually has a positive effect on the world at large, at least where balance is concerned. The notion of revenge is a factor in how people deal with each other, and it’s a crucial component to how we structure our lives and whom we surround ourselves with. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is mentioned in about a hundred recent sociology books, and the lesson is always the same: revenge works to keep mean people in line. Any just society must have consequences for those who step out of line.

Consider the book “Super-Cooperators” which posits that neither cooperation nor self-serving individuals have the exact right tactic. In computer simulations too many cooperators (let’s call these “harmony folk”) leave themselves open to shifty operators. Too many people willing to take advantage leaves no one left to take advantage of. And so culture progresses like a wave, ebbing and flowing as we alternatively take advantage and then sacrifice to lift others up. There is no right answer, harmony is impossible, but “bad” people never fully win the day.

So then, if Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is poking at the edges of creation AND our central motivations, what’s left? If God is not to be found in our current definition, and if our constant thirst for knowledge might kill us all, where does that leave our culture? Finally, does the world rapidly progressing toward a sort of tech immortality pave the way for a humanity that is virtually unrecognizable?

This is why Prometheus is an important film, far more clever than the average summer movie, and worthy of introspection. I don’t know if all the answers are all in there, but I had a hell of a time considering the questions.

Here’s hoping you do too.

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