Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tron Legacy: The Bible Verses Evolution?

I recently heard a friend excitedly exclaim that the new Tron Legacy had Christian undertones!  I had never thought of that!  I find it odd how we can all occupy the same seats at the theater and each come out viewing the same film differently depending upon your focus in life.  It reminds me of two people looking at the color orange and calling it two different things. 

But honestly, I find the whole concept of "Christian undertone" is a bit of a stretch.  It almost feels "superimposed" to me, as if someone sees a movie with an "evil" force (in this case, the antagonist Clu) and there's a "good" force (the protagonist) then it MUST be a "Christian story" (as if Christianity was the only mythological story that ever dealt with these themes).  Add the "son" and you've got a trinity right?  I don't know - I'm just not convinced.  It seems like a pretty big stretch to me.  It almost seems like trying to shove a circle block in an oval hole - they "sort of fit," but not really. And I’d like to add that I personally don’t find Clu to be intrinsically “evil” either, just misinformed, but I digress. 

I personally thought the movie was SO much more then a story of "good vs. evil."  When I first heard the mention the "Christian undertones" I thought maybe someone was thinking about the creation of new life on the grid (enter the ISO's).  It's funny, I saw a blog or something that was saying the movie was a basic "battle between evolution and creationism" and the later won (and I don't think it was a bible-thumper saying this)!  WTF?  It's AMAZING to me, and it just goes to show you that if you have a certain “worldview,” you're likely to find the evidence anywhere to support your hypothesis (I know this applies to me as well, as you'll see below). 

To me, I found the movie coming to the exact OPPOSITE conclusion of the "God figure" (Flynn) "creating" life (although, I believe the blog I read didn't see Flynn as the God figure that created the life).  The argument in the blog was basically going on the assumption that life cannot spontaneously manifest itself (a completely faulty assumption to start from I might add).  Standing on this faulty premise, the author builds an argument by reasoning that, if we can not fathom how life could have arisen it must be undeniable PROOF that it MUST BE GOD (in truth, it's not undeniable at all - it just lacks imagination and the faculty of critical thinking)!!!!  Oh man, I can't tell you how tired I get of that kind of reasoning.  It's really old.  So old.  Arrrrgh!   

Anyway, here's why MY personal bias comes in.  I totally saw the movie as a total "evolutionary" story (which is probably not a big surprise, coming from me).  I kept getting excited as the story revealed itself on screen, as (for me) it all fit perfectly within basic evolutionary theory.  To the contrary of the above view, Flynn states that the ISO's (isomorphic algorithms - which is brilliant) were a "spontaneous manifestation" of the gird, which emerged when the "conditions were right" (much like, one could argue, humanity did on earth). 

I could be wrong, but I believe this was the whole point of introducing the ISO's in this movie in the first place - to show creation without a "creator" or a underlying "plan" (contrast this idea with Clu's plan – an exclusive focus on "perfection").  Flynn said in the movie that he "never anticipated the ISO's" and that he was "surprised by their existence" (something which, if you thought about it for a moment, would have truly been uncharacteristic of an omnipotent creator God, following along the lines of the biblical hypothesis, but makes perfect sense from evolutionary perspective and the basic tenants of complexity theory).  Although, I have to admit, I don't believe the author of the blog saw the whole trinity thing.  I believe he saw the ISO's created by a more "invisible" kind of God, which was out of the picture, stage right.  Again, another take (one which I don't happen to personally support). 

I think my take would probably make much more sense if you were familure with Dawkins biomorph programs.  I totally saw the term "isomorph" as a tip of the hat to the idea of "biomorphs" which, if you're not familiar with them, are part of a computer simulation program that was created to show how genes influence evolution from generation to generation.  The biomorphs are computer generated "lifeforms" that are "encoded" with a digital form of "genes" for the purpose of replication (the main initial requirement for evolution occur).  It was a concept originally developed by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in order to show how evolution can manifest itself within a closed system (the earth is such a closed system, as we can not breathe without the oxygen of our home planet earth, and can't live without the energy provided by the limited food sources that are essentially provided by the sun).*

* This is one of the reasons BTW, why the second law of thermodynamic holds constant, as far as basis of the creation of life on this planet goes - because the sun provides energy to fight the cumulative forces of entropy within the closed system.  No outside force is necessary to explain "spontaneous manifestations" of life as the laws of physics were never truly violated as some creationists like to ignorantly assume.

Anyway, the reasoning behind the whole biomorph program (google the “Blind Watchmaker” program for more information on this) is to show how fast evolution could produce something a great complexity such as an eye (which you might find interesting, has spontaneously arisen through natural selection roughly between 20 – 40 SEPARATE TIMES in the course of history on this planet).  The biomorph program was designed to show evolutionary processes in real time.  Much like bacteria (in which, the generational turn around is along the lines of half a day - unlike the human scale where generations are roughly 20 - 30 years apart) or guppies and/or bunnies (whose generational turn around typically takes several weeks), it’s a good place to see how small changes can accumulate over time to produce complexity to the level that it appears as though it was designed (by something intelligent) with a end result in mind (which is absolutely contrary to basic evolutionary theory).  The program is supposed to show how the concept of design is an illusion, elegantly displaying humanities personal biases and ignorance of natural selection.  Needless to say, with the time it takes for evolution* to "produce" complexity reaching something close to that of humanity would not be outside of the realm of statistical probability for the grid to evolve ISO's (especially since the grid time moves much faster than real time). 

* [it's important to keep in mind that evolution producing anything is a just a metaphor, as an "entity" called "evolution" doesn't obviously “produce” anything]. 

This is all abstract speculation on my part, as obviously this is only a freakin' movie (as my fiance likes to continually point out to me), but from an evolutionary perspective, one would actually EXPECT life to arise spontaneously with such a large amount of time (again, one just needs to refer back to basic complexity theory)!  I actually believe this is why they referred to the time difference on the grid so often - in order to make this plausible (if it were simply supernatural magic, the ISO’s probably could have been created in 6 or 7 days and therefore wouldn't honestly be worthy of mentioning in the story line).  This is obviously just my speculation as to what the directors were thinking, for what it's worth.

Anyway, on a different topic, I DID find it interesting that Flynn had resolved himself to meditation (which shouldn't be too surprising to learn that Roshi Bernard Glassman was asked by Bridges to help weave Zen into the storyline).  I dug that with the return of "the Dude" we saw older Flynn dressed in modernized Japanese robes and sitting lotus style on a white zafu & zabuton (meditation cushions).  Awesome.  I believe this type of introspection/reflection (and it had to have been several decades of such introspective "grid time") is where Flynn came to the realization that the idea of perfection was a myth (something Clu had NOT recognized obviously, because he was created BEFORE Flynn's inevitable "enlightenment" of this fact). 

Everyone imagines perfection is that which they lack.  Instead, I think the main point was that we need to recognize the "perfection" in what we have, what is right before our eyes and under our noses (something I continually try to convey to my clients in my couples work). 

Flynn tells Sam of his changed philosophy, of "removing yourself from the equation" (which is a core concept in Zen philosophy of "no-self" and the root, BTW, of the that Zen saying; "it takes a long time to understand nothing").  Removing "self" is necessary to transcend the human biases of our spiritual narcissism (i.e.: that life has "a plan" and we (humanity) are at the apex of this plan).  The concept that life has a predestined purpose runs completely counter to basic evolutionary theory empirically validated by modern science, yet I find it interesting that many armchair evolutionary scientists continue to see the human form as the end of the story, which it is obviously reasoning more modeled after Plato’s essentialism (that all things have a basic, identifiable “essence”) than fundamental evolutionary theory (which states that things are continually evolving manifestations of potentiality, so therefore there nothing can ever “contain” an intrinsic “essence” of any sort – which, consequentially, is also intrinsic of basic Buddhist psychology as well). 

I believe the point we were supposed to get from Tron Legacy is that we need to give up the concept of "control" in order to have a more egalitarian system (ie: the "open source" Sam was seeking at the beginning of the movie, by hacking into his companies mainframe and sharing the information with the rest of the world).  According to many in the psychotherapeutic realm, the idea of perfection can be seen as an infantile illusion which lingers from our experience in the womb (at time when we magically received everything we required for our survival and/or happiness).  The grounds for maturity occur the moment the infant begins to realize it won't get everything it wants when it wants it, but everything will still be okay.  Our desires are frustrated and we are forced to learn the art of emotional regulation, where we hopefully incorporate a more internal locus of control for our happiness, instead of seeking it from outside, but I digress.  I know, land the plane.  I'm at work.  I'm bored.  Please indulge me.  =]

Anyway, getting back to the movie, Flynn, in his youthful quest for perfection had created a monster (Clu) in his basic AI programming.  Perfection is already present in life but Clu doesn't see this at all, as he's blinded by a single-minded focus of what perfection means.  What he doesn’t realize (which Flynn inevitably comes to grasp) is that chaos is a fundamental REQUIREMENT for evolution to occur within a closed system (the grid is hypothetically another such closed system).  Natural selection entails of different type of perfection however (just look at the complexity to the human eye or our ability to comprehend abstract concepts for instance).  Clu only sees the dualism between the IDEA of perfection and the lack thereof.  He’s focused on the essence, which as we’ve described, doesn’t exist.  The older Flynn realizes that perfection only arises when you release your attachment to control and yield to chaos (a main concept in most Taoist philosophies).  And chaos as well all know, is where natural selection works best (the sex ratio of 50:50 is such an example of perfection arising from chaos).

Another thing I found interesting (but not so surprising) was the "hero arch-type" (Campbell talks about this exclusively).  Clu is Flynn's alter ego.  The sole task in his programming was the idea of perfection (which, as we've noted, is a pipe dream which leads to suffering because it's impossible to "recreate the womb" so to speak).  Notice the archetypes here.  The ego (Clu) vs. the sage (older Flynn with his cyber punk Zen mystique).  It much reminds me much of when Obiwan encourages Luke to drop his ego (the annoying, whiny, complaining child) and "let go to the force."  Flynn also reminded me much of Quigon Jin when he went to go "knock on the sky" (meditate) in the back of the transport (much like Jin did when waiting to battle with Darth Maul). 
I also dug how Quorra's DNA was so "vastly complex" that it contained THREE strands of DNA (vs. our two), and how she had the "potential to revolutionize life in the physical world."  The implications of this were vast (obviously beyond this movie), and I imagined many levels to this, being as that the groundwork for her existence was essentially created within the evolved imagination/consciousness of man (Flynn).  For me, this left the whole fascinating potential out in the open when Quorra appears in the physical world, in the flesh, leaving me to wonder whether she would one day be able to learn to manipulate her disc (DNA) and create a new arm in the physical world, and hence the potential of eventual immortality (it's obvious she has a thing for Sam, and one can easily imagine an inevitable Quorra/Sam prodigy). 

Quorra, one could argue, is the modern version of the "Mitochondrial Eve" who lived some 180,000 years ago – the origin of our homo sapien line.  My question is, if Sam was supposed to be "the son," it seems like Quorra would be a much better candidate, being as though she may be the one who inevitably brought everlasting life to humanity?  Obviously this digression should be saved for another discussion. 

As a side note, I found it interesting that Tron appeared to be a reflection of a real struggle going on in society right now.  As far as Sam's quest to maintain an "open source" (by hacking into his companies computer), I can't help but think of the drama of Wikkileaks and the consequentialism/collateral damage philosophy of the neocons and the idea of maintaining a “Net Neutrality.”  New digital culture is vastly more complex and interdependent then its predecessor. Clu wanted to "control" and in turn create perfection (therefore destroying the interdependence and spontaneous manifestations of nature).  His marriage to a "seemingly" noble philosophy of perfection at any cost, which entails collateral damage and consequentialism ("the ends justify the means" philosophy of the neocons) inevitably leads to great suffering.  One would be remiss not to remember the last time humanity engaged in such a noble, top/down, unquestioning of righteousness (enter the Inquisition and 300 years of the witch trials).  LOL!  =]

You'd probably assume I loved the movie, but I would honestly wouldn't give it more than a B-.  It kind of had sort of an empty feeling for me, underlying everything.  Why am I spending so much time talking about this (besides the fact I'm at work)?  It's kind of like how you (I mean Mr. Tand here) describe a movie or a show, that it's much better then the actual movie or show?  It's kind of like that.  The movie provided fodder for thoughts I already had in my head (the bias's I was talking about earlier). 

Anyway, I don't know if anyone saw any of what I saw, or even agrees with me, but I just thought I'd share my thoughts.  When I talk about this stuff with my fiancé (not as big of a sci-fi fan as I am), her eyes kind of glaze over.  Her response is basically, "it was a dumb, mildly entertaining movie with no character development but pretty special effects."  Honestly, I can see that perspective too.  Ah, the evolution of a complex brain!  We could be focusing on better fuel economy, sustainability, how to end child pornography, how to feed the poor, what to do about health care, etc.  What do we spend hours talking about?  Our own animus regarding our interpretations of the story arc of the movie Tron Legacy?  We really are still just modern monkey's!


  1. I have no idea who you are, but I saw this in the movie too and was very pleased to see similar ideas on paper! Just thought I'd share.

  2. Excellent read. Here is my contribution: