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Epistemology Movie Analysis

The Secret Message In Steven Spielberg’s/Stanley Kubrick’s AI

Stanley Kubrick’s films work as visual, verbal, musical, and intellectual provocations to the mind and emotions. They work against expectations, “thinking” through cinematic conventions to address fundamental questions.

Philip Kuberski, Kubrick’s Total Cinema (2012)

Movie Synopsis

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (also known as A.I.) is the film I will be discussing in this post. It came out in 2001 and was directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay by Spielberg and screen story by Ian Watson were loosely based on the 1969 short story “Supertoys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It takes place in a futuristic society and tells the story of David, an android uniquely programmed with the ability to love.

A.I. is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick.

I found it to be a fascinating film though I have never seen it ranked among the top ten on anyone’s list of top movies.

It did make it into the top 100 in one list I know of. In 2016, fifteen years after it came out, a BBC poll of critics around the world voted Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence the eighty-third-greatest film since 2000.

Three Decades In The Making

Development of A.I. originally started when producer-director Stanley Kubrick acquired the rights to Aldiss’ story in the early 1970s. Kubrick hired a series of writers until the mid-1990s, including Brian Aldiss, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, and Sara Maitland. The film languished in protracted development for years, partly because Kubrick felt computer-generated imagery was not advanced enough to create the David character, whom he believed no child actor would convincingly portray. In 1995, Kubrick handed A.I. to Spielberg, but the film did not gain momentum until Kubrick’s death in 1999.

Spielberg remained close to the film screenplay and storyboard as set out by Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick.

The film received positive reviews, and grossed approximately $235 million. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards at the 74th Academy Awards, for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score by John Williams.

My Analysis of The Symbolism in AI

Ian Watson, one of the film’s writers, says that Kubrick obsessed on the details of this film for nearly two decades.

With that in mind I watched the movie and made some notes.

If every detail was so important to Stanley Kubrick surely there would be some way to interpret what he was trying to say, assuming he was trying to say anything at all.

I was intrigued by what I found.

A Modern Day Pinocchio

Monica reads The Adventures Of Pinocchio To David and Martin

The film is essentially the story of Pinocchio with a lot of lunar themes.

One of the themes in the story of Pinocchio is that of a person who works hard but still needs a bit of magic for his dreams to come true.

Ok, so that’s the story line of countless Disney/Hollywood movies.

Pinocchio shown with long nose, meaning he’s been lying.

I think this is a common theme because there’s something very appealing about this story format.

I think it appeals to a deep subconscious awe of the world we live in and the vestiges of attributing the unexplained to supernatural forces. Maybe this theme works so well because it gives viewers hope when hard work on its own doesn’t seem to cut it.

Imagery near the end of the film expressing a very tender, caring effort by the puppet-maker, Geppetto. Back lit scenes are a recurring motif in the film.

Magical thinking still plays a prominent role in today’s world in spite of all attempts to advance scientific thinking. There are simply too many things yet to be understood for us to be able to scientifically describe every event in our universe, or more specifically, in our lives.

Slightly veiled allusion to Pinocchio: Strings attached to David.

But could it be that the story of Pinocchio appealed to Stanley Kubric because he had been involved in something that required both hard work and a touch of magic to make a dream come true?

The film clearly brings out the Pinocchio allusion throughout the film.

Lies Will Be Found Out

The story of Pinocchio is strongly tied to the theme of lying.

Specifically in Pinocchio’s case, if you knew what the sign was, you would know Pinocchio had been lying.

In AI there are several scenes where Pinocchio is shown with a long nose indicating that he was in the middle of a lie.

The Emperor Has No Clothes takes up half the screen in this shot.

Another well known tale that features deception is “The Emperor Has No Clothes”. Is Kubrick alluding to a deception that fooled a ruler or president?

A Secret Mission

When looking through my AI notes which I had taken in 2016, I saw that I had taken a particular screenshot but couldn’t remember what had struck me as being significant about that scene.

Shown here:

“It has to be a secret mission.”

Martin, A.I. (2001)

The scene is of Martin, the second son who has recovered from the same debilitating disease that had killed David. He plays some mischievous pranks on David the android showing that he has not fully accepted the artificial version of David.

This is one scenario where the juxtaposition between the real and the fake is brought out.

In trying to figure out why I had taken this screenshot I gave some thought to trying to figure out if there was any particular reason this character had been named Martin.

I ran it through an anagram solver and nothing stood out with all the letters.

I did notice that both the words “tin” and “man” can be made using the letters in Martin.

Source: https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=tin man

My other thought was that the name Martin is only one “a” short of Martian. This avenue, though, didn’t feel like it was one I wanted to go down. Be my guest if you want to pursue that one.

“Martin” also has the same beginning and ending letters as “moon”.

It also has the letters which make up the words “art” and “in” without the need for rearrangement.

None of the above derivatives seem terribly promising when taken on their own.

Looking over my notes I noticed that I had named this image file “it-has-to-be-a-secret-mission.png”.

That’s when I remembered why I had taken this screenshot.

This is the scene where Martin is getting David to do something mischievous but he tells him “It has to be a secret mission.”

Was Stanley Kubrick involved in “a secret mission” and was this his cryptic way of telling us?

The Moon

Teddy bear: “I see the moon”,

David: “Is it real?”

Teddy: “I don’t know, David.”

David: “Is it coming?”

Teddy: “I can’t tell yet.”

A.I. (2001)

The moon features prominently in A.I.

The imagery suggests a strong link between David and the moon.

Lunar crescent above David’s bed.
The moon shaped rug takes up a quarter of the vertical space in this shot.
A child’s drawing in this shot is of a surprised or slightly shocked moon face.
The reflected lamp in the window is very much like a waning moon and is closest to David.
The Cryogenics logo is a crescent, similar to a waning moon.
The moon shows up larger than life once David begins his journey away from home.
Gigolo Joe clearly spells out the direction they are going to take.

“We will have to journey, towards the moon.”

Gigolo Joe Whaddayaknow, A.I. (2001)

“By themselves”, wrote Ian Watson, in his 10,000 word essay on writing the AI screenplay with Stanley Kubrick, “the artificial boy and robo-bear were fairly naïve and incompetent, even if David was obsessive about becoming a real boy.”

“What we need,” Stanley had informed Ian, “is some GI Joe character to help him out.”

“How about a gigolo-robot,” Ian had then suggested, and duly wrote scenes.

It’s interesting to note that the term G.I. has been used as an initialism of “Government Issue”.

So while the gigolo character was Ian’s idea, it was Stanley who wanted there to be a GI Joe in the story. Gigolo Joe is representative of a Government Issue that has taken hold of David who is dragging his Teddy along.

David holding Teddy is guided by Gigolo Joe “Whaddayaknow” through the big bad world.

The Teddy could represent Stanley Kubrick himself, which co-writer Ian Watson alludes to in his essay:

“Jerome Bixby once wrote a story entitled “It’s a Good Life” about a child of paranormal powers whose wishes become reality and who compels adults to carry out any whim.  Sometimes I felt that I was trapped in that child’s nursery, although Stanley was far friendlier than that dreadful little boy.  Cuddly, even – like a shaggy teddy bear himself, though with claws in those paws; and the claws could hook and squeeze till you might turn into a limp rag.  True, this was only because he wanted the best, and more and more of it, and believed that plugging away remorselessly at something about which he had an instinct would eventually bear fruit.” Ian Watson 

Links To 2001 A Space Odyssey

In addition to the release date of A.I. (2001) coinciding nicely with the name of one of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier films, made before man had even set foot on the moon, IMDB links A.I. to 2001 A Space Odyssey through the following points:

  • Teddy sounds like HAL.
  • The future Mechas, like the unseen aliens from 2001, put David (same name) in a house in which to observe his behavior.

Allusions To The Lunar Lander

Looks like the moon, but as it comes into view we see that it’s a floating balloon.
There is an uncanny similarity in the image from AI to Bill Kaysing’s 1976 book “We Never Went To The Moon”. AI’s imagery shows a gnarly tree with sparse foliage over an oversized moon (which we soon discover is not the moon at all) AI shows the more gnarly tree on the right.
The cage below the floating moon balloon has thrusters which remind me of the moon lander module thrusters from Apollo 11.
Unmistakable similarity to the lunar lander thrusters.
close up of thruster in AI (2001)
Lunar lander thruster from Apollo 11

Both shots of the thrusters are shot from below at almost identical angles.

Apollo 11

While we are talking about Apollo 11 it’s interesting to note that the David character played by 13 year old Haley Joel Osmond was 11 years old in the story.

If Apollo 11 is represented by 11 year old David then the story gets very interesting.

The story is telling us that a Government Issue (Gigolo Joe) is directing Apollo 11 (David) to the Moon, while the question as to what is real is explored.

The Silver Arrow

This shot in AI shows a corner fold marking chapter 7 of Robin of Sherwood: The Silver Arrow

The words “The Silver Arrow” are made clearly visible with emphasis added by a page corner folded over. I searched online for the terms “Silver Arrow” and the only thing that turned up which predates the release of AI was, believe it or not, linked to lunar missions. It was a book published by Silver Arrow Books. The book itself is written by astronaut Frank Borman and is called Countdown. There is the number 7, (Gemini 7) being one of the lunar orbiting missions.

Link This book was published during the time that Kubrick was writing AI.

The film also has a closeup of the book cover where “The Silver Arrow” chapter is found.

Close up shot of Robin of Sherwood book title, AI (2001)

In this shot the word “Sherwood” is almost center screen and is not obscured, making it clearly legible. The zipper may be alluding to Kubrick having been told to “zip-it” and never speak about the issue. Notice that the watch also shows the time being past 11.

The “O” in Robin has a line through it giving it a lunar crescent shape, which is why I wondered if there may be a clue in this shot.

I searched for “sherwood” in relation to NASA and found that the Sherwood Park News has an article whose author is reminiscing on how he interviewed Frank Borman in 1968.

source

So that’s two allusions to Frank Borman in AI.

Make what you will of this but it would appear that this is an indirect reference to lunar orbiting and a direct reference to Frank Borman somehow having a role to play in the cryptic message in AI.

This all seems so improbable though I feel it’s important to point out that this is just as likely to be a freak coincidence. With astronomical odds.

The Grid

The checkerboard or grid pattern is seen throughout the film.

Grid pattern fills one third of the screen.
Strong crosshatch and grid patterning take up the majority the space throughout this scene: the walls, the door and the carpet.
Also of note: The light fixture when photographed at this angle is reminiscent of a lunar crescent.
David often wears check pattern. In this scene however he is laying down a check pattern as a foundation.
David shown in check patterned shirt.
David in check pattern
Father and son both with check patterns.

It is known that Stanley Kubrick loved chess. So there’s that. But in relation to NASA and lunar expeditions check patterns were used to keep track of scale of items in photography and film.

Photo from NASA archive. Arrows and text added by me.

It could be that the repeated use of check patterns in AI are alluding to the cross patterns on the photos from lunar mission photos as well as the grid patterns used in testing and training images.

Backlit scenes

There are a number of scenes in AI where back-lighting is used and several allusions are made to projectors: the lights on the moon balloon, the sub aquatic scenes strong light being projected, and several indoor scenes have strong contrasting backlit imagery.

Kubrick is known to have been very innovative when it came to using projected scenes.

Source: http://www.thepropgallery.com/2001-a-space-odyssey-dawn-of-front-projection

There is a great deal of speculation in regards to the footage from the lunar missions which show identical hills in the background. The similar hills in many shots are supposedly different locations. The suggestion is that a background was projected.

The Hidden Message

Whether or not man walked on the moon this film alludes to the lunar missions.

It makes one wonder if there is some possibility that Kubrick was involved in creating some of the footage. If we want to go along with the moon landing itself being a real event is it possible that the footage from the Apollo 11 expedition was damaged by radiation and NASA then employed Kubrick to recreate the event?

If this is the case it could be that keeping this a secret was too much for a story teller and film maker to not at least allude to it through the medium at which he excelled.

If you read the books shown below you will see that the official story has a lot of holes in it.

Bill Kaysing (see book link below) admits that the whole thing started out as an attempt at pranking the government. He said in a video interview late in life that it was a disgruntled army veteran that wanted to do the government some damage. So the idea to suggest the moon landing was a hoax was put forward. It was only once they got going that they saw that there were so many things that didn’t add up.

However there are some serious consequences to believing the moon landing was a hoax. The idea feeds into other more ludicrous ideas such as the earth being flat or that there is no moon.

If we want to be members of society the only sane option is to accept that man did walk on the moon, just like we need to accept that AI David in the end becomes a real boy.

Watch AI with that in mind and I have no doubt you will understand what I mean.

Sources and further reading

Categories
Epistemology Psychology

Why We Believe The Things We Believe

Ten years before the “Fake News” phenomenon made us think we were living in a post-truth world author and editor John Brockman had the confidence (or should I say audacity) to call this era “The Age of Certainty”.

The book was “What We Believe but Cannot Prove ~ Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty” (Harper Collins, 2006).

The title caught my attention at the local library and its contents did not disappoint.

The book contains contributions from dozens and dozens of great minds who related some of the things they believe but cannot prove.

Some are beliefs which I think are shared by many people. For example plenty of people believe that the earth is round but don’t know how to go about proving it.

Other beliefs though were quite original. For example the idea that ravens call out in a different dialect depending on where they live.

It was interesting to see so many great thinkers still have beliefs which cannot be proven, some even bordering on the irrational.

I think it is quite common for people in all walks of life to believe things that they cannot prove.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

Things People Believe But Can’t Prove

Here are some examples of the type of beliefs included in the book.

These were either ideas which the contributor didn’t know how to prove, or knew that it would be impossible to prove, and yet they still held it to be true:

  • That evolution has purpose and direction
  • That it will someday be possible to exceed the speed of light
  • That life is common throughout the universe
  • That nothing is true if it cannot be proved
  • That the existence of an omni-god cannot ever be proven
  • That knowing what it is like to be dead can never be resolved
  • That reality exists independent of its human and social constructions
  • That the universe is ultimately determined, but we have free will
  • That morality is the natural outcome of evolutionary and historical forces, not divine command
  • That it is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will
  • That people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can’t prove
  • That faith is important far beyond the realm of religion
  • That there is a God
  • That religious experience and practice is generated and structured largely by a few emotions that evolved for other reasons: Awe, moral elevation, disgust, and attachment-related emotions.
  • That deceit and self-deception play a disproportionate role in human-generated disasters
  • That in less than a generation, kids will be amusing themselves and each other in ways we never dreamed of.

Do you share any of those beliefs?

Most of those are hard if not impossible to prove.

Culture, Necessity, and Convenience

So how do these non-provable beliefs find a way into our minds?

How do we choose to believe in one thing over another even in the absence of solid proof?

Culture and Conformity

There is no doubt that beliefs and opinions are often derived from the absorption of ideas tossed around in popular culture. The way a subject is handled in film, television, books, fiction, non-fiction, news, or in the course of a discussion with friends, imparts many subtle undertones.

There is a pseudo-logical idea floating around that if many people agree on something then surely they can’t be too far of the mark.

In 2004 journalist James Surowiecki attempted to make a case for this in The Wisdom of The Crowds (Doubleday; Anchor). He scraped together a collection of anecdotes in support of this argument. The problem is that it can be proven mathematically that crowds are no better at making decisions than individuals.

You may have examples where decisions made by a group were better than those made by an individual. But think about how many times a committee got less done than a determined individual.

I’d go so far as to say that an idea’s inherent validity should be independent of how prevalent it is.

Just because something is popular shouldn’t affect our estimation of the idea, logically speaking, that is.

But we know it does.

We really can’t help falling into the trap of this logical fallacy.

It’s so easy to assume that in the cumulative brain power of a crowd surely between them they thought of everything. Or at least enough to make a better decision than one person would.

It is inevitable that individuals will look to the crowd for wisdom.

We, as beings, do not function well in isolation.

We therefore continue to rely on the wisdom of crowds. Few people have the time, acuity, or nerve to establish their own independent stance on every topic they come across.

Necessity

There often arises a necessity for something to be true.

As strange as it sounds sometimes we simply need something to be true.

This of course does not make it true.

The truth is under no obligation to be anything.

It’s just that the alternative is problematic. So we go along with an idea and start finding little ways here and there to support our choice.

But the truth is under no obligation to be anything.

When you put it that way it seems kind of obvious. But there are so many subtle ways and a variety of circumstances people find themselves in where they feel that one thing just has to be true.

Convenience

There are also times when it’s simply more convenient to go along with an idea because to fight it is too exhausting. This is related to the two previous points of conformity and necessity.

Here is an example of this:

Acknowledging that pollution destroys the very things that make life possible is inconvenient for industries that profit while polluting. By extension all the people working in those industries will by necessity lean toward arguments showing that the pollution is not really that bad.

They won’t see any gain to be had from admitting that the pollution is doing more harm than good. Because in a sense they are experiencing a short term gain from the polluting activities and therefore it would inconvenience them to do anything about it.

So they start justifying their work and find ways of supporting the beliefs that are associated with their choices.

How Beliefs Are Formed May Still Be Unproved

In a beautifully poetic twist of irony the explanation which I found to be the most compelling as to why we believe the things we believe comes from Sam Harris’ contribution to “What We Believe But Cannot Prove”.

Harris suggests that belief is a content-independent process.

false statements may quite literally disgust us

Sam Harris

“The neural processes governing the final acceptance of a statement as true, ” says Harris, “rely on more fundamental, reward-related circuitry in our frontal lobes.”

He is saying that he believes the same regions of the brain that judge the pleasantness of tastes and odors are engaged when discriminating what is acceptable and what is not.

Truth, he goes on to say, may be beauty, and beauty truth, in more than a metaphorical sense. And false statements may quite literally disgust us.

Sources and further reading

Categories
Criminology Epistemology Psychology

7 Signs That Someone Is Lying

Lie detection is both an art and a science.

Many of these tell-tale signs are fairly common, though compulsive liars can get away with lying for a long time, sometimes indefinitely.

It’s extremely rare for anyone to be able to completely fool everyone all the time. Even the best liar will eventually slip up in one way or another.

As a polygraph proves, lies always come out differently to the truth.

Then it’s up to you to interpret the crumb trail they’ve been leaving behind the whole time.

A Liar Will Often:

1. Jump Into Present Tense

  • Common: somewhat to very
  • Reliability: medium to very
  • Exceptions: retelling someone else’s experience; telling a rehearsed story

When someone is fabricating a story they are much more likely to speak in present tense than to use past tense.

Example

Police, lawyers, and judges often see how differently a person responds when they are lying as opposed to a person telling the truth.

Let’s say if one person has been a witness to an assault in an elevator and the other had not they would each have quite different ways of expressing this.

In the first case the person was not a witness to anything.

Truth

Interviewer: What happened in the elevator?

Answer: Nothing. I got in the elevator. It went down.

In this next example the person was a witness to a crime, but doesn’t want to let on.

Lie

Interviewer: What happened in the elevator?

Answer: I get in the elevator. There’s people talking. I get off. That’s it.

The person’s brain is creating a new event and as it is being created is being relayed into words.

There are times though when someone will use present tense to talk about something that may in fact be true, but since it didn’t happen to them will be relayed in the present tense.

Another exception could be where a person has rehearsed a story and it is in effect “in the past” having already created the event in their mind previously. In this case they may be able to stick to the past tense in the retelling.

2. Require Additional Lies

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: some people manage to draw on real memories related to a different event, though this is extremely rare as small details can trip them up.

As soon as a person is quizzed on a lie they have just told they are likely to require additional lies to support the first lie.

If someone says they were somewhere at a certain time when they really weren’t they are inevitably going to have to back that up with more lies.

If they are asked who was with them, well, they are going to have to make something up.

Just about any detail is going to be a fabrication.

If every lie needs, say, 4 or 5 lies to support it, well the amount of invention is going to grow exponentially under sustained questioning.

two women talking
Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

3. Be Short on Certain Types of Detail

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: pathological liars may sometimes know to add these type of details as “convincers”.

A person making stuff up is obviously not going to recall smells, or any other sensory experience as the event they are relaying never happened.

Their story is naturally going to lack those types of detail.

There are exceptions to this.

For example some people may work particularly hard at being convincing and make special effort to include sensory details.

This may be due to the fact that they are aware that sensory details are generally lacking in fabricated stories.

However for the most part sensory details are not going to be included in a description that is being made up on the spot.

three women talking
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

4. Have Unusually Slow Responses

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: pathological liars can sometimes be very fast at making stuff up.

If a person has the answer to a question their brain will usually access that information instantly.

If they do not want to provide a truthful answer they will need to make something. It will take a second for their brain to go through the unlimited range of answers available, gauge the consequence of the best one, and furnish that reply.

Some people with very fast language processing skills can use stalling tactics while they select the best answer. This is an attempt to cover up the delay in response.

But it’s extremely rare for anyone to be able to avoid a slight delay altogether.

Especially when fielding a surprise question which they do not want to answer.

Which leads us to the next point.

graffiti  of the words What Do You Mean?
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

5. Stall With Questions

As explained in the previous point the brain needs a little time to process the possible consequences of the unlimited options available if the truth is to remain concealed.

In order to prevent looking suspicious a liar will use stalling tactics.

This can either give them extra time to think about the answer or derail the interviewer.

Examples

  • Sorry, could you repeat that?
  • Are you asking if I [ and repeats the question ] ?
  • How could you ask that?
  • Do you realize what you are asking?
  • What’s this all about?
  • What do you mean?
  • Are you asking about me personally, or in general?
  • Is this really necessary?

There are some exceptions to this, of course. There may be a case where someone is resentful of being interrogated and is being difficult because they like playing games or messing with people. Or they may be afraid of accidentally incriminating themselves due to some previous bad experience and are extra cagey as a result.

6. Use Physical Barriers

  • Common: somewhat
  • Reliability: fair
  • Exceptions: some people may be nervous due to the setting and their body language may come across as being reticent. Some people’s normal body language shows they are cautious or fearful in general.

Psychologically a person will feel like getting away from the discomfort of being interrogated. This discomfort will be greater for a person who has something to hide.

A person may unconsciously begin placing barriers between themselves and the interviewer.

For example they may cross their arms, or shield their throat or face with their hands.

They may unconsciously place a chair between themselves and the interviewer, or find themselves sitting facing the back of the chair.

If seated at a table facing their interviewer they may find themselves shifting items on the table to create a small barrier between themselves and the interviewer.

Sometimes the attempt to reduce vulnerability is very subtle, like excessive blinking, or leaning away.

7. Offer an Alternative

  • Common: very
  • Reliability: very
  • Exceptions: some people may not know what happened and could be trying to figure it out too.

If a person is offering ideas as to what might have happened it is often a sign that they are in creative mode and are trying to deflect from the truth.

A person who suggests that “maybe this happened”, or “maybe that happened”, is not necessarily being helpful. It is quite likely they are hoping a few red herrings will throw doubt on themselves as a suspect.

A person who has no knowledge of what happened has nothing to offer.

It is only if they are also trying to investigate that they will begin coming up with different hypothetical scenarios. Most people won’t do that unless they are invested in the outcome.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

On The Reliability of Physical And Verbal Clues

These clues, while extremely common due to human nature, are not always guaranteed to expose a liar. Sometimes a person may look suspicious for a different reason than is assumed, too. This is why it’s important to remember that lie detecting is an art as well as a science.

Polygraphs are much more reliable, some would say practically infallible, because there are certain physical reactions that happen automatically. Sure in film and television shows you have people beating the polygraph, but it’s so unlikely as to not just be improbable but impossible.

Articles with titles such as “How to Beat a Polygraph” have steps that are virtually impossible to follow. Don’t count on advice in those types of articles to give someone enough ammunition to actually beat a polygraph. At best they can provide muddled results as to make the test inconclusive. But that’s not beating the polygraph. That’s just rendering the results unusable, which could be seen as a sign of guilt in any case.

Sources and further reading: