Friday, August 28, 2009

Where do you get your ideas from?

It was really, really funny to see people who avidly watched every episode of Battlestar Galactica blow chunks over the finale because it didn’t make sense. I have gleefully read six thousand word essays on why the unanswered question left by the series were a storytelling betrayal and message board posts written by people who pride themselves on atheism, enraged by the touch of the divine.

If there was one thing that summed up everything that bugged these people, it was that bloody song. That gorgeous, wonderful Dylan track that was a direct inspiration from the universe, reverberating across hundreds of millennia, ideas sparking across time.

Totally impossible. There is no way a song can survive untold generations and emerge word perfect through Dylan’s words and Hendrix’s guitar. Something that was lost in the centuries could not possibly resurface with so much accuracy.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s like the military protocols and slang. These people can’t have had these things 150,000 years ago. We only just invented them and they would be totally different. That’s basic logic.

It’s unexplainable.

That’s what’s so great about it.

* * *

Alan Moore always talks up the Ideaspace, pointing to the example of steam invention developments making a quantum leap forward, with separate and unique breakthroughs made at the same time around the world from people who could had no idea what their counterpart was up to.

If you want to see it for yourself, go to the Louvre and wander down its renaissance hallway and see the human race evolve, as it discovers perspective and beauty. New ways of thinking and creating are born from nothing, springing up all over the place.

Moore has built a nice little slice of theology around the whole concept of an ideaspace, something we can all access, something which we’re all a part of, something that exists in a direction we can not point to.

He has even made a couple of stabs at explaining it and depicting it in his work. He doesn’t stand a chance of portraying this place with any real accuracy, not because of any lack of ability on his artistic collaborator’s part (far from it, in most cases), but because it is something that is literally beyond our perception, something that we can not imagine.

Because it is our imagination, it is the place where crazy ideas spring from, with seemingly little prompting. It’s part of our own collective unconsiousness, something we all share and tap into without even realizing it.

By Moore’s reckoning, it is the place where all ideas come from. It is the source of everything that makes us human. It is inspiration in the purest form, the light that shines the way through the dark of history.

* * *

Grant Morrison did the same, of course. Plugging into the same geography of ideaspace, Morrison tried to make it sexy and less hairy. He succeeded too, using the idea as a key foundation in the plot of a major DC comic crossover about Superman singing a song.

And it was dead sexy.

* * *

Okay, so it’s all purely hypothetical and the chances are that ideaspace is nothing more than the gaps between the neurons in our brains. New ideas are fired up when two unconnected parts of the head start talking to each other and the concept of a shared space where ideas fall out of the ether is scientifically dodgy.

But there is already an ideaspace around us, one that exists somewhere in the netherworld of mass communication. Just by talking with each other, we all spark up on ideas and connections that we would never have come up with on our own.

It’s still invisible, but it is certainly there. It’s ridiculous to ignore everything that can not be proven with empirical evidence. Despite our best efforts, the reasons behind our continued existence in this reality remain a complete mystery and the process of inspiration is similarly unknown. To actively deny any possibility because it can not be absolutely proven is just foolish

When creators are continually asked where their ideas come from, it must be easy to blame some otherwordly ideaspace, but that doesn’t mean the idea does not have merit.

* * *

Towards the climax of that last Battlestar Galactica episode, there is a wonderful, wonderful moment when Gaius Baltar stops everything to acknowledge that there is some higher power at work, something they can’t define that does certainly exist and has been guiding them to this specific point.

The man of science makes a proclamation of faith and directly acknowledges the divine. He recognises that there are forces at work that he can not possibly comprehend, but tries his damndest to understand which path they want him to take..

It’s interesting that Gaius bloody Baltar, the moaning git who only started up his own religious cult for personal gratification, who has betrayed the entire human race several times over and relied on his scientific knowledge for a dose of certainty for the entire series, can make that acknowledgement, especially when many of those watching could not make that logical leap.

The hand of the divine was spread right throughout the series, but this was still seen as a storytelling betrayal in some who watched it Kara Thrace vanishing from a hilltop, the impossibly happy ending and that bloody song again, which led the human race across the universe to its next chapter.

Some of those who cried foul at the final fate of the Galactica crew seemed convinced that it would have been better if they had only arrived on Earth thirty or forty thousand years ago, instead of the vast expense of 150 millennia. That would have fixed everything, because then it all ties in so nicely with humankind’s Great Leap Forward and everything would make sense.

But time means nothing in ideaspace. Ideas can spark across years, decades, centuries, millennia. A tune that dragged humanity through the stars can pop up again, over and over again. Always the same words, always the same feelings - There must be some kind of way out of here.

And if it doesn’t make sense, then so what? We all contemplate the divine, whether we know it or not, and it remains indescribable. It’s that unanswerable question at the heart of us all, that mystery we all crave to solve.

I’m looking for clues wherever I can, just like we all should. To find some in the pages of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and an episode of Battlestar Galactia is truly remarkable, and a real privilege.


Jesse Farrell said...

On the whole, I enjoyed the journey of BSG a lot more than the destination. And I did dislike a lot of the finale (my two major sticking points were Kara bodily, in-broad-daylight pulling a Batman to Lee's Commissioner Gordon and the "oh, no that first, bombed out husk of a planet was just CALLED Earth, but this is where we'll settle down. Oh, and let's name it Earth, too" because it took me until near the end of the program to realize it wasn't a previously unexplored part of the fake "Earth" they'd already visited. Just fuzzy storytelling there). But the ideaspace aspect was there from the show's inception and complaining about that at the end is like saying "Wait, this took place in outer space?!"

Everyone spoke English, and even if you assume the language had been translated for the audience, there were too many parallels between Colonial civilization and ours to be mere coincidence. I always figured "all this has happened before and all this will happen again" would play into the fabric of the series and not merely act as a cure-all for nitpickers wondering why Caprica had developed neckties exactly like our own.

I'm an athiest, but I don't mind fiction which presents a monotheistic viewpoint. But in the case of BSG I disliked the implication that their God had done this as part of an inscrutable plan. As a storytelling conceit, it seemed pat and lazy.

If God, like the Cylons, had a plan, I never saw any evidence of it.

Nik said...

Great thoughts. I don't get some of the hate either. One fanboy was complaining that there was too much "God stuff" and I kind of felt like saying, have you been WATCHING this series? The idea of God/gods had been one its biggest themes the whole time.

Zom said...

The pedant in me can't let this pass

To actively deny any possibility because it can not be absolutely proven is just foolish

I’m not sure who does this. Scientists definitely don’t, and neither should anyone who has spent any time at all looking into the question of truth. It’s pretty much impossible to produce *evidence* that irrefutably confirms the existence of x, because, like the philosopher say, one day you might see that spotted Zebra. Frankly I have no idea what such evidence would look like. The best that can be hoped for is a big pile of evidence pointing towards the likelihood of x being the case.

This opens us up to all sorts of specious attacks by arseholes. Climate change deniers and proponents of Intelligent Design repeatedly and deliberately use this fact to pick at the scab of certainty: “it hasn’t been absolutely proven, there is still uncertainty”, is a line you hear trotted out time and time again, to which I want to answer “of course there is you fucking disingenuous prick” and then proceed to give the poor public a lecture on the scientific method and it’s philosophical basis.

I was brought up around mystics, seekers, religious types, New Agers and all manner of hippies. As a teenager I was very interested in the paranormal, UFOs, Eastern philosophies (particularly those of a Buddhist bent) and later, in my twenties, I studied Western philosophy at university. These days I’m an agnostic who leans towards atheism, and, although I’m far from hostile to religion, I think that the world could do with considerably more careful thought and a little less faith (be it religious or ideological) and for me that starts with asking hard questions about truth claims for which we have no evidence base. That doesn’t mean that I reject such claims outright, but I think they demand very, very close scrutiny, and the question should always be in our minds, can I explain this in terms which don’t demand multiplying entities unnecessarily (thanks Occam), and if I can’t do I have reasonable grounds for assuming that one day people might do (see much of the evolution debate)?

Of course, as someone with a burgeoning fascination with the deconstructive method I’m increasingly interested in how truth is bound up in systems of privilege but that’s another, if related, discussion.

Back to BSG...

Bob Temuka said...

Jesse: I see what you're saying about the lazy storytelling in laying everything at the feet of some undefinable plan, but I still liked it. It was the vital part of the foundation of the series, but there was still so much more going on that I never felt short-changed. And I always like it when things get unexplainable.

I think one of the things that bothered so many is that the huge similarities between Caprica culture and our own were a clear implication that it took place in our future, and they felt betrayed when it turned out to be the exact opposite, with a particularly large time gap. But again, I was always cool with that.

Zom: The funny thing is that professional scientists tend to have more open minds than anybody else, but there are still a hell of a lot of people who put a whole bunch of their faith in science and refuse to even consider any alternatives.

Scientists are almost always open to new suggestions and ideas, even if they directly contradict their own findings, because it is all adding to their accumulation of data and evidence. People who think they are scientists because they watch the Discovery Channel are much more likely to throw their toys out of their cots when things get theological.

Blind faith in science can be just as dangerous as blind faith in a religious and it was that refusal to even organisation consider a divine hand in the BSG finale that got me writing this drivel in the first place.

But excellent thoughts as always, sir. Thanks for taking the time to share them. I could spend all day discussing this sort of stuff, if I had the time....