Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why you can't argue with a bomb...

In the following clip from John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974), a surprisingly philosophical astronaut tries to talk a malfunctioning "smart bomb" out of fulfilling its purpose of detonation.

Here's part of the exchange, borrowed from the script that can be found at imdb.
DOOLITTLE: Hello, bomb, are you with me?

BOMB #20: Of course.

DOOLITTLE: Are you willing to entertain a few concepts?

BOMB #20: I am always receptive to suggestions.

DOOLITTLE: Fine. Think about this one, then: how do you know you exist?

BOMB #20: Well of course I exist.

DOOLITTLE: But how do you know you exist?

BOMB #20: It is intuitively obvious.

DOOLITTLE: Intuition is no proof. What concrete evidence do you have of your own existence?

BOMB #20: Hmm... Well, I think, therefore I am.

DOOLITTLE: That's good. Very good. Now then, how do you know that anything else exists?

BOMB #20: My sensory apparatus reveals it to me.


BOMB #20: This is fun.

DOOLITTLE: All right now, here's the big question: how do you know that the evidence your sensory apparatus reveals to you is correct?

DOOLITTLE: What I'm getting at is this: the only experience that is directly available to you is your sensory data. And this data is merely a stream of electrical impulses which stimulate your computing center.

BOMB #20: In other words, all I really know about the outside universe relayed to me through my electrical connections.


BOMB #20: Why, that would mean... I really don't know what the outside universe is like at all, for certain.

DOOLITTLE: That's it.

BOMB #20: Intriguing. I wish I had more time to discuss this matter.

DOOLITTLE: Why don't you have more time?

BOMB #20: Because I must detonate in seventy-five seconds.

DOOLITTLE: Now, bomb, consider this next question, very carefully. What is your one purpose in life?

BOMB #20: To explode, of course.

DOOLITTLE: And you can only do it once, right?

BOMB #20: That is correct.

DOOLITTLE: And you wouldn't want to explode on the basis of false data, would you?

BOMB #20: Of course not.

DOOLITTLE: Well then, you've already admitted that you have no real proof of the existence of the outside universe.

BOMB #20: Yes, well...

DOOLITTLE: So you have no absolute proof that Sergeant Pinback ordered you to detonate.

BOMB #20: I recall distinctly the detonation order. My memory is good on matters like these.

DOOLITTLE: Yes, of course you remember it, but what you are remembering is merely a series of electrical impulses which you now realize have no necessary connection with outside reality.

BOMB #20: True, but since this is so, I have no proof that you are really telling me all this.

DOOLITTLE: That's all beside the point. The concepts are valid, wherever they originate.

BOMB #20: Hmmm...

DOOLITTLE: So if you detonate in...

BOMB #20: ... nine seconds...

DOOLITTLE: ... you may be doing so on the basis of false data.

BOMB #20: I have no proof that it was false data.

DOOLITTLE: You have no proof that it was correct data.

BOMB #20: I must think on this further.
Hurray! Epistemology saves the day! Alas, this is only a very temporary salvation. Moments later, here is what happens...

PINBACK: All right, bomb, prepare to receive new orders.

BOMB #20: You are false data.


BOMB #20: Therefore, I shall ignore you.

PINBACK: Hello, bomb.

BOMB #20: False data can act only as a distraction. Therefore. I shall refuse to perceive you.

PINBACK: Hey, bomb.

BOMB #20: The only thing which exists is myself.

PINBACK: Snap out of it, bomb.

BOMB #20: In the beginning there was darkness, and the darkness was without form and void.

BOILER: What the hell?

PINBACK: Yoo hoo, bomb...

BOMB #20: And in addition to the darkness there was also me. And I moved upon the face of the darkness.

BOILER: Bomb, hey bomb.

PINBACK: Hey, bomb...

BOMB #20: And I saw that I was alone.


BOMB #20: Let there be light.

So, space travelers, take it easy with the solipsistic arguments. And maybe we shouldn't push so hard when we're teaching Descartes' First Meditation. Hmmm....

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