Revised research question and answer – could be used as a thesis.
Professor Feedback on last class peer review:
3 classes left
Provide some background information/details when presenting the topic.
Can still present if the proposal does not get approved in time.
Email ahead of time for a meeting on Monday (12/7/2020) if needed.
2-3 minute presentation on Tuesday
6-8 minute final presentation
Presentation order for Tuesday 12/8/2020
Is gene modification ethical? With programs like CRISPR, gene modification has been a topic throughout science fiction and real-world science in recent times. Science fiction shows can show the possibilities of gene modification but can also show some of the downsides. Orphan Black, a Canadian sci-fi thriller about clones, shows some ethical issues with genetic modification and more specifically cloning. Humans have already begun experimenting with cloning as far back as 1996 with Dolly the Sheep, the first-ever mammal to be cloned. When experimenting with the genetic makeup and structure of living beings, it is important to consider morals and ethics, such as should we even mess with our own genetics? What are the consequences of doing so? We also have to consider how genetic modification would affect those that are modified and how society would look in a future where genetic modification is commonplace. These speculative themes are explored in science fiction and can help us further understand and think about some of the ethical and moral ambiguities of genetic modification.
[What are some of the ethical and moral questions when it comes to human genetic modification? There are a lot of ethical and moral debates about human genetic modification, and how that can affect society on a grand scale.]
Manson, Graeme, John Fawcett, Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Maria D. Kennedy, Skyler Wexler, Matt Frewer, and Kristian Bruun. Orphan Black: Season One. , 2013.
Orphan Black is a Canadian science-fiction thriller about Sarah Manning. The show tackles themes of cloning and genetic modification as well as some of the moral, ethical, and legal issues with it. The show uses a lot of real and factual science to discuss the themes presented and is useful to my research as a way to connect real-world science to speculative problems of science fiction.
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. “Genetic Engineering Will Change Everything Forever – CRISPR.” YouTube, uploaded by Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 10 Aug. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhjPd4uNFY&t=68s.
Dvorsky, George. “The Real-Life Science Behind Orphan Black.” Io9, Gizmodo, 16 Dec. 2015, io9.gizmodo.com/the-real-life-science-behind-orphan-black-1694765437.
Fikse, Alyssa. “‘Orphan Black’ Continues To Grapple With Huge Themes In Its Final Season.” UPROXX, Uproxx, 19 Mar. 2019, uproxx.com/tv/orphan-black-midseason-review.
Dvorsky, George. “These Unresolved Ethical Questions Are About to Get Real.” Io9, Gizmodo, 16 Dec. 2015, io9.gizmodo.com/these-unresolved-ethical-questions-are-about-to-get-rea-512883836.
Connor, Steve. “First Human Embryos Edited in U.S.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 2 Apr. 2020, www.technologyreview.com/2017/07/26/68093/first-human-embryos-edited-in-us.
Cussins, Jessica. “What Clones Think of CRISPR and Other Highlights from the Final Season of Orphan Black.” Center for Genetics and Society, Biopolitical Times, 7 Aug. 2017, www.geneticsandsociety.org/biopolitical-times/what-clones-think-crispr-and-other-highlights-final-season-orphan-black.
See You Yesterday, directed by Stefon Bristol and produced by Spike Lee, is a film about two young black teenagers, C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas, inventing time travel (or as they call it, temporal displacement). During the movie C.J.’s brother, Calvin is shot and killed by police and CJ. spends the duration of the movie to try and undo her brother’s murder. See You Yesterday covers themes of race, police brutality, and moral questions of time travel, while occasionally referencing other works of fiction and even non-fiction.
This was my second time watching the film, the first time being a little over a year ago. This time I feel I’ve picked up on a few smaller details that I may have missed during my first watch through. An example being the books that C.J., Sebastian, and Mr. Lockhart (the teacher), are reading in the second scene (03:24). C.J. is reading Stephen Hawken’s A Brief History of Time, Mr. Lockhart is reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, a novel about time travel, and Sebastian is reading a graphic novel called Black by Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith. When I first watched this movie I initially noticed the books that C.J. and Mr. Lockhart were reading, but did not recognize the book Sebastian was reading until hearing about it sometime after my first viewing of the film and having recently read the graphic novel myself. Black is a graphic novel where only black people have powers, due to a certain particle known as quarks. I think it’s interesting how it relates black people to having superpowers to how in this film two young black students invented time travel and can sort of harness that energy. In the film, they are the only ones who are shown using the machines for time travel. C.J.’s name is also in reference to Madame C.J. Walker, a famous black entrepreneur, and inventor.
Another detail within this second scene is the fact that Mr. Lockhart is played by Michael J. Fox who is famous for his role as Marty McFly in the Back to The Future films, which happen to be about time-travel. Mr. Lockhart even says one of the famous quotes from the movies, “great Scott”. After watching the film this time, I looked at some videos about the film with the main cast and director. In one interview, when responding to a tweet, director Stefon Bristol mentioned that “his [Michael J. Fox] role would be very important to reflect teachers in the classroom to pay attention to black students who are brilliant because they’re often over missed in the classroom”
See You Yesterday also analyzes some moral and philosophical questions that come with the development of time travel. Mr. Lockhart states that “If time travel were possible, it would be the greatest ethical and philosophical conundrum of the modern age” (5:02), which the movie explores using the topics of race and police brutality. After her brother, Calvin is shot C.J. wants to go back in time to prevent it from happening, but initially, Sebastian is against it as it changes history and messes with time. Time travel raises questions such as, should people be allowed to change the past? If so, on what scale? How will those changes impact the present? Will we create a different timeline? And if so, won’t we just be stuck in the same unchanged timeline whilst the other splits off with the changed effects? Then was is the point of it all? And are somethings, unfortunate as the be, are just supposed to happen?
I also find it interesting how See You Yesterday handle the continuity of time travel which can easily get confusing and complicated, and there are different ways that different writers, and stories, handle time travel. When going back the first time C.J. and Sebastian acknowledge that they cannot be seen by their past self since that would mess up events, and the second time they jump back they are aware that they have to avoid two past versions of themselves. If they kept jumping back like that, the past versions of themself that they would have to avoid would constantly increase, but they solved that problem by (I assume through all the jargon used) splicing the timelines and jumps of their former selves, therefore undoing previous jumps.
However, as C.J. stated, “everything great has the ability to be good and bad” (28:10). In this case, the good of time travel comes in C.J. being able to save her brother in one loop, however the bad is also shown when it’s at the cost of Sebastian’s life. This leads to her making more jumps back to try and correct errors in her plan.
Some similarities that could be made between See You Yesterday and Victor LaValle’s Destroyer are the themes of race and police brutality as well as having a black female lead for both stories. The allusion that is being made to society is how black women fight for and alongside black men when there is racial injustice. Stefon Bristol also mentions this in the aforementioned interview, and how C.J. is a representation of that, and instead of it being through the lens of a mother, it’s through the lens of a teenage girl. Bristol also talks about black people uplifting and caring for each other when referencing a line in the movie, “I love you, black man… I love you, too, black woman” – (C.J. and Sebastian 39:09).
The ending of See You Yesterday was noticeably abrupt and seemingly felt like a cliffhanger. It was left open-ended as to what happened that time C.J. jumped back. My initial thought was that C.J. would continue to jump back in time, unfortunately, never able to save everyone, as there would always be one casualty. Or she would sacrifice herself to save everyone. The ending didn’t exactly give any closure, but in a way, I felt that that was the intention. How often in real life do the families of victims of police brutality get closure? In the interview with Bristol, he mentioned how he intentionally left it open-ended “to have the ending wrapped up in a bow like that [a happy ending where C.J. saves everyone] it would be an offensive oversimplification of why this movie was made, of a tragedy that’s still happening today, and I refuse a simplified ending. Explanation of the ending is basically I want you to do something about it, you pissed off that the movie ended that way, we pissed off that it still happens” (3:19).
See You Yesterday, directed by Stefon Bristol and produced by Spike Lee, was an interesting movie incorporating science-fiction time travel, and race and police brutality. It covered some important themes and topics facing society today. It was also interesting to see a science-fiction film take place in a personally familiar area of Flatbush and East Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Victor LaValle’s “Destroyer” is a graphic novel, that takes the original story of Frankenstein, and puts a modern spin on it. The story stars Frankenstein’s Monster and Dr. Josephine Baker, a descendant of Victor Frankenstein and a scientist who revives her dead son. There are a lot of parallels in “The Destroyer”, such as how Dr. Baker revives her son Akai vs how Dr. Frankenstein creates the Monster, by combining body parts and in the case of Akai, using nanotech to create parts of his body. One thing I found interesting is that in the afterword, LaValle mention’s how Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley, had her deceased husband’s heart in her desk. In the first chapter, we see that Dr. Baker has (what I presume to be) Akai’s heart, and uses that as a starting point for his revival.
“The Destroyer” touches on the topic of artificial life and race. Dr. Baker talks about how artificial life will be what comes after humanity falls and that Akai is the start, partially organic, and artificial will eventually evolve to be that of purely non-organic life and machine. This evolution reminds me of a concept I recently heard about called Theseus’s Ship. It’s an old Greek story about a hero and a ship, where throughout the story parts of the ship get destroyed and have to be replaced, and by the end of the story, no part of the ship is the same as when it first left the harbor. The philosophical question then becomes is the ship the same ship as the one that originally set out since everything has been changed. In “The Destroyer” the majority of Akai’s body has been replaced, much like Theseus’s ship. Dr. Baker tells Akai that “You’re something entirely… new. Even the monster, in the end, is only human. You’re an entirely new life form”. Plier’s, Akai’s dad, also has had his body merge with The Bride, a big robot, and Dr. Baker herself becomes just a consciousness stored digitally within Akai. All these characters change and become something different than what they originally started as, though their personality, mostly, stays the same.
The one character that seems to change the most is Dr, Baker. Throughout the story, we’re shown flashbacks of Dr. Baker and how she met Pliers. She originally is shown to be fairly quiet but enthusiastic about her work at The Lab, but after she has to quit her job at The Lab and after the death of her son due to, police brutality, she turns to vengeance against a racist society that has failed her, her son, and other Black people. This, in the story, parallels the Monster who is also vengeful and holds hatred towards society. Akai’s death also seems to be an allusion to the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy, like Akai, who was shot, within two seconds, by police in 2014. Other points that LaValle covered in the story are how Black people are discredited for their work and their inventions were stolen, as shown when Dr. Baker mentions how The Lab took The Bride from her and they even used it against her. Also, when Dr. Baker talks about artificial life being humanity’s next step, and how they will judge and fear those who are artificial and in comparison to the beginning of the story where the Monster is watching a video that talks about how humans are on the verge of wielding power over life and death; I find it interesting that humans can even think about artificial life when there still racial inequality. Humanity is thinking far into the future before facing present-day issues.
The discussion of power over life and death in “The Destroyer” and other Frankenstein related works, make me think about a recent quote I heard from a game I play called Destiny 2; the quote being, “Life and Death are liars’ tools. Weave your own lie.” Victor Frankenstein and Dr, Baker have both surpassed the limitations of normal human life expectancy, both through their work and in Dr. Baker’s case, her consciousness. Both can be seen as starting points to human immortality, which was something that Dr. Baker was working on when she was at the Lab. In real life, there are some ways scientists are looking into this such as the use of cryonics to freeze human bodies and preserve for years, to then unfreeze sometime in the future. This also raises a few questions such as would some of us even want to be immortal? In what ways can we achieve immortality? And what would it look like if every human on the planet was immortal? One answer to the last question, I believe, can be shown in a text we read earlier his semester; Issac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, and how the human’s in his story achieved immortality and needed more space in the universe for the ever-growing population. Victor LaValle’s “Destroyer” was a very interesting and enjoyable reading, that covers a lot of topics, and raises a lot of questions.
Discussing August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains
The Last Question, by Isaac Asimov, is a short story about the evolution of humanity and technology, a single question, and the inevitable end of the universe due to increasing entropy. The Last Question also explores the relationship between humans and technology.
Firstly, we start with humanity still on Earth using up all its natural resources. Humans have made a supercomputer to answer almost any question and to support humanity for the coming years. Humans have essentially initiated the start of artificial life. From the start, it’s shown that humans see Multivac as a sort of all-knowing computer, filled with all of humanity’s knowledge with the ability to self-adjust and self-correct. However like it was stated – They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs, and translated the answers that were issued (Asimov 1) the computer is still made/maintained by humans and as such the information and learning program it initially has is limited to the human perspective and understanding of the universe. As such the computer cannot answer the question of how to decrease entropy. It is not something that human beings themselves cannot imagine a solution for, that is until both humanity and technology evolve beyond their corporeal state of being and become an elevated disembodied consciousness that transcends some of the limits of space and humanity’s original definition of human. However, after the many cycles and evolutions humanity is still referred to as “man”, because apart of being human is to adapt and evolve. To always grow.
Another way evolution is shown throughout the story is through the ideals of the main characters of each section. At the start, there is an apparent juxtaposition between Adell and Lupov, a contrast between optimism and pessimism. Adell believes in the glass is half full, by humanity discovering an energy source that will last them for billions of years. This is in contrast to Lupov’s glass half empty view, on how eventually everything will come to an end, no matter how hard to try to delay it. These contrasting ideas carry over from evolution to evolution and slowly change with each one. The theme of optimism vs pessimism seems to fade as humans evolve and start to look at it from a more objective standpoint, as all things must eventually come to an end.
However, the end is just the beginning. Like the symbol of Ouroboros – snake devouring its tail, The Last Question depicts the cycle of the universe and humanity. After humans have evolved to the point where all of their consciousness has melded into one, the AC still cannot answer how to reverse entropy. However, soon after the collective human consciousness known as “Man”, merges with the AC, it is then able to figure out how to reverse entropy and that is by simply starting everything all over again.
My category for the Brooklyn Sci-Fi Film Festival was Bio-Tech. This category of the film included 12 short films and was all about technology and how it either modified living organisms or how it impacted them. This included many stories such as a cellphone that can duplicate anything it captures in-camera, even a person (“Killing Time”) to a drug that can change your appearance (“X-Drug”). One film stood out to me the most for a few reasons.
The film that stood out to me the most and was my favorite, was “Eternity” by Anna Sobolevska. The film takes place in the year 2058 and is about a husband and wife, Ian and Mari, and how they chose to spend eternity. By digitizing the souls of dying people, humanity has conquered death. Now you can choose to live your afterlife in a virtual reality of your choosing for all eternity. The two main characters, Ian and Mari are married and are at odds with their decision to opt into Eternity. Ian feels that he’s “Afraid [he] will stop loving [Mari] there” and questions if it will even be her. Ian also states that ‘I am afraid that we will lose the ability to love anything at all” (02:58) Mari replies with “to refuse eternity is absurd”. I question if it is. Firstly the company (Charon) behind this technology could potentially tamper with the human souls or consciousnesses in their system, potentially altering their personality which brings me back to Ian questioning if it will even be Mari. Technology and the world will evolve without you. There will come a time where there will be no more updates to the servers or database that is maintaining the souls, is Eternity truly eternal? Since your soul is digitized there is also the chance of it being prone to hacking or digital viruses. It also raises the question again of what makes us human. Is it our life span, our personality, our soul, or how much of our physical body is intact?
Later it’s revealed that Ian’s father died being a tester for Charon, this further shows the risk involved with the entire project. To be a Tester, you have to be dead temporarily. This at first made me question how do you keep you maintain brain activity to take part in Eternity while you dead on the outside, but I then concluded that Charon must somehow be keeping the brain going artificially. It is shown throughout the film that Charon only cares about furthering its agenda, research, and continued corporate expansion. At the start of the film when Ian and Mari can’t decide, the Charon manager says they “will” return. After they get into a car crash Ian is motivated to try and wake Mari from her coma. We see him become a Tester and try to get Mari back only to fail, but then in the end we see that both Ian and Mari died in the car crash. Further evidence of Charon’s corporate influence is shown when the company’s name is on the medical equipment, which suggests to me that they can manipulate the medical field to their advantage.
One last thing I found interesting about the movie is the roles of the Guiders and the Testers. Normally when thinking of the afterlife some of us may think of a spirit or angel, to guide us there. In this case, the spirit or angel can easily represent the Guiders, even though death, and their time in Eternity, is supposed to be temporary for Tester. However it was also stated in the film that most Testers just end up dying, so while they may intend to go to Eternity for a brief visit, they may end up staying there permanently. Furthermore, it is interesting to have the roles reverse when Ian enters Eternity to try and bring Mari back.
All the films that I watched from the festival were interesting and showed a bunch of different and unique takes on Biotech, while still keeping some of the main themes of the category, like what it means to be human.