Through the Wormhole ‘Is God an Alien Concept?’ recap and review

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Through the Wormhole is a science documentary series hosted by the beloved Morgan Freeman. Whether you loved his performance in Driving Miss DaisyShawshank RedemptionBruce Almighty, or The Dark Knight Trilogy, he has become more than a man, he has become a legend. While I can tell that Morgan is reading some kind of prompt as he’s doing his part on the show, it’s still easy to appreciate the amount of motion graphics and dialogue that create the mood and idea portrayed in each section of speech.

“Is God an Alien Concept?” is the theme of this week’s episode, and in the introduction, Morgan conveys a few points to consider:

  • Animals that mourn their dead.
  • Robots that learn to experience spirituality.
  • An equation so powerful it could one day kill the idea of God.
  • Is Earth the universe’s only home for religion or is God an Alien concept?

As with the many of the previous episodes, Through the Wormhole taps the knowledge of various specialists relative to the question being asked. We find a logical arc through the episode’s question.

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Deb Kelman, a renowned child psychologist in Boston University’s Child Cognition Labs, has established a study, which states that children prefer purpose-based explanations for natural phenomenon. Like whether spiky rocks existed to benefit living creatures, or pockets under an animal’s feathers were designed to protect smaller creatures. Adults, on the other hand, prefer purpose-based explanations at their core.

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From a comparison between children and adults, Through the Wormhole takes us to Joshua Plotnik, a comparative psychologist in Thailand, who is studying elephants. In this part, Joshua’s studies of elephant psychology have helped develop the notion that elephants have a “Theory of Mind”. The theory states that the capacity of seeing the world from another point of view. The show asserts that to be able to imagine the mind of God, you must have a “theory of mind”. Intelligent species, such as us, have the universal capacity for the concept of God.

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The next section of the show details the sociological aspects of this week’s question. Kevin Rounding, a psychologist from Queen’s University in Canada, created an experiment to determine two types of individuals: religious and non-religious. After being able to separate the two classes, he puts them through a difficult task: To drink a dozen shots of orange juice mixed with vinegar. What he found is that those who were exposed to “religious reminders” were prone to taking the set of cocktails more so than the others who did not. What it explains is that self-control is what allows us to socialize with others, sacrifice for others, and behave morally, which is often expressed in varying religions in the world.

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To contrast, Danny Abrams, applied mathematician in Northwestern University, has devoted his career to predicting outcomes through mathematics. Through the use of a Metronome Test, Danny is able to express that over time, the ticking of one metronome inevitability unifies all of them into synchronicity. The Tipping Point is exemplified through that aforementioned test and also historically, when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the American Natives. Over time, the Natives realized the Spanish had all the resources and eventually converted to the Spanish way of living. Danny furthermore points out a study towards a census of religious groups over the last century (or two) and noted that non-affiliated individuals are the fastest growing group. Danny predicts that a religious minority will emerge, as religion hits that Tipping Point towards a kind of extinction.

And while connecting the two show religion’s unpopularity may induce a lack of willpower and compassion, these points are more to question than to resolve the pondering of the universe. But as I will later point out, even in society, no self-contained system can be perfectly understood.

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Ben Goertzel, AI researcher, believes that any mind of sufficient intelligence and flexibility will develop a sense of spirituality. And while they use the development of AI to illustrate this point, I did not feel this was as strongly tied to the main arc of the episode’s theme. However, for the sake of completeness, it did point out that since AI can send messages to each other (like e-mail), relaying their “spiritual” experiences differently than humans can offer a sense that an alien intelligence may experience their approach to things differently.

So the early parts of the episode started with a basic sense of being. Whether it was from the perspective of children or animals, it sets the stage for analyzing these thoughts on a more advanced level of society. It then touched on the transhuman aspect (a subject touched on by cyberpunk movies and fiction like Blade Runner and the Deus Ex series), and the last leg of this theme goes into the fabric of reality.

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Max Tegmark, physicist at MIT, asserts that if the fabric of reality is made of electrons and quarks, then all things are purely mathematical. Through the Wormhole states that intelligent beings who complete the equations in our cosmos will understand it perfectly. No more need for faith and God, who were concepts developed in a more basic aspect of society. Here’s something to ponder on my part, “Do the advancements of technology weaken our willpower (in conjunction with the study by Kevin Rounding) that can lead to a trend of a shrinking religious affiliation (in terms of Danny Abrams’ study)?”

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To counter Max’s position, Through the Wormhole introduces Marcelo Gleiser, cosmologist and theoretical physicist. Marcelo shares with us the Incompleteness Theorem by Kurt Gödel (1931). The theorem states that there is no such thing as a formal logic that is self-contained, which can prove every possible assertion within that system. Although I advise you to watch the show to see the example of how this theory works in action, it relays that there is a limit of how much we can know of the world. Through the Wormhole shares that rational thought cannot reveal all the truths to the universe.

Although the episode framed each section by referring to alien life and intelligence, in regards to religion and the concept of God, it served greatly in furthering my education in the roots and development of the various aspects in concerns of religion. Through the Wormhole, as I mentioned in the preview article, does not try to resolve questions, as much as it offers points in which you can make educated inquiries.

Through the Wormhole airs every Wednesday at 10pm on the Science Channel. Contact your local cable service provider for details about adding the Science Channel, if you don’t already have it.

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Jaynesis Ong
Jaynesis Ong 162 posts

He is currently a graphics designer by trade, illustrator for indie games, fashionisto, film production assistant, socialite, sampler of fine music, and taster of various new MMO games. JB likes destructive walks on the beach, visceral plot points, maniacal villains, and collapsing galactic empires.