Caltech Capitalism: An explaination of ‘Interstellar’s’ “blight”

I was surprised to learn while reading a recent book by a physicist I respect a great deal regarding the science of the movie Interstellar how limited the views of science really are. While attempting to discover a way to insert the concept of a blight into the film as the primary reason for earth’s cataclysmic disaster pushing human kind off the planet, Kip Thorne, the author organized a dinner meeting with Jonathan Nolan the screenwriter, at the Caltech faculty club, the Anthenaeum. Also attending the dinner was film producer Lynda Obst, the biologist Elliot Meyerowitz, Jered Leadbetter—an expert on diverse microbes, Mel Simon, an expert on cells that make up plants, and David Baltamore, an expert about everything regarding biology.

The challenge was to discover how plausible it was for a blight to consume the food supply on earth due to relatively natural occurrences. In the film Jonathan and the Director Christopher Nolan wanted a natural disaster in the story that would force humans to make a decision, so they set the story a bit into the future, yet the population on earth was rapidly declining, and technological advancement was regressing. The scientists attached to the film, and the attendees of that dinner found it hard to believe that scientific endeavor would decline so rapidly in such a society—which I thought was astonishing. After all, it’s happening right now.

My son-in-law and I were discussing this very problem just last night–if it hadn’t been for Ronald Reagan and Margret Thatcher who wrestled away from socialist England much of its industry back into privatization, most of the great technology we are enjoying today would not have happened. Our society would regress as opposed to the leaps it made in the 80s and 90s to what many neglect these days as common occurrences–such as cell phone technology. It took political vision and commitment to privatizing industry that was using science to usher in the technical leaps that we have been seeing. However, the danger is that much of that work is has-been technology and for the generations coming from the years of the Bush presidents, Clinton and Obama, much of the science has returned to the type of dinner discussions occurring at Caltech for the Interstellar blight meeting.

Most college professors know that most of their funding comes from the tax payers, so their view of the world tends to be left leaning progressive. People tend to attach their politics to what feeds their mouths, not so much what they believe is right or wrong based on personal judgment. So those brilliant scientists at Kip Thorne’s meeting were already missing a major ingredient to the success of science before their meeting on the blight even took place. After reading about the meeting it is no wonder that so many top scientists believe in global warming as a manmade occurrence—as their funding often comes from government, and government wants to propel such myths so to gain more control through organizations like the EPA on regulating industry. In much the same way that the aforementioned scientists found a type of blight for the Interstellar film plot line, they also find evidence of global warming to gain grant money for their research leaving the discovery process of scientific data contaminated with liberal politics.

Yet the point of the meeting was to find a form of biological blight appropriate for the Nolan storyline—so it was under a capitalist endeavor that the scientists even gathered to discuss the topic. Without the potential profit of making the movie Interstellar, the motivation for even having the scientific discussion would not be present, and those same faculty members would talk among themselves not sharing with the world the brilliant science of their efforts. It was just another reminder of how science should be attached more to business rather than government.

The dinner meeting went on for some time and many topics were discussed. Jonathan Nolan is my kind of screenwriter. He is concerned with many of the same types of themes that I am, the danger of collectivism, the regression of human spirit when the profit motive is taken away, and the strength of the individual over the mob of democracy. Those are topics that Kip’s scientists are typically weary of as they come often from the liberal side of the tracks, particularly Lynda Obst who is one of those liberal Hollywood producers that are always talked about attending Obama fundraisers thinking that he is the second coming of Christ or the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses. Yet Lynda was in the business of making money. At the time it was Steven Spielberg who was attached as the director of the film, and there is an expectation that his films must garner a certain healthy box office take—especially in regards to science fiction. But Nolan was staying away from the typical man-made doomsday scenario that most writers guided by Obst would typically be comfortable with. If not for the profit motive, the dinner meeting would not have occurred at Caltech with any purpose but for scientist to talk about what projects they were working on.

The result of the dinner was the type of blight that is known in the science world as a lethal generalist blight that would run rampant over the earth consuming the oxygen humans need to breathe. As the atmosphere is 80 percent nitrogen and the lethal blight feeds off of nitrogen it has an endless supply of nutrients for its parasitic destruction of plant life. The byproduct of the Interstellar blight is CO2 which of course is a byproduct of human breathing which would gradually consume the oxygen in our atmosphere slowly killing everyone who depends on oxygen to live. But before arriving at that conclusion many scenarios were discussed, such as an AIDS virus that could quickly evolve into a far more contagious form that was airborne. Another scenario proposed by Leadbetter was that people might panic due to global warming and fertilize the oceans to produce algae that would eat much of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. This could be done by throwing a lot of iron into the oceans to help feed algae growth. However this massive growth might then kill off all the fish and plant life starving humans from the rich food supply there. Another proposal by Meyerowitz contemplated that ultraviolet light streaming through our atmosphere’s ozone hole could mutate an enormous bloom of algae growth creating new pathogens that would again wipe out plant life in the oceans then jump on land to do the same. All those are interesting ideas, but also point to the dangers of not having a screenwriter like Jonathan Nolan who came up with a strong premise that actually made these scientists think. Typically, what would have happened is that a clueless screenwriter enamored by the nice meal and wine at such dinners would do whatever the scientists proposed and hoping to get another writing job, would kiss the ass of Obst. This would have taken Interstellar’s plot and made it into something like The Day after Tomorrow or some other cheap environmentally charged message film that would falter at the box office because it does not speak to the core of the American film audience—rather just the fringe government driven scientists at universities.

If the faculty at Caltech was more attached to capitalism instead of government driven socialism discussions like the one that took place for Interstellar would take place all the time and be aimed at more profitable measures—which would be a great thing. Instead of brilliant scientists like Thorne, and the others sitting around at the Anthenaeum contemplating the universe as they wait for tax payers to funnel money through the government to arrive at their science experiments, the goals of such discussions under capitalist endeavor would be to align profit with science to arrive at a new market—and therefore a new human creation. There needs to be a lot less government involved in those types of meetings and a lot more capitalism. It is only because of Jonathan Nolan and later his brother Christopher that Interstellar took a unique approach that pushed scientific validity to a level that was unusual for a big screen film produced by the studio system. And if such endeavors could do wonders for a simple movie, just think what they could do if private enterprise was more engaged directly with the likes of Thorne, Leadbetter, and Meyerowitz.

Rich Hoffman

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