Thursday, January 22, 2009

What We Know About Battlestar Galactica

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

The final season of Battlestar Galactica has begun and the teaser commercials have posed the question: Who is the 5th secret Cylon? While this will be the focus of the final ten BSG episodes, there are a number of other questions the series has presented that may not be resolved by the final curtain.

1. Why do Cylons’ spines glow red when they make love?
It would seem that such an obvious sexual tell would be counterproductive for a cadre of seductive simulacrums. In all the years of sexual subversion, did no human ever wonder why their incredibly attractive partners insisted on the missionary position?

We do know that Cylons like sex as much as the next automaton and that they are genetically compatible with humans. They claim to experience “Love” and they purport, at times, to having free will. One can only conclude that the glowing red spine was a feature meant to be included only in Christmas Cylons, but someone slipped in production.

2. How did Cylons develop monotheism?

BSG humans are portrayed as generally secular and polytheistic. Neither Greek nor Hebrew, but rather both and more, human BSG characters sport names or appellations like "Adama," "Apollo," "D'Anna" and for the coffee worshippers amongst us "Starbuck." Their twelve colonial worlds correspond to the twelve signs of the zodiac. They say things like "Thank the Gods" and "Gods help us."

The robotic Cylons are monotheistic, fanatical and proselytizing. Despite their claim that their one god is “love,” or perhaps because of it, they bring about the destruction of the twelve human colonies, killing billions of people and then zealously pursue the few survivors. There is one chilling scene from the first season where the Cylon attack is imminent and Number 6 bends over a carriage to kill an infant. It is unclear whether this is an act of mercy or a preemptive strike.

The odd thing is that the Cylons, being robots, have already achieved eternal life. They literally cannot be killed. Or rather, we see them continually dying and then being reborn. Their reincarnation factory vessels are even called “resurrection ships.” A reborn Cylon is not a type or a clone. It is a recreation of the dead individual Cylon, downloaded from the original with memories and emotions intact. In other words, one of the core motivators of many of Earth’s religions is already an integral part of Cylon existence. The only exception to the rule is if a Cylon dies out of range of a resurrection complex. Then they truly die.

If, in spite of being formed in the image of their creators, Cylons reject polytheism, how did they stumble across monotheism?

There is a school of cultural evolutionary thought that suggests that a pre-existing condition to the adoption of monotheism is a phonetic alphabet and some degree of literacy. In a 1977 Issue of ETC: The Journal of General Semantics, in an article titled "Alphabet, Mother of Invention," Marshall McLuhan (yes, that Marshall McLuhan) and Robert K. Logan speculate on the possible origin of monotheism:

"Western thought patterns are highly abstract, compared with Eastern. There developed in the West, and only in the West, a group of innovations that constitute the basis of Western thought. These include (in addition to the alphabet) codified law, monotheism, abstract science, formal logic, and individualism. All of these innovations, including the alphabet, arose within the very narrow geographic zone between the Tigris-Euphrates river system and the Aegean Sea, and within the very narrow time frame between 2000 B.C. and 500 B.C. We do not consider this to be an accident. While not suggesting a direct causal connection between the alphabet and the other innovations, we would claim, however, that the phonetic alphabet played a particularly dynamic role within this constellation of events and provided the ground or framework for the mutual development of these innovations." (Emphasis added)

While the final verdict on this Media Ecological interpretation of religious thought is still out, there surely is some confusion over how the artificial intelligence products of the pantheistic human culture of BSG could arrive at the notion of one God. Religious robots, while intriguing, remain a problem, especially self-ordained monotheistic robots.

Computer processing, as we understand it, requires at least binary notation, which would imply a minimum of two gods. I believe that the depiction of Cylons as monotheistic in the absence of human mortality or alphabetic literacy can only be seen as a true leap of faith on the part of BSG's creators.

3. Why didn’t the Cylons make their “skin jobs” better than they are?
Humanoid Cylons are stronger, arguably smarter and definitely sexier than their human counterparts. However, given the range of possibilities presented by human/android genetics, one wonders why the Cylons didn’t do more?

How about x-ray vision or invulnerability? Is a spider-like precognition out of the question? At the very least, all Cylons could have been equipped with metallic claws that pop out of their knuckles on command.

When you compare humanity’s current evolutionary state to our closest monkey’s uncle, it is clear we are far superior. Our brains are so large we only need to use 10% and often use much less. Every year some Olympian or Marathoner runs faster, jumps higher, or swims more synchronously. To your average orangutan, we must seem like the types of Super Hominid into which they’d all like to evolve. For those of us already at the summit of Earth’s evolutionary trail, where is there to go but up, as in “Up, Up and Away!”?

It may be that Cylons, while clearly superior to humans in every conceivable way, lack the ability to imagine the next great steps in humanoid evolution and the amount of spandex required.

4. Why do the Cylons want to breed half-human/half-Cylon children? Why have children at all?
Any parent who has been on the receiving end while changing a diaper, who has been involved in any school science project or who has attempted sound moderately coherent while explaining the facts of life to a pre-pubescent human child would wonder why Cylons wouldn’t design their offspring to skip right to adulthood. Would-be Cylon parents will soon discover that it is not possible to annihilate the remainder of the human race while coordinating a schedule of after-school activities.

5. Finally, who is the fifth Cylon? What’s the deal with Starbuck? And what about Earth-that-was?

I personally believe that Starbuck is Amelia Earhart and Colonel Tigh is Jimmy Hoffa. The fifth Cylon is not Ellen Tigh, he's Howard Hughes. Or maybe Walt Disney's head. Wait. Didn't he invent animatronics?

That's it! The Cylons are Disney World Character refugees, who fled Earth when Lawrence Lessig finally got Congress to approve term limits on corporate copyrights! First they evolved from singing bears and cavorting pirates into “toaster-heads.” Now they swing full circle back to humanoid approximations of perfection, but they have not been able to completely eliminate the desire to slavishly cater to the pre-adult offspring of their creators.

If this “Magic Kingdom Galactica” hypothesis is true, we should be on the lookout for an upcoming Battlestar Galactica episode that would be a dead giveaway: “Cylons On Ice”.

1 comment:

Cookiemouse said...

Perhaps one reason why magic is so popular these days is that we experience it through technology on a daily basis. We use stuff, that we do not understand, to do things that were impossible even a few years ago. Yet apart from the high priests (sorry, scientists!) hardly any of us knows how all this stuff works. It's just a kinda magic.