The Day the Earth Stood Still and Knowledge


About a week ago, I watched the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. Besides the fact that Keanu Reeves seems much more attractive to me than he did ten years ago, I find that this movie raises some very deep philosophical questions.

For one, of course, there is the question whether there is intelligent life besides human life in the universe. Obviously, this is not what I’m going to discuss here. Would take way too much thinking for my Christmas-movie-fried brain.

Another one is whether – assuming that intelligent life exists somewhere behind the frontier of the earthly sky – aliens would try to kill us or save us. The movie tells the story of a consortium of alienoid lifeforms that have sent “spies” to the earth a considerably long while ago (the “guy” in the movie is about 80 years old) and now has to decide whether the human race should be allowed to live or not – considering that we’re about to destroy everything we have on this planet. In the end, to make the happy ending and Hollywood’s purpose happen, of course we are saved.

But is that really what would happen? And are we so self-infatuated that we would not be able to see that it would be better for planet Earth if we were not here? It seems that the scenario should be the following: In order for the aliens to see that we are able to reason well enough to not let Earth die, we should be able to see past our own agenda and agree with them that – as of now – we are destroying the planet and it would be better if we did not exist anymore. That would then lead the aliens to realize that we can be reasonable and know how to determine what the right to do is.

Another thing that comes up is whether aliens would be able to take our view. This is important because to make a good judgment one should always be able to take and assess all views on a problem. And that brings us to the following problem: How do we truly know? In other words: What is true knowledge?

I have recently discovered a blog of a Philosophy professor with nine kids. You can read more here. She has mentioned The Knowledge Argument a couple of times in her recent posts. The Knowledge Argument was (not firstly) formulated by Frank Jackson and goes like this (this is a VERY short cut version): If a brilliant scientist has studied all the physicalities and phenomena the Earth can provide living in a black and white room all her life (of course it was a woman) and gets out of this room at some point (for whatever reason), will she gain more knowledge by actually seeing, for example, something red or smelling a pumpkin pie (yes, I have Christmas music playing in the background)?

It seems that our initial reaction (which is often associated with truth – yes, there is intuition) would be that of course she will gain more knowledge and learn. But she had all the physical knowledge. Which then means that without experience, we are not able to truly know. This brings us back to the aliens. Keanu Reeves in the role of an alien tells the people he encounters that he knows everything about them. But how could he without actually having experienced living as a human on Earth? If The Knowledge Argument is correct, then he cannot. Which must lead us to the conclusion that even though the alien consortium sends spies to Earth to live here and collects data about humanity and has all the information there is on us, they would not be able to put themselves in our position and therefore are not in the position to judge whether the human race should be allowed to live or be destroyed.

All this leads me to the conclusion that the story of the movie is crap. Which does not equal my empiric experience (yea, that’s the same thing, I know – we call it doppelt gemoppelt in German, but that’s not the point) because I thought the plot and movie as a whole were great.

But the whole knowledge thing is a problem. Not only for aliens, but also for us. Because how do I tell someone I know what a certain city is like because I have seen a documentary about the same or that a tiger in the jungles of India will probably eat the sh*t out of me if I ever were to encounter a situation like that, if I have never experienced the city or the tiger?

Even Plato knew that there was a problem… which is why he wrote the Allegory of the Cave. The piece is a part of the Republic and one of the things anyone should learn in high school – even though many do not. Check out the link above, it has all the necessary information.

To make a long story short, I think Plato would agree with my blurbs above.

There are more things in The Day the Earth Stood Still that I might discuss in future posts. If you have questions before then, email me. Will eat cookies now. 🙂


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