Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Origin of the DanielPDanielverse

TJ is having another great discussion over on his blog, and I've managed to butt in again. Buzz over there and check it out.

The origin of the universe has been a favorite subject of mine since middle school when “A Brief History of Time” was released, and I was just starting to grasp the fundamental principles of Einstein’s relativity. String Theory was beginning to come into its own, and (dare I say) cosmology was sexy. More than that, I think that this quest to drill down deeper and deeper into our cosmological origins is the sole topic that actually forces even the most atheistic hard-liners among us to consider the possibility of Capital G – God.

The standard model for the origin of our universe is the Big Bang Theory. This theory posits that the entire universe at some point in the past was contained within a single point which then exploded, sending space flying in all directions of the infinite nothingness. Of course the opposite model to that is the Static Model, but I think there is enough evidence supporting the former to suppose that this is most likely how the universe began. When speaking of astrophysics and universal origins two fundamental tenets of mathematics cannot be avoided, and they are in fact central to the understanding of the theories that we are concerned with. These two concepts appear to be quite basic on the surface; however, even after reading dozens of books and being schooled in advanced mathematics and physics I have difficulty imagining both. The concepts of which I speak are, of course, singularities and infinity. There is just something within my human brain that tends to overload when I try to imagine both a single point and infinite space, and I have a pretty good imagination. So when we drill down into the moment of creation of our universe we necessarily approach a singularity which I find very hard to grasp - a single point containing all of the energy and mass of our infinite universe. Ouch! I think I sprained something.

Here’s the thing with this singularity that was the seed for our universe as we know it: since it is necessarily smaller than the Planck Length, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle governs its existence. At this quantum level, we (as outside observers) are incapable of gleaning information from the singularity, and, because our ability to observe that object is obstructed, we cannot know and cannot predict its properties. The implications of this simple statement are quite shocking. Since we cannot predict or observe the singularity due to the Uncertainty Principle, all possibilities are equally likely. Anything can happen at that point…all possibilities are in play. However, another consequence of this is that no information is stored within the singularity. If we imagine a cyclic universe that keeps banging and crunching an infinite amount of times, each time the universe collapses back to a singularity the information stored about our physical principles that form this iteration of the universe are lost. There is no universal DNA that codes for the next attempt after the next bang (if there is to be another).

Due to the reasons stated above, we will only be able to trace our origins back to immediately after the singularity exploded, a billionth of a trillionth of a second after creation of this universe as we know it. Before that, we can never know. When asked what came before the Big Bang, Stephen Hawking stated that the question itself was meaningless, and he compared it to asking "What lies north of the North Pole?...The actual point of creation lies outside the scope of presently known laws of physics." The very word “before” has no meaning in this context because there was no time at the point of the singularity. Yet we continue to pursue the question and likely will as long as we are in existence. This is the point where I (and many other scientists) tend to fall down a bit. Since we cannot answer the question of what happened before the singularity (or at the singularity) all possibilities are equally likely, no matter how remote. This includes the possibility of the existence of a creator.

Although there is no evidence of a creator now, we cannot exclude a creator from the origin of the universe. Similarly, we cannot ascribe properties to this creator. There will only ever be questions regarding this entity. For example, if the Big Bang Theory is true, then should we conclude that God is outside of the universe so that He could get the Bang going? Or was She in the singularity? Is It the universe itself? If He’s outside of the universe, then there’s no reason to expect that we are the only universe in existence, is there? Therefore, it’s safe to assume that we may not be that special to God after all. What does a model of an expanding and contracting universe tell us about Capital G? Does it support one religion over another? I think the cosmological question of the possibility of the existence of god is quite different than the discussion of religion, and since we can never know what these possibilities are it is really just a point to argue for no reason. Taking this god track a bit further - doesn’t god have a beginning? It seems like one could presuppose an infinite chain of gods creating each other with equal likelihood as this one god. I guess I just don’t understand why the universe needs a beginning and god does not, as some people suppose.

Some people point to the Anthropic Coincidences as proof positive that the universe has some sort of intelligent creator pulling handles and switching valves. I think that people tend to use these as a bit of a cart-before-the-horse argument. The fact that life currently exists in one known area of an infinite universe is not a prerequisite for all of the myriad properties of physics that make it possible. Life is a consequence of those properties, not the other way around. The very word “coincidence” really has no place in discussions involving infinity. If we assume that the universe has banged and crunched an infinite number of times, then there would be an equal number of failures (assuming this universe is a success, of course). There would be an equal number of times that very different physical principles are present. The very framework of space would be different. Infinity makes very large numbers from the examples above possible…an infinite number of times. Just keep adding zeros.

The question of the point of the origin of our universe still stands and will always stand. Our principles of physics demand it. So I suppose the real question is: why do we need to know? Or stated another way, why does it matter? Isn’t a billionth of a trillionth of a second close enough? The answers to these questions, of course, lie in the complexities of the human mind which is always driven by curiosity, and we will likely never stop supposing what happened one step further into the past.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Wizard of Gore

Well, I’ve done it. I have finally found the worst movie ever made. Now, on the surface this may seem like a pretty bold statement considering some of the other films that I have subjected my readers to in the past. After all I consider movies such as “Bad Girls go to Hell”, “Thankskilling”, and “The Killer Shrews” to be seminal achievements in filmmaking history. Well, not really, but at least I know what to expect going into them, and I truly appreciate that. Movies like “Town and Country”, “Baby Geniuses: Part 2”, and “The Postman” all hide behind the A-list actors on their DVD cases until you actually watch them, at which point you feel as though you’ve just done 1900 squat thrusts in a cucumber patch and the only way you’ll regain any sense of well-being is by kicking the closest pet or loved one square in the tunders. They are horrible movies that pretend to be worthwhile…absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. Still, it should come as no surprise that the movies I love are bad. But they know they are bad, and they embrace the fact. As such, I am on a constant quest to find that movie…that one movie…the movie that after sitting through all 95 minutes of schlocky hand puppets covered in gore and screaming teens awash in red corn syrup I can say to myself, “Hoooleee shit. THAT was the worst movie I have ever seen.” Hey, it keeps me out of trouble.

Well that long awaited moment came to me on a nondescript Saturday night a couple of weeks ago when I sat down to consume the movie that essentially launched the whole gore exploitation genre, “The Wizard of Gore.” Some may consider my assertion that this is the worst movie ever made sacrilege since it was in fact a seminal event in filmmaking history. It was THE movie that brought horror movies out of the Lon Cheney “Wolfman” era and stuffed them square into a bucket of pig intestines. However, there’s only so far a man can bow before he starts smelling his own arse.

“The Wizard” was directed by legend of the genre Herschell Gordon Lewis who started out in the industry churning out low-budget nudie exploitation films such as “B-O-I-N-G!” (1963) and “Goldilocks and the Three Bares” (1963), which is a nudist musical. I’ll give you a moment to wipe off your screen. Yes, that’s what I said…a nudist musical. First and foremost, Lewis was a smart businessman. Once he saw that his nudies weren’t faring so well he jumped ship and launched the gore genre with the brilliant “Blood Feast” (1963) immediately followed in rapid succession by “Two Thousand Maniacs” (1964) and “Color Me Blood Red” (1965). Needless to say, these movies aren’t…well, let’s just say they aren’t the best. After a handful of other gems branching out into other genres (including a couple of children’s films {gulp}) Lewis disappeared until his reappearance in 2002 with the sequel to “Blood Feast” aptly named “Blood Feast 2”. By the time “The Wizard of Gore” came about in 1970 Lewis was ready to push the envelope even further, which, admittedly he did.

This is going to be a difficult review to write since this movie doesn’t contain anything resembling normal items moviegoers seek such as a plot, acting, or editing. The show is literally just a string of gore-strewn scenes semi-loosely tied together by a storyline that is worse than that of the XXX remake of “Cheers.” The story is about a hypno-magician that entices young women onto his stage only to literally saw them in half, drive spikes through their heads, cram swords down their throats, etc. All of the above scenes are shot in glorious detail with ample use of animal innards and obvious mannequin parts. The women are released (seemingly) unharmed as the audience realizes that the trick is that they had just been mass hypnotized into believing they just saw a woman being crushed in an industrial press…or had they? All of the volunteers die a short time later of wounds similar to what they had experienced on stage. Then for some reason an investigative reporter chooses to broadcast a show live. Why not? That seems like something CBS would put over the airwaves at the time, right? Anyway, it’s a disaster, and anyone who witnessed the broadcast ends up with horrible wounds. Then, predictably, the reporter’s boyfriend tears off his face to reveal that he is the magician controlling reality…ugh. So he decides to cut her up for fun only to have her sit up and reveal that SHE is the one who is actually controlling reality. Oh, Christ. Confused? Well, this is only what I think the storyline is since it was very difficult to piece together with no acting or editing. I had to watch the movie twice just to make sure the DVD player wasn’t broken and skipping around at random. Now I wish that it were.

The budget for this “masterpiece of crap” couldn’t have been more than $60. Surely the actors couldn’t have been paid, and certainly they didn’t have a script to go off of. In fact the lead actor was originally just a technician who was pressed into service after the original choice for lead (smartly) was a no-show. None of the other “actors” ever appeared in another film, probably because they got lost on their way back to the studio lot. Now, my fellow fans of the genre are going to scream at their monitors calling me a heretic for daring to say that this genre-creating opus is the worst movie ever made. They’ll say that you can’t use the same measuring stick to review this film as you do for “Last Tango in Paris.” It is the content of this movie that truly matters, not the movie itself. Well, I’m calling bullshit. I literally could not sit through this one again as schlocky and wonderfully gore-ridden as it may be. Why? Because on top of being intentionally bad (which don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate), it appears that there was very little effort put into it besides smashing some sheep’s brains all over plastic replicas of people. I understand where the movie stands in the canon of exploitation films, but, my fellow gore hounds and genre fans, it’s still a stinker.