While this essay offers up at least a partial and, I think, inevitable solution to a worldwide shortage of accessible energy, the ironic inspiration for this piece is derived from the most recent incarnation of the “Indiana Jones” genre: “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” This iteration of the popular Spielberg-Harrison Ford series features a now-geriatric Indiana Jones.
While this is not a movie review, I cannot restrain myself from at least briefly panning this unanimated, uninspired cartoon. There was no screenplay here. Harrison Ford does his best to occasionally punctuate what amounts to a two-hour-plus chase scene. Here and there are a few lines of bland dialogue in a film that does not know if it is a slapstick comedy or an adventure. The dialogue is less dense than that found in comic books and, for that matter, the special effects illustrated in comic books are more believable.
More to the point of my concern-of-the-month, “Crystal Skull” shares a commonality with the other “Indiana Jones” movies, the “Mummy” movies, the “Star Wars” series, “The Matrix” and the “Star Trek” movies: There is the ubiquitous theme of secularly spiritual heroes, who encounter metaphysical, magical forces emanating from an old box or an ancient tomb (usually Egyptian or Mayan) or from a special flashlight, as in the Darth and Luke Shows. Along with a few actual actors, we sometimes see in these films props who have their own cyber-personalities as well. There is, for example, the Shop Vac-like robot, R2-D2, in the “Star Wars” series. I have thankfully forgotten the name of Shop Vac’s cyber-sidekick robot. Here, we are not talking about science fiction but rather futuristic fantasy … there is no science here.
Such metaphysical plot lines are, on the surface, benign tips of so many icebergs, reflecting, though, what I see as a deep-seated, antiscience mindset, a trend of the last 25 years, which serves to help us regress back to make-believe solutions for real problems. Critical thinking over the last couple of decades has taken a beating and is out of vogue in this writer’s perception.
While I realize that movies, novels and computer-based games are but variations of fiction, I believe there has been a crossover between a kind of generic “New Age” thinking, based upon antiscience, which is aligned with a regression back to pseudoscience. I believe that scientific thinking, like so many other sundry phenomena, goes in and out of vogue. The last cycle of widely embraced scientific thinking commenced with the Russian’s debut in space: The launch of Sputnik: 1957. Amazingly, by the time we landed on the moon for a second time, it was already yesterday’s newspaper.
During the ’60s and ’70s, we could not encourage enough high school graduates to pursue engineering and I believe, odd as it sounds, that we at that same time achieved our zenith of scientific literacy. Subsequent to that time, it seems to me that the most sophisticated of high school graduates have wanted to be “managers” and coincidentally the MBA became the sought-after degree.
The modern fascination with what I would term “metaphysical antiscience” did not start with Steven Spielberg, but, rather, with Carl Jung, the 20th-century Nazi psychologist, whose bizarre theories are probably more popular today, especially in artistic enclaves like Santa Fe, Sausilito and Boulder, than they were when Jung was appointed as Hitler’s chief of psychology. It is odd to me that neo-Jungians tend to be plentiful and are typically ironically gentle, sensitive, peace-loving people who are mostly unaware of their hero’s enthusiastic collaboration with the Nazis.
In 1914, Jung left the Freudians, wherein he invented his own even-more-bizarre-than-Freudian pseudoscientific theories. He played around with precognition, astrology, metaphysics and ESP. He felt that humans shared a sort of genetically passed on collective unconscious, which included preloaded software for a human mythology. He saw parallels between this kind of software and a collective unconscious, which he saw as containing, likewise, a built-in mythology whose presence was evidenced by the popular, at that time, Nazi movement.
Jung was editor of the Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie, a psychology journal that eventually endorsed the Nazi cause. There continues to exist a controversy as to whether or not Jung was actually a Nazi. It is known, though, that he endorsed “Mein Kampf,” which he editorialized would serve and save the practice of psychoanalysis. Jung was the president of the Nazi-leaning International General Medical Society for Psychotherapy.
Jung felt that society depended too much on science and believed that we would be better guided, taking a detour from critical thinking, to opt instead for surrealistically based thinking.
According to Richard Noll, Ph.D, in his book, “The Aryan Christ, 1997,” Jung was more of an evangelist than a psychologist. Noll went on to say that Jung was perhaps the forerunner of the “New Age.”
I studied Jung during my residency training, and this experience was enhanced by the fact that I was living in Phoenix at the time. Back then, as now, many Arizonans have found that Jung’s “New Age” theories blended well with now-popular southwestern pagan-Native American influences. Phoenicians collect Kachina dolls, neo-antique pots, pyramids, crystals, bells and other ersatz artifacts from “The New Age.”
For me, the nadir of the New Age phenomena is an actual place, near Phoenix, a silly notion called “Arcosanti,” the bizarre brainchild of architect Paolo Soleri.
An easy drive from Phoenix, Arcosanti was a place where one could buy wonderful handmade bells, which I believe are still available at better garden shops. Soleri’s very Jungian vision was that of a metaphysical, architectural commune-like place, where the manufacturing and sales of bells supported the larger cause and modest aspiration of a redesigned society. I have been to Arcosanti a couple of times and found the place such that I felt as though Rod Serling might come through an adobe portal at any time.
Soleri said that the ultimate answer to our problems will be to “Nudge reality toward meaning and the self–revelation of itself, that such meaning may imply and generate. On that route, we could eventually hope for a universal, that is, cosmic, intellection. A condition promising the advent of meaning and the resolution of inequity, in fact, an esthetogenesis of reality, the singular point of grace.”
1. I am not making this stuff up.
2. I am not certain I understand any of this but suspect it is some kind of credo for the New Age.
In reality, many New Agers have never heard of Carl Jung, yet contemporary enthusiasm for what he represented makes me wonder if he has been exhumed or resurrected and residing in Area 51, Nevada.
For me, New Age philosophy, music and art might be no more than a silly departure from the rigors of criticality in our thinking, were it not for the fact that this persiflage is, in its own way, influencing our decision-making processes in regards to credible solutions for a panoply of world problems. Take, for example the case for nuclear energy.
Decades of New Age-based logic (sorry for the oxymoron) have competed with scientific thinking, dissuading us from the very reasonable and ultimately necessary use of nuclear power on a grand scale.
Looking into the future, nothing more than a significant improvement in battery technology is all that stands in the way of a panic run on electric cars. In Israel, there is now a mandate for a country-wide electric-car-charging grid by the end of next year.
I believe our future includes a hundred million rechargeable electric cars and trucks. The question is, from whence do we obtain what will be a geometrically increased demand for electrical energy to charge those vehicles? The answer: The Lost Ark!
The choices seem multiple: Coal, fuel oil, natural gas, geothermal, wind, photovoltaic and nuclear. A reality check says, on the other hand, that the choices are not so multiple:
1. Fuel oil is just too expensive and the supply is drying up.
2. Coal is fairly plentiful but dirty and requires fossil fuel for transport.
3. Natural gas is pretty clean but demands are skyrocketing and, while the supply for now looks pretty good, the future supply will be obscenely expensive and, again, the supply is finite.
4. Geothermal is wonderful but given the heterogeneous quirks of nature, it is only accessible regionally.
5. Photovoltaic is, on paper, a panacea. In reality though it is expensive, requires materials that are already in short supply and is ultra-high maintenance.
Nuclear fission was pretty well perfected in the 1950s and was embraced as more than just a source of electrical power at the time; it symbolized the nation’s techno-superiority. Amazing as it sounds, I recall as a medical student in Omaha (this was in the late ’60s) that there was a nuclear reactor in the basement of the VA Hospital there. As one looked down into the water, which surrounded the reactor core, one could see the eerie blue glow of “Cerenkov Radiation”: The result of subatomic beta particles colliding with water molecules.
If that small reactor were operating today, the neighborhood’s population would likely be moving to another county. The world’s nuclear track record has been less than perfect. Russia had their Chernobyl, we had an unsuccessful experiment with a sodium cooled reactor in Nebraska and there was the Three Mile Island hiccup in Pennsylvania. And there is the nagging issue of nuclear-waste disposal. However, most of the debate that I have heard on this subject appears fueled by a chain reaction of hysteria mixed with scientific illiteracy.
Like it or not, if you live long enough, you will see $20-dollar gasoline (and $18.50 ethanol) and you will be shopping for an electric car.
“Nuclear” is the only relatively clean technology capable of doing the heavy lifting of electrical-power generation, which might be sustainable for generations.
The New Age perception of the nuclear reactor is that of the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” ark, only this ark is made of concrete and glows in the dark. Reactor cores are viewed by New Agers as barely capable of containing the monsters (“China Syndrome”) and assorted goblins residing within.
In fact, radiation exposure is deadly and radiation sickness is awful. Less-than-lethal exposure can cause thyroid and other cancers. But then again, the nitrites and nitrates in fertilizer runoff certainly cause lymphomas, according to oncologists.
The quintessential generator of electrical power must certainly be nuclear fusion; however, the technology of fusion is still so far beyond us that, for at least the next century, it must be relegated to the realm of science fiction.
So, we are stuck with the imperfection of fissioning uranium. It is unfortunate that the majority of our population knows not the difference between fission, fusion, fuel cells and geothermal technologies, and I see this as the basis of our prevailing fear of nuclear energy.
We will not solve our problems with crystals and pyramid power. With fission, as predicted by Einstein, E=mc2 translates to unimagined amounts of usable energy from just a few pounds of fuel, capable of replacing an infinitude of diesel-powered coal trains and oil rigs tapping into a limited and filthy resource.
With fission, neutrons (uncharged atomic particles) split atomic nuclei and those nuclei, in turn, eject neutrons, which hit additional nuclei, over and over again. The efficiency of heat production with a nuclear-power plant is enough to make any coal-fired plant have uranium envy.
So, why is less than 8 percent of our power generation nuclear? Thank Carl Jung and Steven Spielberg.