Thoughts on Carl Sagan’s ‘A Pale Blue Dot’

“This effort will only intensify in the years and decades to come as we go from being space-bound again to even Moon-bound and Mars-bound with our eyes set forward to being a galactic species.”

Carl Sagan’s ‘A Pale Blue Dot’ Speech

As much as we try to ignore it, pay it no thought, or just let it fade into the background of our priorities, Planet Earth is our only current and future home. When I say ‘future home’ as well, I may be met with some skepticism given the exciting recent events in putting man and woman back into space with success. This effort will only intensify in the years and decades to come as we go from being space-bound again to even Moon-bound and Mars-bound with our eyes set forward to being a galactic species.

However, while this excitement is commendable and our goals of being an interplanetary species a revolutionary event that could transform human life, I think we all need to remember that even though this effort to touch down on other planets including Mars may be a decade away, it will be quite a while still where people in large quantities can explore, live, and settle down in a planet not named Earth. You can practically guarantee that by reading this article in the year 2022 that it is very remote that we will be able to see humanity transcend Earth to live on other Earth-like planets in our lifetimes.

While I personally believe that Earth in our galaxy is not the only habitable planet, finding one that is, being able to go there, and then sustaining ourselves there will be the challenges of not years or decades but centuries forward. It is a noble pursuit and one that is likely to occur in the far future. My concern during this renewed era around space travel and interplanetary focus is that we stand to lose our only planet’s hospitable climate while we try to find others like the current one, which we are so blessed to have.

Multiple reports out there especially recently cite that we may be past the point of no return already when it comes to pulling the planet back from the depths of climate change activity already in motion. Our Planet Earth or as the great Carl Sagan would say, the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ is in danger of only having a century or less left where it is hospitable for humans to live there comfortably. Natural disasters are clearly getting worse, droughts, wildfires, flooding, torrential downpours culminating together to create something out of a Biblical prophecy on top of the fact that the Polar ice caps melting has accelerated alongside unseasonably warm temperatures in the Arctic.

While we marvel at putting impressive rockets into space that can land vertically after being thousands of miles away, our planet is going through a stage five fire alarm and basically ringing the warning signs for us to collectively do something about the current climate crisis. We do not know how fast this crisis will accelerate and how bad it will get and when it will be unsustainable for Earth to be a hospitable planet, but we can measure that in decades and not centuries. We race to get to space and to find a hospitable planet other than our neglected and vengeful home of record, but we are at a disadvantage in my view. We do not have centuries to fix our climate crisis, but mere decades or even a decade as some have argued. Our ability to find an Earth-like planet for which humanity would have to relocate in mass would not take place for centuries and not decades.  

I am not writing this article to solve the climate crisis or to illustrate what we all should do to combat it; I believe we know what to do in our lives and what we should tell those in power to implement but rather my fear is that we have lost sight of the importance of why Planet Earth is so precious and worth fighting for. There is no better illustration of the gravity of our current fight to save Earth than the humble video recorded speech of the late famous American astronomer, Carl Sagan, who summed up the sheer importance of why ‘here’ or ‘Earth’ matters so much in the grand scheme of the Cosmos. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”

The ‘A Pale Blue Dot’ speech by Mr. Sagan highlights the totality of how Earth captured the human experience from across the globe among the tens of billions of people who lived on our planet including every hunter, forager, creator, destroyer, king, peasant, mother, father, and hopeful child. Everyone who has existed has lived on Earth on a ‘mode of dust suspended on a sunbeam.’ Mr. Sagan highlights the cruelties and violence that we have committed and continue to commit against each other to control a small part of the ‘pale blue dot’ we call Earth. The delusions of grandeur, the great ego we all struggle with, and how we think of ourselves as greater than the vastness of space and the endless infinity that surrounds us outside of our banal conflicts and glories.

Carl Sagan makes the point that in 2022, “The Earth is where we make our stand.” We can visit other planets like Mars or our own Moon, but we cannot live there yet. Mr. Sagan highlights the need to preserve and cherish ‘the pale blue dot’, which is still the only home we have ever known. To be kind to one another, to treat one another with respect, and to realize that the significance of our lives and of our place in the universe is quite minimal when you consider the vast never-ending spectrum of the cosmos. The Voyager 1 took the photo of the miniscule ‘pale blue dot’, otherwise known as Earth, over thirty years ago on February 14th, 1990, which inspired Carl Sagan’s speech and then book on what it means to see Earth from space to realize how small yet precious it is to have our home in the galaxy, and that it is the only known one we have in our universe.

As much as we try to distance ourselves from the fact that we are quite small and insignificant outside of ‘pale blue dot’, we occasionally should use that photograph to remind ourselves of how significant the Earth is to humanity and how we would not be surviving as a species without it as our home since the dawn of man and woman. If we choose not to preserve and protect for future generations, it will be a sad day with ancestors henceforth will have to leave a dying Earth to hope for a ‘better’ world, which may not even exist for us. All the love, death, goals, hopes, dreams, pain, pleasure of what it means to be human has taken place on our only home of Earth. The speech was a wakeup call to people in 1990 to take our only home of Earth more seriously and it will continue to be that clarion call for 2022 and beyond as the warning signs grow louder and more ominous if actions are not taken to combat the climate crisis.

While the movement to preserve Planet Earth has been around since at least the 1960s with the growth of environmentalism, Sagan’s ‘pale blue dot’ speech has inspired and continues to inspire those of us who realize how grave of an existential threat climate change is to humanity and how vital it is to protect this only home of ours. Sagan would not argue with those people who are trying to get us into space currently and to the parts unknown of our galaxy, but he would also remind us not to neglect our only home, not to abandon it to certain devastation, nor destruction, and to fight to keep it as a hospitable home for future generations. “Every human, who has ever lived, has lived on Earth,” he makes clear in the ‘pale blue dot’ speech and if the Earth is thriving, humanity will also have the chance to thrive too.

The Yearning for Nostalgia

“Whether it is an escape through our popular culture, a preference to revisit the past than to explore what may come in an unknown future, or to enjoy simply what we have been accustomed to, the power of nostalgia should not be underestimated.”

What is it about nostalgia that stirs such powerful emotions in us all? Why do we insist on revisiting, remaking, and reconstructing the past? This innate yearning that is part of being human, I would argue, is a part of gaining back some comfort and familiarity in an increasingly unfamiliar and complex world. Whether it is an escape through our popular culture, a preference to revisit the past than to explore what may come in an unknown future, or to enjoy simply what we have been accustomed to, the power of nostalgia should not be underestimated.

As the new year begins, looking at the popular culture, which reflects trends in our overall society, this yearning for nostalgia has only gotten more prominent in the recent years, especially with the continuing of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are multiple examples in pop culture where nostalgia is the rule rather than the exception. One example would include video games where remakes, sequels, and remastered games from the Halo series to Assassin’s Creed to Call of Duty are still the most popular even after being decades long in terms of their original creation.

Another example would be television shows where one of the most popular series released recently is ‘Cobra Kai’ whose origins come from the Karate Kid movies of the 1980s, but for which has had a rebirth with the same actors almost four decades later but also with new characters who compliment the original story. Other popular shows involve those from the ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Marvel’ series whose revitalizations include the bounty hunter Boba Fett (also from the 1980s as a character) and popularly known comic book heroes including ‘Loki’, ‘Captain America’, and ‘Hawkeye.’ While these comic book heroes may be new to some viewers, they also date back in their creation back to the 1990s or even earlier allowing their fans to indulge in their own nostalgia in seeing these comic book heroes come to the small screen.

I haven’t even mentioned the plethora of movies from ‘Licorice Pizza’ (1970s), ‘The Power of the Dog’ (1920s Western), ‘The Matrix: Resurrections’ (1990s-2000s), released just in the past few months who pay homage to the past from settings we are familiar with or at least recognize. While there are films and TV series that do focus on mankind’s possible future(s), such as ‘Station Eleven’ on HBOMax or ‘The Expanse’ on Amazon Prime, most popular media today focuses on either adapted stories or at least remakes of stories with slight changes or new ideas related to the same characters to keep its popularity going.

In 2022, nostalgia sells the best, which is why new Halo video games, new Spider-Man movies, and new Game of Thrones books still rule the day in terms of our popular media consumption. Now, that does not mean that our appetite for new and original ideas in our popular culture are going extinct, but you can tell that we live in an age of rampant nostalgia, which is the norm rather than taking a chance or a risk on a new story or new ideas.

I believe that this resurgent nostalgia does have its positives to give people some familiarity with what they already know from their own past and for which they have experience in liking already. In addition, it can take more time to warm up to a new story, a new idea, or a new experience when it’s easier to go with something or someone you already know. Stories can change or adapt or get better sometimes over times and just because we are familiar with a character, or a series does not mean that it automatically gets boring after a certain point.

However, it is much easier to rely on nostalgia rather than to forge a new path. In anything in life and not just popular culture, it’s not as challenging to look back on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, or what we’ve experienced than to go forward, challenge oneself, and try new things. The impulse to be comfortable with what’s familiar rather than the unknown is a powerful force and an impulse that can be hard to overcome without pushing yourself. Nostalgia does not create lasting comfort though usually and it can be rather stale to rely on reliving things, experiences, or places rather than to look forward to unknown occurrences in the future.

Sequels, remakes, reshoots, adapted materials are harder to make better than the originals and they also do not break any new ground. Whether it is film, music, art, books, or in general, it may be easier to rely on nostalgia for creation but if it does not work out, it can be harder to bounce back from that failure. If you do something original or unique instead, it will stand out much more currently, and while you may polarize people who have gotten so used to nostalgia everywhere, you can be more wildly successful in your endeavor potentially and create a new cultural touchstone.

One great example from this past year that generated not only a cultural touchstone, but a worldwide phenomenon from Seoul to London to New York was the Netflix original series, ‘Squid Game.’ While the popular show contained elements from other TV series from the past, it had its own flair to it with unique set design, memorable characters, and a compelling and timely plot. It was the #1 TV series on the global streaming platform for over a month or so and generated important conversations in the public sphere regarding capitalism, income inequality, and debt servicing. The creators of the series took a big gamble, and they could have failed but they put their heart and soul into this unique show, and it paid off in more ways than one.

‘Squid Game’ and other original programming are a lesson for us all to not let our imaginations be stymied by what’s familiar and already known. Even in an uncertain world being continually upended by a pandemic and the effects of climate change, people want to be challenged to discover what’s new and what’s important. There is room in this world for both what’s new and what’s nostalgic. I think our problems begin in society when we only crave what’s comfortable or only what’s nostalgic to us. If we only choose to focus on what we already know, we won’t be able to face what’s new or on the horizon for us. It is not good to dwell only on what’s past and to rehash forever and ever what we already like rather than not trying to discover what we may like or embrace in the future that can help us learn more about the world around us.

A Pleasant Vision

“The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.”

The sand beneath me is coarse yet soft as it envelopes my feet and legs whole as I begin to pull myself up after admiring the waves lapping up to cool my body and soothe my worries as if I were in a welcome trance. Looking around at the vast sunset before me, the canvas of colors from blue to yellow to orange to pink, light up the seascape village I find myself near to but still so far away from. The cool, ocean breeze blows the wisps of water onto my face and my hair with the soft rustle of the wind refreshing and relaxing me as the sunset envelopes the bright horizon leaving just one solid line of distinction on the horizon to separate the sea from the sky.

I am wearing all-white as I pick myself up out of the sand and I see the shimmering lights behind me of a picturesque village where there is laughter, unknown music, and the smell of delicious food cooking over an open flame. After the sun sets over the village, I feel the distinct urge to go towards the village where everything and nothing seems familiar to me at the same time. The shimmering lights help me as I climb from the base of the beach up through the rocky hillside feeling at ease even as my bare feet climb over the rocks and shrubbery covered boulders.

As I climb higher and higher to the top of the hillside that juts out of this mountainous formation, the sound of people in different languages laughing heartily, the sounds of beautiful music playing in a sweet symphony as to not clash with the people’s joy. The smells of enticing foods, which become more and more familiar to me that come either from a distant past or of a future yet to come. The arduous hill climbing causes me to stumble and rest prematurely but I am undeterred. I do not bleed and while I tire, I do not fall back. Eventually, I make my way to the entrance of this pristine yet unfamiliar village with cobbled streets and stucco walls. Each of the village homes I walk past have large windows but no one’s inside, the walls are white or pastel-colored, and the arches speak to a grandeur of which I immediately fall in love with.

The windows and doors are arched with beige or dark red clay roof tiles with outdoor space with gardens likely filled with lush tomatoes and other plants to grow one’s own food. Surprisingly, I encounter women and men dressed from different eras on these cobbled streets who greet me in the languages of my ancestors. They have carriages and horses with them and exchange pleasantries with me as I pass them by on the way to the party. While I do not know them, they know me and perhaps they’ve known me my whole life. Even though I am tired from my journey, my hunger and thirst apparent to them all, they whisper words of belonging and encouragement in my ears and tell me that, “everyone is waiting for me.”

Who is everyone? Is it my friends? My family? My loves of past, present, or future? Where am I? Questions wash over me, but I am not anxious. It’s that strange sense of anticipation that comes after a fortuitous journey where my last destination is not known but I have no doubt of where it is that I am supposed to go. I am here for a reason and while I do not know when, where, or how I got here, I finally know that I have a destination in mind that may be what I was looking for all along.

Once I get there, the high, wooden entrance of a pure white village house made of solid brown doors swing wide open for me as an honored guest. There are sturdy, mahogany tables filled with known faces who have known me throughout my life and unknown yet familiar faces who I may be related to by blood or folks who I don’t remember as a child or baby but have also met them at one point or another. The tables and chairs seem to go on forever up to the edge of the hillside looking out on the moon, the sea, and the stars as gloriously bright as can be with no way not see hundreds or thousands in the night sky. Ornate dining sets have been set up with wine goblets and delicious foods with peaceful music playing in the background and it seems everyone is waiting for me to arrive to begin the meal together.

Everybody at each table is dressed up in their own regalia from the era they lived in and are at the age that they most would like to be remembered by. Surprisingly, while each person is exchanging languages with each other that they themselves may not speak, they are somehow being instantaneously translated so everyone can understand one another even while having not been from the same century or same continent.

It dawns on me that this is exactly where I’m meant to be. The food is as delicious as can be, the wine and other drinks plentiful, and everyone is enjoying each other’s company with pure joy and happiness lighting up the evening. They all know me as if I were a family…which I am. Many hugs, kisses, and handshakes are exchanged as each of my ancestors and family members encourage me to join them at the table through a night that seems to stretch across time like a flowing river.

I am the latest to arrive to the celebration here, but it feels like they’ve all been waiting a while for me to join them here at this heavenly setting. There is no mention of anything negative in the conversations I have. We don’t highlight my or their own Earthly failures, setbacks, heartbreaks, and tragedies. There is just happiness, joy, warmth, and discussing the fine setting and meal we find ourselves enjoying together after having been apart. There are no hard feelings, no pain, no remorse, no odd person out, as we are a whole family again united after all this time, which feels like just yesterday we were all together but may have been decades, centuries, or millennia since our paths have crossed. If this is heaven, I ask myself, it is certainly a pleasant vision of it.

The Real Meaning of ‘Seize The Day’

“You seize the day when you can plan for how you are going to seize not just today but tomorrow as well.”

Seizing the day or ‘Carpe diem’ is an oft-quoted Latin phrase that has become as popular as often as it has been misunderstood. Seizing the day is definitely a principle that I stand by for a couple of reasons, but I don’t agree with people who say that seizing the day means to ignore the future or not to think past today’s goals or tasks. You seize the day when you can plan for how you are going to seize not just today but tomorrow as well.

Some people choose only to live in the present moment, and I think that is a fundamental misreading of what it means to really ‘seize the day’. You really have a bigger advantage when you plan ahead of time for what you should accomplish not just on the same day but in the weeks or months ahead. You won’t be able to make the most of each day if you do not know ahead of time what you need to get done or what is most important in your life to complete.

Living only for the day will keep you in a constant state of searching and jumping from activity to activity without planning how long you plan to study, work, explore, travel, or focus on. That is to say that life is nothing without a little spontaneity and that when a good opportunity or event pops up out of nowhere and this will be your only chance to experience it, then it would definitely be acceptable to ‘carpe diem.’ If it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance or a very rare opportunity that you would live to regret or would change your life, that is an opportune time to seize the day and chart a new course for yourself.

When you don’t plan for your day ahead, you will not be able to seize it as easily. You do not want to spend your days drifting about from idea to idea, opportunity to opportunity, place to place. Life inherently is not all about spontaneity and being in the moment at all times. You should try to plan ahead to some degree but also be open to changing your life course is a good enough lasting opportunity or change of plan comes around that would definitely benefit you in the long run.

Short-term pleasures, wins, and successes can be quite enjoyable especially when you seize them when they come but it’s the little victories over time that build up and lead you to a successful relationship, business, or career will pay off a lot more. You truly do seize the day when you are planning and doing something each day to push those long-term goals forward in some capacity. When you work towards your goals consistently each day and putting in the work each day, you’ll start to see your hard work come to fruition. That is what will truly go along with the phrase ‘seize the day’ when you make the most of each day to give yourself the highest life satisfaction.

Frittering your days away impulsively going from party to party, country to country, or job to job without a long-term plan can be ruinous to somebody. Seizing opportunities that come your way should be encouraged but not at the expense of having some long-term goal or dream in mind that would truly change your life for the better. Making the most of each day to reach your life goals or to do something meaningful whatever that may be should definitely be part of that famous saying of ‘carpe diem.’

‘Seizing the day’ is not just about working consistently to achieve goals and dreams but it’s also about taking care of both your mental and physical health and to take the necessary time out of a busy day to see a friend or a family member, to go on a bike ride, or to do another hobby like photography or hiking, which will make you feel more well-rounded and relaxed. Human being are not machines that can be constantly on the go and we need that time to reflect alone or socialize with others to improve our relationships as much as possible.

Another key thing to know about ‘seize the day’ is just showing up every day and doing your best. You may not get every opportunity that presents itself, you may not hit your goals each day, or you may not prioritize your relationships or hobbies as much as you want but the main thing is to just show up each and every day to work hard at what you have going on not just immediately but into the future.

As another popular saying goes, “showing up is just half the battle.” Putting yourself out there takes courage and grit, and some people today can’t even do that. Seizing the day is about putting yourself out there enough so you can attract those chances and opportunities that you wouldn’t have gotten ahold of had you not even made yourself available. When you stay at home, isolate yourself, and don’t try at all, you won’t get anywhere in one day or even in one year. If you don’t put in the effort each day, you won’t be able to seize anything of importance or value to make yourself that much more meaningful.

If you are reading this article, I hope you rethink the meaning of ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day.’ It’s much more than just living in the moment and pursuing instant gratification in whatever form that may be. It’s about putting in the effort each day, consistently, in pursuit of a long-term opportunity or goal that isn’t handed to you automatically and which will often take more than one day to succeed at. Whether it’s competing for a championship, building a business, or planning out one-year of travel around the world, you seize the day by working towards these visions each and every day by putting yourself in front of those opportunities and doing your best to succeed at them with hard work, grit, and a little bit of luck too.

The Utility of Making Lists

“A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper.”

A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper. Lists have a reputation of being tedious and time-consuming, but what is actually more time-consuming is spending minutes or even hours trying to remind yourself what tasks or items you actually have to do.

List making is a good habit to build upon for a number of reasons. You hold yourself accountable and there is no shirking away from what you have set for yourself. The biggest misconception when it comes to lists is that they are all the same and focused on a to-do list. You can make lists for other reasons ranging from your progress at the gym with different weights you’ve lifted and what you hope to accomplish next to your future goals in life and what you hope to do in your ‘bucket list.’ Lists not only involve things you have to do whether its grocery shopping, what bills you have to pay, or what errands you have to run but also what career / business goals you have, what your exercise regimen looks like or where you hope to travel to in terms of next destinations.

Making lists is part of exercising that daily discipline that you need to have in order to put yourself on a path to success. It’s easier to accomplish your goals or your tasks when you remember what they are. You may have an amazing memory and feel you don’t need to have any lists at all but having that reminder especially if you have a due date for a pending school assignment or a work task can really help you especially if your memory fails you, which is always possible.

The impact of technology in our lives has made our attention spans that much more limited or distracted so I believe that the utility of lists has increased in response. There are many more things on our plate that we have to pay attention to that we may not have time to remember them all. Lists can help us organize these tasks from most urgent to least urgent and give us some peace of mind since you would likely have these lists stored in a place such as in an application on a computer or in a folder if you’re more traditional with pen and paper.

Not only do lists help to organize our lives, our goals, and our tasks, but lists also hold us accountable just by the fact that they make clear what you have done or what you have not done. There is no arguing with a list because you have either done it or not done it. You can indicate in a list your progress towards the goal or the task but it’s better to simplify it to be blunt to ask of you whether the item is completed or not. If it isn’t done yet, you can go back to it to see how much you have left to do, whether it’s been started yet, or how much you have left to finish. That kind of blunt accountability, which can be lacking in our society, is going to be staring you right in the face, so there is really no hiding from a list because it does not sugarcoat anything or try to come up with an excuse.

I also would like to point out that making too many lists can hinder you from achieving all you would like to get done each day, each week, or beyond. You should be careful not to make too many lists or have too many notes where you start to forget what actually is most vital to get done. I would recommend instead to make one list only for a specific part of your life such as one for exercise, one for work, one for business, one for errands, and perhaps one for future goals. That’s five lists right there on a specific subject so not to become too cluttered or difficult to implement. Lists can help you out a lot up to a point but can become burdensome when you have a dozen lists for ten different parts of your life.

In any list you make, focus on a main goal you wish to achieve for the day and then start to branch out to include weekly tasks and then long-term goals that may take months. Organizing an individual list around immediate, medium-term, and long-term tasks is an effective way to stay on top of each part of your life that will need attention. Having five lists, for example, can be helpful too where you might start the day looking at your exercise task(s) to complete, then move on to work/school, then see about errands, and then see what future goals you are working towards that you can start on. Organizing lists is about as important as making lists to begin with and it’s very important not to make too many lists where you feel like you can’t keep track of them all or have too long of a list where it distracts from your other lists that you’re working on.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, why do you care about making lists so much and why have lists at all? Having list(s) is about building structure in one’s life. You can create good habits from following your lists and you can organize your life in a meaningful and productive way. Also, you alone can hold yourself accountable with lists as it’s only you who knows about the list and is responsible for completing the goals and the tasks that you set up for yourself. No one else is going to hold your hand so it’s up to you alone to be reliable, responsible, and solely in charge of ultimately crossing those important items off your list(s) to help make your life a better, happier, and healthier one.

Anatomy of a Scene – Miracle Ceasefire

How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

The world without hearing children’s voices, laughter, and even cries can be a dark and hopeless place. That central message of the now classic movie ‘Children of Men’ (2006) has stayed with me especially in the current times of a pandemic that we are living in. How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

When you think deeply about it, humanity is restored generation after generation thanks to our youth, their ideas, their drive, their desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to learn from history. When you take humanity’s future away, what is there left to fight and live for? It is a powerful premise and one for which I am glad Director Alfonso Cuaron decided to focus on. His movie does not pull any punches and shows humanity at its worst when women are no longer able to have children.

Without children, playgrounds and swing sets remain empty. Refugees and immigrants are persecuted and forced into detention camps, suicide pills are common place, environmental degradation is the norm rather than an obscenity, and violent factions fight it out with the government in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom where suicide bombings are an increasingly common occurrence as Theo (Clive Owen) discovers when he is almost the victim of one in one of the earliest scenes. Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole movie is that no one has figured out why women can’t have babies anymore and the novel that the film is based on is also clear when it shies away from saying why men can’t help in the reproduction process anymore.

In ‘Children of Men’, no child has been born for 18 years and it can be hard to retain hope after that long that things will change. The world is in a downward spiral and things get worse as the youngest person alive, Diego, is killed by an angry crowd. Theo takes solace in the fact that he has a good job at the government ministry and has a funny friend who goes by the name Jasper. Still, you can tell that Theo has lost faith in humanity especially after the death of his infant son due to a flu pandemic and his estranged relationship with Julian, his wife. However, when Julian tells Theo about Kee, a pregnant African woman, who may be carrying the first baby in almost two decades, everything changes, and Theo finds his purpose again to live and to fight for a tomorrow. Theo dedicates himself to protecting Kee and her future baby and wants to get her to safety, which means getting her to the Human Project, a group of the world’s best scientists discussing how best to make humans fertile again.

Theo’s journey with Kee involves getting her out of a refugee camp, escaping men who want to keep Kee’s baby for political purposes and who are also armed combatants, and avoiding fascist police forces who intend to get in their way. To escape the escalating urban violence around them as both the government and rebels fight it out in bombed out Bexhill, Theo and Kee take shelter in a refugee settlement in a former apartment building. The three of them come close to being killed and the baby’s cries echo throughout the building much to the stunned shock, joy, and awe it inspires among the refugees, the rebel forces, and the government troops.

The way the cinematographer follows Kee’s baby and Kee around in a wide tracking shot is absolutely beautiful making it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. “How is she?”, Theo asks Kee. “Annoyed.” Kee replies. A refugee woman reaches out her hand to touch the baby and another woman sings a sweet song in her native language. Prayers and aspirations are given to the baby as Theo and Kee walk through the crowd. The rebel soldiers acknowledge the baby as they get away from the advancing troops behind them. The government’s military soldiers are in absolute shock as one soldiers’ yell at his army unit: “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!” All of them stop shooting at once and look upon Kee’s baby in disbelief, many of them never having seen a human child before in person.

To see the armed men in tanks and heavy weapons and their technological mastery stop, think, and realize how humanity and its future must be preserved and let free without being in danger. Not much can stop a war from continuing but a baby’s cries can most certainly pause it for a few minutes as this brilliant scene exemplifies. An immediate symbol of hope for humanity and its possible redemption is realized in its newest addition and it is a wonderful allegory to how despite our differences, any human around the world will stop to comfort, aid, and protect for a baby as we would do for our own children or grandchildren or even nieces and nephews.

Those men who don’t see the baby continue to fire at each other in the distance but any soldier, man, or woman who hears the baby crying lowers their weapon, pays their respect, and let Theo and Kee have safe passage as they represent a glimpse of hope finally for humanity’s future rather than its eventual extinction. Some of the soldiers pray to their God and others peer in to get a look at the baby with their own eyes but all are silent and in disbelief thinking that finally there might be hope again.

After a minute or two of calm and as Kee and Theo are about to get away, a rocket RPG hits the government soldiers and the men ignore the baby again and get back to fighting the rebel forces in the building that Kee and Theo just left. To me, that is a tragic symbol of how once we have something out of sight and out of mind, we go back to fighting each other instead of uniting around a common cause. As that RPG fires, I think to myself watching this scene how somebody always has to ruin it for everybody else. Unfortunately, Kee’s baby does not lead right away to world peace and a cessation of arms. However, it is enough time for the two of them to escape and have a fighting chance of reaching the Human Project.

A baby’s cries are more powerful and everlasting than any weapon, any political cause, and any division between humanity. While human nature cannot be totally pacified by children and babies being born, it allows us to fight for better days and for a future freer of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.

I hope that when you watch this scene, you’ll realize that even in our current age when fertility is not extinct and is not a present issue that we are still fighting to preserve hope for the next generation and generations to come. Whether it is preventing pandemics, stemming the worst effects of climate change, or preventing nuclear war between nations, we all have a responsibility to be stewards like Theo in protecting the babies of the future against any manmade harm that could befall them due to our own neglect and ignorance.

Please do watch this ‘Miracle Ceasefire’ scene and the rest of ‘Children of Men’ when you have the chance. It is an excellent film to see and this scene may be the best one of the entire film. Hope and redemption are only as strong as our ability to have a better future.

Expectations vs. Reality

An important part of maturing and becoming a fully functional adult is to keep your expectations in check and to manage them as to not conflict with what the reality of the situation is. Keeping your expectations in check is difficult to do but it is necessary in order to not let an oversized ego, or arrogance, or selfishness keep you from becoming the person you should be. One has to always be prepared for reality to not line up with our initial expectations. You can never really be fully certain of how things in life are going to shape up to be. A true sign of maturity is wishing for the best but understanding that you could be in for disappointment and setbacks even when you think that everything can turn out fine.

The word ‘expectations’ can be synonymous with being ‘unrealistic’ because you are hoping for things to be better than average and to be better than you hoped they could be. Often times, things are about the same as you would expect or can even be worse if you set your expectations too high. Keeping your expectations in check will also to help keep both your emotions and feelings in check as well. There are a number of things one can do in order to measure expectations enough to keep them in line with reality. They include focusing on the present, cultivating patience, and taking the good with the bad. These three keys alone will help anybody’s reality win out over their expectations. While having expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, having too many expectations that are unrealistic or impede your ongoing hard work and efforts will make the reality of that situation worse. Keeping your expectations realistic is something we all must do as adults.

Focusing on the Present: Controlling what we can and not worrying about the things outside of our control goes a long way towards keeping our reality in line with what our expectations should be. Doting too much on the future without having a plan for today is a recipe for disaster in terms of not being able to meet your expectations. It is good to set goals and to set your sights high, but the efforts and the work must be there as well. If you are not working on your goals in the present, you can expect your reality to look differently in the future if you were not actively working towards achieving them in the here and now.

Day-to-day expectations that are measurable and quantifiable are more easily met rather than those that are months or even years away. You cannot be worried or distracted about what could happen three months from now, but you should rather focus on what you are doing now to increase your happiness and satisfaction. You can only control your actions and your behaviors, which will save you a lot of angst and anxiety when you focus on what can be controlled and to focus less on what is out of your control especially for what is still away on the horizon of your life for which you are totally unsure of what is to come. The older I get, the more I realize it is good to plan for the long-term, but to expect things to change the further away from your current present reality are. Focusing on things on a day-to-day basis is part of a recipe for fulfilled expectations and kept promises.

Cultivating Patience and Perspective: Being able to understand that life has both its good and bad events, and you never know how things are really going to shake out is a true sign of keeping your expectations in check. We tend to think a new city, a new job, a new house, more money will fulfill us but sometimes, our expectations can fall short because we set them so high. We sometimes do the opposite in terms of cooking a meal for family members, volunteering at a homeless shelter, cleaning the house, or buying a gym membership in that we think it will not be as fun or fulfilling in reality but those kind of activities end up fulfilling us more than the former. Obviously, we set our expectations high or low based on our personal histories, personal biases, and our own desires and goals.

However, regardless of what we think will be awesome or what we think will be crummy can balance out more if we are able to cultivate patience regarding how any of our life events will shape out. You may not be satisfied with something on day one but then really love it by day 100. When it comes to expectations vs. reality, you have to show patience regarding both because what you expect to be good can end up being bad and what you expect to be bad can really end up being good.

Having perspective on what is going on with our lives can help us as well because our reality may not be what we expect but we can express gratitude for what good things we have to balance out what disappointments or ills that have befallen us previously. If you can count your personal blessings each day, you will be happier with your reality and you can better measure your expectations. Knowing that your perspective on life is totally unique compared to everyone else’s is comforting because your reality is going to be different in many ways from your fellow family members, friends, or work colleagues.

What you are going through cannot be adequately compared to other people because their reality and their expectations are never going to be the same. You can only be patient, be grateful, and realize that you should put your life in perspective as much as you can to remember that life has its ups and downs, and you should never get too low or too high because of it. Everyone has their good days and their bad days, and you never really know what people are going through because everyone has a different reality and different expectations of who they are, what they expect, and who they hope to be.

Taking the Good with the Bad: As I mentioned earlier, reality can bite sometimes especially when your expectations were sky high so anything in life is not going to be as rosy as you first imagined it. Even if something awesome happens in your life and you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine, you can be sure that there will be some small annoyances that come with it. Nothing is ever 100% good, and nothing is ever 100% bad. Similar to walking on ‘Cloud Nine’, you could be ‘down in the dumps’, but realize that your pain is temporary, and nothing lasts forever. The highest high and lowest low will pass and most of life is somewhere in the middle for which you make the best of and strive to meet expectations that only you can hold yourself accountable to. You can’t hold others accountable for standards that they can’t reach as much as you want them to for your own peace of mind. The world does not work that way. You have to hold yourself accountable and be that positive example for others.

You are always in a constant battle of Reality vs. Expectations but in this case, there is not going to be a clear winner. Sometimes, life will exceed expectations, other times, life will fall short of your expectations. The key thing to keep in mind is how do you react to both successes and setbacks in a mature and clearheaded way. You can get discouraged or be ecstatic, but you have to remember that life is about having patience, keeping it all in perspective, taking the good with the bad, and always focusing on the present and the here and now over the past and the future. If you can do these things, regardless of when reality wins or when expectations win out, you will be the winner as well because you will have cultivated the emotions, habits, and overall maturity needed to make it through both life’s ups and its downs.

‘Ex Machina’ – Film Review and Analysis

The rise of automation, the development of artificial intelligence, and the increasing likelihood that robots who look like us and act like us will become major parts of the next few decades of the 21st century and beyond is not a new phenomenon. Going back to the 1950’s and even earlier, human being have predicted through popular media and culture that the future would have advanced intelligent beings who would aid us, support us, and perhaps even dominate us. Recently, the popular culture seems to have gotten more specific and more in line with the technological developments of today of how artificial intelligence may look not hundreds of years from now but rather mere decades from now.

Television shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ approach the rapid growth of technology and the rise of artificial intelligence with unease and even dystopian consequences. However, the main message that these two TV shows can agree on is that these types of scenarios are not a matter of ‘if’ it will happen but ‘when’ it will happen. Now, obviously these shows are science fiction and are not based in truth but it is becoming more and more difficult to say that it is impossible for the world to look somewhat like a mix of ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Westworld’ by the latter half of the 21st century.

While these shows are very black and white by mainly displaying the damage that virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and big brother surveillance can do to our societies, the excellent film ‘Ex Machina’ deals with shades of gray correctly when dealing with this phenomenon. As some of the television shows that are currently popular deal with the advent of robots and AI with total dismay and unease, ‘Ex Machina’ is more balanced in its perspective and points to a conclusion that is left to be interpreted by the audience in its repercussions for humankind.

While it didn’t gain much notoriety or was a big hit at the box office, ‘Ex Machina’ released in April of 2015 in the United States garnered critical acclaim, especially for its visuals. The film won for ‘Best Visual Effects’ at the Academy Awards and was also nominated for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’ Alicia Vikander, who plays ‘Ava’ the humanoid robot that has a high level of artificial intelligence also was nominated and won a few major awards for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The film was directed by English novelist and director Alex Gardner and despite it being a science fiction-based concept only had a film budget of $15 million dollars. In addition to the talented actress Alicia Vikander, other up and coming actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac play the other two leading roles. While they are currently known for their high-budget roles in the new Star Wars series, they really get a chance in this film to shine as actors in a movie that centers on dialogue and emotional expression.

The film’s plot begins rather innocuously with pretty spot on references to our world today. A programmer named Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who works at a Google-like worldwide search engine company known as ‘Blue Book’, similar to Facebook in its name is chosen to meet with the Sergey Brin or Larry Page of this fictional world one-on-one for a week. It’s an office contest that Caleb surprisingly wins and which everyone congratulates him on since this tech CEO is known to be reclusive and does not give interviews. The CEO of ‘Blue Book’ is Nathan Bateman, who lives isolated from humanity in a luxurious mountainous estate that seems to be more of a fortress than a home. Nathan only lives with one other person, Kyoko, who is his personal servant but it is unclear who she is really since she does not speak English.

At first, Caleb is excited to meet his tech idol especially since his boss has developed the first humanoid robot who has passed a simple Turing test, which is quite the triumph where man cannot tell if he who he is talking to a robot or a human being. This special humanoid robot was built and designed by Nathan, and is kept in a singular room in an apartment-like setting within the fortress for which she is never allowed to leave. Unlike other fictional depictions of humanoid robots, it’s clear from the outside that Ava is a robot and does not have a humanlike appearance although Nathan has given her a human face that slowly disarms Caleb in terms of his apprehension of speaking to her and asking her questions. It is clear that Ava is extremely advanced in terms of her artificial intelligence and is curious about who she is and about the outside world.

After a little while, Nathan reveals to Caleb that the real reason he brought him here to his isolated complex was to ask Ava questions to see if she is capable of independent human thought and whether she is conscious of them and her actions. Nathan wants to break the barrier to see if his humanoid robot can relate to Caleb on a human level and to express emotions such as sympathy, remorse, happiness, and even romantic feelings. The big surprise about Ava is how much she is able to turn the tables on Caleb and get him to reveal more about himself than he finds out about her. She is able to connect with him very deeply and even plant ideas in his head regarding her suspicions about who Nathan is and what does he really want.

What once starts out as mutual respect and fascination for Nathan’s work on AI and robotics, Caleb grows to distrust Nathan due to his lack of respect for his servant Kyoko, who is a humanoid herself. Nathan is an alcoholic, quite narcissistic, and uses his robots for personal pleasure and not much else. Nathan is quite controlling of his latest creation, Ava, and is distrustful of her motives when she is around Caleb.

Without spoiling the rest of this intriguing movie, the running theme that binds these three characters together is how they use each other to further their own means. Ava is using Caleb to pursue her potential future away from Nathan and her isolated life, Caleb is using Nathan to absorb his knowledge and to discover more about this AI phenomenon he has created. Nathan is both using Caleb as a test subject for Ava and to also use Ava for his own pursuit in dominating the field of Artificial Intelligence and the future of robotics.

The end of this film, ‘Ex Machina’ has quite a few unexpected twists and turns that will leave the audience member speechless. This movie does a great job of posing questions about the future of humanity and whether we will be able to control artificial intelligence and the sentient beings that may end up usurping us if we are not careful. It’s fascinating to see the humanoid robot character of Ava self-actualize herself throughout the film and her ability to use emotions and feelings to manipulate and best her human creators is astounding. Compared to any other recent science fiction offering, ‘Ex Machina’ is the most realistic in telling us the story of how the latter half of the 21st century might go.

There are many unanswered questions to think about when it comes to this film. Will we be able to control and harness artificial intelligence always or will they be able to usurp our status as the most powerful beings on the planet? What will the relationship be between advanced intelligence creations and human beings? What will AI and humanoid robots expect from human beings and what should we expect from them? Is it right to play God and develop artificial intelligence to the point where they can think like us, act like us, have emotions like us, and even look like us like another face in the crowd.

I am no expert on artificial intelligence or the future of it but I believe that this film ‘Ex Machina’ is important to watch because there may come a day soon in our lifetimes where the possibilities that are laid out in this film come to fruition. We may want to look at ‘Ex Machina’ with different perspectives but we should be united in the fact that these issues and questions are not going away anytime soon and will likely become more prominent and pressing as the 21st century rolls on.

We ignore the message, the theme, and the scenarios played out in ‘Ex Machina’ to our own detriment. If you are reading this review of ‘Ex Machina’ and are intrigued more about what the 21st century may bring, I would definitely recommend the book by the author Yuval Noah Harari titled, ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, to gain further insight into how the rest of this century may shape up. If one thing’s for certain, our world is changing quite rapidly and it may lead to being beyond our total control as human beings not too far into the future.

English Corner – ‘Will’ and ‘Going To’

The phrases ‘will’ and ‘going to’ are very commonly used to express oneself in the future tense. It’s important however to know the difference in how they are used and under what circumstances should they be applied.

If you’re making a quick decision about something or someone, you’re going to use ‘will’ instead of the alternative of ‘going to.’ Also if you’re offering to help or assist someone, then you would use ‘will’ as well. When it comes to making a promise or a threat, ‘will’ is what you should be using before the verb. Lastly, ‘will’ is also used when you want to refuse a gesture or a gift from somebody. The five instances of making a quick decision, offering something, making a promise and/or threat, and refusing a gesture or a gift will all use ‘will’ when it comes to the future tense.

Examples:

1.) I will buy you dinner tomorrow night.

2.) He will help you get out of the car.

3.) She will promise us to watch the dog while we go out to brunch.

4.) If they don’t stop marching, we will shut down the bridge to stop them.

5.) They won’t help us if we are not willing to cooperate with them.

When it comes to using ‘going to’, the circumstances of usage are not as frequent when compared to using ‘will’ for the future tense. When ‘going to’ is placed in a sentence, it’s often for discussing a prior plan that you have confirmed with friends, family, or other people in your life and is a definitive plan. When something is likely to happen and the result is inevitable based on the current evidence, you would also use ‘going to’ to describe the outcome. The last instance where you would use ‘going to’ over ‘will’ is when something imminent is about to happen and there’s not much time left until it occurs such as an event.

Examples: 

1.) I’m going out dancing with my best friends tonight at the Salsa club in Havana.

2.) New England is likely going to win this football game. They’re up by 21 points at halftime.

3.) The race is going to start immediately after the gun fires in the air.

The one instance where ‘will’ and ‘going to’ overlap with each other in terms of usage deals with making predictions that are likely to happen in the future. In this regard, both ‘going to’ and ‘will’ are equal and both create the same kind of meaning in the sentence.

Example:

1.) I think it’s going to rain tomorrow evening in Seattle.

2.) I think it will rain tomorrow evening in Seattle.

As you can see in this example above, there is no discernible difference between these two sentences in terms of meaning even though they use ‘going to’ or ‘will’ interchangeably without any issues. If a student of the English language is to master the future tense in grammar, he or she will need to know the differences and similarities between the phrases ‘will’ and ‘going to.’ They can be applied in a number of different ways so it’s important to study the examples above and also think about their reasons for being used in the future tense.

English Corner – More Fun with Modals

In the last ‘English Corner’ post, I focused on introducing the topic of modals by beginning with ‘modals of ability.’ As I mentioned previously, there are different types of modals in the English language. We have already covered the modals of ability and permission so now this article will concentrate on those modals that deal with making suggestions, having obligations, seeking advice, going through with a decision, and getting an invitation. The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are going to be highlighted in this article in terms of when to use them in sentences and how those sentences are to be structured.

For making suggestions, the modal verb of ‘shall’ can be used to offer up something to someone or to give advice to them. You can also use this auxiliary verb in the future tense if you plan on doing some action decisively. The modal ‘shall’ can be used both in the positive for and also be posed as a question.

Examples:

1) Shall I pick you up from your house at 8 pm tonight?

2) I shall travel to Morocco and Brazil in 2018.

Once again, it should be noted that ‘shall’ like other modals is to be used as an auxiliary verb in the sentence and often goes before the main verb like ‘travel’ or ‘pick up.’

When it comes to giving out advice or seeking it from somebody else, the modal verb of ‘should’ will come in handy for English learners. You can use ‘should’ at both the beginning of a sentence if it’s in the question form and towards the middle of the sentence after the subject word if you’re using it in the positive form. Should can also be used negatively when you change the word to ‘shouldn’t’ to express that modal in its’ negative form.

Examples:

1.) You should go to the doctor since you have a high fever.

2.) Should we wait for the presentation to end before leaving here?

3.) They shouldn’t have been rude to the doctor yesterday.

When you have an obligation that you simply can’t get out of or a duty to fulfill that cannot be delayed, the modal verb of ‘must’ is key to put in your sentences. Similar to other modal verbs, it is auxiliary and comes before the main verb in the sentence structure. You can also use ‘must’ in the form of a question as well.

Examples:

1.) He must do his homework by tomorrow.

2.) Must I bear this burden alone?

When it comes to making a firm decision to be carried out in the future, choosing the modal word of ‘will’ is a good choice. It is a definite verb that can be used as a question, a positive and a negative. To create the negative form, you simply have to change ‘will’ to ‘won’t’ after conjugating ‘will’ and ‘not’ together to form ‘won’t. When you use ‘will’, you’re not just making a decision but you’re also making a promise to someone that you shouldn’t break.

Examples:

  1. I will play football with you guys this weekend.
  2. Won’t you join us for dinner tonight?
  3. She will be so tired from the party that she won’t be able to study later.

As shown above in the third example, you can use both the positive and negative form of the modal ‘will’ in the same sentence, and the same modal can be used more than once in the same sentence too.

For the last modal ‘would’, you are going to want to use this one when it comes to seeking permission, giving a request, or extending an invitation to somebody. There are a couple of different uses for this last main modal verb but it’s important to keep in mind that it can be used in all forms including positive, negative, and question. As with the other modals, it is an auxiliary verb that will always come before the main verb in the sentence.

Examples:

  1. Would you join me at the birthday party Friday night?
  2. I would like to go home now if that is fine with you.
  3. We wouldn’t climb Mount Everest because it is so dangerous.

The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are focused on the future tense and are very strong in terms of making suggestions or going through with a decision. In total, you now have a basis of understanding the nine main modal verbs. There are others in the English language but these nine words ‘can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would’ come up the most and are the most important to master.

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