Social Contracts in Interstellar


I recently went and saw the film Interstellar, partly because it looked like an interesting film, and partly for an assignment for another class.  Let me start off by saying that it was fantastic and I would highly recommend it, no matter your interest in the field of astronomy.  If you have seen it already or have no interest in seeing it but still would like to read a blog post relating it to the class, feel free to read the whole post.  If you have not seen it but want to see it without seeing any spoilers, I recommend you stop reading right here until you have seen the film.

In the film, the main problem is that Earth is facing an agricultural crisis that could cause the extinction of humanity in the coming decades.  The only people who know about the ultimate fate of the world is NASA, because they don’t want to cause a public outcry.  Cooper, a former spacecraft pilot, is recruited to pilot a mission to find other inhabitable worlds that are located in another galaxy that is accessible through a wormhole.  Professor Brand, the man in charge of the mission, has devised two plans in the event that Cooper and his team find an inhabitable world.  Plan A: transport all humans to that planet using space stations and Plan B: using fertilized eggs and artificial uteri aboard the ship to establish a colony.  Professor Brand has claimed that his life’s work was to find a way to be able to transport all humans to another planet, so obviously Plan A was the more desirable outcome.  What we learn later on in the movie is that Professor Brand actually believed that Plan A was impossible and that Plan B was the only feasible outcome, yet he lies to everyone else about that.

Now the rest of the film is very interesting, but it doesn’t have much to do with my blog topic (which is not a mere plot summary), so that is all you really need to know about the movie.  If you want to know more you can visit the Wikipedia page.  What I want to talk about is how this is relates to the article we read a few weeks ago, called Social Contracts.  If you are unfamiliar with the reading or subject matter, you can read about it here.  This world is very much so a Hobbesian world, in which one man has control over many.  Although his subjects don’t really know it, Professor Brand is the sovereign of the human race, a position which he took by force without the knowledge of the people.  The fate of the human race falls within the decision of Professor Brand, whether to implement Plan A or Plan B if an inhabitable world is discovered.  By knowing that Plan A was virtually impossible, Brand decides the fate of every human on Earth by choosing to colonize via fertilized eggs and he keeps the population in the dark about it the entire time.  These people will be left behind on Earth to die when the agricultural crisis causes the Earth to become uninhabitable. 

Had this decision been made in the Lockean or Rousseauian world, I believe the outcome would have been much different.  In a Lockean world, I believe that since majority rules in a commonwealth, the majority decision of the human population would be to save themselves by choosing Plan A.  I think there would be little dispute among the people, seeing as the alternative is dying.  When faced with the problem that Plan A is virtually impossible, I believe that chaos would ensue and the population would have ultimately sealed their fate.  In a Rouseeauian world, I believe that the people will be dependent on the opinion of NASA since they are the experts on the subject and with the proper explanation on why Plan B was the only option, the people may be able to convinced.  No matter which world you’re living in, everyone is going to die unless Plan A is executed, the only difference is how the people are informed and react.

I’m not going to ruin the end of the movie (just in case there are some brave souls still reading), but I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you haven’t already.