An Endless Quest: The Search for Immortality

The Fountain of Youth is an ancient myth that’s been written about for thousands of years.  It’s been talked about at least as long ago as the fifth century BCE, where references to a fountain capable of restoring one’s youth can be found in the writings of Herodotus, a Greek historian.  Although most people probably know the legend from when it was tied to Spanish explorer Ponce de León in the sixteenth century.  Whatever the case, the description of the Fountain remains very similar throughout time: a natural spring with supernatural powers that restores the lost youth of anyone who drinks from it or bathes in it.  Effectively, it could grant immortality (although interestingly enough, the tribe in Herodotus’ writings weren’t immortal but rather lived for a very long time with an average person living to the age of 120).

So yes, today I want to talk about immortality.  And I don’t mean immortality in the sense that you’ll live forever through your work (books, movies, scientific endeavors and so on), but pure, physical immortality.

Now, a common argument against immortality is that it’s “playing God”, or messing with the natural order of things.  This is tied back to the idea of original sin in the Bible, where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden apple and are cast out of the Garden of Eden.  For my part, I have no desire to get into a theological debate about immortality, so I will leave that one up to people who are more informed on the matter than I am.

Even when we remove the theological component, immortality is still a subject that has permeated human consciousness for centuries upon centuries.  The fear of death is natural, so it would follow that a desire to conquer death would be natural as well.  Many human beings throughout history have mused on what it would be like to live into the future and see what it holds.

But would immortality be all it’s cracked up to be?  I don’t think so.

A common theme I’ve noticed throughout fictional stories about immortal characters is that they tend to be jaded and removed from other people.  They don’t socialize much with other human beings and they’re very detached from everyday culture.  And this is commonly because they know that anyone they get involved with or care about will eventually die, but they won’t.  I don’t think this would be something you truly get over, and I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to have to continually watch anyone you grow to care about die while you live on.

This is one of the reasons why I think immortality is, for lack of a better word, overrated.  But of course, this assumes that you would be the only immortal person on the planet.  If you could extend that immortality to the people you care about or even the entire human race, that could be avoided.  However, giving immortality to every single human being presents its own problems.  If the entire human race is unable to die, and we keep giving birth to more and more immortal humans (assuming that immortality is somehow hereditary), that hunger problem we’re dealing with these days?  It spirals out of control very, very fast.  And not only that, but there would be no end to the suffering.  People would be starving and malnourished, but there would be no end to it.  No one could die from it, so they’d just suffer for eternity, which is a truly horrifying thought.

This brings me to my second argument: immortality is not necessarily immunity from pain.

Few people probably remember this, but back in the early 2000’s there was a short-lived reboot of The Twilight Zone that starred Forrest Whitaker as the narrator.  The second episode of the reboot was about a doctor named Jay Ferguson who meets a suicidal man claiming to be Death himself (played by Jason Alexander, who funnily enough was George Costanza from Seinfeld).  The man claiming to be Death says that he’s tired of being Death and wants to quit.  Ferguson initially doesn’t believe the man, but more and more throughout the episode evidence piles up that he can’t deny, which all culminates in one scene where victims of some horrible accident come to the hospital with severe burns all over their bodies.  All the monitors begin to flat-line.

But they keep screaming.  They keep screaming in pain because they can’t die.

Initially, Ferguson believes no deaths to be a miracle, and encourages Death to quit.  But after seeing those patients, he changes his mind.  He rushes to find George Costan-I mean Death standing on the hospital rooftop.  Ferguson convinces him to not quit his job and become Death once again.

Then, as is tradition for the Twilight Zone, plot twist.

Throughout the episode, Ferguson has been having these seemingly innocuous headaches.  But after he convinces Death, Death touches him and pulls his spirit out of his body, revealing that the headaches were actually an aneurysm.  Ferguson complains that it’s not fair, and Death just comments “now you know why I’m always depressed”.  The episode ends with the two disappearing into what is presumed to be some kind of afterlife.

Now, this episode isn’t particularly great.  It’s actually paced kinda slowly, and takes a while to get to the point from what I remember.  But that scene with the burned patients always stuck out in my mind.  It was a powerful moment in an episode that otherwise lacked them, which is likely a big part of it.  But it’s also because it sends a powerful message about life and death, and how life might not be life if there is no death, no end.

And that’s the thing: immortality does not necessarily mean immunity from pain.  Google defines immortality as “living forever; never dying or decaying”.  But there’s no mention of immunity from anything besides aging.  So, theoretically, you could end up in a horrific car crash of some sort that mangles your body.  But, since you’re immortal, you wouldn’t die.  So what would happen then?  I see two possibilities: either you suffer the pain so long that you eventually become numb to it, or they find a way to fix you.  Either way, it’s a terrifying thought.

And further on, what happens if the universe ends and you’re still around?  Do you just float through empty blackness forever feeling the sensation of being unable to breathe?

I know my answer to that one: no thanks man.  I’m good.

The fear of death is intrinsic to the human race, so it’s natural to want to try to defeat death.  But, to quote a line from the most recent Star Trek movie, “fear of death is what keeps us alive”.  The fear of death is what pushes us to do new and greater things.  Without it, we would become jaded and lethargic.  With nothing nipping at our heels, what reason would we have to push ourselves?  The fear of death keeps us tethered.  It keeps us going, because we know that we only have a certain amount of time to do the things we want before that time runs out.  If you’ve ever felt that you do better work when on a deadline, you’re not alone.  It’s the same kind of thing with death: we know that there is an end so we strive to do all we can before that end comes.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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Are Jumpscares Scary?

It may seem like a loaded question, but it’s one worth asking.  Are jumpscares scary or not?

Now, I’ve already talked about my frustrations with the horror genre and I’ve listed five horror clichés that I don’t like.  Because I love the horror genre.  It’s one of my favorites and tells some of the most interesting and captivating stories.  But in more recent years, the horror genre has become so mired in this idea of having to be “scary”, which results in treading and re-treading already worn ground in an attempt to scare audiences without any real meaning.  For example, ever since Alien did the “cat jumpscare” back in the ’70s, it’s become a staple of movies and television shows.

And this I think shows part of the problem with horror as a genre.  Creators continually looks back at whatever was popular or effective and then simply tries to re-do it.  I mean they’re even doing a sequel to the Blair Witch project simply called “Blair Witch“.  Now, admittedly, the movie doesn’t look that bad, but it just shows how Hollywood has no original ideas for scaring people anymore.  It’s pretty much all demonic possession movies nowadays, which are routinely panned critically and I would imagine don’t do too well at the box office (although The Conjuring 2 did get some praise earlier this year).

But I digress.  Back to the question at hand, are jumpscares scary?  They can be.  They just have to be done right.

See, for a jumpscare to work, it has to capitalize on built-up tension throughout a scene or on its pure shock value.  If people know it’s coming, then it loses a lot of its power.  Everyone knows that when a character is moving down a dark hallway with spooky music that suddenly cuts out before they round a corner, a jumpscare is about to happen.  There needs to be a little more subtlety than that or it needs to happen when the audience isn’t expecting it.

A great example of the latter can be seen in Paranormal Activity 2.  If you haven’t seen any of the movies, I’ll sum it up for you: people set up cameras around their house.  Spooky stuff happens.  Something about demons.  That’s the general gist of it, but for how cliché it all sounds, the movies are surprisingly effective.  They’ll often just show you dark nighttime scenes with nothing happening in them because the filmmakers know your eyes will be darting about the screen trying to find even the most minute of movement.  But one of the best scary moments in the movie actually happens in the middle of the day.

Now, I’ve already talked about this scenario in my “Horror clichés” post, but I think it’s worth mentioning again.  There’s a scene later in Paranormal Activity 2 where one of the people living in the house sits down at the kitchen table to read either a magazine or newspaper (I honestly can’t tell).  And the scene sits there for a good ten or fifteen seconds with nothing happening before, suddenly, all the cabinets in the kitchen fly open with a crash.

You can take a look at the scene here if you want.

I think what makes the scene particularly effective is how it raises your alert level just seconds before the jumpscare happens.  You see the character in the scene suddenly turn and look away from her reading, almost as if she heard something.  Your brain is immediately like “something’s wrong here” and then BOOM!  You just got jumpscared.

Another thing that makes that scene work so well is that the movie has done a great job of building up the tension.  The Paranormal Activity movies are a very slow burn.  Very little happens for much of the movie until later on when things get more and more violent and suddenly the entire thing descends into chaos (at least for the first three movies…the fourth literally has a chandelier nearly falling on the main character in the first ten or fifteen minutes).

But unfortunately, it seems that most movies don’t want to take the time to be scary.  Instead, they want to get immediately to the scary bits, resorting to things popping up in your face and screaming as attempts to scare you.  I remember watching the trailer for Insidious Chapter 3 in a movie theater some months back and couldn’t help but laugh at how utterly cliché the last half of the trailer is.  It starts off decently enough, with a girl knocking on the wall thinking that it’s her neighbor knocking back until he reveals through text that he’s not him.  Cue creepy children’s lullaby and every trope in the book: old lady in dark hallway, séance gone wrong, creepy shadow people abruptly disappearing, mysterious oily footprints, and so on.  The trailer even ends with someone going into the darkened basement and getting scared by someone hanging from the ceiling and screaming in their face.

Who knows?  Maybe that’s what people want.  I don’t really know anymore.  There has to be a reason these movies keep getting made after all.

In the end I think horror is going to be better served combining itself with other genres, because straight horror movies are far too predictable.  Even 10 Cloverfield Lane (which is a great movie by the way) feels more like a psychological thriller than a straight horror movie.  But perhaps that’s for the best.  Because if all we keep getting are these installments of movies revolving around demons and possession, then I think the horror genre is going to die a slow death.  In all fairness clichés are clichés for a reason.  They were effective at one point in time, but they lose effectiveness the more often they are used.  The cat jumpscare was really unique when it was used in Alien but now it either elicits eye rolls or laughter (and it is often used for comedic purposes instead of scary purposes these days because of how overdone it is).

You see, if your primary method of scaring people is loud noises, then the movie won’t stick out in your mind.  You need to leave a lasting impression.  You need to build up to the jumpscare instead of just throwing them at people one after another.  It’s the reason why I remember 10 Cloverfield Lane so vividly but can barely remember the names of Insidious and The Conjuring, because 10 Cloverfield Lane, even if I hadn’t gone to see it, left me with a very damn good trailer that sticks out in my mind compared to the usual fare (I actually had to think to remember the name of that Insidious movie…that’s how generic the trailer was).

To truly scare someone with a jumpscare, you need to earn it first.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Spotlight: Blackwell

Blackwell is a series of video games that, I must admit, I found myself surprised by.  I stumbled across them one random day around a year or two ago while browsing for some new games to play and I didn’t think too much of them at first, but I marked them down as a future possibility.  Fast-forward to now, and I’ve played through four of the five games in the series.  And I have to say, they are up there with some of my more favorite adventure games.

 

Blackwell Legacy, first game in the series.

Blackwell Legacy, first game in the series.

 

For those unfamiliar with the term “adventure game”, allow me to explain.  Adventure games are video games that are primarily story-driven with an emphasis on puzzle solving and exploration.  Most of them don’t involve combating enemies (at least in the usual sense).  Now, adventure games can refer to other games with combat in them, but for our purposes this is the definition we’ll go with.

Now, on to Blackwell.

Playing through the Blackwell games feels like playing through a good novel.  Each of the four games I’ve played so far have all been paced very well (each of them clocking in at around 3-4 hours, although the fourth game took me a little longer).  They don’t drag themselves out too long, but they always leave you wanting more.  Which, to me, is a very good thing.

The story of Blackwell goes like this: you play as Rosangela Blackwell, a struggling writer who at the start of the series works for a small-time newspaper.  As the first game opens up (Blackwell Legacy), Rosa finds out about a death in her family.  Her aunt, Lauren, has passed away after spending roughly two decades in a mysterious coma.  Lauren was the only family she had left, as Rosa’s parents both passed away in a car crash early on in her life.  But there’s something strange going on.  The doctor reveals to Rosa that Lauren was muttering the name “Joey” shortly before she passed.  Soon after, Rosa begins suffering headaches that get worse and worse as she tries to go about her day.  They get worse and worse until, upon returning to her apartment, she suffers a massive one before the sudden appearance of a ghost who calls himself Joey.  Joey reveals to her that she is a medium, a person who can communicate with ghosts.  He also reveals that he is, as he calls himself, the “Blackwell legacy”.  He has followed the family from generation to generation for some time.  Joey tells Rosa that it is now her task to help lost spirits “move on”, as in guide them to the afterlife (or whatever awaits them).

Her aunt Lauren was the one before her.  And now, it becomes Rosa’s turn to take up the family calling.

Initially I thought the games were going to be mostly standalone affairs that dealt with cases Rosa would work, but I was surprised once again.  By the third game, there is definitely a thread being woven throughout them.  Characters and events have impact on the series as a whole rather than just on their individual games.  But I won’t go into greater detail here for fear of spoiling things.

 

Blackwell Unbound, the second game where you actually play as Rosa's aunt Lauren investigating a case back in the '70s.

Blackwell Unbound, the second game where you actually play as Rosa’s aunt Lauren investigating a case back in the ’70s.

 

I will say this, I was pleasantly surprised by the voice acting in these games.  It’s nothing absolutely stellar, but it comes across as believable which is more than I can say for most adventure games (I’ve already talked about The Black Mirror and its hilariously bad English voice acting).  And the characters as well are very easy to identify with.  Rosa and Joey, although they don’t always get along, do genuinely care about each other and you can see that caring deepen through each successive game (even in Blackwell Unbound when you play as Rosa’s aunt Lauren, you get the sense that although they butt heads sometimes, Joey and Lauren do like each other).  But what I was most surprised by were the ghosts themselves.

You see, in Blackwell‘s universe ghosts usually don’t know they’re dead.  They’re typically roaming around thinking they’re still alive and living their lives like nothing happened.  To help them move on, you must first convince them they’re dead.  This involves finding out all about who they are and what happened in their lives.  It’s basically a pretext for some in-depth character study, although it works very well.  But what I found myself most surprised by was how each ghost was actually sympathetic in some way.  In the beginning of the fourth game you’re tasked with investigating a yacht that for some reason keeps untying itself and drifting away.  You quickly discover that a ghost is the culprit and learn that he was the previous owner of the boat.  You also learn that he was involved with a bank robbery, as there is a hidden cache of money on board as well.

 

Blackwell Deception, the fourth game.

Blackwell Deception, the fourth game.

 

But the thing is, he robbed the bank because he felt cheated.  The bank unceremoniously fired him after he worked there for thirty years.  Combine that with the fact that his wife died of cancer, and you can see how his world got torn apart so quickly.  It doesn’t exactly justify what he did, but it makes you feel for him all the same.

And that’s the thing with Blackwell that I like a lot.  The world isn’t just rosy and happy, nor is it dreary and depressing.  It’s full of shades, conflicting moralities, characters who are just trying to find their ways in life when their life meets a sudden end.  It feels…real in a lot of ways, despite the supernatural trappings that it has.

 

Convergence, the third game, starts with you talking to the ghost of someone who apparently committed suicide. It's also one of the few moments in the series where you can handle the situation in a couple of different ways.

Convergence, the third game, starts with you talking to the ghost of someone who apparently committed suicide and is now stuck reliving that final moment…stuck facing that final decision.

 

But enough about the story.  How do the games play?  Well, I’m pleased to report that, compared to most adventure games, the puzzles are all fairly logical (some people have complained they’re a little too easy, but honestly I prefer that to puzzles where the only reason I can’t solve it is because I haven’t swiped my mouse over every little speck on-screen).  I only got stuck a handful of times, and all it really took was me thinking about the situation differently.  Better yet, the puzzles actually make you feel smart.  For example, in Unbound you need to talk to the son of one of the ghosts over the phone.  But he won’t talk to you unless you know his mom’s apartment number.  Now, if you’ve done your homework, you’ve been given the two pieces of the apartment number and you can enter it correctly.  The thing I like about it is that it never gives you the full number in an obvious manner.  The pieces come about from your conversations with the ghost, and it’s up to you to put them together.

In a way, the games make you feel like an amateur detective.  You have to find clues and put them together in a way that makes sense (you can have Rosa/Lauren look at her notes and combine clues to see if they fit together in any manner, which is sometimes necessary to uncover the next place to go or a person to talk to).  And hey, if you get stuck in the later games you can actually talk to Joey and plan your next move, which usually results in you getting a clue to help you progress.

 

The games are very well-written as well. Sometimes unimportant objects to the story will still result in some sharp pieces of dialogue.

The games are very well-written as well. Sometimes unimportant objects to the story will still result in some sharp pieces of dialogue.

 

I could go on and on about these games, but I’ll just finish it here by saying this: if you’re a fan of stories and characters in your video games, Blackwell is a great series for you.  The sharp writing combined with the above-average voice acting (especially for adventure games) makes them a joy to play.  And they’re short games too, usually clocking in at only a few hours, which helps keep the pacing fast and interesting.  The puzzles all make sense within the game world as well as logically (no pixel-hunting here, if you know what I mean).  But don’t just take my word for it.  Try them out yourself.  You can buy the first four games in a bundle (on Steam as well as Good Old Games).

I look forward to playing the final game whenever I get around to picking it up.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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Universal Perspective: The Implications of First Contact with Alien Life

Have you ever heard of KIC 8462852?  If you have, you’re probably a nerd.

 

 

Ah the ’90s…the days before being a nerd was cool.

But I digress.  KIC 8462852 is the official name given to an F-type main sequence star located in the Cygnus constellation, which is nearly 1,500 light-years away from Earth.  All of this is a bunch of science speak that means KIC 8462 is a fairly normal star.

Or at least, it should be.

KIC 8462 (also known as “Tabby’s Star”) was one of 150,000 stars observed by the Kepler space observatory, launched into orbit around Earth in 2009.  Kepler observed frequent dips in the star’s brightness that didn’t appear to be part of the star’s normal pattern of behavior.  Combine that with the fact that it was the only star out of all 150,000 that showed this abnormal behavior, and you have one interesting celestial object.  The conclusion scientists drew from the data they collected was that a cluster of objects were passing in front of the star, blocking some of its light from reaching us.  Theories as to what that could be included particles of dust or a cluster of comets.

But one of the more far-fetched explanations also happens to be the most intriguing.

 

 

Now if you didn’t bother watching the entire video I’ll sum it up for you.  Basically the theory is that a hyper-advanced alien civilization could be building a structure around the star to harness its energy in some way.  If that sounds really far out there in terms of credibility, that’s because it totally is.  The chances of it actually being an alien superstructure are very low.  But even so, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) institute has devoted resources to monitoring the star for any signs of radio signals or other transmissions that might be evidence of an alien intelligence at work around the star.

So why am I talking about this again?  All of the information about this star broke last year, so why is it still important?  Well it’s almost a year later, and we still don’t know what is happening to it.  The star is dimming and we’re at a loss for why.  And despite how far-fetched it is, scientists still aren’t able to completely rule out aliens as the cause, even if they are pretty much at the bottom of the list.

But say that it does turn out to be aliens?  What would that actually mean for us?  Well, it could mean a lot.  Or it could mean nothing at all.

A couple of months ago, I discussed how religion might impact our first contact with extraterrestrial life.  And I said that it might force our religions to drastically re-analyze themselves and change to fit the new perspective we had, or it might not change them at all.  It’s something similar in this case, only now I’m not assuming that we actually meet the aliens face-to-face.

See, here’s the thing: an alien race capable of building a structure like this would logically be advanced, far more advanced than we are currently.  So it’s like the scientist in the news clip says, we would have nothing to offer them.  It is far more likely that even if they were aware of our existence, they’d likely treat it as little more than a trifling event and go about their business like we don’t matter.  Because, in their perspective, we wouldn’t.  The scientist uses the analogy of a human encountering an anthill, and while the metaphor is perhaps a little extreme in some ways, it is fitting.  They would have no practical reason to stoop over and say “hey what’s up?”

But even so, even if the aliens didn’t stop by to meet us, would the revelation that other life existed out there change things for us?  I’d like to think so.  We’ve been asking ourselves the question “are we alone” for a very, very long time.  Getting the answer to that question would be a historic event, so I can only imagine that at least some among us would find their worldviews shattered by the knowledge.  However, at the same time, even if we did know they exist we wouldn’t really be able to reach out to them, at least not in any way that would matter.  This mega-structure, if it exists, would be nearly 1,500 light-years away.  And since we currently know of no way to travel faster than the speed of light, that means it would probably take them thousands of years to even reach us.  And this doesn’t even take into account the fact that the light we are seeing here on Earth is literally over a thousand years old, since it had to travel so far to get to us.  That means that the theoretical civilization building this mega-structure could be long dead.

So in the end, we might treat it as “hey look we answered that question, but it still doesn’t change anything for us here on Earth.  We still have famine.  We still have disease.  We still have poverty.  The environment is still in trouble.  If we’re not going to meet them, then what’s the point?”

Of course, it is still possible that they would want to meet us.  Now, most would think it egotistical of us to assume that they would be benevolent and want to help, but I would argue that it’s just as egotistical to assume that they’d want to destroy us as well.  Both of these scenarios assume that they’d even care enough to give us any notice.  And honestly, to me, if a species is that advanced I would assume they are capable of higher, rational thought.  I think they would understand the fear of being wiped out, having likely faced their own fair share of hurdles in their history.  So, at the very least, I believe they would be empathetic towards us, if not entirely sympathetic.

But only time will tell, right?

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Bottom of the World

Like a hungry animal, the ocean water sweeps up over the elongated metal contraption as it sinks beneath the waves.  The rays of the sun warp and quiver along the surface of the water as the vessel begins its trip to the bottom.  The two men inside are set to make history on this day.

For the first few hundred feet, the descent is rough.  The turbulent waters thrash the vessel back and forth like a toy, making its two occupants feel anything but relaxed.  But gradually, the ride smooths out.  Everything stops shaking and a strange calm takes over.  Gasoline is released from a storage tank at intervals to combat the sudden temperature changes which halt their descent.  They could wait for the gasoline to cool down enough but after weighing the risks they decide to go with the faster option.

1,500 feet.  The darkness is now absolute.  The two men sometimes catch trails of luminescence, possibly thrown off by creatures who’ve adapted to the frigid and cold world they inhabit.  But the disturbance of the vessel entering their domain has likely scared most creatures away, so the two men see very little on their way down.

5,000 feet.  The men have a brief telephone chat with the ship above.  The descent is slow, the vessel going only a few feet per second.

10,000 feet.  Another phone call.

Hours pass with almost nothing.  But then, at roughly 32,500 feet, something happens.  A sudden, dull cracking fills the cabin, causing their eyes to dart about in alarm.  The cabin abruptly trembles for a moment before returning to normal.

The aftermath is tense.  The two men look at each other.  They could stop now, but the idea of being the first weighs on them heavily.  So they decide to continue, despite the possible danger.

Finally, nearly five hours after they had slunk beneath the waves, their sonar begins to ping.  The bottom is approaching.  The two men carefully maneuver the vessel downward, stopping it mere feet from the ground.  A feeling of awe overtakes them as they look out at the nearly pitch black bottom, barely lit by their lights.  They have done it.  They are the first manned expedition to make it down this far.

The date?  January 23rd, 1960.

Their names?  Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh.

Their location?  The Mariana Trench, roughly 35,814 feet (or 10,916 meters) below the ocean’s surface.

Welcome to the bottom of the world.

 

It is said that we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about what lies in the deepest depths of the ocean.  The Mariana Trench is proof of this.  It houses the deepest point in Earth’s oceans, named “Challenger Deep” after the British naval vessel that first recorded its depth.  To date, only four expeditions have ever reached the Challenger Deep, and only two of those were manned.

The first manned expedition was in the Bathyscaphe Trieste, manned by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh.

 

The Bathyscaphe Trieste.

The Bathyscaphe Trieste.

 

They descended to the bottom of the Mariana Trench on January 23rd, 1960, a trip that took almost five hours (you can actually read Piccard’s account of the dive here if you wish).  Despite the time it took them to get all the way down, they were only able to spend twenty minutes at the bottom which, as you can imagine, doesn’t leave much time to record observations or data.  They reported seeing a small fish swim by as well as a shrimp, but since they were unable to take any pictures this has never been officially confirmed as far as I can tell.  After their twenty minutes were up, they began their trip back to the surface.

The next two expeditions that followed theirs would be unmanned vehicles, one in 1996 and the other in 2009.

The fourth expedition came when acclaimed movie director James Cameron apparently decided “hey you know what would be cool?  Descending to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in a one-man vehicle.”

Because he’s James Goddamn Cameron and he can do whatever the hell he wants.

He descended in a vehicle appropriately named the “Deepsea Challenger” and reached the bottom on March 26, 2012.  His descent was nearly twice as fast as that of the Trieste, taking just a little over two and a half hours.

 

The Deepsea Challenger, piloted by James Cameron.

The Deepsea Challenger, piloted by James Cameron.

 

“My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity,” he reportedly said after he returned.

Not a whole lot was found on his trip.  He spent around three hours staring out into the barren deep but all he saw in terms of creatures were small, voracious shrimp.  And before he was able to collect any samples, there was a hydraulic malfunction that rendered him unable to grab anything.

Now, some of you might be wondering why any of this is even important.  “Why do I care about what might live in a seven-mile deep trench in the ocean,” you might ask.  Well it helps us learn more about our planet and how life adapts.  You see, down in the depths of the ocean organisms are subject to something known as “deep-sea gigantism”, which means that creatures down that far are of larger size than their shallower water relatives.  It is not entirely known if this phenomenon is a result of adaptation to scarce food, pressure, or some other factor.  But that’s something we could learn by going down there and studying these things isn’t it?

But more than learning, it’s about proving that we can do it.  It’s about pushing the boundaries to discover all we humans are capable of.  And in pushing these boundaries we could make large breakthroughs in technology.  Like I said in another post, you’d be surprised what technological advances came about simply because NASA wanted to put people and equipment up in space.

While researching information for this post, I discovered that James Cameron has expressed frustration with the lack of funding for ventures like his (he put forth about ten million dollars of his own money to build Deepsea Challenger).  And I’m inclined to agree with his frustration.  The desire to explore is one of humanity’s better aspects.  Now, I’m not saying go out and fund every little crackpot venture.  Pragmatism needs to play a role here as well.  But pragmatism also shouldn’t hold us back.  Denying that drive, that desire to seek out the unknown strikes me as foolish.  In our modern world we seem to be too reluctant to attempt something unless we know for sure it will have beneficial results.

But I don’t think that’s how progress always works.  Oftentimes, we discover something by complete accident.  There have been advances simply because someone was trying to do one thing and ended up with a completely different outcome.  Just because we don’t know if something will turn up with results doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try right?

We need to get out there and be humans.  So, you know, insert clichéd phrase about how risks are meant to be taken.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

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Also here is a short Youtube video on the Mariana Trench if you are still interested.