A negative productivity shock hits the global economy, and various bad consequences ensue, including The Idea Trap.  Behavioral factors exacerbate the course of events.  Some degree of mean reversion ensues, to specify that degree would involve spoilers.  OLG models remain relevant, indeed more relevant than most others are willing to believe.  The rest is detail.

I am often skeptical of Christopher Nolan movies for lacking heart, but I enjoyed this one more than I expected to.  It would have been better, however, if no character had been allowed to articulate any propositions of physics.


While watching, it's fun to play "Which Heinlein story is this bit riffing on?"

Time for the Stars, Farmer in the Sky, Universe, lots more ...

I kept wondering if the casting of two actresses with the same Bob Hope-style nose, Ann Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, is supposed to set up in the sequel some kind of creepy Late Heinlein-style man-with-time-machine-marries-his-own-grandmother plot twist?

If Bob Hope shows up in the sequel, I shall be sure to watch it!

...comments like this make the Internet worth my time (almost)

"Late Heinlein-style man-with-time-machine-marries-his-own-grandmother plot twist?"

For Heinlein,that would be "time traveler intentionally marries his own mother plot twist". And ick.

It is truly amazing that you bring up Heinlein over and over again ad nauseum. I wonder why. Is it because he is the only science fiction author you ever read? Or is it because of the nationalist themes of his novels? My guess is: both. I mean, you recently said that Transhumanists are inspired by Heinlein, when in reality most Transhumanists are in Britain and Germany and probably have never read Heinlein. You are a deeply ignorant man about many things, Sailer, and your presumptions are testament to that.

Heinelin was an extremely mediocre sci-fi author. Out of the top of my head, I can name several sci-fi authors much better than him: Isaac Asimov, Stephen Baxter, Lovecraft, Frank tipler, Lain banks, Michael Moorcock, etc. Your fascination with Heinlein speaks volumes about you, as you favor pedestrian stories with little actual science and relatable themes that you don't really need to think hard about.

Heinlein is the McDonald's of science-fiction, and the fact that Sailer is such a fan further proves that.

I liked it, although I'll second your point about the talking - the characters in this spent way too much time talking and expositing away. And the movie really needed some compression and restructuring at the beginning, which was bloated and unnecessary.

You can see why this was originally going to be a Spielberg movie. He would have nailed this sucker.

I agree with the skepticism of Nolan's abilities. Observing the praise for Inception was like like living in a world where a negative productivity shock had lowered our species' average IQ by 10 points. The Batman movies, instead of causing me to suspend my disbelief, instead left me wondering, over and over, why is he doing that? Nolan is the most overhyped director of our times, and I am not someone unable to appreciate mindless entertainment, when it's done smartly.

Nolan should make one movie every three years instead of one every two years.

I loved Inception. And not because of the plot, per se. The action was good, the visuals were interesting, the emotional bits were passably compelling and the Zimmer score was perfectly matched to what was happening on screen.

Everyone loved Inception.

And, ahh, I don't know how to say this delicately but perhaps the reply makes my point?

Oh god bro yeah how did you outsmart us all no way could your not liking a movie mean anything except everyone else is so dumb

Inception was an act of aesthetic cowardice. A movie is a dream-space to begin with. A movie about a dream within a dream is dull, because no suspension of disbelief, in terms of what you are hearing and seeing on screen, is even asked. In contrast, Waking Life is a great movie about dreams because it takes off and doesn't look back and doesn't explain.

I agree on inception but keep my mouth shut. Sometimes, the emperor has no clothes. But sometimes he does, and you're just not one of the ones who can see them.

As a sci fi fanatic I wanted to enjoy this movie, but the number of implausibilities climbed higher than the circumpolar tidal wave.

Why do future humans need to send a wormhole to Saturn as part of ridiculously obscure plan to save humanity when the fact that there are future humans means humanity never perished?

And if you can send a wormhole why not just send a splash of photons in morse to the professors laptop with the hidden formula for the gravity equation or just a cure for plant blight?

And of the hundreds of billions of stars in each of the 250 billion galaxies they send Cooper to planets orbiting an inherently dangerous black hole.

And on and on and on ... .

Average is clearly in no danger of being over in Hollywood, because the average IQ of the audience is where the money is.

"Why do future humans need to send a wormhole to Saturn as part of ridiculously obscure plan to save humanity when the fact that there are future humans means humanity never perished?"

Because the only way there are future humans is because they sent a wormhold to Saturn. Obviously.

Humanity needs to survive before they start sending wormholes around. The survival happened.

It's like me going back in time to ensure my parents get married. They already did. I'm here.

The key to sci fi is the patina of plausibility. This is just 1+1=7.

Here you go: Bootstrap Paradox. Novikov self-consistency principle.

Your confusion evinces a clear failure to pick up on one of the central theoretical premises of the film: that time is *not* by nature linear, but instead that modern humans are simply not evolved enough to experience time in non-linear fashion.

As a matter of logical consistency (if not necessarily physics), there is no reasons why something in the past must precede something in the future in the causal chain if time is non-linear.

Why did they have to send a phone booth back to save Bill ad Ted? That's just the way time travel works.

oh god dude totally people r so dumb with their movies

> Why do future humans need to send a wormhole to Saturn as part of ridiculously obscure plan to save humanity when the fact that there are future humans means humanity never perished?

That's an interesting question that's never quite explored. As far as I can tell, it means that for some reason, humans *have* to survive and become advanced five-dimensional beings or whatever in order to have a paradox-free timeline. Perhaps something really weird and exciting happens in the future and we have to be around to fix it.

> And if you can send a wormhole why not just send a splash of photons in morse to the professors laptop with the hidden formula for the gravity equation or just a cure for plant blight?

Because, by the movie's own stated rules, only gravitational phenomena can affect the past. (Yes, this is kind of bullshitty, but they get one bullshit premise to make their plot work before I start criticizing.)

> And of the hundreds of billions of stars in each of the 250 billion galaxies they send Cooper to planets orbiting an inherently dangerous black hole.

Yes, because the only way that humanity will get on the path to becoming able to do things like drop wormholes in the past is for Cooper to get into that black hole and communicate the robot's readings back to Earth.

Some of the peripheral science is pretty crappy (the blight respires N2, one of the most stable molecules around?) but the core plot holds together better than you'd think.

I haven't seen Interstellar, but I'd be surprised if it could be as bad scientifically as Gravity was.

Why should humans be saved if we destroy our planet?

I enjoyed it, but you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief.

The action-filled middle section was truly outstanding. The beginning and end were just OK.

Definitely agree that giving the actors less time to talk, and more time to do, would have been an improvement.

I think it's a sign that I'm slowly becoming a crotchety old man, but I could just tell right away that this was one of those movies that starts out being "merely" about trying to save the human race but turns into the main character discovering God or love or some mystical revelation in outer space.

And it just kills me that people always feel so compelled to do this. It's what, in my opinion, ruined the latter half of Battlestar Galactica. Season 1 was a great story about people trying to survive in space, but by the time season 4 rolls around everything had devolved into this boring mystical nonsense where nothing happens.

But the whole point of the series was Season 4. Season 1 was just to hook you in. The purpose of Battlestar Galactica was to make the Mormon religion seem not so implausible.

Sort of like how Battlefield Earth makes Scientology seem so reasonable.

There is a proper academic reference and serious econometric work on this "idea trap." that Bryan Caplan fails to note and that seem to me to capture exactly his current post: Buera, Francisco J., Alexander Monge‐Naranjo, and Giorgio E. Primiceri. "Learning the wealth of nations." Econometrica 79, no. 1 (2011): 1-45. I recommend it, Here it is ungated linkhttp://www.fao.org/docs/up/easypol/forum/416/416_Buera%20et%20al.%20Econometrica,%20Learning%20the%20Wealth%20of%20Nations.pdf

The idea that the rate of change of growth rather than the level produced by growth is important is not new, in fact, all of engineering is based on this principle. Engineers and scientists (read inventors) don't get paid unless there is growth, even and especially from a low base. Levels don't matter, just growth.

According to its URL and the related Econlog post, Caplan's article dates from 2004, so I'm not surprised he didn't cite that article.


The physics were, well, arguable. But the metaphysics were abominable. Love as the force that transcends space and time. That's one way to overcompensate for a reputation as a mihilist.

So it was kind of The Fountain all over again? Hmm.

Remember: in the Hollywood Universe, there is no greater MacGuffin than Love.

I was kinda hopeful that the movie was going to take a nice weird turn when they used the same explanation of how a wormhole works as "Event Horizon".

The movie could have used a short scene with Sam Neill empty eye-sockets... :)

It was a nice movie, though. A little bit too much like "2001".

** spoilers **
I thought it was close to terrible. To make the story work Cooper needed the traditional arc: in the beginning his charcter believes only in facts and science, in the end he learns about love and feeling. But he cares too much about those around him at the beginning (I guess because the Nolans thought otherwise they wouldn't have a sympathetic character), and this just makes things confusing.

Lowpoint of the film: love is the fifth-dimension.

My own question: why does Matt Damon have to kill Cooper? Ok, he'd have to fess up and say he had been lying, but then so what?

I thought it was the Fifth Element.

Do the credits roll to the Golden Earing hit "Radar Love"?

For me, the real disappointment of Nolan is that he is talked about so much. He's a competent commercial director who concocts overly complicated plots because he cannot edit himself. He likes all of his clever little ideas and storylines. His films are loud and long and forgettable. There are interesting films within each of Nolan's works, but he chose not to make them (or was unable to).

He is a better version of Michael Bay, not a worse version of Stanley Kubrick.

"He is a better version of Michael Bay, not a worse version of Stanley Kubrick."

That's a great description.

+1, Todd. Loud, and long and too in love with his cleverness is spot on.

More practical physical problems:

Whey did they need a 3-stage rocket to launch Cooper's ranger from earth to the "endurance" space ship, but the ranger can easily lift off of the water world planet which has 2x Earth's gravity without the 3 stage rocket?

I thought the smart-alec robots were cool, but they seemed like they were more plot conveniences rather than actual robots. They could be whatever the plot needed them to be, no limitations.

Deus ex Machina

Well played.

Wow, that is a really good point, AndrewL. I can't believe I did not notice that plot problem.

All I noticed was how the astronauts did not discuss the fact that Miller's transmission only had an hour's worth of data. It seems like the small sample size of the data would have fazed them, but they never even mentioned it. These are supposed to be scientists...

"They could be whatever the plot needed them to be, no limitations."


Haven't seen the movie, but this is a weakness in SF in general, the lack of boundaries. In the hands of a skillful storyteller it can work, but Sturgeon's Law applies with a vengeance in SciFi.

Allow me to recommend "The Breach" by Patrick Lee, which cleverly inverts this problem and makes it a cornerstone of the plot.

I haven't seen the movie, but your comment reminded me of a thought I've sometimes had about your blog: I'd enjoy it more if no character were permitted to articulate propositions of economics.

You needn't worry. Tyler doesn't know any economics.

Concur completely with note from "edm" herein re proposition of economics. The "good" professors recent editorial in the NY Times is not educational or entertaining. Moreover, it is poorly written and does not present factual evidence. I assumed that it was written by a green, naïve recently minted doctoral student. Imagine finding out that he is my age and the department chair of the Eco Dept. at GMU! Perhaps he should perform penance by teaching seven year olds basic arithmetic or by pumping gas for a few years and leave the teaching to those of us who are more qualified and caring but who lack a PhD due to dare I say it, economic! Doing so would actual improve any of his future publications by being grounded in reality. No wonder colleges are in trouble! For the record, the crux of any differing points of view between Mr. Cowen and many others are not optimism versus negativism, political left or right, but rather matters of reality and truth which he is in the fog about.

Man, Krugman lackeys are mean.

Communicating complicated quantum theory through Morse code is hilarious. Best part of the movie.

As opposed to some other encoding? Given the (weird set of) constraints there's nothing particularly crazy about morse. Maybe he hadn't agreed on some more efficient Huffman code with his 7 year old daughter.

In a world where food is scarce Cooper sees no problem with driving through thousands of corn plants to chase after some drone?

The setting is in the future but all the local technology looks like it belongs in 1995?

The world needs farmers but farmers look to be extraordinarily productive with massive farms managed by robot tractors? Also, no one seems interested in greenhouses?

The plant blight feeds off inert nitrogen in the air?

I'm fine with everything magical that happens in space. I'm confused and annoyed by what was happening on Earth. They should have stuck to a "climate change destroyed the world" narrative and not muddled it with this poorly thought out "blight".

"Looper" did the climate change dried up the corn thing recently.

I liked "blight." You can make up your own explanation.

Anyway, the farm scenes aren't there to make sense, they are there to riff off Heinlein's 1950 juvenile "Farmer in the Sky:" Imagine a solar system with plenty of energy but not enough food. We've got to move out to a terraformed Ganymede, the biggest moon of Jupiter, and become pioneer farmers. It's a delightful novel about what it was like to be a pioneering farmer in olde tyme America, but without all the boring olde tyme stuff.

"Interstellar" is a whole bunch of tributes to old time sci-fi, especially to Heinlein. If you can recognize which Heinlein story is being referenced every few minutes, everything makes more sense.

Is that a good idea for a big budget movie? No, not really.

Did Heinlein have the bit about exploratory spaceships being able only to send a signal "come" or "stay"? That reminded me of Tiptree's "A Momentary Taste of Being".

Oh good, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who saw Heinlein everywhere in this movie. Did they credit him at all at the end? I tried keeping an eye out in the ending credits, but they went by too fast for me, I didn't notice anything.

Offhand, it seems like science fiction movies are more likely to make up a new screenplay than pay for a book and then disappoint fans with all the changes. (The big exception of course is Philip K. Dick, but then his short stories are so sketchy they are ideal for screenplays that are 90% new. Heinlein's world building is so detailed that it is becomes dated instantly. I love rereading Heinlein for the picture of the past he provide. If you want to know what smart engineers were thinking in, say, 1955, read Heinlein books from 1954-56 and you'll get a good feel for how attitudes and ideas changed over time.)

For example, the basic setting of "Avatar" is awfully similar to the second half of Heinlein's 1948 juvenile "Space Cadet" in which the Space Marines help the ecologically sensitive natives of the jungle of Venus fight off a greedy mining company from Earth.

But earlier authors than Heinlein no doubt came up with something not too dissimilar (e.g., the sci-fi conventions that Venus is like the Amazon and Mars is like Tibet had been around for awhile), so it's not hugely unfair that James Cameron splashed together something that resembled a mixture of different stories.

For Heinlein fans, 2014 is a good year for tributes in movies: before Interstellar, The Tom Cruise movie "Edge of Tomorrow" had pretty much the action scenes from "Starship Troopers." These aren't ripoffs, these are movies made in the spirit of contributing to the sci-fi tradition.

Caplan's idea trap doesn't sound so counterintuitive in the context of Kahneman and Tversky's findings on risk-averseness over gains and risk-seeking over losses.

But what do I know.

It's not just risk, it's the search for political decisions that don't create losers. If the optimal decision is to shut down process A and start up process B, but I don't want to annoy the voters benefiting from A, I freeze process A and bring up process B using the extra resources from economic growth. If there isn't enough growth to do this I have to make much harder decisions. I worry about the implications of this when/if material growth rates start to run up against hard sustainability limits.

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