A View Through Glass

Rants and ravings of a curmudgeon of Generation Y

Category: philosophy

Some thoughts on “Blade Runner 2049″…

Disclaimer: This post focuses on some of the underlying philosophy of “Blade Runner 2049.” Spoilers are abound. It is recommended you see the movie at least once before reading.


A review post on The Mary Sue lead me to another blog in the review’s comments. In the post, “Blade Runner leaves women in the dust of misogyny” the author highlights the overt, misogynistic overtones of the movie. The author raises some good points; and Blade Runner 2049 leaves you with an uncomfortable pit in your stomach after walking out of the movie.  At the forefront the movie drives home questions about what it means to be human.  Underneath the immediate philosophical question, a much darker point being made. The  cinematography of  “Blade Runner 2049” is impressive and the visual effects create an atmosphere of oppression. I would argue that this oppression is the point of  the movie.

It is worth remembering that the overarching plot of the movie is that the Wallace Corporation is attempting to find the child of Rick Deckard and Rachael from the original movie. The Wallace Corporation is hoping to find a means of allowing Nexus 8, possibly Nexus 9, replicates to reproduce on their own without needing to be manufactured in a factory. These same Nexus 8 replicates are designed to comply with all orders given and it is strongly implied that Nexus 9 will have the same “feature.”

Fundamentally, Blade Runner 2049 addresses a similar plot as “Armitage III” in the sense it is about subverting natural reproduction between humans with agency into androids that are implied to lack agency. How problematic this plot is in Armitage III has been called out directly and the same issues been noted in Blade Runner 2049. So  it does not seem like a stretch to say that Blade Runner 2049 is an allegory of men co-opting the agency of women by putting reproduction into a controllable shell.

This raise several interesting questions though. One of which being, how should this be depicted? In Blade Runner 2049 they make it pretty clear that what the Wallace Corporation was trying to do was negative, oppressive, and evil. This is shown not only through the plot itself (i.e., members of the LAPD being murdered), the atmosphere of the film (e.g., strong use of shadow, sets with lots of negative space, etc.), and the interactions  between the characters. Others have argued that Blade Runner 2049 was sexist and misogynistic, but I think that was the point.

Niander Wallace, the head of Wallace Corporation, appears to only value human women for their reproductive abilities. He seeks to build “angels” who obey his command that are capable of reproduction without the need for factories. Despite philosophizing this under the guise of creating a new species that can rule the stars, the products of Wallace Corporation betray much more authoritarian and patriarchal notes. The Joi series of holograms are designed to give their users “Everything you want to hear. Everything you want to see.” Female Nexus 8 replicates follow the theme of the original “Blade Runner” of being “pleasure models.” Viewers witness the “birth” of what may be a Nexus 9, followed by its evisceration when Wallace is dissatisfied with the replicate’s womb. The Rachael replicate that is introduced to Deckard is coldly executed for not being able to live up to her designed purpose. In short, everything we know about Wallace’s character points at him seeking to subjugate women.

If we look at the relationship that K has for Joi in his home as a surrogate wife and friend, it has a veneer of being a loving relationship. However, the film also makes a point of highlighting advertisements for Joi on a regular basis. The viewer is being reminded that she is a product and we must question everything about the relationship. Recalling the tag line that Joi tells you “Everything you want to hear.” we are reminded that she tells K that he must be special and heavily implies that he is the child of Rachael and Deckard.  Not only is this subverted when we find out Dr. Ana Stelline the actual child, but that Joi might be programmed to reinforce this self-aggrandizing on the part of K. This is then underscored at the end the movie when we find out the name she gives him – Joe – is drawn from marking, “You look like a good Joe.” In short, the artificial ideal of the perfect housewife that can be found in Joi is shallow and built upon misogynistic ideals.

So returning to the question of how this should be depicted, if we concede the point that plot was inherently misogynistic, then I would submit for your consideration that you are limited in the stories you can tell. Off hand you either have one where everyone is happy with the situation (i.e., reinforcing a patriarchal world view), one with active rebellion against the status quo, or one where you play up the misogyny as an allegorical story of how bad it would be. The allegorical approach strikes me as the one that Blade Runner 2049 took. Granted they could have taken the story in the direction of open rebellion against Wallace Corporation, and it may say something about the patriarchal nature of Hollywood that they did not. However there is much more payoff in the conclusion when you know what the characters are fighting against.

In the real world it is not always that easy to see systems of oppression; however, in a movie like Blade Runner 2049 that can be brought to the forefront for the viewers. They may not immediately see the parallels to their own world, but if they walk out of the theater with a pit in their stomach then it might cause them to starting seeing it in their own world. The ending of Blade Runner 2049 sets the pieces for the replicates to rebel against Wallace and severs the ties to the original film. Views of a hypothetical “Blade Runner 2050” now know exactly who the players are and why they want to tear down the patriarchal Wallace Corporation and the systems that support it. Said viewers should also  see the parallels to their own world.

Are we living in a simulation? Maybe, but good luck proving it.

The idea is not new, but currently there is a bit of a buzz on the internet due to the article “No, we probably don’t live in a computer simulation” by Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder on the Backreaction blog. In it the author states the following:

The simulation hypothesis, as it’s called, enjoys a certain popularity among people who like to think of themselves as intellectual, believing it speaks for their mental flexibility. Unfortunately it primarily speaks for their lacking knowledge of physics.

Among physicists, the simulation hypothesis is not popular and that’s for a good reason – we know that it is difficult to find consistent explanations for our observations. After all, finding consistent explanations is what we get paid to do.

Proclaiming that “the programmer did it” doesn’t only not explain anything – it teleports us back to the age of mythology. The simulation hypothesis annoys me because it intrudes on the terrain of physicists. It’s a bold claim about the laws of nature that however doesn’t pay any attention to what we know about the laws of nature.

I suspect that part of the reason for the buzz is the author’s choice of language, but also because it is an interesting idea to think about. The whole concept of a simulated reality arguably traces back to the dream argument in philosophy. That has been around  which has been around since  Zhuang Zhou in the 4th century B.C. with the butterfly dream. Of course, essays like this tend to see responses like the one Gizmodo and “Think We’re Living in a Computer Simulation? Prove It.” To which my response is: can’t be done.

The biggest problem with arguments about a simulated reality is that ultimately they are unfalsifiable. This comes from Karl Popper and the epistemological theory of falsifiability and is discussed at length in “The Logic of Scientific Discovery.” In short, in order to properly test a theory, you need to be able to show that it can be false. The major problem with simulated reality is that you cannot develop an experiment that will prove (or disprove) that you are in a simulated reality! One argument is that an experiment could be developed that forces a glitch in the simulation. This would prove the simulation’s existence.  The argument against is that if the behavior is repeatable, you may have only uncovered a new natural law. Unless you know what the rules of the simulation are a priori you have no way of knowing it’s a glitch. Unfortunately without Out of Place Artifacts like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time it is unlikely we will have a clear indicator of something odd either.

Another problem with the augments for or against is that they make assumptions about how the simulation would be conducted. One common argument is that you would need massive amount of computing power to run the simulation. This is incorrect. The problem is not how fast the simulation runs, but how much storage is needed for the simulation state. To a resident of a simulation, they have no way to perceive the passage of time outside the simulation. So even if it takes several thousand years of “real time” to compute one second of the simulation, residents of the simulation will perceive only one second as having gone by. This does present some problems since the the hypercomputer may fail due to entropy long before the simulation is “complete” but again, the residents of the simulation would only be aware of the entropy of their own universe.

If you take the time to read though the comments on the post by Dr. Hossenfelder a lot of the commenters make comments about the unfalsifiability of the problem although some commenters fall into the trap about computing speed. Incomplete information seems to also be a problem. I suspect that most of the commenters are not at Dr. Hossenfelder’s level with regards to physics and comments reflect this. Ultimately, as a scientific argument this is a Kobayashi Maru since it can’t be won. As a philosophical argument, it’s fun but still can’t be won.