Monolith Mind Map

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This isn't actually a mind map (though that would be cool!). Just a little brainstorm/snippet grab bag on 2001: A Space Odyssey ...

From Wikipedia:

Monoliths are advanced machines built by an unseen extraterrestrial species that appear in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey series of novels and films.

During the series, four monoliths are discovered in the solar system by humans and it is revealed that thousands if not more were created throughout the solar system, although none are seen. The subsequent response of the characters to their discovery drives the plot of the series. It also influences the fictional history of the series, particularly by encouraging humankind to progress with technological development and space travel.

The first monolith appears in the beginning of the story, set in prehistoric times. It is discovered by a group of hominids, and somehow triggers a considerable shift in evolution, starting with the ability to use tools.

The monolith appearing is an auspicious event. It only occurs during times of planetary alignment-- if you notice, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, every time the monolith is encountered there is a celestial alignment of some sort. When it is discovered on the moon, we see a solar eclipse with the earth blocking the sun, as seen from the moon. Beautiful, and stunning given the technology available at the time.

The Singularity, Artificial Intelligence and Cosmic Consciousness

Artificial intelligence is a theme of 2001, as it introduced probably the most familiar and most-imitated AI of all time, HAL 9000.

HAL's iconic camera eye.
HAL's iconic camera eye

HAL, which is rotated one letter off from IBM (ostensibly an unintentional coincidence), is found to be self-aware and deviating from its pre-programmed script. HAL sneakily begins killing off crew members until "he" is famously disconnected in a scene which is both touching and frightening. HAL sings a children's song he learned when he was "growing up" and being taught to speak. As he "dies", the song gets slower and more slurred until it stops entirely. A touching and altogether haunting moment.

Symbolically, HAL associates with the self, which has an air of "otherness", and also because of its circular mandala shape and 'all seeing eye' association. Also, given that HAL is 'everywhere everywhen' on the space ship, the pervading consciousness of HAL 9000 definitely indicates the self to me.

But, given the sterile future environs of 2001 depicted in the eponymous film, HAL's "self" isn't very healthy. The extremely calm, clear, dry manner of speaking is so disaffected it's downright creepy. The sterile environment depicted in the film is perhaps a warning to humanity not to become too overwrought with technology that we lose touch with natural processes, and not to become too dependant on computers and assisted technology. Or it could be seen as a sort of guilt for enslaving computers ... I know it sounds odd, but computers are getting anthropomorphised to a greater extent all the time and it isn't out of the question for someone to feel bad for mistreating their computer.

Megalithic Structures
The monolith associates with megalithic structures such as StoneHenge and the like.

Megalithic structures have been hypothesized to be of alien origin, or at the very least, a product of advanced technology, whatever the source.

Megalithic structures also tie into celestial events, eclipses, alignments and ritual transformation events occuring at auspicious times.

On the origins of the monolith
From Wikipedia ...

The extraterrestrial species that built the monoliths are never described in much detail but some knowledge of their existence is granted to Dave Bowman after he is transported by the stargate to the 'cosmic zoo', as detailed in the novel versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: Odyssey Two. The existence of this species is only hypothesized by the rest of humanity but is obvious because the monolith is immediately identified as an artifact of non-human origin.

The extraterrestrial species that built the monoliths achieved Intergalactic travel millions or perhaps billions of years before the present. In the novels, Clarke refers to them as the "Firstborn" as they were quite possibly the first sentient race to achieve widespread interstellar travel. They explored the galaxy with the intent of acquiring knowledge, especially of other intelligent life.

While they discovered that life was very common, they observed that intelligent life was often stunted in its development or died out prematurely and so they set about promoting it. The "Firstborn" were in many ways physically different from humanity, though taken another way they were fundamentally the same, in that they were creatures made of "flesh and blood", and thus like humans they were mortal. However, the evolutionary development projects they began would by their very nature require time spans to complete that were far greater than the lifetimes of their mortal creators. Therefore, the aliens created increasingly complex automated machines to oversee and carry out their projects over long time periods. When they encountered a living world that was favourable for the evolution of intelligence, they left behind monoliths as remote observers that were also capable of taking a variety of actions according to the wishes of their creators. The monoliths are possibly the last remaining (and ultimate) technology they ever devised. One such planet, encountered when it was still quite young, was the Earth, as well as (later) Jupiter and Europa. The aliens left behind three monoliths to observe and enact a very intricate plan to promote the human race (and later the nascent Europans) to pursue technology and space travel.

Eventually, the Firstborn discovered how to ingrain their consciousnesses into computers, and became a race of Thinking Machines. Ultimately, they surpassed even this achievement, and became able to convert their physical forms into a non-corporeal form - omniscient, immortal and capable of traveling at great speed, the Lords of the Galaxy. The Firstborn had abandoned physical form, but their creations, the monoliths, remained, and continued to carry out the experiments they had originally been tasked with.

We see the result of this machine, created by the "Firstborn", after the final encounter with a monolith in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey:

The Star Child looking at the Earth
The Star Child looking at the Earth

A caption reads "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”. Dave now encounters the monolith and while coming up to it, he finds himself suddenly traveling through a “Star Gate” across vast distances of space at great speed watching a large variety of strange astronomical phenomena. He eventually finds himself inside a room containing Louis XVI-style decor. He repeatedly sees future versions of himself. Each time this occurs the POV switches to the later Dave. We eventually are brought to an elderly and dying Dave Bowman lying on the bed. At the foot of the bed, a similar monolith appears. It transforms him into a fetus-like being enclosed in a transparent orb of light, the “Star-Child”. The film suddenly returns to space near the Moon and Earth. The Star Child gazes at Earth while floating in space, while we hear "Thus Spake Zarathustra". Thus the film ends in a way that echoes the beginning. [2]

Interestingly, the star child appears somewhat like a grey alien.

One way to look at this is that the film represents the birth of cosmic consciousness, or evolution of the human mind to gain a new level of self awareness.

Interestingly, aliens often appear in dreams as a way of signifying "otherness", or those aspects of the self which the ego does not self-identify with. The reptile appearance can be associated as an archetype of something non-human, along with the plant and insect realms. I forget where I read this, but it has been postulated that the archetypal symbolism behind grey aliens is an image of the conditions humanity is facing right now by giving too much weight to dry, calculating, intellectual, reductionist logic and spending too little time on emotion and more human attributes.

More on HAL
HAL is such an interesting character in the film. Simultaneously one of the most conversational, but also dry and disaffected. Everyone else talks in a monotone, coming across somewhat gruff and insensitive. HAL is simultaneously of genius level intelligence, and also child-like, innocent and naive.

Here's some HAL-trivia (mostly thanks to Wikipedia):

  • In the Stargate:Atlantis Episode, "The Intruder", a similar shot of the iconic HAL Camera, is seen as an alien virus takes control of the Tau'ri Spacecraft Daedalus The virus portrays many of the same characteristics as HAL; most notably, the virus itself is an AI.
  • In the film Independence Day, when David Levinson opens up his laptop onboard the captured alien spaceship, HAL's interface camera is shown and the laptop says in HAL's voice, "Good Morning, Dave".
So, HAL is in good company. Stargate:Atlantis, two charged highly symbolic words, features a throwback to 2001, which features perhaps one of the most well-known and iconic stargate sequences ever put to celluloid. Independence Day, well there is quite a bit about that film going the synchosphere, but I haven't seen it since it came out in the theaters originally, so I won't comment for the time being.

  • In the 2008 Pixar animated film WALL-E, the main villain and starship Axiom's Autopilot "Auto" has a glowing red camera, also WALL-E's pet cockroach is named Hal.

    Related article which goes into some Wall-E stuff (haven't seen the movie myself):

    World Trade Galactic Centre

Miscellaneous HAL links:

Secret Sun post on 2001 (Thanks Dedroidify!)

The Monolith first appears among the ape-men at sunrise.

The Monolith is then shot from below as a truncated pyramid with the ‘all-seeing eye’ of the Sun at it’s peak. Atop the Sun is a crescent Moon.

When the Monolith transmits the piercing signal in the pit at Clavius, the earlier pyramidical motif identifying it with the sun is repeated, only this time the crescent is of the Earth.


What does it all mean?

I don't know, but here's a Gnostic interpretation that's pretty fun:

Alchemical Kubrick - 2001: The Great Work On Film

Reading through many critical reviews of the film I find it amazing that no one understands what is happening. There are some very erudite explanations that do cover parts of the plot, yet no one really gets it. A description in a movie guide calls it a 'science fiction drama about a computer who takes over a spaceship'. This is like saying that the works of art on the ceiling at Sistine Chapel are 'some paintings about the Bible'.
So what is Kubrick's interpretation, then?
In an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, Stanley Kubrick stated, "On the deepest psychological level the film's plot symbolizes the search for God, and it finally postulates what is little less than a scientific definition of God [...] The film revolves around this metaphysical conception and the realistic hardware and the documentary feelings about everything were necessary in order to undermine your built-in resistance to the poetical concept."[6]

Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical tract Thus Spoke Zarathustra, about the potential of mankind, is directly referenced by the use of Richard Strauss's musical piece of the same name[6]. Nietzsche writes that "man is a bridge between the apes and the Supermen; a laughing stock".[7] In an article in the New York Times, Kubrick gave credence to interpretations of 2001 based on Zarathustra when he said: "Man is the missing link between primitive apes and civilised human beings. Man is really in a very unstable condition."
Another interesting interpretation, the conception allegory:

Some writers describe 2001 as an allegory of human conception, birth and death.

New Zealand journalist Scott MacLeod who sees parallels between the spaceship's journey and the physical act of conception. Thus we have the long, bulb-headed spaceship as a sperm, and the destination planet Jupiter (or the monolith floating near it) as the egg, and the meeting of the two as the trigger for the growth of a new race of man (the "star child"). The lengthy pyrotechnic light show witnessed by David Bowman, which has puzzled many reviewers, is seen by MacLeod as Kubrick's attempt at visually depicting the moment of conception, when the "star child" comes into being.[8]

These sexual themes are further reinforced by the Freudian references and motifs throughout the film. Note the similarity between the names "Dr. Floyd" and Dr. Freud." In the Dr.'s board-room speech he suggests that the truth about the the monolith must be hidden from the public at large due to the hysteria it may cause, and suggests a proper "cover-story" to conceal the seemingly irrational reality of extraterrestrial life. The irrationality of man is central to the works of both Freud and Nietzsche. This theme is perhaps best demonstrated by the final part of the movie in which Stanley Kubrick opted for a much more enigmatic and surreal representation, as though to say such an experience would necessarily be beyond the possibility of literal depiction, and as his comments regarding the ending indicate, may also be beyond rational comprehension but owe their meaning to the visceral experience itself.

Taking the allegory further, MacLeod argues that the final scenes in which Bowman appears to see a rapidly aging version of himself through a "time warp" is actually Bowman witnessing the withering and death of his own species. The old race of man is about to be replaced by the "star child", which was conceived by the meeting of the spaceship and Jupiter. MacLeod also sees irony in man as a creator (of Hal) on the brink of being usurped by his own creation. Thus, by destroying Hal, man symbolically rejects his role as creator and steps back from the brink of his own destruction.[8]

Similarly, in his book, The Making Of Kubrick's 2001, author Jerome Agel puts forward the interpretation that Discovery One represents both a body (with vertebrae) and a sperm cell, with Bowman being the "life" in the cell which is passed on. In this interpretation, Jupiter represents both a female and an ovum.[9]

Another interpretation (Thanks Wikipedia!):

Wheat's triple allegory

An extremely complex three-level allegory is seen by Leonard F. Wheat in his book, Kubrick's 2001: A Triple Allegory. Wheat states that, "Most... misconceptions (of the film) can be traced to a failure to recognize that 2001 is an allegory - a surface story whose characters, events, and other elements symbolically tell a hidden story... In 2001's case, the surface story actually does something unprecedented in film or literature: it embodies three allegories." According to Wheat, the three allegories are:

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical tract, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which is signaled by the use of Richard Strauss's music of the same name. Wheat notes the passage in Zarathustra describing mankind as a rope dancer balanced between an ape and the √úbermensch, and argues that the film as a whole enacts an allegory of that image.
  2. Homer's epic poem The Odyssey, which is signaled in the film's title. Wheat notes, for example, that the name "Bowman" may refer to Odysseus, whose story ends with a demonstration of his prowess as an archer. He also follows earlier scholars in connecting the one-eyed HAL with the Cyclops, and notes that Bowman kills HAL by inserting a small key, just as Odysseus blinds the Cyclops with a stake.[8] Wheat argues that the entire film contains references to almost everything that happens to Odysseus on his travels; for example, he interprets the four spacecraft seen orbiting the Earth immediately after the ape sequence as representing Hera, Athena, Aphrodite and Paris, the protagonists of the Judgment of Paris, which begins the events of Homer's Odyssey.
  3. Arthur C. Clarke's theory of the future symbiosis of man and machine, expanded by Kubrick into what Wheat calls "a spoofy three-evolutionary leaps scenario": ape to man, an abortive leap from man to machine, and a final, successful leap from man to 'Star Child'.[8]

Wheat often uses anagrams as evidence to support his theories. For example, of the name Heywood R. Floyd, he writes "He suggests Helen - Helen of Troy. Wood suggests wooden horse - the Trojan Horse. And oy suggests Troy." Of the remaining letters, he suggests "Y is Spanish for and. R, F, and L, in turn, are in ReFLect." Finally, noting that D can stand for downfall, Wheat concludes that Floyd's name has a hidden meaning: "Helen and Wooden Horse Reflect Troy's Downfall".[8]

Interpretations of the Monolith

As with many elements of the film, the iconic monolith has been subject to countless interpretations, including religious, historical, and evolutionary. To some extent, the very way in which it appears and is presented allows the viewer to project onto it all manner of ideas relating to the film. The Monolith in the movie seems to represent and even trigger epic transitions in the history of human evolution, evolution of man from ape-like beings to beyond infinity, hence the odyssey of mankind.[10][11]

Each time the monolith is shown, man transcends to a different level of cognition, and link the primeval, futuristic and mystic segments of the film:[12]

  1. The first appearance of the monolith occurs at the threshold of the invention of tool and the beginning of language to form groups in order to defend a particular group against another. The first killing in the movie occurs here.
  2. After 4 million years but this time on the Moon. This begins the transition between ape-like man and a time traveler is embedded between the appearances of the monolith. The second killing (Poole) occurs here. After David Bowman disconnects HAL, the killing ceases.
  3. Between Jupiter and beyond. David Bowman transcends through the monolith (represented as time itself) to break down the traditional concept of life and meaning.
  4. Last scene further evolves man as he emerges as an embryo that looks back at earth from which it arose and evolved.

In the most literal narrative sense, as found in the concurrently written novel, the Monolith is a tool, an artifact of an alien civilization. It comes in many sizes and appears in many places, always in the purpose of advancing intelligent life. Arthur C. Clarke has referred to it as "the alien Swiss Army Knife";[13] or as Heywood Floyd speculates in 2010, "an emissary for an intelligence beyond ours. A shape of some kind for something that has no shape."

The fact that the first tool used by the protohumans is a weapon to commit murder is only one of the challenging evolutionary and philosophic questions posed by the film. The tool's link to the present day is made by the famous graphic match from the bone/tool flying into the air, to a satellite containing nuclear weapons orbiting the earth. At the time of the movie's making, the space race was in full swing, and the use of space and technology for war and destruction was seen as a great challenge of the future.[14]

But the use of tools also allowed mankind to survive and flourish over the next 4 million years, at which point the monolith makes its second appearance, this time on the Moon. Upon lunar sunrise, when the monolith is exposed to sunlight for the first time since its placement, it emits a powerful radio signal -- the destination of which becomes Discovery One's mission.

The monolith on the moon greets the sun for the first time in four million years.  It is "calling home" to say, in effect, "they're here!"
The monolith on the moon greets the sun for the first time in four million years. It is "calling home" to say, in effect, "they're here!"

In reading Clarke, or Kubrick's comments, this is the most straightforward of the monolith's appearances. It is "calling home" to say, in effect, "they're here!" Some species visited long ago has not only evolved intelligence, but intelligence sufficient to achieve space travel. Humanity has left its cradle, and is ready for the next step. This is the point of connection with Clarke's earlier short story,The Sentinel, originally cited as the basis for the entire film.

The third time we see a monolith, it is a far larger iteration, floating in space near Jupiter. Silently, Bowman takes a pod out toward the monolith, and disappears into it. As it marks the beginning of the film's most cryptic and psychedelic sequence, interpretations of the last two monolith appearances are as varied as the film's viewers. Is it a "star gate," some giant cosmic router or transporter? Are all of these visions happening inside Bowman's mind? And why does he wind up in some cosmic hotel suite at the end of it?[12]

According to Michael Hollister in his book "Hollyworld", the path beyond the infinite is introduced by the vertical alignment of planets and moons with a perpendicular monolith forming a cross, as if the astronaut is about to become a new savior. Bowman lives out his years alone in a brightly lit neoclassical room that evokes the Age of Enlightenment, decorated with classical art.[15]

As Bowman passes through his life in this neoclassical room, the monolith makes its final appearance: standing at the end of his bed as he approaches death. he raises a finger toward the monolith, a gesture that alludes to the Michelangelo painting of The Creation of Adam, with the monolith representing God.[16]

Interpretations of HAL

One interesting aspect of HAL's plight is that he, as the supposedly perfect computer, actually behaves in the most human fashion of all of the characters. He has reached human intelligence levels, and seems to have developed human traits of paranoia, jealousy and other emotions. By contrast, the human characters act like machines, coolly performing their tasks in a mechanical fashion, whether they are mundane tasks of operating their craft or even under extreme duress as Dave must be following HAL's murder of Frank. For instance, Frank Poole watches a birthday transmission from his parents with what appears to be complete apathy.

Another view is that HAL does not break down at all. HAL is programmed to act perfectly and does so to the degree of exploiting human error to win the chess game and purposely misdiagnosing the AE35 unit in order to kill the humans and remove the only possible sources of error.

Miscellany and trivia:

The Milenium Hilton hotel was built to represent the 2001 monolith. This building was physically right next to the World Trade Center and present during 9/11, ostensibly synching in with stargates (according to Jake Kotze and others).

This could be totally random but both the PS2 and PS3 remind me of the monolith when in their upright form.

On New Years Day 2001, a replica of the Monolith made out of welded steel appeared on a hill in Seattle's Magnuson Park, apparently having been placed there during the night before. It disappeared overnight three days later.[1]

Posted by Jonah Dempcy at 3:26 AM  


Anonymous said...
June 17, 2010 at 2:22 PM  

Very Interesting Post thank you,
thought you might enjoy my machinima film on Kubric's Monolith
Best Wishes ~

Celestial Elf said...
March 20, 2011 at 1:35 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dhatz said...
August 6, 2012 at 6:05 AM  

are you kidding me what's with the deleted pics?
also due to missing evo link it is more than probable we are alien GMO.

Incidentally I read the BOOK for school and the movie had many simplifications and missing segemnts like the other "monolith" on Europa which is in fact a passage that takes him to an enormous collection of unknown spaceships in unknown part of space involving what I think was artificial star.
That to me means that all paths lead to one point which is the integration with truth.

It would sound like advertising if there was profit involved, but check [WhatOnEarthIsHappening com] if you value truth and integrity.

Dhatz said...
August 6, 2012 at 6:26 AM  

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