Science Corner: A Vision of Science

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Would we be as comfortable with Apple Watches if Siri sounded like James Spader? (Photo by Yasunobu Ikeda )

Note: This is a spoiler-free comment on Avengers: Age of Ultron. If you have seen any trailers for the film or are at all familiar with the character of Ultron, none of this should be news.

Assuming a single weekend doesn’t allow for many repeat viewings, roughly 25 million people in the US alone have already seen Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s hard to imagine any other science topics getting wider exposure. Films like this are great opportunities to glimpse how the broader public approaches various scientific topics, both because the writers likely represent the general population and because the films themselves can shape perspectives.

Ultron, the main antagonist, is a sentient robot, so naturally the film highlights the role of technology in our lives and the limits (or lack thereof) on what computers and algorithms can do. This leads fairly naturally to questions about what makes us human, which in turn bring up evolution. Given the wide reach of this film and how significant evolution is to the public conversation on religion, the perspective provided by the film is likely to have at least a small impact on that conversation.

In fact, the film seems fairly self-aware of its place in the conversation on religion. The Bible is quoted directly at least once and explicitly referenced several other times. Since writer/director Joss Whedon identifies as a secular humanist, his perspective may be different than some of yours. Personally, that doesn’t scare me; I am glad for the opportunity to know what Whedon thinks and appreciate his willingness to share it even when many are unsettled by atheistic points of view.

If this type of film holds any interest for you, I’d highly recommend seeing it. In addition to advancing the public discussion on scientific and religious topics, it is also a fun and exciting film that brought me a lot of joy. If you do see it, come back at the end of the month for a more in-depth discussion of its themes (and some gushing about the amazing visual storytelling).

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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