Looking at Blade Runner 2049 for Answers
Me and science-fiction – it’s a love affair! With passionate interests and autodidact studies in physics, quantum mechanics, and cognitive sciences, I also cannot imagine my life without literature, philosophy, spirituality, and of course, yoga. Hence, science fiction for me is a perfect combination of the scientific and the fictional, the logical and the abstract, the physical and the metaphysical. In my life, yoga brings the union of these complementary polarities.
Science-fiction is this very unique genre that creates intricate links and bridges between ideas, concepts, theories, in the process making us travel in time and space and question our morality, human values, and our place in the universe. I would argue that embarking on a true yoga path, or practicing all of the 8 Limbs of the Ashtanga Yoga, has the same effect.
A recent science-fiction hit, Blade Runner 2049, is a great example of the above mentioned. Taking place in the near future where “replicants”, impossible to differentiate from humans androids, are common-place and the humanity has to reap the fruit of their misdoings living in a post-apocalyptic world that is quite depressing, the film takes us on the journey from which you can come back a changed person. Talk about spiritual transformation in 2 hours and 44 minutes!
As I’m not a film critic, I am not going to talk about the successes and the failures behind the film’s cinematic language, the quality of the special effects, or the underlying elements of the storytelling. Instead, I’m interested in answering the main question posed by the film “What Makes Us Human?” by making references to the plot and the characters, connecting this all to the main concepts behind yoga and spirituality.
What Makes Us Human?
1. The Biological/Functional Narrative: on the most obvious level, what makes us different from “them” is the fact that we’re flesh and blood, and they are our artificially created copies.
In the film, the biological narrative is challenged: the story is based on the main character who is searching for an alleged child of a human and a “replicant”. The idea that the two can conceive a child promises to break out a war and cause chaos, something that should be prevented by terminating the “horrible mistake” or the “miracle”, depending on who you ask.
What does yoga tell us about our biology, or bodies? Most of the yoga and spiritual traditions tell us to respect and take care of our bodies as the functional vehicles that take us on a spiritual journey of existence. On the other hand, we’re ought to recognize the hidden truth: that we’re not our bodies but rather the organizing intelligence (consciousness) behind them, and therefore we should not OVERidentify ourselves with the physical existence, but look beyond it.
In the light of this, we cannot deny humanity to the androids simply because they are made from slightly different building blocks. If it comes to the situation where artificial life develops consciousness and finds ways to reproduce itself through whatever means, it is our job as human beings to honor that consciousness and provide it with equal rights in this game of life.
2. The Social/Relational Narrative: on a more complex level, the difference between biologically and artificially created intelligence is not functional but rather social/relational.
The story behind both the original movie, Blade Runner 1982, and the sequel, emphasizes the lack of perceived difference between the human and the “replicants”: they look like us, they act like us, and they make us feel as if they were humans too, to the extend that we fall in love with them both as the characters in the movie and the audience. The problem is that humanity conveniently prefers not to integrate the replicants into the society, denying them equal rights and privileges, insisting on exploiting them and treating them as objects to be acted upon, and not as subjects with their own independent agency and needs.
How does yoga teach us to relate to others? Building on the idea that we’re not our bodies, giving us the illusion of the separate little “me” (ego), yoga instructs us to adopt a type of ethical code of conduct (outlined in the yamas and niyamas, the first 2 Limbs of the Ashtanga Yoga) that is precisely based on the idea of the universal consciousness and interconnectedness, eliminating the concepts of “me” versus “other”, or “us” versus “them”.
In this context, we have to expand our awareness of the self and extend it over to other life [or artificial] forms that show the signs of consciousness (big or small), treating every intelligent element with acceptance, understanding, respect, fairness, and humanity. Each of the element has its purpose and role to play, and the role of the stronger one is to take care of the weaker one, for only working together in this way, do we stand a chance to survive and prosper.
3. The Philosophical/Spiritual Narrative: on the higher level still, what supposedly separates humans from androids is the philosophical/spiritual element
This element comes across as the “miracle” that the “replicants” speak about when they mention the child that came out of the human and android love. Blade Runner 2049, opens with the main character being sent on a mission to exterminate one of the older models that did not “conform”. When asked by his victim how it felt to kill one of his own kind, K replies: “I don’t retire my own kind, because we don’t run. I’m one of the older models too”, to which he gets a mysterious comment that later helps to change K’s whole world-view: “…That’s because you haven’t seen a miracle”.
Miracles, or mystical experiences, are an integral part of yoga and other spiritual traditions, and are known for their profound life-changing effects on the lives of those who experienced them. Such experiences can be spontaneous or caused (invited through self-practice or with the help of a spiritual guide), resulting in the subject’s necessity to re-think and re-organize their system of beliefs and values, changing their behavior and ways of relating to the world from the core.
The film thus shatters the last “obstacle” to accepting the androids as the candidates for a decent and meaningful co-existence among the biological species. If the replicants can be “spiritual”, they qualify to enter “the kingdom of heaven” (as some religious traditions would put it).
As a final remark I would like to conclude that I’m not particularly looking forward to a point in the history of humanity, where we would have to deal with the problems outlined by the movie. I would much rather imagine a future where we could prevent some of the horrors depicted: environmental degradation, loss of species, radioactive pollution, corporate autocracy, harsh living conditions, societal injustice, headhunting for “non-conformists”, loss of human dignity and meaningful social bonds. I think that each one of us has a responsibility and a role to play in order to steer towards a better future. Practicing yoga and other mindfulness techniques that expand our consciousness and make us into more “humane” creatures should be encouraged, practices, and spread.
Blade Runner 2049 Trailer