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Book Review: The Specter of the Monolith

There are two kinds of philosophical books: ones that I can easily follow and ones that take a lot of concentration. Barry Vacker’s “Specter of the Monolith” belongs to the former. And I became a little more knowledgeable about the state of humanity.

Vacker takes us through quite a journey in space exploration and pop culture. I will just provide some highlights.

Vacker brings two important space photographs to our attention. First is “Earthrise,” a photo from Apollo 8 of our planet as it is appearing over the moon’s horizon. Second is “Pale Blue Dot,” a photo from Voyager 1 of our planet 6 billion kilometers away. Both photos demonstrate that our planet is just a small and insignificant speck of the universe.

Vacker brings us a whole whack of pop culture and aligns it with our former and current state of space exploration. I will just bring in two movies to this essay.

First is “Planet of the Apes.” I think I rewatched this movie about a decade ago. Beyond the clever monkey suits, I thought it was just another b-movie. Mediocre acting and mediocre storyline. I could not understand why it had the popularity it had. But Vacker explained to me that there is a well-constructed philosophical base for this story: the regression of humanity.

The second movie I will bring up is “Space Odyssey 2001.” Again, it has been a long time since I watched this one. While I thought it was cool, I could not see the philosophy its writers and directors tried to convey. The latter parts of the movie, with Dave the astronaut going through some psychedelic maze, were totally lost on me. Just a cheap excuse to implement the special effects of that time, I thought. As well, I did not understand the popularity of this movie until Vacker explained the underlying philosophy.

Before I get into these four items of pop culture, I can say that I clearly remember them all. Yet they failed to generate the awe and wonder that Vacker believes they had instilled in other people at that time. Maybe because I was only around 10 years old at this time. But I don’t recall these items being all that special. 

Despite my inability to grasp the significance of the two photographs and two movies, Vacker claims these four icons triggered an immense awakening of humanity’s consciousness of our role on this planet and in this universe. We started realizing that there really is more than just our planet out there. And we are just a small part. It seems logical that we should continue on the quest of space exploration. But we turned back, starting with the shutdown of the Apollo moon landing programs. Vacker states:

That’s part of the irony of the post-Apollo culture. We discovered a majestic and mind-blowing universe, erased it from our consciousness, and then pretend to be center of it all. It’s cognitive accelerations and reversal happening at the same time

Yes, we have continued with space exploration. But really, have we?

Let’s ask today’s youth what is more important: Neil Armstrong’s moon walk or Michael Jackson’s moon walk? Maybe it’s better we don’t ask that question.

Vacker clearly establishes that our rate of space exploration is not related to money. For example, in 2015:

1) NASA’s budget was $18b.

2) Pentagon’s budget was $554b.

3) USA consumers spent $60b on cosmetics.

4) Apple Computers, just one corporation, had a profit of $20b.

It really isn’t about money, is it? Rather, it is a question of priorities. And Vacker gives us his reasons for why we, the people, are pulling on the reins to hold back space exploration. For that reason, you should read his book. He will make you think!

Published on Medium 2020


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