A review of ‘Interstellar’ (2014)

Interstellar (2014) movie poster

I haven’t had the privilege of seeing a comet in the sky. It’s not a terrible misfortune, as comets that are bright enough to be seen by casual observation, the Great ones, are rare phenomenon. Yet I’d very much like to see these celestial objects because they embody astronomical wonder. Their fierce streak and brilliant tails have brought awe and terror to people throughout history: they have been seen as omens of the death of kings, or the conquest of countries.

But astronomers, beginning in the Middle Ages, looked up at these objects and decided to study them, patiently tracking them through the years and performing calculations on their appearances. They speculated, and made observations to support their theories. They explained the legendary appearances as natural fact. Centuries later, and we now have scientific organizations sending their instruments right to the hearts of such heavenly objects.

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Dunbar’s number, twenty-fourteen, and other accounting

Neighbors' doors

In the social sciences there is a hypothesis, popularly known as Dunbar’s number, which holds that there is a limit to the number of people an individual can maintain meaningful relationships with, which is approximately 150. According to its proponent, anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.” Interestingly, this number has been supported by observations in society: it is the size of hunter-gatherer clans, Western military units throughout history, and the offices of firms with nonhierarchical organizational structures, among others.

I was reminded of this concept in my recollection of the year 2014. It was a year of significant change for me: I graduated from university, starting working at a corporate job, and relocated to a city across the metropolis. The people I see on a day-to-day basis now is a very much different set of faces from those I was used to seeing earlier in the year.

Dunbar’s number is fascinating because it is a scientific formulation of the common-sense knowledge that we can have only so many friends. Dunbar, who came up with the statistic for humans by studying other primates and then correlating the brain sizes of species with their corresponding social group sizes, delivered a concrete number to account for social circles. It converted the questionable activity of counting one’s friends into a legitimate matter of economics. (In fact, in relation to Dunbar’s number, social scientists use such terms as ‘social capital’.)

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Things we share

It felt bizarre when I met my officemates for the first time. Fresh out of college and into my first job, I had the uncomfortable feeling that, somehow, I already knew them.

It wasn’t a mystical intuition. It was not the chilling insight of déjà vu, no; I didn’t have the supernatural insight that I have met them before in a previous life. But over trainings, meetings, and lunches, I was surprised that I found nothing surprising about them. I felt like they’ve already shared with me their intimate beliefs, when they haven’t; I felt like I could already describe what their friends were like, when I really couldn’t. And even at a gathering over abundant alcohol, when I most expected to see the unexpected from them, I saw and heard nothing of note.

Is it possible that I have met enough people in my life that I’ve come to know all the varieties of personality traits that there are? Are all my new and future acquaintances merely amalgamations, mixtures in different proportions, of all the habits and manners and human characteristics that there are, and of which I’ve already seen everything?

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Popes

There was a surprising little exhibit this week at Gateway Mall in Quezon City. The lobby hosting the show is not a particularly impressive space; unlike, say, the foyer of Mall of Asia in Pasay City, the area of the exhibit is less of an intentionally defined architectural feature and more of an accidentally wide opening that the building’s architects found themselves creating when they set the structure’s width. What the floor space lacks in definition, it makes up for in subtle decoration—the tiles possess a luxuriant specular sheen that sets itself apart from the usually drab flooring of less prestigious malls.

The building’s upscale accents are still not enough, however, to entirely conceal the occasion’s dissonance. There on display at the lobby were relics of soon-to-be-canonized Pope John Paul II, surrounded by writeups on his life and photographs of his visits to the Philippines. There were even kneelers, because maybe some of the faithful would be so touched by the items on display that they would be moved to pray right there, in front of all the curious and unexpecting mall-goers, to venerate the artifacts of the beloved pope. I was reminded of Pharisees beating their chests in the temple of Jerusalem, and I just hovered at the fringes of the exhibit, content with perusing the distinctly aged photos.

Pope John Paul II relics exhibit at Gateway Mall

I’m still not completely comfortable with Mass being held in commercial centers—I have questions of sincerity and ‘quality’—what more with this exhibit of revered relics in what is perhaps the foot-traffic epicenter of the metropolis. Thankfully the photos on display, as if they heard my concerns, assured me that there is a rather important historical basis for the venue of the exhibit.

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On the verge of real

I’m currently living in the neighborhood of what is called one of life’s milestones. It’s also a place someone has called a pre-departure area. I’m about to graduate from college.

I’m bracing myself for all the changes that society associates with these personal eras of transition. I expect quite a number of my living parameters to swing to new lows and new highs: amount of free time, financial dependence, and the importance of doing homework, among other things. We lose some things and gain others. It’s okay, they say, because change is simply always bittersweet. But what they don’t tell us is that it’s more of bitter at first, and the sweetness is only an aftertaste—because the pain of losing is stronger than the joy of gaining.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what people mean when they say that to enter the working world is to enter the real world, which is a phrase that I’ve always complained about. It’s as if they want to say that school is an illusionary world. Of course I haven’t really worked (the sum total of my full-time working experience is the one month of internship I took last summer), and I don’t have the age and experience to have any certainty about the meanings and contingencies of being a working person. But I realized that I’ve been grasping the wrong sense of ‘reality’.

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