Film: The Man From Earth

This 2007 film by director Richard Schenkman is based on a story by the late Jerome Bixby, the author of many excellent science fiction stories (as well as some Star Trek classics). I highly recommend this movie as one that “makes you think.”

On the surface, the film is a fascinating exploration of how people approach a wild story that is very hard to believe, and how the individuals process the fantastic information and come to their own conclusions. It is also about faith, trust, friendship, personal relationships and even jealousy.

But this is not a movie review. You can certainly learn a whole lot more about this movie on my favorite source of cinema information, IMDB.com. (A word of advice: see the film first, before viewing the commentary. In fact, the DVD has two commentaries – in my opinion, the one narrated by the author’s son and a principal actor is the better one.)

The purpose of this article is to discuss an aspect of the film that I found to be profoundly interesting. It raised a question that is seldom asked, and provokes further discussion.

This question the film poses is: “Can you ever prove to others that anything about you is absolutely true?”

If I say that I as born in New York City, what actual “proof” is there? A birth certificate, the testimony of parents, attending doctors… we take these “facts” to be proof. But documents can be forged (with ever more sophisticated methods), memories fail, loved ones and witnesses die. With the advent of digital imaging, even photographs are no longer the certain “proof” that here appeared to be only a decade ago. The actual indisputable information resides in only one place: the individual’s own mind.

So far, there is no reliable method of reading the contents of one’s mind, although a host of scientists are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (F-MRI) to attempt to do this in real time. In fact, CBS network’s 60 Minutes recently had a (rather simplistic) segment dedicated to this exact topic. Until the time that such “mind reading” becomes commonplace (and there are a lot of people who hope that day never comes), we just have to take a person’s word for the accuracy of the information they provide. Or can we even do that?

Of course, this begs the question as to what the nature of reality is… which will be the subject of many additional posts here in the future.

In the meantime, give some thought to how many times you are certain that you know what another person is thinking… and then, think again.