Sunday, April 23, 2017

Waking Up

I watched the movie Passengers last night on Blu-Ray. The movie concerns a mechanic, played by Chris Pratt, one of 5000 space colonists on a 120 year voyage to the (literally) New World, who wakes up from hypersleep 90 years prematurely.

The movie makes a big show of Chris Pratt agonizing over his dilemma, so as to build audience sympathy for his ultimate decision. He waits a year before waking Jennifer Laurence from hypersleep, and he does it out of some particularized deep connection to her video profile and the kind of person he imagines her to be.

I wouldn't have waited a year. I don't mean to make light of the dilemma when I say this; it would be a crappy thing to do to someone, and I would totally do it as soon as I despaired of either putting myself back in hypersleep or waking a crew member who could do it for me. And, because I'm a rat-bastard apparently, I wouldn't pick Jennifer Laurence just because I randomly noticed her hyper-sleeping figure as I was wandering the spaceship. Rather, I would go through every one of the 2500 female profiles to pick the most suitable companion for spending the rest of my natural life aboard a luxury spaceliner.

However, though I might be unconstrained by ethics, I would probably be constrained a more practical consideration: as Mrs. Φ helpfully reminded me, how many girls would throw themselves out the airlock before I found one that would want to be with me. More generally, after I had roused a candidate and fully explained the situation, what would be the probability that I would receive one of the following responses:

  • I have a boyfriend.
  • I play for the other team.
  • I think of you as a brother.
  • I can do better. [Wakes up Chris Pratt.]
  • Where's the airlock?

If numbers one or two were true, I could screen for it in the video profiles. If number three turned out to be true, it would be pretty frustrating, but perhaps not intolerable, especially at my age (late 40s). Number five would depress the heck out of me, but I would eventually get over it and try again.

The possibility of number four is where the game theory gets interesting. Whatever its probability, it would be constrained by the newly awakened male passenger having the same set of options, likewise constrained by the options available to whomever he wakes up. And so it goes . . .

It is an interesting thought experiment to consider how the story plays out if the roles were reversed: what if Jennifer Lawrence woke up first? I ask this not to accuse Hollywood of sexism, but to highlight the dynamics at play. For instance, it is easy to imagine a man getting lonely to the point of despondency; would a woman? Similarly, men nurse infatuation with women based on mere appearance all the time; this is far less common for women. Consider as well the position of the person awakened. We the audience knew it was bad for Pratt to basically chose the course of the balance of Lawrence's life for her without her consent, and her palpable anger when she discovers this has some resonance (even though we're pretty confident they will be back together before the credits roll). But would we have the same sympathy for a man's anger? Or would we expect a man to reason that spending your life aboard a cruise ship with a cute(ish) woman who wants to be with you is hardly the worst outcome imaginable.

All of which is to say that empathy isn't much use in calculating the probabilities of the responses above. Sure, at some threshold of obesity, the woman who woke me up wouldn't be acceptable even as the only sex partner available, but even if that threshold were to be crossed by someone who qualified for the space program, her companionship would still keep me from Opening Hypersleep Pod Number Two.

I sought the consult of the distaff members of my household, but they weren't especially helpful. Mrs. Φ was just as inclined to wake up a dozen people as she would Chris Pratt alone. My elder daughter (disturbingly) thought the airlock would be a rational choice under the circumstances, and was (reassuringly) trepidatious at the prospect of "doing that forever". (My younger daughter ventured no opinion at all.)

Somewhere I once read: "Women are like WiFi and men are like Bluetooth, because women connect to the strongest signal, whereas men connect to the closest." It would seem difficult to be out-signaled by a catatonic stranger, but I'd hate to be the guy that manages it. For instance, what if the person I picked just so happened to have an engaging conversation with someone just before going under; it wouldn't be in her profile, but it might get her imagining waking up with him on the other side. What kind of temptation would that present?

If I had any female readers, I'd ask them.

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