# Science review of the movie Contact?

## Main Question or Discussion Point

I’m curious as to what you guys thought of the movie Contact. How well does it stand up to science and physics?

## Answers and Replies

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jedishrfu
Mentor
I don't know how well it stands up to science per se but I really liked it and the book more for its social commentary. One thing that resonated with me was the tension between science and religion that the movie presented and how fanatics could go to any length to destroy in the name of religion.

The movie used the 18 hours of blank tape as proof of her traveling to the distant world whereas the book used the computer finding the image of a circle in the digits of $\pi$. Personally, I liked the circle in $\pi$ idea because that was more profound and pleasing solution.

Interesting about the computer. I think that’s better, too. I never read the book. I might do that. Yes, the religious factor was interesting. I was also intrigued by the conflict between science and government. It reminded me of how Oppenheimer was treated; the big egos that surrounded the whole thing.

mfb
Mentor
I'm not sure. How could you have an influence on digits of pi? It is a mathematical constant that doesn't depend on the physical laws in our universe.
Or do I misunderstand what the book did? I just saw the movie.

pinball1970
Gold Member
I’m curious as to what you guys thought of the movie Contact. How well does it stand up to science and physics?
If it is the Jodie Foster one then awesome. Not seen the other one (2018)

@jedishfru

It irritated me her camera only recorded static, if it was a stand-alone device why would it pick only static up?

Transmitting information remotely back to mission control through a worm hole would probably be an issue but I can’t see why bog standard images and videos could not be used on Vega

If it is the Jodie Foster one then awesome. Not seen the other one (2018)

Is there a new Contact movie coming in 2018?? Contact 1997 is a great movie!

jedishrfu
Mentor
I'm not sure. How could you have an influence on digits of pi? It is a mathematical constant that doesn't depend on the physical laws in our universe.
Or do I misunderstand what the book did? I just saw the movie.
The implication was the universe was somehow engineered so that the value of $\pi$ had a circle image embedded in the coding of the digits.

Sagan didn’t go into details about how it was encoded only that it was. We are left to imagine how and where it might be found.

mfb
Mentor
It irritated me her camera only recorded static, if it was a stand-alone device why would it pick only static up?
I interpreted it as "The aliens didn't want the humans to have a clear record of what exactly happened."

jedishrfu
Mentor
It irritated me her camera only recorded static, if it was a stand-alone device why would it pick only static up?

Transmitting information remotely back to mission control through a worm hole would probably be an issue but I can’t see why bog standard images and videos could not be used on Vega
I interpreted this to mean the forces that she was subjected to were electromagnetic in nature and so scrambled what was recorded on her magnetic tape device.

If however the recording was an SSD then the forces caused it to record only static perhaps by scrambling the signal from the camera component to memory or scrambled it directly in the SSD as a kind of EMP effect but not enough to burn it out.

pinball1970
Gold Member
I interpreted it as "The aliens didn't want the humans to have a clear record of what exactly happened."
Then why go to all that trouble?
“Hey we’re here! We want to make contact and this is the plans to build a machine to reach us but when you get here no images or recordings please.”

The consequences were no one believed her when she got back and she was made out to be a liar and fraudster.

pinball1970
Gold Member
I interpreted this to mean the forces that she was subjected to were electromagnetic in nature and so scrambled what was recorded on her magnetic tape device.

If however the recording was an SSD then the forces caused it to record only static perhaps by scrambling the signal from the camera component to memory or scrambled it directly in the SSD as a kind of EMP effect but not enough to burn it out.

That is more plausible, frustrating but plausible.

jedishrfu
Mentor
That is more plausible, frustrating but plausible.
Yeah sci fi movies are like real life where we need plausible answers to improbable events and impossible devices and the authors leave it up to the readership to fill in the details.

stevendaryl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Then why go to all that trouble?
“Hey we’re here! We want to make contact and this is the plans to build a machine to reach us but when you get here no images or recordings please.”

The consequences were no one believed her when she got back and she was made out to be a liar and fraudster.
The ways of aliens are inscrutable.

mfb
Mentor
I interpreted this to mean the forces that she was subjected to were electromagnetic in nature and so scrambled what was recorded on her magnetic tape device.

If however the recording was an SSD then the forces caused it to record only static perhaps by scrambling the signal from the camera component to memory or scrambled it directly in the SSD as a kind of EMP effect but not enough to burn it out.
If it was an accident and the aliens were fine with evidence why didn't they give her some evidence of the trip? They knew the capsule would appear to just fall through the machine, it was easy to see that the question about evidence would come up.

jedishrfu
Mentor
If it was an accident and the aliens were fine with evidence why didn't they give her some evidence of the trip? They knew the capsule would appear to just fall through the machine, it was easy to see that the question about evidence would come up.
They said humanity wasn’t ready so no diplomatic mission was needed. They would have had to have known that her devices wouldn’t record anything other than the duration of the trip but to do anything to alter it would be to give their presence away and then others would try the same trip.

The ending is kind of like the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine story where the prospector loses the last piece of evidence wrapped in his handkerchief as he mops the sweat off of his brow. With no evidence the story is just a story.

stevendaryl
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
If it was an accident and the aliens were fine with evidence why didn't they give her some evidence of the trip? They knew the capsule would appear to just fall through the machine, it was easy to see that the question about evidence would come up.
For whatever inscrutable reason, the aliens wanted there to be no evidence of her trip.

mfb
Mentor
For whatever inscrutable reason, the aliens wanted there to be no evidence of her trip.
That was my interpretation as well: It was not an accident that the recording got scrambled.

Bandersnatch
Science Advisor
I always took it that the capsule design was, in one way or another, incompatible with crude human technology operating within - much like it was incompatible with the chair they installed. The capsule was designed to safely carry a living organism, not a probe.

As for why they hadn't provided a means to record the trip to show as a proof she wasn't making it all up - I guess it's part of why humanity isn't ready. If, as a society, we still hadn't evolved past fundamental mistrust of our fellow humans, then we better not be trusted with being let loose on the galaxy.
Yeah, we can build the capsule, like we can build a club, a rocket, or a fusion device - but as long as we're not this idealistic unified utopia full of philosopher-scientists, that I always felt Sagan was hopeful for, then we would likely just use it to bash somebody's head with it.
The entire theme of the film seems to revolve around saying something along the lines of: 'Yer not goddamn ready, you insane technomonkeys. Sort yourself out first.'

Someone asked if I was talking about the movie that Jodie Foster was in — yes, that’s the one.

One thing that I thought the movie was trying to say was about God and faith and how lopsided that whole argument can get. Someone on the committee grilling her asked, “you expect us to take all this on faith”? The irony being that their whole issue with her going in the first place was that she didn’t profess to believe in God.

Borg
Science Advisor
Gold Member
Just imagine what a mess the ending would have been with the recording intact. I think that you could have similar ratios of believers and non-believers with the non-believers thinking that the proof was faked. For me, the original ending is better because you have people questioning what happened based on a lack of proof rather than a world where people choose not to believe even when presented with the truth. Movies should be an escape from reality.

pinball1970
Gold Member
Just imagine what a mess the ending would have been with the recording intact. I think that you could have similar ratios of believers and non-believers with the non-believers thinking that the proof was faked. For me, the original ending is better because you have people questioning what happened based on a lack of proof rather than a world where people choose not to believe even when presented with the truth. Movies should be an escape from reality.
The whole world was already in a dilemma regarding the contact, the religious portrayed in the film were prepared to kill (and did) rather than their beliefs be challenged by science in this way. A sad mirror on humanity since the 17thC

"Baby steps" was the advice from the alien. No, pull off the plaster, take the hit and plunge into reality. Humanity will get over it.