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Rationalist Movies (Spoilers for the film Limitless)

9 Post author: Mycroft65536 28 March 2011 04:58AM

I just came back from the film Limitless. The movie contained a very interesting depiction of a character who gets an black market nootropic that works very well. It gives him perfect recall, perfect situational awareness, and the ability to figure out the best thing to say/do in real time. He uses this new power to finish his book, get back together with his girlfriend, become rich, and eventually become president of the united states. Incidentally he gets in shape, establishes himself as high status at top tier social events, learns many new languages, and sleeps with a bunch of women. In the end his new found intelligence leads him to happiness. The drama in the film comes from the fact that the drug has side effects, and there's a mobster who gets his hands on some and wants more. Intelligence is depicted as a fundamentally good thing. It's even described as "I knew what I wanted and I knew how to get it." He affirms several times (and the story agrees) that he's still himself on the drug, just more effective. 

Comments (18)

Comment author: atucker 28 March 2011 08:47:35PM *  7 points [-]

I recommend the movie. At the very least, it has cool shiny fight scenes, but it also has a very positive portrayal of increased intelligence and rationality ("I knew what I had to do, and how to do it"), which avoids many of its pitfalls.

  • He has very little undeserved hubris -- pretty much everything he claims to be able to do he can back up.

  • He acts fairly genre-savvy, and takes reasonable precautions like hiring bodyguards and investigating the source of his powers.

  • He avoids most intelligence stereotypes, becoming smarter actually makes him much more empathetic and cooler as a person. He gets his heads out of the clouds and starts actually accomplishing things.

Interestingly, many reviews chide the movie for allowing the protagonist to win at the end, with statements like "Working from Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, Burger and screenwriter Leslie Dixon are so content with keeping him on the fast track that they lose any sense of moral depth or consequence. It’s a small victory for flash in its eternal war with substance, but in this case, the flash is enough."

A few comments:

  • Several parts of it were actually reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, particularly the scene in which the girlfriend quickly scopes out everything around her that's lethal.

  • All of the downsides of the drug were portrayed as purely technical problems, which can be surmounted with reasonable intelligence.

  • It's worth noting that to the protagonist, these are only means to some (presumably world improving, but vaguely defined) end. His newfound status and power don't seem to corrupt him, and he seems to get out of finance as soon as he's happy with how much money he has.

Comment author: CronoDAS 28 March 2011 11:42:35PM *  2 points [-]

Incidentally, according to a review of the book that I read, the book both begins and ends with the main character dying from withdrawal because his supply of the drug has run out and he is unable to get more... as he watches the President of the United States on television displaying what he recognizes as signs of being on the drug. So, in the book, the main character most definitely does not win at the end...

Comment author: folkTheory 28 March 2011 08:12:10PM 5 points [-]

Don't forget the pill also practically eliminates akrasia. He was almost unable to NOT do what he knew he should do.

Comment author: atucker 28 March 2011 10:28:49PM 5 points [-]

I think he said something to the effect of "I felt like if I stopped moving I was going to explode".

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 28 March 2011 02:04:00PM 4 points [-]

I thought for sure it would be a caveman science fiction movie. Maybe I'll actually see it.

Comment author: ewang 28 March 2011 10:42:33PM 4 points [-]

In this case, the other cavemen are the problem.

Comment author: Goobahman 28 March 2011 10:15:38PM 0 points [-]

I saw it and had some similar reflections. Got me thinking about what a highly optimized rational man would look like.

It wasn't perfect by any standards but had some great cinematography and ideas flowing around. If you can forgive the gaping loopholes you'll enjoy the ride.