Friday, January 10, 2014

Fringe Benefits

If you followed the sci-fi TV program Fringe, you'll know that as the show was jumping the shark in its fifth and final season, it focused on a group of far-future human beings called the "Observers." The Observers (semi-spoiler alert) end up having a nefarious purpose but initially they appear just to be "watching over" the human race. On some occasions, a rogue Observer named September goes against protocol and intervenes to help Walter and Olivia and gang out.

It's obvious from many religions and works of science fiction that the idea of someone "out there" looking out for us, despite copious evidence to the contrary, appeals to many people. One of those is the Austrian sculptor Manfred Kielnhofer. As Wikipedia puts it, he believes "mankind is watched and protected by strange characters." He envisions these characters as the "Guardians of Time," a series of sculptures and installation art he has created and placed around the world. As you can see from the example, the figures have an odd, monk-like appearance. The artist installs and moves them without any notice, which makes their appearance (in both senses) eerie and unexpected.

File:Reichstag-deutschland-festival-of-lights-sculpture-time-guards-manfred-kielnhofer.jpg
Guardians of Time Light Sculpture at Reichstag
Artist: Manfred Kielnhofer (Photo CC Some Rights Reserved)
The guardians of time concept is popular in science-fiction novels as well. The phrase is actually the title of a trilogy written by Marianne Curley. In it, the guardians are heroes who try to protect the past, present, and future for humans by traveling into the past to battle the arch-villains called the Order of Chaos (interesting oxymoron, don't you think?).

Of course, as we all know from our intimate knowledge of Schrodinger's Cat, even the act of observing the state of something changes it. So any effort to preserve the future by acting to maintain or alter the past or present (as the show Continuum points out) is doubly doomed to failure. That means if there is indeed anyone or thing out there watching over us, they are likely mucking things up as much as humans are doing on their own. But, hey, it's the thought that counts, right?

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