ByDavid Thomson, writer at

In Interstellar, Cooper realizes the force of love can allow us to identify a point where we can best impact the world.

‘Love TARS, love!
It's just like Brand said,
my connection with Murph, it is quantifiable.
It is the key. -Why are we here?
To find out how to tell.’

I followed Cooper's assertion initially through AI, then through Alien, Aliens and the Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof script ( for Prometheus, as it offers a more coherent narrative overall. I added Europa Report (2013) as a sort of control study. That script features no alien language that can be captured for analysis into what words distinguish altruistic speakers from those over-achieving, power-driven Machiavellian characters.

To do so, I employed three automated text analysis instruments. LIWC 2007 (, the open source R package tm ( and Coh-Metrix, a cloud-based linguistic analysis platform that represents coherence of language, sentiment and style across texts. I survey various automatic text analyses done for education and the workplace at

Typically, express the totality of our private and public worlds in words—at least in those who have typical hearing. Consider Vygotsky, the soon-to-be-sent-off-to-the-gulag genius who launched social cognition. He believed only the right word employed in social context could lead to higher thought. Words, for a man who knew he had only a finite number to leave behind his death by work camp or TB, were only ever uttered to connect one person to another. Speaker to listener. Reader to writer. Greater to lesser. A lesser’s appeal to his better within an equalizing lexical strategy.

Lev Vygotsky, 1896-1934.
Lev Vygotsky, 1896-1934.

Alts and Machs in Tension

Altruism is Aliens is tough business. Consider this early exchange:


Burke, just tell me one thing.

That you're going out there to

kill them. Not study. Not bring

back. Just burn them out...clean



That's the plan. My word on it. safety.

Later, a soldier reassures Ripley that she's in good hands.


Independently targetting

particle-beam phalanx. VWAP!

Fry half a city with this puppy.

We got tactical smart-missles,

phased-plasma pulse-rifles,

RPG's. We got sonic eeelectronic

ballbreakers, we got nukes, we

got sticks --

Machiavellianism is yet more brutal.


I'm the captain of this ship and I'm not going to risk any lives. This mission is over!


With all do respects Captain but that's all you are. A captain of a fucking ship. All you're job is to do is fly this fucker. Now get back to your post and wait for further instructions. I'm in charge here and don’t forget that.

And yet, Machs can pose as Alts.


I know you think I'm just some dumb ass suit looking after her interests well you're wrong. I care more about these people and you than you think. After Shaw's patched up, lets just get the hell out of here

On the whole, then, I'm searching for preponderance of Alt or Mach speaking tendencies. That can be represented as proportion of text, ratio of one textual dimension to another (causal verbs to participles used in adjacent sentences) or a logarithmic statement of incidence.

In all cases, for each of the 50 scenes I analyzed, Alts spoke differently than Machs. Yet, only in the case of syntactic simplicity metric did I find statistically different means. Further analysis revealed that characters' world vision could identify such radically different topics as home and money. Further, the interconnectedness of characters' speed revealed that Alts speak more plainly. They are also more likely to use 1st-person singular pronouns. Concern for others, however, is negatively related to syntactic simplicity.

Alt and Mach Lexicons

Still, though, I had to ask what words distinguish Alts from Machs. To follow that question I employed a text mining program that first removes words that perform a merely grammatical function (the, with, his) and then words that occur fewer than x times.

For Machs, that process identified a far more rational lexicon. Words like determine, establish, grant, include, judge, must, need, perform and reason suggests the thinking processes of causality and categorization. Further, Machs evince concern for making money: sufficiency, support, work, standard, subject and term.

By contrast, only Alts used the words love, human, can and tell. Their focus seems to be on expressing emotion and registering that in others.

Mr. Mill after having read Darwin and Christian Corporate Theology

Alts defy self-motivation in favor of the family or species as a whole. In doing so, they form a sensibility we can understand in three contexts.

The first is Mill's utilitarianism: The good is what's best for the most.

The second is Darwin's natural selection: Those species survive which can be most speedily adapt to environment. This altruistic urge is as simple as making sure one's children see another day.

Finally, Christian corporate theology suggests we are greater in community.

1 Corinthians 13:15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Surprising support comes from Richard Dawkins' concept of the meme as a cultural transmitter analogous to the gene's biological transmission. In The Selfish Gene (1976) Dawkins takes meme to derive from the Greek mimeme, or an imitated thing. Words and imagery, then, transmit world vision.

There are other memes we should profitably consider in what distinguishes Alts from Machs. Prayer is thought to be received by that cloud of witnesses, while the creeds state the indivisibility of love as witnessed in the perfect communion of Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Yet, this degree of altruistic reference is an outlier. Shaw is the only stubbornly Christian character surveyed here. There are degrees, then, of both altruism and Machiavellianism can inform characterization.

Next step, extend the analysis to

Coop comforts Murph in Interstellar.
Coop comforts Murph in Interstellar.
Verasimilitude under examination in Uncanny.
Verasimilitude under examination in Uncanny.
Collective good in The Red Planet.
Collective good in The Red Planet.
Why the word home informs so many sci-fi scripts, in this case The Martian.
Why the word home informs so many sci-fi scripts, in this case The Martian.
Survival at any cost in Last Days on Mars.
Survival at any cost in Last Days on Mars.
There and back again on a promise in Infini.
There and back again on a promise in Infini.


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