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Jennifer

I was not a 12 yr-old boy and I do not remember the religious aspect, but I enjoyed Quantum Leap. I think watching Scott Bakula had something to do with that. :)

Kevin Wolf

As happens here sometimes, much more interested in reading what you've got to say about a show, Lance, than in watching it. Quantum Leap never did a thing for me. (Of course, I was well past the target age group.) Only saw it once or twice.

David

I've only seen the show sporadically, and so I didn't know he talked to God in the early episodes (and God answered back?). However, I did see the last episode. I don't know if you don't want to be spoiled, so I'll just say that the issue you bring up here is addressed in the episode in a very direct way.

stan

I was about 14 or so when the show premiered. I absolutely love it. Former child actor Dean Stockwell played Sam's sidekick Al.

marciemeow

how silly you are and contradictory, how can you say its directed at 12 year olds, THEN proceed to say you had to explain to your sons (who are 12) thats obvious that QL WASNOT directed to 12 year olds, it was directed to ANYONE. Plus you say the producers took advantage of Scott being in great shape WELL what 12 year old would appreciate that as much as what older females would ????? Not to mention all the topics that were raised, bigotry, pregnancy, religion etc etc all that goes over the head of a 12 year old, THEY just love the aspect of the leaping. THATs the only part that is directed to the 12 year olds. Many teens who saw the show back then and loved it, appreciate it more now that they are older and I am one of them. You dont know what you are talking about!!!!

SV

Have you seen the entire series? I mean, all the way to the final episode of the final season? The week-to-week "theology" (if you can even call it that) was pretty juvenile, you're right. But the ending? Mind-blowing. Some people complain that it was a rush job and didn't make sense - I think it was beautiful, couldn't have been done more perfectly. (My sister and I have been arguing about what it meant for years.)

Batocchio

As David and SV note, the final episode is really pretty interesting, and directly brings up the god issue. I know some people who were infuriated by the end, or disappointed, and others such as SV who really liked it.

One of the best episodes, involving a death row inmate, also brings in god, but it's mainly for Sam to experience terror and doubt.

As for all the god stuff in Quantum Leap - it never bothered me because the show was mostly pretty light fare (but yes, I always wind up thinking about the underlying premises, too).

I've got a stronger reaction to Saving Grace, although admittedly I only saw the first episode. It was a weird mix, and I'm not sure who the audience is supposed to be - hard-drinking, failed catholics who want more religion in their cable cop dramas? The god-intervenes theme is central there, and just didn't work for me.

I find the general theme and its execution interesting. I've got an informal list of atheist Christ figures in film. Then there's films like Becket (speaking of Beckets!), based on Anouilh's play. Anouilh's play, whatever its flaws, keeps a nice balance between Henry II and Becket, and is ambiguous about Becket himself — has he undergone a genuine religious conversion, is he making a power grab, or both? The film removes that ambiguity. God exists, and Becket (played by Richard Burton) is doing His Will — which includes preventing a criminal church worker from facing justice from secular government. Divine intervention of some sort is an old narrative device, but the general idea that Everything Turns Out the Way It's Meant To is pretty damn pervasive. As an antidote, there's always King Lear and Ran. And Brecht.

Dan Coyle

As for Sam changing things in terms of making the time machine, while the third season finale reveals that it likely wouldn't matter, Sam does something in the final episode that alters Al's past entirely to the point where he probably never became involved in the Quantum Leap project.

The finale makes the religious overtones complete, with Sam at one point being compared to a Priest.

Obstreperous B

Ah, Quantum Leap. My roommate and I used to watch the show in reruns and joke that Sam's purpose was to leap from time to time making women cry.

Seriously, he made a woman cry in practically every damn episode.

Oh, and don't forget he's also a Carnegie Hall-quality concert pianist. Hee hee hee.

marjo

My husband and I always liked the show, but because it was entertaining to see Scott Bakula in so many different situations. Though I like sci-fi generally, one could never think too much about QL because your brain would hurt. You had to just accept the premise. I don't remember the god thing that much, but QL like so many other "spiritual-lite" shows (I'm thinking Touched by an angel, Ghost Whisperer, etc. -- you know, all the bad ones) always fell back on a very uninspired good vs. evil mindset which did make me uncomfortable, esp. when the evitable Satan-stand-in would show up.

I never "got" the Dean Stockwell character or his stupid little remote control gadget, I watched it only for Bakula and the light entertainment of it.

Ken Muldrew

"If any of the scientists who read this blog can explain any of the physics Quantum Leap pretended to be based on..."

Are you asking about the physics of time machines?

Lance

Ken,

String theory and quantum mechanics. He's got time travel figured out. Has something to do with taking your star ship to the far side of the solar system and using the sun's gravitational pull to create a slingshot effect...

Ken Muldrew

Quantum mechanics is physics, but string theory isn't (not yet, anyway, and back when this show ran only Green, Schwartz, and Witten (and perhaps a few other eggheads) were working on strings). Time travel, of course, is pure imagination and only vaguely connects to physics through exotic solutions to the Einstein field equations. Those solutions certainly have no relevance to anything in our solar system.

I can't explain quantum mechanics here, but it should be remembered that "understanding" a physical theory means that you can solve problems using that theory (i.e. you can map an experimental system onto a set of equations, solve those equations, and predict the final state of your experimental system given some specified initial conditions (with the understanding that your prediction is correct). It doesn't mean that you can make sense of the metaphysical or philosophical questions that might arise when you pretend that the theory can be applied to systems that are not as well characterized as an experimental system that is actually used to test assumptions of the theory. So "understanding" quantum mechanics will not provide the satisfaction that I think you are looking for. Probably quite the opposite, I imagine. I kind of doubt that you would be pacified by the ability to solve problems in QM (actual textbook problems) and you would probably become more and more exasperated by your progressive discovery of how far removed the physical theory is from being applied to real life situations.

A good way to think about QM is to consider the informatic aspects of the theory. This isn't as good as statistical mechanics, where the informatic viewpoint changes the topic from beastly to pleasantly difficult, but at least if you think this way (that physics only tells you about what you know about a system, it says nothing about what a system actually is) you're less likely to say incredibly stupid things of the sort that come from that "quantum healing" joker.

OK, let's say you have some apparatus that ejects a particle and you want to predict where the particle will go and how fast it will get there. You do a bunch of math and arrive at a wavefunction. This is a probability density that describes the likelihood of finding the particle if you were to put a detector at some particular location and at a particular time. The detector might find the particle and it might not, but if you run the experiment over and over, the ratio of detected/experimental runs will converge on your predicted likelihood. Now you can also make this wavefunction evolve with time using your clever mathematical machinery. The beauty of QM is that the wavefunction evolves linearly, so you can actually solve the equations. But again, the theory doesn't specify where the particle is, it just gives you a way to calculate the likelihood of a detector finding the particle if you set up your experiment in a very particular way. In no way should this be taken to mean that the particle has no existence between measurements or that it exists in some smudge of partly here, partly over there, quasi-ghost-like conformation, or that it goes back and forth in time, following all possible paths to get from one detector to another. Those are all possible assumptions that can be used to derive quantum mechanics, but they are metaphysical ideas; they are not part of the theory. The theory really just takes the minimum possible amount of information that can be used to describe the linear evolution of the wavefunction and gives rules for that evolution. There could easily be more information hiding in these particles (so-called hidden variables), but it is unnecessary for determining the wavefunction. It may be possible to create a theory that gives the same predictions as QM (and hopefully more) by constructing a more complicated universe with more complicated particles (in fact, David Bohm did so, though it's less satisfying than standard QM due to other factors), but nobody has found a way to do so and keep locality and causation in the theory such that we find it satisfying. The best attempt that I have seen is by Saul Youssef who postulated that probability theory needs to be changed (to make probability go from -1 to +1; a negative probability would correspond to an artifact of the experiment that erases information from our knowledge of the system). But not many physicists are bothered by these considerations because QM does what they want it to do; and damn few of them work on it because it's not physics unless you can get new predictions and almost nobody thinks that will happen.

So we should really think of science fiction writers as philosophers (and really, who would argue that Stanislaw Lem isn't one of the 20th century's outstanding philosophers) who are cursed with the necessity of having spaceships with laser beams imprinted on all their books. Their speculations are not based on physics, but rather the assumptions that physicists use to derive a theory. So when de Maupertuis speculated that God tries all possible paths for light to travel and used that assumption to derive the principle of least action (which Feynman later used to derive QM in a new and extremely useful form), a sci-fi writer would speculate on God directing light beams all over the place in order to base a story on the "science" of least action in optics. This is similar to what sci-fi writers do when they introduce indeterminacy or some such on macroscopic beings and objects under the guise of extrapolating from the science. It is a mistake to take the experimental confirmation of QM as evidence to support such speculations, or even to support the notion that the assumptions that went into QM should have some ontological content. As philosophy, these speculations should allow us to sharpen our questions, and with luck and hard work, find new consequences of the assumptions that can be tested empirically. Without luck and hard work, then we may have to settle for mere entertainment.

Hope this is helpful in some way...

Rana

I liked the show too, and I don't remember the religious part all that well. Perhaps because I wasn't so sensitized to it?

Now, though... I was watching Eureka the other night, which is perhaps a similar show in terms of demographic, and the theme was reason vs. faith - and I ended up cringing. Now, most times I'm able to shut off my overly-educated, nit-picky brain and suspend my disbelief, and just enjoy the show. But this was too simplistic, too aggressive even in its happy-go-lucky way, and the suspension of disbelief just collapsed. The nits, they demanded to be picked!

And yet - how much of it is the show, and how much is me having been chafed raw by aggressive religious activity and hostitility to rationalism? One thing the last decade has done to me is to make it impossible for me to view overt religiousity - even watered down, generic religiousity - without suspicion and irritated wariness. I wonder if something like that might be operating with regard to Quantum Leap?

Tom K

I enjoyed the show a lot, and I was in my late 20s-early 30's when it was on. I demur on whether that suggests that the show was not pitched only to the mentality of 12-year-old boys, or that I am very immature. Not that they're mutually exclusive.

There's one very fundamental thing about it that I recall evolving -- the pilot, at least, and perhaps some of the early episodes, were clearly ripped from movie plots. (The pilot in the pilot and "The Right Stuff" springs to mind, but all the stories in the pilot had this quality.) That fell away pretty quickly.

I always felt the show's religious sensibility was very clear, and straining to transcend its network- & format-imposed restrains. Came close to doing that in the finale -- which I found disappointing. Maybe religion, like sex, is more interesting on film when presented subject to restraints.

Dan Coyle

My issue with the finale is that I can't decide if Donald Bellisario thought that final on screen message was appropriate or he was just being an asshole. He seemed to take great- too much- pleasure in baiting JAG viewers for a decade over Harm and Mac's relationship, ending it on a cliffhanger.

Martin Wisse

I still think it's a shame Scott Bakula didn't go "oh boy" the first time he showed up on screen in Star Trek: Enterprise.

Dan Coyle

He probably said it when he read the script for the pilot.

macsnafu

Quantum Leap wasn't religious when it started, but it developed that way over time. While I kind of liked the overall story arc, it seemed to become a little too stereotypical for my tastes.

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