The Concept of the Ghost in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

Entertainment, Ghosts
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To my chagrin, one of the early subplots of Christopher Nolan’s scifi epic Interstellar involves a young girl, Murph, who is convinced there is a ghost in her room. She explains to her father, Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, that the ghost frequently pushes books off the bookshelf in her room. Cooper, who is kind of an amalgam of a pilot, a farmer, and scientist, tells Murph that he is doubtful of the ghost but then challenges her to present a testable hypothesis. This draws a smile from the young girl, but she is unable to create any sort of experiment to test for the reality of a ghost in her room—at least not until the future, when her father is now younger than her and marooned in another galaxy.

The science fiction of Interstellar is ambitious, inspiring and mind-blowing at times, but what struck me is the concept of a ‘ghost’ as not the incorporeal spirit of a dead human but rather an incarnation of consciousness across space-time.

Let’s get back to the story.


So Cooper ends up part of a bold platoon of NASA scientists who journey to Saturn, where there is a wormhole that transports them millions of light years through space to another galaxy. Their charge is to find a habitable world, where the human race can find new lodging after an ecological disaster has rendered the Earth obsolete.

The plot and scope of story becomes quite complex at this point and I’m not about to sit here and summarize it for you, as my purpose here is not to discuss the film so much as a concept put forth in the film. Again, there are SPOILERS ahead.

Because of relativity and ‘time dilation’—which, of course, is based on real science that Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains with his characteristic eloquence–the distance Cooper and his team has traveled changes the way they are experiencing time in relation to the people back on Earth. In short, every hour equals seven years back on Earth. This is how, by the end, Cooper ends up younger than his own daughter.


But that’s where the real science—at least that which we can currently verify using the scientific method–ends. Cooper and his Artificial Intelligence friend TARS venture into the black hole Gargantua, where Cooper finds himself ensnared in a five dimensional construct, the Tesseract, created by future humans. Inside this construct–which looks sort of like how the inside of a continuously shifting rubicks cube might look to an ant that is on LSD and wearing kaleidoscopic glasses—Cooper is able to see across space and time to the inside of his daughter Murph’s room back on Earth in the past. He is pressed up against the encasement of that moment in space-time and his attempts to reach through and communicate with Murph cause books to fall off the bookshelf.

Cooper was her ghost all along.

Ultimately, TARS is able to relay data to Cooper, who transmits it to his daughter. This data enables the grown Murph to piece together binary messages left by the future post-Singularity humans who have used the five dimensional space to assist past humans in escaping extinction. When Cooper returns to Saturn, the human race is living in technologically advanced O’Neill cylinders (which, incidentally, look curiously similar to the curving, imploding city-dream-world image in Nolan’s Inception). You might read more about O’Neill cylinders in Arthur C Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama and posts about future humans, or aliens, creating Dyson Spheres to live in. Again, both the science behind this and the plot details that unfurl in Interstellar are extraordinarily complex; other, smarter bloggers can explain them to you much better than I can.

What I can do here for you is play a little mind jazz and ruminate on a concept of ‘ghosts’ that is at once hauntingly scientific and pragmatically eerie.


I’ve long believed that while sentient spirits of deceased humans may indeed travel through our world as traditionally defined ghosts, it is far more likely that a ‘ghost’ would be something more like a relic of quantum information. Since we know that our universe is, on a quantum level, less of a definitive, fixed space and more of a roiling sea of energy, undefined particles, and quantum potential, a more evolved concept of consciousness might allow for it to be defined more as a conduit for information. And maybe, just maybe, the conduit—since it too is made up of the same quantum foam of potentiality and energy—gets twisted up and interconnected with the information itself. MEANING: our consciousness impresses itself upon the fabric of reality and leaves behind quantum relics of subjective experience. And we perceive those relics as ghosts.

There is actual scientific theory behind this, in Dr. Stuart Hameroff’s Orch-OR (orchestrated objective reduction) theory, which holds that our consciousness is comprised of quantum information held in microtubules.

Don’t shoot the messenger….just accept that not only could reality be “stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

So, who’s your ghost…..? And is it communicating to you from inside a future five dimensional construct embedded within a black hole…?

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  • Dave Parker

    Could be! I’ve always believed there may be “ghosts” around – but to think that they are basically the same people, “living” and “thinking” and visiting us – forced to spend eternity looking down at their former world – their families and friends – but unable to communicate, contact, or literally live – well that would be either hell, or a really cruel cosmic joke!

  • scrappybilly

    I enjoyed the hell out of Interstellar. My main gripe, and it’s a minor one, is that when he’s acting as “the ghost” to him, those events took place fresh in his memory, like a week ago. I would have been like, “Oh, yeah, I remember that whole ‘STAY’ thing didn’t work… let me try something new.”

    • The Ghost Diaries

      Haha, wow that is a fairly minor gripe but I love that you have such a nuanced appreciation of that scene. I found that whole sequence (perhaps minus the ‘love is the way’ angle) fascinating beyond belief.

    • John D

      He must do the same thing that got him out of Murph’s room otherwise he would not have been there to signal the morse code to Murph several year later

    • Alex Silva

      if he tries something else, maybe he stay!!!! and boom, he never goes to saturn