Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy

Course No. 4112
Professor David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
King's College
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Course No. 4112
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What Will You Learn?

  • Learn how popular science fiction shows have tackled profound issues such as autonomy, sentience, pacifism, colonialism, racism, grief, morality, and much more.
  • Grasp the important distinctions between epistemology and metaphysics.
  • Looking at popular dystopian works, dive into the issues of capitalism, socialism, and balance to understand why an unregulated free market is a recipe for inequality.

Course Overview

The science fiction genre has become increasingly influential in mainstream popular culture, evolving into one of the most engaging storytelling tools we use to think about technology and consider the shape of the future. Along the way, it has also become one of the major lenses we use to explore important philosophical questions.

The origins of science fiction are most often thought to trace to Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, a story born from a night of spooky tale-telling by the fireside that explores scientific, moral, and ethical questions that were of great concern in the 19th century—and that continue to resonate today. And, although novels and short stories built the foundations of science fiction, film and television have emerged as equally powerful, experimental, and enjoyable ways to experience the genre. Even as far back as the silent era, films like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis have used science fiction to tell stories that explore many facets of human experience.

In Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy, Professor of Philosophy David Kyle Johnson of King’s College takes you on a 24-lecture exploration of the final frontiers of philosophy across several decades of science fiction in film and television. From big-budget blockbusters to television series featuring aliens in rubber masks, Professor Johnson finds food for philosophical thought in a wide range of stories. By looking at serious questions through astonishing tales and astounding technologies, you will see how science fiction allows us to consider immense, vital—and sometimes controversial—ideas with a rare combination of engagement and critical distance.

The Future Is Now

Science fiction is often concerned with the future, being used not only as a tool of prediction—humans are notoriously bad at accurately predicting the future—but also as one of extrapolation and interrogation. Rather than simply asking what the future will look like, the futuristic visions of sci-fi TV, like Star Trek, Firefly, and even the animated comedy Futurama, offer compelling statements about humanity’s hopes, dreams, and fears. We can, therefore, use fictionalized futures to better understand today’s world.

Setting a story in the future—or in an alternate reality, or on a faraway planet—also allows sci-fi creators to open up the realm of possibility beyond what our current world offers, while also looking at very real scientific possibilities. As you look at sci-fi films like Arrival and Interstellar, Professor Johnson highlights the kinds of issues worth considering if contact with extraterrestrial life or time travel became part of our real-life experience. And even if these experiences remain in the realm of fiction, considering them still provides insight into important philosophical questions. Indeed, throughout the lectures of Sci-Phi, you will ponder many questions that have concerned philosophers for centuries, including:

  • Do humans truly have free will?
  • Could machines one day be conscious? Or be sentient?
  • Could we actually be living in a simulated world?
  • How will humanity confront a future of diminished resources and advancing technology?
  • Are science and religion compatible?
  • When, if ever, is war justified?
  • How do we know what information to trust and what to dismiss?

Exploring Reality through Fiction

Staples of science fiction like time travel, alternate universes, and extraterrestrial life are endlessly fascinating ideas to explore. Yet, despite the insights they can give us, they may not seem very relevant to everyday life. Even our conception of reality—what is real and what isn’t—can have little bearing on the more mundane aspects of living from day to day. But science fiction, for all its futurism and outlandish flourishes, is not limited to these theoretical concepts; it is also a window into crucial discussions about the here and now, questions concerning ethics, power, religion, tolerance, social justice, politics, and the many practical dimensions of living in a world that is constantly changing and forever presenting humans with fresh new dilemmas to solve. And by removing us from reality, sci-fi can also remove our biases and make us see such issues anew.

Indeed, as Professor Johnson makes clear, stories of simulated worlds and artificial intelligence can seem far-fetched, but they actually offer valuable insights into social and ethical issues that may be more immediate and relevant than they first appear. By looking at them through fiction, we can take a step back and get a clearer picture of the larger implications. For instance, by looking at characters like Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica, we are forced to wonder: If we create artificial intelligence that achieves true sentience, how will we treat these man-made beings? Will we repeat the sins of the past by enslaving them or will we embrace them as our equals? If we are ever able to re-create a convincing version of the world via computers, as films like The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor suggest, do the lives lived in those simulations mean less than those in the “real” world? The answers to these questions—and many others—speak volumes about human values and, given our ever-evolving technology, may require answers sooner rather than later.

You may be surprised to see how often a science fiction story can “trick” you into thinking about questions and concepts you may have never considered. Shows like The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror overtly present questions and issues for audiences to ponder. However, while other films and television shows may seem to focus more on the adventure and entertainment value of science fiction, they still often have deep philosophical dimensions. Consider the long-running British TV series Doctor Who. A beloved icon of science fiction, the show has always been framed as simply the exciting weekly adventures of a time-traveling alien; yet, throughout its decades on television, it has explored issues of autonomy, sentience, pacifism, colonialism, racism, grief, morality, and much more.

A Unique View of Philosophy

While each lecture of Sci-Phi focuses on a few key films or television episodes, you will also explore dozens of other movies and TV episodes along the way. Likewise, each philosophical concept you explore opens the door to further discovery. Throughout the lectures, you will be introduced to the ideas of great thinkers like Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Turing, Baudrillard, and many others; and through these ideas, you will better understand the different ways philosophy examines the big questions, from metaphysics and epistemology to existentialism and ethics.

Fans of the genre will find their experience of sci-fi stories enriched by layers of philosophical inquiry that reveal each story to be much more than just entertainment. Similarly, those who are looking for a thrilling and accessible introduction to philosophy will be equally rewarded by Professor Johnson’s breadth of knowledge, as well as his deep and abiding love for both science fiction storytelling and philosophical exploration. As you engage with philosophy by way of sci-fi stories for screens both large and small, it is important to keep in mind that Professor Johnson will not shy away from revealing key plot points in many of the stories he explores throughout the lectures; so, although it is not required, watching the films and TV episodes at the heart of each lecture is recommended. Presented as a one-on-one conversation and enlivened by fun visual references to many of the stories you will encounter, Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy is a philosophy course unlike any other.

Whether telling stories of far-flung futures or investigating the here and now, science fiction is an invaluable source of intellectual and imaginative exploration. From the genre-defining classics like Star Wars, Doctor Who, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Twilight Zone to a new wave of speculative tales like Transcendence, Snowpiercer, Westworld, and The Hunger Games, sci-fi stories offer a uniquely engaging and incisive way to ask serious questions about the world we live in, even when those stories are set in a galaxy far, far away. Philosophy is the search for truth. Sometimes that truth is best revealed through fiction.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 34 minutes each
  • 1
    Inception and the Interpretation of Art
    Begin your journey with a look at why science fiction is one of the primary ways contemporary society engages with philosophical issues. Get an overview of the kinds of sci-fi media you will explore throughout the course and explore how you will address the interpretation of art with a look at the film Inception. x
  • 2
    The Matrix and the Value of Knowledge
    Which will you choose, the red pill or the blue? Look at different ideas concerning truth, knowledge, and reality through the film The Matrix, from Plato's definition of knowledge to the theories of Jean Baudrillard. Also, grasp the important distinctions between epistemology and metaphysics. x
  • 3
    The Matrix Sequels and Human Free Will
    Though panned by critics and science fiction fans alike, upon first release, the two sequels that followed The Matrix—Reloaded and Revolutions, respectively—provide surprisingly fertile ground for philosophical investigation surrounding the existence of free will. Compare multiple theories and see whether these oft-derided films can offer any answers. x
  • 4
    The Adjustment Bureau, the Force, and Fate
    Explore the concept of individual fate through the film The Adjustment Bureau and the larger concept of universal fate in Star Wars. Along the way, take a look at the ways conspiracy theories and supernatural claims invoke “fate” to explain real-world happenings and how philosophers handle these “explanations.” x
  • 5
    Contact: Science versus Religion
    Science communicator Carl Sagan believed science and religion could be compatible. But does Contact, the film based on his novel, prove his point or undermine it? Probe the many ways humans use personal experience to justify belief and whether or not such experiences can justify belief in the face of contrary scientific evidence. x
  • 6
    Arrival: Aliens and Radical Translation
    See how the 2016 film Arrival can help you examine the three questions that arise when discussing the possibility of alien life in the universe: How likely would a visitation be? What effect on society would it have? And, particularly pertinent to the film, would we be able to communicate with them once they're here? x
  • 7
    Interstellar: Is Time Travel Possible?
    This lecture will take a look at what metaphysics has to say about the possibility of time travel, focusing primarily on the film Interstellar. Along the way, you will also look at other influential time travel stories and the various theories they represent, like Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Planet of the Apes. x
  • 8
    Doctor Who and Time Travel Paradoxes
    Open with a look at a fan-favorite episode of Doctor Who and explore the nature of paradoxes in time travel. You will also see that science fiction doesn’t always have to take itself seriously to tell a great story—or to explore fascinating philosophical questions—when you turn your attention to the Futurama episode “Roswell That Ends Well.” x
  • 9
    Star Trek: TNG and Alternate Worlds
    What can quantum mechanics tell us about the likelihood of alternate worlds? Explore the multiverse theory with Lieutenant Worf in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Parallels” and see how science could support the idea of multiple worlds, while also grappling with the seeming untestable nature of such a theory. x
  • 10
    Dark City, Dollhouse, and Personal Identity
    The nature of personal identity is tied to numerous philosophical concerns: memory, consciousness, even the possibility of an afterlife. With films like Dark City and Moon and TV shows like Dollhouse, Professor Johnson guides you through the theories of great thinkers like Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, and their intellectual descendants. x
  • 11
    Westworld and A.I. Artificial Intelligence
    Sentient machines have been a staple of sci-fi for decades. Although here you will focus on a few key stories, you will also take a look at the long history of intelligent machines in film and TV—as well as get a glimpse into our very possible future—examining the ways we conceive of the mind and the implications of artificial intelligence. Machines can calculate, but could they one day be sentient? x
  • 12
    Transcendence and the Dangers of AI
    Science fiction has always been fascinated by the possibilities of artificial intelligence, with many storytellers focusing on the dangers of sentient machines. But human predictions of the future are often inaccurate, so here you will explore arguments both for and against the creation of AI through the film Transcendence, as well as through other iconic stories. x
  • 13
    The Thirteenth Floor: Are We Simulated?
    What is the likelihood that we are living in a simulated world right now? Some philosophers, using laws of subjective probability, would say it may actually be much higher than you might think. Examine the film The Thirteenth Floor and understand how creating a convincing simulated world could alter our conception of reality itself. x
  • 14
    The Orville, Orwell, and the “Black Mirror”
    The pervasive influence of social media makes life feel more performative than ever, yet it really just demonstrates an old dilemma heightened by new technology. Here, see how the anthology show Black Mirror and the Star Trek-influenced series The Orville offer episodes that examine extreme cases of objectification and mob mentality. Also, look back on a pre-internet example in George Orwell's much-adapted Nineteen Eighty-Four. x
  • 15
    Star Wars: Good versus Evil
    The original Star Wars trilogy is not morally ambiguous, but many other entries in the franchise present complicated gray areas when it comes to good versus evil. Professor Johnson demonstrates how the 21st-century films in the series, especially Rogue One, create a more complicated view of morality—and what Nietzsche can tell us about space politics. x
  • 16
    Firefly, Blake's 7, and Political Rebellion
    Many science fiction stories revolve around scrappy, sympathetic rebels and the overthrow of oppressive government powers. Here, look at how two series—Blake’s 7 and Firefly—take similar approaches to the experience of political oppression and individual defiance. Consider the implications of dissent within society and contemplate the perpetual dilemma of balancing freedom and social order. x
  • 17
    Starship Troopers, Doctor Who, and Just War
    From the overt (though satirical) militarism of Starship Troopers to the pacifism of the Doctor, examine how societies view war and the ways we are (or are not) able to justify it. As you compare and contrast two very different ways of confronting violence, you will also look at the middle ground via Just War Theory and ponder the difficulties of preserving life while sometimes having to cause harm. x
  • 18
    The Prime Directive and Postcolonialism
    What can science fiction tell us about the dangers of colonialism and moral relativism? Take a look at the Prime Directive—the rules that are supposed to prevent interference in other cultures—and the ethical ramifications of imposing one society’s values on another, as you plunge into several episodes from different iterations of Star Trek, including the classic series of the 1960s, The Next Generation, and Enterprise. x
  • 19
    Capitalism in Metropolis, Elysium, and Panem
    Capitalism is an economic philosophy as much as it is a practical system and, while it has many benefits, the capitalist system also has its share of pitfalls and ethical quandaries. Looking at the dystopian visions of the sci-fi films Metropolis, Elysium, and The Hunger Games, you will dive into the issue of balance and understand why an unregulated free market is a recipe for inequality. x
  • 20
    Snowpiercer and Climate Change
    Open this lecture with a look at how and why we get scientific information from experts (or don't) and why what we should conclude about climate change is as much of a philosophical issue as it is a scientific one. Then, through the film Snowpiercer, take a look at how a lukewarm approach to pressing issues can create narratives of false security and cast doubt on real dangers that will have consequences for the fate of humanity. x
  • 21
    Soylent Green: Overpopulation and Euthanasia
    When is it acceptable to end your own life? With the rising threat of overpopulation on Earth in the future, see what the 1970s film Soylent Green offers as a solution to dwindling space and resources. Also, consider other ways societies, in both science fiction and the real world, tackle the moral issues of euthanasia (both self-chosen and coerced) and population control. x
  • 22
    Gattaca and the Ethics of Reproduction
    Dive into the ethical questions of “designer babies,” genetic manipulation, and human evolution at the heart of the movie Gattaca, a film which NASA once considered one of the most plausible sci-fi films ever made. Then, turn your attention to a similar issue as you explore the philosophical and scientific ins and outs of cloning, via the Canadian TV show Orphan Black. x
  • 23
    The Handmaid's Tale: Feminism and Religion
    The television adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale offers a grim vision of a future in which religious fanaticism reshapes the United States into a misogynist totalitarian state. Professor Johnson provides a brief overview of the meaning(s) and different stages of feminism in the 20th century and examines what the disenfranchisement of women says about the uses and abuses of power. x
  • 24
    Kubrick’s 2001 and Nietzsche’s Übermensch
    Analyze one of the most famous—and possibly weirdest—sci-fi films of all time: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Consider the imagery and ideas of Kubrick’s vision and determine whether, as some suggest, it reflects the concept of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch. Close with a brief glimpse of the science fiction worlds still waiting for you to explore them. x

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Your professor

David Kyle Johnson

About Your Professor

David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
King's College
Dr. David Kyle Johnson is Associate Professor of Philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oklahoma. At Oklahoma, he won the coveted Kenneth Merrill Graduate Teaching Award. In 2011, the American Philosophical Association’s committee on public philosophy gave him an award for his ability to make philosophy accessible...
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Reviews

Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 65.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absolutely fantastic series of lectures from someone who clearly enjoys their area of expertise. David K. Johnson's enthusiasm is infectious, as he takes you on a journey through the universe of science fiction, and delivers each chapter based on one or more sci-fi movies or series. So I have had both a most enjoyable series of lectures, as well as discovering some great pieces of cinema. Fully recommend this series, as well as the his two previous publications ‘The Big Questions of Philosophy’ and ‘Exploring Metaphysics’.
Date published: 2018-07-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good intro to great ideas in SF, but deeply flawed This course is a 5-star introduction to the big ideas in science fiction, but Johnson is too uninformed, close-minded, and arrogant to realize he doesn't know much about certain topics. I knew this going in, since I've listened to his other courses, but this time I'd like to point out a fundamental problem with his viewpoint on science and religion. One would get the impression that he represents most truly rational thinkers who are informed, but I'll give just one of many examples where is ignorance is almost hilarious, if it weren't tragic. He raves about the great book by James Randi, the magician, on the so-called psychic Uri Geller. I read Randi before I did an interview with Geller and tested him (I'm a hardheaded business journalist who doesn't believe in a personal god, but I occasionally get a chance to write about exotic topics). I followed Randi's guidelines and yet Geller did things that were astounding and couldn't be explained by Randi. So I read a critique of Randi, Psychic Discoveries Today by Scott Rogo, to show how his book is full of misinformation (Johnson doesn't know this because he assumes his fellow skeptic must be fully rational and fair, a naivete that many debunkers of the so-called paranormal share). Nor is Johnson aware of the hundreds of experiments in then-communist European countries on ESP, which are recounted in Dr. Dean Radin's The Conscious Universe (even Freud, a militant atheist, accepted this because of his experiences with patients--it's just a part of nature, nothing supernatural). Michael Crichton wrote a brilliant talk he had been invited to give to the Skeptics Society, before they realized what he was going to say and was disinvited. He put it in the appendix to his book Travels, about how journeys around the world led to encounters with phenomena he couldn't explain based on the reductionist materialism of his Harvard medical training. So, get the course if you want a thought-provoking introduction to science fiction, but don't treat Johnson's uninformed opinions as the gospel on rationalism.
Date published: 2018-07-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from OFFENSIVELY DISMISSIVE OF RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY Mr. David Kyle Johnson in Sci-Phi Science Fiction as Philosophy is, frankly, smugly offensive in his dismissal and exasperatingly ignorant of religious philosophy as it pertains to science. For example, he leans repeatedly on the assertion that it is "obvious" you can not be devoutly religious and a genuine scientist at the same time. He presumes without examination that science and religion are incompatible - ignoring the works, in this "sweep", of the VERY devout: Copernicus, Newton, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Faraday, Maxwell etc - who all DEPENDED on the belief in the "knowability" of reality, and the possible consistency of scientific experimentation BECAUSE of the existence of God and a Divine Intelligence, which establishes that reality IS consistent and knowable. He also ignores the necessary existence of God as the grounding to a clearly and demonstrably CONTINGENT Universe - as even the Big Bang is a CONTINGENT act relying, itself, on an extraneous cause to occur. He even ignores the fact that the Big Bang Theory was FIRST proposed by a Catholic priest - George Lemaitre in 1927 - acknowledged by Einstein, but only dismissively and condescendingly given grudging acknowledgement by Mr. Johnson in a post on Facebook and then ONLY when called on his omission by a critic. If this were a "run-of-the-mill" casual comment in a course largely on science fiction works in general that would be one thing - but to HOLD himself out as a purveyor of expertise on science as philosophy is unconscionable. I have only been CLOSE to this disappointed in a course from The Teaching Company once - allegedly on a "history" course which turned out to be a dissertation by a woman who clearly was biased against men. The Teaching Company has some extremely fine courses. This is definitely NOT one of them.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy Made Approachable Now this is how to teach philosophy! The ideal crossover for me - as someone who is a big fan of sci-fi + curious about intellectual subjects. Honestly, i doubt i would have picked up a course on philosophy without the sci-fi because I would have simply perceived it as too dry a topic to spend 24 hours with. As it was I was hooked. Content was really excellent mixing well known classics with some more obscure stuff. Really bought the concepts to life. Honestly, i learnt a lot. Great stuff.
Date published: 2018-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from BEST 24 HOURS I HAVE EVER SPENT! This was an AMAZING course. The themes spoke to me as an avid reader and the philosophy was challenging, rewarding, insightful, affirming and overall truly deepened my understanding of my favorite movies as well as the concepts and criticisms of at least 24 different philosophical perspectives. I cannot recommend this course any higher! I am still pondering whether quantum theory establishes that all of reality is simply a convincing simulation...
Date published: 2018-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really impressive course! Great course and great teacher! I started this course after reviewing Dr. Johnson’s also great "Exploring Metaphysics" course. Considerable overlap, but good to have the reinforcement of a number of important ideas. Pretty much everything seemed reasonable except the parts on consciousness (Lecture 11, "Westworld and A.I. Artificial Intelligence"). His use of the term sentience (which he says encompasses intelligence, consciousness, and self-awareness) differs from dictionary definitions and everything else I’ve read. Others tend to use “consciousness” as the all-encompassing term and reserve “sentience” for feelings/subjective experience/wants/desires/the ability to care/emotions. There’s actually an easy and ready test for feelings/wants/desires: the ability to be motivated to want to do something. The test is whether the organism or computer can be trained by operant conditioning. That is, can an organism or computer be induced to perform an unrelated task to get a reward or avoid a punishment. Insects and even snails can be trained this way because (and demonstrating that) they have wants and desires. Yes, fruit flies really do like a banana. It’s quite likely that this ability is simply a result of a specific type of “wiring” (not yet figured out), rather than the overall complexity of the wiring. Dr. Johnson’s consciousness (everyone else’s sentience) is what’s important for giving moral status to creatures or computers/robots/androids, not their intelligence or whether they can ponder their existence. An emerging question will be whether, once it becomes possible, self-driving cars should be given the ability to feel/to care, to be rewarded for driving safely or efficiently and to experience pain or distress when they mess up. Oh, the ethical issues and the risks. Which leads to Dr. Johnson’s temporary near-dismissal of the value of science fiction in Lecture 12 ("Transcendence and the Dangers of A.I."). He rightly points out that there are lots of science fiction stories pointing out the dangers of sentient computers taking over from humans. However, he then says yeah, but just because things happen in the movies isn’t a good reason to think they would happen in real life. The whole point of well-written science fiction, it seems to me, is that if the premises are met, then the plot of the story is one of a number of reasonable outcomes. My take on this was that the dangers of conscious A.I. are so great that Dr. Johnson felt compelled to try to reassure the listeners (didn’t work for me). And finally, the discussion of our world being a simulation is worth the price of the course (also for his "Exploring Metaphysics"). It is very difficult to resolve the quantum mechanics dictum that quantum events don’t occur until they are observed, so the notion of the world as a computer simulation that only computes that which is about to be observed seems like a reasonable notion (for an extremely unreasonable finding of quantum mechanics). Furthermore, this explanation gets more and more likely as we become more and more familiar with the notion of computer-simulated worlds, in a way that was inconceivable 100 years ago. He gives a subjective 20% chance that we’re in a computer simulated world since there are five possibilities, one being that we actually are in a computer simulation. I see only two possibilities: 1) that it isn’t possible or 2) that it is (and if it is possible, I consider the chance to be nil that someone wouldn’t make simulated worlds because it wouldn’t be interesting enough or that it would be immoral or too dangerous). Dr. Johnson notes that much less computing power would be needed if quantum events don’t actually occur unless they’re being observed, which they very rarely are. This makes sense, but now the question becomes how much of a simulated world is really there and has really happened; or is our world like a Hollywood set where only the rooms in the buildings where the actors enter are real. How would you know that the fossils in the limestone and shale are really several hundred million years old and really are piled on top of each other versus the simulator being one step ahead of the drill bit or geologist’s hammer? Not to fool us, but to save computing power. See "Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot" by Philip Gosse (1857). And which organisms are capable of observing? Dr. Johnson jokingly fears that the creator of a simulated world might lose interest once we realize that we’re in a simulation and then shut it down. I’d expect the exact opposite. The simulation creator would likely find things especially interesting and see how it plays out. After all, for inhabitants of a simulated world to recognize the simulation would be a milestone of emergence ranking right behind 1) the emergence of life and 2) the emergence of caring/feeling/observing, getting any creator to say “WOW! Look what just happened in my simulation!” Get the course, of course!
Date published: 2018-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Excellent Addition to The Great Courses! I've been a loyal customer of The Great Courses since 1999, having bought and studied nearly all of their courses to date. That said, I'd rank this course among the very best, and that's saying quite a bit. Professor Johnson's delivery is exciting, articulate, and always to the point. In terms of content, he covers many films, TV episodes, novels, and short stories, and his knowledge of the entire genre is first rate. Likewise, his interpretive application of philosophic ideas and concepts to these artworks remain relevant, well-defined, and clearly explained throughout the 24 lectures. Luckily I had recently watched the original Star Trek series, Next Generation, and Black Mirror, so I had a fresh recollection of the many episodes he expertly addressed, which helped immensely. It's been ages since I saw Inception, 13th Floor, Dark City, and Adjustment Bureau -- to name a few -- and I suffered the consequences when listening. So do heed Prof. Johnson's advice by watching the things he suggests before each lecture. It adds immensely to your own mental participation in his lectures. His choice and selection of philosophers throughout the course is equally eclectic, so be prepared for a highly stimulating and sometimes challenging journey to the outer limits of philosophic inquiry, from Plato and Boethius to Baudrillard's Simulacra, the philosophy of quantum physics, and beyond. I will definitely revisit this course several times in order to appreciate it to the fullest. But he does always explains everything with amazing clarity. It's just a lot to take in if you try to binge-watch it. Actually I binge-listened, since I generally prefer CD's in my car, but the point is the same: This is an excellent course, dense with great science fiction, philosophy, and the philosophy of science. Prof. Johnson is also very personable and he includes many humorous touches to put a smile on your face after you've pondered the serious philosophical questions and the many urgent issues that great science fiction and philosophy confront us with.
Date published: 2018-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course I bought this 24-lecture course about a month ago and am down to the final two lectures. Professor David Kyle Johnson has provided philosophical insight into many science-fiction movies and TV series. He is also a fine speaker.
Date published: 2018-07-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great potential that went unfulfilled I went in with high expectations, based not only on my previous experience with The Great Courses, but because I'm a lifelong SciFi fan and great SciFi does indeed ask the great philosophical questions of life without being "preachy" about it, or at the least the best SciFi does. First of all, any course that uses SciFi movies and TV as its set-up but does not include "Bladerunner" as one of its lecture titles, and which subjects its innocent students to "Starship Troopers", must automatically be suspect. I kid, of course, but that's not why I downgraded the program. While many of the lectures were indeed interesting and thought-provoking (even the "Starship Troopers" offering), and even led me to new SciFi that I am currently enjoying ("Black Mirror", for instance), I grew weary of the left-wing politics, especially in the later lectures. What do I mean by that? I understand that not everyone has the same belief system, and that's great - human nature, even. I often enjoy a good back-and-forth with people who believe differently that I do. It's great intellectual exercise. But the professor was definitely, if not exactly hostile to, then very dismissive of religion and religious belief. Didn't even give believers the benefit of any real doubt. That was a turn-off and could have been dealt with more diplomatically, for lack of a better term. Also, the professor spent a lot of time pointing out the pitfalls of capitalism (and indeed, there certainly are pitfalls), but instead of taking equal time explaining the major problems with its opposite number, communism, merely referred the student to a lecture in another course. Obviously, he'd want people to buy the other course, but a more balanced approach in this one would've been a much more satisfactory solution. And finally, Lecture 20 was an insufferable treatise on global warming and climate change, with about five minutes of "Snowpiercer" thrown in. I nearly gave up on the course at this point, and I've never done that before with any other Great Courses program. This was a flat-out political lecture, not a lecture on SciFi or philosophy, and being beaten over the head repeatedly about the absolute certainty of climate change dooming the Earth became tiresome. Could the topic have been covered better? Absolutely. It's certainly a topic worthy of discussion and one that factors into a lot of SciFi, but this was not the approach to take in order to hold an audience's attention. Again, there were some excellent lectures in here, with some fantastic SciFi and great questions to think about (especially lectures on AI, free will and time travel), and I'm glad to have taken part in those, but I can't recommend the course as a whole because of the flat-out dismissal of religion as nonsense (though, interestingly, he quotes St Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine in his "just war" lecture - I guess religious people are useful sometimes...) and the unbalanced, left-wing politics of the later lectures. It was really disappointing that such potential went so wrong in the end. Kinda sounds like a SciFi plot, doesn't it?
Date published: 2018-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An interesting and thought-provoking mix I found the course to be thought provoking and an interesting mix of sci-fi and philosophy. The author picked excellent examples from the myriad of items in the sci-fi lexicon to present his philosophical points of view on some of the important and complex issues affecting us today. While I don't always agree with his position on certain issues, it was a work well researched and coordinated.
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Fits, Science FICTION as philosophy. This course is all fiction. I've been through the first two DVD 's. Everything is well fiction. If, could be, maybe and not possible. The Professor does an excellent job with the material and seems to be and excellent teacher. Sorry this one just does not make it.
Date published: 2018-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fun and challenging The only complaint I had for the course was it wasn't long enough. Please make a sequel!
Date published: 2018-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good on philosophy I bought this mostly to see how SF addresses philosophical issues. That happened somewhat, but it seemed more like a series of philosophy lectures that used SF movies and films as a jumping-off point to expound on historical philosophical theories. The professor was brilliant but the content wasn't what I expected. It may be just me, though.
Date published: 2018-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two great tastes that go great together Science fiction provides the ideal platform to explore the currents of philosophical and scientific thought which would otherwise be either immoral, impractical or impossible to pursue in the "real" world. It is also useful in the sense that it holds a mirror up to the conventions and mores of our society by placing exaggerated visions of them in future or alternative worlds. How many people who have seen the original Twilight Zone episode "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You," or the Star Trek Voyager episode "Critical Care" and not seen clear and suggestive elements or even indictments of the society we live in? Indeed, Plato's allegory of the cave and Descartes's evil demon provide the fodder for many contemporary science fiction themes. Enter this course, which parses and binds many philosophical themes and reflections found in well and lesser known science fiction shows and movies. From ethics to epistemology to time travel to alternative and simulated universes, each is unpacked and couched in terms that draw meaning to the nature of ourselves and the universe we live in.
Date published: 2018-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love how he talks about different science fiction movies and the philosophical questions they ask. He talks about different pop culture science fiction films and how they answer some difficult and thoughtful-provoking questions. I highly recommend this thoroughly enjoyable course!
Date published: 2018-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating Course There are already a number of detailed reviews of this course, so I can only agree with most of what other reviewers have already said. I agree that David K. Johnson explains many very abstract, philosophical concepts with what I found to be an amazing amount of clarity. I would have preferred seeing some clips of the sci-fi movies being discussed in order to make the video version of the course much more visually interesting and less static. I also believe that an advanced knowledge of the sci-fi genre and of the movies being discussed would go far in making this course much more meaningful. I recommend this course for both those interested in sci-fi and in philosophy and found it superior to some of the other Great Courses I’ve purchased.
Date published: 2018-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my Favorites from The great Courses This is the ultimate course for the a Science- Fiction fan that wants to learn about philosophy and other topics. The instructor really knows his movies and shows. An unlike other course where maybe a movie is just used to introduced a topic (say time-travel) but then the events in the movies are never referenced again, This course uses the science-fiction show or movies to help you related to the topic over and over. It really helps keep the student engaged. Also the professor will recommend a movie or show for you to watch for the next lecture, and that lecture will revolve that show. There is a PDF supplement included for the audio as well that provides some notes, and further reading and viewing around the topic presented in the lecture. Overall this is a super fun course that will introduce you to philosophical topics that also cross over into other fields like Economics and anthropology. In fact I often use courses like this to either refresh my memory on a subject, or lately because I am going back for another degree, to help supplement lectures I am taking at university. Great Course, That last lectures of this series, talks about all things that had to be left out. Dr. Johnson could easily expand on this course, and I for one would pay for a course that expounds on the concepts found in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" or on all great Science Fiction cartoons like Rick and Morty and Futurama. Just saying...
Date published: 2018-06-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Philosophical Sci-phi Just a question: Why is there music too soft to hear but nevertheless distracting in the first few minutes of several lectures? My opinion: the video producers need reigning in!!
Date published: 2018-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Out of This World Explanations of Philosophy Have you ever had a teacher that, for you, did a better job of explaining difficult concepts than anyone else? That is why I gave this course five stars. Professor David Johnson gave the clearest explanations of the arguments of various philosophers than I have ever heard or read before. Also there were some some surprising new arguments I have never heard given in any standard philosophy course, like why it is 20% likely I am not real, but a simulation. Why being a simulation might be the best argument yet for the existence of God. For the science fiction fan this is not a literature course on science fiction movies. Professor Johnson is a big science fiction fan and has some very interesting background on popular movies, but the course does not mix in short film clips of the movies and discuss how they rank as science fiction, or even give them a thumbs up or thumbs down. So if you want philosophy explained in a fun way that seems more down to earth, yet out of this world, I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2018-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great instructor, fantastic material covered Great instructor, fantastic material covered, wish Great Courses offered a follow up to the fist set of lectures which expanded out further and covered international Sci-Phi.
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect title for what follows in the lectures I am working my way through each of the lectures - with each lecture so far using one science fiction movie that exemplifies the philosophical theory that will be discussed. I would strongly encourage all to watch these movies in advance of the lecture as they do give even more breadth and meaning to the lecture itself - even though he gives an overview of what took place in the movie and how it relates to the topic. This is one of the best series I've listened to and am thoroughly enjoying expanding my own mind with new ideas and ways to relate many different things in life to philosophy itself.
Date published: 2018-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional! Very interesting and informative. The title intrigued me, and the course more than delivered. The Professor does a great job, he’s perfect in delivery, tone and nuance. He doesn’t let the course get bogged down in details while at the same time makes certain each lecture covers the material. Very engaging. Would definitely recommend.
Date published: 2018-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved it I liked it a lot. The course enlightened my appreciation of Sci fi flicks. I shall be relistening to The Great Courses other sci-fi course immediately. It has rekindled my interests in Sci-fi movies as well as print versions of the genre.
Date published: 2018-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and Highly Interesting I bought the course and watched the first lecture and was immediately hooked. I've watched every lecture online even before the DVDs arrived in the mail. That shows just how interesting the material and presentation are in this course. The lessons are well researched and a great deal of logic is used to support differing positions on various issues. Don't be surprised if you think about the world differently after going through the course. This course is deep in philosophical content and is also extremely interesting in how science fiction movies are incorporated into the lesson themes. I would recommend approaching the perspectives given as interesting insights on particular issues. Whether you agree with an issue or not or whether you think an issue is relevant or out of this world, I found every lecture extremely educational. The professor certainly wants to influence your thinking while at the same time wanting you to think for yourself and get you to see current and future issues from differing perspectives. Prepare for a mind blowing and interesting course. Enjoy! I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2018-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Kudos for Humor! I had to write to applaud the humor in episode 6 in which, after a lengthy, heady, diatribe on time travel, the sound guy is heard in the background saying; "Can I go now?!" This really cracked me up and let me know the professor and the Great Courses don't take themselves too seriously. I'm enjoying this course, but I'm also a science fiction geek, and was a philosophy major, so I'm a little biased.
Date published: 2018-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic addition to the philosophy section Philosophy is often considered a tough subject to get into. Between the jargon and the heady ideas, it can be difficult to parse; however, this is not the case with Professor Johnson's course. Science fiction is the perfect medium for an interesting philosophy course. Professor Johnson expertly crafts entertaining and educating lectures that actually get deep into the philosophical weeds in interesting ways (e.g. quantum indeterminism and its impact on free will; cloning/replication + personal identity; machine intelligence + minds, etc.). His lectures on AI alone are worth the price of admission (so to speak) and are especially relevant given today's headlines. If someone is particularly averse to science fiction (how dare you?), I would recommend Professor Johnson's course on 'The Big Questions of Philosophy' which is a more typical (but still a very interesting) introduction to philosophy. Bottom line: this is a fantastically fun course. I would love to see more like it. 'Black Mirror and Philosophy' as a standalone course would be outstanding. Likewise, a course on 'Philosophy for the Future' which considered trans humanism from a philosophical perspective would be excellent. Professor Johnson would be an apt choice for either of these. In fact, anything pop culture + philosophy, he's your guy. I binged this course as if it were a Netflix series and I can't think of a more convincing endorsement than that. Watch and/or listen to this course. It's a ton of fun, it's highly educational, and expertly reasoned. 5/5
Date published: 2018-05-28
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