Monday, October 20, 2014

Philosophical SF: Seventh Batch of Lists (Roy-Faderman, Clark, Schwitzgebel, and Killoren & Murphy)

More philosophical SF lists!

A general description of the project, plus the first four lists, from Dever, Powell, Kind, and Horst.

Second set: Mandik, E. Kaplan, Evnine, De Cruz.

Third set: De Smedt, Bakker, J. Kaplan, Weinberg.

Fourth set: Frankish, Blumson, Cash, Keeley.

Fifth set: Jollimore, Chalmers, Palma, Schneider.

Sixth set: Campbell, Cameron, Easwaran, Briggs.

As always, readers should feel free to contribute their own recommendations to the comments section of this post or the earlier posts.


List from Ina Roy-Faderman (Instructor of Philosophy, Oregon State University, and poet):

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (novel, 1932). Biotech isn't automatically a "good" or an "evil" for people and society. What are the repercussions of engineering people with enhanced and reduced capacities? Both positive and negative?

William Gibson, "Johnny Mnemonic" (short story, 1981). What are the pros and cons of biomodifying humans and other intelligent organisms? How if at all should such practices be regulated? Is it even possible to regulate new technologies fully?

Theodore Sturgeon, Venus Plus X (novel, 1960). What is gender? Is gender necessarily a binary? Why?

Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid's Tale (novel, 1985). How does the role and treatment of women in our society affect society? What problems are there with persons of either gender being limited to reproductive purposes?

Connie Willis, The Doomsday Book (novel, 1992). How does disease affect society and culture, particularly with respect to our moral and ethical standards? How do we understand the impact of our small actions on the future, and what effect should potential impact have on our current behavior?

Ray Bradbury, "A Sound of Thunder" (short story, 1952). A start to looking at utilitarian analyses of possible consequences of our smallest actions. What are our obligations with regard to possible future consequences of our actions?

Kurt Vonnegut, "Welcome to the Monkey House" (short story, 1968). What are reasonable responses to a population issue? In what situation, if any, is assisted suicide ethically allowable? What are the consequences of different attitudes towards sex and sexuality?

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (novel, 2005). How important is how we're made to our personhood? What guidelines should there be to using reproductive technologies? What should the limits of these uses be, if any?

Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon (short story 1958, novel 1966). What are our obligations to organisms that are not human? is intelligence a good thing? What are/should be our responsibilities to persons who do are not neurotypical?

John Chu, "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" (short story, 2013). Uses a strange phenomenon to make visible and concrete the emotional difficulties of coming out. A great way to start discussing what our obligations are to our family and what the importance is, if any, of genetics.


List from Stephen Clark (Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Liverpool):

John C. Wright, The Golden Age (novels, 2002-2003). Set in a very far future capitalist utopia, about to be threatened by a very different form of society. Questions about identity, humanity, social control are implicit, and there are even clear and fairly compelling arguments, mostly drawn from Stoic sources, about the rational roots of ethics.

C. J. Cherryh, Cyteen (novel, 1988). Issues about identity, cloning, slavery, enacted in part of Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe.

C. J. Cherryh, Chanur sequence (novels, 1981-1992). Issues about biological or cultural roots of behaviour, represented through several well-imagined intelligent species in an interstellar, multi-species compact.

Lois McMaster Bujold, the Vorkosigan sequence (novels, 1986-2012), especially Memory (1996). Importance of memory for stable identity, dealing with temptation, social structures.

Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood's End (novel, 1953). The price of utopia, evolutionary leaps. Could an unchanged humanity be at home in the cosmos?

C. S. Lewis, Ransom trilogy (novels, 1938-1945), especially That Hideous Strength (1945), which explores some of the ideas in his The Abolition of Man. Roots of morality, social pressures and wickedness.

Philip K. Dick, Time out of Joint (novel, 1958) Not his best, nor yet his most disturbed, fantasy, but a neat demonstration of what it would be like to discover that one's entire life and surroundings are fake!

Clifford Simak, City (novel, 1952). Tales told about humanity by posthuman dogs - conflicting values of individual and collective; robot intelligence; cross-species compassion.

George Effinger, When Gravity Fails (novel, 1986). What would it be like to be able to load new characters or new talents via computer add-ons, set in a future dominated by Muslim (and mostly criminal) culture. There were two sequels, continuing the story, but without any final resolution.

Ruthanna Emrys, “The Litany of Earth” (short story, 2014). Set in Lovecraft's cosmos - but turning Lovecraft's racism round entirely so that the followers of Cthulhu et al. are a persecuted minority who know and accept that humanity is transient. 


List from Eric Schwitzgebel (Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Riverside):

Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (esp. “Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius”, “The Library of Babel”, and “The Circular Ruins”, short stories, mostly 1940-1949). Every story is philosophically weird and interesting in multiple ways, with repeating themes of infinitude, temporality, repetition, and metaphysical idealism.

Greg Egan, Diaspora / Permutation City (novels, 1994, 1997). If we could upload our minds into giant computers, including duplicating ourselves, backing ourselves up, radically altering our sensory experiences and personalities, what would be the consequences for personal identity and the meaning of life?

Vernor Vinge, A Fire upon the Deep / Children of the Sky (novels 1992, 2011). Features small packs of doglike creatures who communicate constantly through high-frequency sound; only together do they have sophisticated intelligence.

Olaf Stapledon, Sirius (novel, 1944). A dog endowed with human intelligence struggles to make sense of love, human irrationality, and the meaning of life.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Ship in a Bottle” (TV show, 1993). A character from the virtual-reality “Holodeck” attempts to take over the starship, resulting in confusion between simulation and reality, and raising the question of whether the difference matters.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (novels, 1865, 1871). Logic and metaphysics turn topsy turvy (time stops, memory runs backwards, Alice is only a figure in the king’s dream, etc.) while social conventions (tea time, croquet, the monarchy) continue unabated but bizarrely transformed.

Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker (novel, 1995). Duplicates of your mind can be sent to segregated subportions of others’ minds, reaching independent decisions before merging back into you (cf. Brin’s Kiln People).

Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others (stories, 1990-2002). One story features aliens whose language is visual and non-linear instead of linear and temporal; another features people who disable the part of their brain that makes beauty judgments about other people.

Charles Stross, Accelerando (novel, 2005). Cyberpunk packed tight with wild technological and social ideas, especially regarding self-enhancement, duplication, reincarnation, and human inferiority to AI.


List from David Killoren (Ethics Fellow, Coastal Carolina University) & Derrick Murphy (Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin at Madison):
Philosophically interesting episodes of The Twilight Zone (original series)

"The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine" (S1:E4, 1959). What is the ontological status of fictional worlds? Is it logically possible for an individual to move from the actual world to a fictional world?

"The Lonely" (S1:E7, 1959). How can we know whether others have minds? What would an android need to do (or to be) in order to be a member of the moral community?

"Long Live Walter Jameson" (S1:E24, 1960). Is immortality worth having? What moral obligations come with being an immortal who has to interact with mortals?

"The Eye of the Beholder" (S2:E6, 1960). Is beauty a matter of stance-independent fact, or a social construction, or merely an illusion, or something else altogether? If a person is regarded as ugly by everyone in her society (including herself), does this mean that she really isn't beautiful?

"Shadowplay" (S2:E26, 1961). What would I have to do to convince you that I am dreaming and that you're a figment of my imagination?

"Nothing in the Dark" (S3:E16, 1962). Why fear death? What would death personified look like?

"Person or Persons Unknown" (S3:E27, 1962). Is your identity in part constituted by others' knowledge of your life? If everyone forgets who you are, can you continue to be the same person?

"Four O'Clock" (S3:E29, 1962). Is it evil to obsess about others' evils?

"The Old Man in the Cave" (S5:E7, 1963). Do humans need to have a religion (whether that religion is true or not) in order to rein in our self-destructive impulses?

"Number 12 Looks Just Like You" (S5:E18, 1964). Is homogeneity an aesthetic defect? Would a hedonistic utopia, in which pleasure levels are high and pain levels are low, really be all that great?


More lists soon!


Anonymous said...

Anyone else really surprised by the lack of love for Dune so far?

Scott Bakker said...

My love is only love that matters!

Anonymous said...

A love which is much appreciated, Scott.

Anonymous said...

<3 City

Wade Tarzia said...

For the Twilight Zone list, "The Monsters Due on Maple Street" might be useful for any topic about the need for scapegoating in times of social crisis.