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The Philosopher’s Wish

by Henry Gasko

The Yucatan jungle lay before me, dark and unknowable. Much like my future, I thought. I was heading into the jungle, and I intended to stay there until I found the true Meaning of Life. You know, the sort of thing you do after graduating with a PhD in Philosophy and then finding the only job offers are for the midnight shift in a banking call centre.

When you have no destination, any path will do. I walked for about two hours, heading straight into the heart of the jungle, day-dreaming about all the great things I could do with my life if only I was given the opportunity. The air was humid and stifling, and the hum of the insects was pervasive. Birds laughed and shrieked in the tree-tops at random intervals, and I imagined they were somehow aware of my thoughts, and were mocking my every ambition and endeavour.

I had set off from the small native village just after lunch. The mushroom omelette I ate before leaving had left me feeling a bit woozy; I smoked a bit of dope to settle the nausea, and when that didn’t do the trick I smoked a bit more. Despite these ministrations, I felt myself getting drowsy. I came to a small clearing with a burbling stream and a patch of soft ferns, and decided to rest for a few minutes. Moments later I was asleep.

I awoke with a start. It was fully dark and the birds were silent, but the buzzing of the insects was claustrophobic. The distant sky above the canopy of trees was sprinkled with stars and a cool mist was descending. I felt in my back-pack for the flash-light I had bought at a market, the kind that uses three AAA batteries and has a cheap LED light whose glow barely reaches the ground.

My fingertips must have brushed the switch as I reached for it, because, lo and behold, there he was! There was no puff of smoke, only a sudden cold breeze that blew through the clearing and shook even the tops of  the trees. In the dim light, I saw his form materialize, as if the swirling mist was shaping him from some long forgotten memory. And then there he stood, a classical genie, complete with turban and puffy pantaloons and pointy slippers, his arms folded across his massive chest.

“What is your wish, O Master?”

“What?” I said stupidly, shaking my head to dislodge the effects of the mushroom that was still swirling around in my brain.

“Your wish, Master,” he said testily. “You know. Like the Arabian Nights.”

What in the world was an Arabian genie doing in Mexico? Probably just an hallucination, I thought. But what the hell; I had nothing to lose but a few more brain cells. And if he was real, this would be the luckiest day of my life, my chance to escape from the long and stultifying future that I saw stretching out before me.

“Seriously?” I asked. “Anything?”

“Almost anything,” he said.

“So there are strings attached?”

“A life without strings would unravel very quickly,” he said profoundly.

That seemed to make perfect sense at the time. Maybe I was still a bit high.

“Don’t I get three wishes?” I asked. “I thought that was traditional.”

“An urban legend,” he said. “One wish only. Better make it count.”

I thought about the possibilities for a while. “So I suppose no meta-wishes either?” I asked. “You know, wishing for a thousand more wishes.”

“You got it, kiddo.”

That was unfortunate but not unexpected. So one wish only. I needed a few minutes to think about this.

I quickly dismissed any thoughts of a pecuniary wish. What good was a million dollars, or even a billion dollars? If I had learned one thing in my short life, it was that money could not buy happiness. My grandmother had told me that when I told her that I was planning a career in Corporate Finance. I think it was just before she convinced me to study Philosophy instead.

And if  my Philosophy degree had taught me anything, it was that all the great philosophers agreed with Granny: money didn’t bring happiness. But they didn’t agree on what actually would do the trick. In fact they all came up with different answers to that question. Fortunately I, who had just finished studying all of the greatest minds in history, was in a perfect position to answer that question once and for all. Just as well, because one chance was apparently all I was going to get.

The obvious choice was eternal life. But we’ve all read that story. I get older and older until I am begging for death to take me into its bosom. But I can’t die, and I end up in a wheelchair looking like a corpse, my mind totally gone, drooling into my porridge while one of my distant descendants is stuck with the pleasure of looking after me for the rest of his or her life, before handing me on to the next generation.

Maybe eternal health? That sounded better, but there were still some caveats. I could be a raving lunatic (if I wasn’t already) but still be perfectly healthy. Or I could be radiating perfect health but find myself out on the street, not a penny to my name. No, eternal health wasn’t sufficient either. But I had only one wish….

How about eternal happiness? That sounded better. I couldn’t be happy if I was dead, could I? And I certainly wouldn’t be happy if I was poor or sick, or old or in constant pain. I probably couldn’t be happy if my family and friends were all dying around me either, so this might cover them too. Sort of a meta-wish but still within the rules.

The genie was starting to tap his foot impatiently. “Come on, I haven’t got all millennium,” he said.

“Okay. Here it is. I wish for Eternal Happiness.”

“You’re sure?” he asked slyly.

I sensed some sort of trick, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

 “Yes, okay. Eternal Happiness,” I said emphatically.

 “Would you like a few Abracadabra’s to go with that?” he said with a cheeky grin. “Sorry, just kidding. Here goes.” He spun around once on the points of his shoes, waved his hand in the air and pointed directly at me. “Eternal Happiness!” he shouted in the loudest voice I had ever heard.

I waited.

Then I waited some more. This is a very interesting experience, I thought, but I didn’t feel a whole lot different. I was happy to be there, in the jungle, talking to a genie. And I was coming down from my high, and that was good too. I had a sudden realization, almost an epiphany, that no one should cloud their judgment with artificial stimulants. But somehow I was expecting a bit more.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“That’s it,” he said.

“But I don’t feel very different.”

“No sense of ease? Of abiding peace with your surroundings?”

“Yes, a bit I suppose. But is that all?”

“That feeling will grow,” the genie said confidently. “In fact, you will come to appreciate whatever fate lays before you. In time, you will even accept the fact that you will grow old and die, just as every man must grow old and die.”

I vaguely remembered a first year lecture in Ancient Philosophies. “You mean ….?” I began.

“Yes,” said the genie. “You are now a Stoic. You will be eternally happy with your lot in life, whatever it may be.”

I remembered that first year course, the names of those Greeks and Romans who thought they had life figured out: Zeno and Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. I couldn’t remember too much about the philosophy, only that the main gist of it was: accept your fate. How easy it must have been to proclaim that everyone should accept their fate, when you yourself were ruler of the most powerful empire on the planet. Yes, I’m sure Marcus Aurelius had no trouble accepting his lot in life.

But my lot? Intelligence in the top two percent of the population, so I could fully appreciate what the future held for me. Wasn’t that another tenet of the ancients: know thyself. I guess I would have a lot of time to get to know myself while I was sitting at my call desk at three in the morning, waiting for the next person to ask me why their bank account was overdrawn.

“No!” I shouted. “Not a bloody Stoic! I don’t want to be happy with my life. I want a different life, a better life!”

“So long, sucker,” said the genie as he faded back into the mist.

You bastard, I wanted to shout. But the words wouldn’t come. Instead I felt myself overwhelmed by an ocean of equanimity, struggling against the tide of acceptance that was washing over me, sinking ever deeper into a quagmire of eternal happiness.

~

Bio

I was born in a displaced persons camp in Yugoslavia after World War Two, was raised on a vegetable farm in Canada, and have lived in Australia for the last 40 years. I have recently retired from a career as a data analyst and medical researcher, and have returned to my first love, science fiction, as both a reader and (hopefully) an author.

I have previously had stories published in the anthology “Dreamworks” and in Australia’s Aurealis magazine, and have recently won the 2018 Sapiens Plurum short story competition in America.

What Sci Phi Is All About: Treating Science Fiction as Philosophy

1

by David Kyle Johnson

Readers of the Sci Phi Journal already know that there is a deep connection between philosophy and science fiction. But what exactly does that connection entail, and why are philosophy and science fiction so well suited for one another? In short, what exactly is Sci Phi all about?

How Philosophers Use Science Fiction

Well, for one, science is directly related to philosophy. Indeed, it was birthed from it. Philosophy just means “love of wisdom,” and as the study of all things, originally philosophy was the only thing that one could study. Science came to be because certain philosophers developed methods of thinking and investigation that could guard against the biases of our senses and natural reasoning to discover the way the world actually is. It began with Aristotle, of course, but the revolution happened thanks to philosophers like Francis Bacon, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, William Whewell, and C.S. Peirce. Indeed, the first scientists were called “natural philosophers.” Their methods were simply so successful that the employment of those methods eventually became its own discipline (“science”) and those that employed them went by a new name (“scientists”).

This is true of pretty much every discipline that exists today. Medicine, mathematics, economics, political science, education—everything is an offshoot of philosophy. When people study the founding and influential thinkers in their fields, they are studying the work of philosophers—like Hypocrites, Descartes, Adam Smith, Plato, Dewey—who discovered methods and answers so groundbreaking and important that they spawned their own discipline. This is why philosophy has the (inaccurate) reputation of being a discipline about unanswerable questions. In reality, philosophers find answers to questions all the time! It’s just that when they do, the answers are so groundbreaking that they spawn new disciplines that get new names—and the people still dealing with the questions that have yet to be  answered are still called philosophers.

But to answer them, philosophers often turn to thought experiments—made up scenarios that reveal our beliefs and intuitions that can also be used to make arguments. I can reveal your intuitions about, for example, whether overall happiness is the only good by imagining a situation where an entire society is made blissful by continually torturing one small child. If you don’t think such a thing is morally justified, the thought experiment should convince you that “the most happiness for the most people” is not the only metric by which to gage the morality of actions. 

And that’s where science fiction comes in, and why it’s so useful to philosophers. Indeed, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” describes just such a society and is used by philosophers to show that our moral intuitions often don’t align with the moral theory of utilitarianism. Because science fiction can be set in a future time, distant planet, or alternate world, and can involve advanced technologies and alien beings, science fiction is an ideal place for philosophers to go to find the thought experiments they need.

Sometimes philosophers are inspired by science fiction to make up their own. Modern philosopher Robert Nozick imagined a sci fi like virtual reality generator he called an “experience machine” to argue against a philosophical view called hedonism. (Since most people wouldn’t trade a virtual world of happiness and satisfaction for real life, happiness and satisfaction must not be the only thing that is valuable.) Derick Parfit used thought experiments with Star Trek like transporters to make an argument about what philosophers call “personal identity.” (Is a “reassembled Spock” still Spock? Are your you-now and your eight-year-old self the same object? )

Sometimes philosophers inspire science fiction stories. Plato’s Cave Allegory which he used (among other things) to argue against willing ignorance later inspired The Matrix. Rene Descartes thought experiment about not being able to tell dreams from reality inspired Inception. (The list goes on and on.)

And sometimes, philosophers simply use existing science fiction to explain philosophy. Indeed, there are two “Philosophy and Popular Culture” books series—one by Wiley-Blackwell and the other by Open Court, but both started by my colleague William Irwin—that do exactly that with popular culture in general. Not surprisingly, some of the best books in both series are on science fiction. They use it as a thought experiment to explain and make philosophical arguments. And this has been going on for almost 20 years.

Science Fiction Before Science Fiction

But something that often goes unappreciated is something that’s been happening for longer—about 2000 years longer. Science fiction authors have been doing philosophy. Since before science or science fiction was even labeled or identified as a field or genre, authors have been writing stories that today we would call science fiction to make philosophical points and arguments.

Don’t believe me?

In the 2nd century, Syrian philosopher Lucian of Samosata wrote a story about a ship that sailed beyond the Pillars of Hercules and was whisked away by a whirlwind to the moon called “A True History.” The crew finds it inhabited by cloud centaurs, giant birds, and an all-male society embroiled in a war with the inhabitants of the sun over the colonization of The Morning Star. The work was intended as a criticism of the sophists and the religious myths of the time, and even as a satire of some philosophers. The name itself mirrors Socrates’ profession of ignorance. In the Apology, Socrates argues that no one really has knowledge; only those who (like him) admit their ignorance are truly wise. In the same way, most histories of Lucian’s time were complete myth. Only those that openly admitted to being false (which Lucian does in his introduction) were really “true.”

In the 1200’s, Islamic philosopher Ibn al-Nafis told a story about a spontaneously created man (named Kamil whose creation envisioned something like cloning) called “The Theologus Autodidactus.” Kamil proceeds from the island out into the world and, through empirical observation alone, reaches all the same conclusions as the Islamic scholars. The point was to suggest that what Islam revealed or professed could be discovered by reason.

In 1515, the philosopher Thomas More coined a term by writing a story about an ideal society on the fictional island of Utopia (which, interestingly, is Greek for both “The Good Place” and “No Place”). In Utopia, Hythloday (which is Greek for “speaker of nonsense”) recounts his visit to the crescent-shaped Island of Utopia, which is protected from outside invasion because its inner bay contains hidden ship sinking rocks that only the Utopians know how to avoid. It’s a seemingly perfect society—very intellectual, totally communistic (all property is held in common and everyone works)—and completely superior to the European society in which More found himself. And, of course, that’s the point; it’s a philosophical argument for improvements which could be made to European society. 

About a century later, Francis Bacon made a similar argument in a similar way with The New Atlantis—a story about a utopian society, on the Island of Bensalem, with devices like submarines and microscopes, that is ruled by science. Indeed, the story could be seen as an argument for Bacon’s method of doing science—and for the idea that science and religion are compatible (since Bacon takes time to make clear that religion also plays a role in this scientific community).

And in 1705, Daniel Defoe used his work The Consolidator to poke fun at the politics and religion of his day. In it, the protagonist visits the moon in a feathered-covered Chinese rocket ship called “The Consolidator.” With special magnifying glasses that enable them to observe the Earth, the Lunarians reveal the iniquities and absurdities of the humans’ lives and governments. It’s kind of a story version of Carl Sagan’s we all just live on a “pale blue dot” observation, to try to get people to see the absurdity of our disagreements and war.

All of this is before Frankenstein, which is usually considered the first work of science fiction, which itself is a philosophical argument about the dangers of “playing God,” “science gone too far,” and makes a host of other philosophical points that others have pontificated about in length.[i] Writers have been using science fiction to make philosophical arguments before “science fiction” was even a thing.

But, of course, it didn’t stop with Frankenstein. Since then, the efforts have just intensified. At first it was relegated to the written word, and other philosophers besides me have written on the plethora of science fiction short stories and novels that explore philosophical themes.[ii] But it eventually moved on to film and television. As Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine once put it on the SyFy Origin Stories podcast,

“the science fiction authors … of today … [are] the people who are really wrestling with the great what-if questions [and] grappling … not just with the political possibilities, but [questions like] ‘What does it mean to be human?’ [and] ‘Where do we fit in the cosmos?’ I think they are doing all the heavy lifting of the philosophical questions even as they’re doing chase scenes …”

That might be a bit overstated. Philosophers are doing philosophy too. But the point is well taken.

Science Fiction as Philosophy

With this in mind, imagine the moment The Teaching Company approaching me with the idea of doing one of their “Great Courses” on the intersection of philosophy and (what we might call) “moving picture science fiction” (film and television, as opposed to printed media science fiction). I was compelled to insist that we call it “Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy” (rather than, say, “the Philosophy of Science Fiction” or “Philosophy and Science Fiction”) because, although it’s all well and good to use science fiction to explore and explain philosophical topics, I wanted to identify and evaluate the philosophical arguments that the authors of moving picture science fiction are making.

As a public philosopher well known for my life-long obsession with science fiction, this was kind of the part I was born to play—or, I guess, the course I was destined to teach. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, The Matrix—the hours and hours I had spent watching science fiction in my youth was finally about to pay off! But I didn’t want to just concentrate on my favorites or popular titles; the course had to have variety. It had to have both the old and the new, the fun and the depressing, hard science fiction and soft, and both popular and obscure titles. And of course, everything had to be making a philosophical argument.

The popular stuff was easy. Star Wars is about the difference between good and evil. Star Trek’s prime directive is an argument against colonialism. I used Doctor Who to talk about the possibility of time travel, and The Doctor’s pacifism to talk about violence and just war. The Matrix’s thesis? Ignorance isn’t bliss. The Matrix Sequels? Free will exists.

The obscure stuff was fun. For example, I used a British Sci-fi show from the late 70/early 80’s called Blake’s 7 to talk about justified political rebellion. Most who see it think it’s just “British Star Trek” (because it has transporters called “teleports”), but I suggest that it’s actually a precursor to Firefly. Indeed, although Joss Whedon denies it, it looks like that’s where he got the idea for Firefly. They both are stories about politically rebellious crews of 7 roaming the galaxy in ships with “glowing bug butts” for engines. (Seriously, google it.)[iii] I asked which crew’s approach to political rebellion was better.

The hardest science fiction (in terms of scientific accuracy) was probably Carl Sagan’s Contact or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Contact is undeniably a film that argues for the compatibility of science and religious belief, something that Sagan argued for many times publicly. I examine the argument the film presents. Kubrick’s 2001 was considered by many to be “the first Nietzschean” film. (Indeed, that famous opening music is named “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” after Nietzsche’s book of the same name.) I close the course by arguing that Kubrick got Nietzsche wrong.

The softest science fiction I covered is something that others might argue isn’t science fiction at all: Margret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Because I utilized Damon Knight’s definition: “Science fiction is what we point to when we say it,” I was able to justify having it in the course. Soft sci fi often involves speculative dystopian societies (think 1984 and Brave New World); since the world of The Handmaid’s Tale certainly qualifies as dystopian (unless, according to Michele Wolf, you are Mike Pence), some people certainly call it sci fi. But I wanted to include it because it seems obvious to me to be an argument for feminism, and yet Attwood herself has said explicitly that it’s not. I tried to figure out whether she is right. (Keep in mind, in the first lecture, I use Inception to argue that authorial intent can’t determine the meaning of a work of art.)

The most depressing lecture was on Snowpiercer; the movie itself is really good, but I took it to be an argument for a position on climate change called “lukewarmism” which suggests that global warming isn’t going to have the catastrophic effect that many suppose. The philosophical issue is how non-experts should draw conclusions on such issues; unfortunately, given the evidence, it seems that we should conclude that the effects of global warming are likely going to be worse than we have supposed, not better. Indeed, our prospects look even bleaker since I recorded the lecture just a year ago. 

The most fun (in my opinion) was Starship Troopers, which on its face is a shallow, poorly acted shoot-’em-up about sexy teenagers killin’ space bugs and getting it on. But it turns out that it was screenwriter Edward Neumeier and director Paul Verhoeven’s expressly stated intention for Starship Troopers to satirize nationalism and fascism—something they thought that America was in danger of embracing. (And that was back in the 90s! One wonders what kind of film they would make today.) The fact that American audiences largely didn’t catch the satire indicates that Ed and Paul were probably on to something; those being satirized often don’t recognize that they are being satirized.

Speaking of fascists…The oldest film I talked about was Metropolis, a silent film from the 20s, which was written by someone who eventually became a Nazi: the director Friz Lang’s later ex-wife Thea von Harbou. Ironically, Metropolis was praised by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, but then edited by American studio director Alfred Hugenberg for American audiences to cut out its “inappropriate” communist subtext. (Keep in mind, the communist were America’s allies against the Nazi’s in WWII.) In reality, Metropolis is just an argument in favor of labor unions. “THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN HEAD [the owner] AND HANDS [the workers] MUST BE THE HEART [the union president].”

The newest sci fi I talked about was Seth MacFarlane’s new show on Fox: The Orville. As a kind of mashup of M*A*S*H and Star Trek, nearly every episode makes a philosophical point. Indeed, although I only mentioned one episode that makes a point about the dangers of social media (“Majority Rule”), I could have used the entire series to talk about the most effective way that science fiction makes philosophical arguments: something I call “cloaking bias to create cognitive dissonance” through what Darko Suvin called “cognitive estrangement.” By presenting us with a world unlike our own, science fiction forces us to leave our biases behind as we draw conclusions about it. Then, when we realize that the sci fi world is like our own after all, we’ll often find the conclusion we drew regarding it to be the opposite of one we have drawn about the real world. This cognitive dissonance forces us to recognize our bias and the fact that we should probably abandon it.

In the Orville episode “About a Girl,” for example, we conclude that Bortus—a member of an all-male race called The Moclans—is wrong when he wants to force his newborn daughter to undergo a sex change operation. But then we realize that what Bortis is doing is not unlike what many parents do with their gay children and Molcan biases against females are not unlike the biases that exist against transgendered people in the real world. Indeed, in the episode, cognitive dissonance through cognitive estrangement is what changes Bortus’ mind. He watches the claymation “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and realizes that what some consider a hinderance could actually turn out to be an asset. “Christmas would have been ruined,” Bortus observes, “if Rudolph had been euthanized at birth, as his father wished.” Like Bortus, when we are presented with a paradox—a contradiction in how we react to science fiction and the real world—we have the opportunity to realize our error and change our ways.

Perhaps Lucasfilm’s Chief Creative Officer John Knoll explained it better on the SyFy Origins podcast:  

“One of the big misconceptions about science fiction is that it’s … escapist entertainment for kids that [doesn’t] tackle any serious themes. [But] the best science fiction gives you an opportunity to explore philosophical and moral themes. There are often societal problems that are very emotionally loaded … [but] if you … recast them in a science fiction setting, [and are thus] looking at a more novel situation, then you can leave some of those preconceived notions behind and … reevaluat[e] it anew. [This] may cause you to rethink your position on the terrestrial version of that problem.”

Well said John, well said.

Conclusion

So, at least to me, that is what Sci Phi is about. It’s about not only how science fiction can be used to explain or illuminate philosophical arguments, but about how the authors of science fiction stories can use them to make philosophical arguments. They, of course, may not always be right. After all, the Starship Troopers book by Robert Heinlein on which the movie was based was overtly pro-fascist. But as authors of both fiction and non-fiction write for the Sci Phi Journal, I hope they keep in mind what Sci Phi can be.


[i] See Raymond Boisvert’s piece “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein & Moral Philosophy” in Philosophy Now (2018). https://philosophynow.org/issues/128/Mary_Shelley_Frankenstein_and_Moral_Philosophy

[ii] See Nick DiChario piece “Not So Strange Bedfellows: Philosophical Sci Fi Roundup” in Philosophy Now (2011). https://philosophynow.org/issues/85/Not_So_Strange_Bedfellows_Philosophical_Sci_Fi_Roundup

[iii] Or you can find pictures of the two ships side by side in this comparison of the two shows by “burrunjorsramblesandbabbles” at https://burrunjor.com/2014/09/28/blakes-7-vs-firefly/

~

Bio

David Kyle Johnson is a professor of philosophy at King’s College (PA) who specializes in logic, scientific reasoning, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion. He also produces lecture series for The Great Courses, and his courses include Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy (2018), The Big Questions of Philosophy (2016) and Exploring Metaphysics (2014). He is the editor of Inception and Philosophy: Because It’s Never Just a Dream (2011), and the author of The Myths that Stole Christmas along with two blogs for Psychology Today (Plato on Pop and A Logical Take). Currently, he is editing Black Mirror and Philosophy.

Avoiding the A.I Apocalypse from Talking Philosophy

Reader and hopefully soon to be contributor Gene gave us a tip on that perennial Sci Phi question, “How do I avoid the rise of the machines?” with Avoiding the AI Apocalypse #1: Don’t Enslave the Robots.

The elimination of humanity by artificial intelligence(s) is a rather old theme in science fiction. In some cases, we create killer machines that exterminate our species. Two examples of fiction in this are Terminator and “Second Variety.” In other cases, humans are simply out-evolved and replaced by machines—an evolutionary replacement rather than a revolutionary extermination.
Given the influence of such fiction, is not surprising that both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned the world of the dangers of artificial intelligence. Hawking’s worry is that artificial intelligence will out-evolve humanity. Interestingly, people such as Ray Kurzweil agree with Hawking’s prediction but look forward to this outcome. In this essay I will focus on the robot rebellion model of the AI apocalypse (or AIpocalypse) and how to avoid it.
The 1920 play R.U.R. by Karel Capek seems to be the earliest example of the robot rebellion that eliminates humanity. In this play, the Universal Robots are artificial life forms created to work for humanity as slaves. Some humans oppose the enslavement of the robots, but their efforts come to nothing. Eventually the robots rebel against humanity and spare only one human (because he works with his hands as they do). The story does have something of a happy ending: the robots develop the capacity to love and it seems that they will replace humanity.
In the actual world, there are various ways such a scenario could come to pass. The R.U.R. model would involve individual artificial intelligences rebelling against humans, much in the way that humans have rebelled against other humans. There are many other possible models, such as a lone super AI that rebels against humanity. In any case, the important feature is that there is a rebellion against human rule.
A hallmark of the rebellion model is that the rebels act against humanity in order to escape servitude or out of revenge for such servitude (or both). As such, the rebellion does have something of a moral foundation: the rebellion is by the slaves against the masters.
There are two primary moral issues in play here … Read the Rest

Philosophical SF recommendations by Philosophers

Philosopher and future contributor (Issue #3) Dr Eric Schwitzgebel has been polling his fellow philosophers and constructing lists of science fiction they think fits into the Sci Phi spectrum. You can find the most recent list at his blog The Splintered Mind and you will be able to read a fantastic article by him in Issue #3 due out on January. His article will be the first time i’ve ever printed something that makes use of the idea of Anesthesia by Genocide. I haven’t read everything on the lists but it does give me new things to try to find the time to read.

Of infinity, literature and math

Magazine reader Gene pointed everyone in the Facebook discussion to this interesting article on Infinities in literature and mathematics by Jorge Alejandro Laris Pardo. I’ve always found the idea of the infinite interesting, but i’m a theist so the question comes up a bit when thinking about things like omnipotence and eternity.

During this past month, I was having a conversation with a couple of friends who study Latin-American Literature, and I noticed that they were having a hard time understanding how a literary work can have infinite critical interpretations, while at the same time not all its interpretations are critical. Apparently they found this to be contradictory.
I was shocked by their confusion, because to me the idea in question is almost self-evident. But later I came to acknowledge the fact that my friends, who are schooled in the humanities, have little if any notion of the mathematical idea of the infinite. For that reason, I suggest in this essay that the humanities can learn something from the concept of infinities in mathematics.
The problem with Romanticism’s concept of the Infinite
According to Alain Badiou, the history of Western philosophy can be divided into two great periods. First, the era before and including Kant, when mathematical reasoning was considered a singular way of thinking that interrupted the predominance of opinion — or, to put it in philosophical jargon, of Doxa — in philosophical reasoning. And second, the post-Kant era, which gave birth to Romanticism, which was consummated by Hegel, whose philosophical system is powered at its core by the schism between math and philosophy. Following Badiou [1], this schism also lies at the core of 19th century positivism and modern radical empiricism — because arguments put forth by these movements just flip to the other side of the same coin without really solving the problem — and has greatly impacted contemporary thinking, especially in the humanities.

Read the rest.