February 18, 2015
Machine Consciousness in "Supertoys Last All Summer Long"
I've gotten myself scheduled to teach an interdisciplinary honors college seminar on science-fiction and philosophy in the coming fall. I've started working on a syllabus, which means I have the enjoyable task of looking through a lot of science-fiction stories to think about which ones provide the most interesting explorations of philosophical questions. Along the way, I noticed something very interesting about Brian Aldiss's "Supertoys Last All Summer Long". This 1969 short story was the basis for the 2001 movie A. I. Artificial Intelligence, which was begun by Kubrick and finished by Spielberg after Kubrick's death. According to Aldiss's introduction...
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June 29, 2011
A Short Story About Berkeley's Theory of Vision
On the plane back from Zurich last week I read a very interesting story, "He Who Shapes," by Roger Zelazny. This work won the Nebula for best novella in 1965. The story centers around essentially the same piece of technology depicted in the recent movie Inception: a device that allows two people to share a dream, with one of them, the 'shaper', in control of the dream world. However, unlike Inception, in which the technology is used primarily for corporate espionage, in "He Who Shapes" the device is used for psychotherapy. This would be interesting enough, but it gets better:...
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April 18, 2011
The History of Swampman
It's been a while since I posted anything here, so I thought I'd take Jeremy's recent discussion
of Davidson's 'Swampman' case (and modifications thereof) as an occasion to post a historical tidbit about swampman-like scenarios.
Davidson's story - of a duplicate of himself being created by a lightning strike in a swamp - has obvious resemblances to the DC Comics character Swamp Thing
. What is less obvious, less well known, and not mentioned on Swamp Thing's Wikipedia page, is that the swampman scenario was actually originated by Theodore Sturgeon
in his short story "It"
, originally published in Unknown
in August of 1940. Sturgeon himself, who was not a follower of comic books, did not know about his influence on that genre until he was invited to receive an award at the San Diego Comic Convention in 1975. Sturgeon's own description of the event can be found in the introduction to his 1984 collection, Alien Cargo
, and is quoted in the story notes to "It" in the first volume of Sturgeon's Complete Stories
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April 29, 2010
Meta-ethics on the Brain
Last night I had what might actually be the strangest dream ever. It was much weirder than hilzoy's now-famous (among philosophy bloggers, at least) synthetic a priori dream. In my dream, some space aliens discovered that platonism was false. They were very disturbed by this because, they thought, without platonic objects, there was nothing to serve as the ontological ground for moral facts. So the aliens convened a galactic council, and held a sort of lottery. Earth lost the lottery, so the aliens were rounding up all the humans and putting them into a simulation. In the simulation, the humans...
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November 21, 2009
Quote of the Day: A Science Fiction Thought Experiment in Aristotle
Therefore, however many things appear to come about in different types of material, for instance, a circle in bronze and stone and wood, it seems clear that neither bronze nor stone is part of the substance of a circle, since they can be separated. But even for things that are not observed to be separated, there is no reason why the same results should not follow, just as even if all circles that were seen were bronze, nonetheless bronze would be no part of the form, but it would be difficult to separate them in thought. For instance, the form human is always observed in flesh and bones and these sorts of parts. Are these parts therefore part of the form and the definition [of human]? ...
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September 22, 2009
Philosophical Science-Fiction Stories: A Preliminary List
One of the main ways I was turned on to philosophy was via science-fiction, and I continue to be a big science-fiction enthusiast. I am most interested in the classic (c. 1935-1960) short stories, especially those of Theodore Sturgeon. I have been reading through the new Wiley-Blackwell Science Fiction and Philosophy volume, ed. Susan Schneider. This is a good collection of philosophical writing - both from the professional literature and from more popular writers - on topics that have a direct and obvious relation to popular works of science-fiction, with some great short fiction (including Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"...
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