October 11, 2023

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Philosophy and Science Fiction, Unit 3: Free Will

Still working on additional reading recommendations for my scifi class!

The task for unit 3 is to analyse a work of science fiction in which it is unclear whether a character chooses or acts freely.

Required Reading

Week 1: Determinism and Free Will (half week)None McKenna and Coates, "Compatibilism", SEP, sections 1 and 2
Various thought experiments selected from van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (1983) and Dennett, Elbow Room (1984)
Week 2: Reflective Endorsement and Free WillTriptree, "Love Is the Plan The Plan Is Death" (1973)Frankfurt, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" (1971)
Week 3: Foreknowledge, Time Travel, and Free WillEgan, "The Hundred-Light Year Diary," in Axiomatic (1995)

Heinlein, "—All You Zombies—" (1959)

Fernandes, "Freedom, self-prediction, and the possibility of time travel" (2020)

Recommended Reading

Heinlein (as Anson MacDonald), "By His Bootstraps" (1941)

As a result of time travel, Bob Wilson finds himself coming into conflict with several future versions of himself. Can he refuse to do what his future selves predict he will do?

Boucher, "Transfer Point" (1950)

In the distant future, Vyrko lives in a self-contained shelter, one of the last three people on earth. In a collection of 20th-century science fiction magazines, he discovers that one author has correctly narrated all of the future history up to Vyrko's own time. Then, Vyrko discovers that this same author has written a story describing Vyrko's own life in the shelter.

Del Rey, "...And It Comes Out Here" (1951)

A man travels back in time to provide a time machine to his younger self.

Dick, "The Minority Report" (1956), or the 2002 film adaptation

In the near future, three 'precogs' report future crimes, allowing police to apprehend the would-be perpetrators before the crime is committed. Occasionally, however, their reports disagree. Do humans have free will, in the world of this story? Can people justly be held responsible for what the precogs say they will do (or would do if they weren't stopped)?

Note: the philosophical issues are handled differently in the story and the film. The story goes deeper.

Asimov, "All the Troubles of the World" (1958), reprinted in Nine Tomorrows (1985)

Multivac is a supercomputer charged with analyzing all available data to solve all of humanity's problems. But how does Multivac feel about all of this? Does it have a will of its own?

Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (1962), or the 1971 film adaptation

A teenage gang leader, imprisoned for murder, is subjected to an experimental behavioral modification therapy, to cure him of his violent tendencies.

Content advisory: graphic depictions of violence, including sexual violence

Dick, "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale" (1966), reprinted in Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick (2013), or the film adaptation (Total Recall, 1990), or the 2012 remake

Douglas Quail, an office worker, can't afford a vacation to Mars, so he visits Rekal, Incorporated, a company that promises to implant false memories of such a vacation. In the process Quail discovers, to his surprise, that this is not the first time his memory has been manipulated. Does Quail act freely while under the influence of such manipulated memories?

Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

Billy Pilgrim has come 'unstuck' in time, traveling to different moments of his life out of order. He is abducted by aliens, the Tralfamadorians, who experience all time as simultaneous, rather than sequential.

Le Guin, "Another Story or A Fisherman of the Inland Sea" (1994), reprinted in The Found and the Lost (2016)

A scientist has left his family and community to pursue his work on Churten theory, a theory of space and time that may one day allow faster-than-light travel. In the conflict between his personal life and his work, he wishes he could have made a different decision. With the help of Churten theory, perhaps he can.

Gattaca (1997)

In a future where nearly all children are genetically engineered and decisions about everything from dating to employment are made based on genetic profiles, Vincent Freeman's parents decided to let nature take its course. Vincent has been branded a genetically inferior 'invalid'. Will his supposedly inferior genetics determine the course of his life?

Chiang, "Story of Your Life" (1998), in Stories of Your Life And Others" (2003)

Earth is visited by aliens whose primary form of communication consists in diagrams intended to be grasped all at once, rather than one word at a time like our languages. As linguist Dr. Louise Banks becomes fluent in the language, her sense of time is altered and she begins to have 'memories' of the future.

Note: This story is the basis for the film Arrival (2016), but the philosophical issues do not come through as clearly in the film.

Inception (2010)

In the near future, a criminal organization uses technology to enter people's dreams. While this is typically used to steal secrets, the technique known as 'inception' also allows them to plant ideas in the subject's mind. Do people who act on the basis of such implanted ideas act freely?

Content advisory: suicide

Saunders, "Escape from Spiderhead" (2010), or the 2022 film adaptation

Jeff is a prison inmate who is being used as a test subject for experimentation with medications for controlling emotions. Does he choose or act freely while medicated?

Content advisory: sexual coercion; suicide

(Recommended by @NoamChompers)

Posted by Kenny at October 11, 2023 12:13 PM
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