Watch Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy

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Join Professor of Philosophy David Kyle Johnson, of King’s College, on a 24-lecture exploration of the final frontiers of philosophy across several decades of science fiction in film and television. See how science fiction allows us to consider immense, vital - and sometimes controversial - ideas with a rare combination of engagement and critical distance.

Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on May 25, 2018.

Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy is available for streaming on the website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy on demand atAmazon Prime, Amazon, Kanopy, The Roku Channel online.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 24 Episodes
May 25, 2018
Documentary & Biography
Cast: David Kyle Johnson
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Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy Full Episode Guide

  • 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.

  • 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 US 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Open this lecture with a look at how and why we get scientific information from experts 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Sentient machines have been a staple of sci-fi for decades. Focus on a few key stories, and 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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."

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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."

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. #Music, Philosophy & Religion