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Publisher's Summary

The science fiction genre has become increasingly influential in mainstream popular culture, evolving into one of the most engaging storytelling tools we use to think about technology and consider the shape of the future. Along the way, it has also become one of the major lenses we use to explore important philosophical questions.

The origins of science fiction are most often thought to trace to Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, a story born from a night of spooky tale-telling by the fireside that explores scientific, moral, and ethical questions that were of great concern in the 19th century - and that continue to resonate today. And, although novels and short stories built the foundations of science fiction, film and television have emerged as equally powerful, experimental, and enjoyable ways to experience the genre. Even as far back as the silent era, films like Fritz Lang's Metropolis have used science fiction to tell stories that explore many facets of human experience.

In Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy, Professor of Philosophy David Kyle Johnson, of King's College, takes you on a 24-lecture exploration of the final frontiers of philosophy across several decades of science fiction in film and television. From big-budget blockbusters to television series featuring aliens in rubber masks, Professor Johnson finds food for philosophical thought in a wide range of stories. By looking at serious questions through astonishing tales and astounding technologies, you will see how science fiction allows us to consider immense, vital - and sometimes controversial - ideas with a rare combination of engagement and critical distance. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2018 The Great Courses (P)2018 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy

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    3 out of 5 stars

It only scratches the surface

It only scratches the surface of what the topic could yield, but the professor's time is clearly restrained as he mentions at the end of the course. If you're new to the concept of philosophy and are a science fiction buff the course is definitely worth it.

26 people found this helpful

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Two Great Tastes that Taste Great Together ...

From Orson Scott Card I learned to call science fiction and fantasy "speculative literature." Thus it is probably from my life long love of science fiction that I also developed a keen interest in philosophy. Both stimulate the mind and push us into the realm of "what if?"; not always for the sake of escapism, but often for the sake of speculating about many issues that face humanity now and always. You can imagine, then, what a boon it was for me to find this new series of lectures by David Kyle Johnson of King's College (PA). Dr. Johnson delivers 24 thought-provoking lectures on important issues current in society that have been speculated on in science fiction movies, television, etc. The difficult issues and arguments--all handled thoroughly and in a balanced manner--are nicely illustrated by the references to science fiction. And as a bonus, I was more than once glad to receive a very convincing and clarifying interpretation of several of my favorites, including Inception and Metropolis. Any such lecture series is usually stronger or weaker by individual lectures, but these are pretty consistent throughout. Whether I agree totally or in part with Dr. Johnson's views, I have certainly enjoyed this stimulating course.

22 people found this helpful

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such a geeky arm chair philosopher's jam. loved it

This is such a geeky arm chair philosopher's jam. I loved it, it informs on multiple levels and is interesting.

13 people found this helpful

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Philosophy and Science Fiction

This course is a must for lovers of science fiction. It deepens one’s understanding about the appeal of the genre and broadens her insight into the books and film she encounters in it.

My only complaint? The course was about film and didn’t really include sci-fi novels, in my opinion the best examples of the
science fiction corpus,

11 people found this helpful

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Too Flawed

There were a few gems, and the Science Fiction presented was interesting, but there was little philosophy, and none of substance, meaning what was presented was very weak (reflecting the current state of human philosophy). The author was historically illiterate (illiterate in history) as with his going with the alternate history claim that Hiroshima was a terrorist act, and that the Kim's in North Korea were the US's fault (rather than being the monstrous bastard creations of Communist China and Stalinist Russia), and misdefining Colonialism (I will leave that to your agony to discover). He used 'sentient' wrong (applying it to intelligence rather than to the senses), and he was politically naive, still pushing Marxist concepts (when free societies have rendered it obsolete). He probably wrote this and got this published only because it is all that academia will allow these days without the professor either being censured or fired and blackballed (my view, from my observations).

28 people found this helpful

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Weak philosophy loaded with misapplied facts and personal bias

1) The lectures do very little actual philosophy and spends far more time fetishizing the stories of science fiction and confusing them with reality.

2) An obvious personal bias toward religion and consistent condescending remarks toward religious people, especially Christianity. The lecturer is consistently more generous toward his own interests (ie. the scientific possibility of time travel vs. the scientific possibility of theism) and paints a broad, negative caricature of religion (ie. the Christian punk band he heard as a teen and then applied to religious as a whole). This seems to come from some personal negative experience he had and alludes to — a personal agenda not philosophy or sci-fi ... especially in the Handmaidens Tale lecture.

3) Makes poor, unsubstantiated generalizations such as “most philosophers agree”, “some scientists think” which can bolster any weak argument without the heavy lifting of actual research

4) Cherry picks perspectives to present that support his view without considering opposing views (ie. just about everything he says about quantum mechanics).

5) A non-physicist who paints a poor picture of quantum mechanics with several factual errors (ie. spin properties of entangled particles, particle and wave properties, etc). The worst offense is his lack of connection from the particle world to the aggregated (real) world and any functioning philosophy of why that might be important.

5) Weird attempts at humor detract from the course and further erodes the lecturer’s credibility. That said, the reviews of sci-fi films and shows is pretty entertaining apart from the bizarre personality.

All in all, this course is bad work from what appears to be a relatively untalented philosopher. Best to avoid.

29 people found this helpful

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dropped it early

You can't, in an intro to philosophy, while talking about THE MATRIX of all things, bring up Simulacra and Simulation and uncritically call it "untrue". You're being so misleading about the nature of Philosophy. Things aren't "obviously untrue", especially when you're deep in post-Structuralism. Don't do your audience like that. This is clearly aimed at an audience with a very basic understanding of philosophy and the lecturers casual misunderstandings could be very easily blown out of proportion by an untrained listener. I'm not even necessarily a Baudrillard fan but you don't just dismiss a philosopicsl position and not even argue why except "intuition".

3 people found this helpful

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Started off good

Started off good but as you get into it his own personal biases start to show more and more. By the end instead of talking about sci-phi and philosophy it feels more like his personal commentary on things like religion, women's rights, etc.

3 people found this helpful

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okay..until he became a birth control advocate.

he says I am not an advocate of abortion...but then he makes huge personal "opinions" about a person versus non person...
in earlier comments about global warming...he says "no expert can speak on the subject."

a total hypocrite!!!

willing to dismiss but says here is my opinion?!?!

2 people found this helpful

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Nerd, Defined.

Our professor professes to be a Science Fiction nerd; and he is. What you must know before you purchase: What is a Science Fiction Nerd? Science Fiction Nerds don't read any Science Fiction. I did not know this. In Nerd World, SF exists only on film ( this includes TV, obviously ). Nerd SF does not include any science fiction novels, short stories, novellas, etc, UNLESS the book has been adapted for film - and then, only the film adaptation is considered. Yes. The SF nerd is a very limited creature. They wanna watch. This will include zero SF novels. But boy oh boy, if your SF is "Star Wars" (meh), "Star Trek" (goofy), "Star Trek; Next Gen" (YAWN - they carpeted the Enterprise for this spin-off, perfect for lulling you to sleep). "Dr. Who" ( Not even shot with 35mm film. They used video tape. That's why "Dr. Who" looks just like General Hospital.

15 people found this helpful

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  • T. Pearce
  • 06-21-18

If you love sci fi you should listen to this book.

Just outstanding. Cleverly interweaves classic and contemporary sci fi with well argued philosophy. I couldn't stop listening.

7 people found this helpful

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  • LW
  • 10-20-18

Great course

A very interesting set of lectures, accessible for beginners to the subject and interesting enough to prompt further learning!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-25-20

Loved it. I will be revisiting it again I'm sure

I have always loved sci fi particularly because good sci fi pushes philosophical boundaries and ideas. This book is brilliant. For me, it expanded on ideas I have previously considered and provided me with many more that I hadn't. Great narration to boot. Fully recommend to anyone who likes philosophy, sci fi or movies. Don't feel you have to be a sci fi geek to like this book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-11-20

Best audiobook ever. Loved it, him & all the sciFi

He is absolutely wonderfull. If you find any of the really big questions worth thinking about, you wil love this guy.
Thank you sir.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mr Ben Bland
  • 01-20-20

As insightful as it is accessible

You don't have to be sci-fi nerd to get a lot out of this course, just accept that media and stories have critical value. The lecturer sets a strident page but it's very clear and easy to follow, trotting through a much wider range of key philosophical, and scientific, concepts than I expected going in. I love this course.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Steve Scott
  • 01-02-20

A new dimension

A great introduction to philosophy using Scifi as a backdrop, sometimes there's a little bit of over thinking but apparently that's just my epistemological perspective 🌝. I recommend it to Scifi buffs looking for a different perspective on some the classics. One of the takeaways for me was an understanding of the value of philosophy, I had thought it was just old men talking too much, memorable moment, the discussion on simulated worlds.

1 person found this helpful

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  • A happy customer
  • 10-21-19

Thought provoking stuff

Although I don’t agree with a few areas i think the course is entertaining and covers a broad range of both sci and phi! I would recommend even if it’s only to challenge both your own and the author’s views. I’ve seen almost all of the films discussed and this some insights I hadn’t considered when watching before. The author acknowledges a lot of material that isn’t covered and it would be good to have a follow up or see him discuss/debate some of these.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Reader001
  • 07-13-19

Observant, engaged and engaging

A thorough and nuanced introduction to philosophy via Sci films I can’t imagine anyone else could deliver without same level of knowledge, insight and enthusiasm without coming across as dour, patronising or American annoying. I got the sense that he didn’t mind being questioned... that this was a continual life of learning. If only all teachers and lecturers could move as laterally as this!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Adisha
  • 10-13-18

Superb whistle-stop tour of Sci-Fi & Philosophy

Thoroughly enjoyed this vast in scope survey which highlights the value of science fiction and importance of philosophy.

Clevery structured and peppered with fascinating insights and humerous, thought-provoking anecdotes throughout. A must-listen for fans of Dr. Who and Star Trek!

As Dr Spock famously said:
"Logic is the beginning of Wisdom... not the end!"

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jackie Boi
  • 09-03-18

Absolutely Brilliant

The author's passion for the ideas explored are obvious which in turn hooks the listener.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jemma Pollari
  • 11-26-21

Brilliant and engaging, excellent course

This is the best Great Courses I've listened to - Prof Johnson is engaging and entertaining to listen to and the subject matter fascinating. He takes a different approach to many common interpretations of popular sci-fi movies and used this to illustrate the philosophical concepts at a deeper level. A great tour of science fiction movies - I watched several I'd never seen before or even heard of. Highly recommended! You won't regret dedicating the time to this course.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-20-20

Fantastic!

Very enjoyable. If the title sounds interesting at all then don't hesitate. Professor David K. Johnson is very knowledgeable in both fields and an absolute joy to listen to. This and his other courses are some of my favourite of all time.

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  • Mr S W Wirth
  • 07-16-20

great lecture series

really good series. entertaining and very easy for new starters in philosophy. all the movies recommended and spoke about were mainstream and easy to get into.