Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy

Length: 13 hrs and 31 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (377 ratings)

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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

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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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.

12 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.

6 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.

5 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Fun to listen to, even with its limitations

This is one of the better "Great Courses" I have listened to - the lecturer turns his limited view (only US- and Britain based movies/TV series are considered "SF", the rest of the world is being completely ignored) into an advantage by assigning some more or less dull movies deeper meaning than even their directors probably ever thought of.

This I mean in the most respectful, positive way.

Yes, I would have wished for more respect to the often much older European or Russian stories that most of the movies the lecturer discusses are based on or developed of, especially when the lecturer claims those modern movies to be somewhat "original". But still, the philosophical questions, the lines of thought that the movies invite you to follow are interesting, fascinating, thrilling. No matter who came up first with the ideas.
I really enjoyed the mostly up-to-date state of the course with respect to physics and philosophy. Most "Great" Courses I
listened to sound like 50 years behind, not taking in any development in their respective field that has happened after the Americas have been rediscovered (I am, slightly, exaggerating).
Instead, this course takes place "today" (2018 that is, for any reader from the future), mentions current views on quantum physics, probabilities, recent discussions in philosophy and history. That I really appreciate.

I liked most of the narration, subtracting one star for the fact that the narrator *is* the professor who created the course and his "ignorance" of, sometimes, "better" approaches to the topics he discusses outside the (originally) English speaking world and his neglecting of SF books (which, in my world, often are more consistent and believable, as they don't have to cater that much to an audience with an attention span of 7 seconds like some observers consider movie audiences to have).

The major critic I have about the content ("Story" in Audible's stars-bar) is that quite often the lecturer does not discuss obvious flaws in philosophical ideas or thought experiments he presents. In that respect, he is TOO MUCH movie/show-centered: As long as the action works, don't care about the story. No, with philosophy, the action should be third, not first.
A simple example (and really just one of many) is the "20% probability of us living in a simulated world". Even if this is excused to be a subjective probability, its explanation doesn't hold up, since most "possible states we live in" are objectively identical or overlap. Not only sets that the calculation plain wrong, but it also diminishes the plausibility and believability of the argument. It's not that the thought is *wrong*, but if you want to turn a thought into an argument, it should hold enough water.

Again, in sum, this is definitely one of the better Great Courses, well worth the time and triggering interest in looking into philosophy authors mentioned throughout the discussions. Just don't think this course can make those movies better. Read a book instead.

9 people found this helpful

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Very good, extensive survey, well told

I really enjoyed this well-told survey of common themes in science fiction. The author/professor does a great job of presenting both or multiple sides of philosophical arguments fully, except for one key area. It's almost forgivable considering the work he does in all the other areas. The course comes with lengthy notes in a nicely published and organized PDF.

3 people found this helpful

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A lot to think about

There was so much good content I listened almost non-stop. Please bring this professor back and do more.

1 person 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.

8 people found this helpful

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Let him do five more just like it!

Loved every minute of this, and will definitely check out his other philosophy and metaphysics courses. That said, this was just a taste of what could be explored here, and I hope to one day here lectures on Babylon 5, the Expanse, Dune, maybe Hyperion... the list is endless and the surface has barely been scratched. Highly recommend this course!

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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,

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I love this one

It’s my favorite lecture series and I will listen to it again. I love philosophy and science fiction and that makes this so much more fun

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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 Wright
  • 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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  • Sir Jack
  • 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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  • 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.