Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lunch Chat (9/13): Science Fiction as Philosophy

I've been reading and thinking about science fiction and its connection to philosophy recently — primarily because of my Philosophy and Film course — and came across this nice little piece in the io9 blog: "The Philosophical Roots of Science Fiction".

I'm sure plenty of people have thought harder about this than I have, but what defines this genre? Suppose I wrote a fictional story about a tangled romance in the Royal Society and how it indirectly lead to Newton's Principia Mathematic. Would that count as a "science fiction" story? It seems to me clearly not! So what's the key ingredient? Perhaps it's some level of "fantasy" — something out of the ordinary occurring? But then why the focus on science? I wonder if this is an accidental association: science is often an enabler of technologies that seem fantastic (or that we can imagine might lead to fantastic possibilities). It's a literary device for generating willing suspension of disbelief. (A lunch chat participant from last week sent me a link to this fun short story that seems to have this feature: invoking an "infinitely powerful computer".)

If that's so, then perhaps the core of the genre is better thought of as philosophical fiction. Of course, similar problems with this definition crop up too — imagine a tawdry romance novel involving some academic philosophers [yawn...]. Help me think this through, literary, science, philosophy, computer-science, (and so on)-types! I'll give you some pizza in exchange. . . . As usual: noon in 61 Coleman Hall; Thursday 9/13.