Interview: Science Fiction and Philosophy – From Time Travel to Superintelligence

By Liam Cooper at The Philosopher’s Eye
Susan Schneider is an assistant professor of philosophy (University of Pennsylvania), and the author of Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence. As well having an avid interest in science fiction since her college days, she is now a faculty member in UPenn’s Center for Neuroscience and Society, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience (CCN) and the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science (IRCS). In this interview, Susan talks about why her students respond so well to the use of science fiction to illustrate philosophical ideas, and why she finds the crossover so fertile.

Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence?

Susan Schneider: I was teaching a class called “Science Fiction and Philosophy” that used science fiction films and writings as a route into philosophical puzzles involving the nature of the self and the nature of ultimate reality. For example, I assigned Isaac Asimov’s robots stories as a means to inspire interest in philosophical issues surrounding AI and robotics. We then moved from this to the issue of whether our minds are computational, a major issue in contemporary philosophy of mind.  And we viewed a time travel film, Twelve Monkies, as a route into the Grandfather Paradox. The students loved it.

Read More here

Texts on the beach: What scientists recommend for summer reading

Rachel Saslow at the Washington Post
Once they’ve plowed through their monthly stack of technical journals, which books do science and engineering professionals read for fun? And which books did they love as youngsters? We asked several of them to name their favorite beach reads over the years, both novels and nonfiction with scientific themes.

— “The City and the Stars” by Arthur C. Clarke (1999). “This novella by one of the greats of science fiction catches me with its wistful but optimistic tone about a future where humans have programmed themselves to fear the unknown, but also to create the agent of their liberation.”

Read More here

Summer Reading Thoughts

Josie Leavitt at Publisher’s Weekly
Schools all over have closed for the summer, and this should mean fun, relaxation and having time to read. But for many young people summer heralds a whole new season of school work. Yes, there are the ubiquitous summer reading lists, but now these poor kids have pages of math homework to do, daily. I can’t imagine a summer where I not only had math homework, but I had to email it to my teacher weekly.

Oh, to make matters worse, let’s pick some of the most tedious books and force kids to read them. I just reviewed the summer reading lists for three local schools and with rare exceptions the books are all written by white authors who were born in the early 20th century. While these books have solid value, I think asking kids to read these challenging (some would say boring, especially if you’re 14) books during the distracting days of summer is folly. Sometimes hard books need the help of a class and a skilled teacher to bring the reading to life. How many kids start Bleak House only to hate it and just give up? Animal Farm is wonderful, but if you’re reading it because it’s August 15th and it’s short, just how much of the political story are you really absorbing? And really, must every child read Lord of the Flies? Perhaps we could take that off the list and substitute The Hunger Games or The Uglies? I just want to put books on reading lists that children are actually excited to see on the list, not dreading.

Some of my happiest memories are reading massive Stephen King and Peter Straub books one summer, staying up way too late with my Mom and scaring ourselves silly…. But the point is, even without assignments that were more than “read three books this summer,” I read tons, and I loved it. Free of schoolwork, I found that I loved reading for pleasure. There was a bookstore that I could bike to that also sold penny candy. I was in heaven.

Read More here

Christian readers demand more science fiction books. Why won’t Christian publishers listen?

By Charlie Jane Anders at io9
Science fiction is a natural fit for Christian readers — especially dystopian novels which usually depict a world without religion, argues one writer. But Christian bookstores and publishers are reluctant to cater to this market. What gives?

There’s been an interesting discussion about science fiction in the Christian blogosphere over the weekend. First of all, over at Revelife, Stephanie P writes a blog post titled, “Science Fiction Goes with the Christian Life.”

So it’s too bad that speculative fiction is under-represented at Christian bookstores, as writer Mike Duran points out at Novel Journey:

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being a Christian who reads speculative fiction (supernatural, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.) is the lack of speculative titles available in Christian bookstores. It is routinely estimated that 75-80% of all Christian novels are some form of romance, which leaves the other quarter-of-a-percent to duke it out for the remaining space. But apart from the two big names — Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti — spec titles are a rarity in Christian bookstores.

Read More here

I remember hating  most of my summer reading list, but I am SO glad I never had math homework. I fairly certain I wouldn’t have done it simply out of protest. I love reading and I didn’t always finish my summer list. I got about 50 pages into The Odyssey and gave up–I just bought the Cliff Notes (to be fair, that was the year Dallas won the Stanley Cup, and we were visiting family in Texas). I read Anthem the night before classes started, and that’s because it’s only 90 pages. I read every other chapter of Dante’s Inferno (I since read the whole thing and love it). I love reading, and would have done a lot of reading independently anyway. I think it would be better for schools to assign one book that everyone has to read, and then let the kids pick two other books (whatever they want) and write papers about those. They would still learn how to focus on plot points and read deeper into the story, without the common side effect of students hating to read unless forced. I love seeing what scientist’s are reading, and these articles have given me a ton more books to put on my wishlist.

What do you think of the idea of Science Fiction and Philosophy? Did you/do you have assigned summer reading? What did you think of it?