You'll find on this page all the preparatory work that needs to be completed prior to coming to class in order to be ready for our class discussions.
This assignments listed here are subject to change. Please bookmark this page and return to it prior to completing the work for the next class. I regularly revise and update the syllabus and course assignments based on our progress in class and whatever relevant material arises in the media. I don't recommend printing this page but you should return to it regularly and regularly refresh your browser to ensure you are viewing the most up-to-date page. Many course readings can be found on our Course Moodle Site.
Weeks 1 - 3: Time Travel and the Nature of Time
Some resources on time and time travel:
Kurt Anderson's Studio 360 did a live production on the topic of time travel that you can access here. It included a discussion with the science fiction writer Connie Willis. The PBS show Nova has also done a time travel show.
For another philosophical take on time, see "Henri Bergson and the Perception of Time"
We'll start with a video selection from "The City on the Edge of Forever" and start to confront some of our intuitions regarding the nature of time and time travel. As you watch City, keep track of some of the ways they talk about and describe time. I think it's pretty fascinating. We'll discuss this in class.
WATCH: Prior to our first class, you should watch Star Trek: The Original Series "City on the Edge of Forever," Season 1 Episode 28, available on a variety of streaming services.
READ: Star Trek and the Mysteries of Time, Selections on Time Travel, pages 1 - 3
Since it's our first class day, there's no writing due today. Let's think, though, a bit about the nature of time and the predicament that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy find themselves in when confronted with the Guardian of Forever. It's also worth thinking about how this episode of ST:TOS deals with class and gender issues--not strictly speaking related to time, but certainly relevant to philosophy. Maybe we should discuss what happens to the poor bum who vaporizes himself--apparently there's no cause to worry over his loss of life. Why?
If you are interested, you can find a transcript for "City" here.
READ: Ray Bradbury, "The Sound of Thunder," Selections on Time Travel, pages 4 - 13
MICRO ESSAY: Let's compare and contrast how the views of time implicit in "City" and "A Sound of Thunder." What are some of the similarities/differences implicit in how these two science fiction texts treat time?
Your first Micro Essay is due today in class. Remember that these should be composed on a 4 x 6 index card (no bigger, no smaller) and should be approximately 150 words. If your Micro Essays are too short or poorly composed you won't receive credit for your work.
Bradbury produced a televised version of his short story, which you can watch here.
MICRO ESSAY: How would Kiekeben assess the treatment of time travel in "A Sound of Thunder"? Consider how his discussion of time travel helps to illuminate issues in "Thunder" and apply some of the insights in his essay to the treatment of time travel in the story.
Today we'll go over the syllabus and discuss the structure of the course and the course requirements.
For a similarly skeptical take on time travel, you might be interested in reading Raymond Tallis, "The Myth of Time Travel."
READ: Robert Heinlein, "All You Zombies--," Selections on Time Travel, pages 14 - 24
MICRO ESSAY: Let's apply Kiekeben's insights about time and time travel to Heinlein's short story. Imagine that Kiekeben had read and was commenting on Heinlein's story. What would he have to say? Can you organize your comments in such a way as to suggest a thesis statement that could form the basis of a philosophical essay?
As you read Heinlein, you might also compare and contrast his and Bradbury's treatment of time and time travel. Consider the similarities and differences between these two short stories. You might also be interested in reading Heinlein's other great time travel short story, "By His Bootstraps." For an "All you Zombies--" time line, check out this. Apparently, the movie Predestination was based on Heinlein's short story. HERE are some notes on Heinlein's short story.
MICRO ESSAY: Sider maintains that Back to the Future is philosophically problematic while The Terminator is not. Why? Do you agree with his assessment?
We should consider the contrast Sider presents between our ordinary conception of time and the view of time as analogous to space. Sider maintains that "Our ordinary conception of time as a flowing river is hopelessly confused and must be replaced with the space-time theory..." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? We should be able to reconstruct the arguments Sider presents for each view. We can apply Sider's analysis to Bradbury's short story: does "A Sound of Thunder" present us with a coherent or incoherent view of time travel? We might also consider Sider's contrast between Back to the Future and The Terminator, including especially his analysis of Reese's actions.
Espen Hammer, On Modern Time
Norman Spinrad, "The Weed of Time," Selections on Time Travel, pages 39 - 44
MICRO ESSAY: How does the philosophy of time (as suggested by Kiekeben, Sider or Hammer) help us think more deeply about Spinrad's short story? How does the short story help us think more deeply about the philosophy of time?
Hammer suggests that clock time (time that is measurable and calculable) is deadening and empty. Why does he think so? He suggests we need to rethink temporality (our experience of time) and embrace "other and more unruly temporalities." We might think about and discuss Hammer's view of time and how it compares with Sider's view of time. As you read Sprinrad's short story, how does one or more of these conceptions of times come into play? Can you think of ways we might use the science fiction to either affirm or critique the philosophical view(s) of time?
READ: David Lewis, "The Paradoxes of Time Travel," Selections on Time Travel, pages 73 - 85
MICRO ESSAY: Let's see if we can bring Lewis into conversation with Sprinrad and "The Weed of Time." How might we use one or more of Lewis' insights into time travel to reflect on Spinrad's short story? How might we use the short story to comment on Lewis' account of time travel?
As you read Lewis' essay, there are a number of things you might think about:
In his first footnote (p. 84 in the readings), Lewis observes that Heinlein's "All You Zombies--" is a short story that written with great care and showing perfect consistency. Let's think about this and see if we can address two questions: (1) What makes all the stages of the time traveler in the short story the same person? (2) Can the time traveler break out of the causal loop described in the short story? How would Lewis address these two questions?
We should pay attention to Lewis' discussion of external versus personal time. Lewis' analysis of time travel has implications for thinking about personal identity and we might discuss his treatment of this issue and the manner in which personal identity arises in the Heinlein story. Central to Lewis' discussion is his account of the grandfather paradox and we might consider his discussion in light of Heinlein's short stories, especially the complex causal loop he imagines and how he treats the issue of gender.
You might also compare Lewis' treatment of grandfather paradoxes and causal loops with Kiekeben's treatment. Kiekeben concludes that "time travel to the past...appears to be logically possible but not actually possible." Would Lewis agree?
READ: Nancy Kress, "The Price of Oranges," Selections on Time Travel, pages 45 - 72
MICRO ESSAY: We've been examining different conceptions of time as proposed by philosophers such as Sider, Hammer, and others. How would you characterize Kress' conception of time? Drawing on the events in her short story, see if you can make a case for how Kress conceptualizes time.
Weeks 4 - 5: Fate, Time, Freedom, and the Future
READ: Alison Fernandes, "The future seems wide open with possibilities – but is it?"
MICRO ESSAY: How does Fernandes answer the question she poses? Do you agree her? Why or why not?
Your first essay is due in class today. Bring a hardcopy to class. I don't accept electronic copies.
You might be interested in an interview with Alison Fernandes, "Living in the now: It’s not as simple as you’d think," where she discusses her views on time and time travel. If you'd like a little more philosophical background on the problem of free will and determinism, check out Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24.
WATCH: Minority Report
MICRO ESSAY: How do you think Minority Report as a film addresses the question raised by Alison Fernandes? Drawing on cinematic and textual evidence, construct what you take the film's argument about the future to be.
You might also be interested in reading the Philip K. Dick short story "Minority Report," Time, The Future, and Freedom Selections, pages 1 - 19. Minority Report interestingly raises issues about the uses of predictive analytics, which are discussed in these two interesting news articles:
How Companies Learn Your Secrets, which details how Target used customer analytics to seemingly predict a teenage girl's pregnancy
An Algorithm That Grants Freedom, or Takes It Away: Across the United States and Europe, software is making probation decisions and predicting whether teens will commit crime.
READ: Nir Eisikovits and Shai Biderman, "So Tired of the Future," Time, The Future, and Freedom Selections, pages 30 - 36
MICRO ESSAY: Eisikovits and Biderman close their essay with the suggestion that Minority Report shows us "what happens when we don't make sure our science remains human." What do they mean by this and how is it applicable to the film?
You also might be interested in reading:
Michael Huemer, "Free Will and Determinism in the World of Minority Report," Time, The Future, and Freedom Selections, pages 20 - 29
Lester Friedman, Minority Report: A Dystopic Vision
READ: Ted Chiang, "Story of Your Life," Time, The Future, and Freedom Selections, pages 37 - 76 (concentrate on pages 37 - 60)
MICRO ESSAY: A common theme in science fiction is the story of first contact (which we will be exploring in the three novels we will be reading) and Chiang's short story describes one such first contact, between humans and the heptapods. What do you think will be the implications or impacts of us human beings making first contact with an alien race? How does it compare with Chiang's view?
As you read the story, here are some things you might pay close attention to:
Keep track of our main characters and what we learn about them as the story begins to unfold.
What do we learn about the physical nature of the heptapods? What do you think is the significance of their anatomy to the story?
Pay attention to points in the story where we seem to have failures to communicate or failures to understand. Chiang' story is all about communication but also about failures of communication.
Pay close attention to what we learn about the heptapods' writing system. What do we know?
Let's think too about the structure of the story. How does Chiang structure this story? Do you have any hypotheses regarding the story's structure?
READ: Ted Chiang, "Story of Your Life," Time, The Future, and Freedom Selections, pages 37 - 76, continued (concentrate on pages 60 - 76)
MICRO ESSAY: How does "Story of Your Life" address the themes of fate, freedom, and the future we have been discussing in this section of the course? See if you can draw on specific elements of the story to detail how Chiang addresses questions of fate, freedom, and the future.
As you finish with this story, or review your reading, let's focus on several connected themes, including:
The nature of Louise's shift of consciousness. What's the significance of this?
The contrast that developed in the story between causal and teleological structures of thought.
How does Chiang address questions about knowing the future and free will?
See if you can identify some of the metaphors and images that Chiang introduces for addressing this thorny matter. Can you draw any connections to Eisikovits and Biderman's discussion of Augustine (page 34)?
How do you think the heptapods understand the nature of freedom?
Can you draw any connections to Spinrad's story "The Weed of Time"? What are some similarities/differences?
If you're interested in reading more from Chiang about free will, check out his (very) short story "What's expected of us."
And here's an interview: Ted Chiang on Free Will, Time Travel, Many Worlds, Genetic Engineering, and Hard Science Fiction
MICRO ESSAY: Let's compare the visions of fate, freedom, and the future as they are presented in Minority Report and Arrival.
Ted Chiang's short story and the film Arrival ask us to consider whether language shapes the way we think. Lera Boroditsky addresses this question in an interesting TED talk, which you can watch HERE.
There are about 7,000 languages spoken around the world -- and they all have different sounds, vocabularies and structures. But do they shape the way we think? Cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky shares examples of language -- from an Aboriginal community in Australia that uses cardinal directions instead of left and right to the multiple words for blue in Russian -- that suggest the answer is a resounding yes. "The beauty of linguistic diversity is that it reveals to us just how ingenious and how flexible the human mind is," Boroditsky says. "Human minds have invented not one cognitive universe, but 7,000."
ESSAY TWO Due 2/28
Week 6: Octavia Butler, Dawn
For some information and background on Octavia Butler and Dawn, check out some of these sites:
READ: Dawn, Part I: Womb and Part II: Family, pages 3 - 117
MICRO ESSAY: Let's compare and contrast what we are learning about the Oankali and human beings.
As you read, keep in mind some of these themes we might discuss in class:
The character of Lilith (see below for a web site on the Lilith myth): why does Butler focus on an African-American woman and anthropologist? Why is she attractive to the Oankali?
What do we know about the Oankali?
What is the "human contradiction" that the Oankali refer to?
Why does Lilith resent what is being done to her? Why don't the Oankali understand this?
READ: Dawn, Part III: Nursery, pages 121 - 207
MICRO ESSAY: We saw in our discussion of "Story of Your Life" that first contact narratives can often tell us things about ourselves and the human condition. Now that you are deeper into Dawn, what do you think Octavia Butler is saying about the human nature and the human condition? Draw on specific evidence from the text to frame a hypothesis.
Some of the themes we might consider include:
Do agree with Tate's observation (page 139): "I wonder if the same thing wouldn't have happened eventually"?
What do the interpersonal relationships as characterized by Butler tell us about her view of human nature?
Why do Joseph and other males have a problem with the Oankali?
What do you think Butler is suggesting about the nature of human sexuality?
What does she seem to be saying about male heterosexuality?
READ: Dawn, Part IV: The Training Floor, pages 121 - 264
MICRO ESSAY: By the end of the novel, do you think the Oankali truly understand human nature? Explain why or why not drawing on textual evidence.
Some of the theme we might consider:
If we were to merge with the Oankali, would this be the extinction of humanity or the coming of the posthuman? How would we know?
What finally do you think Butler is saying about human nature in this novel?
What would you do if you were in Lilith's position?
Does Lilith maintain her humanity at the close of the novel?
Does siding with the Oankali mean the extinction of human beings?
Week 7: Winter Break!
Weeks 8 - 10: Persons, Selves, and Cyborgs
In this unit of the course, we turn to questions about the self and personal identity which have preoccupied science fiction writers and philosophers alike. If you're interested in a few quick video introductions to the philosophy of personal identity, you might want to review one or more of these videos:
I'm a big fan of the podcast Radiolab, which often explores the intersection of philosophy and science. They've done several episodes on the self which I highly recommend:
WATCH: Star Trek: The Original Series, "What are Little Girls Made Of?" Season 1, Episode 7
READ: Chris Durante, "A Philosophical Identity Crisis"
MICRO ESSAY: Korby or not Korby? Let's think about the status of Roger Korby and his doppelgänger, as well as Kirk's. Korby says to Christine: "It's still me, Christine. Roger. I'm in here." But Kirk says, "Dr. Korby was never here." Who's right?
Perhaps we can start this unit by organizing some of our intuitions about self-identity and all the many ways that science fiction such as Star Trek challenges us to confront the nature of the self. We might wonder, for instance, what this episode of Star Trek presupposes about a theory of personal or self identity? Do you think it subscribes to a reasonable account of personal identity?
Durante mentions the narrative view of the self and if you would like to read a classic presentation of this view, check out Daniel Dennett's "The Self as Center of Narrative Gravity"
Star Trek has done many episodes on the philosophical theme of self and identity, including "Turnabout Intruder" (TOS) and "Second Chances" (TNG). If you're interested in the metaphysics of transport, you might find interesting: Richard Hanley, To Beam or Not To Beam. If you're interested in exploring some of the other themes this show raises, you might read: "What are Little Girls Made Of? Little Girls Misdirecting"
READ: Eric Olson, "Personal Identity"
MICRO ESSAY: Let's compare and contrast the two main answers to the persistence question: psychological continuity views and brute-physical views. How would you apply these two views to an analysis of Korby? Which of these two views do you think offers us a more persuasive analysis?
Think about the various perspectives on personal identity Olson explores and be prepared to discuss their core elements. Olson observes that most people are drawn to psychological-continuity views but then he identifies many objections to such views. Can you identify some of those objections? Toward the end of his essay, Olson presents his own theory of personal identity, which is known as animalism. You can listen to a podcast by Paul Snowdon on animals and persons HERE. If you would like to know more about animalism, READ THIS.
Olson doesn't consider the narrative view of self (which Chris Durante discusses) and if you'd like a little more insight into this view, watch Narrative Theories of Personal Identity.
Today I have a general education workshop and so there will be no class.
MICRO ESSAY: Let's see if we can begin to analyze how these two stories contribute to our understanding of personal identity. Try and identify three themes or points that the two stories share and that connect to our discussion of science fiction and personal identity.
For another sci fi take on identity, consciousness, and technology, check out Cory Doctorow's Truncat.
READ: Molly Gardner and Robert Sloane, "Personal Identity in Black Mirror: Is Your Cookie You?"
MICRO ESSAY: So, what do you think? Could cookies be true replicas of conscious persons? Would you embrace such cookie technology? Why or why not?
You might also be interested in:
Essay Three: Due 3/27
WATCH: Ghost in the Shell
MICRO ESSAY: Major Kusanagi seems to be going through an existential crisis of sorts. What do you think is the source of her existential crisis? Do you think it is resolved by the end of the movie? Why or why not?
WATCH: Being Cyborgs
READ: James Tiptree, "The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
MICRO ESSAY: Who are P. Burke and Delphi and how would you characterize their relationship?
James Tiptree is the pen name of Alice Sheldon, a hugely influential early writer of science fiction. If you're interested in learning a little more about Sheldon/Tiptree, check out this story from NPR, which includes an excerpt from a recent biography of Sheldon, or this piece from Vox: The most prescient science fiction author you aren’t reading. You might think about how "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" is indeed quite prescient--especially about the complexities of identity in the digital culture. As Vox notes, "Sheldon’s foresight is also notable. A short story that Sheldon wrote as Tiptree, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” reads today almost as a commentary on Instagram — and is arguably the first cyberpunk story ever published." For more on "Girl" as proto-cyberpunk, see THIS.
WATCH: Amber Case, "We Are all Cyborgs Now"
MICRO ESSAY: Think about the image of cyborgs in science fiction such as Black Mirror or "The Girl Who Was Plugged In." Do you agree with Clark and Case that we are all cyborgs now? Would becoming cyborgs be a good thing?
For another fascinating look at being cyborgs, watch Hugh Herr, "How we'll become cyborgs and extend human potential." Following the publication of Andy Clark's op-ed piece, a number of readers posted comments, which you can read here. Clark replied to these comments here. You might also be interested in Andy Clark, "Out of Our Brains" and his "Big Idea" from The New York Times: "We are Merging with Robots. That's a Good Thing." Also interesting is The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark
MICRO ESSAY: Compare and contrast Gibson's and Bacigalupi's vision of a cyborg future, especially the place of animals and nature. Do you think these two visions are dystopic? Equally dystopic? Optimistic about our future?
Weeks 11 - 12: Plants and Persons
What does it mean to be a person? Who counts when it comes to humanity? What are the limits of personhood or sentience? Science fiction helps us stretch the limits of our imagination and consider challenges to our given notions of personhood. In Semiosis, Sue Burke offers us another vision of human-alien first contact, where the alien happens to be a plant. Can plants be persons? Can forests think? For an interesting take on this question, watch "Eduardo Kohn on “sylvan” thinking and talking to forests," where Eduardo Kohn, associate professor of anthropology at McGill University, discusses “sylvan” thinking, communicating with nature, and how that can influence our understanding of what it means to be human. Are there limits on the forms sentience may take? For more information on Semiosis, check out the webpage Sue Burke has devoted to the novel. You'll find there the essay "When Plants Kill," which gave birth or Semiosis.
READ: Mary Midgley, "Is a Dolphin a Person?"
MICRO ESSAY: Midgley's essay opens with a question, "is a dolphin a person?" By the end of the essay, can you articulate in your own words how she would answer this question?
READ: Sue Burke, Semiosis, pages 9 (Octavo Year 1) - 131 (Higgins and the Bamboo Year 63)
MICRO ESSAY: What do we learn about plants of Pax in the first third of Semiosis? On the basis of what we learn, do you think we ought to think of the bamboo as a person? Why or why not?
WATCH: Michael Pollan, "A plant's-eye view"
READ (recommended): Michael Pollan, "The Intelligent Plant"
MICRO ESSAY: If Michael Pollan were to read Sue Burke's Semiosis (at least up to page 131), what do you think he would have to say about her novel?
For another take on plant intelligence, you might be interested in watching Stefano Mancuso: The Roots of Plant Intelligence. You might also be interested in Matthew Hall, "In Defence of Plant Personhood"
READ: Sue Burke, Semiosis, pages 132 (Tatiana Year 106) - 222 (Nye Year 106)
MICRO ESSAY: Do you think it’s possible for such an alien intelligence to understand or comprehend another alien intelligence, such that they can both be endowed with equal citizenship? We explored the question of whether the Oankali could ever understand what it was to be human (or alternatively, whether humans could ever understand what it as to be Oankali). We might consider a similar issue as we learn more about Stevland’s role in the Pacifist community. As Tatiana herself notes: “I wonder what’s it like for a creature used to solitude for so long to discover the compromises of social living” (p. 183). Cedar too says, “he doesn’t really understand us” (p. 184). What do you think? Is it possible for such alien life forms to understand one another?
READ: Sue Burke, Semiosis, pages 223 (Lucille and Stevland Year 107) - 333
MICRO ESSAY: We're reading this novel as part of our exploration of the theme of first contact in science fiction. As we finish the novel, let's think about what we might learn about first contact narratives from this novel, especially as we compare Burke's approach to first contact with Butler's approach to first contact. Look back to your notes on Octavia Butler's Dawn and our class discussions. Select a theme that interests you and challenge yourself to consider how you might compare and contrast Dawn and Semiosis in regard to that theme.
Weeks 13 - 14: Robots, Minds, and Machines
Can machines be persons? Do machines think? Are robots ever deserving of moral treatment? Science fiction and philosophy have both been keenly interested in the idea of smart and/or conscious machines. In this section of the course, we'll explore the challenge of machines who may think.
Note: I am not assigning the film Blade Runner prior to our watching Blade Runner 2049 at the end of the semester. Many of you will likely have already seen this film, but if you have not, I recommend you watch it, perhaps over the spring break.
The Twilight Zone, "The Lonely," Season 1, Episode 7 (The Twilight Zone is available for streaming on multiple platforms)
MICRO ESSAY: How would you characterize the relationship between Corry and Alicia? Was this a loving relationship? Did they have an authentic relationship? Or was Corry fundamentally mistaken about the nature of his relationship with Alicia?
For more on Alan Turing and the Turing Test, Radiolab has several excellent podcasts:
If you're interested in chat bots and the so-called "Eliza effect," listen to 99% Invisible, "The Eliza Effect"
If you're interested in reading more about robot relations, you might be interested in checking out:
"Seduced by the Machine," by Dennis Weiss
"How I Learned to Love the Robot," Mark Coeckelbergh
"How Robots Will Transform Human Intimacy," T. R. Wells
WATCH: Susan Schneider, Can a Robot Feel?
MICRO ESSAY: Let's compare and contrast how we think the biological naturalists and the techno-optimists would respond to the case of Alicia. What would a biological naturalist say about Alicia? What would a techno-optimist say? Do you find your self agreeing with either of these views?
Schneider writes about the nature of the self and mind, especially from the vantage point of issues in philosophy, AI, cognitive science and astrobiology. You may be interested in checking out her website. You might also be interested in Susan Schneider's Big Think video Conscious machines: How will we test artificial intelligence for feeling?
Schneider discusses three tests for machine consciousness, including the ACT Test, in "Testing for Consciousness in Machines" and expands on the ACT Test in Susan Schneider and Edwin Turner, Is Anyone Home? A Way to Find Out If AI Has Become Self-Aware
If you're interested in the Chinese Room thought experiment, you might watch The Chinese Room.
READ: Issac Asimov, "Bicentennial Man"
You might also find useful: The Bicentennial Man Notes and Themes
MICRO ESSAY: Towards the end of "The Bicentennial Man," Andrew thinks "Man! He was a man!" Do you agree with Andrew that at least by the end of the story he became a man? If not, why not? If so, at what point in the story did he become a man?
If you're a fan of Data as well as Andrew, you might be interested in an essay by Sue Short: "The Measure of a Man? Asimov's Bicentennial Man, Star Trek's Data, and Being Human"
We've largely focused on Western conceptions of robots, but there is a lot of fascinating work on human-robot relations being done in Japan, in particular by Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, part of the Department of Systems Innovation in the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University, Japan.
READ: Stephen Asma, Ancient animistic beliefs live on in our intimacy with tech
WATCH: Could a Robot Have a Soul?
MICRO ESSAY: How do you think Schneider would analyze the case of Andrew? What might she say about Andrew as a robot (in section 2 of the Asimov's story)? What about by the end of Andrew's transition? What would Schneider conclude about Andrew then?
Also interesting and relevant is Wired Magazine's essay "Are We Ready for Intimacy with Androids?"
READ: Roger Zelazny, "For a Breath I Tarry"
MICRO ESSAY: Let's think about what Zelazny seems to be saying about the human condition in his story. Frost desires (?? can he have a desire if he is a mere machine?) to know the human condition and he seemingly is only able to do so once he transmits his matrix into the human body, perhaps suggesting an agreement with Susan Schneider's biological naturalist view. What is that initially prevents Frost from knowing the human condition and understanding art and poetry? Do you agree that the only way to overcome this limitation is for Frost to become biological? Do you think it is possible for a machine to understand the human condition without resorting to becoming biological?
Weeks 15 - 16: Replicants
READ: Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Chapters 1 - 8
MICRO ESSAY: In his reflections on his short story "Second Variety" ( the basis of the film Screamers) Dick has written that "My grand theme: Who is human and who only appears (masquerades) as human?" How does that theme begin to emerge in the early chapters of this novel? Identify several examples from the text that point to this theme.
You can find some notes on major themes and summaries of each chapter of the text HERE.
We might discuss some of the many themes that emerge in this text:
Essentialism: is there a distinctive, defining characteristic of being human?
Difference and identity: necessity of Android Otherness against which humanness is defined.
Cold war view of otherness: can't tell the enemy when the enemy is among us.
Androids as persecuted "race"? An allegory of ethnic and racial conflict?
Urbanization and white flight.
Romantic anti-intellectualism in discourse about being human: privileging of emotions or distinctively human emotions separating the human from the non-human.
Human being, the Specials, and the Androids: sliding scale of sentient, organic being?
Memory as essential to human and individual identity.
Self-consciousness linked to memory as a human characteristic. Self-awareness needed for empathy.
Binary oppositions in Human vs. Android
Parodox/Irony in machine test for humanness: Voight-Kampff test and equipment.
Machine test for measuring and quantifying human characteristics runs counter to non-rational definitions in the story.
If you are interested in Dick's thoughts on being human and androids, you can read "The Android and the Human." Wired Magazine had a terrific article on Dick, including a summary of his metaphysics: "The Second Coming of Philip K. Dick." You might also be interested in The Apocalyptic Vision of Philip K. Dick, Douglas Kellner and Steve Best
READ: Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Chapters 9 - 14
MICRO ESSAY: Now that we are well into the novel, let's think about some of the themes that come up in our first contact novels, stories, and movies and begin the work of comparing and contrasting these visions. Identify a theme that you are interested in that you think emerges in all three novels (Dawn, Semiosis, Do Androids Dream), and briefly compare and contrast how the novels deal with that theme.
READ: Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Chapters 15 - 22
MICRO ESSAY: As you'll recall if you watched Blade Runner, Mercerism, which is such a big part of the novel is entirely absent from the movie. What role do you think the religion is supposed to play in the novel? What is the significance of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream? Religion was not a component of our other first contact novels. Why do you think Dick chose to explore it?
Work on your final essay.
Work on your final essay.