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Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy

Length: 13 hrs and 31 mins
5 out of 5 stars (17 ratings)

Non-member price: $48.69

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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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  • Marcos Trujillo Cue
  • 14-06-2018

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.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • criticaltom
  • 06-08-2018

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Marc
  • 24-09-2018

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.

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-01-2019

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.

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  • Brad
  • 07-07-2018

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.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Kayleigh Thesenvitz
  • 09-06-2018

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 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 11-06-2018

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt Arnold
  • 11-12-2018

Good, but the instructor's bias may annoy you

This was a quite good survey of modern philosophy covering all major modern philosophical debates in enough detail to wet the appetite, in a fun and engaging way. If you're a nerd get ready for a fresh new look at some of your favorite stories and characters, and to fall in love with new franchises. If you're not a nerd, well enjoy the ride and prepare for assimilation, as the author's passion for the material and breath of coverage means you are sure to find something you enjoy in the vast world of science fiction.

I have two issues with this title however first is the instructor's voice which gets high pitched when he's excited (practically all the time) it gets a bit hard to understand at times. More seriously is the instructor adheres to what philosophers call a materialist epistemology. Meaning he holds that it is rational to believe only those things which can be demonstrated to be true by Science or those things which do not conflict with it. This in itself is not a problem, Materialism is a very popular philosophic position. But he uses it to attack religious belief in such a ham handed way that one can't help but think he's biased against religion in general and Christianity in particular

First he dismisses as irrational belief in the Resurrection of Jesus explicitly in lecture five. And then he makes out that the best counter to his argument against faith is an idea of Stephen J Gould's, which even professional Theist philosophers laugh at. There is no discussion of Neo Thomism or Theistic Neoplatanism. No mention of Paul Tillich, Bob Backer, Karl Roner, Blessed Pius XII, St Pius X, St Thomas Aquinas or St. Bonaventure. Roger Bacon, Kenneth Miller, or George Coyne. All of whom have proposed and defended better philosophical arguments counter to his position. He makes a hand wave an Non Overlaping Truths, and a pivot to attack the centeral doctrine of Christianity. My only conclusion is that he seeks to sneak this premise under the listener's intellectual radar without the listener's active engagement which is a hallmark of bias.

Full Disclosure I'm a committed Roman Catholic and ex Atheist so i too have a bias, but I just told you about it. Dr Johnston fails to do likewise and i find that a seriously troubling misstep in a professional academic

As i said a good listen but you may want to seek out other viewpoints for the topics covered in lectures 4,5,10 and 15.

4 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 27-07-2018

Get your nerd on, but not your Philosophy!

Professor Johnson is a self proclaimed nerd and has lots of evidence to back that up in this sci fi packed course. As far as Philosophy goes though, he lost me after just a few lectures. He gets his terms right and has picked great topics for lectures, but it is like listening to a community college PHIL 101 teacher push a liberal, Atheist agenda. He points out numerous fallacies throughout this course and then continues to back up his own arguments using the exact fallacies he cried about when talking about what he consideres the wrong view (even when his view is held by most others). He openly admits that he was a Christian as a kid and then spends numerous lectures spouting Dawkins and other New Athiest sound bites, even when the topic at hand has nothing to do with theism. He claims to not take sides on a topic and then uses fallacies to show why his philosophical position on it is the only right and enlightened position (wait until you hear the climate change lecture were he denounces Lukewarmers for not appealing to the right authority, then claims Philosophy the right authority and then how appealing to authority is fallacious). He also gives numerous definitive interpretations of various plots, meanings and scenes in numerous movies that are far fetched, weak and even deceiving, to make his arguments sound stronger. With all of that said, this course is still very entertaining, especially for those who love Science Fiction. Worth the listen, but not without a large grain of salt.

5 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • sir
  • 03-07-2019

It makes you think...

...of the discussed science fiction shows, movies and books in a new way. It remained interesting from beginning to end. Well done!

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  • T. Pearce
  • 21-06-2018

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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sir Jack
  • 03-09-2018

Absolutely Brilliant

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

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Reader001
  • 13-07-2019

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!

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  • Steph
  • 08-05-2019

Make more please.

I love science fiction. This was highly entertaining and educational! A winning combination. Excellent narrator too. Loved it.

More please!

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  • LW
  • 20-10-2018

Great course

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

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  • Adisha
  • 13-10-2018

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!"

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  • T. J. Stephenson
  • 14-06-2018

Definitely worth listening to

I really enjoyed this course. Anyone interested in philosophy and science fiction should listen to this. I would point out To the author that the many worlds theory of quantum mechanics doesn’t involve universes being “created” at the branch points, any more than a universe could be “created’ by an observation. Also unfair to Matt Ridley and Luke warmers who recognise that only economic wealth can ultimately solve our climate change problems.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • 09-06-2018

Cannot recommend too highly

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it highly. So much covered and so much more still to cover. A sequel would be most welcome.