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Terminator and Philosophy: I'll Be Back, Therefore I Am (The…

by Richard Brown (Editor), Kevin S. Decker (Editor)

Other authors: William Irwin

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722292,267 (3.5)7
A timely book that uses science fiction to provoke reflectionand discussion on philosophical issues From the nature of mind to the ethics of AI and neuralenhancement, science fiction thought experiments fire thephilosophical imagination, encouraging us to think outside of thebox about classic philosophical problems and even to envision newones. Science Fiction and Philosophy explores puzzles about virtualreality, transhumanism, whether time travel is possible, the natureof artificial intelligence, and topics in neuroethics, among othertimely issues. This thought-provoking volume is suitable forstudents and general readers but also examines new and moreadvanced topics of interest to seasoned philosophers andscientists. Susan Schneider (Hometown TK) is Assistant Professor in thedepartment of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and anAffiliated Faculty Member at the Institutes for Research inCognitive Science and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.… (more)
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» See also 7 mentions

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Be advised, SPOILERS for the Terminator movies and The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show...

The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series (culture clears the cobwebs from Kant!) takes on the Terminator franchise - and I am so glad they did! I am no student of philosophy but I do enjoy Terminator a great deal and those two traits put me in the target audience for this book.

There's a lot of name-dropping in these essays, Marx, Kant and movements like Utilitarianism (very popular) but most authors give you a little background before jumping in with their arguments. Many of them assume you know the characters from the franchise. T2:Judgement Day is by far the most discussed film in the book. The fourth movie, Terminator:Salvation was released after this book went to print and so it is not discussed at all (a shame).

The Terminator franchise is very much about death and life. What is the value of a life and are some lives worth more than others?
"Our moral intuition recoils at the idea of sacrificing innocent lives for some greater good. Even if we approved of shooting Miles Dyson to save three billion people, most of us would not sanction sacrificing humans in medical experiments that would lead to a cure for AIDS or cancer."

Scenes across the Terminator franchise address the idea of a cyborg's personhood. If it learns outside of its programming, does it have rights or is it alive? Do the T-101 and T-1000 truly understand the emotion of crying or the sensation of pain, as they state, or is their programming simply picking up on feedback from humans they are interacting with? If a Terminator can only follow its programming can it truly commit suicide, self-sacrifice or allow euthanasia - as in T2, T3 or T4?
"If we're moved by the self-destruction of the Terminator, it's because we feel that somebody and not just something is being destroyed."
"The T-101 (T3) dies in an inauthentic way because it refuses to acknowledge death as the end of possibility - this Terminator will live again, it believes... the T-101 in T2, on the other hand, does accept that its death is the end of possibilities: indeed, the whole point of its sacrifice is that there will never be a Skynet or Terminators.


Where is the line between human and cyborg drawn? This is explored a great deal in Terminator: Salvation and The Sarah Connor Chronicles. In T4, we meet Marcus as a human on death row and then later as a Terminator who believes he is human and indeed possesses a heart inside his chest. In TSCC Sarah often refers to the Terminator Cameron as a "Tin Miss". In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man needed a heart, but he had been human once and had become metal a piece at a time. Cameron has the memories of a real girl (Allison Young from Palmdale, CA), yet it's not explained how or why.
"The theme of humans transcending their corporeal bodies by downloading their consciousness into computers or robotic bodies has been a staple of the genre (today philosophers talk about this same theme in terms of "posthumanism" or "transhumanism")."
"We truly extend ourselves into the various technologies we use in our thought processes...whether you are surfing the internet, embroiled in a role-playing game, or typing an email, the computer-driven activities you engage in can be understood as extended components of your mind at work. Your thoughts and experiences are themselves partly constituted by the computational processes in the PC."


Is John Connor fated to be the leader of the human resistance or can he refuse? If the resistance can prevent Skynet's existence then John does not have to fulfill his messiah role. TSCC picked up on this quite a bit in its first season. The book discusses this in relation to Social contract theory.
"John Connor, like any other member of society, would be obligated to answer the call to leadership affirmatively."
"Being a human being existing in the world in a meaningful way (rather than, say, in a comatose or pathological state) requires that we confront moral claims made by others upon us and that we make moral claims upon others."


And to this end, the issue of time and time travel. How does the young John Connor keep from messing with the plans of the older John Connor? In TSCC Cameron treats teenage John as if he was not the same person as "Future John". She makes a distinction between the two of them as if they were separate people. And maybe they are. Who was John Connor's father, really?
"John Connor's original father had to be someone other than Kyle Reese. By changing the past Kyle seems to become the only father of John, but Kyle would never have been able to travel back in time unless there was a first father other than Kyle Reese. So even if this first father was "wiped out of existence" (whatever that means), he still had to exist for a time... in order to make Kyle Reese's trip back in time possible."
"He (Connor) realizes that it was, is, and will be his fate to train himself to become the future John Connor who will lead the future human insurrection. The future protects the past so it can continue being the future."


I found myself thinking about these essays over and again. I was really impressed with the breadth of topics covered by the authors. Not that I completely understood everything that was theorized or agreed with everything that was said, but it continues to percolate around in my gray matter and if that is the intent of the authors (I think it is) then they were successful. ( )
  VictoriaPL | Jan 29, 2012 |
This book is actually quite interesting and has value. Many of the discussions are insightful and I know personally one of the political scientists who contributed work to this volume =).
  boradicus | Apr 15, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brown, RichardEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Decker, Kevin S.Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Irwin, Williamsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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A timely book that uses science fiction to provoke reflectionand discussion on philosophical issues From the nature of mind to the ethics of AI and neuralenhancement, science fiction thought experiments fire thephilosophical imagination, encouraging us to think outside of thebox about classic philosophical problems and even to envision newones. Science Fiction and Philosophy explores puzzles about virtualreality, transhumanism, whether time travel is possible, the natureof artificial intelligence, and topics in neuroethics, among othertimely issues. This thought-provoking volume is suitable forstudents and general readers but also examines new and moreadvanced topics of interest to seasoned philosophers andscientists. Susan Schneider (Hometown TK) is Assistant Professor in thedepartment of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and anAffiliated Faculty Member at the Institutes for Research inCognitive Science and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

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