Saturday, March 20, 2004

Review of Hanley's The Metaphysics of Star Trek

First of all, you will not want to read this book if you are not a least somewhat of a Star Trek fan.

Star Trek is a great way to introduce these issues because there are so many questions raised by the show, and so much of the show's coherence depends on the answer to some interesting metaphysical issues.

For those familiar with and interested in Star Trek, the book is a good introduction to some of the standard issues that are of concern to philosophers who study metaphysics. The First questions are about the nature of life, humans and rationality. What is reason, how do we know when we have encountered it? What is life and how do we know when we find something alive, or sentient? In Star Trek there are often in-between or ambiguous cases, that are worth Hanley's analysis. Data is one classic case. What is he? (It is a shame that the book was written before the Voyager series was sufficiently underway or the Enterprise series started. The EMH would provide lots more interesting cases.)

Another question dealt with is one of personal identity. This was a rather popular metaphysical topic. Dax, Tuvix, Kirk/Lester, are just the tip of the iceberg. Questions like who you are after you beam are legitimate. (Jaegwon Kim one claimed in class that he would think that he would be a different person after beaming.) There are also plenty of cases of mind-transfers, mind melds, and insanities.

Finally, there are all sorts of time questions. Time travel is a favorite question of philosophers too, and again, Star Trek is great for that.

I would recommend this to any Star Trek fan who is curious about how a real philosophical analysis of the problems obviously raised in the various series and movies. The analyses are rarely novel, and they stick with the standard philosophical party lines (eg, Nozick's closest continuer scheme of personal identity). Toward the end he also accuses the writers of just not making sense, but that is rare, and when he does it is clear that the writers deserve it. He is quite charitable though, and fans will appreciate the seriousness with which all this is taken.

No comments: