Monday, July 8, 2013

A Defense of Sci-Fi + Critical Thinking --- PART 2

A Defense of Sci-Fi + Critical Thinking --- PART 2

    So previously Idiscussed a broad idea of ‘what’ Science Fiction can discuss, ie: ‘what is human,’ ‘where are we going as a species,’ etc…

   This time I’d like to talk briefly about the power of Sci-Fi to talk about asking “Hey, what exactly is a human, anyway?”

   I got to take a Comparative Religion course here at The University of Texas at Tyler with Dr. Krebbs. One thing that was brought up was how humans look to various ideas and concepts to unify themselves. This can be called religion, philosophy, and lots of other things.

   Sci-Fi asks us, “How do we physically define what the state of ‘human’ is?”

   Big questions, I know, but remember last time how we discussed those critical thinking skills that college teaches us and how we can apply them to things OUTSIDE of class? This question presents us with that opportunity!

   Another course I had with UT Tyler English Department Chair, Hui Wu, was focused on Asian Literature. One concept we discussed here was the Chinese idea of RENhumanity 

   It expressed that our ‘human-ness’ is earned through actions, not wholly through birth. Obviously, what does this have to do with sci-fi? One idea is that we as people and as a race are more than what we are born as. To become truly human we must work hard, promote goodness, help others, and in a sense 'earn' our soul. It is not something we are born with, but rather something we give ourselves irregardless of the meatsuit we come into this world with. This concept obviously provides some hiccups with Western notions of what being human is or is not, but the presents an interesting tie-in to one of my favorrite concepts in sci-fi ~

One of the biggest examples of science fiction are the idea of machine-men, or men with mechanical parts, and similar concepts. A lot of times these kinds of characters are displayed as villains, villains like TheBorg or Darth Vader.

Part of being human is fearing that we will loose that humanity. Sci-Fi and cyborgs plays with this idea sometimes by presenting ‘evil’ characters who want to make humans into machines, or who are ‘more machine’ than human. People love our own egos and our own individuality so there can naturally be some obvious fears from the thought of becoming a literal machine. What could be more alien to us?

But is this idea of being ‘more machine than man’ something that is just science-fiction?

Enter the idea of Transhumanism! While this concept is massive and encompasses countless ideas presented in video games, TV, movies, and comics, the basic idea is this: in time the human race will change through technology to be more than we were before technology. I am watering the concept down but, at its heart, that is what the issue is.

Today we wear watched with enough PC power to send a man to the moon. We are starting to develop Google Glass technology, pace-maker implants that communicate with cell-phones, and prosthetic that work with our nerves in the our brains. Even our blood has been engineered with anti-viruses grown in labs and made under artificial conditions, thus ( to a degree ) meaning that anybody who has had a flu shot or a vaccine is a cyborg on the basest level.

As we advance and grow, we start to find ourselves ( as humans ) getting more and more integrated with
technology, sometimes physically! What sci-fi shows are the dark-sides of this process, how we can be afraid of what this series of changes will do to us …

… but it shows us the good side, too. Many famous sci-fi heroes and characters are part-machine, or are integrated with advanced computers. What happens when we see Darth Vader and Iron Man on screen? Do we think one is evil because of his condition or because of his actions?

Most people will say, “Well, Iron Man is a hero. Vader isn't.” We define them by their actions, by their outward manifestation of their Ren, more or less!

The movie Blade Runner is also one of the best examples of just how deep this rabbit hole of a question of “What is Human?” can go.

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