GC1Y 1100 Critical Thinking: SciFi & Philosophy, Fall 2013

Section 20: MW 2:00-3:15PM, Arts & Sciences 353

Section 21: TR 3:30-4:45PM, Arts & Sciences 368

In Class Activities

1. Philosophical Questions and Passages

In order to get to know some of your peers and help everyone become accustomed to discussing philosophical issues, today we're going to

  1. divide into groups of 4-5,
  2. articulate or extrapolate the key philosophical question posed by the article,
  3. explain the article's main philosophical concept, and
  4. explicate two significant passages from the article.

Here are the article groups:

  1. John Pollock, "Brain in a Vat" (TR 3:30 Natasha Markowich)
  2. Nick Bostrom, "Are You in a Computer Simulation?" (MW 2:00 Thomas Ariano)
  3. Plato, excerpt from The Republic (TR 3:30 Daniel Wenum)
  4. René Descartes, excerpt from The Meditations on First Philosophy
  5. David J. Chalmers, "The Matrix as Metaphysics" (MW 2:00 Wesley Lemons)

2. Brainstorming the Philosophical Essay

Spend five minutes on your own brainstorming a possible topic for the upcoming philosophical paper by answering the following questions:

  1. What philosophical question(s) does the short story or film pose?
  2. What philosophical conflicts or debates does the short story or film illustrate?
  3. To what philosophical conclusions does the short story or film come?
  4. Which two philosophical essays include concepts that are aptly applied in the short story or film?

Next, find a partner and spend ten minutes sharing and evaluating each others' answers to the above questions.

3. Composing an Annotation for an Annotated Bibliography

After discussing Dark City as a class, let's break into groups of 3-4 in order to practice writing an annotation for the annotated bibliography coming up in the Book Summary and Group Project. Each 75-100 word annotation should summarize and evaluate Knight and McKnight's scholarly journal article "What Is It to Be Human? Blade Runner and Dark City" by

  1. identifying the question, issue, or topic that the source is investigating,
  2. defining the source's thesis or conclusion regarding Dark City, and
  3. explaining how the essay helps your literary and philosophical understanding of Dark City text.

4. Robocop

Let's break into groups of 4-5 members to have a structured discussion of the four main issues of the film. Elect secretaries to report to the class your group's findings on its assigned issue.

  1. News and Commercials: What do the news and commercials tell us about the world in which the film is set? How does the dystopic, crime-ridden world contribute to the conflict between technology and humanity?
  2. Criminals and Corporations: Describe the criminal and corporate organizations in the film. Compare and contrast their motives and actions, and comment on Rick Jones' employment of Clarence J. Boddicker.
  3. Ethics of Policing: Discuss the ethics of privatizing and militarizing the police force. Discuss the ethics of the police force going on strike.
  4. Ethics of Technology: Discuss the ethics of creating cyborgs by erasing memories, programming the mind, and replacing body parts with machine parts.

5. Make Up Day (TR 3:30 Section Only)

Due to my attendance at a conference at which I'm presenting a paper, class is cancelled on Thursday, November 5. We will make up the work during Week 13. For Tuesday, November 12, read Golumbia, Golub, Duchesne, and Derecho. In class, you will be divided into groups, collaboratively write an annotation (like the Book Summary and Group Project annotations) on your group's one assigned article, and present your annotation to the class. Then, Group Project 2 Forever War and Group Project Presentation 3 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will present.

Two Discussion Board Responses

The scheduled discussion board responses serve three purposes:

  1. to practice responding to philosophical and literary ideas,
  2. to share initial understandings of texts to the discussion board the weekend before in-class discussion, and
  3. to practice informal presentation skills and direct class discussion.

Philosophical Response

Summarize and evaluate—appreciate and interrogate—one of the philosophical readings for the scheduled day. What is the main idea of the text and how does it function in human life? What questions do you have of the main idea and how do you assess the value and validity of the idea?

Literary/Filmic Response

While avoiding plot summary, analyze the characters and conflicts and posit what main thematic and philosophical ideas the story or film suggests. What are the core issues of the work, and with what philosophical concepts does the work tarry? How do you respond or answer back to the ideas posed by the story?

Informal Presentation

Without simply reading your written response, you will also be responsible for a brief, informal presentation, which should either introduce the philosophical essay by defining key points and terms and main ideas and broaching issues for class discussion or introduce the short story/film by explaining key characters and conflicts and themes and broaching questions for class discussion.


Sign Up

Sign up for two responses, one Philosophical (P) and one Literary/Filmic (L), at least two weeks apart.


The syllabus schedule provides complete author and title information regarding the texts below.


GAV Due Date


Due Date

Text MW Student TR Student
F, 8-23

M, 8-26

T, 8-27

1 Pollock, 2 Bostrom, 3 Plato, 4 Descartes, 5 Chalmers

P1 Thomas Ariano Daniel Wenum
P2 Wesley Lemons Natasha Markowich

W, 8-28

R, 8-29


L1 Anika Snyder Dylan Browning

Heinlein, "They"

F, 8-30
T, 9-3

The Matrix

L3 XXX Taylor Lancaster
L4 XXX Joseph Hutto

W, 9-4

R, 9-5


L5 Noland Brogdon
Charlie Faber
Daniel Jones
L6 Garret Fricks Alan Carson
F, 9-6

M, 9-9

T, 9-10

6 Dennett, 7 Olson, 8 Parfit

P3 Taylor Wilson  
P4 Kelli Block  

W, 9-11

R, 9-12

9 Kurzweil, 10 Huemer, 11 Goldman

P5 Blake Nipper Taylor Lancaster
P6 Jen Edwards Bob Podsiadlo
F, 9-13

M, 9-16

T, 9-17

Dick, "Minority..."

L7 Catherine Allen Crystal Pham

Dick, "Remember..."

L8 Thomas Ariano Meg Robinson

F, 9-20

M, 9-23

T, 9-24

Dark City

L9 Nic Stadler Miranda Austin
L10 Ryan Butz
Katy Gramling
Samantha Barrow
Bob Podsiadlo

W, 9-25

R, 9-26

12 Asimov, 13 Clark, 14 Block

P7 Maddie Kaufman Dylan Browning
P8 Elizabeth Kelley Meg Robinson
F, 9-27

M, 9-30

T, 10-1

15 Clark, 16 Dennett, 17 Kurzweil

P9 Hannah Greene
P10 Brandon Swords Charlie Langston

W, 10-2

R, 10-3


L11 Jen Edwards Brian Warstadt


L12 Maddie Kaufman Chris Fairey
F, 10-4

M, 10-7

T, 10-8

Blade Runner

L13 Daniel Mills Brett Johns
L14 Taylor Wilson
Wes Guzman
Zach Brown
Ben Blizzard

W, 10-9

R, 10-10

18 Annas, 19 Schneider, 20 Leslie

P11 Rachel Autrey Zach Brown
P12 Lauren Hargrove Daniel Jones
F, 10-11
W, 10-16
R, 10-17

21 Anderson, 22 Bostrom

P13 Catherine Allen Samantha Barrow
P14 Ryan Butz Brian Warstadt
F, 10-18

M, 10-21

T, 10-22


L15 Lauren Hargrove
Emily Randall
L16 Blake Nipper Hannah Greene
F, 10-25
W, 10-30
R, 10-31


L17 Daniel Wenum
L18 Rachel Autrey James Iocovozzi
F, 11-1

M, 11-4

T, 11-5


P15 Jonathan Kass Ben Blizzard


P16 Mitch Hammond

W, 11-6

R, 11-7


P17 Daniel Mills Marin Becker


P18 Garret Fricks Alan Carson
F, 11-8

M, 11-11

T, 11-12


P19 Jeremy Colwell Crystal Pham


P20 Kelvin Nwanze Chris Fairey
W, 11-13
R, 11-14


P21 Katy Gramling  


P22 Wes Guzman James Iocovozzi
F, 11-15

M, 11-18

T, 11-19

23 Bradbury, 24 Sider

P23 Anika Snyder Miranda Austin
P24 Charlie Faber Elliott Greer
W, 11-20
R, 11-21

25 Lewis, 26 Deutsch, 27 Hanley

P25 Nic Stadler Brett Johns
P26 Emily Randall
F, 11-29

M, 12-2

T, 12-3

Heinlein, "Zombies"

L21 Brandon Swords
Kelli Block
Elliott Greer


L22 Kelvin Nwanze
Wesley Lemons
Natasha Markowich

W, 12-4

R, 12-5

La Jetée

L23 Jonathan Kass Marin Becker
L24 Jeremy Colwell Mitch Hammond

Philosophical Essay

We have discussed the nature of reality and the self with the help of philosophers such as Pollock, Bostrom, Plato, Descartes, Chalmers, Dennett, Olson, Parfit, Kurzweil, Huemer, and Goldman. As a class, we have applied their philosophical concepts to short stories by Bradbury, Heinlein, and Dick as well as the films Inception and The Matrix (TR section only). Many of you have written philosophical or literary responses to these texts. For the first formal paper, you will interpret a short story or film through the lens of a philosophical concept in a 4-5 page essay. Choose a short story or film on the syllabus up to Tuesday, September 17. Write a well-focused, well-organized, thesis-driven essay, formatted in MLA style, that combines philosophical and literary analysis of the short story or film, making sure to incorporate pertinent ideas from at least two of the philosophical texts we have read so far. Beside quoting and analyzing significant passages from both philosophical and literary texts, your essay should answer the following questions: What philosophical question(s) does the text pose? What philosophical concept(s) does the text convey? What conflict(s) and theme(s) does the text suggest, and how do the conflict(s) and theme(s) apply the philosophical questions and ideas?


Book Summary

You will annotate the essays in an edited book collection from Wiley's The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series or Open Court Publishing Company's Popular Culture and Philosophy Series about a science fiction or fantasy novel, film, comic book, or video game. These books are called secondary sources that critically comment upon the primary text of the novel, film, etc.


After signing up below, request your book from interlibrary loan or purchase your book through an online bookstore like Amazon or direct from the publisher.


While a normal annotated bibliography requires you to summarize books, book chapters, and scholarly journal articles for a research paper, the bibliography you annotate in this class focuses solely on the chapters in your scholarly book on a science fiction or fantasy product. You should annotate at least 10 critical essays from the collection. Each 75-100 word annotation should summarize and evaluate a research source by

  1. identifying the philosophical issue or question that the essay is investigating,
  2. defining the secondary source's thesis or conclusion regarding the primary text's philosophical theme, and
  3. explaining how the essay helps your understanding of the primary text.

After you've written the annotations, write 2 pages summarizing the dominant philosophical trends and issues you see running through the entire book.


Sign Up

Book Publisher MW Student TR Student

The Matrix


1 Jonathan Kass  

Buffy the Vampire Slayer


2 Lauren Hargrove  

The Lord of the Rings


3 1 Taylor Lancaster

Harry Potter


4 Kelli Block 2 Brett Johns

The Matrix (2: More)


5 Wesley Lemons  

Star Wars


  3 Dylan Browning



6 Maggie Kaufman  

The Chronicles of Narnia


7 Katy Gramling 4

The Undead



Battlestar Galactica



Star Trek



The Legend of Zelda


8 Kelvin Nwanze 6 James Iocovozzi

The Wizard of Oz


  7 Elliott Greer

The Transformers





  8 Natasha Markowich

The Golden Compass



World of Warcraft


9 Rachel Autrey 9 Miranda Austin

Zombies, Vampires



Doctor Who


10 Thomas Ariano 10 Marin Becker



11 Daniel Mills  



  11 Alan Carson




Philip K. Dick



Neil Gaiman


12 Catherine Allen  

The Walking Dead


13 Wes Guzman 12 Daniel Wenum

Dungeons and Dragons



Planet of the Apes





  13 James Iocovozzi




Ender's Game





15 Ryan Butz 14 Emily Randall

Ender's Game


16 Garret Fricks  




The Hobbit


17 Jennifer Edwards 15 Meg Robinson



18 Jeremy Coldwell  

Game of Thrones


19 Nic Stadler 16 Brian Warstadt

The Avengers


  17 Hannah Greene

The Walking Dead


20 Taylor Wilson 18 Crystal Pham

The Hunger Games


21 Nolen Brogdon  




Green Lantern



True Blood





23 Brandon Swords 19 Mitch Hammond

Harry Potter


14 Charlie Faber 20 Samantha Barrow

Iron Man



Alice in Wonderland


24 Anika Snyder 21 Daniel Jones

Final Fantasy











  22 Bob Podsiadlo



25 Blake Nipper  



  23 Zach Brown



  24 Chris Fairey

Battlestar Galactica



Lost (2: Ultimate)



Group Project

As a class we have discussed various philosophical issues in multiple short stories and film from mostly American authors. Individually, you have written about the philosophical concepts explored in a single literary or filmic text in the philosophical essay, and you have read and summarized a book in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series. Next, as a group, you will research and analyze either a prominent science fiction or fantasy author or a science fiction or fantasy genre (but not studied in the book summary assignment), by interpreting one of the author's or genre's significant texts, explaining the author's or genre's science fiction or fantasy context and tradition, and articulating the predominant philosophical questions of the author or genre while comparing and contrasting the philosophical concerns to a few in-class readings. Your group will compose an annotated bibliography that summarizes your 12 best research sources and give a presentation to the class that interprets the author or genre's representative text, explains the literary tradition from which the author or genre derives, and articulates the author's or genre's core philosophical issues. Each 75-100 word annotation should summarize and evaluate a research source by

  1. identifying the question, issue, or topic that the source is investigating,
  2. defining the source's thesis or conclusion regarding the author, genre, or text being researched, and
  3. explaining how the essay helps your literary and/or philosophical understanding of the author, genre, or text.


Possible authors include, but are not limited to:

  1. Douglas Adams, Great Britain
  2. Margaret Atwood, Canada
  3. Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina
  4. Stanislaw Lem, Russia

Possible genres include, but are not limited to:

1. mecha, Japan

2. biopunk, America

3. cyberpunk anime or manga, Japan

4. steampunk, Great Britain


Provide two possible, researchable topics for professor approval by Wednesday, October 2 (MW Section) or Thursday, October 3 (TR Section).

Preliminary Bibliography

Provide a tentative list of 5 scholarly journal articles and 5 books/book chapters by Wednesday, October 9 (MW Section) or Thursday, October 10 (TR Section).


Sign Up

Group MW Topic/Students TR Topics/Student


genre: self-made superheroes
text: Iron Man
author: Neil Gaiman
text: Stardust
1 Rachel Autrey Natasha Markowich
2 Taylor Wilson Emily Randall
3 Anika Snyder Hannah Greene
4 Lauren Hargrove Crystal Pham


genre: post-apocalyptic cli-fi anime
author: Hayao Miyazaki
text: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
genre: social science fiction
author: Joe Haldeman
text: Forever War

5 Jen Edwards Chris Fairey
6 Maddie Kaufman Ben Blizzard
7 Daniel Mills Mitch Hammond
8 Catherine Allen Brian Warstadt


genre: post-apocalyptic scifi
text: Planet of the Apes

genre: satirical scifi
text: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
9 Jonathan Kass Bob Podsiadlo
10 Ryan Butz Marin Becker
11 Wes Lemons Samantha Barrow
12 Kelvin Nwanze Dylan Browning


genre: time travel
text: Back to the Future
genre: children's anime
text: Pokemon
13 Charlie Faber Alan Carson
15 Katy Gramling Taylor Lancaster
16 Jeremy Colwell Daniel Jones


genre: alien invasion
text: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
genre: apocalyptic scifi
text: Artificial Intelligence
17 Blake Nipper Zach Brown
18 Wes Guzman Miranda Austin
19 Garret Fricks Daniel Wenum
20 Kelli Block Brett Johns


author: Douglas Adams
text: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
author: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
text: "Harrison Bergeron" or Slaughterhouse-Five
21 Thomas Ariano Meg Robinson
22 Nolan Brogden Elliott Greer
23 Nic Stadler James Iocovozzi
24 Brandon Swords  

Reflective Essay

At this point in the course, you have 1) written short responses to short stories, films, and philosophical essays, 2) written a full-length essay proving how a short story or film applies philosophical concepts, 3) summarized a book illustrating how philosophy applies to a science fiction or fantasy work, and 4) worked in groups to analyze, research, and teach to the class the philosophical conflicts and themes of a science fiction work. For the learning beyond the classroom component of the course, you will participate in a science fiction and fantasy social activity—such as a role playing board game like Dungeons & Dragons, massively multi-player online role playing game (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft, a Renaissance fair, or a convention like Dragon Con in Atlanta—and then write an essay critically analyzing the experience. For instance, you could attend Dragon Con and compose a reflective essay thinking about how the experience affected your sense of self and/or reality, in the philosophical ways we've been discussing, like Pierson-Smith's and Lamerichs', to support your ideas. Your essay has three goals: first, describe and analyze the social experience you attended and/or participated in; second, reflect upon the experience by making a claim about the key philosophical ideas that are in play, and, third, incorporate ideas from two applicable philosophical essays from our course.



You have responded both informally and formally to both literature and philosophy, you have researched the philosophy informing science fiction, and you have reflected upon a participatory science fiction or fantasy experience. For the final assignment, you will be examined on the literature and philosophy we have collectively studied on the syllabus after the formal philosophical essay (Week 6 through Week 16, Dark City and Schneider 115-60 through Heinlein, Spinrad, and La Jetée; the exam does not include book summaries, group projects, and reflective experiences).



Dark City

Isaac Asimov, “The Bicentennial Man”

William Gibson, “Johnny Mnemonic”

Blade Runner

H. G. Wells, A Story of Things to Come


Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder”

Robert Heinlein, “All You Zombies—”

Norman Spinrad, “The Weed of Time”

La Jetée



Deborah Knight and George McKnight, “What Is It to Be Human?: Blade Runner and Dark City”

Isaac Asimov, “Robot Dreams”

Andy Clark, “A Brain Speaks”

Ned Block, “The Mind as the Software of the Brain”

Andy Clark, “Cyborgs Unplugged”

Daniel C. Dennett, “Consciousness in Human and Robot Minds”

Ray Kurzweil, “Superintelligence and Singularity”

George J. Annas, “The Man on the Moon”

Susan Schneider, “Mindscan: Transcending and Enhancing the Human Brain”

John Leslie, “The Doomsday Argument”

Susan Leigh Anderson, “Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ and Machine Metaethics”

Nick Bostrom, “Ethical Issues in Advanced Artificial Intelligence”

Russell W. Belk, “Extended Self in a Digital World”

Christian Roesler, “The Self in Cyberspace: Identity Formation in Postmodern Societies and Jung’s Self as an Objective Psyche”

David Golumbia, “Games without Play”

Alex Golub, “Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game”

Scott Duchesne, “Stardom/Fandom”

Abigail Derecho, “Archontic Literature: A Definition, a History, and Several Theories of Fan Fiction”

Anne Pierson-Smith, “Fashioning the Fantastical Self: An Examination of the Cosplay Dress-up Phenomenon in Southeast Asia”

Nicole Lamerichs, “Stranger Than Fiction: Fan Identity in Cosplay”

Theodore Sider, “Time”

David Lewis, “The Paradoxes of Time Travel”

David Deutsch and Michael Haywood, “The Quantum Physics of Time Travel”

Richard Hanley, “Miracles and Wonders: Science Fiction and Time Travel”


In class on Monday, December 2 and Tuesday, December 3, we will generate topics from which the questions will be generated. The topics will be posted here on Wednesday, December 4.


MW 2:00 Section Topics

  1. reality
  2. identity
  3. morality
  4. time travel and free will
  5. AI and sentience
  6. scifi participation and performance

TR 3:30 Section Topics

  1. the real self in the virtual world
  2. morality and ethics
  3. literary themes across scifi narratives
  4. the nature of humanity in technologically advanced societies
  5. scifi participation and performances
  6. time travel multiverses and paradoxes

In order to prepare for the in class, closed book essay exam, I strongly recommend that you create a study guide based upon your annotations of the reading, the discussion board responses, and your class notes. For each short story or film, note the key characters and their traits, core conflicts, philosophical themes, and pertinent quotations. For each philosophical essay, note the key questions and issues, philosophical concepts and conclusions, and pertinent quotations. This guide will look very similar to an annotated bibliography. After creating the study guide, I suggest applying various readings into the comparative topics, noting that not every reading will be appropriate for every topic, and constructing potential comparative thesis statements. Although you will not know the exact questions, you can practice putting different readings into comparison and contrast, and this will help you prepare for the actual essay exam.


In the 135 minutes of exam time, you will write three thesis-driven essays, from a choice of five or six questions, spending about 45 minutes writing each essay, and comparing and contrasting philosophical concepts and literary work. Bring your own blue book or notebook paper.