This fun and easy-to-read book by Mark Rowlands
explains several philosophic ideas and concepts by using science fiction
blockbusters such as The Matrix,
Total Recall and
Blade Runner as examples. You too can understand what Descartes was
on about when he said “I think, therefore I am” . . .
along the line philosophy just lost out to either science or religion . .
Let’s face up to it: since when did philosophy address any of the issues
that matter to most people? Even that old clichéd stand-by of “what is the
meaning of life?” has been left by the wayside. The truth is that people
actually want to know stuff like this as opposed to, say, what is meaning
of the word “fish” or whatever the hell Derrida, Foucault or any of those
guys are unto.
Yup, the last time anyone paid any attention to philosophy was probably
with the Existentialists about fifty or more years ago. They actually had
stuff to say that are relevant to everyday life, even if you thought it
was a lot of hokum.
However, since then philosophy has been hijacked by a bunch of academics
with mortgages on ivory towers. If the masses make irrational decisions by
following weirdo cults or just plain believing in weird New Age shit,
today’s philosophers have only themselves to blame. By trying hard to
impress one another other, the mental masturbation that passes for
philosophy nowadays just aren’t relevant or even comprehensible to most
people . . .
Mark Rowlands, who also teaches philosophy, has however decided to change
this by making philosophy more accessible to the masses. He explains
several philosophical issues (the meaning of life is just one of them in
case you were wondering) using science fiction movie blockbusters as
Instead of hauling out obscure titles like the ones we usually do here at
the Sci-Fi Movie Page and its
board, he uses titles such as The Matrix, Blade Runner,
the Star Wars trilogy, Total Recall,
the Terminator movies,
Hollow Man and the like.
In his preface Rowlands admits that he doesn’t like arty farty “art house”
flicks and prefer SF blockbusters instead. Not only are they more
exciting, he states, but they also impart more philosophical truths than
any Swedish angst movie. Through the rest of his book he proves this by
explaining the nature of reality (The Matrix,
Total Recall), free will (Minority Report),
existentialism (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein)
If that seems a bit highfalutin, he also addresses questions such as “why
be moral?” (via Hollow Man) is there a thing such as evil (via
Star Wars) and what is the meaning of life and death. Along the way he
discusses philosophers such as Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre,
Kierkegaard and the like. No Marx though.
Rowlands writes in a chatty and accessible way. No academic speak here.
Sure, some points may make your eyes glaze over in dull incomprehension
but as a rule Rowlands anchors his discussions in everyday terms most – if
not all of us – would understand, if not identify with. Rowlands also has
a joke or two ready and some bits made me laugh out loud.
Sure, this is Philosophy 101 stuff and if you’re seriously into philosophy
you’ll probably be expecting something in-depth. However, for the rest of
us he has an excellent way of explaining complex ideas and terms. After
reading quite a lot of Nietzsche (in my wayward youth especially) I think
that Rowlands does a better way at explaining him than the man himself!
If there are any problems, it's that some of Rowlands’ arguments seem just
a tad too glib and smug (I, for one, don’t buy his free will argument
because it just doesn’t seem right damn it!). However, he wins us over by
confirming that something that we’ve suspected for quite a while – that
those SF movies we love so much are much deeper than they appear to be on
the surface . . .
A fun read.
the End of the Universe
Author: Rowlands, Mark
Published: July 2003
Vintage/Ebury (A Division of Random House Group)