978-0-465-04548-8 / 9780465045488

Is Data Human?: The Metaphysics Of Star Trek


Publisher:Basic Books



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About the book:

These days it seems you cannot write about a serious subject without disguising it as popular culture, and you don't get more popular that Star Trek. Hence, in recent years, we've had the physics of Star Trek, the biology of Star Trek and now the philosophy of Star Trek. Actually this makes more sense than might, at first, appear. Philosophers have always used thought experiments as a way of examining and testing their propositions; and what is science fiction if not an extended thought experiment? Thus one of the central concerns of metaphysics is the far from simple question: "what is a human being?" What makes us moral creatures, how would we tell if another being is intelligent, what does it mean to be intelligent? These are all questions to which philosophers often posit an alien being, or a machine that behaves intelligently (and in these days of the ever-quickening computer revolution questions of machine intelligence seem particularly apposite).

Dr Hanley finds a ready-made thought experiment to help him examine these questions in Data, the android perennially desiring to be human in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Indeed, the scriptwriters are ahead of him, for the episode called "The Measure of a Man" dealt specifically with the question of whether Data should be considered human, and though Hanley takes his examples from all the Star Trek programmes and films it is this episode he returns to again and again. Despite the popular guise, this is a serious book and when his arguments get going, Hanley makes few concessions to his non-specialist audience; but he does ask intriguing questions and makes a very strong case for his liberal interpretation of terms like person' and intelligence'. A pity, though, that from time to time Hanley doesn't just use Star Trek to provide examples but actually seems to assume that the script proves his case. --Paul Kincaid

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