HE, you're a real pain in the *** somtimes.
Be creative. Aren't you an author? You can surmise.
HE, you're a real pain in the *** somtimes.
Be creative. Aren't you an author? You can surmise.
I could but then I would fall into the trap of attempting to justify sff existence when its very existence obviates the necessity.
So, I'd rather wrestle with the idea of every thought experiment being a philosophical speculation. When Schrodinger proposed his thought experiment re eliminating the world of cats - one at a time, in what sense was that mental picture show philosophical?
Let me say that I am basing the question on the idea that the issues of philosophy are (a) how we know something; (b) how should we behave based on how we know something; and (c) how we should govern based on how we should behave. If that is the meat of philosophy, then how does Schrodinger's thought experiment qualify?
Let me take some sff, say Aesop's fables, and say that I can readily agree that these tales, dealing as they do with how we should behave, can be considered philosophical speculations.
Now, please, take your own personal favorite sff title and tell me how that thought experiment fits into philosophical speculation.
I think in SFF Cosmology and Metaphysics play as much a part in the discussion and speculation as Ethics and Epistemology do. In fact, world building is essential, isn't it? So we are forced to speculate on Cosmological issues, unlike in mainstream fiction where the stage is reality.
The lines can and do blur often, I agree. But since we have so much more speculative freedom in our genre, we're all able to experiment more in some areas without being subject to the constraints of credibility that restrict or rather, set the stage for most literary fiction.
That seems like a somewhat broad-on-the-one-hand and narrow-on-the-other-hand definition of philosophy.
Say we take Starship Troopers... Heinlein wrote many of the different diatribes in that book based on a variety of cultural referents. One big one was Dr. Benjamin Spock and his crazy theories on how we should raise kids.
Dr. Spock's theory on child rearing says be nice. Heinlein says treat them, literally, like dogs. Now, on the one hand it's tongue-in-cheek. On the other, it's quite serious. But is it a philosophical issue? For Heinlein, yes. For Dr. Spock... I don't really think so.
Heinlein took Spock's idea and combined it with the question of morality and responsibility -- In otherwords, the exact criteria you described for "philosophy" in your post, HE. How we learn responsibility, How we should behave based on how we learned it, and How we govern ourselves based on that process.
The result Heinlein drafted was pretty controversial. I'd say he took a theory and created the "speculative reality" that Dr. Spock was writing in opposition to. Starship Troopers is, in a sense, saying to Dr. Spock -- the world you are afraid of doesn't really exist.
He is also saying, however, if it did, this is what it might look like. Using logic -- that evil tenet of philosophy -- he drew up a world based on the societal ills people were proposing existed at the time he was writing. So, sure, it's a thought experiment. But he turns it into a question of philosophy by arguing for scientific morality, and creating those morals based on the opposite of Spock's assertions of what damages children.
So, I'd say 1 point for SF.
I can't really imagine how a non-SF book might do that...
Schroedinger's cat is an interesting example for you to chose. I'm not sure it's philosophy, per se. It's a "thought experiment" about atomic decay... if you combine it with the Uncertainty Principle, then you get some interesting stuff. But outside of what physics can tell us about the tenuous nature of reality and existence, is the thought-experimentality of physics, or science generally, itself inherently philosophical?
What about psychology? Where does that stand in reference to all of this? It's never truly been considered a science, but it's not a philosophical discipline. (Just an aside)
Political novels like Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies can also be viewed as thought experiments and speculative, and they do deal with ethical issues as well. But they're old! What are we writing today in mainstream fiction to compete with books like these?
I'm not saying that a given sff work does not treat philosophical issues. I am asserting that not all sff novels treat philosophical issues. Take Resnick's Widowmaker series. That one allows you to forget philosophy and have fun, like watching 24.
C'mon, now, GW, tell me that Amy Tan's Saving Fish From Drowning deals with reality. That's a dead person telling the tale. Look at all the people arguing over whether Dan Brown is dealing with reality in Da Vinci Code. John Grisham builds worlds where there are good lawyers and bad lawyers and the bad lawyers get their karmic deserts. Is that reality?
When we build different cosmologies, say The Wheel of Time, what about that cosmology caused any character to act differently from standard human behavior? Now say you build a world where human motivation does not apply, how are we human readers to comprehend what you are trying to tell us without a frame of reference. You have to make it human to make it sell. So, your new cosmologies are not developing new behavior; you're taking known behavior and showing how it could be better or worse but it is still human behavior.
We can comprehend Alien because we can comprehend sharks. We can comprehend Predator because we can comprehend Jack Bauer. In other words, we can find a human term of reference to understand character behavior so that developing new cosmologies may be a smoke screen to distract from the argument at hand.
And, Fung Koo, Shrodinger's Cat was chosen specifically to question whether it is a philosophical speculation or not. Chosen because the question before the house was: are all thought experiments philosophical speculation? I am on the side that says they are not. Because I am on that side I can assert that not all sff novels are philosophical speculation.
Alright, cool. Your position wasn't completely clear to me.
I agree that not all thought experiments are philosophical. But to my way of thinking, it is a question of degrees. Some thought experiments tap into more fundamentally philosophical questions than others. Schroedinger's cat, for example, is based on the philosophical question of epistemology and metaphysics as it applies to idealism in quantum states. So, in a sense, it is highly philosophical. Though it is tied most directly to quantum science and the philosophical implications of the thought experiment may not apply at a macroscopic level.
As for Jack Bauer and Predator... Isn't in the other way around? We understand Predator because we understand being hunted by animals.
You have no argument with me here, HE. Not all SFF novels are philosophical, nor are they intended to be. So we've come full circle. It's the author's intent, for better or for worse. If we try to solve problems through what we write, if we are concerned with ethical issues and alternative cosmologies when we write, if we care about issues of fate and free will, then our books will be different than books by authors who are strictly interested in telling a good story or just making money or stimulating your sexual urges etc. But I do agree with the initial premise that SFF engenders philosophical speculation as a genre, if the authors so choose, and that the Oprah generation tends to push more toward sentimentality and spiritual clensing. (Cormac McCarthy aside)
ie - Based on what we observe in ourselves and the degree of accordance with which we observe it in others, this is how we appear to know what we know...
It's on ABC next week and it's called "Lost"Political novels like Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies can also be viewed as thought experiments and speculative, and they do deal with ethical issues as well. But they're old! What are we writing today in mainstream fiction to compete with books like these?
May I counter with the 4 Noble Truths? If they are about spiritual cleansing and count as philosophical, then novels speculating on how one might accomplish same ought to rate as philosophical as much as any other "what if..." premise...and that the Oprah generation tends to push more toward sentimentality and spiritual clensing.
Yeah, but it's more "soul cleansing" in the sense of ...feeling ok about your relative wealth compared to those sad sacks in less fortunate parts of the world who have "real" life experiences instead of the soul sucking illusion of a life composed of suv driving, paper pushing, and more suv driving...
It's about identifying with the misery of others because the misery in your own suburban life is a fabrication.
Drop the corset and pick up the eating disorder...
It's not philosophy. It's therapy.
We're talking fiction here, correct? The fiction that Oprah recommends is no less pretentious than offerings of sff, say, for example, Vellum.
My understanding of the 4 Noble Truths is that they apply anywhere and everywhere, even in the mythical suburbia. So, The Pillars of the Earth and Love in the Time of Cholera are mindless, yuppie drivel, eh? Yeah, I can see where they might have a hard time in a comparison with the SciFi Book Club's top two picks: Dragon Harper and Cauldron.
Well aren't we a drama queen? Come on HE. No one is claiming that ALL contemporary fiction is drivel and that ALL SFF is brilliant. Not at all. But I still think that it makes perfect sense that philosophy and fantasy have bonded. Perfect sense. My background is philosophy. I studied it for years, taught it on the College level, and genuinely loved so much about the discipline. When I decided to write fiction, I didn't think about what genre I wanted to write in. I just started writing in the one that most suited my philosophical inclinations. I wanted to write about ethical issues and I didn't want to write a textbook. I'm sure I'm not alone. SFF suits many of us who have these interests. It doesn't suit all of us. No one said that it did.
Fung is right. You pegged Oprah!
Oh, hell, GW. The argument only comes when you make statements like:As if the philosophical writers in the world are only doing sf. As if only the truly thoughful writers are doing sf. Bullshit. Just plain bullshit.But I still think that it makes perfect sense that philosophy and fantasy have bonded. Perfect sense.
Attempting to single out sf as the last bastion or the first bastion of intelligent writing or having a special place in the world of intelligentsia is just so much...welll, I've already said that, haven't I.
There is good writing in every damned genre there is. By good writing I mean thoughtful, philosophically speculative, and painfully worked out.
Establishing an elite clique in sff makes no sense to me. I don't believe Heinlein would have bought it, nor would Asimov - hell, he worked in multiple genres, but maybe Clarke would. I think Tolkien, educated as he was, would have laughed; his buddy C.S. Lewis might have bought it, but maybe you and Hal and Scott are the constitutents of this last bastion. You've sold more copies than me, so maybe you can form a club like the Trap Door Spiders, call it the sff bastions, and start a whole new movement. I'm betting it won't improve your sales.
I think martini hour has now arrived.
Last edited by Hereford Eye; January 31st, 2008 at 03:32 PM.
I wish there was a "sneer" emoticon... Oh text, how you've failed me...
In all seriousness, the Oprah bookclub -- the biggest marketing tool of "good" general fiction -- seems to deliver its recommendations based on a pretty hefty weight of Romanticism and Depression. It sometimes looks like a book list of "deep" and "spiritual" literature for over-educated stay-at-home moms (which is both elitist and sexist of me to say... double whammy!). My objection to the Oprah-friendly books is that it seems to engender this false identification with those who suffer, or have suffered, elsewhere in the world. As if learning about the suffering of others can deepen you appreciation for what you have. Rather than look inward at what the 4 Noble Truths might reveal about a persons own real life, Oprah-friendly books tend to focus on the suffering in everyone else's lives. Whether it's a triumph over suffering or not, the focus is usually away from the issues that might actually be pertinent to the core audience. The way I see it, this adds more suffering...
There are some good ones in there, though, I won't deny that. And there's plenty of counter-examples to this wonderfully generalized claim I'm making.
But consider the culture we're talking about here. Oprah's primary audience is the theoretically unhappy, possibly over weight (but probably just self-convinced that they're fat), spiritually lost, middle aged women. Middle aged women who have adopted every major media trend and "authentic" new cure for what ails them. Just recently, in the mid/late 90's, vegetarianism was the "it" thing du jour. There was explosion of vegetarian-related cultural diets, and new restaurants made it huge featuring the "vegetarian" version of classic Thai Stir-Fried vegetables... When the anemia started to kick in, the switch jumped to Yoga/Pilates. Following that the shift was toward a blending approach of naturopathology. Not working still? On come the chiropractors and other pseudo-medicines. And dammit, wouldn't you know, this eastern medicine thing may not be the whole picture. Atkins? South Beach? Oop, gone again...
The internalization of the system is the sickness. Yesterday's corset at least had an identifiable enemy. Today's corset is an eating disorder, and is its own kind of nightmare.
Oprah's demographic is a trend-hopping nightmare clique dedicated to finding the cure for your inner loneliness, terrible unhappiness, and general what-the-f**kery of modern western life. We've created an industry out of telling ourselves that we've lost touch with nature and the authentic self. And for the most part, we're doing it to women. It's trickled over to men, too. But the buying power, so the market says, of feeling lost and alone lies with women. Men are evidently still satisfied by gadgets and camping.
If we're applying the 4 Noble Truths to everything, we have to pull apart Oprah and her audience too. And it's built on the lie that we've irreparably divorced ourselves from nature. Our suffering is the mass production of anti-suffering products.
The way I see it, that's the nature and the origin. The way out? Total rejection of the system of anti-suffering, including turfing its idols - Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Ho... We have to accept and recognize our own suffering for a change. If only po-mo could help us...
SF has the power to help show the way out, using distortion -- a power that realistic general fiction, in my humble experience, can only hope to attain using reflection.