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What Are We? Essay

In book “What If: Religious Themes in Science Fiction”; the second chapter, “The Primal Question: What Are We? ” Mike Alsford talks about science fiction as anthropology and how he has grouped the understanding of human beings into four categories: Subjects; Agents; Contingent; and Relational/Social. Alsford uses a lot of science fiction TV; Movies; and novels references to explain his conclusion as to “What Are We. ” Science fiction as anthropology SF as anthropology is the exploration of human identity, the human condition and what constitutes human-ness.

Is he human or property is the question in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Data an android is put on trail to establish his rights. What does constitute being human? Alsford states that it is important to learn to read future fiction sensitively one is to identify the concerns that lie behind the unusual scenarios. Is it physical, mental, moral, social; is it what we call our soul or our relationship with God? “Human being as subject: In this section ‘I think, therefore I am’ Alsford looks into human beings as subjects and refers to the philosophy of Rene Descartes concerning human nature.

Descartes theorized that if he thought that something is false and he is the one thinking it, he states: “I think, therefore I am. ” Descartes philosophy continues to dominate Western thought and culture even to this day. Alsford also refers to Descartes mind/body dualism and uses the BBC series Dr. Who, which is back on the air now, as an example of how memory defines human beings. The Doctor is killed off and returns in another body, but his memory stays intact from previous Doctors.

The series call this regeneration; it can also be called reincarnation, memory plays a very important rule in being human, how that even though the Doctor no longer has the same body his memory and mind stays intact. Human being as agent: ‘I do, therefore I am’ Alsford categorizes this section of the chapter ‘I do, therefore I am’ human beings as an agent, this is considered characteristically to be existentialism which means; ‘Existence precedes essence’ stating that choice is significant in being human, looking forward and choosing the correct road to becoming.

When Alsford refers to Karl Rahner, he states that Rahner talks about the essence of humanity as our potential for relationship with God, which keeps us open to the future so that being human is part of a ‘historically becoming’ process. There are two different paths in which humanity could go: a utopian existence, all is in harmony, all ills have been dealt with and humans become almost godlike with a mastery of technology using Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, Alsford examples the utopian existence.

On Earth all is in harmony, there is centralized government, all the ills of the earth are dealt with and with a space program that goes out to seek new civilizations and to go where no man has gone before. Gives human beings the ability to live an utopian existence. Then there is dystopian future, all is dysfunctional, all ills are magnified and humans have demonic power over reality because the mastery of technology, using Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as an example. Dr.

Frankenstein’s creation is considered a monster made from different parts of dead bodies and with a brain from a criminally insane man. It is the same as with Data from Star Trek the Next Generation, he is a creation which looks like a human, but the question is does the creation have a soul and what is a soul? Frankenstein showed signs of caring, however, turned against those nearest to him. Data usually showed signs of a kind soul, but when wires got crossed, he also turned against those nearest to him. Human being as contingent

This view “Human being as contingent”, this is the characteristic behaviourist perspective, which is the biochemical organism dependent upon context and the environment for their being, Alsford states that B. F. Skinner is viewed as the person normally associated with human being as contingentis. It is fascinating how SF uses environmental effects and how it uses different environments as an attraction to the genre with all the possible outcomes. Alsford states that according to Pavlov that conditioning by the environment makes human beings susceptible to conditioned responses.

Pavlov used animals to show that they could be conditioned to their environment by using certain stimuli; a bell would be rung when they were given food, after doing this for awhile, the dog would start drooling when the bell was rung without being given food. Alsford states that Friedrich Schleiermacher speaks of the common human religious experience as being ‘a feeling of absolute dependence’, and that human beings are intimately related to our creator. Human being as relational/social.

Human being as relational is what happens between individuals instead of in or to. Like the relationship human beings have with God, weather we see him/her or not, human beings have a relationship with God. Martin Buber a Jewish philosopher/theologian states there are two different distinctions: I-Thou and I-Thou the differences between the two are: that the I-It is the proper mode of engagement between persons and I-It is the objectification of things; how people are labeled as a thing to be used and dominated.

This view runs deeply within the Christian tradition which has a heavy emphasis on human beings relationship with God and how sin breaks that relationship. In Aslfords chapter he covers the “The Primal Question: What are We? ”, how SF uses anthropology and how he categories his understanding of human beings: Subject, Agent, Contingent and Relational/Social. Works Cited Alsford, Mike. WHAT IF? Religious Themes in Science Fiction. Chapter 2, p. 26 – 48. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2000.


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