Monday, March 15, 2010

Filmosophy: Star Trek Through Time

By Hanno

The Philosophy Club will host two Filmosophies this year. This is our discussion of film and philosophy, showing some philosophical issues depicted in popular films. The first one we will present, on a day still to be determined, but soon, is on Star Trek, and conceptions of time.

A famous argument about the possibility of time travel rests on the so called "Grandfather's Paradox." It is argued that time travel is impossible. Suppose someone [a] could go back in time, to a time before their father was born. Suppose that either by accident or by choice [though it would be strange choice], the person going back in time kills their own grandfather. Then it is impossible for a to have ever been born, and thus that a went back in time to kill his grandfather. But if time travel is possible, it seems odd to think some power keeps him from killing his own grandfather. The possibility of time travel thus creates the possibility of inconsistent self-reference, like the liars paradox ["I always lie. Even that is a lie."] But that is impossible, so time travel is impossible.

Many works of science fiction present time travel as a real possibility, however. Some movies which do this include Back to the Future, the original Star Trek series, The Terminator, and the new Star Trek movie. All three attempt to deal with the grandfather's paradox in different ways.

In Back to the Future, McFly goes back into time, and alters it. He meets his mother, instead of his father. His mother develops a crush on him, instead of developing a crush on his father. As the movie continues, the effects of this change continue to develop. While looking at a picture, McFly's brother and sister start to disappear. Because the situation is impossible, one horn of the dilemma is physically eliminated. But oddly, this happens slowly, so that the future is half there, half not, like in some quantum state. This, if we stop and think about it, is very odd. If McFly's actions eliminate the future he knew, how could it still be half there? Why would it eliminate the lower half of someone? And how could that affect a picture taken in the future? Some sort of reverse causation would have to be in effect. The absence of something [McFly's brother] would cause an independnent thing [the picture of McFly] to cease to exist. By 'independent, I mean under normal circumstances, the picture can continue to exist even if the object of the picture does not, and vise versa.

The old Star Trek series used time travel serveral times, and each time the Grandfather paradox plays a central role. In one episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever," involves a McCoy who accidentally injects himself with a serum that drives him insane, and jumps into a time travel machine, where he changes history, making the Enterprise immediately disappear. McCoy apparently saves the life of someone who keeps The USA out of WWII for too long, making Nazi Germany win the war, and history to change. [Interestingly enough, though the Enterprise disappears, the members of Kirk's landing party do not.] Here, the grandfather paradox still works itself out by eliminating one future, and replacing it with another, but inconsistently does not apply itself to itself, eliminating the self reference. Kirk is still there, even though he cannot be if the Enterprise is not in orbit around the planet. The same is true for McCoy. But if McCoy does not jump into the time machine, then how did the past unfold? Someone changed history. Where did that someone come from, if there is no Enterprise?

In the Terminator, the machines attempt to use the Grandfather paradox to eliminate the person who threatens their victory. But it is not clear what happens to the reality that the cyborg and John Conner's world if the cyborg wins. Be that as it may, the Terminator suggests a strongly deterministic view, where the changes that someone appears to make actually are the things which happened to lead to the future that 'really' happens. Here time travel is possible, and does not lead to the paradox. Instead, Like Oedipus Rex, attempting to avoid our fate leads us right to it. I suppose that if we were to go back and kill our grandfather, we may only discover that he was not our grandfather, but that our grandmother had an affair, so that we are still born, and can still go back in time. Time becomes something that has an endless loop within, as each time the future reaches the point where someone goes back in time, they go back, and do the exact same things.

More next week.

Friday, March 5, 2010

MSU Philosophy Club Meeting Today, 1:00

There will be a meeting of the philosophy club, Friday March 5th, 1:00 in Kaufman 241. Everyone is welcome.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sports and Bands

By Hanno

OK, as I went to work today, I started thinking about something quite different from what I promised. OK, Krista, I always promise*, and I promise* I will return to Rousseau and the state of Nature next time.

Instead, I want to talk about a strange phenomenon, which we might call 'sport team identification.' The phenomenon to which I refer is when a fan so identifies with the team she follows, that she starts referring to the team in the first person plural. This does not happen for the causal observer. So, when the casual observer watches a team win, he may say to a friend 'They won.' But when a fan watches the same team play, they will describe it as "We won," this despite the fact that the fan knows they contributed absolutely nothing to the victory, and indeed, is embarrassed about that when it is pointed out. And make no mistake, the wins and loses feel personal. To the fan, they really did win and lose, in a certain sense.

But the same identification does not occur in other similar phenomenon. No one watches a band, say the Grateful Dead, and describes it in the first person plural. no one says "We were awesome!" after the show. If an identification is made, it is of a different sort. The fans experience of the show is different from the casual observer, but not in a way that inspires identification.

My question: Why do we identify with sports teams? How does it become personal? And why does that not happen in other similar circumstances?