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Why I love the new Battlestar Galactica

If you aren't interested in science fiction, but are interested in the philosophy of mind or epic odyssey adventure series, please glance over the following anyway. You may be surprised.

Battlestar Galactica was very depressing and bewildering at first. The cryptic Cylon religion, the contrived tension of the Cylons being able to catch the colonial fleet but toying with it, the whole deal with the "everyone has a major dysfunction and a few minor ones, yet they function at high efficiency and succeed as a team" was a caricature at first.

But gradually, the deeper themes started to come out:

  • How will humans interact with cybernetic intelligence once they literally become our "mind children"? Will the codes of battle still apply? Will we grant safe passage to noncombatants?

  • Can we trust any cybernetic intellilgence to be a noncombatant? Can the loyalty of an autonomous sentient being who is thought to be part of a collective really turn?

  • Are artificial intelligences capable of true faith? If the seat of consciousness or animus is pure information (classical or quantum information), does that preclude an ensoulled AI? Is it all a mass hallucination?

To me, this is much more interesting than the big clunky metal HKs and their Imperious Leader. Baltar is prissy and weak now, but I predict you'll see his character develop greatly as he starts to transfer his loyalty from the Six in his mind to the POW Six.

I rather like Laura and Agathon/Helo in the respect that they are sympathetic characters, neither one-dimensionally dysfunctional, nor "holier-than-thou" to the point of annoyance as Benjamin Sisko of DS9 was. I also like the story arc between Apollo and his father. It's poignant and it rings true for me, and it gives depth to their characters. It isn't just sappy bagpipe music and dedication of a stealth Viper that grabs me. It's the fact that the story is epic (the ragtag remnant of humanity struggling to find its origins against overwhelming odds) and some of those leaders who fall are indeed tragic heroes. It reminds me of Space Battleship Yamato (Star Blazers), which I loved as a child.

The aspect of the show that deals with the civil rights of artificial beings is one of the central intellectual challenges of the reimagined BSG as original science fiction. The original series didn't do justice to this question at all. The new series is actually hitting a lot of questions in the philosophy of mind: is consciousness reducible to the material brain (monism/materialism), is there an irreducible dual aspect of mind (body/soma vs. soul/psyche), and is there a further distinction between soul/psyche/nephesh and spirit/pneuma/ruach?

Now that we are reviving questions about the nature of consciousness a la Descartes, Searle, Chalmers, etc., now that the mind/brain question is fully on the table again with the resurrection concept, and now that the monism/materialism vs. theistic dualism debate has been hauled out, I think it's a fascinating show.

As you may have seen, The Matrix just doesn't cut it for me, and so in this post-Matrix age of philosophy of mind, I think it's definitely time we revisited some of the basics.

By the way, if you are interested in the "ethics of AI" aspect of BSG, you should join tessier_ashpool (the LJ AI community) if you haven't already done so. You might also be interested in loving_the_ai for the social aspect and my communities compscibooks and bayesnets for the technical aspects.

To the purists and those who feel that the reimagined canon is untrue to the original: I agree that it's a complete departure, but to me that is more of a good thing than a bad thing. It depends on what expectations you have with respect to the old series. Certainly it isn't "true to" the old series, but I think Larson has struck out in a new and interesting direction.



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 9th, 2006 11:52 pm (UTC)
alot of the guys in my star wars club love the new BSG, and I feel like I might have to start netflixing the dvds, it sounds like it would probably appeal to me on several levels.

though, I'll be honest, I never turned it on because the main add was that blonde chick in a tight red dress. Talk about feeling left out of the demographic.
Jan. 9th, 2006 11:55 pm (UTC)
Look deeper
If you thought The Matrix had anything interesting to say about the philosophy of mind, consciousness, subjective reality (postmodernist or otherwise), or even spirituality, you'll find BSG maddeningly good at raising (if not answering) the tough questions.

It's a shame that Six is so stereotypical by appearance, but look deeper - I'm confident that you'll find it worth while.

Jan. 10th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
Re: Look deeper
actually I despise The Matrix, even more so now that they did the other two movies. hehe. But then again, I'm still bitter that they advertised a Kung-Fu kinda movie and when I saw it, they just shot each other with big guns. (yet somehow I managed to see all 3 films in the theater...)

Jan. 10th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC)
Re: Look deeper
That's what I despised about The Matrix, its sequels; and like you I managed to see them in the theatre. I am such a sucker.
Jan. 10th, 2006 01:10 am (UTC)
Haha, suckahs!
*hee* Sorry.

I saw none of them in theatres. In fact, to date, I've seen only M1 and bits of the Animatrix. I have M2 and M3, but I can't bring myself to waste 4 hours after hearing how bad they are.

Jan. 10th, 2006 02:14 am (UTC)
Re: Haha, suckahs!
I've never seen Animatrix, and after the suckitude of M2&3 I can't bear to watch.
Jan. 10th, 2006 05:24 am (UTC)
Animatrix doesn't suck
In fact, some of the bits are better than the Matrix itself, IMO.

(That's a great icon, BTW.)

Jan. 10th, 2006 05:28 am (UTC)
Re: Animatrix doesn't suck
Hmm, maybe I will give it a try. I'll add it to the ever growing list of things to watch.

(And thanks! I adore it but I had to put up a disclaimer -- I am not in fact an English teacher)
Jan. 10th, 2006 01:12 am (UTC)
Kindasorta what I meant
Assertion: "If The Matrix (which I found vacuous and shallow) meant anything to you, BSG should mean more."

I saw only M1. I consider the other two intellectual masturbations and/or prostitutions of the Wachowoski siblings.

Jan. 10th, 2006 01:36 am (UTC)
Re: Kindasorta what I meant
I consider the other two intellectual masturbations and/or prostitutions of the Wachowoski siblings

and you would be absolutely right.
Jan. 10th, 2006 08:39 am (UTC)
I lalos loved Space Battleship Yamato as a child. Sikkrit confession: used to build the ship out of lego blocks and pretend to have adventures with it. *cough*. Alas, as a child, I must confess I never saw anything deeper ...

Regarding your qvestions, there's a bint of a link between the first and the second. If the machine mind is a collective - a hive mind - surely there is no way that any mind within the collective could be a non-combatant.

And regarding the third, well, carbon or silica, it's all matter ateotd, no? I suspect *you* have a better idea about this than me, but if we can have faith (a belief unsupported by facts we currently have at hand), then why should an AI not be able to have them as well.

If you wanted to be a pendant, you could argue that a lot of programming that is put into a machine (AI) would form "articles of faith". Lakatos (philosophy of science mode = on) would call it the unchallengable heuristic. These are things you simply accept as a priori -- the way things are.

Faith can also be another term for belief in extrapolation or best guess. Which kind of brings us bax to Pascal's Wager which we were talking about the other day ... if an AI runs some sort of cost-benefit analysis on a course of action ... and makes a decision based on that CBA ... is it still a belief? Or faith?

I think I'm running off topic now ...

Anyway, YMMV?

Jan. 10th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
there is a distinction between psuche and pneuma. as to what the diference actually is, that is a subject for debate among philologists. (add in thumos as well to that debate...)
Jan. 16th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
Sisko holier-than-thou? Hmmm ... I never thought of him that way, but perhaps it is because I am sympathetic to his character. (Maybe I'm holier-than-thou and don't realize it?) I can relate to a lot of things he went through, such as the episode where he dreamed he was a writer but his story was rejected because he was African-American.

The original series didn't deal much with the rights of cybercitizens, but perhaps that was because it was cancelled before those rights could be explored more fully. It wasn't until the second season (Galactica 1980) that we saw Cylons in human form. In The Return of Starbuck, the writers actually did explore the rights of cybercitizens a bit ...
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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