Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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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.

Tags: adventure stories, anime, battlestar galatica, space opera, space western, television

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