cover image Philosopher at the End of the Universe

Philosopher at the End of the Universe

Mark Rowlands, Author Thomas Dunne Books $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-32234-2

All the revelations of a college survey course on philosophy can be easily gleaned from a few science fiction films. At least that's the premise of this thoroughly entertaining conversation starter by philosophy professor Rowlands, who explicates the musings of some of philosophy's biggest stars within the context of cinema's most enduring sci-fi hits. Under Rowlands's guidance, these films shed light on such abstruse philosophical ideas as the""the problem of free will"" and""death and the meaning of life."" For example, the great lesson of Frankenstein is not that life can originate only from a divine creator, Rowlands says. Rather, the monster, a creature unable to choose his physical nature, his parents or his future, actually embodies the existential dilemmas explored by Heidegger, Sartre and Camus. In a particularly winning chapter on Star Wars, Rowlands compares the musings of Plato and Nietzsche, conjecturing that evil is not the absence of good but, rather, a contrast necessary in order for good to exist. (That is, Darth Vader is nothing without Obi-Wan and vice versa.) Rowlands recommends that readers watch each film before plunging into the corresponding chapter. And he makes no apologies for his""lowbrow"" intellectual diversions into such crowd pleasers as Total Recall (a celluloid essay on memory theory and identity), Hollow Man (a meditation on moral vs.""prudent"" choices) and The Matrix (a Cartesian daydream). Rowlands frequently injects his own thoughts with self-deprecating charm. His combination of humor and erudition produces an engaging read, delightful in its tone and accessible in its prose, that affirms the wisdom of numerous armchair philosophers who have declared that everything you need to know about life can be learned from the movies.