- Paperback: 276 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (11 April 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465045480
- ISBN-13: 978-0465045488
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,334,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- See Complete Table of Contents
Is Data Human?: The Metaphysics Of Star Trek Paperback – 11 Apr 1998
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About the Author
Richard Hanley is an assistant professor of philosophy at Central Michigan University. He has taught various Star Trek courses, including "A Star Trek Introduction to Philosophy" and "Philosophy of the Mind" using Star Trek episodes as examples.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
It is not complicated. It is not dense. It is just boring.
The idea is interesting, but Hanley spends too much time on basic philosophy and too little on the relationship of Star Trek and its philosophy. However I am sure a few undergraduates would be comfortably induced into an introductory class with this title.
If you really want to read the book, read it out loud as though it were being presented as a series of lectures. It is much easier to follow.
The book is written by Dr. Richard Hanley, who is currently an associate professor at the University of Delaware. He has also taught a few courses on the philosophy behind Star Trek, giving him a unique expertise in this area. Thus, he should certainly be qualified to speak about this topic, but plenty of issues pop up in how he presents the information. In addition, he makes it very clear (whether intentional or not) that he is strongly in favor of considering someone like Data to be human and holds similarly liberal/progressive positions on other topics. Despite his attempts to go back and forth and almost confuse the reader into not knowing which stance he takes, his real stance becomes obvious after only a short while. For any Christian reader, Hanley is certainly not a Christian himself, and while he does reference God and Christianity a couple times, he does it in a slightly condescending tone. That is not to say you shouldn’t read his book, but just go into it with that in mind.
The actual content of the book is focused around the technologies and characters from Star Trek, and as such, the discussion is primarily about futuristic technology, but can certainly have ramifications for the present and the near future. In the first three chapters, Hanley discusses the criteria for personhood (not whether a being is human or humanoid, but whether they are “morally considerable”), which includes the discussion of sophisticated computers, androids, and alien races from Star Trek. After wandering around through a myriad of Star Trek references, Hanley finally states that Data and beings like him should be considered persons. The main issue is not with his argument, though there is room for disagreement, but with how long he takes to get there. He seems to spend a lot of time talking in circles, sounds repetitive, and doesn’t look very organized in his thoughts. He also spends a lot of time on basic philosophy, making it boring for anyone very experienced in philosophy, but also presents it in a very boring manner to anyone who doesn’t already know what he is talking about. This takes away from some of the interesting points he makes. I found the next section, chapters 4 and 5, to be significantly better, but maybe only because the topic interests me more. Here, Hanley debates about whether or not we should use transporters as seen in Star Trek. This brings up interesting ideas about whether our minds and our identities would be preserved through transport and what our minds really consist of. I also found the sixth chapter rather interesting, as it deals with time travel and discusses different philosophical concepts of time. I think what makes the second half of the book more interesting and easier to follow is that it isn’t bogged down with basic philosophical concepts that are presented in a lackluster manner, as in the first half. The only other comment I have about the content is that Hanley sometimes blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction, using characters’ actions or words as “proof” in some parts, but simply dismissing them when he disagrees with them. It only happens occasionally, and mainly in the first half of the book, but it is confusing when he does do it.
There are certainly some controversial viewpoints taken by Hanley on some of the topics he presents. The most obvious one is that he would consider androids like Data to be persons, meaning we should treat them like we would treat other humans or sufficiently intelligent extraterrestrial life. This can certainly come in conflict with the Christian idea that humans are specially made in the image of God, but Christians could also plausibly take Hanley’s view. In chapters 3 and 6, Hanley also mentions that he believes God, if there was one, could not possibly know the future, given some of the viewpoints Hanley takes. Obviously many Christians would take issue with this, given that they would believe God is omniscient. Apart from religious disagreement, another controversial theme from the first half of the book is whether or not artificial intelligence can ever become truly intelligent like Data. Some would argue that it cannot and that there is no point in discussing whether computers or androids could ever be considered persons since they would never come close. Hanley tries to address some of these arguments, though. Obviously, the ideas of time travel and transport through dematerialization as discussed in the second half of the book are very broad and controversial topics themselves.
All in all, I gave this book 3 stars. The second half is much more worthwhile than the first half and I would honestly just suggest reading chapters 4, 5, and 6 first, and then deciding whether to read the beginning of the book. Again, this book will mainly interest those who love both Star Trek and philosophy, but the second half will probably also be a good read for anyone interested in the plausibility of science fiction like time travel and transporters and the moral ramifications of using them.
Part I (chapters 1-3): 3 stars
Chapters 4 and 5: 5 stars
Chapter 6: 4 stars
Epilogue: 1 star
Averaging, but discounting the epilogue (since it is so short), we arrive at the rating of 4 stars for the book overall.
And all sentient beings should have civil rights. How can that even be questioned? Wasn't this something important that Rodenberry wanted to stress? Of course it was. Star Trek is science, but it is also soul. (And Data could make ya cry with that fiddle of his! And not just by copying!! And that was the point. And Mr. Spiner should think about donning that dang spacesuit again because the fans want him! Is it so annoying to be beloved? And, Data did not overstay his welcome. He is welcome!)