This fun and easy-to-read book by Mark Rowlands explains several philosophic ideas and concepts by using science fiction blockbusters such as The Matrix, Total Recall and Blade Runner as examples. You too can understand what Descartes was on about when he said “I think, therefore I am” . . .

Somewhere along the line philosophy just lost out to either science or religion . . .

Let’s face up to it: since when did philosophy address any of the issues that matter to most people? Even that old clichéd stand-by of “what is the meaning of life?” has been left by the wayside. The truth is that people actually want to know stuff like this as opposed to, say, what is meaning of the word “fish” or whatever the hell Derrida, Foucault or any of those guys are unto.

Yup, the last time anyone paid any attention to philosophy was probably with the Existentialists about fifty or more years ago. They actually had stuff to say that are relevant to everyday life, even if you thought it was a lot of hokum.

However, since then philosophy has been hijacked by a bunch of academics with mortgages on ivory towers. If the masses make irrational decisions by following weirdo cults or just plain believing in weird New Age shit, today’s philosophers have only themselves to blame. By trying hard to impress one another other, the mental masturbation that passes for philosophy nowadays just aren’t relevant or even comprehensible to most people . . .

Mark Rowlands, who also teaches philosophy, has however decided to change this by making philosophy more accessible to the masses. He explains several philosophical issues (the meaning of life is just one of them in case you were wondering) using science fiction movie blockbusters as example.

Instead of hauling out obscure titles like the ones we usually do here at the Sci-Fi Movie Page and its message board, he uses titles such as The Matrix, Blade Runner, the Star Wars trilogy, Total Recall, the Terminator movies, Hollow Man and the like.

In his preface Rowlands admits that he doesn’t like arty farty “art house” flicks and prefer SF blockbusters instead. Not only are they more exciting, he states, but they also impart more philosophical truths than any Swedish angst movie. Through the rest of his book he proves this by explaining the nature of reality (The Matrix, Total Recall), free will (Minority Report), existentialism (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) amongst others.

If that seems a bit highfalutin, he also addresses questions such as “why be moral?” (via Hollow Man) is there a thing such as evil (via Star Wars) and what is the meaning of life and death. Along the way he discusses philosophers such as Descartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Sartre, Kierkegaard and the like. No Marx though.

Rowlands writes in a chatty and accessible way. No academic speak here. Sure, some points may make your eyes glaze over in dull incomprehension but as a rule Rowlands anchors his discussions in everyday terms most – if not all of us – would understand, if not identify with. Rowlands also has a joke or two ready and some bits made me laugh out loud.

Sure, this is Philosophy 101 stuff and if you’re seriously into philosophy you’ll probably be expecting something in-depth. However, for the rest of us he has an excellent way of explaining complex ideas and terms. After reading quite a lot of Nietzsche (in my wayward youth especially) I think that Rowlands does a better way at explaining him than the man himself!

If there are any problems, it's that some of Rowlands’ arguments seem just a tad too glib and smug (I, for one, don’t buy his free will argument because it just doesn’t seem right damn it!). However, he wins us over by confirming that something that we’ve suspected for quite a while – that those SF movies we love so much are much deeper than they appear to be on the surface . . .

A fun read.

Philosopher at the End of the Universe
Author: Rowlands, Mark
288 pages
Published: July 2003
Vintage/Ebury (A Division of Random House Group)
ISBN: 0091889219



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