on June 27, 2012
I enjoyed and benefited from this book on multiple levels.
First, I was amazed by all the different applications of Aristotle. Although he was an ancient Greek philosopher living thousands of years ago, various authors made it clear that his thought is still relevant today--even in the world of The Big Bang Theory--from advanced technology use (Sayles) to the life an an eccentric mind (Littmann). That books like these demonstrate the continued relevance of philosophy to everyday life through loved and admired television, movies, and music is a testament to their value.
Second, I was pleasantly surprised how the authors were able to help me learn novel things from my favorite television show: about how parents and grown children with different worldviews might profitably interact (Lowe and Barkman/Kowalski), what grown children might do about distant or overbearing parents (Barkman), how to deal with a difficult roommate (Bock/Bock), the limitations of a completely scientific outlook (Pigluicci), the levels and meaning of friendship (Kowalski), how to more carefully think about (alleged) disabilities (Clifton), and glimpses into science and how scientists proceed with their craft (Lawhead and Jones).
True, I may have liked some essays more than others, but I found insights within each one. More importantly, this volume helped me appreciate my favorite show in new ways. In this way, it was everything I hoped for--and it made me often laugh, too.
on November 30, 2012
If you are a fan of The Big Bang Theory (TV show not the scientific theory) --and I am a fan -- then this book is for you. Well, if you really hate philosophy then you may not like the book, which could mean that Sheldon Cooper wouldn't like the book. After all, Sheldon sees no purpose for the humanities. Still, if you're a fan you'll like the book, at least I did.
The Big Bang Theory and Philosophy is the latest volume in an ongoing series of books that explore philosophy, an academic discipline that can be rather esoteric, abstract, and even dry (if you had my philosophy professor that is), through the lens of popular culture. Other volumes make use of South Park, Harry Potter, Arrested Development, and Twilight, just to name a few. By making use of popular culture icons, the series brings to life the kinds of questions that philosophy seeks to address - the "big questions," such as what is real and how we should behave. At the same time, this book offers something different from a typical philosophy textbook. Dean Kowalski writes: "Rarely do philosophy books explore whether comic book-wielding geeks can lead the good life, or whether they can know enough science to tear the mask off nature and stare at the face of God. Rarer still are explorations into how socially awkward, Superhero-loving brainiacs meaningfully interact with down-to-earth beauties from India or the Cheesecake Factory." (p. 2).
In this volume, which utilizes The Big Bang Theory, is comprised of seventeen chapters, divided into five sections. Part One looks at Aristotle, Part Two examines ethics, Part Three looks into science and religion, while Part Four explores language and meaning, and finally in Part Five the essays look at aspects of the human experience. In addition, the book includes an Episode Compendium that lists episodes by year and date of airing so you can place the episodes discussed in their chronological context.
Although there is structure to the book (five distinct sections), the authors, most of whom are either philosophy professors or graduate students, appear to have considerable freedom in framing their essays and choosing topics. Although the first three essays, all of which deal with Aristotle, address philosophy as a discipline, the other sections cover the full range of topics. It's important to understand that each of the essays stands on its own, so you as the reader can pick and choose what you wish to read, when you want to read. You don't have to know a lot of philosophy to enjoy the book, but it helps to be familiar with the show and its characters. If you're into the Family Guy instead of The Big Bang Theory, you might want to read that volume!
Topics that are explored range from Aristotle's understanding of friendship to the nature of evil ("But Is Wil Wheaton Evil?), scientism to Wittgenstein and language games, religion to gender. Readers get drawn into the discussion without feeling overwhelmed. You'll also have an opportunity to discern whether it is appropriate to laugh at Sheldon. The answer is yes, but you'll have to read to find out why!
For the most part the authors of these essays understand that the audience is composed of persons who aren't "philosophy geeks." But, the intended audience is persons who want to develop a better understanding of philosophy, and just happen to be fans of the show.
As one might suspect the central character in the book is Sheldon Cooper, even as he is the center of the show itself. Sheldon provides a useful foil, especially since he has certain idiosyncrasies, including a strong belief that he is right and that the pursuit of truth is something to be engaged in with full vigor with science as the arbiter of truth (even as his mother does the same with Jesus as her guide).
Although Sheldon has a major role in the book, all of the characters, including Leonard, Howard, and Raj, as well as the mothers of the four male characters as well as Bernadette, Amy Farrah Fowler, and Leslie Winkle, appear. With Sheldon at the center, another character who figures prominently is Penny - often as a foil to Sheldon. One of the more interesting essays (at least to me) is that of Nicholas Evans who uses the relationship of Penny and Sheldon to illustrate "growth through difference." In Evans's interpretation, over the course of time the relationship between these two characters has a life expanding/life changing affect on both. Of course, one can't ignore the insightful discussion of mothers and sons as developed by Ashley Barkman. It is illuminating to discover how the mother-son relationship may have helped create the idiosyncrasies of each character, including their seeming inability to move into true adulthood (remember they spend a lot of time at the comic book store).
Philosophy can be a rather dry subject, but thankfully there are books like this one that explains philosophical terms and ideas even as it entertains. If you're looking for a straight discussion of philosophy try reading Frederick Copleston's The History of Philosophy, but if you're open to learning in a fun environment try this book. Just remember that this book is first of all a study of philosophy geared to the non-specialist. The by-product of the book is that you will deepen your understanding of and engagement with the characters in these shows.
on May 4, 2014
There is a lot of merchandise out there with tthe shows theme applied to it, but most of it is junk or stupid games and aps that are so easy you can tell they are just out there for money alone.
This book is different. It thakes a look at the series, using particular scenes and phrases (and letting us know from which episode it came, which is helpful) and applying them to classic philosophical ideas. It is an easy read so you do not have to be well educated yourself, just a curious thinker....and a fan of the show.
I really liked this book more than I thought I would. It makes me wonder if the writers even realize what depth lies beneath the comedy as they write.
But the book, its evenworth full, new price, and I am cheap, I dont usually say that.
If you're like me, college philosophy felt long, abstruse, and tiresome. It had no apparent connection to lived experience. No wonder Stanley Fish famously declared that "Philosophy doesn't travel." But Gerald Graff counters that all subjects, including philosophy, need a tangible debate to make them comprehensible. Connecting philosophy to something audiences share, like America's top-rated television comedy, makes concepts suddenly human-scale and coherent. Eternal verities that seemed distant in classroom discussions become suddenly very immediate.
This collection of seventeen brief essays by recognized thinkers uses examples and themes from The Big Bang Theory to unpack concepts in classical and modern philosophy. Rather than holding forth on some topic we feel we ought to understand because some author speaks volubly, these authors start with some interest their audience shares, building into philosophical conversation. Difficult concepts have shared, comprehensible foundations. High-minded discussions reflect our real lives.Suddenly, we're in on philosophy's joke.
Many articles focus on Sheldon Cooper, which should surprise nobody who watches this show. Sheldon's failure to comprehend basic societal conventions, or appreciate anybody as his equal, permits sweeping philosophical investigations. Janelle Pötzsch uses Sheldon's slapdash speech patterns to examine Ludwig Wittgenstein's evolving theories of language. Donna Marie Smith uses Sheldon's grudge against Wil Wheaton to question the nature of evil. W. Scott Clifton asks: are we bad people to laugh at Sheldon's obvious disability?
Other characters don't get ignored. Constantly evolving debates between the principal characters let Andrew Zimmerman Jones question what makes real science. The male characters' romantic relationships let Mark White and Maryanne Fisher discuss gender roles in modern society. (I wish they went further: why does the show evidently consider men normative, and women disruptive?) Others use TBBT's common dynamics to question technophilia, tolerance, family, and the show's most pervasive theme, the true nature of friendship.
Like the show itself, these critics rely upon the tension between high-minded principles and mundane life to propel their thoughts. The ethics of human experimentation (for instance) can seem abstruse to non-scientists. But when Massimo Pigliucci compares these ethical conundrums to the episode where Sheldon uses operant conditioning to manipulate Penny, we understand the forces at play. Topics which formerly seemed distant, trivial, or pedantic become intimate when filtered through an experience diverse audiences share.
Latitudes range from sweeping introductory philosophy to very specialized subdisciplines. Great minds like Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Kuhn are already well-known, and these essays link their principles to real-life debates. Alvin Plantinga and Richard Rorty remain obscure outside academia, yet their ongoing inquiries have opened paths which other philosophers now follow. These authors don't treat philosophy as a series of closed questions; they demonstrate important debates that remain contested, pushing new boundaries even today.
These philosophers come from diverse backgrounds. Some have broad "philosophy" training, while others follow subdisciplines like Gender Studies or Political Science. Some have science backgrounds, including one physicist and one information systems specialist, while others have more general scientific training. This diversity means these authors don't necessarily agree; just as TBBT's characters periodically turn on Sheldon, these authors dispute one another, explicitly or implicitly. These unspoken debates are as interesting as the authors' stated theses.
The finished product is admittedly imperfect. Though most contributors admirably translate esoteric philosophical concepts into laypersons' English some have difficulty; they're apparently so accustomed to writing for peer-reviewed journals that they inordinately rely on jargon. And there's significant repetition. Several authors cite the dialog where Sheldon diagrams silicon-based DNA, and his mother mentions "But intelligently designed by a creator, right?" Editor Dean Kowalski could've taken a firmer hand regularizing his contributors to avoid such redundancy.
But even these weaknesses spotlight subtle philosophical strengths. If multiple philosophers consider one moment worth examining, and see multiple harmonious interpretations, perhaps that signifies how that joke transcends its moment and addresses questions plaguing the audience more generally. Kowalski compiled this book following TBBT's fourth season; I'd eagerly read an updated volume, considering how the characters have evolved, the women have emerged, and science has changed. Because TV never sits still, and neither does science.