Posted tagged ‘Star Trek’

Looking for something to study? Try something more unusual

February 12, 2011

If you thought that learning about zombies at university was somewhat off-beat (see my last post), here are some other academic courses you might consider.

1. The Simpsons and Philosophy. This is taught in a special programme at the University of California, Berkeley. Here’s the course synopsis:

‘The purpose of The Simpsons and Philosophy DeCal is to provide students with a unique introductory look into a number of varied academic areas of interest using The Simpsons as a tool for further understanding.  From philosophy to religion, from science to politics, students will explore a number of different world views and how The Simpsons engages in such discourses.  By taking this class, students will come to appreciate how The Simpsons can lead to better understanding of, well, pretty much everything.’

2. The Science of Harry Potter.  This is offered at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and ‘examines the magical events in J.K. Rowling’s books and explains them through the basic principles of physics.’

3. Philosophy and Star Trek. You can take this at Georgetown University. This course is ‘an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek.’

So what should we say about these and other similar programmes? Are they just rubbish? Are they examples of popular culture undermining genuine scholarship? Or are these legitimate examples of academic analysis and critique? In fact, should we study popular culture to understand more about society?

To boldly go into the heart of higher education

March 14, 2010

Patrick Stewart is an idol to millions. Mostly these are people glued to their TV sets of an afternoon, or hanging around a science fiction convention of some kind or other, or those who (and apparently this is a real phenomenon) go to Klingon language classes (and heaven help us, my spellchecker is cool about ‘Klingon’). But in fairness there are others who will respect him for his genuine talents as a Shakespearean actor. And others again because of his support for higher education, which most recently has led him to become Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield and, unusually, also its Professor of Performing Arts.

In an opinion piece in the most recent issue of Times Higher Education, he has also made a strong case for higher education, and for the role that universities play in advancing education and creating the conditions for economic growth. This is part of that journal’s campaign (branded as #loveHE, which betrays its Twitter origins) to encourage public support for universities. In an editorial in the same issue universities are described as ‘strangely unloved’. There is truth in this, and unless universities (in Ireland as much as in the UK) become better at communicating the vital role they play and persuading the public to back them in their missions the current trend of cuts-and-criticism will continue. Academics are sometimes reluctant to declare a populist message about the value of higher education. Now is not the time for such reticence. Now is the time to speak out.

Is the truth out there?

February 6, 2009

I confess that one of the things that has the capacity to amuse me greatly is the tendency for some people to believe in a government conspiracy that has withheld from us the confirmation that alien life exists on other planets and has visited earth (and done goodness knows what while here). But even where we don’t follow the conspiracy theory, there are many who believe, or desperately want to believe, that there are intelligent life forms elsewhere in the universe. More of this speculation has been covered by the BBC here. If you scroll down to the comments, you will see some wonderfully sincere and confident statements about all this.

I guess that in the end this is an illustration of the human hunger for mystery and awe. We don’t just want to watch Star Trek, we want to believe it could be true. And why not? There is always a chance: or, as they say that in Klingon, “reH ‘eb tu’lu'”.