October 12, 2015 Leave a comment
The popular TV series The Twilight Zone was first broadcast in 1959. “Where Is Everybody?” is the first episode of the series. It was broadcast October 2, 1959. I’ve used it in philosophy classes to foster discussion about knowledge and justified belief.
I use a two-part handout with questions for guided discussion. In an earlier post, I listed the questions in Part 1. Those questions are designed to draw viewers into the story and help them recall and think about the events that transpire. In this post I list the questions used in Part 2 to facilitate reflection and discussion of themes in philosophy.
I screen the episode in class, then lead discussion around a selection of these questions. There are more questions here than can be used during a class period. So I encourage students to take some time with the rest of the questions on their own. I mix it up a little by having students get into small groups to share ideas that are prompted by two or three of the questions. Then we discuss a few of the more philosophically technical aspects of the story as a whole group. This allows me to include some lecturing. At the end I may allow time for students to write their thoughts about a wrap-up question. Students then turn in their notes, taken while viewing the story and during discussion.
You’re welcome to experiment with this exercise in your own teaching. Or you may want to view this episode of The Twilight Zone with some friends, then have a discussion around the issues raised in these questions. If you have suggestions of your own, feel free to write them in the comments box for this post. And if you do try these out in class, let us know how it goes.
Part II – Some Philosophical Questions
- At one point the main character says he has the strange feeling of being watched. Why does he think this? First, when he says this, what evidence does he have? Later it turns out that he is being watched. Does this explain why he thinks he’s being watched? And do those who are watching know what he is experiencing? Support your answers with evidence from the story.
- Why does the man think he’s suffering from amnesia? Is he suffering from amnesia? He thinks he might be dreaming? Is he dreaming? Explain your answers with evidence from the story.
- In the soda shop the man spins three bookracks. The fourth one he comes to is already spinning. What is significant about this? What is displayed on the rack? What does he make of it? Why, given how the story ends, would he have this particular experience?
- How does the man conclude that he’s in the US Air Force? Is he justified in believing this? Is his judgment based on memory? If so, what accounts for his remembering this? Does he have evidence? If he does have evidence, is it sufficient to justify his belief that he’s in the Air Force? Is he instead being caused somehow to believe that he’s in the Air Force? At this point in the episode, are we supposed to be convinced that he’s in the Air Force? Support your answers with evidence from the story.
- How does this story compare with the Brain in a Vat thought experiment? What are some key parallels? What are the most significant differences? Could this episode be used to make the same point intended by the BIV argument for skepticism? Why or why not? Does the story raise any other epistemological questions? What are they? (See below for Brain in a Vat argument.)
- At one point the man says, “I must be a very imaginative guy. Nobody in the whole bloody world can have a dream as complete as mine.” And his “dream” is remarkably vivid. But there are no other people in his dream. Why wouldn’t such a complete dream world include people, especially if there are signs of recent human activity all around him? How does this eventually connect with the theme of the story? Think about how this might make sense in the final scene and when the narrator says, “Up there, up there in the vastness of space, and the void that is the sky, up there is an enemy known as isolation. It sits there in the stars waiting, waiting with the patience of eons, forever waiting, in the Twilight Zone”?
Brain in a Vat Argument for Skepticism
“The Brain in a Vat thought-experiment is most commonly used to illustrate global or Cartesian skepticism. You are told to imagine the possibility that at this very moment you are actually a brain hooked up to a sophisticated computer program that can perfectly simulate experiences of the outside world. Here is the skeptical argument. If you cannot now be sure that you are not a brain in a vat, then you cannot rule out the possibility that all of your beliefs about the external world are false. Or, to put it in terms of knowledge claims, we can construct the following skeptical argument. Let “P” stand for any belief or claim about the external world, say, that snow is white.
- If I know that P, then I know that I am not a brain in a vat
- I do not know that I am not a brain in a vat
- Thus, I do not know that P.”
– Lance P. Hickey, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu/brainvat/; viewed 23 September 2015)
Click here for discussion questions in Part 1.