Science Fiction Virtual Reality:  

Professor David Porush
Tel: (518) 276-8262
Office: Sage 4402
Office Hours: Tues 1-2 and by appt.
Fall 1996
Sage 2707
6:30pm-9:20pm Monday

Course Description
The interactions between science and fiction in the twentieth century is a vast subject, one much larger than you might guess based upon how they are often kept seperate in formal academic education. After some introductory lectures about the history of the interaction between science and culture generally, this course will focus on a very intriguing example of how science/technology in the last decade or so. We will explore the imagination--and technical reality--of virtual reality, otherwise known as cyberspace, as well as related subjects such as Artificial Interilligence, cyborgs, an cyberpunk.

Our primary goal is to read and analyze several works of fiction and view some films which have portrayed versions of this yet-to-be-implemented technology. Our goal is to understand how the literary imagination interacts with technical culture to create the future. In doing so, we will see the imaginations of the future put into question deep problems about humanity today: What does it mean to have a "self"? What is the relationship between body and technology? What is sex and gender? Where is the mind? Is the brain a machine? What does it mean to be human? How are our present paradigms of learning challenged by new technologies? A secondary goal is to understand more about the vibrancy of literature in our contemporary culture. Another goal is to explore the technical aspects and challenges of implementing a true "virtual reality".

Required Reading
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
William Gibson, Neuromancer
William Gibson, Mona Lisa Overdrive
William Gibson, Count Zero
Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age
Marge Piercy, He, She, and It
Howard Rheingold, Virtual Reality (VR)
Donna Haraway essay
George Levine and CP Snow essays
Essays as specified by professor

Required Viewing (four of the following)
Lawnmower Man
Blade Runner
Johnny Mnemonic
Episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation"

Course Requirements and Grading %
Read all assignments on time: Mandatory. Some additional readings from handout essays or excerpts will be placed on reserve as required reading as the course proceeds.

Academic Honesty Statement
Student-teacher relationships are built on trust. For example, students mus trust that teachers have thoroughly researched the material which they bring to class. Teachers must trust that students have turned in assignments that they themselves performed or wrote without unacknowledged outside assistance. I advise you to read the Rensselaer Handbook which defines various forms of academic dishonesty and procedures for responding to them. All forms of dishonesty violate trust and some--plagiarism and cheating--bring harsh penalties with them.

Course Schedule
All reading assignments to be completed on date noted

Aug 26: Introductory-A Brief History of Science and Culture.
Sept 2: **No Class: Labor Day** Finish Ender's Game.
Sept 9: Finish CP Snow and George Levine essays.
Sept 16: Cyberspace and the New Metaphysics. Finish Neuromancer.
Sept 23: **No Class: Yom Kippur**
Sept 30: Finish Count Zero.
Oct 7: Film-Blade Runner. Finish Mona Lisa Overdrive.
Oct 14: **No Class: Fall Break**
Oct 21: Finish Snow Crash. JOURNALS DUE.
Nov 4: Film-Magna Animation: Ghost in the Shell.
Nov 11: Finish He, She, and It.
Read Hardaway Essay.
Video-ST:TNG "Measure of a Man".
Nov 18: Video-Lawnmower Man.
Nov 25: Finish The Diamond Age.
Dec 2: Back to the Future
Philosophical Problems and their Continuity in VR.

About the Professor

© 1996. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. All rights reserved.
Class web site created Fall 1996 by:
Ted Cooper, Brian Mardirosian, Tony Mrazik, and Sarah Takatani.