Tuesday night was another great RetroCinema at the Movie Tavern in south Arlington, Texas with the showing of the great Steven Spielberg movie “E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial.” If you recall, in a nutshell, this movie is about an alien that gets accidentally left on Earth. He comes in contact and hides out at a family’s home and ends up gathering and putting together the equipment in order to “phone home.” The interesting part of the movie is the connection developed between the boy that found him, Elliott, and the alien. As the alien gets sick and begins dying Elliott shows the same sickness until the alien is about to die when the connection is severed and he is back to normal. Then, to everyone’s surprise, the alien comes back to life because his friends are coming back to Earth to rescue him. So Elliott, his brother, and their friends kidnap the alien to take him to the landing site so he can get back home.
There was a class recently at UT Arlington called Science Fiction and Philosophy, and one aspect of the class was to take an alien fictional story and discuss the implications of another species outside of human beings that would be considered having personhood. The basic question on the topic was, “What makes being a person?” Personhood is mostly defined to being part of the human race, but that is also assumed that no other species is or even can be similar to human beings. However, what if there is a species in the universe that demonstrate personhood, but is not human? Mr. Spock from Star Trek was half human, having a mother fully human and a father fully Vulcan. It would be difficult to claim that Spock was not a person since he demonstrated every aspect of humanity (even in the supression of emotions). He demonstrated rational, logic, free will, and even momentary emotional responses (even when he would not admit it). Similarly, the alien in E.T. could be put against the same personhood test to demonstrate rationality, logic, creativity, emotions, etc. and would be found to be a person.
However, there could be futher implications to this test of personhood. For example, could there be an artificially created intelligence that could pass this same test. While it could be possible, it would still not be considered a person for the fact that it’s mind (software, if you will) is still a computer program written in a computer language. There is nothing it can do outside of that program. Therefore, it cannot be a person. More on that later.
Alien movies tend to show how aliens should be feared and come to Earth only to conquer and destroy the human race. There are few great movies that put aliens in a different light, demonstrating that they can be people too that are curious about our planet and our species. In those movies, humans are the bad guys wanting to kill and destroy them only because of their fear of the unkown aliens, and do not want to take any chances. At least there is Star Trek with their attempt to coexist with, make treaties with, and befiend other alien species.
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