I went through a phase where for various reasons (I insisted that) I didn’t like TV. I like TV. The thing is, TV isn’t really anything. There’s no one thing called TV in an important sense. TV is a medium, and that’s kinda dull. The interesting stuff is not so much the medium as the genres that are depicted through that medium.

My wife and I had a conversation about this a while back while on a date. I don’t know much about analogs to TV serieses in other media. There are maybe two sorts of serieses, or two directions… there are ones where the individual episode is relatively isolated and stand-alone, in the sense that the background is somewhat static, where the narrative arc of the episode doesn’t contribute much to an over all narrative arc. Then there are serieses where the arcs of individual episodes contribute to a larger narrative arc.

Watching TV serieses that are already over is different than ones that are still going on. The difference, or at least one difference, is that it matters if you know that it ends. There’s also a difference in that you know how many seasons there are, which gives you a sort of measuring cup to see how much of the total quantity of the program you’ve seen. When the program is still going on you don’t have that sort of measure, beyond just guessing about how far along into the narrative it feels like you are.

The only analogs my wife and I came up with to any of this are cartoons and comic books, radio programs, and perhaps pulp fiction and other serialized fiction. It’s all about mass art, art produced to be disseminated widely. It’s not just that, though, because it’s art that’s meant to have a narrative arc that persists over time across multiple objects or works that are produced over time and form an ensemble or something altogether.

Lately I’ve been watching a discontinued TV series online, it’s called Flash Forward and was discontinued after one series. I’m enjoying it. The show begins with an incident where the entire global population blacks out for just over two minutes, and within the first episode we find out that every spends the time watching what happens in their life for that amount of time, about six months in the future.

The program is all about relatively old philosophical questions about freedom and determinism. When I was a kid I read a lot of science fiction, I remember very little of it in any appreciable detail but I know I’ve read a fair amount of time travel fiction. It seems to me from what I can remember and from movies and TV, time travel fiction is all about these kinds of questions. When I first started taking philosophy classes these questions captivated me. They don’t anymore, at least not in the same way. I’m now somewhat interested in why these questions appeal, but I don’t feel in the midst of them in the way I used to – I don’t get wrapped up in them at an experiential or emotional level.

From what I can remember of time travel fiction it seems to there are at least three levels of inquiry here – ontological, epistemological, and existential. In terms of ontology, the basic question is basically whether or not the future is predetermined or not. If the future is unwritten, which is to say, it’s not ontologically determined yet, then it’s also epistemologically uncertain: knowledge of an uncertain object is at best as uncertain as that object. If the future is written, then epistemological questions occur – how much do we know about it, and how can we be sure of our knowledge? There’s also a more fundamental epistemological question about whether or not we’re dealing with ontological certainty or uncertainty. All of this raises existential or ethical questions – what different things can the different answers to these questions mean for how we live, who we see ourselves as, and so on, both as individual people and in terms of consequences for people’s relationships. In Flash Forward one of the recurrent dramatized themes in response to these kinds of question about the status of the future and our knowledge of it is the theme of what we owe to other people in terms of knowledge. If we know something they don’t, and this matters to them, is it better to tell them or not? And what are the effects of this sort of knowledge, and what are the effects on people’s relationships when there are imbalances in this kind of knowledge between people?

I need to get to bed. I’d meant to connect this with that Lewis Carroll dialog I like so much about Achilles and the tortoise, to an old argument with Colin about belief, and to ideas about the variability of standards of being convinced. (I think I wrote a post once about the affective component of convincing, I’ll have to look.) And about decisions and axioms vs the conclusions arrived at via syllogisms. Another time. For now, just want to add the the issues of epistemic and ontological uncertainty that the series focuses on are also issues within TV serieses and other serialized art forms at least when they’re not yet finished, because, especially if they’re still ongoing, then we don’t know how they’ll end or how far along we are in the process.

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