Still beating that horse
Now Playing: Silence
Topic: Simple Things
Okay, I'm still arguing with the SF purists that SF must be about people, because the wayward path of science is pretty much unreliable. As a hobbyist I realize that the constancy of scientific theory is oddly unreliable in terms of creating lasting work. I suppose it is possible that "John Carter Warlord of Mars
" by Edgar Rice Burroughs
can prove me wrong when something passes from theoretical science into fantasy, but that not withstanding, fiction has to hold on to humans, who have proven remarkably more reliable in being unchanging creatures of lust, greed, hope, joy, and persistence than science will be a land of persistent truth.
To that end, another letter to SciFi Weekly
is printed below:
“We take a science, or create a new one but still linked to present-day science, then project it forward. The world we create in such follows certain rules of logic, partially created by science.”~J.G. te Molder~
Here is the basis for my problem with hard core Science Fiction purists. Science is, very generally, our best educated guess at any given point in time. The number of theories that have been wrestled with for 80 or more years, only to be discarded and replaced as our ability to make better educated guesses on the nature of things, is staggering. I revere science. You may not think so, but I believe that scientific study is probably our single most important endeavor as beings. I believe our ability to improve ourselves can only come through scientific study. I don’t, however, believe science is capable of giving us final answers, because it is a living thing, constantly open to new ideas, understandings, and revisions and also, it is limited by our capacity to understand and express it. To take a current Scientific theory and extrapolate it out to a logical conclusion is good and well for creating an internal logic for any fiction--in this same way fantasy writers must maintain rules about their worlds or they too degenerate into much babble--but to dismiss something because you feel the science in it is unprovable is not only arrogant, it is quite foolish.
How many hard core SF folks have laughed off intelligent, easily mistaken for human, robots? How about zipping across the galaxy in a large ship in a matter of days or weeks? Perhaps you’ve read about time travel and found the underlying science a joke? None of these can be pulled from science as we understand it today and projected as a real possibility in the centuries ahead, but still stories, fine stories, with these basic assumptions exist. Imagine, superluminal (FTL) speeds were considered impossible until our study of quasars implied otherwise. In fact, the debate over quasars is an excellent example of the nature of science to peel away layers of a truth, and once finding it, discover we must begin peeling again.
So, we have two basic types of science: Theoretical Science and Practical Science. Basing a work on Practical Science will probably be reliable for some time to come–if not forever. However, it might creak of age, when viewed in 10-20 years as our ability to apply it improves. Anything based on the practical will be pretty safe. For example, there is no doubt about the nature of phosphorus. Its practical uses and behaviors have proven themselves time and time again.
Theoretical Science, on the other hand, hangs by a string. Take electrons for example: we know there are electrons, but can only know where they are at a given instant. We believe we know how they work, what their purpose is, and we can find them. We can’t, however, trace their travel routes or know their trajectory when moving between two given points. In short, as has been observed, “An electron must be assumed to be everywhere at once and yet nowhere.” (A very rough quote from “A Brief History of Everything”). Do you want to write a story that extrapolates on the behavior of an electron? Is it possible that we, too, can be everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time.
Theoretical Science asks questions, posits possibilities and names things, placing them in the stack of unknowns, waiting for a time in which it will, by investigation, be understood. At that point it may be renamed, it may be discarded, or it may create a larger problem. Remember we still haven’t found the elusive Unified Theory, though String Theory goes a long way toward taking us there. Practical Science on the other hand is science that is proven by replication. This is how science works: it sets up a sacred cow and begins throwing things at it until it falls down. If we fail to dislodge it, after a while, it becomes canon. Maybe someday it will fall, but until it does, we will accept it as known fact.
For all we know, the thing we are most certain of is, we know so little of what there is to know. In short, there is a great deal of Phlogiston
still out there. Let’s not be so arrogant that we think otherwise. And please, let’s not dismiss good fiction on that basis alone.
Finally I'm going to recommend some books for those of you interested in the study of science and espescially scientific history:Faster Than Light: Superluminal Loopholes in Physics
By Nick HerbertThe Elegant Universe by Brian GreeneA Brief History of Everything By Ken WilberA Brief History of Time By Stephen Hawking
Posted by ddgryphon
at 1:58 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006 2:01 PM EST