Friday, November 7, 2014

The Purpose Of Science Fiction


Future Shock


Did you know Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is considered the first work of science fiction? In the story it explores the notion of synthetic life or the chemical breakdown that occurs after death to animate nonliving matter. 


The science that inspired Mary Shelley to write "Frankenstein" is nearly as strange as the novel itself. Written in 1818, the book was influenced by a scientific feud that ushered in the first battery and our modern understanding of electricity.

All of this was imagined by Shelley nearly 41 years before Darwin published The Origin of Species and 135 years before Crick and Watson figured out the structure of DNA. Is it no wonder a futurist named Alvin Toffler called science fiction the only preventive medicine for future shock. I also like Isaac Asimov's take on the issue when he said, 
"Science fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the responses of human beings to changes in science."

  
Robert J. Sawyer, an award winning writer with a science and technology background explains it well when he says science-fiction writers get to talk about the real meaning of research. We're not beholden to skittish funding bodies and so are free to speculate about the full range of impacts that new technologies might have—not just the upsides but the downsides, too. And we always look at the human impact rather than couching research in vague, nonthreatening terms.

He also goes on to say at the core of science fiction is the notion of extrapolation, of asking, "If this goes on, where will it lead?" And, unlike most scientists who think in relatively short time frames—getting to the next funding deadline, or readying a product to bring to market—we think on much longer scales: not just months and years, but decades and centuries.

It seems as if one of our jobs is to predict the future, and suggest all the possible futures.