February 21, 2014
The Complex Relationship Between Science And Sci-Fi
When Apple first released the iPad, people all over felt like they were living a real-life Star Trek episode. I am sure when we first landed on the Moon, Americans nationwide could feel the science fiction meeting with science fact. And H.G. Wells’ stories certainly played their role in the evolution of the atomic bombs and nuclear power although he likely would have been shocked at how different the world turned out to be. Throughout the last 150 years, the supposed impact of science fiction on the scientific world can be seen in many places. However, redOrbit reporter April Flowers recently wrote about the truth of the matter: real life is often stranger than any science fiction. Furthermore, even though it seems like sci-fi influences all of science, the truth of the matter is the influence is far less reaching.
“According to Lawrence Krauss, a Foundation professor in the School of Space and Earth Exploration and the Department of Physics at Arizona State University, this is rarely the case. Krauss admits that science fiction has taken inspiration from the cutting edge science of its day. It is also true, as Stephen Hawking wrote in the preface to Krauss’s bestselling book, The Physics of Star Trek, science fiction helps inspire our imaginations. Despite this, Krauss believes that science fiction is not a match for reality.”
Obviously, science fiction inspires imagination in its readers as well as those who write it. Its popularity as a genre proves that people like how imaginative sci-fi is. Some find science fiction ridiculous because it is not real, but those of us who love the genre in all its forms – written as well as visual – know that the ‘what ifs’ of science fiction intoxicate readers. That imagination, that intoxication, must inspire scientists at least minutely. Even if a scientist is not a reader or sci-fi, the nature of the genre is all around us from TV shows to the movies to Internet, technology, and just everyday conversation.
As Flowers identifies, think of the World Wide Web. At its inception, did its creators know how important WWW would become as a means of communication, education, business, and fun? No, but the possibilities were endless, as they are with most inventions. And sci-fi has the potential to inspire inventing. It is not likely that we will be able to move about the universe freely because the biology of humanity is that we are basically “hundred-pound bags of water,” which means we are not physically built for space travel. But Krauss “described how exotica live warp drive and time travel are not ruled out by our current knowledge of the laws of nature. From a practical perspective, however, even if they are possible in principle, they are likely to be impossible in practice. While he doubts that people will ever be “beamed” from one place to another, quantum teleportation may revolutionize computing in ways that science fiction has just begun to come to grips with.”
The truth of the matter is that sci-fi notions – such as space exploration, faster than light travel, time travel, and teleportation – are all very expensive both in terms of money and energy. It costs much just to study the possibilities of these let alone put them into action. Perhaps, though, some young readers of sci-fi will figure out ways to do all of these. That inspiration may not be because they found the replica or model in a sci-fi novel, but maybe, just maybe, they found the inspiration to think beyond what we have and know right now. Science fiction may not directly influence science, but it certainly impacts imagination, and imagination leads to seeking answers, and isn’t that what science is all about?
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