Science fictions

Margaret Atwood has said that “Science Fiction” should more properly be called “Speculative Fiction”, and I tend to agree. My reasoning is that there is a disconnect between the iconography of SF and its true nature.

When we go to see a film like Interstellar, we are treated to checklist of visuals associated with science: Rocket ships, space suits, fancy looking machines, quantum physics, future timelines, black hole singularities, the list goes on.

But when you come out of the theater, you realize you have been treated to pure New Age mysticism. It all has something to do with the power of love to bend time lines and alter the quantum nature of the Universe. Which is all very lovely and inspiring, but really has nothing to do with science.

I mentioned this to a student today, saying that the presence of computers and other high-tech equipment in movie franchises like Star Trek and Iron Man could mislead people into thinking that they are about science. In fact, as far as anyone knows, humans traveling faster than light and inexhaustible power sources worn on one’s chest have no basis at all in reality. Like human time travel, they are pure speculation.

The student was indignant. He argued that these things could be true, and who was I to dictate that we know all there is to know about the Universe.

My counterargument was that Game of Thrones also has some very cool stuff, including flying dragons that breathe fire, contagious ice zombies and witches who give birth to murdering wraiths. Who’s to say that those things are impossible?

But just because they were cooked up in the human imagination, and we haven’t proven that there are no fire breathing dragons, doesn’t mean they are part of any meaningful scientific discourse.

An odd (and also entertaining) thing about most SF movies is that they dress themselves up in the clothing of science, yet actually have nothing to do with the reality of science.

Except of course for Galaxy Quest, which I believe we will one day discover was a documentary. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *