A Scientist’s and a Sociologist’s Impressions of Science Fiction

September 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

I called the scientist and began by asking what science fiction, if any, he had read growing up. He recalled that he had read and watched some science fiction, mentioning Asimov and Captain Video, but that he sometimes became frustrated by the inaccuracies of the science portrayed by the genre. During the conversation, he mentioned that he felt more moved by his mother’s descriptions of Einstein’s theories than by science fiction. He felt that the factual basis of real science made it, in many ways, more exciting than science fiction. Now, his opinion is not meant as an affront to science fiction but as a suggestion that real science find its way into popular culture. For instance, how often does one search PubMed to brush up on recent medical advances?

The sociologist began by telling me he had also not read much science fiction growing up. He was far too engrossed in reading history. He completed The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples at a rather young age. He, like the scientist, had his curiosity satiated by learning about the facts of the real world.

I do not believe that science fiction inherently has a responsibility to be realistic and accurate, and I do not think the scientist or sociologist expects this from the genre either. The fictional nature of the science is itself responsible for some of the greatest benefits of the genre. The fictional aspect allows the reader to explore places and scenarios inaccessible in the real world. Science fiction also offers opinions on the challenges that might be faced by our society as it advances technologically. Nevertheless, I think it is important that science fiction not displace an individual’s fascination in his own world. If science fiction is the only means by which a person fulfills his scientific curiosity, he will miss out on the exciting science of the world that he inhabits. Just to reiterate, this is not meant to diminish the value of science fiction.  Rather, it is meant to suggest that the fascination elicited by the scientific elements of science fiction can, and should, be sought after in the science of the real world as well.



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