Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It’s a scream. It’s written like this: ‘I checked out with K19 on Adabaran III, and stepped out through the crummaliote hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timeprojector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass… I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough.’
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.
If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.
This is so awesome. I’m taking an IoT class – there’s got to be some way I can do a project on this…
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It is sometimes said that science and art are fundamentally different in their approach and their dominion, since science strives to be objective while art is inherently subjective. The science of perspective demonstrates the superficiality of such claims. With perspective, our concern is how a scene actually looks to a particular person from aspecific vantage point. It might be defined, indeed, as an objective study of subjectivity.
It is remarkable how perspective anticipates the concepts that dominate our basic understanding of Nature’s laws. Many of the central ideas of modern physics are unfamiliar to most people. They can seem abstract and forbidding if they are introduced abruptly, in the strange contexts that are their natural habitat. That’s why those of us who try to bring those ideas to a broad audience must often work in metaphors and analogies. But it’s challenging to find metaphors that are both faithful to the original ideas and readily accessible; and even more challenging to do it in a way that does justice to their beauty. I’ve struggled with that problem many times over the years. Here, I’m happy to present a solution that’s given me a real feeling of satisfaction.
Scientists are often fascinated by art – from Brainpickings’ ‘The Art of Ofey’
Richard Feynman — champion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations, bongo player — was a surprisingly gifted semi-secret artist. He started drawing at the age of 44 in 1962, shortly after developing the visual language for his famous Feynman diagrams, after a series of amicable arguments about art vs. science with his artist-friend Jirayr “Jerry” Zorthian — the same friend to whom Feynman’s timeless ode to a flower was in response. Eventually, the two agreed that they’d exchange lessons in art and science on alternate Sundays. Feynman went on to draw — everything from portraits of other prominent physicists and his children to sketches of strippers and very, very many female nudes — until the end of his life.
“Live the Martian adventure” the ads said. “Mars has jobs.” Amy said. So Joe packed their bags and they left their hometown in Northern Great Lakestan, convinced that this new life would be better.
It wasn’t. There were jobs and the pay was good, but they were mostly desk jobs–the kind of work that you learn in an hour and wash/rinse/repeat for the rest of your life.
In every other way, Mars was the same as Wisconsin –eleven months of winter and one month of black flies.
Read more “For Better or Worse”, a short story published by Liberty Island Magazine.
“Washington DC, 2084:
Jerry leaned out the Aerocar window. With the kind of breathless amazement that only seven year-olds can muster, he shouted “Mom, Dad, look! Two apes are fighting in front of the Lincoln Memorial.”
Bill glanced down, but at 600 meters above ground level it was hard to see very much. He put the flying car into a slight bank and circled around to get a better look.
“That’s terrible,” Sharon said. “They should have more respect.”
“They’re gorillas, Mom,” said Jerry. “They’re allowed to misbehave”
“Those aren’t apes. They’re men,” Sharon said.
“You’re kidding…” Bill said as he adjusted the focus of his Google Glass Retinas for long distance. They were indeed men, but with hair so unkempt and suits so ragged, they appeared to be covered with fur.
“It’s a Bumfight,” Bill said.
“Disgusting,” Sharon said.
“Why did they let them into the Safari park?” Jerry asked.
“They must be some of Washington DC’s original inhabitants.”
Read more of the short story “Welcome to the Jungle” [Liberty Island Magazine]