Science Fiction & Science Fact


I was thinking about the sometimes prophetic nature of science fiction and came to the realisation that the early stages of both scientific research and the creation of science fiction are actually quite similar. Of course the latter is not science and shouldn't be considered in the same context; however, there certainly appears to be a parallel in the initial step of both pursuits.

Often scientific research begins with a hypothesis based on our current understanding of the topic, it provides a point of reference and is compared with the eventual findings. Essentially, it's a logical deduction (or set of deductions) based on what we currently know and observe to be true. Importantly, this process is an imaginative one requiring an amount of abstract thought. Scientists need to think about what might be true, what C could potentially be given A and B. This assumptive process is what (good) science fiction writers do, but instead of validating or invalidating the notion by way of scientific research, they make a movie or write a book.

Take the generic example of an interstellar spacecraft. Although we don't currently possess the technological capabilities to travel between stars in any kind of time frame that would support human life, we do have existing spacecraft and an understanding of our surrounding universe. We have an A and B and C is 'warp speed'. Star Wars is the result of science fiction writers/movie makers while more explosive fuels and new and ever efficient jet engines are the result of scientific research, but both were born of the same wonderment:

Good science fiction, in my opinion at least, has a strong foothold in current scientific understanding, it simply takes the next step (or steps) and lets us see what might be. Taking the interstellar spacecraft example again, while we might not understand exactly how it achieves these great speeds, the visuals often imply the use of a familiar and scientifically sound mechanism of propulsion: an explosive fuel based propulsion. There is typically some kind of brilliantly coloured plume of burning or glowing material blasting out the back of the ship. We are amazed by the capabilities of the ship, but aren't completely mystified to the point we have no idea how the ship is even moving at all. We simply assume that some kind of highly engineered/futuristic accelerant was discovered in the period that separates us and the movie.

A more concrete example of this is that of the 'Event Horizon' ship. If you haven't seen the movie, the ship harnesses the power of a synthetic black hole to travel tremendous distances. While we have no comparable technology today, the premise of the ship's travelling capabilities doesn't entirely fly of the heads of a contemporary audience. We understand the concept of black holes to some degree and know that they are responsible for an incredible amount of gravitational force, a force that could potentially propel a ship at unimaginable speeds. This gives a science fiction writer a plausible premise with plenty of room for imagination/semi-logical deductions in the formation of an interesting story.

I think this all ties into the sometimes prophetic nature of science fiction. Since whether or not C is an interesting deduction might determine the relative success of a movie or book, so too might it determine whether further scientific research will be conducted in the area. If scientists predict uninteresting results from research into C, they are less likely conduct that research. So, perhaps the logical deductions made by both scientists and science fiction creators simply overlap quite often.

Another reason why science fiction might be a precursor to actual future events is the way good science fiction captivates us as humans. Scientists and those of us actually advancing technology and our understanding of things are--believe it or not--people too. As such when they see the hover boards in 'Back to the Future', they may very well be inspired to think of ways to make them a reality (there are currently active hover board research projects I believe). The more thought and research that goes into a given field, the more likely a result will occur. So, in a sense the science fiction we watch and read might end up being a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts by inspiring those with the technical capabilities to make them a reality.


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