David Ross (dyvyd) wrote,
David Ross
dyvyd

The Birth of Fantasy Science

Last Sunday night I sat goggle-eyed in front of the TV to watch the first installment of Impact on on ABC, which I had heard would show the end of the world by means of the moon crashing into the earth-- very cool. But it wasn't the special effects that knocked me for a loop.  It was the total disregard for scientific fact that made my jaw slack and my mind reel.

Ok, Sci-fi has always been somewhat schlock-ridden, but this has been often due, it seems to me, to cheesy effects which didn't match up to the mind-blowing science very well.  Even the most far-fetched-stinkers (like the mutational effects of atom blasts) were based on areas of knowledge open to debate-- we just couldn't know exactly-- at the time.  That sort of scenario seemed fair enough to silence the inner critic and open the door to dark science fantasies.

But now that we have the tools to depict things properly, what happens?  Impossibilities can now be shown so convincingly it no longer matters whether the science fiction makes any sense or not.  Science has been kicked to the back of the bus.  In fact, in fact we now have a new genre--  Fantasy Science.

I have long awaited some correction to sci-fi stories, so  that they did not always depict the scientists as fools, and the military as heroes who have to rush in and blow something up and stop the ungodly work of the always naive, always misguided men of knowledge (The Thing). Society apparently fears intellectuals, fears knowledge, likes to think that too much education produces fools.  Carl Sagan did a good job of depicting the science/religion conflict in a more mature way in his book Contact, but the movie made from it was softened, lacked some of its conviction.  Still it might have been the first public defense of science since the Scopes trial.  Funny, I didn't think science would ever need to be defended.

Is reality something factual, or is it just a conscious choice?  That seems to define the current battlefield in the war religion now wages against science.  It is an argument entirely outside of science, that science, in an a priori way,  has no defense against.  Yet there is a battle going on to capture individual human minds, and science is unable to use the techniques of its aggressor-- the hyperbole, flash, the manipulation of desires and fears, the blurring of truth. It must find other ways to fight back.  I think the stakes are high.  I think that that if we can not remain rational as a species, we are toast. 

A chilling phrase, which now seems to indicate to me a tipping point in our society, was spoken to me a decade or so ago.  I was in the process of trying to make what I thought was an unbiased assessment of some current political situation.  The person I was talking to said:  "Arguing about it doesn't prove anything.  If so many people think it is true, then it is."  Finally, the whole meaning of "perception being truth" sunk into me.  Think about that phrase: arguing doesn't prove anything.  What it really means is: there is no such thing as proof-- proof is irrelevant, or worse,  a social anathema. If more than half of our society believes that, I have no hope for us.

So my anger over the science of Impact is not so much that it smacks of physics as re-written by morons, but rather that the scientists, when asked for help to save the earth, are forced to throw up their hands and say:  We can't explain this!  This is not like any science we have ever experienced before! This changes all the rules! 

One of the current levers undermining science is the notion that any law of the universe can change at any time-- and now here's convincing proof (for the masses) on TV-- a lot of people who look like scientists say it is so, followed by a display of such exquisite cgi realism that it must be true.

I had no idea the first time I read AE Van Vogt's great story "The Voyage of the Space Beagle," that it would turn out by today's standards to be a utopian dreamer's version of rationality.  A nexialist, defined as a man trained in the practical integration of all fields of knowledge with reason, gets to call the shots.  Imagine that!

Read the Van Vogt.  And then watch part II of Impact this Sunday.  Not as a Sci-Fi entertainment, but as one might watch Kurtz played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, sweating, swallowing, contemplating the death of science, whispering:  it's judgment that defeats us...

Tags: sci-fi
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