February 1, 2015

Slice of PIE: Science Influences SF; Why Isn’t SF Allowed To Influence SCIENCE?

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in London this past August, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below…

“What Scientists Read: Scholars of literature and science studies, from Aldous Huxley to

George Levine, have always maintained that literature influences science as much as science influences literature. In his 1978 survey of the field, G. S. Rousseau proposed that ‘there is no reason to disbelieve on logical or epistemological grounds that literature and science affect each other reciprocally’. But Rousseau describes the literature-to-science direction of influence as ‘an unexplored territory, probably the one in greatest need of cultivation right now’…addressing the continuing myth that this field has paid as much attention to the influence of literature on science as it has to the influence of science on literature. It will attempt to redress the imbalance by offering initial theories extrapolated from the interview data about the relationship between contemporary scientists’ leisure reading and their scientific thought and practice.”

I wish I had been there to hear the discussion.

I used to believe that SF stories could have an impact on science in that someone who was doing experiments on using electricity to reanimate dead Humans would have read Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in the interest of gaining insight into the possible ways their work might influence society and what kinds of issues they might have.

Using that logic then, I should be able to research the person who invented “heart shocker pads” (technically a defibrillator) to find that Frankenstein was one of their favorite books and inspired them to research both the electrical nature of the heart and the possibility that using a high voltage shock could restart it.

Nothing about Frankenstein inspiring work on the defibrillator, but I did run across this: “Many consider experiments by Andrew Ure…at University of Strathclyde’s…Anderson’s Institution…to be the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein…October 1818…conducted experiments on Matthew Clydesdale…Galvanisation – the application of electric current to the human body or medical purposes…Ure…applied electricity to different parts of the corpse…Clydesdale’s eyes opened, his body twitched and his face showed expressions of grimace and rage…conclude[ing] that direct stimulation of the phrenic nerve was likely the best method via which to revive the dead.”

Certainly you’d think that attempts to bring “moon rocks” and other debris from space (like the Stardust probe that collected coma material from comet Wild 2, then swung past asteroid 5535 Annefrank, and Temple 1 to study them as well. The probe returned its aerogel sample return capsule in 2006 where it’s been studied ever since at Johnson Space Center in Houston.) would have mentioned the book Andromeda Strain (1969), Michael Crichton’s first published novel (or at least the 1971 movie). But there isn’t any mention of it except when people post in the comment sections.


Recently Stephen Hawking created a brouhaha when he railed against SETI researchers for sending messages into space (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Space/stephen-hawking-alien-contact-risky/story?id=10478157). Science fiction writer David Brin joined him, typically pointing out that “I've been at this a long time…my Great Silence paper…[is]…the only genuine review article ever published in the SETI field.” (http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2010/05/perspectives-on-seti-and-aliens-and.html) He, too, urges caution in bringing attention to ourselves. Again though, the scientific community seems to ignore the uncountable First Contact stories published since HG Wells’ seminal War of the Worlds in 1897 in favor of doing whatever it wants.

Clearly science could care LESS about science fiction. Scientists often claim that science fiction was inspiration for their going into science fields, but once there apparently, they ignore it, without interest in the science fictional thoughts on the ramifications of their work.

What if every doctor, engineer, physicist, and other practitioner of science were required by law to take a seminar that specifically examined a novel or series of short stories addressing contemporary developments in their field? Roundtable discussions could follow and each student could write a response to the work...

Harrumph. Never happen. So I guess I need to go write a story like Harry Turtledove did in ANALOG in January of 1991 (“Gladly Wolde He Learne”) to raise the issue. Excuse me while I outline it.

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