Fact or Fantasy – Is Today’s Science A Hard Act For The Sci Fi Writer To Follow?

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Posted on: November 19, 2010 / Last Modified: November 19, 2010

On joining Singularity Weblog I signed up for the free e-book Accelerando.

Which I will not, after all,  be downloading!

It is in all probability an excellent example of its kind. So my rejection in no way a reflection of the quality of the book.

It is simply that I discovered it to be a novel and (unless dosed very heavily with humor a la Douglas Adams) I just don’t read Sci Fi any more.

You see, I am an old guy. Having had a great thirst for books of all kinds from my boyhood right through to my early thirties I eventually became bored with fiction in general and SF in particular.

All the while intrigued by works such as The Selfish Gene as well as the study of chemistry and the fun of fooling around with electronics, I became increasingly fascinated by the wonderful intricacies of natural processes.

Exquisite mechanisms that have only in the last two centuries become apparent to us by virtue of the enormous extension and expansion of our senses which the on-going exponential evolution of technology has provided. Such devices as the microscope, the telescope, a whole variety of spectrometers covering virtually all parts of the electromagnetic and acoustic spectra. These have extended our understandings and our imaginations beyond all bounds.

Until recent times, a human looking at a tiger or a tree or a rose would see just the tiger or the tree or the rose. Of course, these have their own superficial attributes which, in themselves have often inspired poetry.

But today, some (sadly, all too few) of us can sense an aura, an appreciation of the countless billion molecular interactions which comprise these wonderful entities. Just a seemingly plain inactive rock can be seen to have an intricate structure and to be a seething hive of activity at the atomic level.

When one has acquired the knack of using visualizations of this kind to appreciate such wonders, any of our fictional fabrications pale into insignificance by contrast.

Viewed in such a light, the very commonplace process of an egg developing into a fully formed hen or rooster becomes miraculous. Even such a detail as the exquisitely complex mechanism for the splicing of RNA and subsequent encoding of proteins provides enough magic to blow the mind. Much as, in the non- biological arena, do the bizarre machinations of non-linear optics.

I am not saying that science fiction has no value. The world needs speculative dreamers, for occasionally such reveries can provide valuable insights. I am simply saying, perhaps because my cup has been overfilled, that these days, I personally find it dull.

Also, now that our view of the “big picture” is becoming so comprehensive, science “fact” has far greater predictive power.

But for this to work properly, it is the “big picture”, derived from an interdisciplinary approach which must give guidance.

An overly tight focus, such as that exhibited by most IT gurus, can, and often does, skew projections. As does also, to an even greater extent, our very natural anthropocentricity.

About the Author:

Peter Kinnon was born in London(UK) but is now a long time resident of New Zealand. His primary discipline is chemistry but in recent decades he’s been self-employed with a manufacturing business, scientific consultancy and a laboratory equipment recycling operation.

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