April 30, 2009

Why science fiction is still the best way to advance science

Did you hear about the idea of trying to grow food on the moon and the planet which is nearly the same size as earth? All these have been discovered by scientists around the world for the past 3 to 4 months. I read these news and dismissed them just as fast. However, if I remember correctly, all these have been told endless times in science fictions across all ages. I was a science fiction buff once. Not the Star Trek one which is why I am writing this post but of the reading kind. In 1997, I discovered Isaac Asimov. Not the science fiction writer but the mystery thriller writer. He wrote about a gathering of powerful men in a club called who would solve mysteries for those in need. The settings? 1950s. The funny part (or it may be a social commentary) the problem solver were never these high society men. It was the butler, who was always the same one (I think the name is Henry) although the setting was in a gentlemen's club. The book was not mine, I suspected it was my brother's and I never saw it sold in Malaysia.

What I found in Malaysia was his science fiction. The Foundation saga. I was just 13 that year and I was still in the midst of migrating from reading teen book by Enid Blyton to real books by real authors. As my brother just came back from the US then, I took his love for Robert Ludlum and Jeffrey Archer (I know he is Briton but I didn't know the difference then) for myself before finding my own favourite authors. That was when I discovered Isaac Asimov as one of them before I discovered Tolkien a bit later. Little did I know I was reading books of olde that would not have been discovered by me if not for them reprinting them again. 

I actually was not ready for these books as I still did not understand half of what I was reading. I was just reading them out of curiosity. And guess what? There were some of the stuff there which we called science fictions then, which are now realities. Maybe they were far-fetched then but nowadays, they have all become just another device for the masses. Internet has made us close together by connecting us through lines and even through the air (wifi) but we seem to say these are all primitive as we expect our connection to never be broken or is faster than what we are experiencing. For me, it is just amazing I can see people wearing Star Trek device to talk (bluetooth headset) and driving cars which would have been called futuristic 20 to 30 years ago.

I remembered when my mother and my two brothers came back from USA in 1989 when my eldest had his graduation ceremony (I was left as I had a big important exam that year. The scar of being left is still there) when I asked them what is the most significant things that differentiate Malaysia from USA? They said, everywhere they went, they could see Malaysia being 20 years behind USA. Not anymore. We are just as advance as any other country which had been playing catch-up after the internet boom of 1990s and now globalisation has brought us close together. And what has all this got to do with science fiction? Read those old books, didn't they say something in the similar vein? People living together and connecting with each other effortlessly.

p/s - Tomorrow on May Day, I will be watching my second summer preview Star Trek. Let us see what science fiction that this new movie brings. Just for the record, I am not a Trekkie and the only series I ever followed was Star Trek : Next Generation. Maybe because Picards' head looked like mine

4 comments:

Clarisse Teagen said...

lol!!! Are you a sci fiction addict???
NOT BAD :P
hahaha.

I read about Asimov's works when i was in secondary school. but yeah it's the sci-fi writer. He has very interesting views on Technology. I like the way he thinks.

I didn't know there was another guy as well.. cool.

Ratty said...

Isaac Asimov and Star Trek have both been major inspirations for new scientific breakthroughs. They had a TV show here in the US about this same subject. They claimed the whole idea of the cellphone was inspired by communicators from Star Trek.

Kamigoroshi said...

Well, it's not really that accurate to say that science fiction advances science. But for people like myself and plenty of other scientists out there, it is science fiction that inspired plenty of us to take up the science mantle in the first place.

Asimov and Star Trek are just a couple. There is also Jules Verne, H.G Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert, Phillip K. Dick and Orson Scott Card. There is also Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner (which ties into Phillip K. Dick as well) and plenty other science fiction shows and books you probably never heard off unless you're a fan of sci-fi.

I grew up on those books and stories. When kids were reading their Enid Blyton, I was reading books like those and they took me to worlds I still can build in my head. Of course, 20+ years later, I'm a scientist and an all out troubleshooting tech geek.

Science fiction only helps to inspire and bring out what those of us dare to do, are willing to commit to. To us scientists, nothing is impossible, nothing is out of reach. Not the darkest abyss, not the realm of God. As long as it's out there, we'll find a way to grasp it in our hands and understand it. It's our calling.

After all, as Carl Sagan once said, magic is another way of saying it's just science unexplained.

kruel74 said...

Clarisse - Was an addict. Nowadays I am a book addict

Ratty - Hmmm...you might never know

Kamigoroshi - Maybe I should say, inspired scientific discovery but you are the scientist, I am just a reader

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