Can Science Fiction Save Science?
By Mark Rodgers“Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” C. S. LewisSeveral years ago (2005 in fact) I read a short story by author and romanticist EM Forster entitled The Machine Stops, a dystopian science fiction tale that raises questions about our growing dependence on technology. In the future, man is forced to live underground, fully dependent on The Machine for sustenance. Remarkably, written in 1909, Forster anticipated such technology as the Internet, television and robotics.
I put my hand to the plow later that year and wrote a film script inspired by the short story, but with a backstory that Forster left out. What was the global catastrophe that would make the surface of the earth uninhabitable? My thesis was that in pursuit of the Higgs-Boson (also called The God Particle) to unlock the deepest mysteries of the universe, a chain reaction of black holes was initiated within the CERN Collider, destroying the earth's ability to sustain life. Little did I know that a few years later, in 2008, a lawsuit would be filed to stop the collider from firing up for fear of ... the creation of a black hole!
Smug with my prediction (I even had talked to a physicist who thought my theory was unfounded) I was reminded of the amount of science I explored in preparation for the script, from quantum mechanics (particle physics) to cosmology (black holes) to genetics (The God Gene). Since its birth at the turn of the 20th century (the first modern use of the term was in 1927), science fiction has fueled the imagination for the possible ... and equally important, it has been an organ for meaning.Art and Science connect through creativity.
2005 seems to be an important year for this connectivity in my life. In our newsletter this month we are highlighting again an article about The Giver, which that year Michael Flaherty, the founder of Walden Media, shared with me. I read it on the flight to LA for meetings several of us from DC had to discuss engaging the culture, and will never forget the impact it had on me ... so much so that I read sections of it aloud to Mel Gibson and Patty Heaton during a small meeting we had together. A dear friend, Ralph Winter (X-Men, Fantastic Four) is producer of the film being released on August 15.An Organ of Meaning. The Giver is a story of a "perfect" world with no hate, no color, no discrimination, no hunger and most of all, no pain. The main character, Jonas (Brendon Thwaites), spends time with the Giver (Jeff Bridges), who is the community's sole keeper of memories. Jonas uncovers the dark secret of his community and the reveal challenges the utilitarian and utopian views of the far left. In addition to Bridges, the cast includes Meryl Streep and Taylor Swift. Life, tradition, history, family and liberty are all themes explored creatively and powerfully through the book. You can get the flavor of the film from the "featurette" trailer, and even this snippet will remind you of the power of science fiction as an agent to explore meaning. This is one of the reasons that C. S. Lewis explored the genre in his own fiction writing. Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1983 that "No less a critic than C. S. Lewis has described the ravenous addiction that these (science fiction) magazines inspired; the same phenomenon has led me to call science fiction the only genuine consciousness-expanding drug."Leaders in the sciences know this to be true, in fact I suspect that many of them were inspired into their vocations by reading Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land on an idle summer afternoon. In a fascinating turn of events, NASA, in some ways representing the concerns of all the sciences, took the initiative recently to partner with a publisher to develop books "to inspire young adults to examine the rewarding careers that science and technology have to offer."