My whole life I have been a huge fan of both science and science fiction.
My favorite movies when I was a kid were things like Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Alien and Terminator. The novels I really gravitated towards as a kid were HG Wells and Jules Verne. I was a huge Dr. Dolittle fan as an even younger child which is an adventure series about a scientist, nothing like those god awful movies.
This is probably even more pronounced today. Almost all of what I read is science fiction, and most of the movies I make a point of watching are sci-fi as well. My favorite author is Arthur C Clarke, followed by PKD, followed by Vonnegut. The best movies from 2015? Ex Machina, The Martian, Star Wars VII. Best movie I saw in 2016? Arrival!
You’ll never convince me that Childhood’s End isn’t the greatest book ever written, unless of course you bring up Ender’s Game. What movie am I most excited about coming up? Beyond Star Wars, I would have to say Ready Player One, one of the best novels I have read in years, one I consumed in about four days.
Science has always been my favorite subject. There is almost no area of science that doesn’t fascinate me, space and physics most of all, but I even love the soft sciences like psychology and economics. I firmly believe that science is the answer to every problem we have. Science will create new problems, of course, but it will solve those as well. I’m not saying utopia is possible, but I’m saying that the problems we currently have will all be solved by science in the future.
This is probably the only thing I am optimistic about in my entire life.
The interesting thing is that most science fiction is set in the future, and almost all science fiction deals with a dystopian future. Generally, the idea that humans will create some technology that undoes humanity.
The lesson inevitably is that if humans continue to progress science, then morality will become increasingly important. This taps into a lot of fears that people have about the future of science: that it will change the world to dangerous extremes. People fear change and science empowers change. They are at dualistic and fundamental odds.
However there is another strain of sci-fi where an external entity that wields far superior technology imposes their will on the general population. This comes in two flavors, commonly the aliens, or a totalitarian government. In these archetypes, victory is always won by unlocking the greater tech and prevailing against all odds.
The main character in both of these versions of dystopian futures is often a humble, very human, sympathetic person who digs deep into what it means to be human in order to defeat the enemy. In the end, human creativity and morality is what allows humans to defeat whatever hangs before them.
This always assumes two things: technology will always be wielded unequally for evil over good, and that technology will never match humanity. Both of those assumptions are obviously wrong, but writing a movie where technology is both benevolent and better than humanity isn’t all that thrilling. Maybe the closest any movie or book came to this was Bicentennial Man. But of course, in that movie, the vastly superior to mankind robot desires to and officially becomes human.
I don’t know why I have so much faith that science will deliver on so many things. I don’t know why I have always been attracted to it. I think because it is a perfect process that always ends with facts. Certainly bad science exists, and it gets things wrong very often, but the process by which it works will always, eventually, discover the mistakes and clarify the truth. I also love that the more questions science answers, the more questions become available. There isn’t like a finite list of questions to be answered and science is slowly checking things off that list. Instead, each question explored ends with exponentially more questions, often questions you had no idea were even able to be asked.
Science roots out human weakness. And I often view humans as incredibly weak.
I have no delusions of grandeur that in my life time science will even begin to tackle the biggest questions of humanity. But I am hoping that science can do things like reliably diagnose, treat and maybe even prevent my disease specifically.
We know so little about mental illness. This is still an incredibly young branch of the still incredibly young tree of medical knowledge. But we learn every day. Science will eventually answer these questions.
That is the greatest hope I have.
Help me Obi-wan Kenobi?