Regular guest (if that isn’t an oxymoron) F. A. Hyatt sent me this intriguing self-interview. At least, I think it’s a self-interview. It’s always possible he has a mind on his something as well as something on his mind.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you F. A. Hyatt:
Q: Do you assume that Science Fiction leads us to discovery, that it really predicts the inevitability of man reaching the stars, finding intelligent life, a life for man abroad in the cosmos?
A. That is three, possibly dozens of questions, at once. I think SF has the same cache’ as philosophy does. In fact, philosophers have used the genre to illustrate their ideas. Notably, the existentialists, but they are not alone in that. SF delves, as philosophers do, more than it discovers stuff.
Q: Yes, but again, about the prediction element SF is credited with?
A: Science fiction often takes on the basic cloak of science–the hypothesis, and generates visions that stem from considering what might support one, or refute one, then explores how that might affect what people do. The stories are often very human stories of emotional, personal, or ethical nature, same as are explored in any novel format, usually expressed against the challenge new situations bring. This is sometimes couched as “What If” writing.
As far as prediction and discovery go, I don’t think there is any such thing as a bad hypothesis, or prediction. Science learns as much from disproving them as it does from affirming them. Most SF attempts to start from science that is known or already under study and takes the leap to new guesses from there–which is, in fact, one of the processes we use to advance science. So, it is not odd to find that a percentage of these test out well, over time. No. I do not think it is predictive, but it is obvious that some amount does become affirmed as science moves forward. Both start by extrapolating from what is known. SF is very good at mimicking this process.
Q: So, about all that Alien encounter literature, life in space?
A: Intelligent life? Alien people zooming through space? We haven’t found as much as a microbe off-planet so far. Without the bizarre events that lead to what is called Earth 2, there would not be life here. When we got our moon, a stable 27-degree tilt, a 24-hour rotation, and an enlarged liquid iron core, life became feasible on Earth. These conditions were spawned in a chain of freak circumstances, not by “normal” planetary development, if there is such a thing. Still, the universe is a big place.
Perhaps that is more the point. If life is a one-in-a-trillion happenstance, as many believe likely, humanity is less likely to encounter it elsewhere. The odds vs distances involved, start to massively overshadow those of an individual winning a state lottery, or being struck by lightning. Between stars, the distances are so huge as to be sheerly theoretical, insofar as the human mind can comprehend. The amount of energy alone, never mind the sheer number of years, it would take to reach the most likely candidate is incomprehensible under the rule of physics as we know it.
Regardless of tech, it all comes down to energy. We need to have access to a lot more of it than we do. Theoretical Calculus suggests that to “fold space”, even on paper, costs about all the available energy in the universe to do–once. Bottom line, even if you could do it once, there would be no universe left afterward to explore, you would have burned it all for fuel.
We are the aliens–we may always be the aliens. Look at what is needed to inhabit even the most condign other bodies in our solar system, or even stay in space for more than a few weeks.
It looks to be our biology that must be radically changed. Conditions elsewhere have different ecologies. More so than any terraforming or special environment could be expected to overcome in a reasonable term. Likely, we would have to change to fit their ecologic reality. Bones and immune systems that weak gravity does not destroy. DNA and cell coding which radiation does not ruin. Tolerances for gases, temperatures, pressures, well outside the current human range.
We tend to forget that we are custom cogs in the clock of a very strange planet, highly specialized to do well here, not elsewhere. If we ever do meet bug-eyed aliens in our far future, the highest probability is that they would be relatives–offspring of genetically altered ancestors. This, just to establish permanent settlements in-system, which would happen long before anything interstellar occurred. But, anything is possible.
Q: So, the ultimate purpose of man in the universe?
A: Now you’re getting the idea. It’s about philosophy, in the end, isn’t it? Not when, but what if. Throwing dice, hope, curiosity, reaching out for things further away than our arms are long. That’s the essence of what we are. We will dream on that question, will write about it. We will call it speculative fiction, science fiction, Philosophy, whatever. Who knows what the future brings? Were you there?
Have you peered into it like Nostradamus? Then, maybe you are a science fiction writer.
Mr. Hyatt sent an excerpt illustrative of what he calls “this rant”, which I will share on Sample Sunday.
WRITING PROMPT: Someone who has never been able to see the future suddenly can. Is it the far future? His or her own future or someone else’s? Is the ability permanent or temporary? Are they the shadows of what will be, or what may be only?