Science and Science Fiction – Matt Pham

One cannot deny the predictive power of science fiction. Jules Verne’s submarine, the Nautilus, was imagined decades before the first electric submarine, and his moon ship came a century before the first spaceship (“Jules Verne”). Hugo Gernsback predicted synthetic food, television, and artificial fibers, among other things (“Oracles of Invention”). Of course, not all predictions come true, but the point is that science fiction has the power to explore where current science cannot. The ideas contained in science fiction may be too radical or too costly; that is, until they are introduced into the public consciousness. I cannot say that the creation of these technologies is the direct result of the predictions of these authors, but I know that they put these ideas in the minds of the public.

ASIMO

Thus, science needs science fiction because it “could act as a catalyst for invention” that instills “a desire in the popular imagination that then leads to government spending on seemingly impossible research” (“Oracles of Invention”). The Space Race was fueled not only by a need to show the Soviet Union our technological superiority but also the public dream to reach beyond our own planet. When science fiction changed its focus from space to robots and nanotechnology, public interest in space travel died down with it. The ideas of science fiction become cultural memes that propagate and grow to the point that they do not seem so impossible anymore. In other words, science fiction can lead to paradigm shifts in scientific thinking. That is exactly what has happened with nanotechnology. Who could have thought that one day there would be man-made objects that are only billionths of a meter in size? Dr. Gimzewski said that “our minds our stuck” when it comes to science, but science fiction can help free our minds from that kind of regimented thinking.

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