In honor of Escape Velocity, the Museum of Science Fiction’s inaugural convention taking place next month I decided to write about the importance of science fiction to society. I know I am probably preaching to the choir, but never hurts to have another arrow in your quiver when arguing the point.
It constantly amazes me how many people put down science fiction as a legitimate and beneficial genre for consumption through either reading or watching. Even as the social acceptance of science fiction increases, it still retains a stigma of being inconsequential and irrelevant to real life. As an avid fan of both science fiction and fantasy this never fails to fill me with dismay. Now, more than ever, it is important to recognize the immense impact that all fiction, but especially speculative fiction have without this condescending attitude.
ALL fiction allows people to build empathy, and experience disengagement in order to restore cognitive capacity, per research at the University of Sussex. In addition, people who read more have less cognitive decline later in life as stated in numerous psychogeriatric articles, many of which are available here.
Science fiction, however, is unique in that it explores the future. It creates a sense of uncertainty that allows us to process information differently. Instead of learning or gleaning information, science fiction has the ability to teach ideas and concepts as a whole, the possibility for a new future. Many scientists I speak to can identify a specific science fiction show or book that sparked an interest in understanding the universe. some flicker that they grasped onto of how or why wether it be alien life, or computers, or engineering, or medicine. This spark, this ember that can flourish into a creative life and career, should be nourished and often the best tinder is science fiction. This concept is not new, if something is explored in media, it will fire imaginations.
This is particularly of interest currently when you look at all the discussion of STEM and how these are growth areas and how to encourage young people to enter these fields. Exposure to the concepts in a fun and engaging way is the only way to create a sustained interest in these fields. There is a lot of discussion of using new or innovative topics in the classroom or with our own children to nurture this, including comics and video games. Both of these media having strong science fiction tie-ins that should not be overlooked.
I have a friend, who says that she does not read science fiction because she needs to learn about and understand ‘the real world’. While her sentiment is admirable, my counter to this is that science fiction is in some ways the ultimate exploration of that world. Science fiction allows us to explore social, psychological, economic, and political issues with a very pointed and exacting approach simply due to their remove from the everyday world. People are much more likely to accept a barbed commentary of their world, habits, and status if is garbed in outlandish trappings. At it’s root science fiction is story-telling about our world as it is now, as it might happen to become and reveals a great deal about us and the world that we see. David Brin actually has a singular collection on his website of science fiction that teaches actual scientific concepts spanning the gamut from disease to space flight.
Ultimately, Science Fictions is one of the most mind