In a recent conversation I made an interesting statement:
I said that people are always mentioning how many things in science fiction have come true. How does it go . . . “science fiction becomes science fact”. This usually is done in the context of glorifying science and “progress” as if its some great achievement. Its as if something from a science fiction coming true is some great achievement bordering on a miracle. How many times have I seen this glorified as if science fiction was “prophetic”? A miracle! I’ve seen people utterly “amazed” how the things portrayed in science fiction 20 years ago “have become true”.
Generally, it is primarily speaking of the products of science and what it produces: submarines, spaceships, computers, etc., etc., etc. In other words, it tends to be “gadget oriented”. There is a fascination with the toys of science, overlooking everything else about it. I often speak of this as “technological dazzlement”. People seldom rave, or even consider, the social consequences of what science produces, its political effects, how it will affect our daily lives, and such. In other words, seldom is the products of science looked at in a greater context. It tends to only be looked at in a more limited and narrow context. This limited and narrow viewpoint, and the lack of consideration for the greater context, may be the scariest aspect of all this.
Many science fiction plots, though, are often addressing the greater context. That is to say, they address what no one seems to ever mention and which a lot of science fiction is really about: the dangers of science. In effect, a lot of science fiction, especially in the early years, was reflecting how science could cause problems. In many cases, they were like warnings. One could say that this is the real “prophecy” of science fiction as the warnings they often stated have come true to the point that we are now struggling with them and, in some cases, they have become a threat. Many of these situations we are seeing, nowadays, have already been seen in science fiction.
I’ve always been stunned how these warnings are overlooked and disregarded. Many science fiction plots, even today, are obviously a warning but no one seems to notice this . . . but they sure think the spaceships, laser guns, and TV wristwatches are neat. The darker side of many plots, which are glorified as reflecting sciences abilities, tend to be conveniently overlooked or, more generally, not noticed at all. I think that, if many people were to stand back and look at many science fiction plots, they will be stunned how many warnings are stated. Shows, for example, where people rave about the robots, weapons, technology, and special effects are often nothing but a warning of what science can cause. Many science fiction “classics” are also of this nature. The fact is that many science fiction stories are not about glorifying what science creates but in stating a warning of what it might do.
Some of the warnings science fiction stated are:
- The problem of the power of what science creates.
- A dystopian society – scientific based societies that go awry.
- Technology taking control.
- The creation of things that shouldn’t be created.
- The wrong people misusing the powers of science.
- That once something is created it can’t be uncreated (see my article “Thoughts on the problem of inventions“).
- How machines will control people and their lives.
- The unleashing of unknown forces into the world by science.
All these have come true, and in many different ways and forms. One could even say that a lot of the problems we have now are reflective of these warnings stated in science fiction. Perhaps if we had listened to their warnings, instead of being fascinated with the toys, we’d be better off?
Copyright by Mike Michelsen