Science Fiction Is a Powerful Tool for Reality

A recent interview in The Atlantic did a fantastic job of highlighting one of the reasons science fiction is so important: It allows us to throw away restrictions and fully explore the question “What if …?”

In the interview, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner say their “Pulp to Prototype” course makes science fiction required reading. Why? Because it gets students to think about possibilities that would otherwise be classified as crazy, too far-fetched, or unimportant.

And that, that right there, is why science fiction is so essential. Pragmatism is important, but so is a sense of wonder and a desire to explore new worlds and technologies.

These researchers bring up many great examples of how sci-fi-inspired research turned into real technologies (the TASER and RADAR, coincidentally proving that abbreviations make anything more science-fictiony). They also spend a good amount of time talking about Phillip K. Dick, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in particular, which is one of the best possible examples of how science fiction can spur invention and design. PKD was a fountain of crazy ideas, and we haven’t explored enough of them.

Science fiction isn’t solely a list of great ideas, though. It’s also a way to explore the implications of those ideas. In other words, we don’t just posit a mind-blowing new technology and then leave it at that. The best sci-fi stories explore the ramifications of new things and different cultures. It shows us what happens when everybody has a whiz-dingy 3000, and how it affects the way people act. Science fiction is basically a testing ground for the future. In fact, some of the best sci-fi stories are considered classics because of the issues they explore, issues that are universal to mankind. 1984 isn’t a classic because it accurately predicted the future, the internet, or even modern television (all things it has been credited with), but because it shows us how technology can be used to control a population, and how it can speed up the adoption of ideas. It makes us think about how technologies magnify human motivation.

This is why science fiction shouldn’t be considered a category of ridiculous tales and useless diversions (although it contains some of that). This is literature of the future because it makes us think about what we may become, and it helps us dream about things we should (and shouldn’t) do.

One thought on “Science Fiction Is a Powerful Tool for Reality

  1. Does science fiction really predict the future or is the future guided by science fiction’s predictions, thus being essentially “scripts of creation” rather than predictions? Predictions, just like prophecies, have the nasty habit of being self-fulfilled.

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