As Scientists See Us

The latest issue of Nature marks the fiftieth anniversary of Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. It includes several pieces of SFnal interest, including the biology in sf roundtable I linked a little while ago, the return of Futures, a short article by Gary K. Wolfe, and a very nice editorial on the relationship between science and science fiction:

Science fiction feeds on science. It also anticipates it. For good or ill, it articulates possibilities and fears: the notion of the super-weapon was commonplace in science fiction long before the Manhattan Project, and no debate about genetic technology seems complete without an appearance by Victor Frankenstein and his creature.


Yet even though it can be serious and frightening, it is not at heart a literature of warning, either. It is a literature of playfulness. Within the constraint of telling human stories about more-or-less human beings, it revels in the possibility of expanded physical and intellectual horizons.

And above all it revels in the possibility of change. Serious science fiction takes science seriously, and its games provide a way of looking at the subjective implications of newly revealed objective truths of the Universe. Science fiction does not tell us what the future will bring, but at its best it helps us to understand what the future will feel like, and how we might feel when one way of looking at the world is overtaken by another.

To be sure, science fiction doesn’t always connect in this way. It can be tired and cliché-ridden; the games it plays can be tedious, solipsistic power fantasies. And over recent years many of its finest practitioners have become so besotted by the endless new games that ever-accelerating progress allows them to play that their works can be inaccessible to the general reader. To demand that everything be accessible is to demand mediocrity — there is a role for dialogues that can be appreciated only by cognoscenti. But we believe that science fiction written for every scientist can be rewarding, too, which is why this issue sees the return of our popular showcase for short science fiction stories, Futures.

Science takes place in a cultural context. The many forward-looking, ever-changing worlds of science fiction provide one that is both fruitful and enjoyable.

3 thoughts on “As Scientists See Us

  1. Thanks for drawing my attention to this! I’m planning a fanzine about science and science fiction (in Swedish only, though), and this is inspiring reading. I’m not spending much time in the department library in the summer, and therefore I don’t see the new issues of Nature.

  2. Glad to be of service! It is an impressively clued-up piece of writing, I think — particularly the points about playfulness and accessibility, even if they do turn the latter into a plug. :)

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