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Nancy Jane
Posted on Sunday, April 11, 2004 - 10:05 am:   

Science fiction really has warped my mind. I'm finding that I think in terms of centuries, even millennia, these days. While the current tech seems very science fictional (at least in that incorporates much of the tech predicted in the SF Golden Age), it is also driving us to live in the last and the next few minutes. I don't mean we're living in the present moment (in the Zen sense), but rather that we are forgetting the effect of millennia of human history on our lives and not thinking much farther ahead than next week.

What's going to happen next week isn't really very important. It may be appalling – listening to the news has me thinking about genocide, war and new outbreaks of disease – or intriguing – a new high tech invention – but despite new horrors or interesting innovations, it isn't going to be much different from life right now.

And it could be. That's what SF has done to me, made me think about how things could truly become different. I’m not talking about any particular book or story, and really not even thinking about technology at all, but rather considering the overall effect of spending time thinking about the future of self-aware life in the universe.

Sometimes I look at this rather narrowly. For example, it seems obvious to me that, despite all the progress in medical treatment of late, most of what we do now to treat disease will be considered by our descendants as the equivalent of bleeding people or of doctors using vibrators to cure women of hysteria. Nor can I see any reason why we have not put extensive money and energy into greater exploration of our Solar System. It also seems ridiculous to me that despite the fact that we have learned to condemn genocide and "ethnic cleansing," we still allow it to go on in record numbers (we can kill so much more efficiently these days).

If you couple thinking about future possibilities with the rapid technological changes of the Twentieth Century, it's easy to find yourself thinking of how much more can happen. I'm feeling frustrated because while I can see the possibility that many things will change over time, I am beginning to realize that few of these changes are likely to happen in my lifetime. Unless, of course, I actually am immortal, which seems more doubtful with every passing year.

That frustration is completely personal – I want to see the future, damn it, and I'm not likely to get the chance, because as reading SF (and, for that matter, history) makes clear, it's going to take a long time (in human terms) for things to change.

The truth is, humanity really isn't intelligent yet. But we're bright enough to see what intelligence might look like. David Grinspoon's fascinating astrobiology book, _Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life_, has me thinking about the human race as a stepping stone between the bare beginnings of life (single-celled beings) and truly wise beings.

There is inherent frustration in being able to conceive of something that not only cannot happen in my lifetime, but that will not happen in any future that even remembers our individual existence. It makes me impatient with so much of current literature that seems content to wallow in very narrow human agonies (regardless of the fact that my own suffering is of vast interest to me personally); I find it an argument for the real importance of science fiction as literature and philosophy, as a way of conceiving of life beyond our narrow sphere of interests.

Speculating on intelligent life makes me think that the most important thing any of us can do in our brief lifetimes is to make sure the human race doesn’t destroy itself (and the other parts of the Earth and this region of space) before we can evolve into something truly intelligent and wise.

Which is to say, reading and writing science fiction has warped me. Probably irretrievably.


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Rob Eubanks
Posted on Sunday, April 11, 2004 - 10:42 am:   

mmm. good rant!

i've wondered before if i was wierd, or if others in sci-fi were plagued with the 'long view' as well. i hate when i realize that the reason i can't fall asleep is because i'm wrestling with some issue where people are being short-sighted and it's bothering me.

THINK LIKE ME DANGIT!

but i'm right there with you on wanting to live a long long life so that i can see more of the future. i'm my own personal one way time machine, and so lately i've been working on maintenance! (carrying a few extra pounds and smoking reduce your lifespan... so no more)

anyway, when you start the 'sci-fi warped me and all i got was this lousy t-shirt' club, i'll be right there with ya. :-)

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