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Itís Not Nice To Fool Mother Nature {But It's Fun To Try}

by

Jim Gardner



My Quantum Muse colleague, “tobiash,” after reading an early version of this essay critiqued in part: “Science deals with facts and precision, fiction deals with imagination and is unencumbered by any restraints. {But} it is best to have at least one foot in reality.” Touching many Sci-Fi themes one after the other casts the reader into a mental “hopping around.” Read each paragraph as separate but maybe not so equal after all.
 
Do you remember that The Supreme Court of the United States “struck down” “Separate but equal?” Comeback from wherever “Separate but equal” may have sent your mind; perhaps to The Supreme Court in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education. How was your first hop?
 
Mentally return to the main point and theme after each excursion: When writing use your literary freedom to entertain and inform and don’t leave your readers unpleasantly confused. Wonder is good.
 
 “In The Time Machine, Dune, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Left Hand of Darkness, and countless others the authors have taken a step forward in time or into fantasy for something “special.” This defines, indeed is the genre of Science Fiction. When writing Sci-Fi, “One Step Beyond is: expected, desired, and looked forward to. Truth, invention, and even downright lies can be used to great success by the Sci-Fi writer.
 
Jules Verne’s submarine, H.G. Wells’ time machine, and Arthur C. Clarke’s mysterious, obviously artificial, object buried beneath the lunar surface in The Sentinel [Movie version 2001 A Space Odyssey] exemplify the technological side of Science Fiction. They’re the mainstay of the tales “from wince they come;” The unreachable “science” part of their science fiction. 
 
The super powerful submarine now exists and, the intelligent computer H.A.L. 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey is a shorter ‘step’ to fruition than once thought. The fiction part of sci-fi can be a fun place too because some truly impossible ideas can be as useful as a mad scientist and his comely assistant Igor-ette. Oh, you’ve got a lady mad scientist? Well maybe a comely Igor is needed.
 
As you read you might discern a pattern: science and then fiction, fiction and impossibility, science and then fiction etc. This essay is purposely episodic as well. As reader and potential or current writer you are invited to use any of the themes presented for your own essay, short story, or novel.   
 
Another “hop:” If a person doesn't get enough water, they die; period. Drinking too much water is lethal as well. Much of the conflict in the Sci-fi novel DUNE involves getting and having water and control of The Spice. The concept of some normal person being "water fat" is a medical impossibility. But this unknown-to-medical-science totally fictional condition is a mainstay of the class conflict created by Hebert for Dune, the planet, in Dune, the book. Anyone interested in Science Fiction will enjoy reading DUNE by Frank Hebert and its unlikely, improbable, and impossible conditions.
 
Same theme different example: Another medically impossible but fictionally functional concept is used successfully in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS, a 1969 science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin.  Uni-sex people [a whole planet full] have periodic sexual cycles that enable a person sexually and temporarily to procreate as male or female; next time around he or she [It?] may be the other gender.
 
Two siblings could have the same parents but a different mom and dad.  A whole race of people, who experience: manhood, womanhood, and personhood, encourage the reader to consider his or her own person-ness apart from their “sex-hood.” Many readers enjoy like it when an author “She makes me think.”  Le Guin makes me think. Her THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS is a sci-fi must read.
 
Some ideas, points of view, or “deep thoughts” actually have no merit and should be ignored; in a few cases fought. But even silly or untrue statements might make a good “stepping off point” in a Fantasy or Science Fiction tale. And even though “completely correct” is superior to “mostly correct” in life and Science, if it's a plot device, “not even correct” can be useful.
 
A “hop” into reaity: “It is never good science to ignore anomalous data or to eliminate a conclusion because of some presupposition.” [Barry Setterfield] But Setterfield is a Scientist. Most sci-fi writers aren’t.
 
Sir Henry Dale, one-time President of the Royal Society of London, made an important comment in his retirement speech: "Science should not tolerate any lapse of precision, or neglect any anomaly, but give Nature's answers to the world humbly and with courage."
 
[Setterfield comments] “To do so may not place one in the mainstream of modern science, but at least we will be searching for truth and moving ahead rather than maintaining the scientific status quo.” Quote from Barry Setterfield {http://www.setterfield.org/}
 
One or more of these lapses and neglects or even outright distortions and lies could become the core of your next Sci-Fi epic. Real life technology sometimes stumbles. The Hubble Telescope as originally launched didn’t perform normally. Its only on-the-ground functional test involved some slightly damaged test equipment [a pin prick sized hole] that necessitated an in orbit fix before it could function as designed.
 
All mathematics are collections of definitions; discoveries of visible, obvious, and not so obvious facts. Four pebbles on a mini-beach next to a creek remain four pebbles if never counted by mankind or animal-kind.
 
“X times X plus Y times Y equals four,” is a circle with a radius of four whether it is realized or not, whether it is believed or not, and whether “four,” “X,” or “Y,” are defined or not. But what if it didn’t?
 
 Johannes Kepler {1571-1630} discovered mathematical formulae that accurately predict planetary positioning thus making space flight “navigationally” possible. But working out the problems with paper, pen, and mind was so time consuming that he wasn’t able to assemble enough data to prove his hypothesis; namely: The Star of Bethlehem was a series of planetary conjunctions. But NASA still uses his formulae with computers doing the pencil and paper work.
 
Math based sci-fi scenario: What if some mathematician’s work from 1601 showed that planets “jumped around” every 2300 years or so and we’re overdue. A rock carving discovered in rock strata containing dinosaur fossils has the same mathematical “proofs” on it. Move over Global Warming 6th dimensional speed bump coming through.
 
Philosophy based sci-fi scenario: The Buddhist quote, “the thunderous applause of one hand clapping,” if not a sarcastic remark referring to the “snap” caused by rapidly ‘making a fist,” is just silly and not deep and mysterious at all. But what if, it referred to vibrating the Zero Point Energy Field by hand?
 
Math based sci-fi scenario: The area of the surface of a sphere equals four times Pi times its radius squared.  [Who cares? I mean; why should I care?] It’s a “set up” for: Irregular solid shapes can be defined using calculus. The shape of the F-22 Raptor fighter plane was determined mathematically before it was built. Mathematics is useful and cheaper than "building it first." There is no “un-math.” But what if a shape was discovered mathematically that should cause an airplane to enter another dimension?
 
Many philosophies “eliminate some conclusions because of presupposition.” My thought is that all of Creation, even The Zero Point Energy Field itself, can be described using math. “Un-Math” remains an empty “un-philosophy,” BUT could be used in Sci-fi perhaps by some villain or in serious research that causes; what? Figure that out and the tale is written except for the typing. What if the search for “un-math” enabled a concept to enter another time stream?  
 
Joke based sci-fi scenario: From time to time engineers draw things that are square on one end and round on the other, where the same lines that depict a space on the left part of the drawing show a solid on the right, a good visual joke but an impossible build. But just what would a time, space, or energy warp resemble graphically?
 
Back to math: The study of mathematics is discovery; as is its history. To say that human progress is being held back by some clique of master mathematicians is to not understand the basics of counting, adding etc. Even so what if someone in a position of intellectual authority decided to alter the value of a mathematical constant? There is actually data to suggest that the speed of light is slowing but it’s still considered a mathematical constant. Is a math conspiracy theory based sci-fi novel beginning to form in your head?
 
"Science should not tolerate any lapse of precision, or neglect any anomaly, but give Nature's answers to the world humbly and with courage." Yes, the Universe is large, but every observed portion of it obeys the same scientific laws; except when a Sci-fi writer starts typing.
 
 “Mother Nature?” is a personification of visible scientific law: birds fly, bees sting and The Sun Also Rises which is the title of a 1926 novel written by American author Ernest Hemingway.
 
Quantum Mechanics notwithstanding, the Truth has a way of sticking around, because it’s really there somewhere.
 
Quantum Mechanics deals with the mathematical description of the motion and interaction of subatomic particles, [stuff so small that the force created by a light beam changes its location.]
 
Happy lapses and happy quirky story twists.

2016-04-10 10:34:20
Thanks Jim for this thought-invoking editorial. Great reading, interesting!





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