One last post tonight and then I must either go to bed or work on writing a routine to solve complex-valued Hamiltonian matrices.
When I teach SF and science, I find it more instructive to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. For anyone who is interested, I will just give here links to my extensive lecture notes:
General set of lectures:
On definitions on science fiction
On the use of science in science fiction
The summary: science is not simply rhetoric, no matter what the postmodernists would have us believe. Science in fact distrusts logic and rhetoric, because you can use logic to "prove" that witches burn because they are made of wood and you can determine if a woman is made of wood by seeing if she weighs the same as duck. Instead, science is based upon repeatable experiment and observation that anyone, in principle, can replicate.
SF is, however, wholly rhetorical. So even if SF simulates science, it is not real science, because SF works by analogy, or extrapolation, or a variety of other rhetorical strategies. SF lacks that key hallmark of science: an experiment or observation repeatable by neutral parties. So, by its very nature, the science in SF is merely a simulacrum, and usually a poor one.
I find the "science" ideas in SF to generally be shallow and unoriginal. (There are occasional exceptions, but rare.) More interesting are the narratives about
science. Here are some examples:
Scientific discovery is a heavy responsibility that can have negative consequences.
The Time Machine
: in the end, all of our science and technology comes to nought; our economic system will just eat us alive, literally.
Woody Allen's Sleeper
: all ideas are eventually overturned: in the future people will think tobacco is the most healthy substance. (I once heard this argument used, though not quoting Sleeper, as an argument against evolution.)
: be wary of seeing the world through a single technological lens, here genetic engineering.
A few SF novels do actually tackle philosophy relevant to science. For example, both Benford Timescape
and LeGuin's The Dispossessed
reject quantum mechanics in an attempt to assert that pain and struggle in life are not meaningless. Conversely, Dick's The Man in the High Castle
views life and history as a set of quasi-random events, very much like modern quantum mechanics.
The level of verisimulitude needed for a story depends on the narrative about science. If the SF is merely an excuse for an exotic setting. .e.g Star Wars, then technobabble reigns. If, on the other hand, one is quarreling with the philosophical implications of the statistical nature of quantum mechanics, it helps to get your science as real as possible. Benford does the science better than LeGuin, although LeGuin has more compelling and more vividly drawn characters. (One important difference: Benford is careful to illustrate the importance of experimental confirmation, while LeGuin leaves it out altogether.)
I'll finish with the basic slogan from my class:
Science is not mythology, but it is often treated by the public at large as if it were
mythology. Science Fiction then is the literature that deals directly with science as a mythic language.