Thursday, September 15, 2011
Science Fiction and the Future
Dehydrated cherry tomatoes. Finally getting some things from the Garden!
SCIENCE FICTION AND THE FUTURE
I know many of our readers follow The Archdruid postings. I do faithfully. A few of them I considered important enough to archive into storage. John Michael Greer (the archdruid) I have great respect for. Knowledgeable, well read, studious, pays attention to details and a good writer and I seldom have serious dispute with his postings.
However, I have to take exception to his Sept. 7 post titled “Invasion of the Space Bats” that is concerned mostly with science fiction writing.
I will fully admit that I have been a big fan of science fiction writing since the late 60’s. I had a rather huge collection of paperback novels a bunch of years ago, finally got tired of moving them and sold almost all of them, comprised of nearly 1500 books. I still have around almost the complete works of Heinlein and several others of my favorite authors.
In my opinion, Greer has a rather myopic view of SF writing. He stated; “it was basically a collection of wish-fulfillment fantasies for teenage boys. (And that, Mr. de Camp, is what the woman in the brass brassiere is doing on the cover of your book.) “. Bull shit in my opinion. In fact, Greer’s belittlement of SF smacks of Ayn Rand and her condemnation of everything but classical music. I sure would hate to see Greer go in the direction of Randisms, he’d lose me in a heartbeat.
My fascination with SF up until about 1980 was the alternate views concerning how humans could organize themselves into societies and how they would work. “The wish-fulfillment fantasies” dealing with technology was entirely of secondary concern for me. I was interested in the author’s conception of how societies could be organized differently, how motivations of individuals and groups could influence actions and what the consequences might be, and how future societal values might evolve. I have a rather long list of SF books that highlight that line of thinking. Greer’s myopic view that these novels were exclusively about technology and teenage fantasies is very poor reductionism and IMO misses the author’s points by wide margins.
It is true that many SF novels focused on the author’s concept of future technology and engaged in how that technology was used. These novels usually had poor character development, pretty thin plot lines and rather predictable outcomes. I read them for the purely entertainment value. But to make Greer’s mistake of lumping them all into “wish-fulfillment fantasies” is only showing a lack of extensive investigation on his part.
I mostly stopped indulging in SF reading around 1980 or so because I observed a couple of changes going on. I got tired or reading acclaimed novels that seemed to only be concerned with the number of words being printed and paid for and had nothing significant to say. I also lost interest in the change from speculation on social organization to what I call science fantasy. These works migrated into magic and the occult and completely unbelievable futures. Purely entertainment without significant content and probably would fit into Greer’s “wish fulfillment fantasies”.
I recently had an acquaintance lay on me 4 sacks of her SF books to read. I recently went through two of the sacks and am reading only one of the novels. The rest I won’t bother with because they are those science fantasy types that IMO have nothing significant to say about anything. The person that let me borrow these book is a retired teacher and a self proclaimed SF nut and offers literary critique on a broad scale. I’m not looking forward to returning the books unread since she recommended them so highly. But I refuse to waste my time on them. The one novel I am reading is concerned with nano-technology misuse and how it affected the people involved. The author seems to have made the attempt to really understand the technology as it is today and project it into the future applications, mostly military. So far, that novel hasn’t disappointed me. I shall see how it ends up.
In talking about SF we also need to include the movie part of it. Freeacre and I have recently seen a bunch of the most wretched god awful written and produced Sf movies ever. The plots were pretty good, but everything else presenting it was so poorly done as quite literally, were not worth watching. For some reason that I don’t fully understand, the SF movies for the most part do not have much significant to say, pure entertainment alone. There are exceptions IMO. The Matrix series I think have some significant statements as does the Terminator series. “The Road” which is a pretty dark movie does project some possible scenarios into the future, as does the movie “Children of Men”. I think that “The Postman” (which is a futuristic movie and SF) also has some significant statements about humans and how they can organize and live after a huge catastrophe.
Which leads me to another subject associated with SF that I have touched on before. There is much written today and in the past concerning the past, present and future. The advice from many authors, religions and philosophy views is to live in the present. Upon examination of some of these “live in the present” positions, I have come to the conclusion that it is a fantasy game in the brain. There is no such thing as “the present” and humans that try and live there are kidding themselves. What is possible is to limit to some extent the amount lived in the past or projections into the future.
Let’s start with some definitions. The future is what might be, but is not manifested at this time and space. The past is what is remembered and has already taken place. The present is what is “now”. That is where the rub is. What is the time interval for “now”? The minute you identify “now”, it is in the past. The past and the future have no time limitations. I am going to assert that humans cannot live in that short a time span of brain activity. What are we going to talk about, milliseconds, Pico-seconds? “Now” in reality simply does not exist in any human conceptualization that has meaning. What we mostly refer to as “now” is a short time span in the past.
It is true that humans may indulge in what is called “impulse behavior” that does not have significant reflection on past memories, but, I would assert that operating primarily on impulse behavior has more negative consequences on a person than might be acknowledged. Even the “fight or flight” impulses are based on past memories.
One of the characteristics of the human brain is that it has selective memory and is most of the time very inaccurate for a variety of reason. Since the memory of the past events can never be absolutely verified we have to accept our interpretation and “memory” of events that influence our actions in the future. Living in the “now” implies that memory of the past and projections into the future can be discounted and that, my readers, is flat out impossible. It is not the way the human brain works. Even other animals operate by remembering the past, which is the basis for actions in the future. A well-trained dog remembers past commands and acts accordingly. So do all of us. .
The real question for me anyway, is how accurate are the memories and their relationship to reality. From experience, I know damned well that I have memories that are doctored, maybe even pure fantasy. How many times have friends said to you that your memory of some incident is not how it was, or that they saw it very different? Or how many times has a friend related and incident you were involved in sometime in the past and you don’t recognize it because you remember it different?
On a very rudimentary level, our very survival depends on memory of the past. That memory and the resulting consequences of some event is what keeps us alive and able to project consequences into the future. When our memory is very inaccurate most of the time and not in conjunction with reality, we probably will not survive. In my view, that is the purpose of history, inaccurate as it is, to keep us focused on what has gone on before and its implications for the future. If the history that we keep locked up in our minds is way off base in relation to reality, we will make some really bad decisions concerning future actions, much to our detriment.
I conclude that all the new age stuff about living in the “present” in the “now” is so much nonsense. It can’t be done and only diverts ones attention from what is important to human living and survival.
At this point I want to thank all of you that have offered opinions concerning this blog and its continuance. That the comments were so predominately encouraging and supportive took me a bit by surprise. It truly felt to me that the blog was becoming stale without much new to talk about. We are not about to disconnect from this blog in the immediate future, and maybe we just need a few people to make contributions with some fresh insights we haven’t thought of. Belgium says he has some in the works. Let’s see how this progresses.
Thanks again to all of you.