Monday, January 31, 2011

Keeping the Mystery Alive

As a science fiction writer I often think about science. That’s something of a no-brainer. I’ve always felt that science has suffered from bad PR. I’ve mentioned it here before. If the sciences had the popularity of the arts, they might be able to pull off some of the amazing things we science fiction writers watch the headlines anxiously looking for—like hover cars.

I’m still a bit sore about the lack of hover cars.

I mean there was a time when scientists were rock stars. At least, that’s what I hear. Einstein had quite the following. Of course, there was a time a bit earlier than that when scientists were considered complete fringe weirdoes too. When the sum of scientific knowledge was treated something like a gypsy’s understanding of the tarot--looked on with suspicion at best. (It’s ROUND? What are you smoking?) But then, once we sorted out that they were on to something, they got some respect. Science got some respect. Things were good. Inventions and discoveries were rampant. And the world was on pins and needles. What will they come up with next?

I’m not sure if we just got jaded, or if they got a little too cocky, but sometime after that science suffered from a sudden and devastating lack of interest. We felt like we’d pretty much figured everything out. We could explain everything. We knew everything. I suspect science encouraged this attitude a bit, but I could be wrong.
The sciences and the world suffered from an attitude that said, there really isn’t anything amazing left to discover. They killed the mystery. They drained away all the suspense, and what happened? Everyone turned the channel. They picked up a different book, one with a surprise ending.

But something cool is happening again isn’t it? It started with a little thing called Quantum Physics.

People know about Quantum Physics. They talk about it--people who aren’t scientists or science fiction writers. String theory, (while maybe a little flash back to the gypsy fringe) is becoming a subject of conversation and debate outside of the university or laboratory. Michio Kaku, is cool. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Not even close.

I think it’s because Quantum Physics stood up and said, uh, we don’t know anything about the way things work. Anything is possible, and who the heck knows what we’ll work out next. They brought back the mystery, the suspense. String Theory is the Steven King of science. How many dimensions are possible today?

I hope it keeps going. I hope the next generation is so fired up about the possibilities that they dive into science and we take a huge innovative leap forward. I hope we get interested en masse, but I think to do it, we need to keep that adventurous, anything can happen attitude. I think, to keep the viewer’s attention, we need mystery more than mastery. To keep them reading, to keep them watching, there has to be at least the potential for a surprise ending.

If I told you all the secrets on page one, would you keep turning pages?

...and in honor of Moth's release tomorrow, here's a random fairy. Don't let it get you!

~ Frances

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