Friday, April 27, 2012

Science Fiction, Science, and Inspiration

In the sixth grade, I read my first science fiction novel: Isaac Asimov's Foundation. From that moment, I was hooked.

These days, I make a decent chunk of my living writing about science and a less decent chunk of it writing about science fiction and related popular culture topics.

In that regard, consider my most recent publication, an essay in the collection The Big Bang Theory and Philosophy: Rock, Paper, Scissors, Aristotle, Locke (Amazon, B&N). I had a great time with this essay, which explores the differences between experimental and theoretical science, especially as it relates to the search for a workable theory of quantum gravity, such as the one that pushes Sheldon Cooper to study string theory.

The actual scientists who work at the frontier of discovery are typically inspired on this path in some way. In talking to, listening to, and studying these bold pioneers of the future, I've discovered that most of them were inspired by the same sort of science fiction which inspired me as a young man.

When the PBS NOVA blog The Nature of Reality asked me to write an article for their "Thought Experiments" column, I jumped at the chance. In the article, "Writing a Bold Future, Together," I discuss how science fiction inspires scientists (and vice versa). The article went live yesterday, so check it out and let me know what you think. Does it inspire you?

Speaking of inspiration ... one question that I'm sometimes asked is whether we'll ever know everything in science. I think that's highly unlikely, even though it is sort of the goal of theoretical physicists like The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper. (Emphasis on the "sort of.")

As I pointed out in a recent About.com Physics post on the end of science, the current understanding of science - the standard model of quantum physics - really can only account for about 4% of the universe. The other 96% is made up of mysterious dark matter and dark energy, which we do not understand at all!

So for those who are concerned that someone like Sheldon Cooper will usher in an era where there's nothing left to the imagination, don't worry ... there'll still be plenty of empty gaps for science fiction authors to exploit.
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