Alternate Timelines: Some Thoughts on the Future

I recently discovered the Science Channel’s Prophets of Science Fiction, which presents quick bi(bli)ographies of sci fi writers and compares ideas in their work to recent or coming scientific developments in a way which is entertaining if maybe a bit stretched.  I’ve watched two episodes so far, one on Philip K. Dick and one on Arthur C. Clarke (middle initials are important in sci-fi, huh?).  I was thinking to myself the other day, whenever I read political news, I feel like we’re living in a Philip K. Dick world but when I read science news, I feel like an Arthur C. Clarke world (in which the nations of the world collaborate and peacefully colonize the entire solar system save Europa) isn’t an impossibility.

I think those represent the two general strands of science fiction thought on the future:  1) Be careful or shit’s gonna be terrible; or 2) Get ready, shit’s gonna be awesome.  Actually, however, they both point at the same things.  In 2010, when HAL 9000  tells mankind to use the solar system together and use it in peace, Clarke is telling us to make that future possible.  When Dick worries about surveillance societies, he’s telling us to be on our guard against power overstepping its bounds.  Despite the Science Channel’s naming these writers prophets, they weren’t trying to predict the future, they were doing what all artists and thinkers do:  trying to create  the future. The lesson we should learn, then, is that we must try to create our future.

As an example: It seems like every day we hear more and more about things like police brutality.  Is this a growing sign of a police state?  Remember, we know about these cases because they were recorded.  There is a stress in the knowledge that we are always being watched (and it seems we are), but at least, for now, so are those who would be capable of wielding power over us.  The same surveillance technology which could control us can also protect us.

It’s been said that all times are troubled times.  Perhaps all times are also blooming with possibility.  In Schrodingerian fashion, perhaps we won’t know which future we’re in until we open the box and check on the cat.  Just remember that the observer can have an effect on the experiment.

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment