If God Created Everything, Who Created God?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Do we still ask the same philosophical questions at 60 that we did at 6?

Many youngsters will ask their mom who created the world, and when they are told God, the smart alack kids will ask, “Who created God?” Because of this who created the creator problem I always wondered as a kid why wasn’t there nothing. I kept trying to imagine a void without time or space ever starting anything. This caused a lot of philosophical agony in my little kid self. To put my mind to rest, I concluded that nothing can’t exist, and reality is everything that can be, because if nothing could have existed, nothing would have existed. That was my best solution to that philosophical conundrum.

Science had another solution – The Big Bang – which on the surface seemed a clever explanation to the origin of everything, but we still have to ask where that original singularity came from. Now that we’re exploring the idea of a multiverse, we’re back to how was the multiverse created. Philosophically, we’re no better off than it’s turtles all the way down.

As I got older, I encountered another impossible question – “How can bad things happen to good people?” I eventually solved that one by accepting the theory of evolution. Evolution is indifferent to our suffering. We can’t take it personally. Bad things happen by chance.

There are a lot of impossible questions out there that torment little kids. With countless religions how can one be right and the rest wrong? If God is all powerful why can’t he make his message obvious? If God is all powerful why does Satan exist? One of my solutions to that last one is Satan doesn’t exist, but is the illusion created by false ideas about God. Of course, that creates another impossible question – if all gods are Satan but one, which is the real God. And if God is all power why are there so many illusions?

Is it any wonder that I became an atheist by the eighth grade? As a kid I wanted to know the answers to those impossible questions. One problem with atheism was I’d never know. I use to fantasized that dying would grant me answers. I imagined being told the answers to all my agonizing questions before being shown the door to oblivion.

Now that I’m older I feel like I’ve found all the answers, and I know the reality of reality. Of course I don’t, but like religious people, I’m just going to assume I have. It’s easier that way. In case your curious, here are my answers.

I use the word reality to describe the whole shebang. The universe has gotten too small to encompass everything. Reality has always existed, and will always exist. It’s infinite in all directions. Humans are infinitely small, but there’s an infinity of things smaller than us, and an infinity of bigger things. There’s no edge, either expanding larger, or shrinking smaller. Time had no beginning or no end. We exist on the Earth by accident of cosmological and biological evolution. Humans will exist on this planet until we go extinct or the Earth is destroyed. Reality will continue without us. As individuals we are conscious of being in reality, but that awareness expires when we die. Ideas about gods were invented by earlier humans to explain reality but now that we see more of reality those explanations no longer work. There is no intelligent designer. There is no creator. We don’t have ask who created God because there is no God. We don’t have to wonder about good and evil because there is no good or evil. We exist. There is no why.

Some people answer childhood questions by accepting religion. I don’t think I had the religious gene, so I answered them differently. But does it matter.

My bit of personal philosophy does explain why I’m so concerned with climate change. Humans exist on Earth by accident, and are aware of reality by accident, but if we want to continue to exist we need to preserve the Earth. The reality of reality is we will exist as long as we do, and then reality will continue without us. It’s not personal. It is personal to want to stay alive, and it is personal to want your species not to expire. And although reality is indifferent to our desires, it is also indifferent to us making something of ourselves. We can do whatever we want within the limits of reality.

A human can push life for about a century if they are lucky. Humanity could push existence for billions of years. It’s only a matter if we choose to do so, otherwise the odds of reality are against us. Nothing in reality has everlasting life except reality. As a being aware of reality, I dislike the idea of nonexistence but that’s part of reality. I wonder how many other beings in far flung reality are aware of its existence. It seems tragic that as a race of reality aware beings would let ourselves go extinct. If we do, that’s how reality works. If we don’t, that’s how reality works too.

I no longer suffer impossible philosophical questions. I enjoy existence and study reality. The only thing that makes me suffer is my declining health and my species insanity to each other and how we’re collectively committing species suicide. It’s a comfort to know it’s not personal. From Buddhism, I know my suffering is caused by attachment and desire. A modern Buddha would now say suffering is caused by trying to control reality.

But reality allows that too. We are aware of reality, and we can shape it to the extent of our powers, and the cost is suffering the effort and desire.

Now that I’m in my sixties, I’ve stopped asking such questions. Along the way I found some answers I can live with.

JWH

What Are The Most Useful Concepts You’ve Learned From Science Fiction?

By James Wallace Harris, Monday, June 1, 2015

Science fiction has always thrilled me with far out ideas, giving me a life-long sense of wonder. Science fiction constantly reminds me that reality is immense and my everyday life is just one limited view. For the most part, science fiction has been entertainment, yet, I often find myself solving problems in everyday life by applying a concept acquired from my reading.

I’ve been reading SF for over fifty years, and it has programmed my thinking just as much as any Bible thumper has been influenced by their good book. Science fiction has tinted my view of reality, even though I know most of its ideas are far from scientific. When I was young science fiction fueled my hopes for the future, but now that I’m old, I’m curious what useful knowledge I actually acquired from this genre I love so much. For example, when I look back on high school, I see that a six-weeks typing course helped me get more jobs than anything else I studied. Now, I wonder if I found anything in science fiction that has been equally useful.

My favorite science fiction growing up was Heinlein’s twelve juvenile novels he wrote for Charles Scribner’s Sons.  Heinlein worked to teach his youthful readers to prepare for the future by studying math and science. Yet, when I look deeper, I got my best lessons about reality from two stories from Samuel R. Delany, the short novel Empire Star and the novella, “The Star Pit.”

Empire-Star---Samuel-Delany

Delany taught me three useful concepts in these two stories. I’ve expanded them with my own interpretation, as all readers do. But I credit Delany with presenting me with these three philosophical observations:

  • People think in three modes: simplex, complex and multiplex
  • No matter how original you feel you will always meet people who have already discovered everything you did
  • We all live within barriers we can’t escape, like fish in an aquarium, and we’ll always meet other people who can go beyond our barriers

In Empire Star, a boy, Comet Jo, from a backwater moon is thrust into a galaxy spanning adventure. Before he leaves home, he is warned that he has a simplex mind, and once he goes into space he will encounter complex and multiplex thinking. I was a young teen when I first read this story, so I was in a transition phase between what my parents taught me and learning to think for myself. This was the 1960s, and so it was a very complex time. We like to assume we’re all working from the same page, have equal thinking ability, and the standards by which we judge reality are the same standards by which other people see the same reality.

Simplex thinkers believe everyone should convert to their way of seeing things. Complex thinkers understand reality is very complicated, and there’s a certain amount of negotiating and compromise involved with coexisting in reality. Multiplex thinkers often let simplex and complex thinkers be themselves, and work around them. Take for instance religion. Fundamentalists are simplex, ecumenical believers are complex, and our Founding Fathers were multiplex.

Ever since reading Empire Star I always ask myself if the person I’m trying to communicate with is coming from a simplex, complex or multiplex thought process. It does no good to use complex or multiplex logic on a simplex thinker. And it’s all relative. If we ever encounter an alien civilization, no matter how much commonality we can find, our parochial humanness will make our initial approach to them simplex. We’ll have to progress through stages that involve complex and multiplex thinking.

When dealing with individuals or cultures, using this concept will help understand various social realities. People can be simplex, complex and multiplex simultaneously on different beliefs. Just watch the news. People who refuse to negotiate are coming from a simplex take on reality. Willingness to bend reflects an understanding of others. Multiplex thinkers will come up with King Solomon like solutions that can satisfy both simplex and complex thinkers.

Comet Jo begins his travels feeling everything he discovers is unique to him. He feels special. Then he meets Ni Ty Lee who has done everything Comet Jo has, and even has the ability to predict what he will experience. This shatters Comet Jo’s ego. I’ve always wondered if Delany was a child prodigy who wrote this after meeting older child prodigies.

Finally, in “The Star Pit” we meet Vyme, a man with a long tragic past who owns a starship garage out on the edge of the galaxy. In this story, humans have discovered that travel between the galaxies is impossible except for a very few people who have a special psychological makeup. They get labeled The Golden. Vyme takes in a street kid named Ratlit who hates he’s not Golden. Between the two characters we learn how each discover the limits of their aquarium, and how they learn to deal with the barriers in their life. I’ve written about his before – “The Limits of Limitations.”

The older I get, the more I realize that humanity is probably confined to living on Earth. And for the most part, we each evolve through the same stages as those who came before us, and like King Solomon observed, there’s nothing new under the sun. Finally, nearly all our conflicts are due to the failure of simplex, complex and multiplex thinkers not being able to communicate. I’ve often wondered if simplex and complex beings are two different species, and Homo Sapiens have already forked, and we’re already seeing signs of Humans 3.0.

Yet, I still have hope because of one concept I got from a science fiction movie written by Robert A. Heinlein.

Destination-Moon-Poster

When the astronauts in Destination Moon discover they don’t have enough fuel to return to Earth after making the first Moon landing, their solution is to throw out enough mass to make their rocket light enough to match their fuel. Throughout life I’ve had moments where I couldn’t take off, and I realized that I needed to jettison the extra weight. Now that I’ve gotten older, and my body isn’t as energetic as it was, I’m learning to get further in my social security years, I need to throw out the past, all that extra mass is holding me down.

If humanity is ever to take off it will have to jettison a lot of mass from its past. To reach the next stage, whether Humanity 2.0 or 3.0, we need to give up religion and most of philosophy. Their mass keeps us from launching. Even on an individual level, I realize I have my own mental baggage that weighs me down. Much of it comes from reading science fiction.

Learning that I have limited mental fuel offers all kinds of philosophical parallels to rocket travel and Newton’s famous laws. And it’s not just energy, but cognitive ability. We all love the idea we have unlimited potential, but we don’t. Science fiction taught me that too.

Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar came out in 1968, and was about the world of 2010. I read it in 1968, and I’ve lived through 2010. We can never know the future, but some science fiction writers can make us seriously think about the possibilities. I remember being a kid reading this book and horrified at the terrorism that takes place in the story. I wasn’t savvy enough then to know that terrorism is common in all times, or that in 1970 there would be over 450 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Since 2000, there’s been less than 50 a year. What science fiction teaches us is to understand our fears, even when it’s wrong.

To value science fiction I also need to know its limitations.

Stand on Zanzibar and Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! scared me into thinking the future would be an overpopulated nightmare. What’s funny, our world is suffering horribly from overpopulation, but not how science fiction imagined. Science fiction failed to see climate change and the Internet. It also failed to see we’d never leave low Earth Orbit for 43 years. Nor did it imagine The Hubble Telescope and renaissance in astronomy.

It’s strange to credit science fiction being a success for failing to predict, but that’s also a valuable lesson.

The Long Tomorrow - Leigh BrackettOn the Beach - Nevil ShuteAlas Babylong - Pat Frank

The real question we should ask: Does science fiction warn us away from following paths into bad futures? Did all those 1950s books about nuclear war keep us from blowing ourselves up? Or is it just another case of science fiction being bad at predicting the future? I’d like to think science fiction made us wiser in this case. I can’t help but believe Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great lesson in how not to govern. Yet, if you study how Republicans use rhetorical trickery to dispute science, you can’t help but wonder if Orwell’s story isn’t coming true. Dystopias are handbooks on how to avoid certain futures.

Using multiplex thinking science fiction can predict and fail to predict the future and still be a success. It’s much too simplex to assume a specific future will come to pass. It’s complex to think we should look at all the possibilities. It’s multiplex thinking to perceive how science fiction is both wrong and right at the same time.

— If you have the time, post a reply about how science fiction has been useful to you. —

JWH

Asking Who, What, When, Where, Why and How About Ourselves

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, February 5, 2015

Most people are too busy with life for self-examination. In youth we have family and school, in adolescence and our twenties we have the biological imperative to get laid and complete a bachelor’s degree, then comes jobs, marriage and kids. Often, it’s not until we retire that we have the time to think about who and what we are, when and where were going, and why and how. Now that I’ve been retired over a year, and have had the time to contemplate these questions, I’m starting to see things differently.

Quite often in life when we meet a new person, we’re asked what we do. I always said programmer. It was an easy answer. Now that I’m retired I can’t say that anymore. I now tell people I’m retired. That’s an easy answer too, but not a good one. When we’re young we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up. When we’re in college we’re asked about our major. But once we get a job, our work defines who we are for decades. Our job description answers who, what, when, where, why and how. But it’s not a good answer.

earth-in-space

Some people like to define who they are by their philosophy. They will say they are Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Republican, Liberal, Vegan, and so on. And like our job label, this is an easy pigeonhole to categorize oneself for others. Yet, when you have all your time free, with no external agency defining who you are, it gets a lot more difficult to answer who, what, when, where, why and how about our personal identity

If you study reality enough you’ll learn that no God defines our purpose , and the multiverse is indifferent to what we choose to be. We literally have the free will to do what we want – if we can throw off our biological impulses. Most of us follow those inner urges to find companionship, sex, social relationships, food, conflict, pleasure, and other bodily cravings. If you can step back from those bio-programs you’ll see your bigger potential. The trouble most people face is the angst of deciding. It’s much easier to hide out from fulfilling our potential by watching television, reading books or eating Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk.

At a very basic level, what we do every day answers who, what, when, where, why and how. At the moment I can say I am a blogger, that is writing this essay at 7:41am CST, 2/5/15  in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way, Local Group, Virgo Supercluster, Universe, Multiverse that’s about the philosophical anxiety I’m feeling over what to do with my free time, using Windows Live Writer for WordPress.

Generally we consume our time with family, friends and routines of life, so we don’t think about our existential opportunities. We’re like the animals – amoeba, penguins, rattlesnakes, naked mole rats, bonobos – and focus on business at hand. Our activities keep us from  noticing the huge reality we live in. It’s only when we stop the routines that we notice how far out things truly are. Sometimes visionary writers and artists will remind us, but not that often.

Being self-aware in this vast reality is a tremendous piece of luck. The odds are beyond winning a thousand $300 million sweepstake tickets in a row. It’s a tragedy that we ignore reality. On the other hand, paying attention is the hardest thing we can do.

JWH

The Insulting Parts of Interstellar

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This is not a review of Interstellar. The film is thrilling, emotional and big fun. Go see it. It has some astounding special effects and amazing sense of wonder concepts.

No, what I want to write about is the philosophical implications of the science fiction as presented in Interstellar. The film makes a great touchstone to contemplate the nature of science fiction. Science fiction reflects our collective ambitions about exploring reality and the future of mankind. At the deepest level of desire, science fiction fans want to travel into space, especially to the stars and other worlds. Interstellar even travels to other galaxies, something seldom seen even in the most ambitious science fiction stories.

interstellar_poster_0

Science fiction also reflects our desire to control reality, and sees us as the master of our own fate. Science fiction is a rejection of the metaphysical, which believes humans are the minions of divine beings. Science fiction is hubris at its best (or worse, depending on your belief in God). Science fiction is the ultimate expression of human powered evolution.

The trouble with science fiction is most of humanity doesn’t buy into the dream, they prefer metaphysical fantasies. In Interstellar, NASA is a forgotten aspect of the government, and schools teach that the Moon landings were faked. The movie suggests that the human race gave up on the idea of the final frontier, and that it’s not until humanity is about to become extinct that we finally discover our next stage of evolution is to travel to the stars.

I thoroughly enjoyed Interstellar as an entertaining movie, but some of its philosophical implications rankled me. It suggests that humans are destined to use up the Earth, and when we do, abandon it like an old computer sent to the landfill. The movie makers suggest the savior for our species is to travel to the stars with the help of higher dimensional beings. That smacks of guardian angels to me.

I want humans to travel the stars, but not because we selfishly used up our planet. Besides, I want to colonize space now, and we need to find real reasons to do so. Positive reasons.

In the film, no one campaigns to save the Earth. The conflict is between our descendants who endure our legacy, and those who want to run away. That idea sucks big time. I’m sure the movie makers thought it was just an easy justification for the plot, but I find it offensive. Yet, their attitude is not uncommon. Republicans pretend our sins of self-destruction aren’t ours, while the Democrats are perfectly willing to accept we’re to blame, yet do nothing to stop us from destroying ourselves.

Interstellar sees Earthly humanity expiring and says, “Let’s go to the stars” to start over. Now, here is where I get into spoilers by explaining how we’re saved. One part of the solution involves New Age mumbo-jumbo, and the other part involves 1930s style super-science mumbo-jumbo, the kind found in books by E. E. “Doc” Smith. Neither solution will save us, nor are they philosophically appealing. They each say we need the help of higher powers. Bullshit.

We already know the science to save our planet – we choose not to. Abandoning Earth for the lifeboats is not an ethical solution. It’s about as noble as the Republican’s head in the sand plea of denial, or the Democrats mea culpa “The buck stops here but I ain’t going to do anything about it because the Republicans won’t play fair” whine.

I also find it offensive that the story in Interstellar suggests we need the help of super-beings. That’s one reason I don’t like religion – it shirks responsibility. We don’t need some divine daddy or fifth dimension super being to save us. If we can’t save ourselves then we deserve to go extinct. The movie cops out on its cop out, but I don’t like it’s philosophical solution either.

To me, the science fiction in Interstellar wimps out. Real, hard-core, science fiction is about humanity pulling itself up by its own bootstraps, using real science we discovered. To a degree the movie does that, and that’s exciting, but the ending of Interstellar is much like the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I also found philosophical insulting. Arthur C. Clarke in his two most famous stories, 2001 and Childhood’s End suggests we need outside help getting to the next stage of existence, and that help involves superpowers that are damn close to metaphysical. I find that really distasteful.

I’m a believer in evolution, which doesn’t allow for outside helping hands. You either climb up out of the slime on your own, or you go extinct.

Colonizing space or traveling to the stars is a great ambition, but we need to go on under our own steam, and after we become good caretakers of the Earth. I think if we’re going to destroy everything we touch I imagine our alien neighbors, higher dimensional beings and the gods would prefer we just stay home.

JWH

The Eternal Now and Time Travel

This morning while taking a shower I began thinking about now.  Here I was, a naked 62 year old male, in a 1950s pink tile room, wondering what was going on concurrently in the rest of reality as I soaped up.  My wife would be just getting to work in her office in Birmingham.   1.3 light seconds away, events are happening on the Moon, several light minutes away Mars and the Sun are doing their thing, stuff is also happening around Alpha Centauri, four and half light years away, then 2,538,000 light years away the Andromeda galaxy is speeding towards our galaxy, and who knows how many billions of light years is the edge or the universe, or what’s beyond and how far it extends. 

Everywhere there is something happening, as I take my shower.  We’re all in an eternal now.

I try to imagine Einstein’s space-time concept and how it might affect things.  But to me, it seems logical to think there is a universal now that happens everywhere, even into adjacent universes in the multiverse, or even adjacent multiverses.  Could there ever be two nows?  Or multiple nows?  Isn’t death just losing touch with the now?  And didn’t the eternal now exist even before I existed?  Isn’t consciousness tuning into the now?

As as science fiction fan I love the concept of time travel, but isn’t time travel the attempt to go to another now?  If there is only one eternal now, then that will be impossible.  We see artifacts of the past, and anticipate the future, so we assume both places exist – but do they?  When we see the Andromeda galaxy in the sky, we’re seeing what it looked like 2,538,000 years ago.  It’s actually much closer.

Recently scientists created a computer simulation of the universe.  I wonder if it’s how it looks in the eternal now, or how we see through timed artifacts?  Everything we perceive about reality is time delayed.  We aren’t looking out our eyes, but at reprocessed information, so there’s a slight delay.  If I talk to my friend Connell in Miami, a thousand miles away, there’s a slight delay in the phone signals.  The eternal now is everywhere, but we experience it inside our heads, and all that input about reality is delayed.  The visual field I see in front of me as I type is a tiny fraction of a second late from the eternal now.

The theory of an all powerful, all knowing God is quite interesting to think about regarding the eternal now.  If God is not limited by the speed of light, God would see everything at once in the eternal now.  But would this deity also see the past and future all at once too?  Or does God inhabit the moment like everyone and everything else?  It’s hard for me to believe in God knowing how big reality is, especially if the eternal now has always existed, and will always continue to exist.  Infinity is such a mind-bashing number.

We often ask when did time start, and when does it end.  And we often imagine the beginning of space and matter.  But do we ever wonder about the origin of the eternal now?  If there was only one Big Bang moment, then that was the beginning of time, space and now, but it’s starting to look like there wasn’t just one Big Bang.  No matter how many universes there might be, won’t there only be just one eternal now?  Isn’t it the same now here as it is fifty-five universes over from ours?

I think we’re hung up on birth and death, beginnings and endings, because we have one of each, but maybe reality and the eternal now doesn’t.  As a kid I wondered who made God like other kids, and why wasn’t there nothing.  How could existence start at all.  My conclusion?  That non-existence nothing can’t exist.  That it’s impossible.  If it could, it would have, but since it didn’t, it can’t.  It hurts our heads to comprehend why non-existence isn’t so.  Logic tells us there should have been an origin.  Our minds can’t get beyond cause and effect.  We know nothing lasts forever, but maybe one thing does, the eternal now.

We spend our lives pursuing religion, philosophy and science trying to understand the origins of existence, but in the end the answer is always beyond our small brains to comprehend.  And even if we built an AI Mind the size of Jupiter, would it be large enough to know?  Even if God existed, would God know?  Would not a being that could comprehend all of reality have to ask:  Where did I come from?  How did I get here?  Doesn’t any being asking the ultimate ontological question end up with “It’s turtles all the way down!”

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The Hindu tell us to “Be Here Now” – but where else could we go?

JWH – 5/9/14

The Two Faces of Science Fiction

Science fiction has always had two different faces that confounds efforts to define it in a distinct manner.  Science fiction first evolved as a literary branch of philosophical speculation which produced stories, often crudely told, about possible inventions, speculation about distant worlds and their inhabitants, and extrapolation about the future.  Speculative science fiction is pretty much based on “What if?”  Writers could imagine the impact of change, or wonder about unexplored areas of reality.  Eventually, some of this speculative science fiction produced concepts that became popular, generating global memes, and then other writers wrote adventure science fiction using these concepts as if they were religious icons.  Often adventure science fiction based on original speculative ideas have no new speculation on their own.  A spaceship is just a spaceship, and alien is just an alien.

Think of H. G. Wells two most famous stories, The Time Machine, and War of the Worlds.  In the late Victorian age they were both highly philosophical speculations.  Then Edgar Rice Burroughs comes along and turns Mars into a romantic adventure destination that had no relation to reality.  A modern comparison is to The War of the Worlds and the film Independence Day, which has little or no speculation.  It’s all adventurous fun.

war_of_the_worlds_battleship_w1
area51-independence-day-attack

Another good example is Star Trek and Star Wars.  All fiction needs some action, so Star Trek was given a wagon train to the stars framework, but many episodes were built around various kinds of speculation.  Star Wars on the other hand plays homage to the galactic empire of The Foundation series, while cherishing the fun of Saturday afternoon serials inspired by Planet Stories types of adventures.  As hard as I try, I can’t think of one bit of speculative science fiction in all of Star Wars.  That’s not a criticism, but a way of defining Star Wars as the ultimate example of adventure science fiction.

DataTNG
C3P0

Think of how many episodes of ST:TNG where the plot was written around speculation about Data’s body, mind and abilities.  In Star Wars, C-3P0 is a very interesting character, with lots of personality traits, but there’s no speculation about his scientific origins – he’s just a colorful character in an adventure story.  Star Wars offers no lessons in artificial intelligence.  For the most part, Data is mainly used as a stock character for adventures too, but sometimes Star Trek did speculate.  In Isaac Asimov’s early robot stories he spent more time speculating, in his later ones, especially the novels, he spent more time using robots as characters having adventures.

Modern science fiction tends to be mostly adventure based.  When H. G. Wells started writing, few writers had explored many science fictional concepts, so Wells appeared to be a genius inventing science fictional idea after another.  Up until the 1960s, science fiction writers churned out speculative science fiction because there was plenty of undiscovered ideas to imagine.  Now that’s getting harder.  Since the 1960s, science has become an extremely popular entertainment genre, so most writers just take old SF memes, give them a new paint job, maybe even go all Baroque in styling, and create adventure science fiction.

We still get new speculative science fiction, in both books and movies.  My two favorite recent examples are The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and the film Gattaca.  Life on Earth is always evolving and changing, so there’s always new content to speculate about, plus science is always advancing, giving new ideas for extrapolation.

Science fiction has always suffered from a schizophrenic approach to reality though.  Why are post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories so popular with kids today?  They present horrible worlds where the characters have big adventures.  Isn’t that odd?  In the 19th and early 20th century, such novels were warnings about the future and fears about paths society might take.  Now such scenarios are escapist fun!  WTF!?  Science fiction is often like the comedy-tragedy masks, or the Janus god head.  No kid would daydream of living in the world of Nineteen Eight-Four, but I bet a lot of kids picture themselves inside the world of The Hunger Games.

comedy-tragedyjanus1

Serious speculative science fiction tends to illustrate worlds that few would fantasize about living in.  Who would want to live inside The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  But what about Dune by Frank Herbert or Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, or even Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card?  Yet, how many adventure books have been written that take worlds similar to the ones these books describe and make them into fun adventure stories?  Like the contrast between education and entertainment, some writers aim for edutainment, but most just give us escapism.

Heinlein was speculating about serious ideas, but most military SF since then have been theme park rides.

Here’s the dilemma for writers.  True speculative science fiction isn’t escapist fun, whereas adventure science fiction is.  So if you want to sell lots of books, and maybe get your story made into a blockbuster movie, you’ll aim for adventure science fiction – but if you want literary recognition, and the chance of creating a classic the survives, you’re better off writing speculative science fiction.  They teach Frankenstein, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four in schools, but not adventure science fiction.  Which sold more movie tickets, Spiderman 2 or Transcendence?

When I go to the bookstore, or flip through Locus Magazine, or read about new books at SF Signal, I’m enticed by myriads of thrilling stories, ones that promise epic adventures, with colorful sexy characters, involved in addictive complicated plots, the kind of books that are escapist fun to the hilt.  And I’m not against reading these kinds of books.  But what I miss, are the speculative science fiction books.  They seem few and far between nowadays.  Is that because they don’t sell, or are a bummer to write, or what few people want to read?  To me, speculative science fiction is the real science fiction, and all the other stuff is fantasy fun.

I’m working on a new edition of The Classics of Science Fiction and I’ve always used a statistical method to create the list before.  But this time, I’m thinking about creating it as a history of speculative science fiction.  Yesterday I discovered  Radium Age Science Fiction at HiLo Books, and essays on Pre-Golden Age Science Fiction by Joshua Glenn at io9.com.  Most of these books are now forgotten, but they were at the time, attempts to write serious speculative science fiction.  I wonder if I can create a Classics of Speculative Science Fiction in chronological order starting with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, or even earlier books if I can discover ones that fit my concept, and then move towards the present showing an evolution of speculative science fiction?

Instead of creating another list of the most popular books of science fiction, I want to create one that showcases books that introduced the best science fictional ideas.  I think as kids, when we first discover science fiction, we’re hooked on the far out ideas, but later on, we become addicted to the escapism.  When we’re thinking about ideas, we’re exploring reality.  We want to know how reality works, and how we can adapt it to our own needs and desire.  Later on, we read science fiction to escape reality, because we’re disappointed with its limitations.

This provides two faces of our own psychology.  Now that I’m old, I wonder if I sold out sometime in the last fifty years.  That I sold my sense of wonder for a sense of illusion.

JWH – 5/6/14

Are Our Brains Being Fucked Over by Fantastic Tales?

While watching the previews of the new Spiderman movie I wondered how could Spiderman do all that swinging from building to building?  I don’t read comics, but is there some kind of theory as to why he can leap from location to location?  What propels him?  How does he have the strength to survive the G-forces pulling on his arms, or impacting on his legs?  What generates his webbing?  I know all of this is just for fun, but thinking about how it could ever be real hurts my brain.  It’s just so fucking unbelievable that I have to wonder about its psychological allure.

Why are we so entertained by fantastic tales?  Aren’t superhero movies just fairytales for adults?  And aren’t they getting out of hand?  Action movies are moving further and further from reality.  Is this good for our brains?  There’s a saying by old programmers, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  It meant if you input bad data into the computer, the machine will spit out bad data.  Couldn’t that also be true for our bio-computers?

Why do we so badly want to believe in magic?  From the earliest days as toddlers, we are told fantastic tales.  We watch TV that’s full of bullshit concepts.  We read comic books and real books based on fantastic concepts.  We teach our kids about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, angels, witches, vampires, gods and God.  As children grow their fantasy inputs becomes more sophisticated, switching to Harry Potter, Star Wars and Spiderman.  They will tell you its not real, but what do they feel in their heart of hearts?

We let them watch old TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched where a crossing of the arms or a twitch of the nose can alter space and time.  Does anyone ever wonder what is the science behind the God of Genesis ability to create?  Is it a magic staff like Moses, or does he twitch his nose like Samantha?  We subtly embed the meme that magic exists, while saying it doesn’t.  Is it any wonder that some kids have a frail grasp on reality?

I’ve spent a lifetime reading science fiction, and bought into all kinds of crap that’s not supported by real science, or I did.  I’ve now become an atheist to my own religion – science fiction.  Once you question one bullshit theory, you question them all.

I know it’s supposed to be in fun, but how many people secretly wish for the fantastic?  Deep down, how many people wish their lives were like the movies?

And haven’t action movies gotten a little embarrassing?  Aren’t they really power porn?  Sex porn is the dream of unlimited sex.  Isn’t action movies and superhero movies just a desire to gorge on unlimited power?  To be able to kill you enemies with enormous force and ability?  Most people would never watch sex porn in public, but why aren’t people embarrassed to watch huge quantities of power porn in large groups?  And isn’t it hilarious that both sex porn and power porn are about carrying different kinds of big sticks?  Talk about your AK-47 envy.  Isn’t this all just power fantasy?

What is the underlying need for binge TV watching?  Is it any different from binge video gaming?

Isn’t it all about escaping reality – becoming one with fantasy?

What’s the exposure limit to fantasy before it becomes harmful?

JWH – 5/2/14