Arizona State University, in collaboration with several science fiction authors including Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow, is trying to start active collaborations between scientists and science fiction writers, through a new Center for Science and the Imagination. If you don’t immediately see how cool this is, let me explain.
I don’t think I’m alone in that I have a little bit of trouble getting into science fiction with bad science. Sadly, most science fiction writers are not scientists, and many of them don’t even seem to talk to scientists — or if they do, they misinterpret what they’re told. It’s understandable. Any individual scientist is likely not to be a generalist. We have increasingly detailed and esoteric knowledge in increasingly tiny fields. And the best science fiction isn’t realistic so much as speculative anyway. But wouldn’t it be cool if science fiction writers could learn from scientists to write stories that were just as creative, just as ambitious, but just a little bit more, er, grounded?
That’s a fairly common idea. What’s a little bit more off-the-wall is that the collaboration really goes both ways. I know from my work that it’s easy to get so bogged down in the specifics that you forget the big picture. And it’s especially easy to look at a string of failed experiments or negative results and decide that an ambitious plan is simply futile. Having a discussion with someone who is imaginative and creative, and passionate about science and technology and the future, even if they don’t necessarily have the background necessary to put their dreams into reality themselves, can allow you to look at a problem in a different way and can be a powerful jolt to your enthusiasm and ambition: basically, it makes for bigger, and better science.
The Center for Science and the Imagination tries to foster this, getting scientists and science fiction writers to talk, about science projects, and about stories, and about culture. They launched yesterday (If I had known, I would have posted then, and Arizona labbers might have been able to go! Sorry guys!). And they’ve started collaborations with groups like Heiroglyph, an online magazine for creative science fiction stories envisioned with help from scientists, and the ASU Center for Games and Impact, which fosters the development of games to solve real world problems.
It seems like a really cool idea to me, and they have a couple talks lined up throughout October. If you have the time and are in the area, check it out!
Some news coverage is here: New York Times
And their website is here: ASU CSI