Why should SF writers care what philosophers think when you've got The Science?

There's a total breakdown between the experts and the artists... and you get to pay for it with sub-par stories

Why should SF writers care what philosophers think when you've got The Science?
Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

Physicists like to get up in public and tell the press that philosophy is dead and stupid

This happens right before they go on to do their own philosophy.

Lawrence Krauss wrote a couple of books explaining how something could come from nothing. All he had to do was redefine "nothing" to "something" and problem solved.

I hope he does physics better than he thinks about problems with 2500 years of thinking done by some of the best minds our species ever birthed.

But the question is real.


Why should anyone care what philosophers think when we've got science?

That's not a bad question.

It's quite a good question if you grow up in the 21st century where science is everywhere and your life is ruled by technology.

But it's not the question you think. Nobody's asking this question in the spirit of real curiosity, for starters.

If it were about curiosity, you'd be just as curious about why you care about what physicists think about anything that isn't physics.

For example, biology or economics.

Your freedom as an individual. Physicists have as much insight into deep philosophical problems like free will as I have into coaching an NFL team to a Superbowl win.

A physicist has a take on reality, filtered through the concepts, tools, and theories of physics... and that's it.

It takes an extra step... or a totally unsupported logical leap... to transform everything into a physics problem.

No theory or finding in physics can do that.

Particles and differential equations don't have the property of "should" or "ought to"... as in, "you ought to believe that all problems are physics problems".

The jump from physics to philosophy is often subtle and hard to notice. It doesn't help when practitioners are ignorant of the history of their own ideas (and so arrogant that they can't tell the difference between their own personal opinions and bad theology).


Everything is physics is not something that physics tells us.

That's an outlook. A perspective. A way of framing certain events as problems in need of a solution.

We're already off on the wrong foot with bad philosophizing.

Same for this belief that science is opposed to philosophy. If anything, the sciences grew out of philosophy. The idea that the two disciplines are and must be hostile is the kind of nerd-myth that has no basis in reality, no matter how popular it is on reddit.

Nah, you aren't interested in science or scientists because of what they've discovered about the world. That's a secondary concern at best.

After all, if it takes an expert to understand what's going on, how do you, a non-expert, have any way to know if you're hearing the truth?

The non-experts don't understand. They trust.

And that's where psychology gets real interesting.

You care what physicists and "scientists" think because of their status, real or perceived.

Even the word carries a prestige. "Science". Let it roll off your lips like mana.

In today's culture of Infinite Propaganda, legitimacy ain't what it used to be.

The ideal of an authority who can pronounce The TRVTH... whether real clergy or today's labcoated priesthood... is as real as it was when kings and emperors kissed the Pope's ring.


If you want to write about science-like stuff...

You should understand two things.

Firstly, you're writing a species of fantastic fiction. It's fantasy which limits itself to certain themes, rules, and recurring ideas... but fantasy it is.

Secondly, you're discussing ideas and perspectives and outlooks which are as philosophical as they are scientific.

You might even be talking about the way in which the big questions philosophy tries to tackle bang up against the scientific view of the world.

Some of the best SFF writing, better and lesser known, tackle this conflict head on.

Philip K. Dick wrote (directly and indirectly) some of the most memorable stories in the modern-day cinematic consciousness.

Blade Runner (1982) and Total Recall (1990) are two of the most well-known. Who are you? What can you be when memories become a cheap commodity and human DNA becomes industrial equipment?

The entirety of the cyberpunk genre, with its grit-and-neon aesthetic, touches on the questions of what it is to be human in a time when technology puts a knife to the very idea of "human nature".

The Alien films riff on themes of corporate greed and power and artificial intelligence by bringing them into collision with an otherworldly predator that lives and breathes hostility.

What's it mean to be a human when we can build robots that look and act just like humans?

When you discover a life-form that exploits your body as part of its reproductive cycle?

All these themes circle back to one question: Who are you?

Maybe you like this year's 345th recycling of Star Wars WW1 space-fighters or however many space opera stories starring Zap Branigan on a battlecruiser...

Those stories leave me wondering, where's the space?

Around here at the RP franchise, I'm far more partial to stories that address the bigger and deeper questions.

Which, naturally, means that the techno-aesthetic is only one way into it. Cosmic horror and weird tales can hit on these themes without the spaceships and androids.

Though when it's done best, the reader may not be able to tell the difference...

The best science fiction is directly concerned with Big Questions more than scientific accuracy

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