Science Fiction Today – Knowledge

KThroughout history the way we acquire knowledge has grown and evolved. The invention of the printing press gave us the ability to spread knowledge far and wide, increasing how many people have access to knowledge exponentially. With all the new technologies available this access just keeps increasing. In many ways knowledge is power, but it can be used in such interesting ways. It is not just about the acquisition of knowledge, but also about whether knowledge is made available.

There are many times in science fiction stories where the key to a problem is knowledge either being withheld or disseminated. Sometimes the problem comes around because knowledge has been lost over time due to destruction or other world changing events. The loss of knowledge can have such a huge impact for what the future holds.

Access to Knowledge

One of the big things in the future is the potential for greater access to knowledge. With the Internet today we already have access to so much at our fingertips and as technology evolves that access will just increase. The Matrix is a great example of the acquisition of knowledge with ease. Just plug your brain into a machine and suddenly you have the knowledge of that thing. This is seen in other movies as well, but sometimes it comes at the cost of other memories that might already be stored. The idea with that is that there is only so much knowledge a brain can hold.

The other side of access to knowledge is the idea that those in power try to block access to knowledge. They limit what is actually available because they believe it is better for society. A lot of this is seen in tyrannical sort of societies where they limit the knowledge because by limiting knowledge you can hold the citizens down.

Lost Knowledge

The other side to this is what happens to the future when knowledge is lost? When something so catastrophic happens that we loose the knowledge that we have gained over history. Usually the futures presented in these stories are not that pleasant. The world has practically been destroyed and yet there are remnants of the past that can be found all over these worlds.Β At the same time they will find items or things that came from a time long past and no one has any idea what they are or what they are for. Often the reveal that it is the far future is a big spoiler, so I’ll avoid giving many examples.

One ofΒ the ways these stories play out is that someone from the past travels to the future and they think they are in an entirely different place, but then they find something that shows that they are actually far into the future, like in Planet of the Apes. At the same time the biggest thing that can be noticed with this loss is that we tend to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The greatest power that knowledge provides is that of a knowing choice.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

23 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Knowledge

  1. You’ve made some really interesting points, as always. I like what you said about our brains having a certain cap on the amount of knowledge we can retain. I use this excuse to explain away my poor memory – the fact I process vast amounts of information on a daily basis (interpreting). When we have too much in our heads, there has to be an information dump! It’s my theory and I’m sticking to it πŸ˜‰ As for lost knowledge, I’d like to think this would never truly happen, even if the world as we know it was completely destroyed and we had to build again from the ground up. There are too many storytellers among us, too many historians and I think as people we enjoy to pass stories from one generation to the next. That said, how many people of todays generation remember the salient points within our history if they aren’t taught it? How many of us share our rich history and culture with our children. As parents there is so much to teach, so much to pass on, and in one of the worlds you described, I guess we’d have our hands full with all the horror! Phew! Sorry, this comment is turning into an essay! πŸ™‚

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    • The losing of knowledge is one of the scariest things I can think of. We used to live in an oral tradition where stories were passed down and spread. How often does that happen now and the accuracy of the information could be questionable. It is a dilemma and when I hear about books being burned it really brings that to light.

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      • That’s so true. This is slightly off point (but only slightly). I was thinking about the Deaf community. Depending on their background and upbringing, many Deaf people have limited access to information – it is not passed on because they are surrounded by people who don’t have the ability to convert it into BSL, so there are huge gaps (this affects education so many can’t read particularly well). The example you used before, about ‘downloading’ information to the brain – that would benefit the Deaf community, or a future where a holographic interpreter can translate information continually πŸ˜€

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  2. I love the novel 1984 and how the government constantly rewrites history and “common knowledge” to suit their benefits. I mean, it actually happens to a certain extent, though not the way Orwell envisioned it – our knowledge is still shaped by what is popular and spread by the media. Even in this day and age when actual facts and knowledge should be easy to find we’re so quick to share shocking headlines and improperly sourced material that false knowledge spreads faster than wildfire, even though finding the truth is usually just a few minutes (and clicks) away.

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  3. I am reminded of The Book of Eli and the treasure of the library. The amount of information (not the same thing as knowledge) we have pouring on us every minute of every day is something that is having a huge impact on us. I feel a need to implement some type of meditation into my day because I notice more and more that information overload is happening all the time.

    I enjoyed this post on how knowledge is used in sci fi.


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  4. Pingback: Science Fiction Today – Libraries | Comparative Geeks

  5. I think the bigger hurdle between our current habits and Matrix-level awesomeness is that the brain needs time to process things. I believe one of my teachers once said it takes about seven go’s before something can move from short-term memory to long-term.

    As far as lost knowledge, that’s actually one of the arguments against simplifying the English language (like making enough spelled like “eenuff”) is that we will lose the ability to draw back on our older language/knowledge… just like we already experience with Old and Mid English. Japan has the same problem now. All books published before WWII are hard for newer generations to read, because after the American occupation, the kanji characters were simplified to improve literacy… having a somewhat perverse effect in the end.

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    • My thought is that English will stay at such a level that we can still muddle through reading Shakespeare. I think of that as our limiting agent. Great example from Japan, though! πŸ˜€

      In terms of needing time to process things, I’m reminded of an episode of Dexter’s Lab (90’s Reference!). He created a device that allowed him to process information while he slept, so he can basically cram for a French test. However, the tape of information skips and loops and he ends up with one phrase over and over… which replaces everything he knows with one phrase: “omelette du fromage.” Which I just googled, and I see it has both a Know Your Meme entry and an Urban Dictionary entry… nice.

      Anyway: I wonder about an option like that, learning while we sleep. It could be repeated, follow best practices, and would take longer than the couple of seconds in the Matrix – and would just require us being able to learn or retain while sleeping. Oh, and also would require that not wrecking the sleep cycle…

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  6. Great post! Knowledge in the future is a most interesting topic. I have a sci-fi book that I’m writing, that knowledge will play a key role in the survival or destruction of the universe. And now I’m hungry for cheese omlet too πŸ˜‰

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  7. I think knowledge is becoming so specialized that we would really be in trouble if we lost access to it. Right now we are so interconnected through electronic means, but if we were cut off I think we would have a tough time building ourselves up again. Those stories sent in futures where the past is lost are usually quite thought-provoking, because what they know depends on who survived.

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  8. I’m totally counting this Chappie reference for both Knowledge and Libraries, and it’s mostly a complaint: Chappie makes some huge technological strides and it’s never explained how. Mostly he learns what he’s told, which causes some sad bits when people lie to him and he believes them… But then apparently he can also code and adapt machinery at an improbably high level. Some kind of machine intuition or something? To make it relevant: Machines have a lot of promise for storing our knowledge, but there are always technical limitations. One of the biggest is that machines have trouble guessing what you actually want, if you don’t have the right terminology. Imagine a dystopia where knowledge was right there for anyone to find, but no one ever thought of the right search terms…

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