Tag Archives: Knowledge

Science Fiction Today – Scientific Knowledge

On Sunday, I got two chances to be thinking about scientific knowledge. About the things we’ve learned, the things that are true, the things that might be. My thoughts on this subject tend to go back to Foundation by Isaac Asimov. The era of change in those novels is all based on a period in the future when we stop advancing, stop exploring, stop innovating. Stop learning for ourselves, and instead rely on the collective knowledge of the past, the great experts of the past. Because everything worth knowing had already been discovered.

The end of science.

And every once in a while I run into situations where I feel like our collective knowledge is already flagging. Like with food. We have been cooking even more dishes that are combinations of the food groups, combining them all, feeding them to the Geek Baby and to ourselves. But often I think people just make or buy foods because we like them and not for other reasons. I’ve heard just about every kind of food defined as “comfort food” by someone…

But on Sunday, it was lawn care that got me thinking. Why do we even have lawns? Sure would be easier without all this grass, and the related mowing. And if the grass was already going to be there, why do I need to mow it? And if the grass is transplanted, why keep it? Why not kill it and replace it with more indigenous growth? And why deal with the weeds instead of just letting them go?

I can imagine reasons. Something with soil erosion. Wanting to have a yard for the Geek Baby one day (although we literally live next to a park). Having it all just in case we want it later… Because we’re not doing anything with it now. And that’s here, in a rainforest. What about somewhere in a drought? California???

Through the vagaries of my past, I didn’t grow up with a lawn or doing lawn care. It’s not like it’s particularly a school topic. It’s just kind of known… or not. Or else, it’s just kind of done… or not. And I was thinking of how it’s a small look at the sorts of knowledge that we can lose to time, to assuming it’s true or everyone knows it.

Then we watched this.

And that’s almost the exact opposite problem. New studies and new findings, constantly, always. Always innovating, always trying to carve out some new, interesting, click-bait worthy results. And not doing the secondary testing – the third and fourth. The repeatability that makes science what it is.

What’s scary with having too much scientific innovation without enough grounding like he’s talking about, is exactly the Al Roker quote. The post-modern moment of just taking a look at a bunch of studies, and finding the one that feels right to you. Holly and I didn’t even know what to say at that point. That’s just so not at all even a little bit what science is.

So what does the future look like? Do we have the old findings that we’re leaning on, and we don’t question them? Lawns, lawns as far as the eye can see… Or will we have a glut of information, contradictory, and providing no helpful guidance in life? Discredited and useless?

Science Fiction Today – Libraries

LLast week we lined up Health Care and Immunization, and this week it’s Knowledge and Libraries. A couple of sets of things that go hand-in-hand as we look at the future. And while Holly and I might be outsiders looking in at the world of health care, there’s an inside-track when it comes to libraries: I am a librarian. So I have to try to make this post not about that…

What this post is about is the fact that libraries don’t always appear prominently in Science Fiction – though they feature prominently in Fantasy. Often there are other ways the information is kept or passed on in Science Fiction – the sorts of things Holly talked about yesterday with Knowledge. In  a world where all of human knowledge is at our fingertips… what does the future of libraries look like?

Libraries in Fantasy

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”

-Walton, Jo (2011-01-18). Among Others (p. 59). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Hey look at all that great citation info that comes along when you copy from a Kindle book…

Often in Fantasy, and especially in Urban Fantasies or Horror Fantasies, set largely in our world only with fantastical elements, libraries are the one place that still actually has information on the ancient, forgotten past – the arcane, eldritch secrets that explain why all these crazy things are happening now.

Maybe the best example is Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, where the Scooby Gang is constantly meeting in library, getting guidance, training, and leadership from the librarian. Where the focal point of the plot, the Hellmouth, is literally sitting under the library. And where, anytime something new shows up, they go to research the new evil in the books in the library.

So libraries have ancient knowledge – but what about future knowledge?

Libraries vs. Technology

Today, it’s the Internet that seems to be making libraries “obsolete” – all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. In the future, if we’re having knowledge beamed into our brains, if we have virtual holodecks full of the past where we can explore… where do libraries fit?

One librarian answer is that, as we find ourselves with the whole world of information at our fingertips, it is getting harder and harder to find accurate, definitive, or just generally “good” information. The need for librarians – or good journalists, for that matter – seems to be growing, not shrinking.

And despite my Among Others quote above, libraries are more than books. In a future that might include holodecks, or knowledge we can beam straight into our brains, or any number of other advances – are we really going to keep all of these devices in our own home? Star Trek makes it look easy, because they’re on their quasi-military space ships where they have the holodeck. I doubt there’s one in every home on Earth. So where might people go? Well, maybe the library.

Even today, libraries are adapting to the technological needs of the communities around them. We were browsing the video game collection at our local library earlier today (online…), and many libraries are exploring the option of having technology like 3-D printers – something you might want occasionally but not own in your home. I see no reason that these trends can’t continue into the future!

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!

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. 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 of 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!