From warp drives to hyperspace, science fiction has continuously borrowed from, and sometimes anticipated, the state of the art in scientific progress. This has resulted in the perception that science and science fiction have a causal relationship, one finding direction from and fulfilling the science fantasy laid out before it.
But that is rarely the case, according to Lawrence Krauss, a Foundation professor in the School of Space and Earth Exploration and the Department of Physics at Arizona State University. No doubt, science fiction has taken inspiration from the cutting edge science of its day. And, as Stephen Hawking reaffirmed in the preface of Krauss’s bestselling book, the Physics of Star Trek, science fiction helps inspire our imaginations. But Krauss believes science fiction is not a match for reality.
“Truth is stranger than fiction,” Krauss said at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago. “The imagination of nature far exceeds the human imagination, which is why we constantly need to probe the universe via experimentation to make progress,” he said. “In fact, I tend to think that what makes science fiction most interesting is what they missed, not what they got right.”
Krauss, a renowned theoretical physicist and science popularizer, was giving his talk, “Physics of the future,” on Feb. 14 at AAAS as part of a session titled “Where’s my flying car? Science, science fiction and a changing vision of the future.”
As examples, Krauss mentioned the World-Wide-Web, developed at the CERN scientific laboratory and which governs the world in ways that were not anticipated. He also described “The World Set Free,” often quoted as a prophetic book by H.G. Wells, which was published in 1914 and anticipated the development of atomic weapons that could be used in war. It even coined the term “atomic bombs” decades before they became a harsh reality in the modern world and perhaps influencing some of the scientists who went on to create these weapons.
“Nevertheless not only did Wells’ continually burning atomic weapons bear no resemblance to the engines of destruction in the real world,” Krauss emphasized, “he thought it would unite the world into one society whereas we are painfully aware that it hasn’t changed human thinking, except to divide the world into nuclear haves and have-nots.”