Science fiction usually deals with the worlds which are far away and very different from our own reality. Science fiction goes beyond imagination with new technologies, scientific discoveries, and even different social systems. Science fiction is not only a reflection of science and the questions of the future, but it is often a reflection of politics, sociology, philosophy, and human behavior. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate science fiction from fantasy but if you think about it science fiction is always one step further than just fantasy.
Arthur C. Clarke famously said:
“…any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
In the novel Somnium, the famous and great astronomer from the 17th century, Johannes Kepler, invoked demons to explain how a man could travel to the Moon. Often times we have to introduce the paranormal to explain what we don’t understand, and if we can’t explain it with science, we can go with science fiction. Science fiction is also often times explaining and predicting our future and it can be even inspiration for real-life scientists.
Why science fiction is important?
Science fiction can be used to explore places in the world and universe that science itself can’t (yet) explain. Science fiction can also raise the questions about nature and the mind that we otherwise would not think of without the wild imagination of writers or movie makers. What’s more important is that they can popularize those ideas. Think “Star Trek!”
Also, science fiction can inspire many to become scientists. For example, Edwin Hubble who gave us strong evidence for the big bang theory and who was the first person to prove that galaxies exist outside of our own Milky Way was inspired to become a scientist after reading Jules Verne novels. Another great astronomer and science fiction author, Carl Sagan was influenced by Robert A. Heinlein. While theoretical physicist Michio Kaku loved watching the television show Flash Gordon as a child.
“…years later, I began to realize that the two passions of my life – that is, physics and understanding the future are really the same thing – that if you understand the foundations of physics, you understand what is possible and you understand what could be just beyond the horizon.”
Maybe the main reason why science fiction is important is by giving an explanation which depicts how society could function differently. By presenting new and different societies, science fiction allows us to make that first step towards progress as it allows us to imagine the future that we want. It also helps us consider the ways toward a better and more progressive future. Plus, it gives us a warning sign about the future we want to avoid, and helps us prevent those scenarios and characters.
Maybe the most famous example of the positive effect of science fiction comes from the multiracial cast of the original Star Trek TV series.
When Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura, was thinking about leaving the popular TV series, none other than civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay on the show.
Martin Luther King believed that her inclusion as part of the famous TV show, Star Trek was important for future generations. As a black woman in the 60s she helped represent a future where people were judged only on the content of their character and their actions, not based on the color of their skin.
Nichols publicly criticized NASA for selecting exclusively white male astronauts. She was invited to NASA headquarters where she assisted in convincing former applicants to reapply. This move led to the selection of Guion Bluford and Sally Ride, which were among the first female and black American NASA astronauts.
Even NASA’s first female black astronaut, Mae Jemison, stressed the influence of Star Trek, and she later appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation.