Annalee Newitz wrote an article on io9 titled “Stop Putting New Age Pseudoscience in Our Science Fiction.” I respect Newitz and I like most of what she writes, but this article is total bullshit, and a disturbing indicator of where the dull bureaucrats of ultra-rationalism want to take science fiction, and science.
First, I object to Newitz claiming ownership of “our” science fiction. Of course, science fiction is “our” in the sense that it belongs to all science fiction lovers and fans, but it doesn’t belong to any particular genre or political/ideological color (more later). I am a science fiction lover, so science fiction is also mine, and I am also using “our” in the title.
Newitz reviews the recently released “Interstellar” film. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I certainly look forward to seeing it. “Interstellar” has been praised for the accuracy of the scientific background and special effects, described in “The Science of Interstellar” by renowned physicist Kip Thorne, who consulted on the movie.
Newitz is not impressed. She says:
“But there’s a difference between wormhole travel, which is depicted superbly in “Interstellar,” and the idea that love is a ‘fifth dimension’ that can allow a man to jump inside a black hole and travel backwards in time to communicate with his 10-year-old daughter.
Once he’s gone inside [the black hole], he’s rescued by mysterious, fifth-dimensional beings who put him inside a tesseract box where time behaves like space – we can see millions of versions of his daughter’s room around him, each representing a slice of time. Using the force of ‘love’ to guide him through the bewildering array of time-rooms, he finally finds the exact right version of his daughter to communicate with. And then he sends a message to her through time.”
I question the accuracy of Newitz’ description (the first and second quoted paragraphs don’t mean the same). But even so, that’s terribly cool if you ask me, and the film is great. I am also reading again the related thoughts of Kathleen Ann Goonan in her delicious “The Bones of Time.”
I watched Clarke’s “2001” when I was 10, and the film made me love science for life. I think the 10 years old me would have the same reaction to “Interstellar,” and that – enchanting the young scientists of tomorrow with a permanent sense of wonder and love of science – is what good science fiction is all about. But Newitz dismisses Clarke for “taking unexplained phenomena far more seriously than they should be.”
Sorry Annalee but that’s bullshit. Pardon my Latin, perhaps I should say it in English: BULLSHIT, loud and clear: BULLSHIT. Science advances precisely by taking unexplained phenomena seriously, and uncovering them one little unexplained aspect at a time. Contemporary scientists, you know, don’t spend too much time with explained phenomena like levers and steam engines. Been there, done that.
But of course Newitz knows all that and wouldn’t disagree – she is just making an ideological point. I am sure Newitz is a very smart person, but she is infected with a mental virus that plagues much of contemporary culture. I am referring to hordes of politically correct (PC), fake-intellectual, fake-left, fake-liberal dummies. You know the type: women are always good and men are always bad, smoking tobacco is bad but smoking weed is OK, imagination and (God forbid) religion are VERY bad things, unPC science unsupported by experimental evidence is pseudoscience but PC science unsupported by experimental evidence is good science. Of course these dummies are also rabid, hateful anti-transhumanists.
I have no problem with the possibility that the human mind (the most complex physical system in the known universe) may have unexpected and currently unexplained influences on the rest of reality. What is the standard Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics but a mind-over-matter theory? Besides being considered by many top class scientists with an open mind, including Nobel Prize winners, exotic mind-over-matter phenomena have been reported for since the dawn of history in all known cultures. That doesn’t make them “true,” whatever that means, but it does make them worth of scientific investigation. But no, they call it “pseudoscience.”
What is pseudoscience? It must be something that looks like science, but is not science. So what is science? Like most things, science can only be defined operationally, as a process and a method – science is how you look at something, not what you look at. The scientific method is a time-tested mental framework with an ever evolving toolbox for theoretical model-making, design and execution of experiments, and data analysis. If something is science or “pseudoscience” is independent of the phenomena under investigation, and depends only on whether the scientific method is properly followed. You can study a poltergeist scientifically, and a chemical reaction unscientifically.
The PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) program is a good example of why I vigorously oppose and condemn PC (un)scientific bigotry. They do very thorough experimental work and professional analysis of experimental data. So far they haven’t produced results that are accepted by mainstream consensus, but they follow the scientific method professionally and to the letter, and most PEAR researchers have impeccable qualifications. So dismissing PEAR research as “pseudoscience” is total bullshit.
Similarly, the widely-acclaimed scientific documentary “What the Bleep Do We Know!?” is a very good non-mathematical introduction to the weirdest, counter-intuitive aspects of quantum physics, with excellent examples and special effects, and intriguing hints at the possibility that weird quantum effects might eventually provide a solid scientific framework for mind-over-matter phenomena. But of course Newitz dismisses “What the Bleep” as a “widely-condemned pseudoscience documentary.”
Of course they use “pseudoscience” (one of their favorite terms) in their own ideologically partisan, unscientific way. They dismiss PEAR research (and Tipler, and Sheldrake, etc.) because it sounds too much like religion, or something like that. They are quick to point out that the experimental data of unPC researchers are ambiguous, or inconclusive, but they will hysterically insult you if you point out that global warming (one of their sacred cows) data are ambiguous and inconclusive as well.
Annalee dearest, if you don’t want what you call pseudoscience in your science fiction, I don’t want what I call PC bullshit in my science fiction, and science. I suggest that you keep reading the science fiction that you like, and I will keep reading the science fiction that I like. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and please refrain from pontificating. Science fiction isn’t yours, because it’s also mine.
The Singularity Network saga
The once very popular Facebook group “Singularity Network” recently collapsed. All administrators but two left the group and denounced it in a public group resignation letter:
“We, the undersigned Singularity Network admins, hereby inform all Singularity Network members that we are jointly resigning, effective immediately, as administrators of the Singularity Network, in unanimous protest and condemnation of [name 1]’s autocratic behavior and unacceptable treatment of Singularity Network co-founder [name 2]. We do so out of indignation and in total solidarity with [name 2]. We are also all joining [the new Facebook group] Posthuman Network, and warmly invite you all to join us there.”
The old group administrators used to dismiss as “pseudoscience” all forms of scientific research that they dislike, delete posts, and ban posters for speaking their mind. I decided to write a provocative post to test the waters before leaving the group:
“I have seen again a comment by someone who resigned from this group, saying “SN is now just a front for the new atheists and for mainstream science apologists- positions that Transhumanism originally worked to oppose.” Is it true? I was under the impression that the original intolerance of this group was a thing of the past. If I am mistaken, please say so clearly, so everyone has the information to choose whether to stay or to leave.”
Others posted similar provocative baits. The result of the experiment is that the remaining moderators are authoritarian and abusive indeed. Moreover, based on what I have seen, I am hardly impressed by their scientific literacy, qualifications, and understanding. Like most ignorant people, they prefer name-calling to scientific arguments.
Of course, not all those who defend speculative science are qualified and knowledgeable. I find the scientific illiteracy that one often sees on the Internet shocking. But many people can’t afford a scientific education, and I think our (those trained as scientists) role should be to respectfully educate others instead of insulting them. What I cannot condone is scientific ignorance coupled with dogmatism and the bigot certainty of having all the answers. I have a thing against intolerance and thought-policing, and I have a thing against firm and dogmatic scientific pronouncements made by amateurs.
I am a theoretical physicist by training and I worked as a professional scientist for decades, so I know bad science when I see it. I am personally as skeptical as the PC bureaucrats about some specific theories, but I don’t insult people for defending them – personal attacks instead of scientific arguments are the last resort of the ignorant afraid of being outwitted. I may well agree that some specific works are bad science, but not that whole fields of research should be dismissed.
Last but not least, highly speculative science is fun, imagination is not a crime, and hope is not a sin. I encourage you to watch “Interstellar” and “What the Bleep,” and to cultivate your open mind and open heart.