The table of contents tells 99% of the story. Part I: "Dangers from Nature." Part II: "Dangers from Ourselves." So does Sidney Perkowitz, physics professor at Emory University, begin his tour of science's portrayal in the movies in his book, "Hollywood Science."
Turns out that we're wired for science. Feist, in "The Psychology of Science and the Origins of the Scientific Mind," explains that from our earliest days, people seek out patterns, classifying objects and events, looking for causes to effects.
"Finding such regularities or patterns lay the foundation for expecting the world to behave in a certain way, which is the beginning of hypothesis formation as well as causal thought," he says.
Certainly such thinking is an evolutionary advantage. If one of your cavemen buddies eats some berries and then gets sick, recognizing that it was probably the berries, and not the angry gods who caused the illness, helps ensure you don't make the same mistake. It provokes some interesting questions: Is the cause-effect approach to the world a neurological underpinning of conservatism? Not necessarily the formal, "big C" political type, but the skeptical, reticent type. Playing it safe keeps you, well safer than someone who doesn't.
So if conservatism has evolutionary roots then that could explain why people fear change generally, and of disruptive technology (sudden and big change) especially. Are innovations that are framed as the newest form of something old better received than innovations presented as the "latest and greatest thing?"
Chalk it up to primacy bias, but when I hear the word "scientist," Doc Brown's face is the first one to pop into my head. Hollywood's been feeding us images of scientists for years, and the public has steadily woven them with their real life exposures to professionals in that area. But while we have some firm ideas about what a credible -- and non-credible -- scientist looks, sounds and acts like, how well do those traits match up with reality?
"Zap! How to Draw Fantastic Sci-Fi Comics" by Bryan Baugh. It's meant to teach artists how to create robots, aliens, cyborgs, androids, and even something called a space gorilla. But the best part is its chapter on the history of sci-fi comics. Among its most interesting points:
Regular readers won't be surprised to learn that
the first book I read on the Kindle was 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea. There's something
so right about reading a century-old tale -- whose narrator is enthralled with
the power of electricity -- on a device that's a pretty darn enthralling use of
That said, in exploring how the image of technology and the future has changed over time, few books are as influential as this one. Some observations:
2. The constant use of extreme detail in the book,
going on for pages and pages about what the fish look like and rattling off
measurements, give the fantasy parts of the book much more credence.
It’s a lesson on the benefits of getting granular when selling a vision of the
3. There's a great passage where, on behalf of science, Verne snobbily says, "It was Tasman who discovered this group in 1643, the year Torricelli invented the barometer and Louis XIV mounted the throne. I leave the reader to decide which of these events has been more useful to the human race." This wasn't the first time an innovator scoffed at a politician, but it’s certainly one of the sharpest. Food for thought for those innovation v. public policy debates that break out every so often.
Just finished up "Sci Fi Art" by Steve Holland. The book is a rare compilation of pop culture images that shaped the way we view the future from HG Wells to Final Fantasy. Books, , comics, movie posters, album art and toys are examined through a primarily historical/artist biography point of view, though a couple conceptual/psychological insights are found.
My favorite comes from , whose advertising background influenced a career spent creating scifi book covers for and Ballantine. Speaking about depcting spaceships, he notes, "For some reason, the more successful paintings always seem to have the viewer looking up at the craft. We will always think of space as up until the day it becomes out."
Another critical passage details how comic book heroes from the 1930s-40s, many of whom relied on magic for their powers, were updated in the 1950s-60s with scientific (often radition-derived) back stories, reflecting fears and hopes of the new atomic age.
Enough of the economics, let's talk tech. Here's a
rundown of how Bellamy thought 19th century innovation would advance and help create a utopia. Note how the new tools are applied in ways that reflect and advance
his new social order.
Shopping: Since there's no more competition, there's just one store you go to in your neighborhood. All the stores stock precisely the same kinds of goods so that everyone has equal access to whatever they want. The stores are called "Sample Houses" and have, well, samples of goods that people can examine. Orders are placed and sent via "transmitters" to a central warehouse. The warehouse receives the orders and uses a network of pneumatic tubes carry the goods directly to people's houses. The system is so efficient that it helps make it possible for people to work just a few hours a day. (Take THAT supply chain software!) That technology will save people time and lead to a more leisurely life is a common theme in utopias and marketing efforts today.
Music: Live music was the only game in town 130 years ago, but Bellamy envisions a system that's a respectable substitute for today's iPods. In each city, orchestras that sit in acoustically perfect music rooms playing a variety of music in shifts 24 hours a day. The rooms are linked by telephone to people's houses, where genres can be selected with the help of a printed guide. Julian remarks that if his century had devised a way for people to hear any kind of music whenever they wanted, humanity would have ceased trying to improve life, having already achieved perfection.
Weather: When it rains, the sidewalks are automatically sheltered with coverings. "...in the nineteenth century, when it rained, Boston put up three hundred thousand umbrellas over as many heads, and in the twentieth century they put up one umbrella over all the heads."
So in the year 2000, any product you want is delivered right to your home, live music is delivered on-demand, and you stay dry in the rain. Sounds nice.