Enlightenment Essay

Most of the classes I have taken at Dixie State College are filled with indisputable facts, the majority of which is useless knowledge to me.  The Science Fiction class, however, also contains facts; it is the addition of many theories and glimpses into our future that make it a worthwhile class to take, and one that I have enjoyed immensely.  This essay will show the reasons I was enlightened, as well as how it will help me in the future.

The first things that I will focus on are the books that we have read in the class.  Each novel has its own unique aspect of the future, and though many of them are different, they are all warnings in a way.

In Caves of Steel there are a number of subjects that Asimov brings up concerning the future welfare of the human race.  One such event that I think about occasionally is the introduction of artificial intelligence in robots and how people would accept them.  In the story, robots are not welcomed in the city because they can perform work more efficiently than a human, and so force people out of the very work that defines them and keeps them alive.  The more advanced our robots become, the more jobs they are able to replace.  Unless there are other ways people can provide for themselves, I believe that it would take a long time for humans to welcome another being that, although mechanical in nature, is fully sentient, more able-bodied, longer lived, and more intelligent than they are.

Another thing that is brought up in both Caves of Steel and The Robots of Dawn is the overpopulation of Earth.  Already this is beginning to be the case, with more cities building up due to lack of space.  Soon there may have to be massive construction efforts as well as better special planning taken to insure that we have adequate living space, and it may end up as in the stories-huge domes that support millions of people.  Humanity may have to begin to sacrifice privacy and luxury to overcome the problem.  If that happens, it may become the case that the Earth will become dependant on everything, and then one little mistake could spell the end of the human race.  This worries me when I can see it happening even now.  It will only get worse in the future.

The Robots of Dawn also showed me that there must be balance in our lives.  On Aurora, life has stagnated, keeping population in check but causing a social defect in the Aurorans.  Humanity must make sure that, when action is taken against overpopulation, they do not go to the opposite extreme.  If that happens, humans will no longer progress and eventually will die out.  Instead, individuality must be preserved while still maintaining group structures.  People must still endeavor to succeed at something.  Even the detective, Elijah Bailey, tries to succeed by venturing outside of the domes, to experience the outside world.

Cold as Ice was perhaps the most interesting story I've read so far in this class.  The vast amount of science involved is something I really enjoy.  Some of the things that they showed in the book are already possible with current technology, such as the large satellite array in space that DOS uses.  Other things, like the submersible, are limitedly available with what we currently possess.

The Moby cold fusion devices, named after their developer Cyrus Mobarak and used by almost everyone in the story as a source of energy, fascinated me.  The book did little to explain their processes, though.  It's understandable, however, because nothing even remotely like it exists today.  Any explanation would be purely theory and would require a lot of heady ideas on quantum physics.  I would have probably enjoyed it more if it had had those ideas in it, but most people probably wouldn't.

One thing I thought was funny in this book was the way Rustum Battachariya acted.  He did so little, yet he accomplished so much.  His idea of fun was a challenging puzzle.  He was most happy when he was thinking.  I would like to be that way, too.  I enjoy being challenged, though I dislike being forced to do things.  I learn new programming languages because they are something I want to learn, and I excel in that area.  When I'm forced to do something, however, I falter, because I don't necessarily enjoy it.  I believe I lost some of my will to learn because I was never challenged in the right way, and was instead forced to do menial tasks.

The Songs of a Distant Earth also had a lot of science in it, and I found many of the scientific ideas intriguing, such as the ice shield for the ship that helps deflect particles from striking the ship at high velocities.  But because it's also a South Sea Island Adventure, a lot of the small details and explanations are left out of the story.  Instead, it has more depth of plot and more intricacies in human relationships.  It shows their lives, their hobbies, their feelings, and their world through their own eyes.  I think that Thalassa was a very peaceful planet before the spaceship Magellan arrived.  There were problems, certainly, but they seemed small, and easily dealt with when they arose.

Because of the Magellan, it's also somewhat of a first contact story, with the humans meeting themselves again after many generations.  I believe that the source of difficulty arose when the two physically similar but psychologically different human races tried to impress their ideas upon each other.  The natives to Thalassa are a simple-minded folk, living from day to day in their paradise without many worries.  The ship's crew is interested in their survival and their progression only, without much care for an easy life.

Simak's Way Station was a very good book that summed up a variety of points in a short manner.  Enoch Wallace was the kind of person that I could get to like.  He lived a life secluded from the normal world, but his day was usually more exciting than any normal person's ever was.  He was an organized person, as well, and I like that.  Since this book doesn't really touch very often on the science that it uses, it has a more real to life approach and instead develops Enoch into a multi-dimensional character.  He is patient, and courageous, as well as a peaceful person.  He does nothing for personal gain, and is polite always.  They are all admiring qualities that I try to adhere to as much as possible.

The very end of the story I disliked, however.  It ended too quickly for my taste.  The bipedal rat came through the transporter, escaped from Enoch and his house, ran for a little while, struggled and was shot by Enoch.  The talisman he was carrying finds its new keeper on Earth, and then the story ends.  I really felt that there should have been a conclusion of sorts, showing things a few years later.

The book I probably got the least from was Beggars in Spain.  It seemed to drag on too much with very little action or science in it.  It did bring up the point that we shouldn't modify ourselves unless we can be sure of the consequences.  It also brought up the point that we shouldn't discriminate against people just because they're different.  We see that even in society today, though for different reasons.  I was happy that the superbrights began to see how things could be different, and tried to work toward that goal, eventually taking over Sanctuary to prevent a war.  I also liked how they thought in strings, rather than linearly.  It would be very interesting to think that way, and be able to link many different thoughts and ideas together into a complex net of logic.

By focusing on problems in the stories, I must now look at some of the topics we discussed in class, many of which were possible solutions to these problems.  I found it interesting how so many people had different ideas, and how almost all of them could potentially be correct.  Because a lot of the ideas mentioned in the stories and discussions are theories, it is hard to guess at what the effects of those theories could be.

Our dispute on whether faster than light travel is possible, for instance, shows that our current understanding of nature and physics makes many things nearly impossible to imagine.  It is possible that something exists that travels faster than light-we just don't have the technology to discover it yet.  Many scientists say that it cannot happen, but as we talked about in class, if a scientist says it's impossible, he's likely wrong.

I was very interested in our talks about nanotechnology and its many implications.  I think it would be very different to live in a society where financial status meant nothing; a world where everyone could have whatever they wanted.  Being able to just say what you want and have it instantly would be an exciting experience.  I'm sure I'd get used to it after awhile, but it is still amazing to think about.  Also having the ability to cure any disease with the same technology, or to be able to save people with utility fog, would raise the standard of living immensely.  The only problem would be the one described before-overpopulation.  If people can live forever, or at least a great deal longer, where are we going to put all those people that normally would have died by age 100?  We would invariably have to expand outward from Earth and colonize other planets, also possible due to nanotechnology.  I find it exciting, but at the same time, I find it a bit frightening.  I would be placing my life in the hands of technology.  I like to think I have a little more control over my life, though I know I really don't.

Richard Feynman was another subject I found interesting that we talked about in class.  I enjoyed how we looked at what he did in his life as well as what he did for science.  He showed all of us that you can be a professional and a genius while still having a life of your own.  The way he looked at life was unique, certainly, and the way he admired how other people thought was interesting.  He would put people to test a lot, and watch the results.  He would test the limits of his own ideas to formulate new ones, and then he would test those, too.  He enjoyed being different from other people, and his actions showed it, like playing for a Brazilian street band, or cracking safes.  Life was just one giant problem for him, and he won in the end.

Feynman's scientific work was no less amazing.  His complex Feynman diagrams are still widely puzzled over by scientists, and are used frequently to explain atomic and sub-atomic motion.  The quantum computer, which he first helped develop, will soon be used in mainstream production as its capabilities are expanded and fully realized.  The atomic bomb project that he spent a great deal of time on helped us win a war.  He was a man of many sides, and one that I wish I could become.

In everything that I've learned in this class, one general rule stuck out.  Technology in any form is a great power, and with it comes a very great responsibility.  One mistake with it and it may be your last.  If we are to make advances in any field, people must be sure they can accept any negative effects and be able to reverse or nullify them.  If they are unable, they must continue to develop until it's possible to make the technology truly beneficial. Everything hinges on humanity's ability to make the correct decisions, and to know when to stop.  I love technology and the luxuries and entertainment that it brings.  Many people simply abuse it though, rather than putting it to good use.  Humanity must stop abusing the technology it has before they cannot use it reverse the damage it has created.