The Truth in the Lies: Fiction Paving the Way for Progress

How fiction can be used as a platform to present new scientific ideas
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Created by Flrncia

Published on May 12, 2023
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We usually think that fiction is any piece of literature that’s born out of a writer’s imagination. It is manufactured, fabricated, unreal, and untrue. Author Neil Gaiman seems to believe otherwise. 

He thinks that fiction transcends mainstream connotations - and by extension its limitations. Fiction is a lie that tells the truth. Paradoxical allure aside, the beauty of this phrase lies in the implication that at its very core, underneath the mask of novel imagination, fiction reflects human nature and action. 

In retrospect, thinking about the books I’ve read in the past, this idea indeed rings true. I don’t think I would have been so enraptured by the characters or affected by the conflicts in those books if I didn’t relate to them on some level. Even if the characters were borne out of a fantasy world with elves, magic, and faeries, at their base nature, I saw something of myself in them. 

While the fantasy genre is interesting in its own right, applying Gaiman’s idea to a discipline that emphasizes empiricism - science -  can be quite eye-opening when we think about it. It frees scientific ideas from the confine that they need to be presented in such a rigid, straightforward, and admittedly, sometimes disinteresting manner. The scientific narrative can be made imaginative and colorful yet still remain truthful to the integrity of science through fiction. 

Fiction can even serve as a testing platform for scientific ideas and innovations that are deemed too radical or different from today’s standards. This easily eases people into new ideas and changes in society without the accompanying harshness. 

Narratives are found in every single thing. Using its power in conveying scientific ideas lightens up such a serious subject by gently introducing them. The starkness of the idea is removed along with the implications of what it would mean if it happened in real life because it’s fictional.

An example we can look into is in-vitro fertilization. Before the first successful case of human in-vitro fertilization was born in 1978, ‘test-tube babies’ were described in the dystopian novel ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley, more than 45 years earlier. 

Who would have thought that the mobile phones so interwoven into our daily lives were born out of science fiction? The communicators often seen used by Captain Kirk and the team to communicate back to the USS Enterprise on the original run of Star Trek from 1966 to 1969 introduced the idea of mobile phones to the world. In 1973, Motorola DynaTAC created the first real mobile phone paving the way for mobile phones as we know them today. 

Now reading science fiction and even fiction, in general, becomes a multi-layered experience. Apart from enjoying the narrative itself, there is the added task of searching for the reflected scientific truth buried in the fiction. 

Fiction can be used as a platform to hash out radical scientific ideas but the narrative one uses to convey such an idea can greatly influence how the idea is accepted. This shows us the power of narrative. Especially in an academically challenging field such as the sciences, fiction can pave the way for casual readers to understand society’s technological progress and future direction.

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