Simone Ines Lackerbauer

Freelancer and Student, University of Augsburg


This conversation is closed.

Reading science fiction for a more critical view of our society?

15 minutes of your time to think about the next 100 years of humanity.

I am currently working on a research project where I try to prove that reading science fiction can help adolescents to develop a more critical regard of our society. What do you think?

How can science fiction serve as an educational tool for adolescents? Is it possible to analyze the dreams and fears of society with science fiction narrations? Can we encourage young people (13-16) to develop a more critical view of society by explaining society's problems in science fiction to them?

If you want to help me answer this question, I would like to invite you to fill out my questionary: Please don’t hesitate to send me a message or to reply with your (critical) thoughts. If you want to find out more about my current research, here’s a brief explanation on my website:

Thank you very much!

PS: I just recognized a few typos and the question about the profession is listed twice. I am sorry about that. However, I don't dare to edit the form, since Google already overwrote my whole survey once.

Closing Statement from Simone Ines Lackerbauer

First of all, I would like to thank everyone for participating in my questionary. It has now been removed and I am currently working on analyzing the results. In total, 123 people took the survey and most of them probably came from the TED website, as it can be seen in the stats here:

The discussion here has been an amazing source of inspiration and it will also be a part of my analysis -- including the respective references of course, I do not intend to steal anyone's ideas :)

I will be trying to have my thesis published after it has been reviewed by my instructor (via, but if they deny it, I will publish it on my website, -- it might just take a while, because usually, they need a few weeks to review what people upload there. The detailed results of the questionary will also be posted there.

Nevertheless, I would like to share the table of contents (*.PDF) with you -- in French, that is:

I'd be happy to continue the discussion, so if you want to add something, don't hesitate and send me a message via TED. Again, thank you very much for your participation -- be assured I will launch the next discussion with the next nasty questionary in October.

Oh, and one thing about the questionary: as you can see in my plan, I am discussing the relationship between the human being and the machine. I just wanted to say that the questionary is a paradox and was meant to be constructed the way you saw it (except for the errors I mentioned in my initial post, of course). What does that mean? It means that I meant to limit the way you can answer to *important* questions about values, fears or preferences -- with those scales that did not really make it possible to express a nuanced opinion -- to show how we act and judge or are classified by the rules of the code, as a source for a debate (without judging it). So everyone who criticized the questionary: thank you -- you were absolutely right.


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    May 4 2011: SciFi has the ability to explore models of existence in more creative ways than traditional types of thought experiments. Kurt Vonnegut, for instance in "Sirens of Titan" proposed a plan for world peace by uniting everyone against a common enemy, his main character recruited people from earth to build a fake alien army, that army was set up as a straw man force, one that could appear to pose a threat to earth, but was designed to fail, when the force attacked, earth formed a united front and easily defeated the aliens, uniting all nations in a concerted effort against invaders. Other authors have carried on the tradition of Utopias and Dystopias by looking towards futuristic solutions to modern problems delving into topics of morality, politics, cultural development, etc. some favorites being Aldous Huxley's "A Brave New World", Orwell's "1984", and Nabokov's "Invitation to a Beheading". ScyFi can explore areas of thought unhindered by conventions of limitation and the best kinds (in my opinion, obviously) are those that use and explore fantastical technologies and extreme possibilities as a means to philosophize about pertinent issues rather than build escapist worlds of fantasy. The often hyperbolic nature of Scyfi is useful in its ability to highlight and focus on possibilities that are often overlooked by other types of thought expression, and do it in a fun and engaging manner that can ignite and inspire imagination, wonder, and curiosity. When considering things like humanistic rights for instance, I think it necessary to imagine worlds where creatures are genetically modified for exploitation, ScyFi can blur the lines that we often take for granted and help us think differently about every type of problem, from morality, politics, ethics, spirituality, culture, civilization, technology, etc. and their directions to re-frame problems in ways that free us from our own experience and mental habits to look at the possibilities beyond our normalized perspectives.
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      May 8 2011: Nice comment! I don't know if you're read them, but 'The Wanting Seed' by Anthony Burgess is a great dystopian tale, and the Ender/Bean series by Orson Scott Card is great for in depth philosophy, politics, and sociology.
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        May 9 2011: I've not read any Anothony Burgess yet, though I'm sure he's on my shelf somewhere. I actually just started Speaker for the Dead not realizing it was the end of a series. maybe I should put it down and start from the beginning?
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          May 9 2011: 'Speaker' is actually a good place to start. The series really starts with 'Enders Game', but the last three books are one story arc, while 'Game' is pretty much a stand alone novel.
          I hope you enjoy!
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      May 8 2011: Indeed, a very inspiring comment. I strongly agree to what you said about comparing fantasy and SF -- SF is too close to our world to not make us think about it. And yes, crossing the limits and borders of our normalized society with the help of science fiction is a way to question society and our own motives from a neutral point of view. SF is "far enough" from our reality, so we don't have to feel bad about what we think (e.g. questions about races). But it is equally "close enough" to our reality, so we can still reconnect fiction with reality and translate our thoughts into the present.
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    May 1 2011: Absolutely, science fiction has always asked some of the big and relevant questions. Mostly related to how the human condition struggles and fights to understand it's place in the universe.

    You want critical sci fi? Well I never thought I'd see the day but some of it is actually here on TED. Here are some talks that truly capture our imaginations as they are technologies developing at a very delicate stage where the use or abuse of this technology can tip over and branch in two very different futures.

    I am attempting to write a few sci fi stories myself.

    One is of a man who is constantly looking to enhance himself with robotics. This is very real by the way, futurists say man might merge with machine sometime soon. By the end of the story the man is fully a piece of clockwork. There is no organic components left in him. So here by the end of the story I wanna make the reader interpret and judge what is human and what is not human for his or herself.

    Another one I wrote had to do with aliens imprisoning people, we are oblivious to their control because we are much like animals to them we are not cranially evolved. In the end we figure out these aliens were our ancestors, they evolved from us. I am trying to question the relativity of human rights and animal rights.

    I would like to see sci fi deal with these topics because I think they are relevant for our time. There are plenty of other sci fi stories, that hit on similar themes and others such as bioengineering, aliens, artificial intelligence, human identity, time travel, nuclear warfare, man's place in the universe, man's place in cyberspace and more.
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      May 2 2011: Hi Budimir and thank you very much for your detailed comment! I also think it's the interaction of the individual condition of the human and its place in the bigger context of the universe that raise the questions science fiction doesn't fear to ask. For my project, I have also developed an analysis scheme for science fiction literature that can be seen as a spiral: From the meta questions (e.g. position of the narrator, literaty genre) to the macro questions (living space and overall scheme of the futuristic vision) to the meso questions (society, government) and to the micro questions that concern the individual. I think with this scheme it is easier to establish connections between the possible future described in the story and the reality.

      Thank you for sharing the links to these two talks, I associated the conversation with them and I will refer to them in my project. The danger really is to stumble upon discourses that are too positivistic, partly even ideological which don't consider the downsides of technological and scientific evolutions. I myself am open toward all kinds of developments, but critics can easily accuse those who think the future that they think in a too utopistic way.

      I would really like to read your stories when they are done. The question of what's human can even be extended by asking what remains of us as humans when our beliefs take over? Terrorism with pseudo-religious motives -- how much of a human was left in Osama Bin Laden?

      The question of extraterrestrial life forms also can be traced back to old Inca or Maya Gods. There's plenty of theories that those were aliens. From a scientific point of view, it is impossible to judge all this, but it is interesting to see how things can be interpreted.
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        May 3 2011: I can send you one of the stories if you want it's almost done I just need to look it over. It deals with themes like Utopia and so on. Just message me if you want it.

        Ideological science is quite dangerous, science is seperated from religion as long as it is seperated from ideology. I think that's important for a lot of people in the atheist and humanistic movements to know. Truth is not absolute, science is not absolute and all of it can be used as a method of oppression if we are not careful.
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          May 3 2011: I hope I am not imposing but I'd like to read it too!
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        May 3 2011: Sure, I do this for a hobby so don't expect something too magnificent, they are rough drafts and I find myself adding new details to them every year, never summing up complete courage to try and get them published. I'll send you a draft. Thanks for reading.
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          May 3 2011: I just sent you a message and I'm looking forward to reading your stories. It's really nice to see you and the others are sharing my opinion about SF, that really motivates me to finish my project.

          And yes, I also agree that ideological tendencies, no matter whether motivated by religion, technology or science, are dangerous. I just read a passage in Patrice Flichy's "The Internet Imaginaire" where he describes the relationship between "myth", "utopia" and "ideology" and how utopian visions should be used to soften ideologies, whereas ideologies should be used to approach utopian vision and reality.
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        May 7 2011: Hey got your message I am gonna reply to it now. I had a very busy week. I will send the files sometime next week.
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    May 2 2011: I find it is of dire importance to teach children critical thought values along with a foundation of well rounded information and group education.

    Now, for you to consider in your project (because everything I would of said was dictated by Budimir's first two paragraphs) a lesson plan based on artistic, academic, and mechanical activities would look great! I mean to associate futurism philosophies with post-modern ideals of educating is a great way to go about this in my opinion.

    Project: In a group have child create futuristic utopia(s) with modern day economic systems and/or newly created ones. Have them explain everything from birth, education, entertainment, basic essentials (nutrition, diet, and shelter), daily activities, job choices (if there are choices), and [but not limited to] space exploration degree/level. The utopia is earth-based not space-based (this will save time). You will assign children different novels/short stories to have a foundation in which to start thinking in terms of when considering where to start in their utopias. Show them short clips from science-fiction shows/movies with ideas of futuristic ideas of living life. However encouraging research on science-fictional ideas is a must therefore they will be able to pick and choose more for themselves and truly explore ideas.

    The way you would grade this is; how "in-depth" the ideas are, how well their ideas worked together, how well they worked together, how much research they did (works citied), and "shock value" meaning how much thought was put into the project all together.

    A copied utopia with a few changes is a poor grade...A utopia that is completely originally creative great grade

    Indeed to mix critical thought responsibilities and futurism could only prove beneficial for our future, as Krisztián noted, in which I will emphasize, you must post some results in which you find/create/configure. Especially since I gave you a lesson plan...Also to add I'm taking this idea lol
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      May 2 2011: Nicholas -- thank you very much for your comment, your project sounds like a very sophisticated and sustainable way to teach children about how to work for their vision of the future. The problem with abstract discussions about CO2 emissions or nuclear radiation is that the topics are too far from the daily reality of the children, so they can hardly draw the line between those problems and their own future. With hands-on experience and the need to develop solutions will help them to integrate those ideas and critical thoughts into their culture.

      In my thesis, I am indeed introducing possible extension of the subject, e.g. writing competitions and hands-on projects to combien scientific knowlege and practial skills. Your suggestion is indeed very helpful for this!
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        May 2 2011: Ah, energy. Yes. That is where academic education will have to take place. Children cannot just understand energies in a few moments. Here. (Dark Matter simplified) (Cartoon on climate shift) (Nuclear energy)

        Just because you have to teach facts to children about energies doesn't mean it cannot be funny/fun. Make it that way so they will attach the importance of it to life. You reinforce the importance of energy/pollution ideas when breaking down their own projects with the separate groups.

        Now depending on the age, at the end of the project you should ask questions that revolve around ideas of what it would take for society to get to these utopias. "What is preventing such?" "What is creating such?" "Who is responsible to start transactions?" "Are there already ideas like this in existence?" "Are their plans/utopia ideas like this online?"

        Indeed a further extension of the project can come with [researched-based] papers and/or [researched-based] presentations

        I hope I gave you ideas. Science fiction was indeed a great idea of critical thinking lessons. As of now I am considering lessons around "attachment" and trying to figure out if it is too complex for children to consider. I have a lot of critical thought teaching websites if you want.
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          May 3 2011: Yes, energy in the first place, because today no one can afford not to think about energy and natural ressources. But also empathy, solidarity and values should be emphasized. There is a shift from individual struggle to collaborative action, but it needs to be taught in a pertinent and above all inspiring way.

          Thank you for the links, they are really helpful to see what has already been created. It might also be a good thing to have children (or adolescents) develop educational videos or for other children, as the mixture of hands-on training, the process of creation and the examination of information and the best way how to communicate via a specific media would be a great positive experience.

          Thank you for your feedback -- I'm open for all kinds of suggestions and teaching websites would be a good supplement for the so-called "experimental" part of my thesis -- the part where I am suggesting activities like reading, writing or creating videos about future-related topics. Could you please send me the links?
        • May 17 2011: thanks for the post...lilkes it
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        May 21 2011:

        Sorry this list is over due.

        All these sites involve critical thinking. Remember everyone CT is a skill, if never practiced it will never develop in life. Teaching children how to CT will change the world very quickly if done so with open ended educations.
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          May 27 2011: Thank you for the links, Nicholas. I'm glad I have a section in my thesis which is called "experimental elements" and I think this will perfectly fit there. :)
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        May 2 2011: I agree Ricahrd,

        "A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at."
        - Bruce Lee

        1. First. the goal must be established. "Unite the World"
        1.a. "What will it look like when goal is met or close to being met?"
        1.b. "What type of systems would work best to handle a mass population?"
        2. Next, what prevents such events must be taken into consideration.
        2.a. Religion, culture, nationalism, and (but not limited to) educations.
        3. Next, the significant actions/changes/wants/needs/efforts/understandings must be created/configured in order to know where to start to accomplishing the goal.
        4. Next, implications of considered/created/configured ideals.
        5. Then a series of trial and error must be done for consensus knowledge.
        ?. Goal met.

        (Feel free to add/move/replace numbers between 1 - ?, which is why I left it there, however for orderliness refer to the numbers in the steps to accomplishment, upon change in order I will edit this part. EX: 4. Venus Project)

        I been posting this around TED for a few threads now, perhaps this is something of value here also? I mean perhaps to include this to my already created lesson plan might do justice. (Just put my name on it :-P)
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          May 3 2011: Is it really necessary to unite the world first before working on a new system? I think cultural identity has a strong national connotation and although I consider myself as "European" rather than "German", I wouldn't feel comfortable with a united world.

          What you posted definitely is of value -- there's a lot to discuss around your proposal and I hope we will hear some other opinions about it as well. I'm curious.
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        May 3 2011: Richard, I really like those quotes. We just have to keep in mind that not all progress and not all utopian visions are necessarily positive in the long term. But I don't think humanity has already reached the point where good and bad progress could be identified.
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        May 5 2011: Look at America. The most creative minds today go in Arts. Those who are bright enough to science/math were lucky enough for it to come natural to them. That isn't how a lot of people work right away. People think in different ways and if educations don't compensate that, there is a lot of wasted interest killing in early ages and that becomes the trend. Humans have exceptional potential that is being blocked by television sets, pure-academia curriculum until college and/or trade school, and poor sources of information. More so in America.

        Our youth made two people who have no talent, millionaires. That is how corrosive a bad education can be on people. It is taking a huge recession for people to start looking 'behind themselves' and say "What the f** is going on over there?" and can only react in shock value with no idea what to do about said event or occurrence. Internet is the only source of real journalism today, with few exceptions (even including comedy central).

        There is a reason comedians are also so political. It is an art, an extension of mind. When you practice art you are thinking, what your art is, is a reflection of your thinking/interest. This is why I encourage critical thought so much because if taught young child will become artist of thought. Idealistic children growing up with realistic surroundings.

        We are all just victims of emotional baggage. Emotional responses to experiences is what creates the processes in which our minds absorb information.

        What may seem real may only be real to us. The science of colors is exceptional to challenge existence. Space-Time theory... time = space. I mean really for middle school science class to not be teach spacetime to kids... Wait not.

        I feel sci-fi is just future reality (or close to it), however for a real future to happen similar to these ideals is a world that will network very closely with the entire race. Or else war on these levels while being separated means far more deaths
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          May 8 2011: Maybe we need a shift toward the education of values, morale, empathy, cultural difference as part of our rich human experience. Although you tackle quite different topics in your post, I think it all comes down to some kind of meta-education above all the different courses and specialties like art, science, engineering. Maybe we need more guidance, more awareness of what we do and how we can help shape the future in every situation of our lives.
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          May 24 2011: Simone, I think you summed us some nice thought very well there. I'm currently working on the social media presence of my local TEDx talk - the topic is Teaching Compassion (approached from all the angles you can imagine), and I'm exploring compassion in the arts this week.

          This is an interesting combination of art and education being discussed. I think Nicholas, you make a great point that "when you practice art, you are thinking," which relates to a workshop I was writing up earlier. The woman who will be running the workshop teaches artistic techniques (I think mostly visual and poetry) to kids, and then gets them to explore the cultural and natural worlds around them, and express their reactions through art.

          This gets the kids connected to their environment, both the people around them, and nature (/artificial, I imagine), developing their self-confidence and compassion, hence the inclusion in the conference. What I hadn't thought about was that this also develops their critical thinking as well, and that science fiction does this kind of in reverse(?) - it makes us think about our environment critically, which leads to more awareness.

          To the other point, I've been thinking a lot about how the education system (at least here in the US where I am familiar with it) needs a drastic overhaul, but no one is really sure what that should be. There are a lot of ideas out there, and more every day. I think exploring the interconnectedness of subjects that we see as disparate (like art and science) is definitely important, as is addressing different learning and thinking styles.

          The "meta-education" mentioned by Simone could be sort of a guide to the world, how to use the knowledge acquired, and (borrowing from sci-fi) imagining what could be important to know for the future. In my remaining space, let me tell you to google the Institute for the Future, and then to plug my TEDx:


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          May 27 2011: Damn, why doesn't TEDxGoldenGateED take place one month later, I'd really have loved to join, this sounds like a very inspiring event for new ideas in education. Thank you very much for bringing it up, I hope they will post the talks somewhere online.

          Yes, science fiction is a kind-of reverse approach: you read, then you take a look at the time when it has been written, you try to find out things about the author (e.g. is he maybe a scientist himself who tinkers with concepts he would love to see come true? Does he have a certain opinion about things like AI, robots, nuclear energy, environment?). Then you try to create links between what you have read and what you have experienced in real life -- e.g., if there is a personal robot who assists you (like Beezle in Tad William's Otherland for Orlando Gardiner), can we compare him to our smartphone with its thousands of applications and how it serves as an "extended brain" for our daily activities? What does this say about is -- does the smartphone in some ways dominate our habits, because we need to recharge it every evening, because we can only use it the way the OS or technical features allow us to use it? If we take a look at Snow Crash, is there a way we can compare the virtual world there to Second Life, online games or social networks? How do the characters in the book relate to each other in the virtual and the real environment? How to WE relate to each other in virtual and real environments, are there strong or weak ties?

          I hope you'll have a great TEDx event -- and since my next thesis from october on will be about cyberculture, creativity and autodidacticism it would be great to stay in touch and to share some more ideas about the way education should be in the 21st century. I'm really passionate about all this :) And I'll be in the Bay area from July 1 to August 14, maybe there could be a meet-up?
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        May 8 2011: "It’s complicated. On the one hand we’re killer apes, and on the other hand we have this metaphysical longing. We want there to be a significance to human life, and we want there to be a narrative that holds everything together."
        - Simon Critchley

        Indeed, you are right, a lot must be done before the world unites (education(s) wise). However it goes into my optimistic philosophy/slippery slope. "We think therefore we are" By using the ideas like that of your SF education to teach children a future that is beautiful due to the basic needs being met and living life only to better one self. Children will think towards that, want it, crave it, and eventually after a few generations of thinking, it will be there in full effect.
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      May 17 2011: You know Nicholas, I like your idea. Easily adaptable to many situations, doesn't require a whole lot of extra materials, and get's kids thinking. You could also do a variation on a theme, whereby you ask them to imagine the world fifty, a hundred, and two hundred years in the future. Other than that, pretty much the same idea, and it would definitely be science fiction. Or alternatively, you could take old scifi novels, and compare them to reality. '1984' wasn't like the book, but there's a lot of crossover between 'Star Trek' and reality. We've even invented transparent aluminum, something Star Trek made up years ago. Those are just some simple ideas, I hope they help in some way!
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        May 17 2011: I already told Simone I stole the idea from her! (It was originally hers, but I have been entertaining it)

        But thanks for the ideas!
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      May 2 2011: I totally agree with you. I am also analyzing science fiction that has been written by adolescents to better understand their point of view and regard toward our future. It is interesting to see that even though the stories are mostly centered around individuals (an indication fo the young ones' struggle to form their own identities), they also partly illustrate very sophisticated pictures of the future, not just rewriting things they have already read, but really introducing their own thoughts, fears and dreams for our society.

      The act of writing is a combination of inner and outer beauty -- and it is extremely satisfying once you have accomplished writing down your thoughts, whether as a comment, a blog post, an article, a story or a book.
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    Jun 1 2011: One of the best courses I took in college, in terms of critical analysis of forces, social and technological, impacting our society, was English 176 at Stanford (Science Fiction: Human Identity in the Age of Technology). I think a similar exploration in High School could have been really valuable in providing accessible handles for complex and important ideas. As a teenage scifi nerd I remember reading Asimov and Clarke and Card and Heinlein and seeing important societal parallels and commentaries. There wasn't really any outlet for those understandings in my High School curriculum. In recent years, I look to TV shows like Battle Star Galactica as potentially brilliant tools for introducing and engaging young people in important conversations about topics such as ethnic and minority politics, religious fanaticism, war and occupation, women's health and reproductive rights. One book that I'd put at the top of a teen reading list is 'Oryx and Crake':
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    May 31 2011: This is not necessarily specific to science fiction. This is perhaps too narrow a focus. A good example would be satirical works such as Animal Farm or obviously 1984, which has its roots more in political fiction than SF. Anything which shows a new perspective on our society encourages critical thinking.

    Many of the classic SF novels could have easily taken place in another genre such as fantasy with the same message, but perhaps would not have been taken as seriously. The 'science' element of SF lends credibility to the possibility of the imagined world that is portrayed.
  • May 24 2011: I think Science Fiction plays a part in society that Religion played in earlier times. It is a way for us to extrapolate from our current world into possible futures that are unmeasurable or predictable. If it was measurable or predictable it would be science. The Church is trying to get back in the game -- here is a direct quote from Benedict's Regensburg address, reckoned to be his most important speech so far -- while speaking about the centrality of reason to christianity he says...

    "The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them.

    We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith."

    The overcoming of the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable is exactly what good science fiction attempts to do.
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      May 27 2011: Although I would never entitle science fiction as a new religion -- or a replacement for religious thought, I agree that there are some aspects about it that lead into the religious direction. The way technologies are integrated into our daily lives, the immersive characteristics, the brands, gadgets, social uses we adhere to. That is a sphere we need to explore from a sociological point of view.

      Yes, the extrapolation from our current society to think about possible futures without being within the bourdaries of what is realistic is a very important argument. Benedict's statement is surprisingly open-minded and indeed something we need to analyze very carefully and put it into the right context. Thank you for bringing it up.
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    May 21 2011: As a long time and 36yo fan of the true science fiction genre, I dare say that by those who are interested in the long term development of science and technology, already regard science fiction as a valid source of speculative information and thus as an educational tool.
    Besides that I strongly believe that technological and scientific development is given direction in a large part by prominent science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, etc.
    Unfortunately, science fiction has gotten a bad reputation because purely fictional works without scientific bases are called science fiction as soon as a mutated monster, alien or space ship appears in the story.
    To much of such pulp has acted as "the boy who cried wolf."
    If we look at the real science fiction genre, so many fiction has become reality in one form or another that in ancient times, science fiction writers would have been deemed prophets.
    This fact however has become near invisible by the truckloads of cheap fiction without scientific bases that has been dumped over it.
    Personally I blame Hollywood and it's uninspired screenwriters that still seem able to produce such filth by the truckload. Of course, if no one would watch this stuff... It's the curse of the entertainment industry to produce anything and everything a large audience will swallow.

    I do think speculation about future development of science and technology as well as society and politics should be an integral part of education from as early an age as possible.
    I think we would be astounded by the accuracy and directions of speculation young children will pose.
    I believe it would be a strong addition to our creative thinking as a species. After all, no adult can ever match a child's innate ability to imagine. Why not leverage that resource for the betterment of mankind.
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      May 21 2011: Totally agree with you Richard. Thanks for putting the science fiction genre straight. The generation who is 50-60 now have read the good stuff and got insired to reach for the moon. We need some really good new stuff as the world is in a different timezone.

      As you say you are a 36yo fan, which writers/books/comics should we hand out at primary and secondary schools?
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        May 27 2011: Funny enough I would still go for the classics but they are too heavy to start with in secondary school. Jules Verne is a must read I think. As mentioned, Asimov, A.C. Clarke. 1984 is a must read too.
        If you want to go contemporary, try some other media then books.
        I've seen some interesting kid shows on TV too.

        I think the worst thing we can do (and it is still done today) is teaching kids out-dated and superseded science. Why do kids still learn Newton if all the world has accepted Einstein or maybe quantum or string theory even.
        We teach top down. We start with that which they can see and feel and touch, and then zoom in to show what's underneath.
        Why? The sense of wonder is in that which they can't see, feel or touch. The abstract is where the sense of magic is.
        Start at the bottom. Start at the quark, the string or the neutrino. Start at the science fiction. Make that a magical world for them and then zoom out to relate that magic to the real.
        Why does teaching still primarily aim at transferring information instead of promoting curiosity and interest. Has communication sciences still not taught us that the goal is leading, not the message.
        We want our kids to become curious and inquisitive.
        So teach them that instead of bludgeoning them into apathy with facts.
        When I look back at school, the only time I was really enjoying the process of learning, was when I started extra curricular discussions about Einstein's relativity theories and quantum theory two or three years before the subject was to be taught. Einstein made me understand Newton instead of visa versa. When I was taught the newton laws, I knew, I felt, they where too simple too flat to be the truth.
        We underestimate our kids by thinking they can not see that what we teach is only part of the truth.
        We waste their metal abilities if we don't show them the full picture from the start.
        I think our educational systems are limited by a need for measurable results each year.
        But I'm no educator so.
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          May 27 2011: Richard, I disagree we should not teach Newton any longer. I think we should give them all the different points of view, so we can show them how one or another has emerged, because most of them are based on each other, they don't come from out of nowhere.

          But reversing the top-down approach is a very interesting concept I would also favor. I am a little younger, so when I look back at school, I really hated math, physics, chemistry, but I still got curious about the things I didn't understand, because it annoyed me I couldn't get them straight in my head. Science fiction sometimes really helped me to think more abstract (I had a great series of books about Einstein's theories involving a girl that was sent to space and experienced almost getting sucked up by a black hole...) and to not just see science as a construct of abstract facts, but to get a more "meta" point of view. All in all, I liked going to school, even though it meant learning things I wouldn't ever need again. School made me curious. So even though the educational system -- whether in the US or in Europe -- needs a big fat overhaul, I don't think it's all black and white. It also depends on the children themselves -- and especially during puberty, they will always have a hard time accepting a teacher's authority, no matter how good the educational model is.
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          May 27 2011: I'm not knocking you rich or anyone but using the word "accepted" dose'nt mean truth therefore we must be wary in what we teach our children,there is currently some amazing observations been made in astronomy that is going to shake up the current accepted view of time and space and hubbles law which is the greatest discovery of the 20th century,why i'm saying this? is a good 70% percent of sci-fi? uses the law for distance calculation.
          a great astronomer Margaret burbidge once said "there's more to the universe than we think" Cosmology quest pt 1.

          I'm all for sci-fi creativity,if you teach the next generation a possible wrong it will take a generation to fix it.

          i love julian may,what a brilliant author
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        May 27 2011: Ken, Simone.

        You are both right of course. We can't stop teaching kids all points of view and we should be carefull not to sell theory as fact.
        My point;
        Let's not teach kids to accept things like Newton as "Law" as "Fact" when current science has shown it to be incomplete or even partly wrong. Einstein's theories are still theories. But Netwon's laws have been proven to be nothing more either. Yet we still teach the "Laws" of physics.
        I say, let's be honest and explain to our kids that we have theories and ideas but no complete proven construct.
        As Ken says, It takes a generation to fix teachings of a wrong. Perhaps even more.
        We have been taught facts, truths that turn out to be only a part of the story. Because of those absolutes, our generations have been obstructed in thinking creatively of other truths and theories.
        I think this limits the progress of science because we have to unlearn so much.
        Let's teach our kids ideas instead and help them create their own new ideas as well. Let's not teach too much fact. After all near every fact can one day be dis-proven, until we have proven how all of the universe works.
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          May 28 2011: Education should be learning to learn, and one needs 'content' for that.

          the funny thing is not everybody learns in the same way, and some are lucky they have great teachers and 'get' the educational methods to become curious.

          A lot of kids, every year more, simply don't get it. It's alarming (am in the numbers of Netherlands). Ken Robinson makes a great point on 'industrial education' we should get rid off. SF is a great deal off the solution, though one step closer to Star Trek as computers can do the math whether an SF is plausible.

          My TED wish;
          There should be written a book 2084
          And a SF book/comic on global empathy how it can work with 'do more with less'
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      May 27 2011: Richard, I also completely agree with you. With the pulps and other fiction that does not adhere to the "rules" of true science fiction, the genre has really suffered a loss of reputation. Hence my approach to de-stereotype the genre with my thesis -- a very limited approach, though. We can blame Hollywood, or just mass media and cultural industries as a whole, but sadly, blaming itself won't help at all (although it's very pleasant sometimes). Yes, the ability of children to imagine and to tinker with reality and fantasy are amazing and we absolutely need to support them as much as we can.

      I would also recommend Verne, Asimov, Clarke. I would even recommend Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiade, because there are a lot of funny short stories about two robots trying to build perfect machines. A little slapstick sometimes, but very thoughtful.

      Besides, I would always recommend to read science fiction written by the kids themselves. TeenInk has a book with some SF stories written by teenagers, but there are not many books of this kind. Why not have a science fiction short story writing competition? That's one thing I propose in my thesis: explain science fiction, how it is different from fantasy and fantastic literature, give them some ideas, let them read a few short stories of well-known authors and let them write themselves. You'll be amazed by the results.

      I also did brainstormings with school classes to ask them what they thought science fiction was. It was a little chaotic, but they liked discovering the principles of SF together with me. Then I did some smaller focus groups with teenagers who were self-proclaimed SF fans and we got into the details of what they thought about SF, the future of society and which stories they really liked.
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    May 13 2011: Maybe I'm applying an overly broad definition of science fiction, but I think it has already had a huge impact on our thinking. The following books definitely impacted the way that I think about the world:
    . 1984
    . All the Kurt Vonnegut books
    . Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    . Utopia
    . Brave New World
    . A Clockwork Orange

    Now that I look at this list, it seems that most science fiction is incredibly pessimistic about the future. But perhaps that is it's greatest value - as a warning about what might happen if we screw up.
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      May 13 2011: Same reason why we have history class is why we should have science fiction class.

      To learn from the bad ideas and/to make our good ideas better.
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        May 27 2011: I agree, Nicholas. Learning our lessons from what has happened and from what could happen if we don't take good care of our planet is important.

        Griffin, I don't think there is this deterministic cause-effect model. It's rather to show adolescents what could happen -- to confront them with the positive and negative possible futures, so they can make up their minds and decide themselves: what do I want my future to look like? What do I want the future of humanity look like? Is there anything I can do or can avoid to make happen what I think is best for our future?
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      May 19 2011: Is the extinction of humantiy really bad? Are we so significant? I don't understand why people think our kind has anything to do with future. We are a species of the present, though we have the capability to the change the near future for our species and for those who are less capable than us, but we aren't omnipotent and as far as i can imagine universe is solely composed of matter which means there isn't an omnipotent being at this very present. Matter as a whole(universe itself) is subject to evolution, sooner or later (most probably much later) an almost omnipotent if not omnipotent existence will come into being which will probably treat whole history of life insignifcantly. Our science fiction is stuck to our limit of being a 'man' sadly, i want to read and i want my children to read fiction that takes the future after mankind or the time itself as a subject in a serious manner. I want my children to understand what they are, where they stand, how insignificant they are as well how significant matter/universe as a whole is. You can't evolve by looking at a mirror you have to look around and savor the whole universe full of knowledge. Since you are a teacher planning to use science fiction as a tool in teaching i'd advise you to watch 'Gundam 00' animation/cartoon if you ahven't already, most people look down on cartoons but i found it really and really creative. There are many similar animations and movies around which carry the seeds of thought like 'Avatar', 'Gundam Seed' and many more. We can watch movies like 'utopia' and perhaps even enjoy it but todays youth is growing with todays popular culture thus using todays art and fiction to reach them is much more easier and fruitful.
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        May 19 2011: Ummm................yes?
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        May 27 2011: Thank you for your interesting statement, Utku. No, I'm not a teacher, I'm just a student trying to find sociological approaches for teachers how they could use science fiction literature. But that's just for emphasizing that it's not didactics I am interested in -- in the first place. I do know Gundam, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion -- very interesting approaches indeed, but too dystopic for the young ones, especially if you don't just watch them, but analyze them afterwards. I agree that it's easier to reach young people with popular culture, but from the educational-sociological point of view, getting confronted with books is still a lot more effective.

        Well, for reading advice, why not Stephen Hawking? I always feel very insignificant when I read confront myself with theories such as his. I would also recommend Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything".

        I think your statement about the insignificance of man compared to the universe is an interesting, very specific point of view. I agree that we are small compared to the entirety of the universe, but nevertheless, we strive for happiness and that is what matters for me.
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      May 21 2011: @ Colgan....with the exception of 1984 and a brave new world, all those books have happy endings (unless you read the abridged version of a clockwork orange which left out the last chapter) everything by Vonnegut is great and though i think he did tend towards cautionary tales he also had some positive insights. I don't know if More's Utopia could really be considered Scify but It had a very optimistic perspective.
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      May 27 2011: Tim, I agree there are a lot of pessimistic points of view toward the future. But it is not that surprising if you consider the catastrophes that happened during the times when those titles were written: world wars, the cold war, industrial innovation, new technologies... and yes, I think the "warning" capacity of science fiction is one of its biggest values.
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      May 8 2011: Since it is only a thesis of 40 pages, I had to limit both the terrain of science fiction and the target group. But you are of course right, reading has in certain societies and age groups become a "niche activity". However, I still think the educational value of reading is higher than of watching.
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          May 27 2011: First of all (for those who actually read this), I'm sorry I didn't reply for such a long time, I had to pass some important exams. I hope I didn't mention this yet, but in my opinion, it is harder to maintain a critical distance towards a movie (especially immersive ones like Avatar), because you really get confronted with the story and you can't just say "stop", let it sink in and think about it (if you are in a cinema which is where it's the most fun to watch movies anyways). I think the brain is too occupied keeping up with what happens on the screen to allow for a critical reflection while you are watching.
  • Jun 1 2011: In light of books such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, I am reminded of the protagonist of 2012 (I know, I know) who was a sci-fi writer.

    By the way, that is an interesting research topic. I am currently researching using games as an immediate feedback tool to teach kids programming. Very similar ;)
  • May 31 2011: Books like 1984, by Orwell? Sure! ahaha
  • May 28 2011: Hi Simone, I've really enjoyed reading this thread. Entertainment in general is a wonderful platform for personal growth. I understand that the topic at hand is science fiction, and how it might improve our lives as human beings.

    Well, entertainment is a virtual reality. And the great thing about a virtual reality is that it can be explored and experienced without any consequences. Keep in mind, I use the word "entertainment" in the sense that it actually produces intellectual or intra/extra - personal growth. Television these days is 95% hogwash, science fiction however, has great potential in this regard. What I mean by " without consequence", is that the situations and/or terrifying conclusions do not happen in reality.

    It might be hard for a closed mind to experience the true beauty of a virtual reality, because one is so entangled in the society/world one lives in. But if the mind is open to experiencing it, there's a wealth of knowledge, opportunity for self-reflection and thought in this art.

    Have you by any chance, done some research on science fiction in games or games in general? Now that's a platform for creative growth! Because in a game you not only observe as you do in other forms of entertainment, but you take active part in it, you make decisions that affects the space you inhabit.

    I personally would love to see some sci-fi masters(or great educators for that matter) collaborate with game developers, to create interesting scenarios for students in the "classroom", if such a room is truly needed.

    And by the way, LEGOS! We need more legos, not barbies or action-men. Any thoughts on this? =)
  • May 27 2011: Well, this is truly a creative initiative to bring in a relation between fiction and future via imagination. However, there are always some things that in never considered while writing science fiction. Forecasting rules out several important concerns like social stagnation, intellectual taboos, education system failures, public operation failure, etc. I do believe that such an attempt might give a very ideal scenario on the future, but to show the real scenario, lots of things are required to be considered to exact the calculation.
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    May 27 2011: i'm no Science Fiction fan, but I can offer a simple and supportive answer to the question.
    Perhaps thinking more of J G Ballard's books, maybe like Kingdom Come, a realistic vision of disutopia is an interesting warning to adolescents. It is truly the case that Fiction can help young people cast a 'critical" eye over society.
    That said, I am most interested actually in Simone's choice of words in framing the question - especially the words "our" and "society".
    I'm not much of a believer in the idea of Society, it seems to imply that we don't have much choice but to be part of "Society", which is ironic giving the general meaning of a society being something that you choose the join (eg: The Science Fiction Appreciation Society). An acceptance of "Society" is not how I'd choose to live my live, as opposed to freely contracting to interact with friends, colleague etc on mutually agreeable terms, and not having to bother about strangers etc. So, it seems relevant that we're talking about a very artificial construct (Society) in this question. Science fiction can help us understand "Society" possibly because Society itself is a fake idea, a make up concept, a Fiction.
    Then, there is the use of the word "our". Hmmm, does this mean there another society that is not "ours"? The idea of creating boundaries, my society, your society, my commonwealth, your commonwealth, is all a bit strange... socialist and nationalist? "Our Society" implies a kinship, that you want to share and redistribute wealth, love or whatever, amongst this defined group, and NOT share it with another. I don't care for these ideas of nationalism, or fake loyalty to a fake community, be it town or football club or whatever.
    So, again, I do think Science Fiction can help.... there are many great Fiction examples of nationalism and socialism and fake loyalty to bogus icons that lead us down the wrong road.
    In summary, a great question, with some really interesting nuances, and the answer is YES!
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      May 27 2011: Thank you very much for your comment, I am glad you brought up my choice of the wording for this question. FIrst of all, I intentionally used the words "society" and "our", because they are notions "we" can relate to. They are a part of where we come from and even though, as you point out, we may not have thosen them at our own will, we have to cope with the fact that we can neither deny nor strip off this particular fictional construct we were born in. There is a highly interesting concept of a scientist called J. Baechler who explores the three parts of our social network -- I'm sorry for using the French terms here:

      1) socialité - our affiliation with a nation, an ethnic background, a cultural heritage. We do not choose it, it is rarely actively addressed (e.g. when you go to war for your country) and although there are parts about it that change (e.g. moving to another country), it has a certain stability.

      2) sodalité - our affiliation with groups, such as enterprises and our network of colleagues, our family (we can or cannot be friends with our colleagues or cousins, but not being friends with them won't make them go away), our classmates.

      3) sociabilité - our affiliation with friends, people we are close to. This has to be reciprocal, both partners have to agree on the social link, even though it may be weak or earmarked.

      We are at the same time in multiple spheres of all those three concepts.

      I think it was Claude Romano comes up with two other notions I find highly inspiring when you talk about the self: identité for the part that is stable, that stays (e.g. your skin color, the values your parents taught you) and ipséité for the part that is fragile and under continuous recreation. Your ipséité will for example change when a hurricane destroys your home. When your sister gets married. When you get a new job.

      So why am I explaining all this here? Because I wanted to use the words in a provocative way. There is no society -- except for the virtual...
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      May 27 2011: ... illusion of the internet society that "we" here are all affiliated with. We are on the level of "sodalité", we are all here in the TED community, most of us are strangers to each other. So saying "our society" is indeed absurd. So yes, science fiction can us help society, because in many cases, there is no society - and yet, the characters live together, interact. We interact, although we are not part of a society. Society - as in socialité - should not be a construct of boundaries, but a concept which you can use as a starting point for your personal development. However, the world relies on those society constructs, so we somehow have to arrange ourselves with it.

      And I wonder when someone will start talking about how the questionnaire predetermines the answers due the lack of really writing down one's own opinion... A little cybernetic, after all :)
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    May 21 2011: When children are 13-16, whatever they have in their backpack, they surf with that. Discovery of the others 'boy-girl' relations and your increased mobility and freedoms take central stage.
    So I believe if we want them to be critical thinkers, it needs to be done from the age of 4, slowly building up.

    From 0-4 : a child does everything with passion, elswise he/she refuses (with screaming force).
    From 4-8 : this is systematically kicked out, 'you shall do what we grownups think is good for you'. What is good for them should include balancing selfesteem and compassion. There is 'Me' and 'Us'. We teach them on hygiene of the surface of our body and brushing teeth. We should also teach them hygiene of healthy thinking and healthy eating. In an implicit (cartoony/funny) way, as they are only small.
    From 8-13 : This is the age their eyes really open for the world around them, before it was tribal. So what we did implicit before, can become explicit. They can be confronted with real world issues, their brain is ready to see both sides of people in it; as a person with survival instinct and as a compassionate community. This can be guided by science fiction narrative to create a path through details and intersections in scientific fields.
    From 13-16 : they have the right luggage and with the right science fiction incentives, they can feel empowered to start rebalancing society as we got it.
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      May 27 2011: Paul, thank you very much for sharing your ideas. Do you have any scientific references for this approach? It sounds a little like Piaget.
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        May 28 2011: This lineup is a result in collecting experiences in school/learning problems. It's a logic coming together of general learning theories, neuro science results, growing psychological problems with kids. I am in the process of knitting it together. Piaget, I will google for it! Thanks!

        Honestly, I do not read much scientific research other than neuro science, as the schools should already have been a better place if pedagogical science would have solved the issues.

        So, yes! for SF in schools! Many reasons.
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    May 18 2011: Orson Welles. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.
  • May 12 2011: Most science-fiction works deal with classic themes that have a lot to to do with the writer's society and its trends :

    Novels about mutants, like Slan by A.E. Van Vogt, are often about racism and intolerance.
    Novels about androids, like Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg or Blade Runner by Philip K. Dick, speak indeed of slavery and civil rights. Remember these novels were written around 1970 (not long after the Civil Right Act)

    In the novels of the Robot cycle by Asimov, you can notice the relationship between Terrans and Spatians recall those between Europe and America (with a quite critical point of view).

    What about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and the dictatorship of television in our society?

    In brilliant works like Frank Herbert's Dune or Dan Simmons's Hyperion you can find the theme of religion and fanatism, which sounds very "contemporary"

    Some anticipation authors, like Frenchman Pierre Bordage in Wang, also imagined what kind of hell our world could become in the following decades based on the current trends.

    So, I'd say, of course science-fiction is full of references.
    Either explicit ones like in anticipation, or through similar contexts or through myths, like in long-term science-fiction.
    And it can (should) be used to ponder on our own societies. I think the authors meant it. Not only for teenagers.
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      May 27 2011: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and the great examples you brought up. SF definitely is a way for authors to reflect the problems of a society, but dislocated so the reader could also develop a different point of view. Instead of trying to impose their points of view on us, they give us new and independent perspectives in fiction to discover ourselves what we think is right or wrong.
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    May 11 2011: Science Fiction is also wirtual world.
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    May 9 2011: I have a couple more Ender's game examples...

    Not only can we expect that an alien's language will be difficult to understand and decode, but we should also NOT expect that they communicate by vocalization and interpretation via a brain.

    The Hive Queen is the central consciousness and physical embodiment of the group-mind the "Formics"- she never had to communicate because her consciousness was instantaneously known by all of her species.

    Another aliens species communicates by interpretation of DNA messages sent back and forth. They are also the species that supposedly created the "virus" capable of terraforming planets.

    And with regard to Artificial Intelligence, it's not a robot that became sentient, it's Jane. A non-physical entity that exists within the network used by humans for cross-space communication. She hides herself from humans because she knows she is the embodiment of the fear we have of an AI being, but she revealed herself to Ender because she wasn't afraid he would try to wipe her out.

    Well rather than explain the entire series to you, I should summarize why these things are significant.

    I think it demonstrates what a wonderful tool sci-fi has in exploring ideas using what we know of science to what COULD be scientifically speaking. It really takes incredibly divergent and creative thinking, which is why I agree with another poster that encourages not only the reading, but writing of sci-fi. Not only that, but if well done it teaches us real principals of science, human nature, and our place in this world. It is both an artform and a tool for teaching that actually gets kids excited.
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    May 9 2011: I absolutely agree that sci-fi helps gain insight and critical thinking, not only for children but for adults as well.

    I read the Ender's Game series for the first time a year ago, at age 26. Orson Scott Card does his research, that much is obvious. It is by far my favorite sci-fi and I think it should be a curriculum requirement in middle-high school.

    (Spoiler alert)

    Just some of the insights it contains include:

    You can't buzz around the universe and expect to see your family when you get home. They will be dead, and you will be nearly the same age as you were when you left. Many sci-fi stories completely disregard this principal. It's the principal of time dilation.

    Empathy will save us. The only way Ender was able to achieve his goals thru out were by using his incredible talent for empathy. "Know your enemy." In this case, empathy saved the Earth, humanity, and eventually other alien species as well.

    We must expect that an alien species will be so vastly different from anything we have ever witnessed, we must be prepared for anything. Such as an engineered virus that rearranges DNA in order to terraform new planets. Talk about divergent thinking!

    I also learned a lot about politics and how culture/religion accentuates our differences, while in the end we are all one. There were Muslims, Brazilians, Indians, Hindus, Buddhists, Japanese, Russians, etc. characters that really led to insights regarding their culture and ideas. More importantly, the characters were extremely well-developed and (I hope) culturally accurate. Ender's brother is a somewhat Machiavellian character, and despite the great things he did with his leadership ability, I still have ambiguous feelings about him.

    It really raised some poignant questions in my mind and was a really great story as well.
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      May 27 2011: Thank you very much for your comment and your insights, Laura. It's true that many science fiction narrations disregard the principle of time dilution -- or did Star Trek ever talk about this when Cpt. Kirk zapped through the univese? There's also the question of time travel behind this and the facts that neither can you change time, nor can you meet your past self without causing any trouble. The Butterfly Effect, though not a science fiction movie, is a very impressive example of how you can try to do everything right, but still fail.

      Empathy is a value that is today abandoned in many parts of our existance. With all the mass of information in the media about suffering all around the globe, we experience emotional blunting, because we need to shield ourselves.

      In the common sense, aliens are either those small green men, E.T. or the aliens from the Alien series -- so yes, we are not prepared for something "alien" that does not fit into these schemes we have made for ourselves to cope with the fact that there might be life somewhere else.

      I'm glad you mentioned the point about cultural diversity -- for me, culture is one of the most interesting and most succint aspects of identity.
  • May 9 2011: Science fiction is like satire... it's effective because there is always some truth to it.
    So, yes-- I do believe reading science fiction is a great way to be more critical (same with satire)!

    The exaggeration and oversimplification that separates science fiction from reality, opens our eyes and gives us new outlooks on society. I hope your research project goes well. Best of luck!
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      May 27 2011: You are definitely right. In fact, the three big movements of utopian literature (from which SF devired during the Industrial Revolution) are "eutopia" (good utopia) / "dystopia" (bad utopia) / "satire" (utopia communicated through criticism in disguise).

      The only difficulty is to establish links for the readers with their real life and the imaginary world in SF -- teachers would need to find a way how they could use things the young ones already know (for example using smartphones and computers) and find analogies in SF. A great example I am currently working on is Stanislaw Lem's Cyberiad where two roboters (with human characteristics) try to outperform each other by building more or less useful machines that cause lots of trouble. A good way a) to show the imperfection of the human and the machine b) to criticize the human desire to play God c) to analyze the machines themselves and to find analogies to machines that already exist.
  • May 8 2011: I think you are starting at too high an age. I started reading science fiction at age 9.

    It altered my perspective on what I was being taught by teachers. They waste too much time on too much unimportant information. Their objective is to propagate the culture. All of the worlds cultures are obsolete. We have not figured out how to create a cyber-techno-culture but it is inevitable.

    It is very funny that double-entry accounting is 700 years old and invented in Italy but it is not mandatory in all of the schools in the West. But now we have cheap computers and accounting was one of the first things corporations did with computers but they want us playing games and doing SOCIAL NETWORKING.

    But now some old sci-fi is free.

    Subversive, by Dallas McCord Reynolds

    Cost of Living, by Robert Sheckley

    And of course we cannot forget Isaac Asimov.

    The educational system is obsolete, but do the teachers want to make optimum use of the computers?

    It would change the culture. Critical thinking is a threat to the culture.

    You would end up with VULCANS! LOL
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      May 27 2011: Karl, I think you are right, many children start to read SciFi earlier than at the age of 13 (I myself started when I was around ten years old). But sadly, my terrain for the research is limited in this case. Thank you for sharing the free SciFi links, my Kindle and I are looking forward to reading everything.

      In fact, we have already succeeded in creating "cybercultures", because I think there is more than just one. But we haven't learned to channel this cultural movement yet and make use of it in a positive way. Collaborative consumption, philantrophy online (my favorite: the "daily deals" at ), autodidacticism -- those are all bigger parts of a movement, but it's still in a phase of childhood with lots of tinkering, infantile experiments (think of memes, lolcats, 4chan). But I disagree, world cultures are not obsolete. In a pragmatistic approach, we can surely replace heritage by experience, but a part of our identity is bound to where we come from and we cannot -- must not -- ignore this. The more we will opt for a global culture, the more every national culture itself witll also be strengthened, because people need this feeling of belonging.
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        May 31 2011: Is it national belonging that people seek or an outlet for social expression? Why is it unreasonable to drop all culture and tradition and instead seek solidarity and belonging in the spontaneous formation of social and economic contingencies. The very notion of that unites a nation relies upon the foundation of history, which is literally absurd. If me and Joe had the same history in the American revolution for instance there is no comprehensible or rational means to unite us in the present other than an intuitive leap that me and Joe will find ourselves sharing the same interests or places in society. Nations in my opinion are constructed on a very sentimental rationality.
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    May 8 2011: Lets' incorporate it, don't stop there though.
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      May 8 2011: Thank you very much for your comment! I also believe in electronic reading devices (I myself own one) and the future of reading as an activity. I also think there will be a big movement of self-publishing authors -- with all its positive and negative sides, that is also a field to be discussed.

      As an author, what is it you want to tell your readers about the future? Is there an educational aim behind your writing? Do you write about your own dreams and fears of the future? Do current political events inspire you?
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          May 27 2011: Thank you for your reply, Philip -- and the point about the prejudices is really interesting. I hope I can find corresponding examples in my SF stories, I'd really like to integrate this!
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    May 8 2011: Using science fiction we sometimes address issues that are taboo and are too sensitive to be addressed directly. That is the only advantage. It is no different than writing a song, drawing a picture or selecting any other indirect medium to express our thoughts.

    It takes a while to understand what it really means when the author talks about robots, super human powers, super computers, aliens, etc.

    Let me demonstrate with random example:
    "John retired to his apartment. He had a stressful day monitoring the moon mining operation and the robots he recently had to reprogram. As he entered the apartment he was greeted by his favourite gynoid. She offered to help him relax and to relieve some of the stress".
    What exactly I am talking about? Is it robots, the future of humanity, relationships or something else?

    In many cases science fiction is just a form of escapism from reality.
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      May 8 2011: It depends on what the moderator of the discussion would hint at. If you are in the middle of a discussion about relationships -- for example mediated by social networks, electronical communication and thus implied the relationship between humans and machines -- you could discuss about how the relations between humans and machines would evolve and what positive or negative aspects would be part of the discussion. Think about MMO gamers -- no prejudices, I've been playing for quite some time myself -- and the relationship they build up with their avatar and with other players they meet while they are incorporated by an avatar. There are mutliple layers of questions you can ask about this subject.

      SF does have an entertaining fuction that allows you to escape from reality. But nevertheless, you'll always automatically think about what you read and make up your mind about it -- more or less consciously.
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        May 12 2011: There is something else for you to consider. Arthur Charles Clarke said , "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

        With this statement he breached the gap (if any) between the books of science fiction and the books in which magic exists.

        Now every magic conjured could be considered an advanced technology of a kind.

        I used to read a lot of Sci-fi and as you said it depends what the "the moderator" hints about. It is almost like when one reads the bible and listens to the "hints" the priest implies.
        .... And we all know where religious hints took us for centuries - the Dark Ages.

        I personally ended up poor and disillusioned because I believed Sci-Fi realities would become true one day.
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          May 13 2011: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

          I thought Jean Luc Picard said that!
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          May 27 2011: I don't quite agree with you there, George. This technology may seem like magic to us, but it's only because we don't know how it works which makes it magic. For example, when informatics was still a world of experiments and tinkering, no one understood it except for the specialists, so a lot of prejudices emerged and people were scared of those new technologies, fearing they would dominate the humans. Magic is inexplicable, science can always be explained, but there needs to be the will to explain -- and the will to understand! So I would rather take the statement from this critical point of view. There is a huge gap between books with magic and science fiction; SF always tries to give more or less logical explanations for what happens, fantasy never does.

          But the danger you mention there about being disenchanted is a very important point teachers have to keep in mind when talking about science fiction. It's really easy to believe when everything seems so logical as it does in science fiction. But belief can in some cases cause harm.
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    May 7 2011: I support reading sience fiction strongly - for adolescents, but also for adults. However not to encourage a "critical view"- I am afraid that aim is too short-sighted since what is critical today, might be mainstream tomorrow.

    To me science fiction encourages to develop an out-of-the-box thinking; to dare to think new realities and to develop an own view.

    I recommend "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". However I admit that an interesting girl recommended this book to me some 20 years ago and shortly thereafter we got married.
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      May 8 2011: That is a cute story. I'll take a close look at the next person recommending a book to me, you never know ;)

      I think it depends. Look at Orwell's 1984 - the vision of being under permanent surveillance and observation itself is old, but it can still be translated into today's society by talking about Facebook, Google, the collection of personal data, transparent individuals leaving traces everywhere.

      SF definitely is about out-of-the-box thinking -- which is why I will introduce a writing contest as experimental activity and real challenge to actively create and not just think about what someone else has already said.
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    May 6 2011: There is another thread that I think would interest all of you too. It asks about when a person would stop being human if they had robotic implants and genetic engineering. I would love to hear what you all think about that- given your expertise in such matters!!!
  • May 5 2011: When I was young I watched the doors automatically open and images appear on a flat screen on Star Trek.Wow. The universal translator exists now. And the tricoerder is not far behind. You can set a taser to stun. Science fiction then ; ordinary stuff now.
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      May 5 2011: It's like what Star Wars did to the 70's
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        May 8 2011: That's what kind of leads me to one of the other questions I would like to work on: Are certain innovations less surprising for us, because we have already seen them in SF and do engineers really consider items from SF narrations as models for real-world innovations?
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    May 4 2011: Adolescents have a diverse set of interests and motivations. Science Fiction is certainly one of them, and in my view it is not the only one. I think it depends on both the student and the teacher to find that interest and motivation that serves to inspire the adolescent to take the next step in critical thinking about society. One can only make a step from where they are standing, and I think it is a mistake to assume that all adolescents are starting from the same place, are interested in the same things, and motivated by the same rewards/penalties. The role of the teacher in diagnosing and analyzing the current place of an individual student and having a vast set of tools and materials with which to engage the student will help achieve that independent, think for yourself, critical view of society we need so badly.

    Thank you for posing an interesting question.
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      May 8 2011: I absolutely agree that SF is not the only way to help adolescents think about the problems of our society. And yes, not all teachers consider SF as a genre capable of supporting this way of thinking. What you describe would be the ideal situation -- teachers and pupils being able to create a joint minset and developing ways to tackle society's problems based on their interests. Thank you for your inspiring answer!
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        May 13 2011: Thank you for your kind words Simone. It is my hope that we will stop marginalizing both students and teachers by generalizations and treat them as the individuals they are.
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    May 2 2011: Sci Fi was actually one great interest that my sons and I shared during their teen years. Both they and I still love it. It did not, however, become an interest of my daughter.
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      May 2 2011: The common prejudice is that SF is too technical and thus "only for boys". Girls prefer stories with emotions, with a real development of the plot. There definitely is a number of SF authors who create stories that combine both the scientific aspects and the emotional aspects, but they are not as well-known as are the founding fathers or celebrity authors of the genre. But I think that science fiction will live to see another renaissance of the understanding of this genre, as we can't NOT think about our future, today more than ever before.
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        May 3 2011: Octavia Butler, is a good female sci fi writer.
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          May 3 2011: ... and so is Ursula K. LeGuin... :)
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          May 3 2011: I am familiar with LeGuin, I discovered her when I took a course in Children's literature and read her to my kids. My daughter only enjoyed the Harry Potter series which I am not sure counts but I read every one to her even the final one when she was 16. Octavia Butler is a new name to me though so I will look her up. Thanks to you both.
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    May 1 2011: will you share your results here when you have something? it would be cool.
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      May 2 2011: I will definitely share the results! I'll also post a summary of my thesis on my website which I will link here when it's done. Thank you for your help!
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    May 1 2011: That was fun to do. Thanks for reaching out to all of us! Good luck with your project!