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Why science fiction is necessary for our survival in the future

Science fiction films and books succeed in instilling in human culture an expectation of a definite and certain future, and thus they provide us with a valuable tool: they extend our cycle times, allow us to look far ahead into the future, and consider the possibilities before us

A view of a planet outside the solar system. The science fiction of the XNUMXs. Illustration: shutterstock
A view of a planet outside the solar system. The science fiction of the XNUMXs. Illustration: shutterstock

October 21, 2015 was "Back to the Future" day, the day Doc and Marty McFly arrived on their journey to the future in the movie "Back to the Future 2". As one of the people associated with futurism and technology in Israel, I was invited to be interviewed in the studios of several TV and radio programs and talk about the future - quite an amusing fact, if you think about the fact that the future is going to come every day. So why should we get so excited about him only on a day arbitrarily chosen by the screenwriters of a movie produced twenty-six years earlier?

The answer lies in the way in which science fiction films and books succeed in instilling in human culture an expectation of a definite and certain future, and thus they provide us with a valuable tool: they extend our cycle times, allow us to look far ahead into the future, and consider the possibilities before us. In this way they may also help - without much exaggeration - to save humanity.

cycle time in the past

As humans and as living organisms, evolution has honed us for one purpose: passing our genes on to our offspring. We are, to paraphrase the words of Richard Dawkins, tankers that carry our genes into the future, as far as possible. It is strange to understand that the process of maintaining the genes throughout the future requires our almost absolute reference to the immediate present. A person who is not alert to tigers, lions and wolves that may be hiding behind every rock and tree, will not survive the present. Millions of years of evolution have shaped living things to focus almost exclusively on the present. And so, for tens of thousands of years of humanity's early life, we ran from the tigers and chased the moose in the present tense.

It's hard to know where the deal we signed with Grandfather Time began, and provided us with power in exchange for measuring and documenting the passage of hours and days. I believe that we started measuring time very early in human history, because understanding the concept of time and its connection to cyclical events brought us knowledge, and knowledge leads to power: the power to survive better than others and to produce more descendants who will also learn to quantify the passage of time.

The time of the first period was certainly short, lasting less than a day. The ancient tribes could tell how long it would be until dark by tracking the sun in the sky. Their cycle time was one day. The woman who wanted to know when the menstrual blood would arrive that would weaken her and attract predators, could mark notches on a stick every night. Her cycle time was a whole month.

The great leap forward occurred in the agricultural civilizations, which are based on an understanding of the past and predicting the future: a farmer who does not know that following spring will come summer, followed by autumn and winter, did not know when to plow his field and when to sow the seeds. Deciphering the cycle of the seasons and actively monitoring it were necessary for the success of agricultural civilizations. The cycle time of the farmers was only one year.

He hasn't progressed much since then.

Religious periods

Some religions have tried to provide their own time cycles. The clerics recorded history and tried to provide a view of the future - often with exaggerations, exaggerations and vulgarities - but they managed to focus mainly on the past, and their promises for the future were vague or useless. Stuart Brand, in his book "The Clock of the Long Now" shares a long-standing joke: the Jews claim that the Messiah will come, and then history will end; Christians claim that Christ will return, and then history will end; Muslims claim that the Messiah has already arrived - and history is meaningless. In the end, they all share the same view that names only one event - the arrival of the Messiah - as significant, and ignores everything else. Even worse: since there is no actual target date for the arrival or return of the Messiah, the members of the Abrahamic religions continue to walk into the future with their eyes covered by black glasses with only one slit in the form of the Messiah.

It is a false time-cycle, which extends into the future and never ends, and does not allow us to think ahead in a reasonable manner. Unlike the other cycle times I described, it is also not beneficial to us. The hunter who counts the days of her menstrual cycle, knows that in a week the period of bleeding will come and she will find it difficult to go hunting. The farmer who counts the days and months of the year knows that he must sharpen his tools for the plowing that will begin in a month. But what does the cleric who prepares for the coming of the Messiah receive, nowadays, quickly, hopefully, Amen? He prepares himself for an event without a definite date, and therefore achieves nothing from it. In fact, the implicit claim from the religion is that there is no point in thinking ahead to the future. Whatever happens will happen, when it happens, most days, when it happens.

It should be noted at this point that the Jewish religion is to be credited, in which a longer agricultural cycle time of seven years took root -

"And for six years you shall sow your land; and gather her grain. And the seventh shall be neglected and forsaken, and the sheep of your people shall be eaten, and the beasts of the field shall eat their sacrifices; Yes, do to your vineyard, to your olive tree." - Exodus, XNUMX

The importance of the long cycle time

The consequences of the short cycle times we know can be seen in many great civilizations from the past, which were and are no longer. In his book "Collapse" Jared Diamond reviews several such civilizations. The people of Easter Island did not understand that they had to think about the cycle of trees and soil and fish populations, and over several generations consumed the island's natural resources. The settlers in Greenland failed to think in cycle time relating to vegetation and the changing climate - and became extinct after the goats and cattle they brought damaged Greenland's ecology.

Agricultural civilizations naturally think in cycle times of a few years, and have difficulty moving to thinking in longer cycles of tens and hundreds of years - the cycle times of trees, soil and the evolution of animal populations. Agricultural civilizations harm all of these, corrupt their environment, and eventually collapse and disintegrate themselves when the environment can no longer support them.

If we as humanity want to continue to exist over time, then we must switch to thinking in longer cycle times, of tens and hundreds of years. We must start thinking for the long term, for our own good and for the good of our children. But how can we do this? How will we root such long cycle times in human culture?

The answer is clear, to anyone who remembers the beginning of the article: we must visit the future, 'return' to it in our collective imagination, in order to create new cycle times lasting decades. This is the craft that science fiction writers and screenwriters do, and the best and most famous of them create cycle times that fit into human culture and make us examine and compare ourselves to the future every day.

Time from the movies

Science fiction stories and films have an impressive ability to reshape social consciousness. The play RUR from 1920, in which the writer and playwright Karl Chapek coined the word robot for the first time, instilled in Western culture the fear of robots taking over humanity - just as they did in the play. The movie "The Terminator", released in 1984, finally established the fear of robots in Western culture. All of these stand in clear contrast to Japanese culture, for example, where the robot Astro-Boy became a cultural hero in 1952, and has assimilated the love for robots ever since.

I believe that the most influential movies and books are the ones that include dates in them, since these give us cycle times that we can refer to in any thinking about the future. When 1984 arrived, journalists around the world tried to decipher whether George Orwell's vision had come true. As we reached the last week of October 21, 2015, all the TV channels checked whether the technological predictions from "Back to the Future 2" really came true. And when the turn of 2029 comes - the year in which Skynet is supposed to rule the world according to "The Terminator" - I predict with great confidence that the robotics experts will receive invitations to appear in the media every morning.

As a result of all these works of science fiction, humanity begins to enjoy a new and ambitious kind of time-cycle: we look ahead in our imaginations to the future for definite dates, and check each time whether the apocalyptic or optimistic visions written for them have come true. The more modest cycle times in science fiction works refer to the future several decades away. The more grandiose cycle times jump forward to 2364 (in Star Trek), to 2800 (in Dan Simmons' Hyperion), or even to the end of the universe (in Isaac Asimov's short story: "The Last Question").

The longest cycle times - those estimated in thousands and millions of years - may not be relevant to us, but the shorter cycle times receive clear attention from society, and influence our behaviors in the present.


We need new cycle times that far exceed those developed in human culture so far. Although policymakers refer to decades-long forward forecasts, created by expert analysts, the general public is not often exposed to these types of reports. Instead, the public's cycle times are determined in part by popular science fiction books and movies. These long-term cycle times reshape humanity's perception of time, allowing it to deal with long-term existential problems, such as ecological catastrophes or social breakdown, ahead of time. At the same time, long cycle times spur social innovation.

So if you want to save humanity - start writing science fiction.
More of the topic in Hayadan:
A space odyssey - what Arthur C. Kalrak predicted what happened in reality
Rumors about the death of science fiction

A prediction that came true - no disaster will occur on December 21, 2012

12 תגובות

  1. Know where you came from, and where you are going, and to whom you will be accountable. - Where did you come from - Tepa Sarucha. And where are you going - to a place of dirt, maggot and worm.

    We say in prayer, "The will of those who fear him will be done, and his prayer will be heard and he will save them." The Creator of the world will do the will of those who fear him, he will do - in the present tense, now, but wait, "he will hear and he will save them" is in the future tense, why is the will spoken of in the present tense, and their prayer is in the future tense?

    A lot of people want, who doesn't? Who does not want to be good, to be righteous, observant of mitzvot, righteous, we all want, we want - but we don't implement, between desire and action there is a huge distance, whoever fears heaven, a righteous person, he wants and he does, not waiting. A person receives according to his actions, if you want to do things and really do them, like this measure for measure, in any case the Creator of the world "will do His will" - He will do it for you immediately, as you do immediately, but if you pray for the future, "and He will hear their prayers" And Joshua" - will be heard in the future as well, because the Creator of the world gives us according to our deeds, as it is written "The Lord has protected you at your right hand", what is your protection? He is like your shadow. What is the characteristic of a shadow? You do this, he will do that, you move your finger, he will move his finger, but as we know, the shadow is bigger, I mean, if you look at the shadow of the finger you will see that it is bigger than the finger itself. What does this mean? We will see how merciful the Creator of the world is - the Creator of the world will be like a shadow to your actions - you will receive measure for measure, but you will receive more than you gave

  2. my father
    A cancer researcher also needs to make a living. And also a science fiction writer. Science fiction is a unique place where innovative ideas can be expressed without the restrictions of "logic". The funny computers in science fiction movies were suspicious of their time. You are probably too young to know that 🙂
    Here are a few examples of ideas that came from science fiction:
    The submarine (according to the inventor of the submarine!)
    The helicopter (according to Sikorsky himself)
    The rocket (according to Goddard himself)
    Atomic energy (according to the fission chain developer)
    Fire Management Center (according to a US Navy engineer who developed the Naval Fire Center)
    The mechanical hand
    The Cell Phone (direct from Star Trek)
    The teaser (even the name is taken from a science fiction book)
    Quick-Time - also from Star Trek, according to the inventor)
    The game Second-Life - also a science fiction book...

    Do you still insist that these writers are meaningless?

  3. For miracles:
    The title of the article is "Science fiction is necessary for our survival in the future" = as if we owe something to science fiction.

  4. The reason the Internet was so successful is mainly because they failed to predict the power of the coup properly, and those who came close did not leave an impression on their contemporaries. If any writer managed to create a detailed and credible vision of a computerized and connected future, as Asimov managed to do with his robots, probably the owners of all the old industries (television, music, movies, publishing, commerce, etc.) would buy patents and stick sticks in the wheels where possible and suffocate the revolution while it is still in hostilities.

  5. Science fiction is only useful for screenwriters and writers and movie actors.
    Most or all of the predictions of science fiction do not come true and on the other hand innovations and technological changes emerge that no fictional contract predicted.
    It is enough to see in the old science fiction movies like A Space Odyssey 2001 etc. all the funny huge and clumsy computers and their control panels with antique lights and knobs, in a spaceship that is supposed to fly to other planets to understand how limited the imagination of those prophets is.
    It's funny that no science fiction writer has guessed in advance the personal computer, the internet or the smartphone.

  6. "The hunter who counts the days of her menstrual cycle, knows that in a week the period of bleeding will come and she will have difficulty going hunting"

    Did you count the days of your period? Strange, I thought only the men were engaged in hunting, I didn't know it was also the role of women.

  7. Speaking of anticipation for the future, I recommend the movie "Passengers" a futuristic and stunning movie

  8. Dear Roy
    The archaic study method. From kindergarten to high school including universities. First to third degree.
    Does not allow initiative, curiosity, search, experiment and failure, imagination, individuality on the side of cooperation and not out of competition!
    Where there is a grade and a certificate, all the contents I mentioned cannot exist.
    The format of the courses in the army. which have a combination of knowledge, theory with reality, in reality. is relevant to the rapid progress.
    And if it is indeed from kindergarten, the person will be in the process of learning up-to-date knowledge throughout his life. After all, there will be no such resistance to progress. Monopoly use of progress. and the flowering of beliefs that lead to hatred, discrimination and killing.
    And from a child to an adult, they will be able to discover for themselves, and let their imagination lead the search, provide solutions and contribute to progress. Everyone from where they are.
    And the imagination you talked about will come from birth to adulthood. And not only from individuals of virtue. or from "insurgents". And it will be used for the benefit of all.
    Best regards. And much appreciation for your activities.

  9. Only those who are not connected to nature think that the farmer is the first to refer to cycle times...

    In your opinion, the gatherer and the hunter should not know the seasons, the migration of the animals, the alternating or full cycle of the large mammals, or the years of drought that are followed by years of blessing...

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