Invent What You Imagine
Science House EVP for Business Development Rita J. King with Executive Director of Science House Foundation, Joshua S. Fouts at “Facts and Fiction: Discussing Science in Imaginary Worlds” hosted by Science House and the Hybrid Reality Institute.
“As a kid I was bothered by the economics of science fiction,” said former dungeon master James Jorasch, the founder of Science House, as we went around the room to say a few words about ourselves and our interest in science fiction. “I mean, sure, it’s possible, but the cost of interplanetary travel is just crazy.”
“I was ten years old when I went to one of Arthur C. Clarke’s book signings,” said Executive Director of Science House Foundation Joshua Fouts. “His stories influenced the direction of science and became predictive of scientific discovery. For example, he was right that one of the moons of Jupiter was covered in ice before telescopes were capable of detecting it.”
During the break midway through the event, Science House Director of Operations Megan Kingery served snickerdoodles dusted with cosmic violet sugar. Science fiction, she said, plays a large role in her family life. She even has a Triforce tattoo on each ankle.
“The Triforce represents a number of things to me,” Megan said. “In the game, the three triangles represent wisdom, courage, and power with the idea being that a true hero needs to be all these things, and they have to be in balance. For me it also represents something you need to go on a long journey to attain.”
Patrick DiJusto, author of The Science of Battlestar Galactica, was one of the evening’s special guests along with Jeff Newelt, pictured above, Jeff’s collaborator graphic designer Michele Reznik, and Paul Hoffman, shown below in a drawing by his son, Alex, an artist and live action role-player. Why yes, that is me sitting next to him.
Paul Hoffman is the author of Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight which depicts the story of a Brazilian Santos-Dumont, born in 1873, who was raised in the forest surrounded by trees and science fiction books. During this time the young Alberto developed the idea that the things he read about were actually true. When he caught a glimpse of life beyond the forest he realized that flying machines for humans were an imaginary fiction.
Rather than pining away in the shocking face of disillusionment, Alberto decided that he would take it upon himself and fly around the Eiffel Tower. At the time, the triumphant Gustav Eiffel was bivouacking sky-high above the city in his ultimate tower-top penthouse. Eiffel’s guests for the spectacle included none less than Jules Verne and HG Wells, who entertained themselves by making bets on Alberto’s attempt to fly.
The scientific community, Paul said, was convinced that human flight was impossible. The religious crowd was in agreement. The largest group of humans who had ever gathered for any reason on the planet up to that point got together to watch what would happen when Alberto finally took flight. Spellbound, they watched imagination become real.
Despite the ability to increase the audience for important ideas, stories, theories and facts, scientists face criticism among colleagues after writing bestselling books for a popular audience.
A lot of complex factors contribute to this problem, not the least of which being that taking the time to write a pop culture book takes scientists away from lab work. The green-eyed monster creates animosity among peers who often toil for years without widespread recognition. But regardless of why it happens, the end result is undeniable: scientists are punished for reaching a wide public audience, and the chasm between science and the public grows as a result.
Leslie Brody (just back from a safari in Tanzania with husband Daniel Moore, also in attendance) cited Madeleine L’Engle as an example of a writer who triggers the creation of worlds in a reader’s mind. (I am such a fan of L’Engle that as an adult I wrote her a letter while she was working as the librarian at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It was from L’Engle that I first learned about mitochondria).
As an educator, Leslie prefers to present her students with proof of academic rigor in the instructional materials she chooses. “You can publish a pop culture book,” she says, “without citing research.”
Patrick diJusto pointed out this distinction might sometimes just be an optical illusion. Just because a popular book lacks footnotes doesn’t mean it wasn’t rigorously researched, he noted.
“I handed in a manuscript that was footnoted like a David Foster Wallace novel,” diJusto said. Only eleven of the references were kept.
In creative works like Battlestar Galactica, he went on, “When the needs of drama go against science, science loses.”
Not here. Science never loses at Science House.