Sunday, July 29, 2007

Imagination and Science

I heart The History Channel. I heart Nova, too.

Unless new episodes of Grey's Anatomy are airing, I don't watch much network television. Too often, however, I catch myself with rear end firmly planted on couch, gazing at some scientific documentary when I should be writing or revising. I can't help it. I love to look at science. I have little talent for "doing" science, but understanding how these brilliant minds develop theories and make hypotheses often captures my imagination and jump starts my muse.

Recently, I saw a documentary on History Channel with the unlikely title "How William Shatner Changed the World." I was quite sure I'd be making a face and reaching for the remote in moments. Instead, I found myself staring, wide-eyed, and nodding my head.

You could call the general theme "life imitating art" but it's more than that. The documentary illustrated how Star Trek, through sheer imagination, created a destination for Science to follow in developing some of our current technology. As early as the mid-1960s, Star Trek showed us sophisticated devices and systems. Many of the kiddos who were uttering "Cool stuff!" and "Neato!" started thinking about how those things could be achieved.

As a result, many of the top scientists and physicists today were those who cut their teeth on Star Trek episodes. They saw interstellar travel, communicators, tricorders, transporters, photon torpedos, worm holes...and it inspired them. They wanted to start building roads to those "shining destinations" that the Star Trek universe revealed. They sought education and careers that would take them where they wanted to travel, "to boldly go where no man has gone before" in the real world.

Today we have technology like cell phones, wireless communications, PCs, the internet, space exploration, and advances in the medical field that have brought Bones McCoy's futuristic sick bay much closer to reality. What if there had never been a Star Trek to set that course? What if some of today's brilliant minds hadn't had a low-budget television series as a guide to spur their ambition? Would we be living in a very different world? Could be.

As a writer of Science Fiction and Futuristic Fantasy, I was delighted with the documentary's theme: Imagination and science are powerful allies. Imagination creates castles in the air, then Science strives to build the foundations under them. As a species, we are obsessed with creating roads to the shiny empires we see on imagination's horizon.

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