December 3rd, 2013

lolcat: science

Topic Meme: Day 1

[personal profile] pretty_panther asked: Do you believe there is life out there somewhere right now? As in, we think there WAS some form of life on Mars but do you think there is life somewhere NOW?

Yes. I do. Probably not humanoid life, though. We have only recently begun to be able to detect planets in orbit around stars in our galaxy. We’re not even very good at it and the count is already in the hundreds. I imagine that that number will increase by a couple of orders of magnitude before we get much better at it. And that’s just our galaxy. I find it hard to believe that there aren’t thousands more planets in thousands more galaxies. Given the amount of time that the universe has existed and the billions of galaxies in it, there must at least be a planet or two that is somewhere along life’s evolutionary tree simultaneously with us, although it may still be at the microbial/bacterial stage (which lasted an awfully long time on Earth). We may never come into close physical contact with it, since we are nowhere close to being capable of traveling near the speed of light, and even that might not be fast enough to reach it within a time span that makes sense to the continuity of human perception.

That’s not great news for sci-fi and its fondness for contact with alien beings, although that’s not by far the biggest problem with sci-fi anyway. A good deal of supposedly “hard” sci-fi suffers, in my view, from a spectacular lack of imagination. Why should a sentient alien race behave anything like humans? For that matter, why should future humans behave like modern humans? Can’t we imagine that we might actually one day be better to each other than we presently are? Far too much of sci-fi (and frankly, a lot of what gets classed as “literature”) seems to be based on the premise that humans are and always will be inherently awful to one another. Alien beings become analogues for other races, and then we get stuck in the imperial/colonial/xenophobia/dominance/oppression cycle. Sorry, we’ve lived that already, I don’t really need to read a fictionalised account of it in a temporally/spatially displaced setting. I’d rather read stories in which we humans choose to behave better towards one another and toward alien beings, to accept and learn about our differences, to make cultural exchange and migration into positive experiences. This is probably why I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation (and later iterations) so much as a teenager, although I didn’t know it at the time. (This is not to say it didn’t have its problems, but at least a fundamental premise of it was that people of any race or gender could fulfil any role on a star ship.) This is also why I love [personal profile] foxfinial’s story Found*, about a genderfluid person and migration and cultural integration, which made me cry like a baby because I was so tense reading it, and then I realised that I had spent the whole story expecting it to end badly and it totally failed to meet that expectation.

Major tangent there, sorry [personal profile] pretty_panther - I hope the first paragraph at least was coherent.**

* Accessibility note: An audio as well a text version of the story are available at that URL.
** Request a topic here

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