In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne imagined deep water submarines. In I, Robot, Isaac Asimov dreamed of machines with personalities. J. K. Rowling envisioned an invisibility cloak in Harry Potter. Why take note of this? Because, so often, fiction imagines possibilities that spark scientific curiosity: if it can be envisioned, can it be done?
Fiction, it might be argued, is the engine that shapes our reality. Out of the quantum soup comes an idea first grasped by intuition and which later science explores as a possibility.
Do I exaggerate? Not by much. After all, submarines exist and robots are being endowed with human characteristics. Armageddon’s screen play sparked the idea that nuclear bombs might save our planet from a wayward asteroid. Now that, too, is under investigation.
Hidden away inside a recent government report was the revelation that the National Nuclear Security Administration is stockpiling nuclear warhead components in case they need to be used for ‘planetary defense against Earth-bound asteroids.’ (“News,” The Week, October 17, 2014, pg. 23.)
Star Trek’s teleportation device has been achieved on a small scale, (blog 22/21/14) and Rowling’s invisibility cloak may soon be a reality, too. Scientists at the University of Rochester in New York have found an inexpensive way to hide objects in plain sight. They do it by bending light, using “a row of four standard optical lens – much like you’d find in an optometrist’s office – precisely positioned so that a person looking through the device can see what’s beyond the farthest lens but not what’s between the lenses.” (Ibid, pg. 23) One use for the apparatus would be to help surgeons peer around intervening organs to get a look at the one affected.
Given art’s contributions to the health and well being of a society, it puzzles me that during every financial crisis, art is often the first to be sacrificed, as if the body could exist without breath. The world needs its dreamers. As Henry David Thoreau once observed, “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.”