The ‘butterfly effect’ of science fiction

Amazing StoriesI once heard someone say that there was a scientific study performed, in which it was proven that adults who were raised on science fiction were more tolerant than those who weren’t. This vague tale was told to me offhandedly in conversation, and afterward I went immediately to the internet and could find no such study. This makes sense I suppose, how would you even begin to study something like that anyway? The closest thing I could find, however, seems to be a quote from Amazing Stories publisher, Hugo Gernsback:

“Not only is science fiction an idea of tremendous import, but it is to be an important factor in making the world a better place to live in, through educating the public to the possibilities of science and the influence of science on life which, even today, are not appreciated by the man on the street. … If every man, woman, boy and girl, could be induced to read science fiction right along, there would certainly be a great resulting benefit to the community, in that the educational standards of its people would be raised tremendously. Science fiction would make people happier, give them a broader understanding of the world, make them more tolerant.” — Hugo Gernsback

This is one of those apocryphal stories you hear that just sounds really good. We want to be able to look to a scientific study that proves that enjoying science fiction has made us better people. We hope that the ideas in our favorite stories sow the seeds of a better world. However, while the story of the “sci-fi behavioral correlation” is not entirely true, stories of science fiction touching lives profoundly and having a ripple effect through history certainly exist. Below are some examples of the sci-fi genre informing our world and pushing us just a little bit further to the future.

Martin Luther King-Star Trek Fan: Having premiered in 1968, Star Trek was already distinguishing itself from other programs on television, most notably with its diverse cast and its depiction of a strong African-American female in a position of authority. Actress Nichelle Nichols had already decided to leave the show when she met an influential fan who changed her mind, civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. Seriously, watch the video below. Star Trek of course has influenced much of our modern culture, but Lt. Uhura no doubt laid the groundwork for Guion S. Bluford and Ronald McNair who were the first and second (respectively) African Americans in space.

Ray Bradbury-“We are the Martians”: Long before we sent the rover up to Mars, Ray Bradbury had published several short stories about human societies on the red planet, positing a future where the life on Mars was human. From NASA’s moon landing, to the Mars Rover, Bradbury’s influence has been there. He was a man who added poetry to the technology in science fiction. Because of this, when the Rover landed on Mars in 2012, the landing site was titled “Bradbury Landing“. With privately owned companies planning trips to Mars, it should only be a matter of time before Ray Bradbury’s vision becomes a reality.

http://youtu.be/bf6Btev8Vo8

Arthur C. Clarke sees the future of the internet: Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, the man that is often credited as the inventor of the modern internet, in trying to quell the fears associated with the idea of the world wide web, cited Clarke’s “Dial ‘F’ for Frankenstein” as an example of what people were afraid of. Though not directly inspiring Berners-Lee, Arthur C. Clarke did see a future where the internet was commonplace as early as this footage shot in 1974. While technology is always a double edged sword, no one can deny the influence of the web on our modern lives.

What do you think? Has science fiction made a better world for us? Are there other inventions or strides in society that can be traced back to sci-fi? Let us know in the comments.

About author

Robert Walker
Robert Walker 152 posts

Rob Walker is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado, and is creator of the comedy web series Victorian Cut-out Theatre. He loves horror films and comic books (American Vampire, Jonah Hex, The Flash, Planetary). Rob has been a Sherlockian since the age of ten, is a Dark Tower junky and believes that Indiana Jones is the greatest cinematic hero ever created. You can follow him on twitter at: @timidwerewolf and see his other writings and videos at robwalkerfilms.com

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