Volume 2, Issue 1 
1st Quarter, 2007

The Ethics of Imagination:
The Space Between Your Ears

Wrye Sententia, Ph.D.

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For example -- this is what I call the "reality factor," -- Orwell's 1984 book.  When that came out in 1949, George Orwell offered then, and it is still applicable today, a way for people to imagine a society that was laboring under the totalitarian use of surveillance technologies.

And as a student in one of my UC Davis science fiction classes said recently, “Orwellian” has become its own adjective, and even if you never read the book, you know what it means when someone says that the government's NSA Surveillance Program is Orwellian.

Now you may be thinking, okay, but that's a very negative view that fifty years later we're still hearing, Orwell, Orwell, Orwell.  But, it is just such a dystopic portrayal of the technology in a fictional book that allows the public today to rally around an outcry over the unethical use of a particular technology.

1984 allows the public a shorthand way to think about abuses, or government snooping and invasions of privacy.  Even if they don't understand what cryptography might be, or how electronic data mining impacts their life in a daily way. It begins that shorthand imaginative use of a novel to impact a larger social society, or larger social conditions. 

Another way to think about it is this: there's a person who writes for Scientific American fairly regularly.  His name is Gary Stix.  He is a vocal critic of nanotechnology and he has complained that Eric Drexler's writings are similar to the scientific romances of Jules Verne [1], or H.G. Wells [2].

And, that you can't find, "real" technology in speculative science.  But when Stix says this, he's missing the point, because at the turn of the last century, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were highly influential in stimulating an interest and the pursuit of innovative technologies and science.

The exploration that went with it, the positive search, was catalyzed by that.  And, in the same way, in the 1980s, Drexler's Engines of Creation was highly influential in impacting not only the science, but also the science fiction of nanotechnology.

I'm making an appeal to embrace, rather than reject, the speculations in science, particularly these nano-fiction narratives that can inspire an ethics–related discourse of new technologies and applications. 

Back to Blood Music: what happened to Ulam?  We left Ulam with a smart cell circulating in his head; where they’d succeeded in convincing him of their lyrical harmony, of their blood music, their superior collective world view.

Now, ultimately the smart cells spread out from Ulam’s body through his bath water and dominate, or take over other humans in a quest to convert--in the sense of convincing, but also in the sense of altering other humans.

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1. Jules Gabriel Verne - (February 8, 1828–March 24, 1905) was a French author and a pioneer of the science-fiction genre best known for novels such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870), Journey To The Center Of The Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873). Verne wrote about space, air, and underwater travel before air travel and submarines were invented, and before practical means of space travel had been devised. He is the third most translated author in the world, according to Index Translationum. Some of his books have been made into films. Verne, along with Hugo Gernsback and H. G. Wells, is often popularly referred to as the "Father of Science Fiction". Wikipedia.org February 12, 2007 1:00 pm EST

2. H.G. Wells - (September 21, 1866 – August 13, 1946), better known as H. G. Wells, was an English writer best known for such science fiction novels as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Doctor Moreau. He was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and produced works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, history, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are widely read today. Wells, along with Hugo Gernsback and Jules Verne, is sometimes referred to as "The Father of Science Fiction". Wikipedia.org February 12, 2007 1:02 pm EST



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