Monday, March 01, 2004

Elan Vital

I'm slowly making my way through Season 2 of Babylon 5. OK, very slowly; I just watched the second episode.

And there was one particular (very minor) element of said episode that got me thinking about a couple of things. Last season some time, Dr. Franklin came into possession of a nifty alien artifact that could steal the "life force" from one person and give it to another. (It was originally used as a rather clever sort of execution device.) Anyway, it got a mention in this episode, which really pleased me, because it's a great example of B5's attention to continuity. I think in most shows we probably would never have heard of that gadget again after it served its plot purposes in the episode it was introduced in. So, a big cheer to the writers of B5 for that.

However, it also got me to thinking about something else. What is it with this idea of "life force" in science fiction shows? You see it everywhere. Star Trek used the concept on a semi-regular basis. Farscape used it. B5 used it. Probably every SF TV show in existence has at least mentioned this idea at some point or another. And this, to me, is pretty weird, because the idea of "life force" as some sort of animating property, like a kind of invisible fluid that permeates living matter, hasn't been taken seriously (at least not by scientists) since, I think, the 19th century. And, OK, Trek uses a lot of silly ideas quite shamelessly, and Farscape really is more science fantasy than science fiction. But I find it interesting that even a show like B5, which pays very careful attention to accuracy in the physical sciences, is willing to play with an idea that, from a scientific perspective, makes just about as much sense as talking about luminiferous ether or phlogiston. It's strange.

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