Friday, May 27, 2005

An Old Adage Has It That a Scientist Starts with Facts and Uses Them to Shape a Conclusion, and a Creationist Starts with a Conclusion and Uses it to Shape the Facts... So What Does a Science Fiction Fan Do?

Here's an interesting and amusing little article on continuity in Star Wars and other science-fictional universes, and the lengths to which fans will go to rationalize inconsistencies. (Note: This appears to have been written before Episode III premiered, and contains no spoilers for it that anybody who hasn't been living in a cave since before Jedi came out doesn't already know.)

A sample:
For you see, any story must have a certain amount of internal coherence if we are to achieve suspension of disbelief. And we must achieve suspension of disbelief. For most people, that just means that a given fictional universe must hold together for the space of two hours: if the main character in a conventional romantic comedy, possibly some movie for girls featuring Meg Ryan or someone like that, says at the beginning that she is an only child, she should not have a sister present at her wedding at the end of the movie. Stories like that--about boring, conventional people with their petty love affairs and their tawdry sex antics, people whom one could not trust when the chips were down and an Imperial Battle Droid were attacking your spaceship!--are relatively easy to keep consistent. It is only the grandeur and majesty of a fictional universe the size and complexity of one like the Star Wars universe, the Star Trek universe, the DC Comics universe, or the Marvel Comics universe (and perhaps soap operas) that is truly difficult to maintain.
Hey, it's true!

The writer also makes a comparison I've often used myelf, between fans and crank scientists. It's really quite apt, I think. Say, if you've got some great theory about Alien Species X, all you have to do is come up with a way to make it fit with what we actually see of them on the screen. And you're quite free to interpret what's on the screen however the heck you like. "No, no when Character A said Thing Z, what she actually meant was..." All it has to do is be plausible. If the show's already over, and there are no more episodes (or movies, or books, or whatever) being made, it's completely unfalsifiable! If there are more being made, then if you can twist any apparent contradictions that come up later to fit your theory, you're golden! Try that in science, and they'll laugh you out of the academy, and be entirely right to do so. In science, not all theories are equal. Some of them are true, and some of them aren't, and the goal is not to come up with something that sounds good, but something which is correct, and which makes useful predictions. In science fiction fandom, well, there is no real universe for things to be true in, and prediction isn't all that useful, anyway, so you can get as creative as you like. Which is fun, and requires a great deal less rigorousness and responsibility than doing actual science.

Speaking of Alien Species X, there's a comment in here about Enterprise doing an episode addressing the infamous Klingon Head-Bump Problem. Anybody know whether that's true or not, and, if so, what their explanation was? I quit watching Enterprise ages ago, but I'm curious.

Also, I totally think somebody should do the experiment this guy failed at, and force some completely unspoiled little kid to watch all the Star Wars movies in internal-chronology order and report back on whether they make any sense or not.

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