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Science in Fiction: An interview with two authors.

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posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 02:41 PM
Here is an interview and discussion with Hanja Yanagihara, a native of Hawaii, and author of the much acclaimed: The People In The Trees (2013).

The YouTube description:

Hanya Yanagihara's first book, the widely celebrated The People In The Trees, is loosely based on the life and work of Nobel Prize-winner physician and researcher D. Carleton Gajdusek. She joined author and physicist Alan Lightman, the first professor at MIT to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities, to discuss the unique challenges of respecting the exacting standards of science in fictional texts.
[I can't embed this, please assist, if possible.]

A recurring question is, does the fiction writer (or artist), owe anything to science?

Not really if, for example, you're writing a vampire story (since we all assume vampires aren't real).
However, if you are writing so convincingly that some readers think this all actually happened?

Anyway, a great discussion, I find.
edit on 12-2-2021 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 02:53 PM
a reply to: halfoldman

There you go

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 02:57 PM
OK the book is fictional, but scientists from the 1950's (almost a "tribe" within themselves in US and Western academies).
How accurately could they describe newly discovered tribes in New Guinea, for example?

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 02:58 PM
a reply to: Encia22
Thank you so much.
Much appreciated.

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 03:04 PM
Thus also highlighting that much of historiography on tribal and indigenous peoples is dodgy at best.
Going into modern film-making and documentaries.
And yet for a long time, it informed one part of the world via a questionable gaze, on the "Other".

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 03:38 PM
What's the crux of the book for me?
Well there's these turtles that make you live forever.
Cool, let's go find those turtles.

Yet in the book the scientific age made them extinct.

But realistically that's exactly what would happen to those turtles.

That was typical of the 1950's generation.
My German grandfather loved nature, but he couldn't understand it's all finite.
In our SA garden no problem spraying glow-worms or hammering chameleons.
Now they're gone from our gardens.
They couldn't see that nature can be finite.

And they had much more nature to work with, and especially after two World Wars the human impact on nature must have seemed minuscule to that generation.

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 04:09 PM
And the genre exploding, or indeed genre confining question - is science in fiction the same as Science Fiction?

Despite blurry boundaries, the answer is actually a distinct "no".

Although very different reasons here are given for why it's not the same.
edit on 12-2-2021 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 08:46 PM
And the real pity of modernization - the way the first explorers described the people.

Not saying a simple life made for a happier life, let alone an easy life.

But they looked fit, with all their unique, beautiful tribal dress and decorations.
Within a generation they just look like the poor everywhere in over-sized Western clothes and rags.

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 10:14 PM
But I guess I was the last class of postmodern literature, that was really unsure, for example with A.S Byatt - did she make that all up?

And in Possession, for example she invented 19th century poets and their poetry.
Although relationally she didn't invent the 19th century, she just functioned within our received fictional renditions of it.
But it was so well done, I first thought they (the poets) really existed.
I spent many a fruitless hour scouting the library for them.
Now you see, that kind of innocence (or gullibility, if you like) about a text can never be brought back.

It was just before you could Google everything.
edit on 12-2-2021 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 10:35 PM
a reply to: halfoldman
Well you never know the audience.
There might be somebody out there thinking, I'm going to find this turtle.

posted on Feb, 12 2021 @ 10:40 PM
Yeah, somebody at the Pat Roberstson University read this book, and he's thinking, oh boy, those people need Jesus.

My life mission is to find Ivu'Ivu and convert them all.

Erm bro, I don't mean to be negative ... oh well, good luck!

posted on Feb, 13 2021 @ 01:37 AM
a reply to: halfoldman

Thanks for this. Just got to why manhole covers are round. Totally stumped me as I'm stupid but the solution is so stupid I should have known.

edit on 2/13/2021 by TheSpanishArcher because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 13 2021 @ 02:16 AM
Well that's one aspect of these texts - the fictional aspect.
But it's not just fiction.
There are scientific components (also social science) too that can be verifiable and educational.

posted on Feb, 19 2021 @ 01:50 AM
a reply to: halfoldman

Were you responding to me? If so, I brought up non-fiction and you brought up fiction. You should use the reply function if you are responding to someone and frankly, I don't get why you would be arguing with me about something I didn't bring up.

I'm not arguing your points but you seem to be arguing with me on something I didn't raise.

posted on Feb, 20 2021 @ 12:17 PM
a reply to: TheSpanishArcher
Nope, I was adding to my thread in general, hence I didn't reply to you directly, but did star your post.

I don't think many members have actually read my primary text here in the OP post, but maybe they will in future, or some bookworms can add with their own examples from literature.

I realize it's a bit of a dogged forum for discussion unless members have read the primary text, or at least sections or discussions about it.

And I know even many students who pay loads of money for literature courses don't bother doing much "fiction/classics" reading nowadays, but who knows, maybe over time interest will grow.

But thanks, all contributions welcome.

I think my final post that evening was merely saying that there can be truth in a masquerade, or scientific (and indeed historical) allusions in the fantastical elements of fiction. Not so much arguing with anybody than a general observation.

I suppose one could also say that fiction allows us a wider "truth" about the hard sciences, which experts in those fields do not consider, or cannot recognize, at least not timeously.

edit on 20-2-2021 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 20 2021 @ 03:06 PM
Despite the fact that it's claimed by Yanagihara in my OP clip above that fiction owes nothing to science, I have a nagging feeling that a text's relationship to believable/documented science has a very important role to play on whether it's currently included in the postmodern canon, and how the academy evaluates texts deemed "proper" for study.

After all, there are all kinds of texts that had massive popular appeal, and even fueled mass hysterias with a few pseudo-scientific claims (the Satanic-panic type books, for example).

But these low-brow abuses of science and fiction will never be part of the academic canon.
Maybe only as artifacts of social history, and fare for religious fundamentalists.

So I'd argue that scientific inclusion in texts as a part of their fictional believability (and we all like a narrative with at least some factual crumbs) is actually very important as to how texts are currently treated and evaluated.

Suffice to say that fiction owes "nothing" to science is bit of a disingenuous statement.
Without the mixture well done, the author might be on another panel (maybe on a church or a Sci-Fi convention panel), but they would probably know they'd be ignored by the academic discourse.

I mean, the 1900's notion that the study of literature should be about purely evaluating morals, the nature of human evil or moral complexity has indeed faded as the sole criteria for evaluating "great" literature.
edit on 20-2-2021 by halfoldman because: (no reason given)

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