Mission to Abisko: Stories and Myths in the Creation of Scientific "Truth"

By Anders Karlqvist | Go to book overview

Preface

In May 1997, during the period of the midnight sun, a small group of scientists, science-fiction writers and historians of science gathered to examine the stories that scientists tell — both to themselves and to the public at large — that serve to create what we may euphemistically call the "world view of science."

As is manifestly evident by even a casual perusal of the science section at a general bookshop, scientists are busier than ever telling stories about their craft for public consumption. What is far less evident, at least on the surface, is that scientists create even more elaborate tales that they tell to each other. These tales, often embodied in thought experiments like the famous alive/dead cat of Schrödinger or the infinitely large hotel of Hilbert, serve as ways to focus and encapsulate large amounts of knowledge in particular areas into short, pithy verbal pictures that capture the essence — and the shortcomings — of a scientific theory.

The writer of what's come to be termed "hard" science fiction is somehow caught between these two worlds. On the one hand, the writer must adhere to the stories scientists tell each other in order to be true to the cutting-edge science of today (and often tomorrow) that forms the underpinning to his or her tale. But a novel is a novel, not a scientific paper. This means that the sci-fi writer must also wrap the scientific story in a sugar-coating, so that the non-scientific reader can not only access the message, but also derive some entertainment value from it. Not an easy tightrope to walk!

The organizers of the Abisko seminar thought that perhaps these two groups of storytellers — the scientists and the science‐ fiction writers — might have something to say to each other. So the deal was done and a handful of writers with scientific credentials and scientists with writing in their blood got together for a week in the cozy confines of the Abisko Scientific Research Station to compare notes. Although no written record can begin to capture the full flavor of the interchanges that took place over the meals, coffee breaks, seminars, walks and other outings during that week, this book is a pretty good failure.

-vii-

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