18
Speculation

It is the business of a scientist to speculate, to hypothesize, to think of possible explanations—if not in public, then in the privacy of his own mind. In fact, a scientist cannot help doing so, any more than a writer can keep from thinking of fragments of plot or snatches of dialogue, or a musician can keep from hearing in his mind notes put together into themes and variations.

But when a nonscientist, a member of the general public, encounters scientific speculations, how can he tell whether there is something sound and possible in it or whether it is just nonsense?

It is quite likely that he cannot tell, simply because he lacks the necessary background, knowledge, and experience, any more than he can tell, when he lacks literary or musical talent of his own, whether some tentative literary or musical excursions bear promise of merit or not. He may know whether the writing or music sounds good and pleases him, but his personal taste is not the point at issue. I, for instance, am very fond of the works of Agatha Christie, and yet I strongly suspect they do not represent deathless prose.

In the same way, a scientific theory may please you and may seem in accord with your own feelings and beliefs, but your own pleasure is no proof of its possible validity.

What, then, does one do?

In the first place, one must consider the source. A recognized scientist is far more apt to produce a possibly fruitful piece of speculation than an unknown or an amateur is. Thus Francis Crick has speculated on life having originated on Earth through seeding (intentional or not) by extraterrestrial travelers; and Fred Hoyle has speculated that life can evolve in interstellar dust clouds or on comets and that the latter are the origin of earthly pandemics.

-88-

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The Roving Mind
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Roving Mind *
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword Isaac Asimov: Science Popularizer, Skeptic, and Rationalist xi
  • A Celebration of Isaac Asimov — a Man for the Universe xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I the Religious Radicals *
  • 1: The Army of the Night *
  • 3: The Reagan Doctrine 20
  • 4: The Blind Who Would Lead 24
  • 5: Creeping Censorship 27
  • 6: Losing the Debate 29
  • Part II Other Aberrations 30
  • 7: The Harvest of Intelligence *
  • 8: That Old-Time Violence 37
  • 9: Little Green Men or Not? 40
  • 10: Don'T You Believe? 43
  • 11: Open Mind? 47
  • 12: The Role of the Heretic 49
  • Part III Population *
  • 13: The Good Earth is Dying *
  • 14: The Price of Survival 66
  • 15: Letter to a Newborn Child 72
  • Part IV Science: Opinion 74
  • 16: Technophobia *
  • 17: What Have You Done for Us Lately? 84
  • 18: Speculation 88
  • 19: Is It Wise for Us to Contact Advanced Civilizations? 92
  • 20: Pure and Impure 97
  • 21: Do We Regulate Science? 104
  • 22: For Public Understanding of Science 107
  • 23: Science Corps 110
  • 24: Science and Beauty 113
  • 25: Art and Science 116
  • 26: The Fascination of Science 120
  • 27: Sherlock Holmes as Chemist 127
  • Part V Science: Explanation 132
  • 28: The Global Jigsaw *
  • 29: The Inconstant Sun 139
  • 30: The Sky of the Satellites 151
  • 31: The Surprises of Pluto 157
  • 32: Neutron Stars 160
  • 33: Black Holes 162
  • 34: Faster Than Light 165
  • 35: Hyperspace 169
  • 36: Beyond the Universe 175
  • 37: Life on Earth 183
  • Part VI the Future 188
  • 38: Transportation and the Future *
  • 39: The Corporation of the Future 200
  • 40: The Future of Collecting 208
  • 41: The Computerized World 214
  • 42: The Individualism to Come 228
  • 43: The Coming Age of Age 237
  • 44: The Decade of Decision 244
  • 45: Do You Want to Be Cloned? 251
  • 46: The Hotel of the Future 256
  • 47: The Future of Plants 262
  • 48: Bacterial Engineering 266
  • 49: Flying in Time to Come 272
  • 50: The Ultimate in Communication 278
  • 51: His Own Particular Drummer 285
  • 52: The Future of Exploration 295
  • 53: Homo Obsoletus? 300
  • 54: Volatiles for the Life on Luna 307
  • 55: Touring the Moon 312
  • 56: Life on a Space Settlement 317
  • 57: The Payoff in Space 324
  • Part VII Personal *
  • 58: I Am a Signpost *
  • 59: The Word-Processor and I 334
  • 60: A Question of Speed 337
  • 61: A Question of Spelling 340
  • 62: My Father 344
  • Acknowledgments 348
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