Roland Lehoucq: “science fiction is the only literature that takes into account scientific and technical
Science fiction helps us understand the mysteries of science. It inspires and helps to popularize it. Roland Lehoucq, an astrophysicist who is passionate about SF, devotes much of his energy to ” talking kindly about complicated things “. Good if he generates vocations!
Science inspires science fiction. Is the opposite true ?
Science fiction rarely inspires science, but sometimes brings scientists back to ideas. This is the case with the space elevator; a 100 000-kilometer cable stretched between the ground and space that would make it easier to access than with our rockets. The idea was proposed in 1960 by Russian scientist Yuri Artsunatov, but went unnoticed, except in the eyes of a science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke, who turned it into a novel: Les Fontaines du Paradis in 1978. With this novel, The Space Elevator became a subject of reflection. Today we’ve surely found the material to build it, carbon nanotubes. There are still countless problems to be solved, but the idea has gone from “it’s impossible” to “it’s very difficult”, which is a huge leap forward. Science also sometimes recovers words from science fiction. This is the case of the teleportation. The word comes from science fiction, it inspired science, “retrieved” by scientists to name an experiment in physics called quantum teleportation. If it is not a question of teleportation as understood by science fiction, the word has undoubtedly contributed to the considerable Echo that the experiment has had among the public.
Another example is terraforming, the idea that we could transform the climate of an entire planet to make it habitable. It was picked up by scientist Carl Sagan in the 1970s. Sagan wonders how to transform Venus. Today we know how to think about terraforming and many articles have been published about that of the planet Mars. The mental toolbox exists, even if it cannot be put into practice because the project is Titanic.
Does science fiction allow us to think about the consequences of scientific and technical progress?
Yes. Science fiction allows us to take a step aside and to reflect on the consequences of Science and technology on humanity. It forces us to think about the social implications of progress and asks questions: What is the point of technical progress? What world do we want to live in? In his 1984 review, Orwell speculates on possible abuses related to new technologies by imagining how humans would be constantly monitored. This reflection is now necessary. With the mobile phones that we are no longer separating from, we are permanently traceable and traceable. This opens up the possibility of comprehensive monitoring of the population. Another example, The Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, raises the question of the social consequences of our ability to genetically manipulate humanity on a large scale.
The SF would be a huge laboratory?
Yes, it is an experiment in social thinking, a laboratory for thinking about progress. This is what it is all about: the SF is the only literature that takes account of scientific and technical progress. It speaks of science and its “wonders”, but also, and above all, of its consequences. From the beginning, these aspects were found. Take Jules Verne: his work is a kind of “science fiction proto”. There are, of course, the aspects of the “wonderful scientist” that Maurice Renard spoke of: science is pushing to the limit and wonder is pushing scientifically. But he also considered the consequences: thanks to his Nautilus, Captain Nemo could destroy any surface ship with impunity, thus acquiring a way of invincibility.
Similarly, in Kepler’s Le Songe (a posthumous work published in 1634, in which he recounts a trip to the Moon and its inhabitants), the important thing is not the way he imagines going to the moon, but the idea that was imagining going to the Moon allows him to make a social critique of the Earth and its inhabitants. With his characters from Usbek and Rica, Montesquieu adopted the same method in his Persian letters (1721): to move the problem spatially to change his point of view. Science fiction does nothing but change space and time to make it realize that human evolution escapes almost completely from Nature and is now in the hands of humans, via science and technology.
So the SF would be used for everything?
In any case, it irrigates all sciences, including the humanities. In law, one can ask a question like: “What Would a galactic constitution be? “In physics, one can amuse oneself to question the possibility of the existence of the laser sword of the Star Wars. The examples abound.
Roland Lehoucq is an astrophysicist at the Atomic Energy Commission. He is the author of popular science books from science fiction, such as The SF under the lights of science (2012), SF: the science is conducting the investigation (2007), the science of Star Wars (2005).