It all started for me decades ago with Star Trek episodes. ‘Beam me up Scotty!’ Was the universal get out of jail card. There was no trap so dire that it couldn’t be cheated with an appeal to Scotty, the engineer on the mother ship. Aliens were no match. Just as they would reach out to grab the Earthling intruders they would find themselves staring at a shimmering translucent plasma showing only the fast disappearing outlines of their human prey. Even the toughest, meanest alien life forms were left scratching their heads at how those pesky Earthlings always got away.
Then there was Time Tunnel. Don’t know if you would remember it. You would need to be my vintage as, from memory, it ran for only a couple of seasons in the sixties. Not long enough to grow the cult following of a Star Trek, but to my adolescent mind, it was a heady elixir of escapist fantasy. Travelling to distant epochs in time was even more interesting than the ho hum teleporting to and from the mother ship in Star Trek.
I loved that stuff. I guess I still carry a torch of sorts for it, and the wonder future it promised. It was a heady dream that this was what the future would hold.
Then reality got in the way. I left school and started work. Fantasy worlds and distant galaxies no longer had as much to offer a young man making his way in this world. Fast forward maybe four decades . . .
These days I make a point of not watching The Big Bang Theory, but its ratings are astronomical (. . get it?) where I live. Physicists, especially nerdy physicists, fascinate the hoi polloi. It’s as if they are some kind of exotic human being, unlike the rest of us. They can see beyond where we can see and they know clever stuff we don’t. It amuses us, apparently, to see them flailing around uncoordinated and clueless in social situations. Maybe it’s a kind of poetic justice for us; payback. They think they’re so clever, but see! They can’t even manage everyday relationships!
As I said, I avoid the show. I squirm at the clumsy stereotyping they exploit to produce humour. Also, if the truth be known, I feel some affinity for people in the clever but clueless category. Understanding all things, yet not understanding what really matters; like love and relationships. Giants of intellect, but perennially puzzled why other people mock them or don’t include them in social situations.
Then I open a media release from someone or other, at a university somewhere or other, about how their research has the potential to do this or that, and I no longer wonder why scientists in general, and physicists in particular, can stumble when engaging with the rest of us.
Now I’m right behind these guys and their research. You’ve got to give it to theoretical physicists. Never say die. Always hoping for that big break through. Always clutching for the fame and recognition that they believe is rightfully theirs. Teleporting? Only a matter of time. Cold Fusion? Watch this space. Quantum computing? A sure bet. In the meantime keep those research funds rolling in.
Each breathless prediction excites us in spite of ourselves. What if they’re right? Wouldn’t it be just so great to teleport to and from work? Or even better, to the outer reaches of the universe? Yes, I know they have a few practical details to sort out, but imagine it! What if it really became reality?
It’s just that I’m not sure they ever listen to themselves or take themselves less than absolutely seriously. Take this gem:
“If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.”
I can’t resist pulling a semantic rug from under such arrogant pomposity!
Does the principle of teleporting really depend on what you or I believe? I thought it depended on the cleverness of theoretical physicists. Silly me.
Here we go again. A scientist using spurious logic to endorse his preferred philosophy of life and meaning. Pulease mister! What you are doing is trying to proselytise for converts. You would rightly condemn a religious preacher for trying to twist science to suit his or her dogma, yet you push your own athiest worldview under the cloak of neutral science. Perhaps you were not even aware you were doing it?
As great as it is, science is grounded in the here and now. Whenever scientists attempt to use the authority of science to make sweeping statements about beliefs, they leave conventional science and the known universe behind, and fall down the worm hole into science fiction.
Science fiction still gives me a buzz, but it doesn’t get to shape my beliefs about who I am and whose I am. Just look at the world around you a bit more widely Mister Teleport Media Release man. You might discover the many things that give life its richness that science cannot explain because it can’t even detect them.