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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

Form Equals Form Equals Function

Why is it that the most enduring, recognized form for aliens to take in our stories is “humanoid”? Walking upright, two legs, two arms, two eyes, etc. The most stereotypical term to refer to visiting aliens is “little green men“. Why do we so often assume that aliens will be so similar to us?

Part of it is undoubtedly because there is a comfort in familiarity; if they look kind of like us, they must be like us, right? (Conversely, we feel more confident when the bad, violent aliens look nothing like us.) A certain lack of imagination on the part of those who craft the stories also plays a role. And let’s not discount the practicality of putting a human actor in a roughly human-shaped costume.

But there’s actually a reasonable scientific justification for an alien life form to have a similar form to ours. It’s called convergent evolution.
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SF Goes McDonald’s: Less Taste, More Gristle

Twelve years ago, Harvard Alumni Magazine asked me why I wrote The Biology of Star Trek despite my lack of tenure.  My answer was The Double Helix: Why Science Needs Science Fiction.  In it, I described how science fiction can make science attractive and accessible, how it can fire up the dreams of the young and lead them to become scientists or, at least, explorers who aren’t content with canned answers.

syfyThe world has changed since then, the US more than most.  American culture has always proclaimed its distrust of authority.  However, the nation’s radical shift to the right also brought on disdain for all expertise – science in particular, as can be seen by the obstruction of research in stem cells and climate change and of teaching evolution in schools (to say nothing of scientist portrayals in the media, exemplified by Gaius Baltar in the aggressively regressive Battlestar Galactica reboot).

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