How old were you when you first encountered the concept of time travel? I used to believe it was when I first saw the George Pal version of The Time Machine which came out in 1960, and I didn’t see until 1962 or 1963 when I was ten or eleven. Memory is a highly unreliable resource, especially for dating. I vaguely remember that seeing the movie made me get the book from my school library the next day. What’s weird, is I don’t remember being blown away by the idea of a time machine at that time. And time travel is certainly a concept that was mind blowing. What I remember, was being blown away at the idea that humans could mutate into new species. Now that was something to think about.
My guess is I already knew about time travel. But when did I first encounter the idea?
In past decades I assumed all the great science fiction concepts like aliens, robots, time travel, interstellar travel, artificial intelligence came from reading science fiction. But in more recent years, as I wrote about my past, struggling to get the facts right, I realized that assumption was wrong. This line of thought started when I tried to remember when I first learned about dinosaurs. I wondered why little kids love dinosaurs, and if they understood dinosaurs existed millions of years ago and are now extinct. Those are heavy concepts too – vast times and extinction. I remember having dreams about dinosaurs when I was four or five, well before I could read, or attend school. And I don’t remember my parents telling me about dinosaurs. How did I learn about them?
Finally, I assumed I was introduced to all the far out ideas of science fiction via television, even though I grew up in the 1950s when television was primitive. That’s why I’ve felt I’ve always known about outer space, robots and traveling through time. Hell, I might have been exposed to time travel before I could tell time.
Evidently, childhood was a phase when my mind was a mass of proto-concepts gathered from television – like Pangaea before splitting into distinguishable continents. Reading science fiction shaped those vague impressions into precise concepts. Although reading Time Travel by James Gleick made me realize that time travel is a tremendously complex subject that we continue to refine.
Now here’s the thing I really want to talk about. In this age of alternate facts, should we be raising kids by stuffing them with fantasy and fantastic beliefs before they understand the nature of reality? We believe that make-believe is perfect for young minds, but is that true? Can you imagine a different way, where we taught kids facts first, and then later introduced them to fantasy?
Can you imagine growing up only seeing science shows that carefully explained what we know and how we know it? How would that change society? Would a fact-based early childhood education make us more realistic about reality? Is fiction the driving force that makes us constantly reshape reality with alternative facts? Does fantasy consumption encourage fantasy viewpoints? What an idea for a science fiction/fantasy novel! Imagine our world without science fiction and fantasy.
Let’s consider one more thing. What if we raised kids without fiction — at what age would they invent time travel on their own? When would they imagine building robots that could think like people, or traveling to Mars? Do we cheat our kids by telling them about all the far out ideas before they could invent them on their own?
Science fiction is a technology for transmitting speculative ideas, ones that writers have predigested for us, sort of like when Neo in The Matrix is taught martial arts with a program injected into his brain. I’m just wondering if we’d have more grit if we acquired our concepts through working out ideas ourselves.
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- The Making of Future Man – James Gleick writes about Hugo Gernsback
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- Beware the Retrofuture: Elan Mastai and Jack Womack Navigate the Problems of SciFi Nostalgia
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