Ripping the supernatural out of science fiction.

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by cynical dreamer, Sep 4, 2008.

  1. Steve Roby

    Steve Roby Rear Admiral Premium Member

    Feb 25, 2002
    Ottawa, ON Canada
    Part of the problem with what you're asking is that for some time some people thought there might really be a scientifically verifiable form of psychic power and did scientific research to try to back that up. The idea caught on with a number of SF writers.

    When JMS was all over the online world promoting Babylon 5, he described it as the most scientifically accurate SF TV space opera ever, saying he was going to leave out a lot of the unscientific stuff from the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars. When I asked why the most scientifically accurate SF TV series was going to have characters with psychic powers, he said, basically, lots of good classic SF has characters with psychic powers and it's accepted as a standard SF idea. In other words, he didn't answer the question.

    If you're talking about TV series rather than, say, a science fiction novel, you have two issues to deal with. First, not too many TV writers know anything about either science or science fiction; they just go for the "weird shit." See, for example, the writing career of Brannon Braga. Second, if you're doing a couple of dozen stories a year for several years, eventually you're either going to get lazy and fall back on this kind of stuff, or you're just going to want to put your own spin on the ideas everyone else has already done.

    TV just isn't the place for pure, rigourous science fiction.
  2. stonester1

    stonester1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 14, 2004
    Considering that science fiction is about EXPLORING and expanding our boundaries, breaking through barriers, I find it silly placing more barriers, especially since not everyone agrees that current scientific concensus represents barriers impassible.

    All this amounts to technobabble. Science fiction is most interesting when it's about people and their lives in these imaginary settings.

    I just don't find fidelity to what "sounds" scientifically believable that important, or even that interesting. Technobabble tends to put me asleep.

    I don't think you need a technobabble "explanation" for everything. There is plenty in the real world which escapes easy explanation.

    Why should it not be thus in science fiction, even "pure" SF?

    The "science" has a "neat" factor, but it's not the primary draw to the genre for me.
  3. Deckerd

    Deckerd Fleet Arse Premium Member

    Oct 27, 2005
    the Frozen Wastes
    I think 'psychic powers' is definitely in the bracket of Things Humans Absolutely Should Have But Don't. That's why it's so seductive to sci-fi writers. I agree it's too easy and someone should have the courage to leave it out but TV sci-fi writers don't seem to be able to. I understand why but it is disappointing.
  4. stonester1

    stonester1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 14, 2004
    I think it could be, if it was backdrop. If it was the main selling point, it would fail.

    Also, I don't know how long that would stay interesting. A speculative fiction TV series that locks itself down into any assumptions/dogma stands a chance of getting predictable.

    Science fiction is about breaking boundaries, not adhering to them.

    So I think "pure" science fiction could be a launch platform, if you will. But if you never leave it...
  5. Nedersong

    Nedersong Captain

    Jul 2, 2008
    Bionic Woman reboot.

    Oh, Six Million Dollar Man.
    Knight Rider.

    Possibly The Incredible Hulk Bill Bixby. But on this i'm not certain.

    Jake 2.0.
    John Doe.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 4, 2008
  6. Neroon

    Neroon Mod of Balance Moderator

    Oct 31, 2000
    On my ship the Rocinante
    Nedersong, 4 posts in a row like that? :vulcan:
    That's why God invented the Edit button, as well as the concept of patience.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2008
  7. Nedersong

    Nedersong Captain

    Jul 2, 2008
  8. darkshadow0001

    darkshadow0001 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 4, 2003
    Star Wars?

    I'm not a big fan of Star Wars, but I don't think there was any mention of that sutff during the first six movies. Then again I could be wrong.
  9. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

    Oct 8, 2005
    Los Angeles, California
    Midichlorians aside... the force?
  10. Nedersong

    Nedersong Captain

    Jul 2, 2008
    Denifantely NOT Star Wars.

    The jedi are a mystical force. "We are luminous beings, not this crude matter".
  11. stonester1

    stonester1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 14, 2004
    Yup, the midis. Like out of a really bad Voyager script, technobabble gone amuck.
  12. Gotham Central

    Gotham Central Vice Admiral Admiral

    May 15, 2001
    Chicago, IL
    the thing about psi powers is that it may not be psi powers at just might look like psi powers to the untrained eye (That's the whole premise of Psyche).

    For instance, in the TNG ep "Cause and Effect," Data gets the android equivalent of a premonition. However, watching the episode we get a TECH reason for the message.

    Babylon 5 is another example of this. From the very first episode we see that the Minbari believe in prophesy. Their prophosies had an uncanny way of comming true. Its only later do we discover they are the result of a pre-destination paradox.

    The new BSG has by no means conclusively included supernatural elements. Its intentionally left ambiguous. So far most of the things that have happened have been given rational explanations. The same was true on Lost until very late in the game.

    As for shows without supernatural elements....

    Total Recall 2070
    Space Above and Beyond
    Time Trax
    Time Cop
    Sliders (Sliders is a unique case since the very nature of the show opens the potential for "different" physical laws in other universes.....its a stretch though)
    Alien Nation
    Century City (one cannot help but notice that most of these did not get more than one season...if that)
    Jericho (is this sci-fi)
    Mann & Machine
    Mercy Point
    Seven Days
    Planet of the Apes
    Primeval (conditionally...we do not know the origins of the rifts)
    The Prisoner
    Viper (once you accept Knight Rider you get all of its copy cats)
  13. Gotham Central

    Gotham Central Vice Admiral Admiral

    May 15, 2001
    Chicago, IL

    Actually you can do a pure science fiction show without any supernatural elements and make it interesting. The show would just need to have more of an adventure spin to it. Techincally CSI is now considered sci-fi because it uses speculative technology.

    The first and last seasons of seaQuest are good examples. Most of season 1 was considered sci-fact (once you weed out the ghosts and couple of psychic episodes). 2032 was all action and political intrigue.
  14. Trent Roman

    Trent Roman Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Jun 5, 2001
    The Palace of Pernicious Pleasures
    John Doe wandered away from the more rigourous scientific approach towards the end of its run, with remote viewing and the mysticism behind those Phoenix people. The show's creators have stated that the explanation for John's total knowledge was a near-death experience; he acquired total knowledge after transcending his body and reaching a spiritual plane (and a few other such cop-outs, like the mysterious scar being just a sharpnel wound). I liked the show, but it's probably better that it ended when it did if that's the explanation they were going for.

    Fictitiously yours, Trent Roman
  15. stonester1

    stonester1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Nov 14, 2004
    CSI bores the crap out of me, as do most procedurals. Talk about a genre trapped in it's assumptions...

    But you can't just weed that stuff out. It's there. I personally allow for it, as such things can't simply be explained away definitively in our reality, either.
  16. Temis the Vorta

    Temis the Vorta Fleet Admiral Admiral

    Oct 30, 1999
    You folks should give Eleventh Hour a look: the whole idea behind it is to be "near future sci fi" that has present day relevance.

    I personally think this limitation will cause the show to be quickly cancelled because it won't be imaginative enough for the sci fi audience, but who knows. Anyway it's a good test case to see just how interested anyone really is for taking the goofy/wild stuff out of sci fi.
  17. Agent Richard07

    Agent Richard07 Admiral Admiral

    Jun 20, 2001
    Just like ReGenesis. It also deals with near-future issues like cloning, engineered viruses, modern-day science gone too far, etc.
  18. Rather than attempt to reply to everyone individually with quotes all over the place I'll try and do this all at once.

    The goal for me in this exercise is to find shows, whether recent or past, that adhere to our scientific understanding of the world as we know it today.

    Do I allow open the door for the 'possibility' of psychic phenomena... yes. But... science as it stands right now says that that is highly unlikely. There are NO instances of psychic phenomena that has stood up to rigorous skeptical scrutiny. Science demands that an idea has to be testable. At which point it needs to be tested over and over and over (and yes we're talking about double blind experiments). If the hypothesis fails, even once, it is discarded as false and we either refine the hypothesis or toss it away.

    I've never heard of a case of reported psychic phenomena standing up to that kind of rigorous testing. How many faith healers, psychics, tarot readers have been shown to be charlatans once put in to a double blind experiment. How many have allowed themselves to be tested in this manner?

    Science is about rigorous testing. Science also proves nothing (ever!). All it does is lend support to a hypothesis. Once it's gone through the testing loop enough times it becomes accepted as a theory. Not a proof, a theory.

    I don't see any problem with holding this standard up to science fiction.

    Someone made a good point about the fact that we haven't discovered life on other planets and hence any show that depicts otherwise is pseudoscientific and/or supernatural. Point well taken. We haven't. We're searching, but we haven't yet. I suppose this is where we have to look at the term "speculative fiction"

    Now is it any less speculative to say we may learn that psychic phenomenae may be found to potentially exist as it is to say life on other planets may exist. In some sense no. But, I would personally argue (and this is only my opinion) that at least the notion or possibility of life on other planets at least fits into the realm of possibility from what we know of biology, chemistry, etc... Much more so than the notion of someone levitating a spoon or reading my thoughts by thinking really hard. There's just no support for it in science.

    But, you ask, can't the same be said for life on other planets?

    Let's look at the case of shrimp living near undersea thermal vents. Until recently it was assumed that no life could exist under such extremes. And yet there it is, right on our own planet. This lends support to the hypothesis of other planets with similar extremes could potentially be true. I've seen no such supporting evidence in the case of psychic phenomena e.

    I hope that helps in understanding where I'm coming from with this. ALL the replies so far have been great!
  19. Lapis Exilis

    Lapis Exilis Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Dec 20, 2004
    Here's where you're having difficulties I believe. There's a ton of shows that adhere strictly to current scientific understanding - from ER to Law and Order. But they are not science fiction. To qualify as science fiction, any series has to have some speculative aspect - that is, it must function off of an idea that has not been proven. Otherwise, where's the "speculative" part?

    And the Ganzfeld experiments lend support to the idea of psychic phenomenon. At least as much as what you point to lends support to the idea of alien life. Life on earth, under no matter what intense earthly conditions, does not really lend any support to the hypothesis of extraterrestrial life, since on another planet everything from stellar radiation to atmospheric composition would be different from earth's (as far as we know) unique conditions. Plus, any show postulating alien life almost always shows it as being more or less humanoid in structure and the chances of that happening, by most evolutionary biologists' estimations, is so tiny as to be nearly impossible.

    I think everyone gets what you're after, but it seems like the line you've drawn is entirely arbitrary, based on your personal beliefs about what is credible in speculative fiction, and what isn't. Meanwhile you've brought up an interesting subject - what is and isn't scientifically plausible in current tv SF, and where are people willing to suspend disbelief?
  20. The Ganzfeld experiments were riddled with statistical errors as well as problems in replicating the results. ganzfeld.html

    It's an intriguing experiment, but until it can be replicated over and over it still doesn't mean much.

    Which i hope is one that people will explore. This whole thread is meant to spark discussion on all of these types of issues in science fiction.