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Science in the West is a consequence of the revolt against the bullying of the Christian Church. The Church said God created everything in a week and anyone who questions this is a sinner who must be punished severely. This provoked the thinking types, who wondered how it all happened, when did it begin, why so many life forms were created, is Earth the centre of the universe, why does the apple fall? These mind games were originally undercover activities, but they produced geniuses like Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and many more. Science became a respectable pursuit as the power of the Church declined.
But the conflict did not end. There are now many fundamentalist sects whose minds are trapped in Old Testament times. There are also the compromisers who say that religion is very scientific. And there are the scientist sects which ridicule religion and claim that God is a delusion and everything is the result of only evolution. The “God Delusion” evolutionists are as noisy and aggressive as creationists. An Indian scientist who does his morning prayer ritual and then goes to his laboratory will be seen as weird by these Western sects. As science and technology progressed and the positive and negative consequences spread globally, questions began to be asked. What next? What will be the immediate and distant future? How will science and technology affect human relationships? What will be the consequences of the pollution of the atmosphere and water? How will viruses adapt and evolve to fight medical advances?
This wonder about the future has produced science fiction that extrapolates sci-tech developments to a possible future, on Earth and in space. Science fantasy goes beyond sci-tech extrapolations. But science and technology are accelerating so fast that science fiction and fantasy become obsolete within a few years. Science fiction of even the 1980s did not anticipate mobile phones and SMS lingo, laptops, ipad and icloud, Facebook, consumerism and the organised dumbing down by the media, and deformed babies caused by air and water pollution.
The only science fiction that seems to be heading for reality is that of The Time Machine by H G Wells, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. The world is already in Wellsian time when Homo sapiens are divided into a majority of stupid Eloi and the minority Morlocks who feed on the Eloi and keep them entertained.
Science fiction, like crime thrillers, is about action. So there is no futuristic speculation about quiet, solitary figures such as writers or artists and how or what they would create, and how literary and artistic language will change. Could an Indian 100 years ago have made sense of this current language of a slum teenager: “Tera kya problem hai? Kayku tension leta hai? Enjoy, yaar! Kuchh trouble hoga na, to apunko SMS kar, ya missed call de! Apun sab fixing karega!” Certainly not. So, what will teenage language be 50 years from now? How will writers churn out stories, plays or poems when pen, paper and keyboards have disappeared? Will classics of the past be written by scholarly computers into contemporary languages?
There is no sci-fi about trees, flowers, fruits. But it cannot be ruled out. Imagine a bedroom full of genetically modified potted plants swaying and glowing to the rhythm of a mating human couple. Perhaps the plants can be connected to music systems, which convert their swaying into a symphony, raga or rock ’n’ roll. We know that trees/plants enjoy music and have extrasensory perception—it was discovered by the genius polymath and sci-fi writer Jagdish Chandra Bose a century ago—and music is now used in grain fields and greenhouses to cheer up the plants and increase their output.
To speculate about artists of the future, when canvases and paints are obsolete, is a little easier. The painter stands before a large electronic screen, runs an electronic brush on the screen and presses colour buttons. When the painting is finished he e-mails it to an art dealer, several art critics and art galleries. In the homes of buyers the painting appears as an image on electronic walls. The painting can be switched on or off, and enlarged or miniaturised. The comments of art critics flash below the painting. The viewer stares at the screen and blinks eyelids fast. A choice of music appears on the screen. The viewer focuses on one and blinks. The music starts. It is impossible to predict the music of the future, but one can play a mind game. Imagine the combination of a Picasso and jazz, Mona Lisa and opera star Maria Callas or Kiri Te Kanawa, a Mughal painting and the awesome Begum Akhtar. Sculptures too will be 3D images, or can be converted into solid pieces by nanotechnology. Will these predictions be obsolete by 2025?
What about mythology, a field ridiculed by Western scientists as extravagant fantasy? Science fiction becomes quickly redundant, but mythology has survived for thousands of years and will continue into the distant future. Why?
According to Western beliefs, there was no science in the ancient past. Therefore, there cannot be science fiction. This is ridiculous fundamentalism. Ancient civilisations built awesome pyramids, temples, palaces, fortresses, planned cities with water supply and plumbing. They had agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, trade by land or sea routes, coinage, art, doctors and medicine and surgery, astrologers, transport systems, science of warfare and weapons and armour, kitchenware and the art of cooking which required judging the chemical consequences of food items.
All this could not have been possible without an understanding of maths, physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, botany, astronomy, design and manufacture of complex tools. There were no science journals then where these ideas could be written in “proper” scientific form. The ancients were not interested in theory, but in the down-to-earth application of ideas. The ancients were lateral-thinking practical people.
Mythology has flying humans, invincible armour, mind-controlled weapons, flying machines, spaceships and space warfare, colonies on other planets, submarine cities, talking trees and animals, wormholes through which deities did instant travel over long distances, parallel universes, mass manufacture of babies (100 Kauravas), robots and artificial intelligence, fetus learning (Abhimanyu and Ashtavakra), futurology, telepathy, environmental concerns, and much more. If the ancients didn’t have science how did they conceive these ideas, some of which can be implemented now and some are still in the distant future? If modern science fiction writers and sci-tech specialists cannot think more than 20 years ahead, how did the ancients think in terms of thousands of years? It is an awesome mystery that requires serious scientific investigation.
Are mythologies memories of a very distant past which ended with a catastrophe on Earth? Only small groups of humans survived. Deprived of all science and technology, they started the evolutionary process again some 20,000 years ago. But their memories of the glorious ancient past were transmitted from generation to generation until they could be written down as what is now called mythology. Ridiculous idea? Where is the archaeological evidence of this past? Well …
Consider another possibility: Earth is invaded by aliens from a distant solar system. They created bio-robots (who later called themselves Homo sapiens), stayed around for a while to speed up the evolutionary process, and then departed. Are mythologies records of these aliens?
Now consider this distant future. Earthlings colonise Moon, Mars and the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn. Because of different gravity and environmental conditions, the body structure of humans changes. It is impossible to travel back to Earth conditions. Over decades and centuries the colonisers become shorter or taller, their skin changes, the eyes evolve to cope with radiation. Sexual mating, pregnancy, and baby delivery will be different in the varied gravity conditions. The plants and animals taken there from Earth will also evolve differently.
Then there is a catastrophe on Earth. All life on land is destroyed and Earth is entirely under water, except some mountain tops on which a few survivors have sought shelter. A new evolutionary process begins. Meanwhile, memories of Earth civilisations will become mythologies in space colonies. New deities will be added to the old folklore—Einstein, Gandhi, Rajinikanth, Bruce Lee and many others. Surely, these mythologies too will be ridiculed by scientific sceptics.
The Big Bang, which started it all, happened nearly 14 billion years ago. The end of the universe, or the Big Crunch, is many billions of years ahead, long after Sun has become a white dwarf. Time will come to an end. Then the whole evolutionary process will begin again with another Big Bang. Imagine the Big Bangs, Big Crunches and evolution going on in an infinite number of parallel universes.
All this brooding brings to mind the last lines of a poem by physics genius Richard Feynman: “I, a universe of atoms,/ An atom in the universe.” Could our universe be having similar thoughts about its existence among infinite universes? Only God, or the God Delusion, knows.
Dilip Raote is a journalist and sci-fi buff