Saturday, 25 July 2015
Science is a systematic search for knowledge.
Technology is the application of scientific knowledge.
Science fiction is literature about that application.
Yet Socrates is quoted here as saying that "To know is to know that you know nothing."
The Delphic oracle, asked who was the wisest man in Greece, answered, "Socrates." Socrates thought that this must be wrong because he knew nothing. Then he realized that it was right because he was at that time the only one that knew that he knew nothing. But he did try to find out.
However, his means of seeking knowledge were limited to mere reasoning and argument. Humanity has learned a lot since then but by other means: observation and scientific method. Poul Anderson celebrates this search for knowledge for example in "Starfog," his story about the exploration of the "Cloud Universe" cluster.
It remains true that to know is to know how little you know. If reality is an infinite plane with human knowledge a finite circle somewhere on the plane, then, as the circle grows, its area, the number of things known, increases but so does its circumference, the point of contact with the unknown. Someone with a very small circle knows very little and also has very little contact with anything unknown to him.
Kurt Vonnegut quotes:
"My name is Yon Yonson.
"I live in Wisconsin.
"I work in the paper mills there.
"When people ask me my name, I say,
"My name is Yon Yonson..."
That expresses someone who knows who he is, where he is, what he does and nothing else and does not ask anything else. Even the name, Yon son of Yon, implies no change from generation to generation. Poul Anderson's characters may start in Wisconsin but from there they explore the universe.