Strange Brains, Alien Minds

It’s been a very busy few months, you just need to look at my events page to see what I mean. Guess what? Every time I’ve set aside some time to sit down and write a few words about my experiences something else crops up and the chance slip by.

Although it’s a bit late, here’s a very short reflection on my ongoing collaboration with King’s College London and the Human Brain Project. It’s called ‘Transforming Future Science through Science Fiction.’

Here’s the blurb about the project. “Run by Dr Christine Aicardi, Science and Technology Studies researcher at King’s College London, in collaboration with near-future fiction writer Stephen Oram and Virtual Futures. The project saw science fiction authors Pippa Goldschmidt, Stephen Oram and Geoff Ryman collaborate with scientists at King’s College London to adapt cutting-edge research into short stories. The project is supported by the Cultural Institute at King’s College London and the Human Brain Project, under European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.”

Working with scientists has been fascinating for all sorts of reasons. There’s the obvious one, you get to see cutting edge science. At one of the lab visits we met evo-devos (evolutionary developmental biologists) and saw their work with headless fruit flies, zombie neurons and chicken embryos. I also visited a lab that records data about twins in the context of geriatric cognition. In simple terms (apologies to the scientists) it means using genetically similar people to see what other factors influence how well we age.

It’s hard to explain the experience of seeing the science in action and spending time with the the scientists. It brings home the obvious but often forgotten fact that scientists are human too with all the flaws and the brilliance that brings. It also emphasises that science is a lot messier than the sanitised versions we see in science papers or reports in the popular media. By messy I don’t mean dirty and unkempt, although you might want to listen to Geoff Ryman’s story, Not Best Pleased, to see what can happen. What I mean by messy is that it’s not as straightforward and clear-cut as you might believe. It’s also mind-blowing to come away wondering how your fiction can be any more fantastic than the reality of what you’ve just seen. And, that’s the trick – to find the balance between stretching the possible as far as possible without breaking its credibility.

In the video below you can see the whole event, hear the stories and a discussion with authors, scientists, anthropologists, historians and philosophers. It’s just over 2 hours long, but worth watching.

In June there’s a shorter public event at Waterstones, Tottenham Court Road, London, where you can hear the stories followed by a panel of authors, journalists and scientists discussing how science fiction can be used to create a self-reflexive capacity in scientists and help communicate scientific research to the wider public. Follow this link for more information and tickets: “Science meets Science Fiction.”

Photo Credit: KayVee.INC, The Long Awaited – Copyright license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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