Science Fictions Influence on Science

Samantha Finkbeiner
3 min readNov 9, 2020

The readings this week were highly focused on science fiction and the role that it plays in science and how science fiction can act as a way to express possible future concerns that humanity might have to face. I feel that a majority of the readings were fairly easy to grasp except for one; more specifically the Haraway article was really difficult for me to dissect. This quote from Haraway gave me trouble when I was first reading her acceptance speech:

“It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories.”

Comes from Donna J. Haraway’s acceptance speech when she won a Pilgrim award. When I first read this quote I had to reread it…multiple times. I found it to be the easiest to “digest” by breaking it down; “It matters what matters we use to think other matters with” gave me the impression that Haraway wants to express that it matters what information we use to think about other things with. Once breaking down this first phrase in this quote we can then derive meaning from the other portions of the quote to meaning a similar to the first phrase which can be summarized up to: It matters what information and thoughts are used to think and create stories.

In “Devil Girl From Mars”, Octavia Butler puts this idea that Haraway describes using the quote mentioned previously. Butler knows the importance of the information behind her science fiction writing and she writes about things that she only believes could happen in real life; “My rule for writing the novel was that I couldn’t write about anything that couldn’t actually happen” (Butler, 1998). By understanding these ideas that she’s working with Butler is able to write science fiction that some people believe are prophecies; she writes, “This was not a book about prophecy; this was an if-this-goes- on story. This was a cautionary tale, although people have told me it was prophecy. All I have to say to that is ‘I certainly hope not.’” (Butler, 1998).

This topic of “it matters what matters we use to think other matters with” is shown in a more extreme way in the piece by Ted Chiang. He uses the idea of an alternate world to bring awareness to our human individuality and our role in scientific advancement. Chiang used some ideas that I thought were a bit out there, for example, the idea that the air would become to depleted that everyone would die. While some of his ideas may be a bit out there, there was a quote that I really liked and spoke to me as a research scientist:

“I hope you are not saddened by that awareness. I hope that your expedition was more than a search for other universes to use as reservoirs. I hope that you were motivated by a desire for knowledge, a yearning to see what can arise from a universe’s exhalation. Because even if a universe’s lifespan is calculable, the variety of life that is generated within it is not.”

I really liked this quote because it touches on being motivated by a desire for more information and I’ve really felt that desire more recently as I’m ending my undergraduate experience while participating in research. I think that being motivated by gaining more knowledge ties into the Haraway quote because it really touches on the “what thoughts think thoughts” idea. I believe this is meant to tell the audience that the different thoughts and ideas you let occupy your mind are the kind of thoughts and ideas you’ll think about often.