Happy May the 4th, aka Star Wars day! Our journey now has reached a distance of 0.000000002086 parsecs and we are celebrating the combination of bank holiday weekend, May Day, Free Comic Book Day, and Star Wars Day on the outskirts of London! I can only assume that Free Comic Book Day and Star Wars day manifest as a kind of Geek-fest that requires a fairly fervent commitment to science fiction to fully appreciate. Having spent more than a few too many hours cheering on the heroism of cosmic heroes, with both human and alien sentience, and across books, movies, television dramas, May the fourth is my kind of celebration. It is an unabashed day of declaring we are the ones who watch these wild, fictional deeds without irony. Maybe the costumes will be silly, and yes there may be (seemingly) innumerable impossibilities in physics of time-loops and biology, but so too will there be an attractive spirit of hope, inspiration, and truth from this genre.
When I think back on Orwell’s 1984 find myself shuddering at his dystopian predictions that included the ubiquity of televisions that could never be shut off and would channel in a propagandized world view to every place one might go. When I revisit Asimov’s Foundation series I am absorbed by the fear and captivation he had with psychology and social science as a means of predictive science. Asimov’s vision was that psychohistorians might become too prescient and see the inevitable twists and turns of our species’ journey thousands of years into its future. And when I rewatch Star Wars in an almost annual ritualistic fulfillment I am drawn to the highest aspirations of how we, as a society, can be better, and how we might fail ourselves and, candidly, our entire universe (since those are the stakes faced in the operatic tales of grand science fiction).
But here, I must take a pause from my fellow sci-fi fans in lauding the greatness of Star Wars. Am I moved? Absolutely. Do I find inspiration in the struggles and battles? Unquestionably. But — and I admit this fully expecting more than a few friends to question my sanity — I really dislike the magic of the Force. The force is used to represent a magical, zen-like quality of connectedness in the universe. Through the force everything is connected: from rock to insect to you. In that connection flows an energy capable of providing promoting harmony and even power for those who feel its connection. It is a beautiful metaphor. It also leads people to the power and expectation of a magical support for those who believe. The force promotes the idea that if I can just believe something, truly believe with all my might, then maybe, just maybe I can harness the universe to help me realize some personal dream. The universe is full of wonder, power, and a flowing force; through that force I can be enabled to great things. Of course, in Star Wars the force is victorious. The character who wields the force most effectively is the one who wins the galaxy.
In Star Wars, a universe of planetary-sized space creations, light-speed travel via cosmic vessels, and gadgets for everything from farming to war the science is minimized for the power and beauty of the magical force. The science is side show to the magical central plot. It rankles me. It seems to suggest that in connecting with science one moves farther from real power and the universal truths of our existence. Science is all artifice that has led us astray from magic. To be victorious, let’s return to magic. May the force be with you. Always.
Consequently, even as I am moved by the force in movies and its cosmic battles, this subversion of science calls out to me as fundamentally flawed. Science is designed to use a systematic approach to better understanding our world, its forces, its immutable truths, and its variables. The psychologists I’ve spoken with during this journey have used the science of our bodies, brains, and behaviors in pursuit of understanding, and in service of building our societies with greater efficacy and fulfillment. I don’t know where our science will lead us — whether to a dystopian or utopian version of our future. But I do believe the more we work to create good science, and to rely on the principles we determine from its testing, the possibility of moving towards utopia will increase.