The case for optimism, cont’d: The need for vision, and letting visionaries soar

Echoing Philip Reeve, Neal Stephenson calls on science fiction writers to once again imagine a bold future — “an over-arching narrative” that provides “a shared vision” — that can inspire scientists to make it real:

Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. A good SF universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers. Examples include Isaac Asimov’s robots, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ships, and William Gibson’s cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research puts it, such icons serve as hieroglyphs — simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees. […]

“You’re the ones who’ve been slacking off!” proclaims Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University (and one of the other speakers at [the FutureTense conference]). He refers, of course, to SF writers. The scientists and engineers, he seems to be saying, are ready and looking for things to do. Time for the SF writers to start pulling their weight and supplying big visions that make sense.

Elsewhere, Thomas Friedman — a self-described “frustrated optimist” — tells WBUR’s Tom Ashbrook that the visionaries are already among us, waiting to be unleashed:

What always makes me an optimist about this country: it is still full of people who just didn’t get the word. They didn’t get the word that we’re down and out. They didn’t get the word that we’re in a slow decline. They didn’t get the word that we’re in a recession. And they go out and start stuff and fix stuff and heal stuff and organize stuff […] whether it’s on Wall Street today or in places that you’ve never seen before. […] What they tell you is that the country is alive.

If you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head […] because there is just a huge thrust coming from below, and as I’ve said ad infinitum, it looks just like the space shuttle taking off — all that thrust coming from below.

In That Used To Be Us, Friedman and co-author Michael Mandelbaum elaborate:

We are optimists, but we are also frustrated. We are frustrated optimists. In our view, the two attitudes go together. We are optimists because American society, with its freewheeling spirit, its diversity of opinions and talents, its flexible economy, its work ethic and penchant for innovation, is in fact ideally suited to thrive in the tremendously challenging world we are living in. We are optimists because the American political and economic systems, when functioning properly, can harness the nation’s talents and energy to meet the challenges the country faces. We are optimists because Americans have plenty of experience in doing big, hard things together. And we are optimists because our track record of national achievement gives ample grounds for believing we can overcome our present difficulties.

But that’s also why we’re frustrated. Optimism or pessimism about America’s future cannot simply be a function of our capacity to do great things or our history of having done great things. It also has to be a function of our will actually to do those things again.

More arguments for optimism here.

(via io9; image via Soulful Scribe)

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2 responses to “The case for optimism, cont’d: The need for vision, and letting visionaries soar

  1. Pingback: Don't Read This Unless You're a Science Fiction Writer | The Writing Toolbox

  2. Pingback: Innovation Starvation | World Policy Institute – johniac’s posterous | MP CyberBriefing

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