Email

Password

1
Bonding with the Force of Pseudoscience
What
does ‘pseudo’ mean, re-
ally? In a general sense,
it is dishonest piggybacking on legiti-
mate disciplines. Point is: it has nega-
tive connotations. It’s not ‘real’ science.
It is creative theory posing as a plat-
form to real progress. It is the kind of
theory that roots itself in the lost ‘dark
arts’ that predate advanced science
and masked themselves as magic; eve-
rything from astrology to mythology.
Today,
pseudoscience is
more akin to politics
and diplomacy: as in the art of the
possible. It is now a bridge between
science fiction and fact, via genuine
enquiry and imagination that now
have outlets in the visual media, be-
fore becoming real world proposi-
tions for testing and development.
True,
it is no substitute for fully or-
thodox, ‘pure’ science and
the inventions and discoveries defining
that discipline. But science fiction (and
by extension, the ‘pseudo-science’) is
something to be welcomed, rather than
shunned by the scientific community.
Fantasy
meets
Stark’ Realities
2
..is
the best recruiting agent
for tomorrow’s students
of ACTUAL science, by stimulat-
ing curiosities. In short, it is a won-
derful PR / marketing tool; making
science ‘cool’ and visceral and
relevant to the casual layperson
and commercial investor. It must
also be remembered that the
production of science fiction re-
quires strong measures of science
fact. Special effects technology is
about invention and precision and
testing the limits of existing pro-
cedures to build a new working
method and imagery. Does that
sound familiar? Of course it does:
one might be reminded of scientif-
ic invention and discovery: apply-
ing one orthodoxy with total preci-
sion, whilst reinventing wheels to
reach new frontiers of opportunity.
Our
first podcast, Spy-fi,
dealt with the world
of pseudoscience; so let’s look
at some of the relevant examples
from that production.
We
talked about Tony Stark
/Iron Man’s technol-
ogy and also about Star Wars and
James Bond.
Let’s
revisit those worlds
here as a written
companion piece to that podcast.
pseudo
science..
3
Tony
Stark is a Marvel Comics and mov-
ie superhero, popularised by his
current onscreen incarnation as Robert Downey
Jr in the Iron Man and Avengers as well as soon
to be wider Marvel cinematic universe movies. In-
itially an arms designer / provider, his enterprises
are stalled when he abandons the war trade after
a spell as a prisoner in an Afghan cave. He goes
onto pioneer a robotic suit of armour that enables
him to confront villainy of both terrestrial and al-
ien origin, aided by his lovely assistant, Pepper
Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the film se-
ries).
The
robotic suits are of course the stuff
of science fiction for now. But Stark’s
method is quite clearly that of an engineer; what
he produces is in the realm of fantasy but how he
produces it is quite credibly conveyed, via mon-
tage. He uses trial and error; he cultivates conti-
nuity in his experiments and he models his ideas
via 3-d interface. Whilst we cannot yet interact
with our technology as fluently as Stark, the era
of ‘augmented reality’ is now upon us. Google
glass is one such breakthrough and in Japan,
they have developed an advanced warning sys-
tem for earthquakes that harnesses complex 3-d
modelling and projection tools.
This
summer, Stark will face off against a
renegade AI (artificial intelligence)
programme, code named ULTRON. Avengers:
Age of Ultron comes at an apt moment in our fears
of real science gone wrong. Elon Musk (regard-
ed by many as a real life Stark) has warned us of
the dangers in the use of AI. It could wipe us out.
I’d be inclined to listen to Musk’s words of cau-
tion, whilst enjoying Stark’s fictional exploits as a
kind of modern fairy tale and dramatized note of
caution as technologies become ever more ad-
vanced and humanity risks getting left behind in
the wake.
tony
stark
4
star wars
Unless
you live on the Death
Star, you will be aware
that 2015 sees the arrival of a little film called
The Force Awakens. This is also known as
‘episode seven’ in a film series that started
life in 1977. This is Star Wars.
Two
sequels followed
the original 1977
blockbuster and then of course
we got the dreaded ‘prequel
trilogy’ of 1999-2005. This new
product comes from Disney’s
acquisition of Lucas’ own com-
pany portfolio and is the start of
a new era in the franchise.
In
the strictest
sense, Star
Wars is not ‘proper’
sci-fi. It is classed as
‘space opera’ (ie an
epic fantasy saga
that happens to use
space as a setting).
But its universe
has certain rules; a
‘verisimilitude’ dis-
cussed ad infinitum
by an army of dedi-
cated fans.
Its
founder was a young independent
film scholar called George Lucas.
He was simply trying to put fairy tales back
on film and introduce a new generation to a
summary of cinematic genres via a sci-fi tap-
estry. What it became was a behemoth, an
‘empire’ if you will.
5
The
new trailer was
no exception.
It features a new model of
‘light sabre’ (basically, a la-
ser sword) that has a cross
guard made of a mini light
sabre. Cue cries of blas-
phemy: ‘it would not work!
You’d cut your own hand
off!’ etc.
IE:
the debate that
stems from a love
of something fantastical
somehow entails a love of
logic and almost scientific
rules. One small step into a
world beyond the normal
rules in effect brings us back
to clarity in applying those
very same rules. There was
even a commentator that
went so far as to show not
only the errors in the new
light sabre design but how
they could have improved
on said.
It
is a scientific process
of their own! The fan
sat down and DESIGNED
something. The design is
presented in diagrams, with
schematic specifications.
Translate that to a more ter-
restrial endeavour and you
have an engineer.
Trace
the origins
of the ide-
as themselves and you find
yourself remembering that
whilst George Lucas and
Star Wars gave us the light
sabre, they did not actually
invent laser beam technol-
ogy (which is very real in-
deed and a part of medical
science and astronomy).
Light
sabres and
blaster guns
et al are simply an exten-
sion of very real laser tech-
nologies. The US Navy are
already experimenting with
laser weaponry on their
craft. True, one would not
actually ‘see’ laser blasts
in space or hear them in a
soundless vacuum. But the
interest in and passion for
the pseudo-science and its
parentage in science fiction
is ultimately just another
version of a love for science
FACT.
And
in turn, that
enables further
advances in science gen-
erally. It is an empirical fact
that Star Wars reinvented
the cinematic science of
special effects. What you
see on the screen when you
buy a ticket to The Force
Awakens later this year is
a product of and tribute to
that precise craftsmanship.
The new trailer was no ex-
ception. It features a new
model of ‘light sabre’ (ba-
sically, a laser sword) that
has a cross guard made of
a mini light sabre. Cue cries
of blasphemy: ‘it would not
work! You’d cut your own
hand off!’ etc.
6
james bond
‘You
know the
name. You
know the number’. So went
the tagline for 1995’s Gold-
enEye. And it is fair to say
that James Bond is a part of
our public consciousness
and modern mythology,
even if one is not a full on
‘fan’ of the film series (you
are though, just admit it!).
And
so, when
SPECTRE was
announced as the 24th offi-
cial EON Productions’ Bond
film, a collective sense of
excitement engulfed the
Internet. It’s like waiting for
some national tradition: we
expect and demand a Bond
movie every few years.
The
reason for that
is largely due
to the imagery and tech-
nology that has defined
the series. We might not re-
member every detail of the
individual films. But we do
remember Bond’s gadg-
ets and indeed the qual-
ity of the product overall
is frequently associated
with quite how far into the
realms of science fiction the
technology is taken.
2002’s
Die An-
other
Day is a case in point. The
film is remembered yet still
criticised, largely due to
a misapprehension that it
was ‘too fantastical’. But in
fact, it was doing precisely
what the original Produc-
er (the late, great Albert
R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli) envi-
sioned by placing Bond
just ‘five minutes into the fu-
ture’. The films should take
what COULD be produced
and simply exaggerate the
prospect for drama.
And
so, the ‘invis-
ible’ car (whilst
seen as some creative and
scientific nadir) is in actual
fact a perfectly plausible
addition in that framework.
The military are working on
adaptive camouflage meas-
ures and some of those pro-
posals include the use of
3-dimensional projections
as a starting point.
Indeed,
the
prob-
lem today for the Bond films
is in devising gadgetry that
has NOT been invented or
obtained already by the av-
erage cinema-goer. We all
have camera phones, mo-
bile internet and GPS track-
ing devices. All they can do
is take that existing technol-
ogy and somehow make it
LOOK cooler and more so-
phisticated.
7
So
what IS Pseudo-
science, really? It
is the bridge between art
and craft and the cement
between creative imagina-
tions and a logical reality.
And it is therefore an indis-
pensible part of any publica-
tion promoting the aware-
ness of science in general
until it remains clear where
science ends and where
pseudo-science begins.
Pseudo-Science will re-
turn to What Is Universe
later in 2015. Meantime,
good Luck to team Tony
Stark, Star Wars and
James Bond in their new
adventures.
pseudo
science
STAY TUNED!
@whatisuniverse.com

Info

10.03.2015by James Muprhy

Published in

May be of interest to You

iron man

Spy-fi

Spy-fi

The first of many. A writer and a scientist debate the merits of Iron Man, James Bond, and Star Wars for 2015.

science

The Legacy of Science

The Legacy of Science

Science within one hundred years has changed our life more than any other single force in the last thousand.

apocalypse

Apocalypse

Apocalypse

What are the global killers going to be? How, if at all, can we prepare for those? And can we safely make some assumptions about their possibility, without in...

moon

Moon Landings

Moon Landings

The Moon Landings. Real thing or reel hoax?