Dilemmas in Science: Time Travel

Audrey Sebatindira 9 November 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about movies on time travel. Everything from Back to the Future to The Terminator.

They’re great stories but – and I’m sorry to rain on your parade – those plot lines are patently absurd. Stephen Hawking himself says so (believe me, I read the paper weeping at the complicated physics), and I’m sure I didn’t need his backing to convince you of that. The “science” behind these movie constitutes a bold-faced lie. By definition, an intentionally false statement.

So my question is this: why do we get enjoyment out of lies? They’re pervasive across the entertainment industry. Whether it’s Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, “science” fiction is a feature of our daily lives. Indeed, much of it is devoted to dispelling the truth of fiction in these shows and replace it with a false feeling of fact. One we so willingly accept, that Dawkins-style atheists have likened our blind acceptance of sci-fi to a belief in God.

It makes me wonder whether truth is important in entertainment. Science fiction is incredibly popular, but all I know is my real love is the Great British Bake-Off

So what am I getting at? Humans are, once again, showing how irrational they are. Despite our constant pursuit for truth in the way the world works, we also love to engage in blatant untruths. Is it bad to expose our kids to false science when they could be learning the real thing?

Probably not. Pushing the boundaries of truth and imagination is entirely unique to our species, and one of our best characteristics.

The truth can be difficult and messy, so it makes sense for us to be irrational over it. As a gay man, I came across a recent study on epigenetic modifications of DNA in homosexual men with trepidation. Do I want the truth in a nature vs nurture argument about my sexuality, or would I rather believe whatever version of truth I choose for myself? Despite being a scientist, I’m happy to accept the contradiction of living with truth and untruth. In any case, being human, I don’t really have a choice.