Consider two novels separated by 127 years in publication, both dealing with the moon, yet oddly alike. Both tell us something about the evolution of hard science fiction. Arguably, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon announced for a broad audience the invention of modern science fiction—stories with the scientific content foregrounded, as much a character as any person, and lending credibility to the imaginings to come. Verne boasted incorrectly that “I have invented myself” this new fiction (Poe had a clear prior claim), but he did make the new form widely popular, and became the first and last sf writer to be blessed by the Pope for doing so.
One iconic image expresses our existential condition: the pale blue dot. That photograph of Earth the Voyager 1 spacecraft took in 1990 from 6 billion kilometers away told us how small we are. What worries me is that dot may be all we ever have, all we can command, for the indefinite future. Humanity could become like rats stuck on the skin of our spherical world, which would look more and more like a trap.
I find most beautiful not a particular equation or explanation, but the astounding fact that we have beauty and precision in science at all. That exactness comes from using mathematics to measure, check and even predict events. The deepest question is, why does this splendor work?
It all started with experience, as most philosophical positions should. What’s an idea worth if it cannot withstand the rub of the real?