On the other hand, what I've read contains two examples of 'hard sf' writers who may not be aware of one of the most important practical applications of science to date. "Science," at any rate, as defined as a conscious, deliberate effort to observe phenomena and draw conclusions from the observations.
The two examples come from the 19th and 20th centuries:
- Rappaccini's Daughter
- Nathaniel Hawthorne (1844)
- Davy Jone's Ambassador
- Raymond Z. Gallun (1935)
"...an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty...."Hawthorne raises worthwhile ideas in this short story, like whether or not an altered human being is a person. The story is also written in the 19th century style: giant economy-size paragraphs; rococo linguistic ornamentation; and all.
"...'My father created it,' answered she, with simplicity.
" 'Created it! created it!' repeated Giovanni. 'What mean you, Beatrice?'
" 'He is a man fearfully acquainted with the secrets of nature,'..."
(Rappicini's Daughter, Hawthorne, page 83 in "Ascent of Wonder")
What I'm concerned with in this post is the idea that Rappaccini "created" a plant and "...that the production was no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy...."
In the case of Rappaccini's shrub, "depraved" is a pretty good term. Some of the implications, though, of the author's description of the plant aren't, I think, quite so good a match with reality.
I'm impressed - and very interested - in research into how life, and the cosmos, got started. I'm not so impressed by scientists "creating" life, though. It's like the fellow in a story who had a talk with God, about humanity getting close to being as powerful as God. They were walking next to a stream. God pointed out that He'd created the first man from clay, and asked the man if he could do that.1 The man said, "sure," leaned over and scooped up some clay. "Oh, no," God said: "You have to make your own clay."
The point is that people work with what we find. We're creative, certainly,2 but we have to start with something. Everything we "create" is made by re-arranging existing parts. We've come a long way, since someone got the idea of setting fire to wood, or weaving string out of plant fibers: but we're still using stuff we find already in existence, made of atoms, subatomic particles, photons, or whatever - all sitting on that spacetime turbulence we call quantum foam.3
The sea-floor people had technology, but didn't use metal. Their 'robots' were animals they'd bred for specific purposes. As described, the seafloor civilization was impressive. And, of course, portrayed as a triumph of science.
"...Handicapped by the impossibility of fire in their normal environment, the sea folk's advancement had followed another path. Controlled evolution was what it amounted to...."Remember, that was written in 1935. "The Abyss" wouldn't be written for another 54 years. My hat's off to the author, for imagining a plausible - and quite alien - civilization only a few miles below the shipping lanes.
(Davy Jone's Ambassador, Gallun, page 155 in "Ascent of Wonder")
On the other hand, I got the idea that "controlled evolution" was supposed to be exotic, alien, unfamiliar.
From one point of view, it took us thousands of years to recover.4
My guess is that most people don't think of domesticated plants and animals as "artificial." Wheat, domestic chickens, and big, juicy apples have been around for so long that it's easy to assume that they've 'always been there.'
Besides, "technology" is something new and cool, right? Not the sort of thing that those serfs and peasants do. Or, these days, those farmers.
I think I see this sort of mindset, even among people involved in agribusiness. "Subconscious plant selection" is what a short history of wheat's (controlled) evolution called the process of selective breeding about ten thousand years back.
And I don't entirely buy the idea that Jacob's deal with Laban (Genesis 30:31) was based on "simple" people's ideas about animal husbandry. Whatever century Jacob was born in, it was thousands of years after people had started breeding animals. Jacob and Laban (who doesn't come across as the brightest bulb in the bin) lived in a society that had been breeding sheep for a very long time.
When Jacob suggested that he be given sheep with an unusual coat - and the birth rate of that rare breed goes up right after Jacob takes over management of the flock - I have to consider the possibility that Jacob knew more about applied genetics than a 'simple' person might.
glaciers started retreating.
Remember: just because we've been using it since time out of mind, technology is technology.
The flip side is that there's an enormous pool of tech innovations - and the problems they caused - to draw story ideas from. Or interesting settings.
- "Mars Jars Don't Work - But Zinc Might"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (September 3, 2009)
- "Inventions: Strange; Feared; and Yet-to-Come"
(August 25, 2009)
- "Four Millennia of Human Nature: I Think Qoheleth is Right"
(August 3, 2009)
- "Hard Science: It's Not Necessarily a Limitation"
(July 25, 2009)
- "- - - 'And We're All Gonna Die!' "
(June 30, 2009)
- "The Evolution of Wheat - Introduction"
New Hall Mill
- "Genetics And Evolution Of The Dog"
NPR (February 13, 2004)
- "Lesson Plans - The Human Role in Dog Evolution"
1 Or mud. And, yes: I know that Genesis has two creation narratives. (Starting at Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 2:4)
2 It's written that we were made "...in the likeness of God...." (Genesis 5:1-2) I think it'd be a bit surprising, taking that as a starting assumption, if we didn't share - however imperfectly - some of God's attributes, including creativity. That creative nature is expressed physically. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2366) I don't think it's such a stretch to think that our reflection of "creativity" can't include economic and artistic pursuits, too. ("Economic Justice for All:" Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy (November 13, 1986) (From www.usccb.org/upload/economic_justice_for_all.pdf), particularly paragraph 15 - on page 3)
3 Humanity may have unlocked the last secret of the cosmos in the mid-20th century: but I doubt it. "Quantum foam" still seems to be a pretty good way of describing what happens at the smallest scale we can observe - currently - but I wouldn't be very surprised if someone fine-tuned that model, just as Einstein and company described phenomena that get observable under conditions that Newton didn't know about.
4See "Inventions: Strange; Feared; and Yet-to-Come " (August 25, 2009), footnote 1.