Why Science Fiction?

Science fiction is about creative imagination and “what if” that is loosely grounded on Science. It is driven by our hope and fears about what Science can do. Psychology and Neuroscience are two major domains of inquiry in Sci-Fi. Over the years, many imaginations depicted in Sci-Fi at the time became the reality (e.g., non-invasive brain stimulation, memory implanting, manipulation, and enhancement) and others remain fictional. This historic trajectory provides a perfect context and content domain to students in Psychology and Neuroscience to witness how the interactive process of creative imagination and rigorous scientific inquiry pushes the boundary in scientific exploration (Katz, Warrick, & Greenberg, 1974). This course is designed to contextualize Sci-Fi works in Cognitive Neuroscience research in Psychology and Neuroscience with three aims.

First, it is expected that students will learn some fundamental principles and theories in Cognitive Neuroscience (especially on the topics of Attention and Memory) and then apply them to critical analyses of the literature in Sci-Fi from the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at UCR Library.

Second, this analysis is framed as questions on the consistency or discrepancy between “possibilities” (imagination) and “reality” (Science), for example, whether memory manipulation in Sci-Fi scientifically plausible. This analysis will include what science CAN’T achieve due to the fundamental limit of the human mind/brain and what science SHOULDN’T do because of ethical and moral complications.

Third, this analysis is done in the historic context in that the gaps in Sci-Fi and Science are being filled over time as technology and research in Cognitive Neuroscience advance over time.

In summary, the overall aim of this course is to teach Cognitive Neuroscience in the context of Sci-Fi literature.

Sci-Fi “is a genre characterized by a thematic focus on science and technology and on their potential effects on contemporary society, whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment, and one that adopts a scientific ideology associated with the arrival of the industrial age”

—-   Mather (1997, P134).