Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just Ignore the Science... Really!

I was chatting with my middle son, an engineering/math major, and he told me that it would be impossible for squirrels like my character Jack in the Evolution Revolution series to learn to use simple machines. When I mentioned Koko, the gorilla that learned sign language, he pointed out that Koko could answer she was 'fine' when asked 'How are you?' but did not ask the same question in return. For her, there was only that moment. Because of that sense of only here and now, she could not 'imagine' any action and its consequences. It would not be possible, my son argued, for Jack, even though he's learned about rolling and sees a rock impeding a wheel from moving, to apply this knowledge to stop bulldozers from coming into his wood. My argument was that squirrels share what they learn with other squirrels, thus 'disproving' (in my mind) that animals only think in the here and now, because teaching others to defeat a food puzzle (i.e. bird feeder), results in future gain.

Photo courtesy of Chris Carter, Pexels

I have some scientific basis for my argument. In a study published in Current Zoology, Professor Thomas Hills, a co-author, asserts that animals which can simulate future actions "must be able to distinguish between their imagined actions and those that are actually experienced." (In my case, it's Jack blocking the wheels on the construction machines because he already did so on a wheelchair, or me watching videos of squirrels solve puzzles and then teach other squirrels.) The authors say their data supports the concept that animals which can 'simulate environments and conceive the future must have some form of self-awareness," and this means projecting themselves into the future in a situation.

My son disagrees.

We will have to agree to disagree. It may not happen now or even in the near future, but I believe animal intellect is slowly increasing, evolving. But that's not science, that's imagination.

Sometimes though, you have to ignore the science. So many books, TV shows, and films would not exist if we simply followed the science. American astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson posted on social media that he was watching the sci fi movie, Armageddon even though it's got rotten science. (Apparently we can't blow a giant meteor in half with a nuclear bomb, and even if it were possible, the fragments hitting the earth would be life-ending events on their own.) There are numerous incidents which are impossible, at least with current knowledge, in many movies, TV shows, and novels. Staying within what we actually know would limit our imagination, and maybe not inspire future generations to achieve what was dreamed/proposed in creative works. (Cell phones first appeared in the original Star Trek.)

So, ignore the science - (but not all; some things are irrefutable like the laws of physics, and you don't want to be obviously ignorant about basic science or the audience won't believe your story.) Creativity and imagination sets us apart from all other animals...

At least for now.