Ignorance is a Sci-Fi Goldmine

Story fodder can be something unknown to the quantum physicist, astronomer, psychologist, or oneirologist (dream studier) – whatever you find fascinating.

This is exactly the approach taken by the authors of The Encyclopaedia of Ignorance. The book is an old collection of short essays, some of which have proven prophetic. What, the authors asked leading scientists, don’t you know in your field that you find the most intriguing? It just makes sense to start your fiction with the other man’s ignorance. Such is the space inviting imagination.

Fantasy writers might benefit from knowing that intelligence is now measured by how many conflicting bits of information one can hold in working memory. That bit of knowledge makes it easy to show-not-tell a character’s intelligence and why they relate to others the way they do.

With new discoveries coming like rain, it’s difficult for an author to know what it is that the reader does not know. Research, even a quick Google on minor points, can prevent tripping the reader out of the story with an obviously false fact. And, of course, y’gotta feel for any author who set their story in 2020 before knowing about the Covid.

Ignorance is a sci-fi goldmine, but only if the author ain’t ignorant.


10 thoughts on “Ignorance is a Sci-Fi Goldmine

  1. “Intelligence is measured by how many conflicting bits of information one can hold in memory at one time.”
    It is said about computers, “it’s not that they know more, but that they forget less.” Perhaps this contrast is why people profess fear that AI will take over from humans someday soon. But it’s a false assumption. Computers are more like idiot savants.
    But it’s holding the conflicting, or disconnected, bits at the same time that indicates intelligence.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Exactly. A.I. has not evolved as computers become faster because consciousness is not computational. It’s (likely) a quantum state that collapses quantum superposition. This strange phenomenon, like the future, is in multiple incompatible states at the same time until observed. Like when Erwin opens his Schrödinger’s box to see if his cat is alive or dead.

      Liked by 6 people

      • “. . . multiple incompatible states at the same time until observed. Like when Erwin opens his Schrödinger’s box to see if his cat is alive or dead.”
        Yep, that sounds like the way my mind works. Like Schrödinger’s cat, I never know whether an idea is good or bad till I open up my noggin and look.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. DocTom says:

    This is a case where I’m not sure I can agree with the basic premise that “ignorance is a Sci-Fi Goldmine.” Why? Because ignorance of our immediate surroundings (i.e., our solar system, the physical nature of the universe) has shrunk to a point where you really need to know a lot in order to write sci-fi. To a large extent that’s why fantasy and sci-fi sub-genres like steam punk have blossomed while ‘hard’ sci-fi has diminished. You can’t have lost civilizations on Mars, or a Saturnian civilization – we know they’re not there. If you want to imagine some sort of life in the solar system other than us you need to start thinking about some sort of marine life under the ice crust on some of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn (or recently, microbes in the upper Venusian atmosphere). Otherwise, you need to step at least a hundred years into the future, but then Star Trek and Star Wars have cornered the market.
    In a way, that’s not a bad thing because it may push sci-fi into the realm of social discourse. Think Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (made into a movie as ‘Blade Runner’). Dystopian novels have replaced the post atomic war genre but still reflect warnings of all the ways we can screw up this planet ( Paolo Bacigalupi’s work can be riveting, even the YA’s).

    Liked by 6 people

      • I don’t do hard sci fi. My stories rely on jumps to other star systems and intelligent alien races, but I try to make my impossibilities plausible by building them on as much science as possible. But the pace of scientific discovery makes it difficult to keep ahead so your latest thing doesn’t become as obsolescent as a phone with a curly wire attached.

        Liked by 5 people

          • DocTom says:

            Or the 1950’s sci-fi story where one of the spaceship crew was the “oiler”! LOL!

            My point really was that all sci-fi becomes dated as new info emerges. The problem is that there is so much more info now that needs to be considered. It’s just a lot easier to drop back into fantasy. Realistically, the majority of the type of folks who read Asimov, Clarke, etc. back during the Golden Age are currently reading fantasy, steam punk, ‘Halo’ novels, Star Wars novels and graphic novels (which we used to call comics!). And while the readers of the above are not too discerning regarding scientific fact or even continuity, the editors we submit to are.

            Liked by 5 people

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