Science Fiction Studies

# 17 = Volume 6, Part 1 = March 1979

Charles Elkins

Science Fiction versus Futurology: Dramatic versus Rational Models

It is now common practice for some thinkers, ranging from academics engaged in philosophical speculation about the nature of the future to professional futurologists, to argue that SF is a valuable adjunct to future studies.1 However, my thesis is that there are genuine problems in this relationship. These stem in part from the nature of "futurology," especially in its reliance on quantitative methodologies; but more significantly they stem from treating SF as functionally analogous to other futurological activities and valuing it accordingly. Specifically, difficulties arise when, in regard to the structure and function of models, the logical models (i.e. propositions), which futurologists employ in the present to "think about" change and organize "knowledge" for predicting future events, are not differentiated (as they must be) from the dramatic models (i.e. presentations) of SF which give form to the future and create attitudes for readers to use in organizing "action" in the present.

Futurology claims to use the scientific method for structuring knowledge about present and future scenes in which men and women will act. The futurist, insofar as he adopts the means and ends of science, formulates theories about the future which refer to and explain relationships known, in a currently existing world. The writer, insofar as he adopts the ends and means of art, neither formulates or explains. He creates. His dramatic, symbolic structure of SF (as of all fiction) are analogous not to statements hypothesizing and generalizing about phenomena, but to the phenomena themselves which the writer and audience experience. SF makes no propositions about the future in which its events are situated; it is a symbolic construct of a future. Furthermore, in terms of its social function. SF is capable not only of comprehending "future studies" but also of providing us with roles and scenes which integrate action in the present to embrace or escape a specific future.

1. The status of SF in relation to other methods of future studies can be approached through Robert Nisbet's critique of futurism. Nisbet contends that the predictions of futurologists in the social sciences, even those forecasts extrapolated from "hard data" furnished by computers, are no more accurate or significant than the prophecies of the great social philosophers of the nineteenth century - e.g. Comte, Spencer, and Marx ─ or those imagined by SF writers.2 Because futurologists cannot predict unique or random future events or deal with the impact of single individuals, their predictions become truisms, "insignificant at best, and more likely to be the simple manifestations of motion, movement, flux, and interaction which are always present in social life."3 Also, when attempting to discover and extrapolate from "trends," futurologists forget that [trends] are, one and all, a posteriori constructs, frequently metaphoric in character, always post hoc, propter hoc."4 At the root of Nisbet's skepticism concerning the value of futurology is his assertion - which he describes as "simple in statement, massive in theoretical implication" - that "the future does not lie in the present. Nor did the present, as we know it, ever lie in the past."5 With all of its "hard data," futurology stands on the same epistemological footing as SF.                

Central to Nisbet's objections ─ and this point is basic to the thinking about the relationship between SF and future studies ─ is his discussion of knowledge and truth. If knowledge means hypotheses and theories which can be supported or tested by reference to facts, and if facts are propositions and descriptions of natural or historical phenomena that are empirically verifiable, then, of course, we can have no knowledge whatever of the future. We cannot verify something which has not yet come into existence, and when it does come into existence, then it is no longer the future. From this perspective we cannot "know" the future, and any pretense to this sort of knowledge is inadmissible. As Bertrand de Jouvenel says, "the expression 'knowledge of the future' is a contradiction in terms .... we have positive knowledge only of the past. On the other hand, the only 'useful knowledge' we have relates to the future.”6                

We may concede that Nisbet is right about our inability to know the future and still point out the obvious fact that our actions are directed and controlled by images of the future existing in the present, regardless of whether these images are true or false. The future does exist in the present as an image (metaphor, concept, abstraction, belief, hope, wish, etc.) which functions as a goal, purpose, motive, or idea for action in the present. All individuals and communities must act in reference to an unknown future, and any institution desirous of maintaining power must struggle with other institutions to perfect and universalize its particular concept of the past, present, and future. Indeed, it is only by organizing images of the past and the future that we can act at all. From the standpoint of the present, the future is a fiction, but long ago Hans Vaihinger pointed out that all thinking and action make use of "fictions." The relevant point is not whether these fictions are "true” or "false" but whether they are useful. We must have them because it is only through them that we are able to think or act at all.7

In attempting to create alternative visions of the future in order to organize action in the present, SF writers and futorologists are engaged in similar enterprises. Moreover, despite the futurologists’ pretenses at creating "realistic" or "true" visions, neither SF nor, futurology is privileged; only hindsight can validate the "truth." Yet, in terms of their social functions, the two activities are vastly different. The distinctions, between them are most clearly seen by considering the structure and function of rational models in physical and social science and comparing them with the dramatic models in literature.

A scientific model can be defined as "an ordered set of assumptions about a complex system. It is an attempt to understand some aspect of the infinitely varied world by selecting from perceptions and past experience a set of general observations applicable to the problem at hand."8 In discussing natural science, most philosophers use "model" and "analogy" interchangeably, but even when they do not equate the two, they are still in agreement as to the function of the model.9 Whether it is an analogy, a representational model, a theoretical model, or an imaginary model, it has a logical structure whose primary function is to enable its creator or user to "think about" certain kinds of phenomena in specific ways. Even in using an "imaginary model," which is strictly, provisional (e.g. Maxwell's mechanical model of the electromagnetic field, Poincaré's model of a non-Euclidean world), the purpose of the model is to "show what the object or system would be like if it were to satisfy certain conditions initially specified."10 The object of scientific modeling is always truth, explanation. 

Much of what is said of the structure and function of models in the natural sciences holds for the social sciences as well. Scott Greer says that "model, as we use it in the social sciences, simply refers to a guiding metaphor." While he criticizes the use of formal, mathematical models drawn from physical science in situations where they do not apply, he sees a model functioning as a "controlling conceptual scheme."11 Similarly, from an anthropological perspective, David Kaplan and Robert Manners write that "the use of models as analogues can be an important conceptual aid in analysis and explanation in anthropology." While they do not deny the "logical and predictive rigor" of formal models, they prefer the greater explanatory possibilities of the analogic and metaphoric models to the mathematical models used in physical science.12 In his The Conduct Of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science, Abraham Kaplan makes the cognitive function of a model an essential part of its definition.13 Again, in all cases the emphasis is on cognition, perception, knowledge.

A similar focus can be discovered in the futurists' discussions of the use of models. Amara and Salancik apply many of the criteria used in evaluating scientific models to judge models of technological forecasting. While forecasting models differ from scientific models, they argue that the difference "is not one of rigor but of purpose." They add,

The scientist's purpose is to test a specific model about the world; ... the future researcher's goal, however, is not to test a model but to suggest (through discovery or logic) a model which encompasses and extends our perceptions of reality sufficiently well to permit choices or decisions to be made. 14

Notice that here again the emphasis is on cognition, on "discovery or logic." Decisions about the future are based on "perceptions of reality," on our way of knowing or way of thinking about knowledge and society.

Much of the argument for the value of SF to future studies has been based on such assumptions. For example, Frank Kermode maintains that literary pasts and futures are needed in order to "make sense" of time and our place in it: "Fictions are for finding things out, and they change as the needs of sense-making change." Kermode's "fictions" work in much the same manner as Vaihinger's "mental structures."15 They seem to correspond to the "imaginary models" of physical science; both function to "make sense" of the world by "finding things out."                

In particular, the value of SF for creating models of genuine epistemological validity has been stressed to a greater degree than with other literary genres. In defining SF as "the literature of cognitive estrangement," Darko Suvin distinguishes between the 19th-century SF, based on the "extrapolative model," and the best contemporary SF, in which the "analogic model" is used. The cognitive elements (usually the "scientific" elements) constitute a "measure of aesthetic quality, of the specific pleasure to be sought in SF." SF he concludes, "is an educational literature .... it demands from the author and reader, teacher and critic, not merely specialized, quantified positivistic knowledge (scientia), but a social imagination whose quality, whose wisdom (sapientia), testifies to the maturity of his critical and creative thought."16

2. Repeatedly, those who advocate using SF in futures studies do so from a belief that SF is a useful tool for thinking about the future. For example, Dennis Livingston makes the point that "those concerned with the future .... may use [SF] to stimulate their thoughts, to corroborate forecasts they have worked out, and to generally provide multiple simulations of the futures occupying their research." 17 Perhaps Alvin Toffler, in his hugely popular Future Shock, best sums up the attitude of those futurologists who believe that the value of SF rests on its cognitive applications for future study:

Science fiction is held in low regard as a branch of literature, and perhaps it deserves this critical contempt. But if we view it as a kind of sociology of the future, rather than as literature, science fiction has immense value as a mind stretching force for the creation of the habit of anticipation. Our children should be studying Arthur C. Clarke, William Tenn, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Robert Sheckley, not because these writers tell them about rocket ships and time machines but, more important, they lead young minds through an imaginative exploration of the jungle of political, social, psychological issues that will confront these children as adults. Science fiction should be required reading for Future 1. 18

From Toffler’s point of view, it is precisely when we ignore the value of SF as literature and begin to see it as something else, a "sociology of the future," that it begins to have "immense value."                

I find Toffler's remarks disturbing. Indeed, I am troubled by an argument which considers imaginative literature, any literature, as a mode of cognition. Part of my uneasiness stems from a reluctance to view art, specifically literature, as a substitute for philosophy, science, history, or sociology, to view it as something that it is not. By so doing, one is inevitably forced to come up with some version of the mimetic theory of literary significance, i.e. to judge the value of literature by how well it succeeds in providing an appropriate reflection of someone's version of reality. In arguing for the value of SF as a mode of cognition, there is the danger of confusing the social function of art with the social function of science, to the disadvantage of both.                

And yet, it seems absurd to deny literature's cognitive value. Certainly a narrator or a character within a work of SF may make many propositions and predictions about the future which the reader may believe or disbelieve. Later, the reader can determine whether the prediction or proposition was true or false.19 The mere articulation of a possibility or hypothesis may in itself be valuable (though it need not require the writing or reading of a novel). However, the value of the novel hardly rests on an author's making "correct" propositions about the future. Whether or not 1984 is a "true" picture of the future ─ whether or not 1984 will validate Orwell's dystopian novel ─ is in this respect beside the point. Scientific theories can and do supersede one another, but another novel which depicts the "real" 1984 will not supersede Orwell's creation. The author's task is to explore the possibilities of human action, to communicate the meaning of human action, regardless of which possibilities are, or could in fact become, actualities.                

Nevertheless, a literary work does appear to provide some sort of knowledge.20 The knowledge or understanding (not explanation) we acquire from literature is the knowledge we gain from a structured experience (in contrast, say, to an experience of some natural phenomena structured by learned perceptions); it is an understanding based on our participation in a symbolic act. SF does not tell us - it does not provide propositions - "about" the future. It is an artistic, a dramatic presentation of the future. One can make critical statements about a sunset, but a sunset is not "about" anything; it just is.                

However, it is precisely the obtaining of knowledge through propositions “about" and logical inferences from events that characterizes the methodology of quantitative futurology. In this case, language functions as an instrument of inquiry. Language organizes one's thoughts about the present and the future in order to discover the "truth" about present and future social, political, technological systems. So used, symbols are modes of signification, of definition. Yet this is not the sole function of language. Symbols do not serve merely to think about the world but to act in the world. Language is not solely (or perhaps not even primarily) a mode of cognition or an instrument of reflection, but a mode of and goad to action. We use logical, scientific models to think about nature and society; we use dramatic, literary models to act in society. What we name and how we name implies attitudes as well as thought, and from a pragmatic perspective, an attitude is an incipient act.21               

The knowledge from literary experience is the fully felt experience of symbolic action, not merely ways of "thinking about" an action. Literature gives us symbolic structures we use to explore the meaning of action. It can do this because it provides not only the beginnings and middles of acts, but (as John Dewey would say) the "ends” of acts, the "consummatory moments." Art gives form and, thus, meaning to experience. Art is a structure of symbols which both the audience and the author make use of during the symbolic phases of action. The writer is less concerned with "thinking about," "reflecting on," "analyzing" or "describing" a situation or a problem than he is with imagining and expressing (not stating) what happens to people when they experience that problem. By the same token, we might say that the SF writer is less concerned with the "objective" factors which give rise to a specific future, less concerned with forecasting or describing possible future societies, than he is with presenting a specific future and discovering what it means to act in specific ways in terms of the belief that those ways of acting are necessary for accepting, rejecting, or doubting the principles upon which a particular future social order rests. The SF novelist does not view the future as an aggregate of particular events which he feels compelled to generalize upon; instead, he creates a symbolic world ─ itself a unique phenomenon ─ which will give form and meaning to human action. As Heinlein says, no matter what the new conditions of the future may be, "the problem itself - the 'plot' - must be a human problem.”22               

Furthermore, the basic human problem is action itself. Action is always problematic, not only because it is often impossible to resolve role conflicts, but because action entails moving into an emergent situation, the future, in which structures derived from the past may not be relevant. Tension and anxiety emerge when action breaks down, whereupon we must re-form an image of the completed act, not in order to "think about action," but in order to create an image to guide us in present action. The source of these images may be in memory or in an imagined future which we create; in either case, they are used to organize action in the present. As George Herbert Mead stresses in The Philosophy of the Present, all action is hypothetical because the future does not exist. The locus of reality is in the present. The past and future are imagined, but what is imagined about them is determined by what we are trying to accomplish in the present. In the present, we connect the imagined pasts and futures to action. The problematics of action are solved in a present in which we reconstruct pasts and envision futures to serve as guides for present action; these pasts and futures, be they heavens or hells, are given form and meaning (emotional, imaginative, and intellectual) in literature as well as other artistic creations.

From the writer's point of view, what he wants done in the present will determine what literary futures he will choose to depict. A case in point: one of the greatest sources of social tensions in our society is the conflict between individual freedom and political authority. If an author creates a future in which one can be "free" and secure only in a social order dominated by some sort of elite class (military, scientific, managerial, etc.), then it can be assumed this is one answer to our present difficulties. The future envisioned by Wells, Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke appears to be of this kind: all of them embrace a version of Saint-Simonian utopianism with all of its techno-bureaucratic implications.

3. In its use of the scientific method and the language of science, most of what we call future research falls into the category of institutionalized scientific activity. Like any other institution seeking to legitimize and sustain its power, science must provide answers for the significant questions of our time. Future studies explores the nature of the future as a "problem." Indeed, as in all sciences, progress in scientific futurology is measured by the efficacy of solutions to existing and potential problems. It is the scientists who have convinced us that all forms of life must solve problems in order to survive and who have forced us to recognize that intelligence manifests itself in solving problems. For many, what becomes significant is not the problem or even the solution, per se, but the method of its solution i.e. the scientific method.                

But life involves more than problem-solving by the scientific method. How our society wants us to confront death, to spend money, to make love, to appease our gods, to express status ─ the styles of life and structures of experience ─ are given to us in communication and perfected in art. The symbolic forms we take from literature must assist us not merely to solve problems, to “reflect" on the past, present, and future; they must also aid us in satisfying desire and unfettering the imagination for the necessary exploration of various possibilities of action. The writer must create forms (i.e. stages for action, social roles, styles of life, goals, etc.) which members of a society can use to integrate and satisfy the claims of reason, desire, belief, imagination, and will - forms enabling people to resolve conflicting roles and to move from one role to another.                

The model which literature provides is not a logical, rational model but a dramatic model. Where the rational models of the futurologist might be best described by the paradigm of the classical syllogism ─ "if this ... then this" ─ the model for a literary work might be best described within the structure of  “what versus what" or "who versus who," with its final statement given, not in the form of a conclusion based on valid inference, but in the form of a proverb. As Kenneth Burke argues, it might be useful to consider even the most complex and subtle literary works as "proverbs writ large.”23 Considered in this light, literature functions as a strategy for dealing with a particular situation in a specific way by communicating an attitude toward that situation which either accepts, rejects, or doubts the principles upon which the order that created the situation is based.    

Paradoxically (given the distinctions I have made), reason and knowledge in SF, especially the sort of reason and knowledge associated with science, often become ultimate principles of social order. SF heroes are often scientists or at least characters who embody the virtues of science. Heinlein, to give one illustration, quotes approvingly Reginald Bretnor's definition of SF as "that sort [of literature] in which the author shows awareness of the nature and importance of the human activity known as the scientific method, shows equal awareness of the great body of human knowledge already collected through that activity, and takes into account in his stories the effects and possible future effects on human beings of scientific method and scientific fact."24 It is no surprise, therefore, that almost all of Heinlein's heroes are incredibly competent, knowledgeable people from whom knowledge is power, the power for doing good or evil, and for whom the lack of knowledge, the lack of "know how," is the ultimate sin. Nor is it surprising that Heinlein believes in a meritocracy, based on knowledge, as the ideal social structure for solving today's problems. His heroes gain in ethical stature in proportion to their acquisition of scientific knowledge and technological competence. At the same time, Heinlein convinces his readers of the importance of science and knowledge not through the medium of science but of art. Heinlein does not argue the issue in scientific essays but in dramatic victories of characters who embody these beliefs, not in the logic of scientific discourse but in the rhetoric of art.

4. The "incantatory" nature of art, including SF, has not been explored by those who advocate using SF in future studies. Again, part of the reason for this neglect stems from a failure to make a distinction between the social function of language in science and in art.                

A glance at some recent work in future studies confirms this confusion. Ervin Laszlo's article, "The Uses and Misuses of World Systems Models" can serve as a prime example of confounding the social functions of mechanistic, pseudo-scientific language with those of dramatic language. In discussing the necessary steps to be taken to ward off global catastrophe, Laszlo urges the use of systems models to:

inform and sensitize people concerning the global consequences of their behavior . . . . Aurelio Peccei said that the models could be used to "move men on the planet out of their ingrained habits." . . . there is an urgent need for a warning signal in regard to every inherently dangerous trend in public behavior .... The effect of warning signals is to loosen ingrained habits and create an openness for new values and actions.

At the Woodrow Wilson Symposium in Washington, on March 2, 1972, Senator Pell (D. Rhode Island) said to Dennis Meadows, "You presume man is rational but in our work, he is emotional. How do you convert this into an action program?" The answer, I suggest, must include putting out two kinds of signals for feedback - guiding the process of transition to steady state. The warning signals of computer simulations of catastrophic pathways of development give the sharp beep-beep of deviation from the feasible glide path. The positive signals of recommended modes of value and action patterns provide the reassuring continuous tone of being on target. The spontaneity of personal, organizational, national and supranational motivation can then do the actual work of implementing the transition .25

In analyzing some of Laszlo's remarks we might first ask how can people be sensitized and how can systems models "move men on the planet out of their ingrained habits"? I submit that they cannot. Facts, "hard" data, information, even intellectual appeals, do not move men - rhetoric moves men. Science, when it is performing its proper function, describes what is, not what should be; it cannot set goals. We can move men only when we can satisfy the demands of reason, desire, imagination and belief by depicting roles which can be used to achieve a profound sense of social integration by upholding those transcendental ultimates upon which any social order rests. We have hard, scientific data that smoking is dangerous to health, but people still smoke. It is only when we can correlate biological destruction with social destruction (e.g. loss of status) that people will stop smoking on any significant scale.                

We give form to our world in symbols, symbols of time and space. If we desire to "sanctify" the world, then this too must be done through symbols. We must consecrate our environmental symbols by fusing them with other symbols of great majesty and power, which evoke the great mysteries of life, death, sex, status, etc. It is in art that these fusions are brought to perfection and consummation. It is one thing to inform man that he is heading for catastrophe; it is quite another thing to evoke that sense of doom, as, for example, Wells does in The Time Machine:

The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the air increased in number. From the edge of the sea came a ripple and a whisper. Beyond these lifeless sounds the world was silent. Silent? It would be hard to convey the stillness of it. All the sounds of man, the bleating of sheep, the cries of birds, the hum of insects, the stir that makes the background of lives - all that was over. As the darkness thickened, the eddying flakes grew more abundant, dancing before my eyes; and the cold of the air was more intense. At last, one by one, swiftly, one after the other, the white peaks of distant hills vanished into blackness. The breeze rose to a moaning wind. I saw the black central shadow of the eclipse sweeping towards me. In another moment the pale stars alone were visible. All else was rayless obscurity. The sky was absolutely black.
                A horror of the great darkness came on me. The cold, that smote to my marrow, and the pain I felt in breathing overcame me. I shivered, and a deadly nausea seized me.

Mechanical metaphors are simply not appropriate for recommending modes of value and action." No institution is a "mechanism"; it is a structure of acts, communicated roles. All of the "sharp beep beeps" and "reassuring continuous tones" will not create social change. To think of man ─ as Laszlo does 26 ─ as a "module" or as a "coordinating interface system in the multi-level hierarchy of nature" does not help us to think about social change. To change a module, you give it new information; if that does not work, you replace the module. But men are not modules: men act in specific roles. Social change entails our assuming various roles which are often in conflict. It is only through effective rhetorical appeals that we choose one role over another. Logical and other appeals to the intellect are effective only to the extent that a society values logic, rationality, and the intellect; but even in this case, making intelligence a social value can be accomplished only through successful rhetorical appeals.                

Significant change is difficult to bring about because roles have become consecrated by tradition, custom, law, ritual, etc. To counter this rigidity, art must function as incantation: it must destroy old beliefs, furnish us with forms of passage from tile old to the new, and finally inculcate new values in place of old beliefs. Art does the first through a symbolic process of "de-mystification," the second by eroding fixity in meaning with metaphors, and the third by "consecrating" the symbols charged with new values and beliefs. This process is not done solely or even primarily through appeals to logic, to reason, or to the "hard facts." It is done through the communication of specific symbolic forms (parody, satire, ridicule, burlesque, comedy, tragedy, melodrama, etc.), which we all use in communication with each other but which are perfected in art, especially literature. As old beliefs are destroyed, we uphold new beliefs through the artistic presentations of tragedy and comedy and melodrama, through tragic and comic "victimizing" of those who would trespass on our sacred symbols. It is in the dramatic presentations of art that values and beliefs are upheld or destroyed and men moved to either accept, reject, or doubt the principles which sustain their social order. At the same time, the artist keeps channels open to change through the creation of equivocal, playful, and comic symbols which allow audiences to hypothesize in symbolic action, to rehearse in imagination possible actions and attitudes before they must realize them in irrevocable moments of the complete act. This creation and destruction, this experimentation, while individually shaped, has objective social meaning because the artist must use the socially validated symbols of his culture.27               

The futurologist - and indeed any other reader - can, by reading SF, experience how the future is being staged in order to solve problems in the present. Moreover, in SF one of the main areas of concern is the future itself and the problematics of action which it implies. This, in itself, says something about the nature of our society. The SF writer is not alone is his concern with the future: otherwise, the SF text would have little meaning or value. The future is ambiguous for everyone. The differences between SF writers and their audiences stem from the realization that although both are concerned with the same issue and although both attempt to express that concern in specific emotions through specific symbols, the SF writer can resolve the problem himself by expressing it, whereas the reader can express his/her emotions only after the author has created the appropriate forms.

Look, for example, at the problem of change itself; or perhaps it would be better to say the problem of permanence in change. What roles must we assume in order to deal with change, with the new, with emerging difficulties? A large portion of SF focuses on precisely this problem. Many SF heroes might be best described as "heroes of change." often, they are open, adaptable, skeptical, and inquiring. When they encounter an alien world or an alien consciousness, more often than not, instead of running away or immediately destroying what they cannot understand, they stick around to find out how this alien world or mind works (then, perhaps, destroy it). The problem is frequently how to adapt to entirely new conditions, often hostile, sometimes merely radically different. At the same time - and perhaps this is more significant ─ many SF heroes are not heroes of change at all. They embody principles which are believed to be necessary to sustain social order (in a 20th-century pluralistic, democratic society), principles which are believed to be eternal and universal. They function as a permanent element in a universe of flux. They reassure the reader that no matter how strange and alien the future may be, some traditions, values, and roles will survive, and man will continue to be pretty much the kind of animal he always has been, for better or for worse. This second perspective accounts in part for the paradoxical charge that SF is basically conservative in its world view. There is a good deal of truth in this accusation.

On the other hand, it does not have to be this way. SF is not necessarily a conservative literature. A writer who understands the dialectical relationship between his work and his class and the class he is writing for, who has a critical theory of society which convinces him that nothing must be permanent, that man is responsible for the future - this writer need not be trapped by bourgeois illusions. There are alternatives to the present socio-political arrangements which he can move his readers toward by demystifying the present order, creating metaphors which permit the transition from one order to another, and sanctifying the new order with symbols which will reveal the full range and patterns of experience underlying the new order. The writer can use present beliefs and values to get the effects he wants and, at the same time, produce a work which exposes the very ideological foundations upon which it is built. As Terry Eagleton argues:

Science gives us conceptual knowledge of a situation; art gives the experience of that situation, which is equivalent to ideology. But by doing this, it allows us to "see" the nature of that ideology, and thus begins to move us towards that full understanding of ideology which is scientific knowledge.28

An understanding of the ideological basis upon which the future is being created is absolutely essential if we are to exercise any control over our own destiny. SF can contribute to that understanding.


1. One might begin with Thomas Clareson's Science Fiction Criticism -(Kent, OH, 1972), pp. 155-66 which lists a number of articles focusing on the relationship between science fiction and futurology. Futurologists Roy C. Amara and Gerald R. Salancik in "Forecasting: From Conjectural Art Toward Science," The Futurist (April 1969):43-46, hold that SF presents "the most graphic description" of the "traps" which hinder man from creating a viable future. Dennis Livingston, in "Science Fiction Models of Future World Order Systems" - in Political Science and the Study of the Future, ed. Albert Somit (Hinsdale, 11., 1974), pp. 230-45 - argues for the value of SF as a research tool in political futurology; other articles by Livingston along the same line include: "Science Fiction and Futurology," The Futurist (June 1968):47-48, "Science Fiction as a Source of Forecast Material," Futures, I (March 1969):232-38; "The Study of Science Fiction as a Forecasting Methodology," in Challenges from the Future: Proceedings of the International Future Research Conference, ed. Japan Society of Futurology. 4 vols. (Tokyo, 1970), 1:71-79. In addition to research focusing on the direct application of SF to future studies, other works, wider in scope
and more general in nature, give a significant role to SF in providing future visions which man needs in his encounter with the future, e.g. F.L. Polak, The Image of the Future, tr. Elise Boulding, 2 vols. (Leyden/New York, 1961).                

2. Robert Nisbet, "The Year 2000 and All That," in Somit, ed., pp. 57-67.                

3. Robert Nisbet, "Postscript: June, 1971," in Somit, ed., p. 272.                

4. Nisbet, "The Year 2000," p. 254.                

5. Nisbet, "Postscript," p. 268. See also the arguments about the exclusive reality of the present in George Herbert Mead, The Philosophy of the Present, ed. Arthur Murphy (La Salle, IL., 1959), p. 1; and Robert S. Brumbaugh, "Applied Metaphysics: Truth and Passing Time," Review of Metaphysics, 19 (June 1966):647-66 (quoted in Wendell Bell and James A. Mau, eds., The Sociology of the Future [New York, 19711, p. 9).

6. Bertrand de Jouvenel, The Art of Conjecture (New York, 1967), p. 5.                

7. Cf. Hans Vaihinger, The Philosophy of "As If", tr. C.K. Ogden, 2nd ed. (London, n.d.).                

8. Donella H. Meadows, et al., The Limits of Growth (New York, 1972), p. 20.                

9. Cf. Peter Achinstein's analysis of R.B. Braithwaite's Scientific Explanation (Cambridge, 1953) and Ernest Nagel's The Structure of Science (New York, 1961) in Achinstein's Concepts of Science (Baltimore, 1968), pp. 227-58.                

10. Achinstein, p. 220.                

11. Scott Greer, The Logic of Social Inquiry (Chicago, 1969), p. 141 and 142.             

12. David Kaplan and Robert Manners, Culture Theory (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1972), P. 165.                

13. Abraham Kaplan, The Conduct of Inquiry (San Francisco, 1964), p. 263.                

14. Amara and Salancik, p. 113.                

15. Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (New York, 1966), p. 39 and 40.                

16. Darko Suvin, "On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre," College English, 34, (December 1972):372, 380, and 381.                

17. Dennis Livingston, "Science Fiction as a Source of Forecast Material," p. 232.                

18. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York, 1970), p. 425; emphasis mine.                

19. Monroe Beardsley discusses this point in his Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (New York, 1958), pp. 429-30.                

20. See e.g. Dorothy Walsh, "The Cognitive Content of Art," in Contemporary Studies in Aesthetics, ed. Francis J. Coleman (New York, 1968), p. 296, or Dorothy Walsh, Literature and Knowledge (Middletown, CT, 1969), pp. 13839.                

21. This perspective is most thoroughly developed in the work of Kenneth Burke. See, for example, "Literature as Equipment for Living" in The Philosophy of Literary Form (Baton Rouge, 1941) and Language as Symbolic Action (Berkeley, 1966).                

22. Robert A. Heinlein, "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction," in Lloyd A. Eshbach, ed., Of Worlds Beyond, (Chicago, 1964), p. 17.                

23. Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form, pp. 296-298.                

24. Robert A. Heinlein, "Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues," in Basil Davenport, ed., The Science Fiction Novel (Chicago, 1959), p. 16.                

25. Ervin Laszlo, The World System (New York, 1973), pp. 13-16.                

26. Ervin Laszlo, The Systems View of the World (New York,'1972), p. 79.                

27. Much of my argument here, indeed much of this paper, is based on the work of the sociologist Hugh Duncan; I am especially indebted to his Language and Literature in Society(New York, 196 1).                

28. Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (Berkeley, 1976), p. 18.

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