From Fiction and Folklore to Modern Day Fruition
We often overlook and take for granted the wondrous technologies we utilize in our daily lives. Forward thinking writers of the past however, almost prophetically predicted the seemingly “magical” world we live in today.
Science fiction is often touted as the “stuff of wonder”, with subject matter that seemingly has no logical place in the real world. Folklore from various cultures is also widely considered to be the stuff of superstition and creative human story telling. In hindsight, however, the real stuff of wonder is how these seemingly impossible scenarios have become a part of our daily lives today.
There is a lot to be said about science fiction. There are many Sci-Fi proponents who argue that the subject matter should be mandatory in the classroom, to not only spur creative thought and critical thinking, but also plant the seed in young minds that will eventually grow to bring the almost magical worlds that they read about to fruition.
In a contemporary context, with technology moving forward as fast as it is, even the layman can connect the logical dots and somewhat understand the far-reaching predictions of modern futurists. Computer, bio and nanotechnology are moving forward at such a rapid pace, that it is almost foolish not to consider grandiose predictions like technological singularity and 200 year life spans as possibilities in the not so distant future. It’s easy to imagine a world where we can regenerate tissue and have smart infrastructure grids that maintain entire countries, keeping us humans happy, comfortable, and none the wiser to how things used to get done.
But what about where we stand today, and the futurists, scifi writers, and storytellers of the past? Just how poignant, prophetic, or sometimes coincidental were their observations on just how far humanity could go?
Lewis Mumford, an American historian and philosopher of technology and science, said that a culture lives within its own dream, a sort of artificial perspective of the world that changes with a group’s history, geography, and experience. To an extent, it would surprise most of the western world to learn that our culture’s dream has come to fruition as part of the Arab world’s culturally relative folklore; specifically, those expressed by the “One Thousand and One Nights” (also known as Arabian Nights). The cornerstone example is Siri, on Apple’s Iphone 4s. Siri, in every sense of its utility, is a crude attempt to make the GENIE, an Arab dream spanning 5 millennia, come to reality. King Solomon was the king of genies, who show up in the Old and New Testament, and the Koran. Genies are based on discovery, an incentive to exploration and well-formed questions.
Genies are etymologically rooted to the Latin “genius”. The ancients believed that some people had a familiar spirit, or genius, that prompted them to creative acts and exceptional behavior. Our modern usage is that the person “is a genius”, while the ancient usage was the person “has a genius”. Not only has the proliferation of the smart phone forever ruined the drunken bar argument, as we are able to instantaneously check every fact and squash every quarrel, but it has effectively turned every single person with that tool, and its subsequent utility, into a genius!
Authors of the western world such as Jules Verne and Arthur C. Clarke imagined air, sea, and space travel that, at the time, was considered nothing more than foolish dreaming, but the global air, space, and sea travel infrastructures of today would herald them as prophets in retrospect. Leonardo Da Vinci, often cited as one of humanity’s most prolific geniuses, was sketching out modern mechanical devices such as tanks and helicopters centuries before they were actually created and used.
Genius, as it turns out, has had many different manifestations throughout human history, and its current incarnation is probably sitting at your desk or in your pocket at this very moment. Technology has turned most everyone in the developed world into all knowing, all seeing geniuses, as we effectively have the aggregate whole of human experience and knowledge at the palm of our hands (we tap on our glass screens as opposed to rubbing the golden lamps).
It begs us to wonder, then, what incarnations of modern folklore and science fiction will come to fruition in the near future.