Taking Notes: 'The Discovery of the Future' (1941) by Robert A. Heinlein

這是 1941 年 Heinlein 在第三屆世界科幻年會上的演講。從中我們可以看出 Campbell 時代的 old school 是怎麼一回事。值得注意的是,雖然裡頭不乏「對未來的預測(言)」一語,大家可以仔細看看,Heinlein 所說的 prediction 和台灣科幻界所推廣的預言有何差異,有興趣的人可以拿張老大的《幻象》發刊辭來比較看看。

Robert A. Heinlein, "The Discovery of the Future – Guest of Honor Speech at the Third World Science Fiction Convention Denver, 1941" in Requiem, ed. by Yoji Kondo (New York: Tor, 1994), pp. 205-223

p. 206
Forry [Ackerman] told you that I have been reading science fiction for a long time. I have. I have been reading it as long as I cold get hold of it, and I probably experienced much the same process most of you did: parental disapproval, those funny looks you get from friends, for reading "that kind of junk."

We here, the science fiction fans, are the lunatic fringe! We are the crazy fools who read that kind of stuff – who read those magazines with the outlandish machines and animals on the covers. You leave one around loose in your home and a friend will pick it up. Those who are not fans ask you if you really read that stuff, and from then on they look at you with suspicion.

Why do we do it? I think I know. This is an opinion, but it is probably why we like science fiction. It is not just for the adventure of the story itself – you can find that in other types of stories. To my mind it is because science fiction has as its strongest factor the single thing that separates the human race from other animals – I refer to a quality which has been termed "time-binding." With a hyphen. It's a term that may not have come to your attention. It is a technical term invented by Alfred Korzybski, and it refers to the fact that the human animal lives not only in the present, but also in the past and the future.

The human animal differs from all other animals only in this one respect. The definition includes both reading and writing. That is the primary technique whereby we are able to make records, to gather data and to look into the future. ……
p. 207
Time-binding consists of making use of the multitudinous records of the past that we have. On the basis of those records, the data we have collected directly and the data that we get from others by means of time-binding techniques, including reading and writing, we are able to plan our future conduct. It means that we have lived mentally in the past and in the future, as well as in the present. That is certainly true of science fiction fans.

I like the term Future Fiction that Charlie Hornig gave it. It seems to me a little broader than Science Fiction because most of these stories are concerned with the future – what will happen.

In taking the future into account, trying to predict what it will be, and trying to make your plans accordingly, you are time-binding. ……

Science fiction fans differ from most of the rest of the race by thinking in terms of racial magnitudes – not even centuries, but thousands of years. ……

That is what science fiction consists of – trying to figure out from the past and from the present what the future may be. In that we are behaving like human beings.

Now, all human beings time-bind to some extent when they try to discover the future. But most human beings
p. 208
– those who laugh at us for reading science fiction – time-bind, make their plans, make their predictions, only within the limits of their personal affairs. …… In fact, most people, as compared with science fiction fans, have no conception whatsoever of the fact that the culture they live in does change, that it can change. Even though they may believe it with the top of their minds, they don't believe it way back in the thalamus, in their emotions.


…… That is what you are up against when you try to get most people to read science fiction. That is why they think you are crazy, because they believe that the customs of their tribe are the laws of nature, immutable and unchanging. They do not believe in changes.
p. 209
In science fiction, we try to envision what those changes might be. Our guesses are usually wrong; they are almost certain to be wrong. Some men, with a greater grasp on data than others, can do remarkably well. H. G. Wells, who probably knows more (on the order of ten times as much, or perhaps higher) than most science fiction writers, has been remarkably successful in some of his predictions. Most of us aren’t that lucky.

I do not expect my so-called History of the Future to come to pass. I think some of the trends in it may show up, but I do not think that my factual predictions as such are going to come to pass, even in their broad outlines.

You speak of this sort of thing to an ordinary man – tell him that things are going to change – he will admit it, but he does not believe it at all. He believes it just with the top of his mind. He believes in "progress." He thinks things will get a little bit bigger, and louder, and brighter, a few more neon signs. But he does not believe that any actual change in the basic nature of the culture in which he lives, or its technology, will take place.
We happen to live in a period of sudden and drastic change in a good many of the things that happen to us. I think it is extremely important that we be prepared for that change and for that reason, I think that science fiction fans are better prepared to face the future than the ordinary run of people around them, because they believe in change.


To that extent, I think that science fiction, even the corniest of it, even the most outlandish of it, no matter
p. 211
how badly it's written, has a distinct therapeutic value because all of it has as its primary postulate that the world does change. I cannot overemphasize the importance of that idea.
p. 212
The important thing is to hang on to your sanity, to preserve sanity while it happens – no matter what bad things happen to the world. As individuals it may be difficult for us to do anything about it, even though all of us in our own ways, and according to our lights, are trying. ……
p. 213
There's a way out, there's something that we can do to protect ourselves, something that would protect the rest of the human race from the sort of things that are happening to them, and are going to happen to them. It's very simple, and it's right down our alley: the use of the scientific method.


I should say what I mean by the scientific method. Since I have to define it in terms of words, I can't be as clear as I might be if I were able to make an extensional definition. But I mean a comparatively simple thing by the scientific method: the ability to look at what goes on around you. Listen to what you hear, observe, note facts, delay your judgment, and make your own predictions. That's all there is, really, to the scientific method: to be able to distinguish facts from non-facts.


I used the term "fact." I used it in a technical sense, and I should say what I mean by a fact. A fact is anything that has happened before this moment, on July 4th, 1941. Anthing that has already happened before this moment. Anything after this moment is a non-fact. Most people can’t distinguish between them. They regard as a fact
p. 214
that they're going to get up and have breakfast tomorrow morning. They get the difference between facts and non-facts completely mixed up, and in particular, these days people are getting very mixed up between facts and theories, isms, ologies, and so forth, so-called "laws of nature," depending on what year you happen to be speaking.

That distinction between fact and fiction, fact and non-fact, is of extreme importance to us now. It has even become a strong issue in the field of science fiction. Without referring to any movement by name, or any person by name, because I wish to make an illustration, I want to invite your attention to the fact that the science fiction field has been very much stirred up by a semipolitical movement which uses the word "fact" quite extensively. But it uses the word fact with reference to what they are – what they predict will happen in the future, and that's a non-fact. And any movement, institution, any theory, which does not make a clear and decided distinction between fact and non-fact, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a scientific movement. It simply is not because it does not use the scientific method. No matter how complicated their terminology may be, or how much they use the argot of science.
p. 215
I want to mention the fashion in which the scientific method – just the matter of observing what goes on around you – observing it through your own eyes, instead of taking other people's opinions, reserving your judgments until you have enough data on which to make a judgment – can be of real use to you even now, quite aside from any possible worse period in history, in the coming history.
p. 216
And because he's never entirely certain of his own opinions on any subject, a man using the scientific method stays out of arguments, keeps himself from the emotional upsets that cause you to lose sleep and upset your stomach. ……
p. 217
Here's a rough picture of the scientific man in everyday life. Such a man stands a better chance of living through our period to a ripe and happy old age, in my opinion. But I wish to make plain that the use of the scientific method does not depend on any formal education in science. It is an attitude and point of view and not a body of information. You need have no formal education at all or use the scientific method in your everyday life. I am not disparaging the body of scientific information that has been gathered by specialists or the equally enormous body of historical and sociological data that is available. Unfortunately, we can't get very much of it. But you can still use the scientific method, whether you've had a lot of education or not, whether you've had time to gather a lot of personal data or not.


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