Sunday 18 December 2022

The weird 1960s 'science' mania

As a child growing-up in the middle 1960s, I was fanatical about 'science' - and had all kinds of weird ideas about "how great it would be" to live a totally artificial and high-tech life. 

I thought it would be great to live on the Moon, or Mars - in gigantic glass bubbles or domes linked by tunnels; breathing artificial air and venturing outside in space suits or podular vehicles. If not "outer space" then "inner space" as it was termed; living on earth but in similar cities located on the floor of the oceans, or maybe in Antarctica. 

I seem to have regarded it as a positive thing that people would never go outside, or even use their legs! Because in these cities we would never need to walk anywhere; but would be transported by monorails and moving walkways; supplemented by personal hovercrafts, hover-boards, and (of course!) jet-packs. 

If any single thing represented the mid 1960s dream of a science world - it was the jet-pack!

The indoor environment was also supposed to be highly artificial and technological; with banks of TV monitors - and with fitments and furniture that folded away flush into the walls when not in use. 

There would be no books, but everything would be on screens - especially wristwatch screens and vid-phones; a concept so exciting that I could not make myself believe the possibility!

Clothing would - naturally! - be entirely artificial; made of nylon, plastic and metallic substances, and secured by multiple large zips. (Zips were futuristic!). Even better, clothing might be disposable - a new style every day!

Food would be like that of the Gemini astronauts: that is, food would be in synthetic cubes and slabs, or taken as tablets. Drinks would be engineered in bright colours and exotic taste - to provide essential vitamins.

(I regarded vitamins as the single most essential aspect of eating: having the idea that if you had enough of the necessary vitamins, you would not need anything else).  


In sum; I can see that the lifestyle I hoped for was essentially that of an (extremely idealized!) astronaut

How things have changed - how I have changed ; in terms of what I want, like, hope for!

My 1960s daydream now seems like a claustrophobic nightmare of boredom and triviality! The best things (such as recreational space-ships, jet-packs and mini hovercraft) never happened, were never viable, were ear-splittingly noisy!

And now that I could have a 'TV on a wristwatch, I don't want one; I dislike vidphone communications; and screens in every room turn out to be a combination of uninteresting, sinister and taken for granted. 

I love medieval buildings, wooden furniture, traditional food, tea and coffee, trees, meadows, and hills; and choose to wear cotton and wool exclusively; and much prefer paper books to the 'e' versions. If I daydream - it is of a rural and earthly idyll of some kind; nor a Martian one. 

The main lesson I draw is that things which sound cool, exciting and in general "great" seldom are. Not least because this whole attitude is one of passivity seeking to be overwhelmed with stimulation: the idea that happiness is a consequence of a perfectly designed and tailored environment.

It was reading Tolkien in my early teens that marked and triggered the change-over away from desiring an artificial and astronaut lifestyle to something more crafted, and connected with natural things - although I have lived and worked almost wholly in cities.

More deeply, I have come to recognize that such matters as where we live, and what lifestyle we strive for, are secondary to spiritual imperatives - and that 'lists' of what is great, cool or idyllic ought not to dominate our choices. 

Living in accordance with checklists is a Bad Idea - no matter the provenance of these checklists -- no matter even if these checklists are derived from scripture, religious authority or whatever. 

In the ultimate analysis; checklists are external, material and demand submission; whereas we are called-upon to seek instead inner motivations, specific and contextual guidance from the Holy Ghost - and active and conscious engagement with living. 

It has become clear over the decades that spiritual guidance will tell me when I am in the wrong situation and need to seek change; or when I should stick with the present situation (which is, of course, never perfect!).  

After that basic choice has been made - other matters take priority. 


Mike Bryant said...

Hi Bruce I also enjoyed all the science stuff in the same way that you did but also the sense of the exploration of space and all those interesting new life forms we were going to meet, I still enjoy watching the original Star Treks, must be the Viking in me. But now I'm much more interested in the past it's as if the promise of science has failed us and also as people appear to be health obsessed risk averse cowards they would find space travel way to dangerous anyway once a few people die as with the spaces shuttle Challenger the whole thing would be given up.

Avro G said...

Very enjoyable piece. I was there too.

“Living in accordance with checklists is a Bad Idea - no matter the provenance of these checklists -- no matter even if these checklists are derived from scripture, religious authority or whatever.”

Would you agree that The Westminster Confession or the 39 Articles are examples of such checklist-think as applied to Christianity?

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG "Would you agree that The Westminster Confession or the 39 Articles are examples of such checklist-think as applied to Christianity?"

Yes, for sure. For a start: just look at how effective they have been among those who profess them.

Secondly, as I said, it encourages the wrong kind of thinking for these times and trials.

Lady Mermaid said...

This is one of the reasons I could never get into most sci fi despite having a strong interest in outer space and other planets. The world in most sci fi portrayals of the future is so sterile. William Wildblood has written quite a bit about how modern technology has dehumanized us. We now serve machines.

Science and technology came from a God given desire to master chaos. However, as w/ any other kind of "magic" technology has to be aligned w/ divine will. Wildblood has speculated that as we become more spiritual attuned, our environment may become more pliable. Perhaps that's how God may intend space exploration as opposed to living artificially in domes.

Serhei said...

Personally the most baffling part of that vision was the monorails.

Serhei said...

And to expand on my snarky comment a bit: apart from the engineering limitations and awkwardness of monorails relative to regular trains, the more fundamental question is why one would bother to cram into a train of any kind in this sci-fi future when one can simply fly to the destination on a jetpack or a hoverboard?

I imagine anyone who wants there to be trains in Heaven is faced with a similar question: why would one bother to take a train, supposing one can simply fly or even teleport much faster to the destination? (I believe both capabilities are considered plausible for resurrection-bodies since at least Aquinas.) Personally, the method of transport that might tempt me from flying is the stowaway on a boxcar format: the ritual of furtively sneaking onto a boxcar filled with hay, only to encounter odd characters who happen to have had the same idea. A less-idealized version is something like the continental sleeper-train, third class, which is far too crowded and inconvenient for actually sleeping well, but filled with a variety of people travelling amid piles of odd belongings and swapping stories....

(Ironically, that is how the relatively-more-mundane Hogwarts Express is justified... the British wizards, having access to brooms and portkeys and chimbley wormholes and outright teleportation, nevertheless go through the social ritual of dragging their children down to King's Cross at one end of England just to take a slow steam train all the way to the completely opposite end, simply for the social ritual of rushing to catch the express on time and sorting themselves into train compartments based on social affinity. One wonders how this institution was established so durably, since both Hogwarts and the more-efficient forms of wizarding transport predate trains. But durable it is. Imagine the immense social faux-pas of a 'practical' wizarding family that decided this was all a huge waste of time and just side-along-apparated their children into Hogsmeade to walk up to the front gates in time for the start-of-year feast.)

By comparison with trains, how does one strike up a conversation with a stranger flying through the vast abyss of the sky? Getting in his face is rather rude and fraught with the potential for embarrassing collision, while waving him down from a distance... well, supposing there is no difficulty being seen, is he really obliged to stop and chat with any of the dozens of people he might see waving at him? The social norms are rather unclear to me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Serhei - You weren't there, you can't understand.

And, anyway, even Tom Scott admits that monorails have their uses...

Bruce Charlton said...

@Serhei - So far as I can tell, the *function* of monorails in the 1960s science-topia was to look sleek and modern, soaring across the streets of the domed city. I don't think anybody was supposed actually to travel in them.

Sasha Melnik said...

It's a bit of a repeat of the Jules Verne / 1930s comic, but since the 1960s saw the concepts (journey to the moon, 50,000 leagues) pass into a state of fact, the media of the era took it as fact that 'the near future' would be more like science-fiction reality.

The reality of going so far to collect some rocks and stick a flag in it was really that boring (and expensive). The reality of a computer cooking your dinner though... we ended up with readymeals and microwaves. And that made money.

So we ended up with usual story (Oddysee, Shakespeare's works) but replaced the monsters, ghosts and ships with spacemonsters, spaceghosts and, ughhhh.... spaceships.

a_probst said...

There is also the more remote fantasy of the interstellar human diaspora.

But we have an inhabited galaxy right here on Earth. Go to Madrid, Nairobi, Lisbon, Montevideo, Taipei. Cities, towns, regions, each with its local history, noted persons, peer groups, hangouts, etc. Many of us want to go gallivanting to other planets before getting into our own.

It's illuminating to see film footage of actual subjects juxtaposed with special effects material in some science fiction movies. When the old man shows his great-granddaughter images of 1930s skyscrapers in Things to Come, it undermines the verisimilitude of the rest of the scenes.

Likewise in Avatar. When I saw the closeup of the man's face when he wakes up in the capsule and is no longer inhabiting his avatar, I thought, "Gosh that looks so real. If only the rest of the film were that convincing."

With no CGI available, Kubrick's team made even the star gate sequence in 2001 look like something they had to go out and actually film.

And Andrei Tarkovsky is a master of realism in fantasy.

Serhei said...

Of course, that Tom Scott approved monorail is more or less the opposite of a 1960s-era future utopia. For one thing, it trundles along the track. Absolutely nothing in the gleaming sterile future should be permitted to do something so mundane as trundle.