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Science Fiction…

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 3/4/11 at 2:00 AM

 

...is often the enterprise of noticing something in the headlines and then extrapolating it to insane proportions by imagining that it will continue expanding on to infinity through all time, space and eternity (as the inimitable John C. Wright discusses here).

Chesterton talks about this a century ago in his wonderful introduction to The Napoleon of Notting Hill where, after chronicling various prophetic utterances by the trendy writers of the day about what the future surely held (all of which were to be exploded by the actual events of the 20th century, though many of Chesterton’s forecasts were eerily fulfilled), he says:

All these clever men were prophesying with every variety of ingenuity what would happen soon, and they all did it in the same way, by taking something they saw ‘going strong,’ as the saying is, and carrying it as far as ever their imagination could stretch. This, they said, was the true and simple way of anticipating the future. “Just as,” said Dr. Pellkins, in a fine passage, “...just as when we see a pig in a litter larger than the other pigs, we know that by an unalterable law of the Inscrutable it will some day be larger than an elephant, just as we know, when we see weeds and dandelions growing more and more thickly in a garden, that they must, in spite of all our efforts, grow taller than the chimney-pots and swallow the house from sight, so we know and reverently acknowledge, that when any power in human politics has shown for any period of time any considerable activity, it will go on until it reaches to the sky.”

This mania for prophecy based on current events and intellectual fashion seems to me to be a peculiar product of the 18th and 19th Century obsession (still very much alive today) to find an All Explaining Theory of Everything.  So, for instance, 200 years ago electricity was going to be the religion of the future cuz they zapped a dead frog’s leg and it jerked. It’s the germ of the novel Frankenstein. Today, a computer wins at Jeopardy and we are once again at the second creation of a new rational creature by a new race of Gods!  Or so this guy thinks.  He has a sort of religious zeal for the future of the super computer.  And, as with so many of Chesterton’s contemporaries, it’s probably not a coincidence that he doesn’t seem to have much zeal for actual religion as he cooks up this latest gimcrack one out of a few inches of newspaper headlines.

A classic example of somebody not believing in God and therefore believing in anything.