Tag Archives: The Philosophy of Science

How reading science articles helps my fiction

I read science articles and textbooks for fun. I blame my avid interest in science directly to my avid reading of Science Fiction – I discovered ‘I Robot’ by Isaac Asimov when I was eight. When I had finished reading all the Science Fiction and fantasy books in my high school library – since I went to the same high school for five years, this wasn’t as great an accomplishment as it first sounds – my lovely librarian pointed in the direction of Asimov’s popular science books.

So, I have a large collection of reference books. I’ve read some of these books multiple times, like Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. Over the years, parasitology has inspired several of my favourite stories to write; I am a big fan of the poem by Augustus De Morgan:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on

Recently, I’ve come across the concept of Survivor Bias. The best example of this was a study done of number of injuries cats presented with in veterinary surgeries, after the cats had fallen from the height of multiple storeys. Strangely, after the 9th floor, the number of injuries were less than those animals that had fallen from lower floors. Now, you might think that the added height gave the cats the opportunity to control their descent and increase their survival. What was really happening is that dead cats don’t get taken into the vet.

Now, I am inspired with the fictional possibilities of this concept. The fiddling of statistics always fascinates me … people think statistics is such a ‘hard’ science. And yet it is one of the easiest to skew the results, using things like survivor bias and sample size and where you chose to take your samples from.

I’m already rubbing my hands with glee.

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Filed under Inspiration, Science, Science Articles, Science Fiction, Short Story, The Writing Life

Scientific Writing seen as a Form of Creative Non-fiction

 

What really defines the genre of science writing isn’t so much its structure, which uses all the same devices as fiction, but its intent.

Lynne Lumsden Green

 

Like any the genre, fictional or non-fictional, the genre of scientific writing is characterised by several markers:

  1. It is objective, and so by inference, unbiased. However, simply by picking a topic, a scientist is showing a bias. The impression of objectivity is an artificial construction.
    Any research should be repeatable by anyone with the same equipment and methodology. However, the choice of methodology will affect the results, as will the method used for interpreting the data.
  2. It is factual, with no assumptions or guesswork. However, the very choice of the facts can create a bias.
  3. The language is formal, and incorporates scientific terms and jargon. This is a style constraint, and both fiction and non-fiction genres have their own styles that vary from genre to genre.
  4. Scientific articles are usually written by people with scientific qualifications. However, it must be pointed out that scientists are just people and are capable of getting things wrong just as easily as getting things right.
  5. Research should be based upon proving or disproving a hypothesis.

Now…speaking of the concept of what a hypotheses is: a hypothesis is not a law, it is just a theory, a story that explains the known facts in the best way. If another scientist comes up with a theory that explains the facts better, is won’t take long for that to become the accepted theory.

Bruce and Tony  and SCIENCE.PNG
Often, a hypothesis is constructed in metaphorical language, like the Big Bang Theory, Schrödinger’s Cat, and Survival of the Fittest. And that goes against the concept that only poets use metaphors.

In the genre of science writing, the aim is to be an authoritative way of explaining reality.  However, what is real for one person isn’t necessarily real for another. And pseudo-scientists are quite capable of using all these genre markers to good effect.

Warning Science Ahead

What really defines the genre of science writing isn’t so much its structure, which uses all the same devices as fiction, but its intent.

 

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Filed under Creative Non-fiction, Genre, Genre Markers, Science, Science Articles, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

The Philosophy of Science & Logic and the Steampunk Writer – Part One

Warning Science Ahead

When writing Steampunk narrative, it improves the quality of your prose if you understand some of the philosophy behind rational, scientific thinking. Contrary to expectations, rational thinking and science do not oppose poetry and lyrical prose. Most poetry follows quite a rigid set of rules; I recommend Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled and it supports my assertion. Most novels have quite a complex structure, even if you can’t spot it as easily as in the Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (nesting dolls). Prose depends on the underlying structures of the sentence and the flowers of rhetoric. All of these literary structures are to provide clarity while at the same time boosting the aesthetic quality of the texts. If Beauty is Truth, then science and rationality can be very beautiful.

Rocket for SCIENCE

So, today, let’s look at the some of the skills needed to think logically and rationally. These are skills that should help you develop a plot without plot-holes.

The Either/Or Fallacy:

In Western culture, we have a bad habit of seeing everything as a binary opposite: it’s black and white; you’re either with me or you’re against me; it’s my way or the highway. Real life has more shades, and not just of grey. When writing a Steampunk novel, unless it is for very young children, the good girls should have their flaws and the bad girls should have their virtues.

Reality is for those who can't handle Science Fiction

The Side Issue:

It is best to avoid having a side issue to derail the actual aim of a course of action or an argument in your narrative. Politicians favour this strategy, deflecting a question onto a different topic that really doesn’t answer the question. When writing, don’t let too many side issues take the impetus from the main thrust of the plot, unless your putting in red herrings to a mystery. A side journey should always lead back to the main storyline.

Science = Magic without the lies.

Questioning Everything: 

Don’t assume your reader knows all the details of the science you are supplying. Don’t assume you know all the details, unless you’ve done a lot of careful research. Science is all about never assuming you know all the facts, and comes with the expectation that there is always something new to discover. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has dozens of examples, but my favourite one is his constant questioning of idioms; for example ‘getting on like a house on fire’ might mean people screaming and running away.

Bring Back Science

Cause and Effect: 

One of the main forces driving a plot along is cause and effect. This happened, and it caused this new event to occur. However, some writers can get confused about cause and effect, and make assumptions. Example: the tidal forces of moon controls the tides. The moon controls werewolves. Therefore, werewolves are controlled by the tidal forces of the moon. This may be true, but it is highly unlikely. Further investigation will be needed to find the real causes of any event.

Sweeping Generalisations: Everyone’s favourite sort of fallacy, because it is often mistaken for hyperbole. All women are bad at maths. All men are brutes. All cats are selfish. When you are writing, you have to be alert that you are not misrepresenting a fact because of generalisations. It is also lazy writing, as it can often create stereotypes of your characters. When making a statement, try to keep it accurate. Too many generalisation can build up within a plot to create contradictions, which will lead to plot-holes.

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Filed under Plot, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, writing