June 21, 2010

A secret of college life... plus controversies and science!

David Brin is a Sentient Developments guest blogger.

Advice for college students and graduating high-shoolers. Reflecting on his son's graduation from high school, Science Fiction author David Brin offers inspiration and advice for students going on to college. Broaden your perspectives and take full advantage of the wealth of educational experiences awaiting you during the next four years. The key is curiosity. Among several tricks offered: explore what is happening in those buildings on campus. Once a month, pick a building and randomly knock on doors! What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best?

This one has gone viral, with 5,000 hits in the first day! (Hint: you folks could also spread the word.) Great (and highly unusual) advice for that bright young college-bound grad.

= OTHER NEWS... then controversy... and science! =

Back in 1985 I was the very first author in Bantam's (Randomhouse) science fiction line SPECTRA. Now this famed, accomplished publishing line is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Time flies and the future rushes upon us. Congratulations Spectra!

I’ve been on more than thirty television shows. I’ve had one novel filmed and others scripted. But now comes my first appearance on the big screen! “The People vs. George Lucas” premieres June 23 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. I was interviewed for this provocative documentary -- along with many passionate fans and foes of the popular Lucasian universe. I’ve already stated my opinion, as editor and ‘prosecutor’ in the book Star Wars on Trial, which offers every pro/con perspective in more detail - a real treat for fans of intellectual dissections of po-culture! But for a lighter-fun scan, the movie is coming soon to a theater not too far away…

And yet-more podcasts! Especially for TedX Munich, I performed a 10 minute video talk entitled: “Ambitious Problem-solving for the Future” It's too easy to lapse into negativity/pessimism about the problems we face: war, political instability, economic trouble, global warming. Indeed, vast inequalities of wealth exist across the globe. To keep things in perspective, we should recall that things were nearly always worse in the past. We must develop innovative problem-solving skills to face the complex world of the future – and to raise standards of living across the world. For the first time, the entire world community is able to communicate -- across borders and nationalities -- to share strategies and seek solutions. My favorite aphorism: Criticism is the only known antidote to error. Identifying errors is the first step toward seeking solutions. But we must keep in mind the goal – to improve our civilization. Technology must be part of the solution.

And now exciting news that I predicted... Andrew Wade, an avid player in the two-dimensional, mathematical universe known as the Game of Life, posted his self-replicating mathematical organism on a Life community website on 18 May. It sparked a wave of excitement. And might I note that I foresaw this would happen, in my novel GLORY SEASON? Someone log in and congratulate him, on my behalf?

I think it is very important to have a clear, fact-based view of the state of the world. It may seem superficially to be less caring, when I say that 95% of human beings have it better than their ancestors. But the opposite is true. We can only attack the huge remaining injustices in the world if we first admit that past efforts have done some good.On the up-side, refuting the stylish cynicism that infuses everything from Tea Parties to “Avatar,” dig the facts: Professor Steven Pinker on the myth of violence: he charts the decline of violence from biblical times to the present.

= A Transparency Issue in the News =

On the other hand, I’ve long been a champion of openness, e.g. in my nonfiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? In fact, I’ve long held that some millionaire could do more to save freedom and civilization than any other person on the planet, by funding an entirely new approach to encouraging whistle-blowers. (It really is a cool idea!) Indeed, I was generally approving of the endeavor known as WikiLeaks... an attempt to create a clearinghouse online for people to expose what they perceive as wrongdoing.

Alas, the core person at Wiki-Leaks appears to be on the run from authorities who want to nail a member of the military who disseminated a large number of of classified documents from his post in Iraq. In fact, the matter is more complicated than it seems, at surface. (I will opine further on this - informally - under "comments" below.)

= And Now Lighthearted (intellectually satisfying) Fun! =

Go read some of ther terrific “fanfic” or fan-generated fiction out there. Here’s a great example: futurist/scholar Eliezer Yudkowsky’s ongoing series/novel that is both a tribute to - and deconstruction of - J.K. Rowling’s fantasy universe. HARRY POTTER AND THE METHODS OF RATIONALITY poses an alternate world in which Harry is a genius, not only at magic but also the muggle wizardries of math and science. Oh, and his step-parents, instead of being cartoony/silly villains, were wise, decent and smart. (In other words, Dumbledore did not commit a horrific crime, but put him with the best muggles he could find, duh?) The result is a fiercely bright, logical and infuriatingly immature 11-year old prodigy who is loyal to science and progress and the Enlightenment, unleashed on poor Hogwarts School, vowing to up-end the corrupt, horrific and insular society that is Magical Britain.

It’s a terrific series, subtle and dramatic and stimulating. I liked especially hearing the vocal rhythms of Maggie Smith in dialogue with Professor McGonnagle. And I (naturally) I loved the dissing of Yoda! Yudkowsky gets it, and lots else. Smart guy, good writer. Poses hugely terrific questions that I, too, had thought of... and a number that I hadn't. Enjoyed all references to the enlightenment.

I wish all Potter fans would go here, and try on a bigger, bolder and more challenging tale.

= And see Comments for more... =

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