One of the most interesting aspects of the conversation with Jill Tartar was the idea the science fiction is often the source of creativity that stymies technological innovation in the world of astrophysics. When I was very young, science fiction/science fantasy series like ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and ‘The House of Scorpion’ were amongst my favorites. However, as a grew older, I was steered towards other genres by my teachers, parents, etc. who began to encourage me to read more “realistic” content, presumably to keep me grounded in nuances of this world as opposed to the inventions of an imaginary one. In retrospect, it was a very subtle shift that I wasn’t entirely aware of until the start of the pandemic when, with all the time in the world at my disposal, I began to read books that I hadn’t touched in over a decade. I was surprised at how much these books still captured my imagination, and how disconcertingly close many are to aspects of the modern-day and its many scientific advances.
Perhaps, this reminiscence belongs more in a journal than on a blog post asking about what stood out in a conversation with a world-renowned scientist, but I think it’s an important aspect to ponder. Most of my worldview has been shaped by my schooling, which often placed a huge emphasis on the technical aspects of hard sciences and mathematics due to the push for STEM education within the school system. As such, students were often steered to learn more about “applicable” fields of sciences, and even what humanities we had was more focused on the nuances of words or character foils in play. It was through the cracks of these two diverging forces that science fiction, fantasy, and other avenues of imagination that were too unrealistic to be science, yet too focused on fantasy to be exemplary of literary analysis, slipped. But, what else is the goal of education if not to teach its students to imagine and pursue new frontiers?