Science fiction evolves from fantasy to reality

Contributing WriterApril 26, 2014 

People in a survey who were asked what they would most like to see happen in the future answered that they would like to travel though time.

But we are already traveling through time.

Of course, people who say they would like to travel through time are actually talking about traveling hundreds of years backward and forward like a wandering science fiction tourist.

They want to have dinner with President Abe Lincoln one day and with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s great-granddaughter, President Mary Bush, the day after that.

Actually, such goals are virtually impossible. The future hasn’t happened yet. There ain’t no there there.

But we are right to wish for the impossible. The possible is so boring by comparison.

Those of us who have actually journeyed through time for 60, 80 or 100 years have seen some of the wildest predictions of science fiction come true. So why shouldn’t we toy with the thought of coming back from a future that hasn’t happened to visit a past that occurred before we were born.

The New York Times reports that a survey by the Pew Research Center and Smithsonian Magazine asked respondents to guess what time will yield over the next five decades. But five decades is a pittance.

Sixty years ago, I was among the many young people of 12 or so years who doted on the popular science magazines that stirred our curiosity. Back in the 1940s those imaginative magazines taught us that ordinary people would one day be riding rocket-like airplanes to France or Australia or China.

Radio would grow into flat moving pictures 4 feet wide, hung on the wall for our viewing pleasure.

Doctors would stop hacking people open with knives and would operate on them instead with tiny tubes inserted into the body cavity through a nostril or a small, discreet slit.

Monkeys would ride rockets to the moon and maybe so would human beings, but we doubted that at first.

One day, polio and smallpox and maybe even the flu would take a beating from the tenacity and skill of bold medical researchers.

Telephones would become Dick Tracy devices strapped to our wrists. And not only could we carry on audible conversations but we could even have tiny keyboards on the devices where we would type messages to one another with our thumbs.

Nah, on second thought, people wouldn’t be stupid enough to send clumsy messages with their thumbs when they could use their voices instead. Not all the guesses on the future would come true.

But now that so much of what was once our science fiction future has come true, why not ask people, young and old, what we expect to see 50 years into the future?

The most obvious new miracles are in medicine. Several ailments are already on the ropes or nearly so — AIDS, Parkinson’s disease and several cancers.

And from the perspective of my 76 years, the most remarkable breakthroughs that are about to happen will include building new body parts from scratch — legs, lungs, hearts, livers, eyes, noses, bladders. Some of our favorite exhausted body parts will be grown in the laboratory and used to replace those old favorites that no longer function for us.

Some of the lesser needs of medicine will also be tended to. For instance, if you have the bad fortune to suffer from the chronic boyhead that denies you the natural, normal manly loss of hair on your mature noggin, be patient. Science will find a way.

Best of all, science will give us replacement skin, letting hasty people be able to rid themselves of the tattooed name of that fickle girl who dumped them.

Contact columnist Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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