The Science in Science Fiction
by Deborah Heal
One of the things I like most about being a writer is all the new things I learn along the way. Because my books are primarily historical fiction, the topic of my research is usually history. But I am not a historian. (I don’t think it counts that my main character Merrideth Randall is a college history professor.) And I certainly am not a scientist, even though the books contain computer techno jargon and discussions about such things as time warp, virtual reality, and other sci-fi topics. And beginning with (book 1 in my Rewinding Time Series) the books also include bits of real science, too.
They have to because Merrideth’s romantic interest is her colleague Brett Garrison, a dashing young college physics professor. I knew I had to learn a lot more about physics if I were to have any hope of making him sound like he knows what he’s talking about. I think it’s working, because Brett is always going on about such things as cell memory, time perception, the Arrow of Time, quantum indeterminancy, Schrodinger’s cat, and the like.
Who would have thought quantum physics would ever show up in a romantic historical novel? But it does, and Brett makes it sound almost sexy. Oh, he has all the requisite good looks and character traits of a romantic hero, but Merrideth thinks his brain is the most attractive thing about him.
A lot of his physics talk goes over her head, because like me, Merrideth's degree is in the humanities not science. But when Brett starts talking about time travel, she is all ears. He does not know about Merrideth’s curious software that rewinds time on her computer, allowing her to make virtual trips to the past. Merrideth would love to tell him what she has been up to and get his professional opinion about how the program works. But she knows she must keep it secret from the world, and so she just smiles and says nothing when Brett explains that time travel is impossible because of the laws of physics.
Before I did my physics research, I assumed like Brett does that time travel was solely the purview of sci-fi writers. But I was surprised (and happy) to learn that some scientists actually believe it is possible, and the subject is being investigated quite seriously. Stephen Hawking said in a lecture he gave:
I think this is an important subject for research, but one has to be careful not to be labeled a crank … [But] It might seem possible, that as we advance in science and technology, we might be able to construct a wormhole, or warp space and time in some other way, so as to be able to travel into our past.
To be honest, Hawking does not think time travel is likely, because if so, why hasn’t someone come back from the future (a la Marty McFly) and taught us how to do it? And for conspiracy theorists who believe that aliens from the future have arrived and the government is keeping that information from us, Hawking says, “All I can say is, that if governments were hiding something, they are doing a pretty poor job of extracting useful information from the aliens.”
Hawking’s dry humor is evident throughout the speech. I was surprised that he was so funny. But I was more surprised to find that he believes in God. In discussing the conditions necessary for time travel he says, “God might have created such a warped universe, but we have no reason to think that He did.”
And I was surprised to learn that everyone’s favorite scientist, Albert Einstein, also believed in God. According to Stephen Barr on his website “Big Questions Online:”
Einstein is probably the best known and most highly revered scientist of the twentieth century, and … although never coming to belief in a personal God, he recognized the impossibility of a non-created universe.
"I want to know how God created this world, I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts, the rest are details."
"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
But it's no wonder that so many physicists believe in God. According to Barr, quantum physics gives a strong argument for his existence and argues against the prevailing atheist philosophy of “materialism”:
It has gained ground because many people think that it’s supported by science … Quantum mechanics, however, throws a monkey wrench into this simple mechanical view of things. [It] is not ‘logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.’
Once Again: an inspirational novel of history, mystery & romance (AND science, too!)
Naturally, my fictional physics professor Brett Garrison believes in God, too. Merrideth is surprised to discover he is a man of faith, because she assumes all scientists are agnostics or even atheists. Here is the passage in Once Again where they discuss it:
“Sounds like you really enjoy your classes.” [Merrideth said]
“I do. I love it when students get revved about my favorite topic, especially when they start thinking outside the box. Today I threw in the concept of Intelligent Design. You should have seen Alyssa Holderman’s face,” he said, chuckling at the memory. “You know how she gets that superior smirk right before she says something sarcastic?”
“You get that, too? I figured it was just me.”
“Oh, no. Alyssa is an equal-opportunity know-it-all smart aleck.”
When they reached the sidewalk she expected their paths to diverge. He’d go to the faculty parking lot, and she’d walk home in peace, free of his unsettling presence. But he continued walking with her, talking about quantum objects, wave function, and other things she had no real understanding of. He was certainly passionate about his subject. His first piece of advice for her had been to be enthusiastic in the classroom. She wondered if his intent now was to model that for her.
Suddenly he stopped walking and said, “Sorry. I must be boring you.”
“Not at all. But I’m still thinking about something you said. Could you rewind to the part about Intelligent Design? You don’t believe that, right? You were just getting the kids to think.”
“Don’t you believe in a Creator?”
“Yes, but you’re a physicist. I figured you didn’t.”
He laughed. “That’s what Alyssa said, only with a disparaging sneer. As I told her, there are plenty of scientists and mathematicians who believe in Intelligent Design. Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrodinger, two of the most famous physicists ever, believed in God. Actually, quantum physics provides a strong logical argument against the atheist philosophy of Materialism, the idea that the universe is a closed system of cause and effect and we are mere ‘machines made of meat.’ In my opinion, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of creation. As Psalm 19:1 says, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’”
Then check out Only One Way Home, book 2 in the Rewinding Time Series. And you can find more about the real people and historical events depicted in them on my website.