Our March 1st program on the theme of Science Fiction, Language, and General Semantics was wide-ranging and fascinating, with participants that included science fiction writers and critics. The panel consisted of
Marleen S. Barr, Science Fiction Critic and Novelist
Paul Levinson, Past President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and Novelist
Lance Strate, NYSGS President and Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University
Ed Tywoniak, Editor of ETC: A Review of General Semantics and Professor of Communication, Saint Mary's College of California
We were especially pleased that Professor Tywoniak was able to join us, traveling all the way from the west coast to take part in the discussion.
And here is the description of the program:
Science Fiction, Language,
and General Semantics
Science fiction has long been associated with spaceships, alien beings, futuristic technologies, and the like. But the genre has also provided an opportunity to speculate about the future of human consciousness, about modes of perception and communication, and about language and symbols.
Not surprisingly, general semantics, as a discipline based on applying a scientific approach to thought and action, has influenced science fiction in a number of ways. Science fiction writers such as A.E. van Vogt, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert were familiar with general semantics and incorporated concepts learned from Alfred Korzybski and S.I. Hayakawa into their novels and short stories. Through them, the influence of general semantics spread to the fiction of Philip K. Dick, and the films of George Lucas. Moreover, novelists William S. Burroughs and L. Ron Hubbard were students of general semantics, while a fictional (and less than flattering) version of the Institute of General Semantics appears in the Jean Luc-Godard film, Alphaville.
More generally, questions concerning language, meaning, and consciousness have been incorporated into science fiction narratives, for example the presence of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation in The Matrix, references to Julian Jaynes in HBO's remake of Westworld, and in the problematic nature of translation in stories such as Samuel R. Delaney's Babel-17, Stanslaw Lem's His Master's Voice, and the recent film, Arrival.
Clearly, this is a topic for discussion that is, in many ways, out of this world.