What I Watched Last Night, Or: Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi

Last night, my science fiction choice for marathon-ing was based on nostalgia- I watched Farscape. As a kid, Farscape was a big, beautiful show, and one that seemed so grown-up while still being full of adventure. Watching it as an adult, I found that the way I appreciated the show changed to focus more on seeing what parts of the show were inspired by actual science. (Minor contextual spoilers, but major plot spoilers are avoided.)

Obviously, shows get plenty wrong. The general public sadly has a weak idea of current science events. But concepts being floated in scientific and philosophical communities have been inspirations for science fiction as a genre since its inception. Even Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein took inspiration from theories around how life works and where life comes from, if only as a means to explore psychological and philosophical phenomena.

So today I’m going to give you some links to a bit of science that is related to each of the episodes I watched last night. I’d love to see some discussion about how they were used or speculated upon within the episodes from fellow fans. (New to Farscape? It’s on Netflix Instant!)

1×11 Till the Blood Runs Clear

This episode starts out by John (Ben Browder) and Aeryn (Claudia Black) trying to recreate the conditions of the wormhole that brought John to their side of space. In the cold open, they succeed in making one but it is too unstable to attempt and they must land on a planet nearby for ship repairs. The problem is, they are under a time constraint because solar flares are needed to recreate the correct conditions. Solar flares interfered unexpectedly in the series pilot with John’s theories on overcoming atmospheric friction due to related electro-magnetic wave phenomena.

Talking about solar flares is pretty timely right now, as we’ve been anticipating them this month. NASA has a great article on their website about the real effects of solar flares and their geomagnetic storms on our planet, ranging from Aurora Borealis to Radio Blackouts. How Stuff Works has a great article about sun activity and Electronics, but don’t worry- while you might get some flickering and service disruptions, most of our electronics are safe from long term damage this month.

1×12 Rhapsody in Blue

Rhapsody in Blue focuses on Zhaan (Virginia Hey)’s race, the Delvians. The Delvian religious practices are the main tools by which the plot is run, particularly a form of joint meditative practice called Union. Through meditative practices, Delvian priests (“Pa’us”) gain a number of abilities to heal and perceive clearly.

Mindfulness practice, upon which much of this seems based, in real life has less fantastical versions of the effects the Pa’us have, but they do have effect. Mindfulness is one of the techniques in cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to help people living with depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders to view their thoughts more clearly as well as their contexts. Neuroscience has also found that mindful meditative practice strengthens the areas of the brain in charge of attention, which can also help with how clearly we see things. In physical health, Meditative practices have been shown to be helpful with cardiovascular health, particularly by lowering blood pressure and by reducing the strain that stress puts out our hearts.

1×09 DNA Mad Scientist

This episode centers around genetic modification and ethics, as the passengers of Moya offer their DNA to a mad scientist in exchange for star charts. Going into details on the plot any more than that would bring spoilers, so I’ll skip right to the good part: Science!

Genetic engineering in real life is still essentially in its infancy. Many Persephoneers might be familiar with some of the barriers to stem cell research in the current political climate. Personal interest: My abuela has ALS, and there’s some promising research that could make it so that her ALS won’t progress fully. For me, this is a tricky issue because while I’d like for my abuela and friends not to die, I don’t feel that eliminating disability should be the focus- improving quality of life should, but rarely is. Back on topic, Reproductive cloning- though met with wide spread ethical debate- could hold potential for infertile couples or couples with the same reproductive systems.  Reproductive cloning in animals already happens, and the FDA released the ban on meat from such animals in the food market in 2008. For a (semi-scary) finish, Genetic modification of viruses is being used in cancer research to explode cancer. Haven’t these guys seen, oh, I Am Legend, Resident Evil, or 28 Days Later?

Maybe I should marathon viral infection horror flicks next time. . .

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Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone. Advocate, Writer, Geek. Multiply Disabled, Queer, and proudly Autistic. Primary Obsession: Institutions, History of Care of people with MH/DDs Also obsessed with: Social Justice, Cats, Victorian Romanticism, and Doctor Who. http://crackedmirrorinshalott.wordpress.com/

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