Sartori, Science Fiction and Living Mindfully as a Scientist

Sep 22 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

I love science fiction. When in high school, I started at A and read all the science fiction in the Baltimore Public Library branch near my home. I read more science fiction than text books in college.When I was a teenager, before the current YA tsusumi, there were not lots of female heroes, role models, strong characters. Not just teenagers, when I was a kid. Science fiction, even back then, had some bright females. Women who weren't just accessories. Brave and daring and succeeding on their brains, not their beauty. About the same time,  my mother told me I was the least spiritual person she ever met. I thought it was a compliment. I do not think she meant it as an insult, but a statement of fact.

My life over the last few years has been not tulmultuous, thats too strong. But it certainly hasn't been settled. People who were central in my life died or left me, physically or mentally. An illness beyond the flu took me out of my normal life (ie no work)  for several months. And the usual stressful stuff of modern academics: a boss who despised me, problematic postdocs (its always the postdoc), and the general aging process of grey hair, droopy bits and aching joints.

One of the things I have turned to over and over again are my friends that live in science fiction novels. Its why I move all those boxes of books. And the bookcases. When things have felt particularly tough, I don't want to read  new books, I want to read the old ones. They don't have to have happy endings, or even be particularly inspiring. They are just there.

Rereading some of these novels is good for me in many different ways. I can lose myself and remember how thrilled I was back then. I can feel and understand and remember what these books did for me 40 and 50 years ago. But I can also see them through the lens of now. Its kinda like those optical illusions where the pillars are both going into the page and out of the page. at the same time.

 

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This weekend morning, I didn't have to go feed animals, collect data, or beat postdocs into submission. I pulled out a novel I hadn't read in a while. Its the first of a series by Dennis Schmidt, called Way-Farer. Its about humans surviving on a seemingly idyllic planet populated by a alien form refered to as a "mind-leech" that drives humans to unthinking violence and destruction. The Admiral leading the colonization effort was a Zen master named Nakamura who set up a quasi  and modified for a scifi novel form of zen for people to survive. The set of four novels follows the colony over about 300 years, and through various stages of enlightenment.

As I reread this novel, I remembered that it sent me on a journey to find out more about Zen. In the end reading about something was not nearly as interesting or satisfying as reading science fiction about it. But the concept of satori (which is the title of one of the later novels in the series) has stayed with me.

Thi morning's insight is that I love where I am. I do not believe one must suffer to come to a place where one can love oneself and life. I am glad that I did the explorations of my youth, and glad that I did not take them on as a path in life. I did not live out all my dreams (which included being an astronaut - not possible for women in those days, especially women with bad eyesight). Its a little sad for the-me-that-was, but now, its okay. Thats enough insight for today. I have to clean my home today, and visit my mother, and maybe even contemplate how to torture my trainees.

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