Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: What’s Your Juice Due To?

I’m a bit rushed today, because I have to get back to the million projects assigned to me at my day job. So I apologize for this hastily formed inquisition. (Although, maybe it’ll give you a short reprieve from thinking about the horrors and atrocities Chelsea addressed so passionately earlier today.)

Anyway . . .

Lately, I’ve been reading some of the statements made by Stephen Hawking and watching clips of his documentary program, Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking, on the Discovery Channel, and it occurred to me that he addresses many of the elements I enjoy in science fiction (e.g. aliens, time travel, etc.), and some that to me are “meh”.

But what gets the juices running down your leg (metaphorically speaking of course)?

What scientific or science fiction topic(s) most captures your imagination? What about other areas, like movies (horror, rom-com, mystery)? Music (love songs, dance songs, heartbreak songs)? Other areas? Discuss at will, and I’ll do my best to be more focused next week.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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29 Comments

  1. I’ve been on a hard sci-fi stint recently with my reading, mostly stuff by or based on Arthur C. Clarke. I tend to like sci-fi stuff that celebrates how awesome humanity can be when it wants to be, stuff that’s at least a bit optimistic about what we can do.

    Perhaps related to that is my favorite music, which if you want to delve into the insanely diversified genre system, is Futurepop; stuff like VNV Nation, Icon of Coil, and Covenant. They tend to carry the same sort of optimistic, or at least hopeful, tone in their music, VNV Nation especially.

  2. The sci-fi topic that I get most excited about is the various forms of hypothetical (and emerging-from-arse fantasy) methods of propulsion. In movies though, they almost always mess up the science. I dislike time-travel, not because it doesn’t intrigue me, but because in every story they are internally inconsistent. They begin with one theory on what you can and can’t do, and then somewhere along the line, they break those rules and do something contradictory. It gives me a headache.

    I also like stories that use science to try to explain magic or the supernatural. It usually comes down to some creative interpretation of M-Theory.

    For horror stories I really like the supernatural stuff that is based on biblical teachings (usually loosely based) especially armageddon stories. It never ceases to amaze me how many convoluted twists they give the biblical myths to set up a story premise. It is also fascinating how one can change the established dogma only slightly, yet end up with a completely different conclusion.

    I don’t have a music preference in this area. Mostly it’s a mood thing. I usually leave it up to my iPod.

  3. Why aren’t more people posting? Am I the only one who loves to talk about myself? Surely I am not!

    Anyway, I am SUPRE DUPER excited about next Friday — I am going to Anaheim, CA to see Ben Folds at the Disneyland House of Blues with a friend of mine. This will be my second time seeing Ben live. I AM SO EXCITED. My friend isn’t all that familiar with Ben’s stuff, but Ben can put on a show, so I know he’ll enjoy it. Plus, it only took showing him Ben’s cover of Bitches Ain’t Shit to convince him that Ben is friggin’ awesome.

    Otherwise, my music tastes are pretty varried. I love, love The White Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age and lots of Hip-hop, both old and new. I even like a bit of country, when the mood hits. I have a thing for a good voice, in any genre. That includes Common; man is his flow smooooth (he’s a rapper).

    I also have a soft spot for live-stand up. I’ve seen more stand-up than I have live music.

    I love me some cheesy action flicks. Crank was *bad ass*, lemme tell ya. That was the perfect action movie. I am way more excited to see Iron Man 2 than I probably should be. Also, Robert Downy, Jr., raWr.

    I love classic American fiction. John Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat is one of my very favorite books. I am not, I repeat, not a fan of Jane Austen, and thankfully, Mark Twain agrees with me that she is horrid. And that should be smacked upside her head with her own shin-bone (if anyone gets that reference, ilu).

    When it comes to science, I’m all over the board and it depends on my mood. I find Stephen Hawking fascinating in general. I also have a bit of a crush on PZ Myers. I dig stuff about space, and any and all studies that come out in relation to LGBTQ issues.

  4. Neil Stephenson novels have been my favorites the past five years, movies with a story and characters I can get interested in and great cinematography, and classical music moves me more than any other genre, especially when heard live and even better when there’s a great choir involved. And I like good bar rock bands and Celtic pub music if there’s singing and drinking involved.

  5. I have, in my autumn years, come to the position that satire is one of the finest art forms known to man. Check out Christohper Brookmyre for some truly awesome dark satire with a skeptical bent.

  6. I love aliens. Not in the alien-baby-busting-out-of-your-chest sense, but in the cross-cultural sense. I sneak sci-fi into my cultural anthropology classes when I can. Farscape, Babylon 5, Stargate, and Star Trek are all great for this. As I tell my students, science fiction is cultural anthropology writ large. Oh, how I love it.

    And I love knitting. And spinning. Most things fiber related make me happy.

    And although I agree with marilove’s taste in stand up (I <3 Eddie, too), I have to disagree with her about Jane Austen. She's a hoot! :)

    My new favorite author is Naomi Novik and her Temeraire series.

  7. my favorite sci-fi universe is probably Transmetropolitan (if you haven’t read it, you should probably read it). It’s not all that fantastical, but I think the thing I like about it is that, beyond the social commentary, it takes the evolutionary concept behind things like birds of paradise and imagines what would happen if a whole society evolved with nearly unlimited resources. Maybe I’m reading more into it than I should, but I dig evolution so the analogy works for me.

  8. I think my biggest peeve with sci-fi is when the writer assumes that because it’s sci-fi they can get away with anything. I am totally fine with pretty much any premise as long as there’s consistency, but sometimes shit just gets ridiculous. Take Star Trek for example. I can buy “red matter” (or whatever it was) and time travel, but Kirk being exiled on an essentially random planet, running in a random direction from an ice monster, and falling into a random cave and old Spock just happens to be there AND their in walking distance from the guy who invented the warp drive they need? FUCK THAT.

  9. Music is probably my biggest hobby. I mostly like stuff that is loud, noisy, raw, and concise but there are many, many exceptions and I have a big soft spot for good dance music and hip hop. I have drifted away from most singer-songwriters and ’emotional’ music (meaning songs about breakups or love, I like things that are more abstract or weird). I listen to a lot of local music.

    The thing that really turns me on is playing live music. There is NOTHING that gives me the same emotional high. Great shows are like great sex only with a couple hundred witnesses. I play in two bands that make original music and that’s a blast, though it can be hard to attract an audience sometimes.

    Last week, me and nine friends played a set of Talking Heads covers for a local weekly battle-of-the-cover-bands thing. We played all stuff from their afro-pop/dance influenced era (approx. ’80-’84) and it was nuts. I think most of the crowd had heard maybe one or two of the songs we played before and we blew the other band away. It was fantastic to play some of my favorite songs with a talented bunch of people in front of a big crowd.

    If you want to see our inspiration search “talking heads rome 1980” on youtube. I recommend Crosseyed and Painless or The Great Curve.

  10. For science and science fiction, I think a lot of the cybernetic ideas are an enduring fascination. I don’t necessarily want to gouge out hunks of my flesh and replace them with technology… but I could go for some eyes that work. I’m also interested in intrasystem and interstellar space travel, but the prospect absolutely frightens me. I want to go to other planets, but even watching Apollo 13 gives me the shivers.

    For genres of books, I read and write fantasy, mostly the traditional pseudo-medieval type. For music… a lot of nerdcore rap and reggaebilly, but I also keep a list of classical for when I’m writing.

  11. @CatFurniture: LOL. She just bores me to tears, man, and I like books other people would probably call boring, hah!

    Eddie is, obviously, one of my favorites. I’ve seen him live twice! Because I am awesome. I also love, love <3 <3 Gabriel Iglesias (Mr. Fluffy), whom I've also seen twice. He gave me a huge, fluffy hug the first time. Squee.

    Dave Chappelle, however, was hands down the best show I have *ever* been to (music, stand-up, or otherwise). I saw him, so close I could almost touch him, when his show on Comedy Central first became a hit, but he wasn't quite huge yet. His show was flawless. He is a master stand-up comedian and I am sad he's not really doing stand-up except random secret shows anymore, because he is one talented mo-fo.

  12. I really like apocalyptic zombie movies for some reason. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later.

    I’m VERY eclectic about music, but I love the blues. Like old acoustic delta blues, Robert Johnson type stuff. Melancholy and gritty. It’s not angry or sad, it’s just the blues. And I love hip-hop. Brother Ali, MF Doom, Dangermouse, Talib Kweli, Wu-Tang.

    And Bob Dylan. I can’t really hear Dylan without listening to Dylan, if that makes any sense.

  13. I fucking love particle physics and quantum wave theory. I’m getting my degree in an entirely different field but I’m hooked on particle physics. Fundamental uncertainty, the constantly fluctuating quantum foam. I find myself thinking about it often.

    For music, I love stoner rock. I used to be a huge pothead, and the love of the music has stayed with me. For those of you who like blusey/rock stoner stuff, check out Clutch’s newer albums.

  14. Oh the irony. Juices do not always listen to reason.

    I am a long time, committed non-believer, but I experience the greatest high while singing in my gospel choir each week. We are a mostly white, middle class group and we sometimes need remedial clap and sway lessons but it is SUCH a wonderful feeling of community and FUN!!

    Of all the things I do, this is the least complicated, the one that just feels soooo good.

    But I don’t listen to gospel music otherwise.

    My husband and I crack up at the absurdity of most science fiction movies We almost always reach a tipping point and say enough!! Ok, so I can accept that aliens look just like us, speak our language…breathe air….have a heartlight (gack) ….fly…but NO WAY could they go BACK IN TIME!!! That is just ridiculous!! But it’s all ridiculous, usually.

    Favorite alien: Q

    You’re dead, this is the afterlife — and I’m God” — Q

  15. I really dig transhumanist themes in stories. Like Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Yeah, Kurzweil is kind of a nutjob, but I find the idea of a post-death, post- scarcity society fascinating.

    I’m also a big time RPG fanatic, so, yeah. Super nerdy, I know, but I can’t help it. Especially small-press games that nobody’s heard of. I can’t think of anything that’s given me more bursts of creative output than gaming.

    To tie those two things together, there’s a game that’s coming out called FreeMarket that’s set in a transhuman universe with a reputation-based economy. Pretty awesome stuff!

  16. I love love LOVE anything post apocalyptic. If it is a post ZOMBIE apocalypse, even better. There is something about walking around the skeleton of our former society that gets me going.

    I also love post apocalyptic motorcycle gang-type movies/fiction ala Mad Max, Tank Girl and Doomsday (that movie is the SHIT.)

    Movies that have a tough-ass chick that ISN’T wearing stripper heals is a bonus.

    I am also a Trekkie (I like Star Wars but Star Trek is just so much smarter and way more thought provoking.)

    I love the idea of wormholes, multiple universes/dimensions and time travel via a seperate universe in contrast to going back through linear time.

    Music? Hmm, pretty much a little bit of anything but the staples are: Gothic, New Wave, Jam Bands, Classic Rock, Techno (good techno, there’s a difference!) World, Raggae . . .

    Take a non-woo hippie and a goth, smash them together and you have me.

    I also love any type of music that makes me feel like I want to bash the shit out of things with a hammer.

    Helenrizzo — I LOVE Q! I was going through some paper work the other day and came across a couple business that had the single letter “Q” infront of their name (ei: Q Auto Store.)

    Somehow, the idea of walking into one of those places was a little unnerving — like I’d end up wandering into Sherwood Forest or something :-P

  17. I have a brand new science-based project that I’m REALLY excited about. Regular readers of my blog http://fledgelingskeptic.com know that I will soon be running amy own experiment to test the theory that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
    This experiment (and one of my readers, Myk Dowling) has inspired The Great Experiment Scholarship.
    I’m officially premiering the scholarship tomorrow but YOU can get a sneak peek here: http://fledgelingskeptic.com/2010/05/07/the-great-experiment-scholarship/

    I also want to introduce this concept to elementary and middle schools starting in the fall.

    We all complain about the lack of science and skeptical education in schools and in general. It’s time to do something about it.

    Now, as for scifi, I get all squishy over advanced science based in reality. Bill DeSmedt’s podiobook “Singularity” makes me positively orgasmic.

    I used to get that way over fantastical “science”, but I wasted so much of my life on the fantastical, I now much prefer reality.

  18. I like superpowers, they are awesome. Even if they are lame superpowers, the fact that they are superpowers makes them cool.

    I also like action movies, but not just any old action movie, I like melee combat and hand-to-hand fighting. I like to see little women flip a guy like they’d flip their hair, then kick them in their face. I like acrobatic melee fights with little women kicking men in the face. I want to see them jumping, dodging, and swinging, witht he occasional random explosion.

    Gunfights are LAME. There’s no action in that. You’re hiding behind something and peeking out from time to time to get a few off. And if you’re the bad guy, you couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. If you’re the good guy, you could shoot the wings off a fly at 50 paces. Really? I guess a cool gunfight would be where one guy is shooting another guy’s bullets out of the air.

    I like songs that flow, and are filled with music. I don’t like hearing just a band in the background. I want it to sound like there’s a huge ensemble behind him/her. Even vocals as backup can work, but I want my songs filled with sound. Sound is in every nook and cranny. And they even dug out a few more nooks and crannies to fit in more.

    I like physics. Newtonian, Einsteinian, quantum, it doesn’t matter. Remember, if it moves, it’s biology. If it stinks, it’s chemistry, but if it works, it’s physics. I like to think about physics. I like to comptemplate the paradoxes of physics.

    What if the wave-particle duality of light is because the photon as we know it is really a bianary particle, with one particle revolving around another? Would that explain it? What about the unpredictablity of the electron? Could all those superpositions from all those electrons in all those atoms in that baseball be cancelling each other out, which is why the baseball doesn’t suddenly come back at you and bonk you in the head?

    I like greek, roman, and norse mythology, but I think norse doesn’t get nearly enough face time as it should. Why can’t we have a movie about Ragnorok, the death of Odin, or the 13th wedding guest?

    I like video games with a story. Some people read, some people watch TV, I play video games. I want an in depth story. I want there to be plot twists, and irony, and emotion. FFVII is a fan favorite because you lose one of your central chracaters. It’s very sad. I personally prefer FFVIII, because the story is much more believable, but they have a few dorky parts that should have ended up on the cutting room harddrive.

    @marilove: Is this talking about myself enough?

  19. @swordsbane: Internal consistency (“Fridge Logic” in Trope Speak) is one thing that will instantly make me lose my suspension of disbelief in something when it’s broken.

    Oddly, I had that happen the other night. I watched Ice Age 3 (bad idea, I know), and they made the T-Rex *tower* over the wooly mammoth characters, even though it couldn’t have been more than a foot or two taller. They also had a wooly mammoth jump onto a brachiosaur’s head, slide down its neck and back, and off its tail.

    For some reason, having a 13 ton animal act like a human-sized animal just shattered my suspension of disbelief. That was the *one* thing in the movie that made it a bad movie for me. It’s weird.

  20. Off topic:
    Here’s another ‘little skepchick’ candidate:

    “I like swimming in the ocean,” she said. “It’s a freak thing, and a one-in-a-million chance that I would get bitten by a shark. So it really wouldn’t happen again, I don’t think.”

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/a-rational-shark-bite-victim-and-shes-only-10

    Primary source:
    http://www.cfnews13.com/News/Local/2010/5/5/years_1st_shark_bite_cant_faze_girl_10.html

  21. On topic this time:
    The science I’m excited about right now is that we have a draft of the Neandertal genome, and indications are that non-Africans have about 1-4% of their geneome descended from Neandertals.

    http://www.sciencemag.org/special/neandertal/

    I’ve been following this for some years. Initially, the idea that we have some Neandertal genes seems pretty obvious: H. sapiens sapiens coexisted with Neandertal for tens of thousands of years in the Middle East and Europe, and you’d expect some cross breeding. But then recent papers have come out saying there was no evidence of introgression by Neandertal genes. These papers looked pretty good to me, although it is not my specialty. And now we go back the other way.

    Science is most fun when we’re still trying to figure it all out.

    Finally, another article (very short on detail, no scientific paper yet) also saying there was interbreeding, and (more importantly) with a picture of a *really cute* Neandertal:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100420/full/news.2010.194.html

  22. Sorry for 3 posts in a row, I tried to edit the previous one to add this, hit ‘save’ with 7 seconds to spare, and got a message ‘you don’t have permission to edit this comment’.

    In terms of Science Fiction, I’ll take anything by Connie Willis. Her heroes are typically academics, and good skeptic role models.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connie_Willis
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ConnieWillis
    (WARNING: Never follow a link to tvtropes.org if you have anything else you should be doing in the next three hours.)

  23. My favorite topic in science and science fiction is the future and deep time. I always wonder whether humanity will survive or stupidly mess up dispite major foreshadowings of disaster. I also like to imagine how wonderful it would be to watch the sun go nova into a planetary nebula and watching the Milky Way and Andromeda absorb each other. Finally, I wonder what would life be like, or whether any would remain during the last ages of the universe, when all the stars have been extinguished the only source of energy remaining would be from glowing balls of degenerate matter, followed by proton decay.

    As for my favorite music, Pachebel’s Canon in D Major, without question. Right now, I am attempting to play in piano a variation of it made by George Winston. Unfortunately, playing it makes my fingers sore after a while.

  24. Science topic – archaeology, paleontology and anthropology (not technically science) are freakin amazing. I love watching a show on Discovery or reading a book about dinosaurs and how if it wasn’t for an asteroid hitting the earth 65 million years ago, humans probably wouldn’t exist. Plus the CGI dinos are really cool. Yeah, I’m a 12 year old in a 40-something’s body. :-)

    Science fiction – I love books about time travel, such as Jack Finney’s work. I also like to read authors who can create a whole fantasy world out of nothing, ala Tolkein, such as Stephen R. Donaldson, or George RR Martin. I was a big Piers Anthony fan as a teen, and I love Philip K. Dick’s short stories. Sadly, I am also a dedicated fan of the TV show “Lost”, despite its almost complete lack of scientific accuracy.

    Music – big fan of great guitar playing from Les Paul all the way to Slash, but I reserve a quiet reverence for the masters: Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Stevie Ray and John Petrucci. Oh, and the greatest band to ever grace the planet – RUSH.

    I also love a good live jazz show, and all forms of classical music (20 years of cello playing will do that to ya).

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