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An evolutionary ecology of science fiction

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20:30
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Grey, green and blue aliens – tentacled or humanoid – are a seemingly endless source of fervent and revealing fictive inspiration. When it comes to extraterrestrial speculation, Western narrative patterns can be viewed multiple ways. Kathleen Bryson discusses how dehumanisationsuprahumanisation and humanisation encompass the ways in which SF filmic fictive narratives have othered, idolised and empathised with speculative aliens since the late 1890s to the present day.

These three de-/supra-/humanising threads are sewn tightly to the fourth narrative weft: the bioanthropological, a pattern that most easily can be viewed through the lens of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis (MES) paradigm (in the widest sense that takes in recent input, eg., theories regarding inclusive fitness, reciprocal altruism, gene-centred evolution, etc). The MES can be used to hypothesise potential morphologies – how an organism appears and/or behaves in material terms – as some astrobiologists have done, e.g. arguing that natural selection would be similarly predictive even on alien planets, e.g., some adaptations such as complexity and methods of detecting light through ‘eyes’ will appear repeatedly due to convergent evolution, where under natural selection very distantly related organisms can develop extremely similar body shapes, colouration, behavior, etc., under similar environmental constraints. Kathleen Bryson argues that as extraterrestrials potentially would be cooperative social organisms due to byproduct empathy as the result of generational selection for cooperation, under convergent evolution these same extraterrestrials likely would have our own tendencies for outgroups and ingroups, and therefore – like us – the capacity to ‘humanise’ the alien Other (us). So nothing to worry about. Or is there?

 

 

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Daryll Forde Seminar Room, Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton St, off Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0BW. Tube: Euston Square

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