Cognitive Crop Rotation: Seeking Sciences to Enrich Fantasy
For this reason,
Change gives rest.
Burying a fish head beneath the soil where tomatoes grow helps release the critical nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorous and calcium, an unlikely source for the fundamental needs of this fruit. Farmers have known for centuries that crops must be rotated, whether it’s in a field or the fruit and vegetable garden, to ensure balance. Much like the seasons, corn and wheat might appear as rich and bountiful as the particular Summer that gives rise to them, but years of repetition — no matter the ways of the seasons — will begin to strip the land of its vital nutrients, leaving a soulless field of wind fodder, hardly palatable for the most intrepid earthworm. Change gives rest and rest is where dreams scatter the burdens of the day, as surely as seeds are scattered in the wind from the dead flowers that once thrived and gave rise to them. Nothing comes from nothing, but only so much can be drawn from a particular source, no matter how much sun and rain finds the soil. Bounty comes from many sources, giving rise to many things, but all of those things are singular in their particular place, just as a work of Fantasy seems to be. But a whole world of Sciences and experience enriched the soil where that Fantasy sprung from, just as the fish head helped give rise to the Black Krim tomatoes of Summers past.
Thinking too has a time for ploughing and a time for gathering the harvest.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
Perhaps Fantasy Fiction is really metaphors that are brought to fruition, the metaphysical seeds scattered by the limits of this world, giving rise to things that only grow in the imagination. But without those sources — the seeds pods of metaphors grounded in reality — Fantasy becomes fantasy and is little more than a doodled tree calling itself a sky-piercing World Tree. Writers have been known to beg, borrow and steal, but what thing in this world doesn’t? Soil is a heap of countless dead things, enriching itself through a give and take, even if ‘itself’ is far too many things to list. Even a ‘dead’ mountain takes space, minerals, wind velocity and light, giving back as an anchor to the land, or even a metaphorical world unto itself, as is the case with many islands. Naturalism has inspired Cosmology, just as the way in which something as simple as the keen observation that the little hooks of cockle-burs sticking to a dog’s fur led to the invention of velcro in the 1940’s. Science and Nature are inextricably bound together, whether it’s peering into the nether regions of the known universe (still expanding…) or a fish head buried beneath a tomato plant, these ‘soils’ are the rich foundation for Fantasy.
I believe that my originality is an originality belonging to the soil rather than to the seed.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
Sci-fi writers have anticipated some futures, from tech to climate, political revolutions and the way we communicate from afar. When culture exhausts itself — as it tends to do on a daily basis, like the ever-expanding universe, a little colder and further divided — works of Fantasy can provide an escape into an eerily familiar set of metaphors, recognizable as deriving from grounded truth, but changed enough to refresh the imagined world, since there truly is nothing that is absolutely original. We follow that somewhat familiar voice through the darkness, where uncertainty reigns. If that voice was simply disembodied — as dead as an A.I. voice tends to be — we shut the book and find something else. But if that voice has been sewn in the rich soil of the Sciences, garnering humor and wit along the way, perhaps even a bit of a gravelly tone from the harder years, we follow, as surely as that fish head becomes the soil and the soil gives rise to the fruits of next summer.