This is part one of a three part blog series focusing on futurist movements throughout history. This installment will focus on the earliest movements, up to about the early 19th century.
IN THE BEGINNING
Early scientists and philosophers are certainly the forerfathers of futurism, and one of my biggest inspirations is Leonardo DaVinci. He is quite literally the definition of a polymath, or a “Renaissance man”. Besides being a artist of multiple mediums (drawer, painter, sculptor, musician, and architect), he was also a very influential mathematician, biologist, geologist, botanist, and engineer. And he is perhaps above all things a testament to the beauty and art of logic, and the curious mind. Many of his inventions laid the foundation for future technologies.
HANG GLIDER / FLYING MACHINE
THEY BLINDED ME WITH SCIENCE
In the mid 1500’s the scientific revolution presented the first radical shift of thinking in the science world, rejecting the scientific principals of the Greeks and Middle ages and laying the foundations for modern science, including the scientific method. This was also reflected in literature of the time. For example:
[The] new Philosophy calls all in doubt,
The Element of fire is quite put out;
The Sun is lost, and th’earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it
- John Donne, An Anatomy of the World
IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANTASY?
An oft undervalued and misunderstood genre of art is science fiction. The challenges in writing good science fiction are enormous: the plot has to seamlessly weave in believable technology that has not been invented yet. While science fiction appears to be something of a modern genre to us, its origins date back thousands of years. One of the first known examples of science fiction is in the Ramayana, an Indian Sanskrit epic which describes a vimāna: an apparatus that could fly through space (a rocket) and under water (a submarine).
One Thousand and One Nights aka Arabian Nights tells a story of a mechanical (robotic) horse that had the ability to fly, as well as a humanoid robot. Another Arab writer, polymath Ibn al Nafis, used his own scientific knowledge and theories, especially of human biology, to write Theologus Autodidactus, the world’s first known theological novel AND the first known theory of metabolism. Johannes Kepler too was a scientist that dabbled in fiction, and his book Somnium is considered by famed scientists/authors Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov to be the first true piece of science fiction.
YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
The industrial revolution is a period wherein the most radical change in our way of life occurred. In no other period in history were there such dramatic changes in the jobs, means of consumption, and, standards of living across so many different classes and socio-economic groups. It was a period of exponential growth, the equal of which we are only seeing today (and the subject of another post). Perhaps the first science fiction novel to seriously consider technology in the future, as well as how society might be like with such technology is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was a critique of the Industrial Revolution and what might become of it. In this sense, it was the first holistically “science fiction” piece of literature, in that technology was at the forefront and was considered from a societal perspective. While some consider her a romantic era writer, it is much more accurate to classify her as a proactive futurist. She does not reject or deny modernization, but rather fully understands it and analyzes it, making her a forward thinker.
The later half of the 19th century, when the effects of the industrial revolution truly began to take hold, are the birthplace of modern science fiction and, soon after, the futurist movement. That is the period where the “future” that is envisioned is the “now” we are living in. These subjects will be covered in the next post: part two of future imperfect. Stay tuned!