10 things science fiction always gets wrong

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

Everything we know in science fiction is wrong. Well, maybe not everything, but Sam Vaknin, Ph.D., has identified 10 things that sci-fi always screws up. Essentially, Vaknin argues that many of the assumptions made by sci-fi creators and fans, which form the core of many of the genre's stories, have no basis in fact or even logic when it comes to alien races and our possible interaction with them.

Vaknin gets pretty deep and cerebral in a lengthy new article posted at Global Politician, so here's our somewhat more down-to-earth rundown of sci-fi's 10 errors and how he demolishes them:

1. There is life elsewhere in the universe: There is? Who says? And if there is, why do we assume it's going to resemble something that we can understand and communicate with?

2. The concept of structure: This sort of extends from our first assumption. Just because we have structure in our bodies, in our lives (we think, anyway), in our communities and societies and nations, it's pointless for us to think that those structures apply to other civilizations—or that we can recognize them even if they do.

3. Communication and interaction: Beings that are superior to us may not have any use for communication as we know it—because they may exist on such a level of advancement that time is meaningless and all things happen simultaneously to everyone, including thoughts. Thus, no need to open your mouth.

4. Location: Same principle applies here as in Error #3. An incredibly evolved species may not visit us from "somewhere else." They might not be "anywhere" but instead could exist in all of space and time—so no phoning "home."

5. Separateness: Even though all our great sci-fi stories describe alien beings as individuals (even if they're part of a collective), advanced aliens might have gotten past all that and abandoned any concepts of life as separate beings. They might just be one giant ball of quantum energy (remember the Organians from the original Star Trek?).

6. Transportation: So if aliens have dispensed with our concepts of communication, location in time and space and separation into individual beings, what use would they have for spaceships? None whatsoever.

7. Will and Intention: Must every alien race show up with a goal, whether it's mating with our women, stealing our resources or even just being nice to us? Not that likely, says Vaknin. Just because we have to-do lists, it doesn't mean the ETs do.

8. Intelligence: Sure, we might run into life in outer space, but does that automatically mean it has to be intelligent? Would we even recognize intelligence in a life form so beyond us that we can't even figure out where its head is—or if it even has one?

9. Artificial vs. Natural: Vaknin argues here that just because a complex organism has arisen naturally through evolution, that doesn't mean it's going to be intelligent. In fact, an artificially created object may be a better sign of intelligence than actually meeting its creator (yeah, doesn't make much sense to us either, but we're dancing as fast as we can here).

10. Leadership: Humankind has gone through one screwed-up form of government after another, but that doesn't mean that the Tau Cetians go to the ballot box every year. Vaknin insists that one work of sci-fi after another offers up everything from an alien parliament to a galactic Nazi party. Advanced aliens won't need a president to make decisions—they'll make each one all at the same time.

The author also gives his six arguments against the existence of alien life, making the entire first half of his article kind of pointless, but our head hurts too much now to delve into that.

In the meantime, do you think Vaknin is right? Does sci-fi make too many wrong assumptions about what life or intelligence might be like out there in the universe?