Science Vs. Sci-Fi


On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was able to hear Adam Riess speak at Bolton Street Synagogue. Riess is the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics for providing evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

During his presentation, which was extremely well-documented with facts and empirical data and at the same time understandable for anyone not versed in cosmology, Riess said, “The universe is a time machine.  When we look at the universe, we are looking back in time.” It was an elegant and simple way of explaining a complex concept.

His analogy got me thinking, and I couldn’t help but recall the oddball news — that entered my thoughts like static — from Iran’s Fars state news agency earlier that week.  It reported how an Iranian scientist claimed to have created a device — the Aryayek time-traveling machine, which supposedly can predict the future after taking readings from the touch of a user’s hand.

So on the one hand (sorry), I was listening to a Johns Hopkins astrophysicist explain how he went to such great lengths, even upon his discovery, to check, verify and recalculate his facts and observations, which were rooted in the science of Einstein.  And on the other, and even filtered through their official government news agency, I was reading nothing more than science fiction.

In fact, calling Iran’s news science fiction gives sci-fi a bad wrap. That’s because, like most fans of science fiction, I’m able to distinguish between fact and meshugas.

But let us indulge the Iranian government for a moment and contemplate the notion of a time machine. Whether Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury, masters of science fiction have taken on this profound concept often lacing it with danger and dystopian tragedy.  Even the term “time machine” was coined by science fiction author H. G. Wells from his novella “The Time Machine,” which was written way back in time (1895). In that book, the protagonist eventually travels some 30 million years into the future and witnesses a dying Earth with menacing crablike creatures chasing butterflies before freezing and falling silent. Perhaps before embarking on a nuclear device, Iran should take heed of the lesson.

Back in the present and inside my synagogue, gazing up at the bima while listening to Riess, I thought of all the scientific contributions the world has received from Israel since its modern rebirth 65 years ago, in every area of the arts and sciences where Jews have enriched life on Earth. And I had to wonder, like so many wish we could, were we to go back in time and stop the Shoah from ever happening, how much different the world would be. How many more scientists like Adam Riess would there be? How many more
Einsteins would walk the planet? How different things would be.

Iran’s brand of science fiction gave me a chill. Yet, rather than give in to such thoughts, I chose instead to recall to the immortal words of Star Trek’s Spock (and nice Jewish boy Leonard Nimoy) on Israel’s 65th birthday.  May she and we “live long and prosper.”

Abe Novick, whose work is at, is a local freelance writer.

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