Science Fiction and the Civic Imagination
The transcript of the panel on Science Fiction and the Civic Imagination that I was a part of earlier this year is now online. You can read the whole transcript in Part 1 and Part 2. Here is a relevant excerpt.
Mohammed: So, I guess part of reimagining the future is actually reimagining the past as well. But the way that we imagine the past is — can describe who we are with ourselves and through others. So, part of recovering, I think there is also this project for a lot of — especially people who were colonized which is basically most of the planet, is describing who they are is also part of recovering their past or pasts, I should say.
So, some of the projects that I found really fascinating is that this research on the print technologies, which are not necessarily lost but we don’t really talk about them anymore from different regions in the world, for example, in the Middle East. There’s a long history — and we were talking about this earlier — there’s a long history of automatas which a lot of people in the west, for example, don’t know about.
One of the most famous ones were done by two groups of people. So, one is the Banū Mūsā family, the Mūsā brothers are very famous. And another one is by Al-Jazari. And so, they had automatas and we’re talking about 12th, 13th century. We had drawings on multiple descriptions of this where — so the most famous one is we have this group of five musicians, automatas, different musical instruments part of an orchestra on a boat. And when the boat moves through the Euphrates River right next to Baghdad, water falls to the automata and then that’s how they play their music. That’s really fascinating.
Al-Jazari had humanoid automatas which move from one side of the room to the other side of the room. Most likely they had blinded mechanisms. So, things like that just tell us that it’s — that other cultures had important contributions to make through science and technology throughout history. And it’s not just that it’s not well-known in the west, but because of the experience of colonialism, part of that actually has been lost to them also. So, recovering the past and whilst recovering some of those things is a part the stories that we tell ourselves with respect to who we are.