Life As We Blow It: Calling All Mad Scientists

Mad Science is not just an element of genre fiction and ‘50s B-flick cautionary tales. Before we let it fade from our culture along with personal accountability and manufacturing products that don’t suck, Mad Science was a valuable national resource. Mad Science split the atom, and won World War Two. Mad Science put men on the moon. Mad Science provided the vision and imagination that put tiny machines together on a small board so we could bitch to strangers thousands of miles away about songs we’ve never heard all the way through, and conceived of a way to move objects from one place to another by transporting them to another dimension that might not even really be there.

But in recent years a few naysayers, hysterics and hippies have managed to banish Mad Science from the American landscape. Nuclear weapons went out of fashion when the Cold War ended. NASA is being gutted, and ideas like quantum teleportation are hopelessly mired in theory, red tape and concerns about “safety.” We don’t experiment haphazardly with new technologies anymore; we just make existing technologies small enough to fit inside a telephone.

Here it is, a decade into the new millennium, and we’re still being beaten down by mother nature and the failings of boring old sane sciences like engineering and chemistry. We’re still using roads, and sitting on megatons of garbage that apparently won’t be shot into the sun anytime soon. Where’s the weather control? Where are the genetically mutated super-worms to burrow along fault lines deep within the earth to ease tensions and prevent quakes? Where are the nanobots that eat oil out of salt water and excrete smaller pelican-scrubbing nanobots?

Where is the headlong rush to harness and wield control over the limitless energies of the galaxy, to implement huge, unhinged and scarcely thought-out plans to play God, and potentially cataclysmic consequences be damned?

Regular science takes time. Hell, it took nine countries 13 years to map the human genome, and they didn’t really even finish. By washing away ethical questions, rational process and governmental responsibility in a tidal wave of self-righteous hubris--sort of like organized religion--Mad Science can produce much more tangible results much more quickly. Those that impugn the methods of Mad Science as irresponsible and dangerous and unpredictable? They’re just afraid. Afraid their cushy little lives might be inconvenienced somehow.

OK, sure, we don’t actually know exactly what would happen if we took all those little sections of Einstein’s brain out of their plastic blocks, injected them with Jacques Cousteau’s memories, put them into a great white shark and let it loose to figure out how to stop the oceans from rising.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? We won’t know until we go ahead and do it.

Mad Science just might save us all.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s wonderfully geeky Futurama returned with new episodes a few weeks back after a seven-year absence, and the animated sci-fi sitcom’s reappearance couldn’t have been more timely. Because at its core, underneath the absurdity and cutting social satire, Futurama celebrates, and illustrates the basic need for, one of America’s most enduring and necessary traditions:

Mad Science.

Not the kind of Mad Science the Beastie Boys dropped all over Paul’s Boutique, but the kind of Mad Science that only emerges when brilliant minds and staggering arrogance combine in an attempt to control forces obviously and utterly beyond human comprehension. The kind of Mad Science that comes from not just wondering what invisible principles govern the behavior of the universe, but also suspecting that, could one figure it out, one might be able to totally own that shit.

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