The Reality of Science Fiction TV Series


Over the past decade, we’ve seen every type of science fiction TV series hit the market, from adaptations of novels like “The Expanse” and “Altered Carbon” to original series like “Black Mirror.” The opportunities to showcase science, as well as stretch the truth, are seemingly endless.

Topics explored in some of the best sci-fi shows span all realms of science, but some shows are more realistic than others. Let’s take a look at topics that get the most attention from the genre.

Space Travel: Not Quite a Cruise

Most modern depictions of space travel aren’t realistic, according to One show that accurately depicted the harsh reality of current space travel was SyFy’s series, “The Expanse.”

Based on the sci-fi novel series of the same name by James S.A. Corey, the pen name for authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, “The Expanse” has been a quiet darling in the science community because of its dedication to getting the physics of space travel as accurate as possible.

While a classic science fiction TV series like “Star Trek” makes hurtling through the universe seem pleasant, “The Expanse” depicts it much more accurately. As Public Radio International noted, “Spaceships aren’t sleek and responsive, and space isn’t sexy — it’s downright inhospitable.”

Naren Shankar, the show’s executive producer, told PRI, “The issues of air and water and just protection from that environment are constantly an issue in the show.”

Body Swapping

The Netflix series “Altered Carbon” has taken topics in biology and neuroscience to the outskirts of current possibilities, but it isn’t that far off.

“Altered Carbon” explores the world of body swapping, where one’s consciousness can be uploaded into new bodies, called “sleeves.” These sleeves go on living the life of the consciousness now inhabiting the body regardless of what they were in their old sleeves — a child could become a middle-aged woman, or a man could wake up centuries after his death in an entirely new body.

But wouldn’t human consciousness be too deep and profound to be boiled down to a few uploadable cells and neurons? Not necessarily. Anil Seth, a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience, explained to SyFyWire that consciousness is “any kind of subjective experience” and lives in a series of neurons that produce memories when activated. Transferring neurons to a new body could be as simple as mapping and recording them.

Seth explained that, in the case of “Altered Carbon,” the problem lies in the transferring. As SyFyWire puts it, “A person’s sense of self is not just a set of memories but is tied to their physical body. So if human consciousness could be transferred then it would ‘massively’ alter their personal identity.” Even transferring just the brain to a new body doesn’t ensure that the consciousness will remain the same.

Recreating Memories

The same concept holds true for visual reconstruction. In season 4 of “Black Mirror,” visual reconstruction, or the concept of gathering the memories of others for viewing, is explored. In the series, this method is used for tracking and surveillance, and to aid in criminal investigations.

Constraint-free neural image reconstruction was recently tested by a Chinese research team. They “found that the reconstructed images resembled the natural stimuli, especially in position and shape. The experimental results suggest that hierarchical visual features can effectively express the visual perception process of [the] human brain.”

The science journal Nature also reported on a technique called multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA), which can decode the brain by uploading fMRI data to software that learns and assesses neural patterns that coincide with certain thoughts and experiences.

While some of the best sci-fi shows have taken more liberties than others, a few take their depictions of science very seriously and do their best to be as realistic as possible. Even if they aren’t 100 percent accurate, promoting the sciences is important. More interest translates into a bigger and brighter future for the world of research.

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