Please explain and summarize the following text:

After such delimitations, it is perhaps possible at least to indicate some differentiations within the concept of "cognitiveness" or "cognition." As used here, this term implies not only a reflecting of but also on reality. It implies a creative approach tending toward a dynamic transformation rather than toward a static mirroring of the author's environment. Such typical SF methodology—from Lucian, More, Rabelais, Cyrano, and Swift to Wells, London, Zamyatin, and writers of the last decades—is a critical one, often satirical, combining a belief in the potentialities of reason with methodical doubt in the most significant cases. The kinship of this cognitive critique with the philosophical fundaments of modern science is evident.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The writer is evidently occupied with providing a definition or a description of the science fiction genre. How, then, does the distinction between "cognition" and "cognitiveness" tie into this purpose?

The writer uses the terms synonymously, though they says there are differences between the two. Cognition means "thinking," while cognitiveness...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The writer is evidently occupied with providing a definition or a description of the science fiction genre. How, then, does the distinction between "cognition" and "cognitiveness" tie into this purpose?

The writer uses the terms synonymously, though they says there are differences between the two. Cognition means "thinking," while cognitiveness implies the "nature" of thinking and the qualities of the thought process. Fiction of any kind is the result of thought processes by an author that manipulate or transform reality.

The thrust of the quoted passage seems to be that the science fiction writer creates a world that not only reflects reality but also reflects on it. The author criticizes reality by distorting it. The works of science fiction authors transform the world rather than mirroring it statically. Here, a series of iconic authors from antiquity to the early twentieth century are named as examples of this.

The writer of the passage then concludes by saying that science fiction provides a critical or satirical view of the real world by employing both reason and a skeptical view of reason. Science fiction also employs modern science in its critique of the real world, which is not exactly surprising given the name of the genre.

All of this is very theoretical, and the only way fully to understand it is by looking at examples from the science fiction canon and seeing how these points apply to them, if indeed they do. I would chose two of the authors named here, Swift and Wells, to illustrate the principles our author is stating.

In Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the Yahoos are a distorted picture of humanity. They are not exactly a mirror of mankind but a transformed version of it—transformed, that is, into something ugly and bestial. This is what our writer means by science fiction's reflecting on reality rather than just accomplishing a reflecting of it. Swift, like all satiric writers, makes his point through exaggeration. But it's more than that. The Yahoos are an extension of the worst aspects of human nature, but they are also a qualitatively different kind of being. They are, in effect, mutants or mutations, even if they are not physiologically different from actual humans.

The same is true of the imagined descendants of humanity in H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. Wells shows mankind 800,000 years in the future as having split into the childlike Eloi and the subterranean cannibalistic Morlocks. He probably intended this as a distorted picture of the industrial world, split into a cattle-like species of common people and a predatory owner class. As always, Wells uses the trappings of science as it was in his time, but here, as in Swift's fantasy from nearly 200 years earlier, the effort is to show a kind of negation of science or reason in these imagined worlds.

Rather than an optimistic future, both Swift and Wells depict dystopias. But in both cases, it's a purposeful depiction, a warning to mankind. This is the essence of the "reflecting on reality" to which the writer of the quoted passage refers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team