Laboratory of Science Fiction (Honours course)

Science Fiction is like experimental scientific research. Just as scientists in their laboratory, sci-fi authors experiment with the possibilities of science through the narrative that is their lab. Their narrative provides a tool to investigate trends in science and technology and to reflect upon potential scenarios.

Dr. Trijsje Franssen

In this course, you will explore the relationship between the human and technology in a variety of ways, and create your own piece of art. In the academic year 2021-2022, this will be writing your own Sci-Fi narrative.

From autonomous robots, via chip implants to deep brain stimulation – the boundaries between human and machine seem to fade. It confronts us with all kinds of challenges and questions, about current as well as future issues. In this course you will examine the frontiers of biology and explore the ethical, social and cultural issues that arise from the fading boundaries between human (alive and conscious) and machine (non-living and unconscious).

We will start by studying what science and biotechnology tell us about the distinction between living organisms and machines in order to discover how this interacts with our own thoughts and feelings on what it means to be human.

Using this as a foundation, we will first address important social and moral questions that arise, such as those about responsibility: can robots make moral decisions?; about equality: what if only the rich would have access to new technologies?; about privacy: what if important data on our health fall into the wrong hands?
Second, we will focus on questions about ourselves as a person, as humans, and our emotions with respect to those questions. These can be of all kinds, from ‘what is the value of social media to me?’ to ‘will we soon all be cyborgs?
In this course you will critically reflect upon these ethical, social, existential and cultural questions, starting off with recent insights from the biological sciences. Importantly, hereby, as a human, you will explore your personal relation with technology, and develop your own ideas, stories and perspective. And all of this in a creative and multidisciplinary way, so you may learn to think beyond your field of education. We will be using various sources and different methods: studying scientific literature on innovative technologies and literature on ethics of technology, while also using artworks as topic of discussion and inspiration. For instance, what can a science fiction movie teach us about the future of the human-machine relationship? Is Eduardo Kac’s fluorescent rabbit useful to clarify moral problems about genetic modification?

Our lectures will be highly interactive and creative methods such as role-play and socratic discussion will be employed. You have to actively contribute, using reason as well as imagination and feelings. You will debate and give presentations, but also make assignments such as the explanation of abstract problems through images, and inventing potential future technomoral scenario’s.
Throughout the course you develop a piece of art in which you focus upon one of the questions at stake. In what I call ‘the Laboratory of Science Fiction’, you experiment with the possibilities of science, making use of the variety of sources and methods. It will also be a way to identify and express your own emotions in relation to those possibilities. The result is your piece of art: this year you write your own Science Fiction narrative, which is also the final assignment.

The above approach is crucial for this course, for a combination of knowledge of scientific and ethical research, imagination and ethical and self-reflection is needed in order to explore the relevant questions in a critical, creative and personal way.

Study goals

•    to be able to critically reflect and identify the questions at stake
•    to become aware of one’s conscious and hidden assumptions about the meaning and value of (human) life
•    to connect theoretical analysis with self-reflection and feelings
•    to establish a deeper understanding of the power and limits of the scientific method.
•    to develop creative capacities by creating a piece of art that incorporates technological and emotional impact
•    to acquire an intuitive understanding of the state-of-the-art of biology and biotechnology
•    to think beyond your field of education in an interdisciplinary environment focussing on the impact of technologies and the social and emotional responses of the world

Education Method    

Weekly lectures of a highly interactive kind, involving student presentations and creative methods such as role-play and socratic discussion.

Literature and Study Materials    

Reader ‘The Laboratory of Science Fiction’. Literature on innovative technologies, ethics and art. Artworks that engage with the subject of the human and technology.


- Piece of art (visual, fictional, auditory or other). In 2021-2022 this is a Science Fiction narrative, written on one of the questions at stake (60%). This will be created by the students in the process of the course.
- presentation and active participation during the working group sessions (40%).

In order to pass the course, a minimal grade of 5.5 should be obtained for both the essay and the working group, and the average grade should be higher than 5.75








What is Science Fiction?

Submit question beforehand

Handout Dihal (2017)







Experimental Narrative and Creative Writing

Zola (1964); Zwart (2014)

Creative Writing (2007) Chapter 12

Assignment 1: Submit Main Question; Deadline Friday 06-05, 23.59



Writing Workshop

Guest lecturer Daniel Martin.

Chapters 1-2 Brave New World;

Preparation workshop Daniel Martin




Human-Tech Relations

Philosophy of Science

Verbeek (2001), Ihde




Bio-design: What is life in the eyes of science?

Guest Lecturer Dr. Bertus Beaumont (Nanobiology)

Chalmers (2005): ‘The Matrix as Metaphysics’.

Assignment 2: Elaborated Draft of Story;

Deadline Friday 27-05, 23.59



Foucault, Panopticon and Black Mirror

Foucault, Özer





Student Presentations

Presentations and Assignment 3: Visualisation








Deadline Final Narrative

Literature to study