Monday, July 04, 2005

Why Nerds Love Science Fiction

As someone who once read most of an article on the Internet about psychology, I feel I am qualified to write with some authority on the underlying emotional motivations and mental inner-workings of other people, in this case nerds. Also, being a card-carrying nerd myself qualifies me to speak for nerds everywhere, since logically they all must think the same as I do.

Specifically, I'd like to address a question that everyone has had at one point, but evidently has been afraid to ask. Or maybe they don't care. Either way, I'm still going to write about it: why do nerds like science fiction so much?

Nerds Love Things That No One Else Understands
Do you know what Linux is? How would you install it? What's the difference between a quasar and a nebula? How would you mod a Playstation? What the heck is "modding" anyway?

If you don't know the answer to these questions (most likely some of you do), you belong to the vast majority. The thing is, nerds know you don't know the answers, and this gives them great satisfaction. Secretly, it makes us feel superior to you. Most nerds would never admit to this, so if you talk to one who disagrees with me, they are obviously in denial. (This is actually true of anyone who disagrees with anything I say. I know. Strange.)

This is one of the reasons nerds love science fiction. What's the maximum warp speed possible for a starship or any other space vehicle? What's the difference between a TIE fighter and an X-Wing? What's Klingon for "Have a nice day"? What, you don't know? Ha! Even now, I can imagine my fellow nerds demonstrating their mental superiority by posting answers to these questions in the comments.

A Nerd's Brain Is Hard-Wired For Obsession
I have no empirical evidence to support this statement. But this is the Internet, so I don't need any. However, this is the only explanation for why "gamers" spend so many hours in their bedrooms at their computers trying to beat Halo 3 that their complexions start to resemble that of a juiced carrot. Or why someone would go through the trouble to build a stormtrooper's costume to wear as they wait in line for a movie that will not open for another month. Or why someone would write a blog posing as a fictional tiny green Jedi master.

I visited a Star Wars message board the other day and noticed a rather emotional debate about whether Yoda had contributed more to the Jedi Order than Mace Windu. It went like this:

"Obviously, you haven't read Star Wars: Shatterpoint. If you had, you would know how Mace created the Form VII discipline of combat..."

"But everyone knows the books aren't canon..."

At the end of this extremely long thread that went on for 16 pages, I don't think "WinduTheMan_1992" and "clone_trooper_at852" were friends anymore. If they weren't separated by cyberspace, I think this argument would've ended in a fist fight. You just can't find this kind of obsession among the non-nerd population.

Look Who the Heroes In Science Fiction Are
This is the biggest reason why nerds love science fiction. Can you possibly find bigger nerds than Mr. Spock or Commander Data? Why, in Star Trek: The Next Generation a nerd gets to be captain! And don't get me started on the dorkiness of Luke Skywalker. These are all extremely popular characters, yet one can imagine most of them being beat up in school for their lunch money.

Consider the cast of any Star Trek show. Who makes up the bridge crew? Don't they look like your high school's computer club? Of course, they do. Who else would have the skill required to work all of that sophisticated technology but the guys in the IT department at your company?

In conclusion, science fiction serves an important purpose in society today. It keeps us nerds too busy to put our considerable brain power to some practical application, which would no doubt result in our conquest of the entire planet. You non-nerds should be grateful.

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Blogger Shaak Ti said...

Screw you! I love Yoda and I look at his blog every day! I even looked at the other 20 people who have Star Wars blogs, so I made my own! (I was kidding about screw you)


1:04 PM  
Blogger Qui-Gon Jinn said...

Ah, so what you are saying that we need a superiority complex to fix the inferiority complex that the non-nerds give us?
Huzzah for nerds! Huzzah for geeks!

2:09 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Shaak Ti,

Uh, you do realize that I am the author of the Yoda blog and was therefore poking fun at myself, don't you?

2:58 PM  
Blogger ninjanun said...

Nerds and geeks are two entirely different things, in my humble opinion.

Geeks manage to have some social graces, decent hygene, etc. Nerds, you can smell from afar.

8:50 PM  
Blogger Han Solo said...

0) Ninjanun, you are correct except you reversed the terms. Geeks are the nerds who lack social graces and hygiene. Nerd is descriptive, Geek is derogatory.
1) "DaHjaj jaj QaQ Daghajjaj" is "Have a nice day!" in Klingon. (DaHjaj=today jaj=day QaQ=good Daghajjaj=May you have)
2) No Klingon would ever use this phrase.
3) What inferiority complex? I have a superiority complex. It's a problem. I'll sometimes stop a conversation and say "I'm sorry, you must be at least this smart (hand gesture) to speak to me. Come back then." Stupid people, bah.
4) REAL nerds bullet-point their comments.
5) You can spot computer nerds because they start counting from zero.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Funny comment Han!

I was wondering how long it would take for someone to either say, "Klingons wouldn't say something like that" or "there is no such phrase in the Klingon language".

I don't actually know any Klingon, but I expected someone to post a comment to that effect.

9:53 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Here's an interesting tidbit -

According to, both geek and nerd have the same definition.

Even more interesting (also from

Dr Seuss may have been the first peson to use the word "nerd".

9:57 PM  
Anonymous John said...

0) Bill, there's no way that you're the author of Yoda's blog. Yoda himself is. I know, because I sent him an email asking him the meaning of life and got his personal response-which was not signed 'Bill'.
1) Han, although many things you said about nerds are true, and also clever, you missed some things. As per the 'obsessive' point, you should also have mentioned that 'nuqneH!' (pr. nook-NEKH, transl. what do you want?) is the only greeting in Klingon, and the closest thing to 'have a nice day' is 'Qapla'!' (pr. kah-PLAH, transl. success!). Straight from the Klingon Dictionary, Mark Okrand, 1992, Pocket Books, New York.
10) Computer nerds should not only count from zero, but also do it in binary.
11) Stand humbled by the obsession, and please feel free to stomp me with some of your own. I just couldn't resist.

2:45 AM  
Blogger Han Solo said...

I stand awed and corrected. I'm clearly outclassed. :-D

Also, according to Wikipedia, both NinjaNun and I are correct on nerd vs geek. It depends on region.

4:18 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

I have a five-year-old who regularly removes the glasses from my face, places them on his own then patrols the crowd wherever we area telling anybody who will listen, "I'm a nerd."

I'm so proud.

9:58 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Or why someone would write a blog posing as a fictional tiny green Jedi master."

Wait a minute! So you're saying you're…! And so Master Yoda's really not…!

Why is the room suddenly spinning?

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Helen said...

Heh! It's funny, this indirectly answers the question of why so many women fancy Professor Snape from Harry Potter. All the evidence is there: he has greasy hair, no social life and an obsession that no one else understands (with potions, in his case)... and when he was at school he was beaten up. He's a nerd. He's loved by nerd women everywhere! (I love your blog by the way. I also love Yoda's blog, and think it's a bit egotistical of you to claim that you wrote it. It was obviously written by Yoda himself :) )

12:12 PM  
Anonymous bellringr said...

Hmm...I wouldn't REALLY consider Snape a nerd. He was too self-centered and the words "twit" and "petulant little crybaby" fit him better IMO.

And I disagree about Han's assessment of nerds vs. geeks, regardless of what the official definitions are. My husband and I are geeks, he moreso than I. We hang around with other geeks. All are professionals, all love computer games, sci-fi, Star Wars, etc. but we are not social misfits, nor are we hygiene-challenged. :p On the flip side, hubby has been a judge for Magic, the Gathering tournaments for many years, and those tourneys are made up of primarly nerds. These are socially-inept people with skanky clothes who are lucky to get their weekly bath in between reading comic books and building their latest blue control deck for an upcoming PTQ.

Then there are the combo geek/nerds. Example - I went to high school with someone who wore polyester pants and oxfords every day, pocket protector, had the black-rimmed glasses, stupid hair cut, and excelled in science and math. I saw him several years after graduation working as a teacher at a community college - and he looked EXACTLY the same! He couldn't get a girl even if he were to find someone he considered even remotely as brilliant as he is because that girl would be too smart to hook up with such a social pygmy know-it-all. :D

2:07 PM  
Blogger John said...

Q. What's the maximum warp speed possible for a starship or any other space vehicle?

A. African or Europian?

Q. What's the difference between a TIE fighter and an X-Wing?

A. Apart from the obvious aesthetic differences, what really sets the two apart is accessories. The original 1977 Kenner TIE fighter vehichle came with a pilot figure, while the X-wing did not. However, for the holiday season of 1978, a small number of X-wings packaged with an exclusive Porkins figure were produced for special mail-in offer at Montgomery Ward. They are now one of the rarest and most sought-after pieces from the original line, mostly because the meatballs on Porkins' sub are so easy to lose.

Q. What's Klingon for "Have a nice day"?

A. As Gene Roddenberry revealed on his deathbed, the entire Klingon lexicon was based on the schizophrenic outbursts of childhood friend Chester Greenwood, who suffered from a unique form of autism. While it was never worked into the show in any of its incarnations, Chester would greet passers-by by shouting, "K'tik g'naa!!!" and kindly yet firmly gnaw on their forearm.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Qui-Gon Jinn said...

"I wonder if there is a Klingon word for loneliness. *pulls out dictionary* Oh, yes, yes, there is. g'hHar d'OkK!" -Comic Book Guy, the Simpsons

7:17 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Rats, another John. Curse my common name! John, you're either making some uber-geek reference to warp speeds that I can't begin to match, or a goofy joke. If it's a goofy joke, then I'll make the correction, which is that the maximum attainable warp speed is 9.999999999999999[etc]. Warp 10 is an upper limit similar to our understanding of light speed-you're just not supposed to be able to surpass it, and to go any faster would require the rewriting of the laws of physics, just the same as actual warp speed would require the rewriting of our current laws of physics. Of course, if you reached a speed analogous to warp 10, you would no longer be using warp technology/warp physics, and therefore it would be like measuring warp speed in miles/hour. As for the geek/nerd thing... it depends on whether you lack a grasp of reality or not, and hygiene has little to do with it. Nerds are so absorbed in their chosen sci-fi/fantasy/comic book/video game/whatever that they believe it to be reality, largely due to the traumatisation caused by the outside world and the comfort of that little 'perfect world'. Geeks just dream about the pretend world. For example: Geeks wish they had lightsabers, but know they aren't real. Nerds are actively trying to build one with parts from radio shack to get back at that bastard athlete and free the cheerleaders whose minds he has clearly enslaved.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Ruby-Flame said...

Well, I am very happy to have stumbled upon these humorous and witty blogs. And to be part of such an equally humorous and witty group of people. I finally feel at home. *gasps* I really am a nerd (minus the hygene problems).

12:23 AM  
Blogger jonathan even-zohar said...

Don't forget Nerds usually have the wealth to put brainpower into crap like star trek and star wars, while the rest of the world is still messed up in civil war, poverty, repression, violence and crime (and good food too by the way)...

Science Fiction is a result of too much wealth and spare time, but it does keep the minds going...

But why is it that always when a star trek vessel is hit they automatically lose 30% of their shields....

Nice Blog(s)...


4:46 AM  
Blogger John said...

Other John--

Yeah, as you might of guessed by my other made-up answers, that first one was just a a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. . I don't actually know anything about phsyics. Hell, I need a calculator when I'm depositing more than one paycheck.

8:46 AM  
Blogger trinamick said...

He doesn't know much about spelling either. Not a nerd or a geek. Is dork available? :P

10:07 AM  
Blogger John said...

Aw, crap. Why don't they let you edit comments?

I always figured a nerd was someone with book smarts, while a geek more or less specialized in a particular niche, be it science fiction, comic books, music, movies, or even sports. Yes, if you know the batting averages of the entire starting lineup of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, you are a geek. Hygiene problems and social awkwardness aren't necessarily requisite for either group, however, the more fanatically devoted one is to their chosen field of expertise, the less likely it is that they bathe on a regular basis or adequately communicate with the opposit sex.

11:05 AM  
Blogger John said...

Opposite. Dammit.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous bellringr said...

John #2 said,

"For example: Geeks wish they had lightsabers, but know they aren't real. Nerds are actively trying to build one with parts from radio shack to get back at that bastard athlete and free the cheerleaders whose minds he has clearly enslaved."

ROFL! I bow to your superior definition of geeks vs. nerds. :D

11:51 AM  
Anonymous john said...

Bellringr-Thanks for the adulation (maybe that's too strong of a word, but I'm gonna ham it up when I get two compliments in the same set of comments), but I'm actually John #1-my second post in here came after the other John's first. Sorry to nitpick, but nerds=obsessive, remember?

Other John... I should have caught that Python reference. I bow to your subtlety, and I must ask: WHERE DID YOU GET THE COCONUTS!?! Oh, and don't sweat typos too much. As long as you know how to spell the word correctly, and you're not a spelling/grammar nerd, it's just an unfortunate misplacement of fingers.

2:38 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"If they weren't separated by cyberspace, I think this argument would've ended in a fist fight. You just can't find this kind of obsession among the non-nerd population."

Clearly you are joking ... right?

Of course you can find this type of obsession among normal people. Obviously, you are true to your self admission as a nerd and clueless about this.

What are things normal people are obsessive about? Sports, women, control - to name a few.

Have you never watched a British football match?

Have you never been roughed up after asking Candy, Butch's girlfriend, where room 101 was?

Haven't you ever noticed that people automatically group together, shun the lone wolves, and engage in power struggles?

But ... "[a]s someone who once read most of an article on the Internet about psychology", I think you are over qualified to write about this.


11:13 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Since my essays are meant to be somewhat goofy, I think it's a good idea not to take too seriously anything I write down here.

But, if you want to mince words, I said "you can't find this kind of obsession", not this much obsession. If that were the case there would be no such thing as celebrity stalkers.

One last point, I must object to your inclusion of fans of British football (American translation: soccer) among "normal people".

11:37 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Ok tough guy, what was the storm trooper's id number in the original Star Wars episode whose costume was assumed by Luke. Huh? I'm waiting...

3:25 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Urg, I didn't take it seriously, but ... I am acused of having an overly dry sense of humour (and I don't use emoticons).

3:27 PM  
Blogger Bill said...



Yeah! Acknowledge my nerdosity!

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Darth Rexus said...

No one understands Darth Vader was good, he had a plan to kill palpatine and rule the universe with his loved one until that child kidnapper scum of Obi Wan Kenobi appears to ruin everything.

6:20 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Okay Bill, in which movie is there a blooper in which a stormtrooper bonks his head on a doorframe? It's actually included in the movie, for the non-initiates. For bonus points, what scene?

10:40 PM  
Blogger Bill said...


Episode IV - A New Hope.
Scene: when the stormtroopers are breaking into the control room.


8:22 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

Three words Bill, I'm not worthy!

11:32 AM  
Blogger j00|{z said...

I think it's the obsession that makes the nerd, they don't start off as nerds. And I think the reason stories with dorky characters are so popular is because anyone can relate to them.
Being a nerd is so much fun : )

Bill - Which episode is it where one of the battle droids goes "D-oh?"

7:28 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

wookiehobbit -

Episode I: Phantom Menace
When the droid gets force pushed by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

I don't know how this turned into "Stump the Nerd", but it's fun!

10:18 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Dang. That's about it for my Star Wars tidbits... Any hope of playing a few rounds of Star Trek 'Stump the Nerd'? I know I'll be really good at that. For example....

Despite the actual order in which the episodes aired, you can tell by looking at William Shatner what order the episodes of any given season of classic Trek were filmed. How? (Oh, and this is one of the easy ones.)

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:17 AM  
Anonymous bellringr said...

aww, did little anonymous get up on the wrong site of the bed this morning?

Sheesh, get a sense of humor already - this is all in fun. :)

10:34 AM  
Anonymous bellringr said...

Dangit! site = side. /me smacks her fingers

10:36 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Let's keep our language PG-rated, please!

(This is why I deleted the comment above.)


9:28 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!

Congratulations, John, you have Stumped the Nerd! Tell him what he wins Bob....

It really annoys me too, because I am a much bigger Trekker than I am a Star Wars geek.

I do have a couple of guesses -

1. Does it have to do with that greenish V-neck uniform he wears later in the series?

2. His hairline?

Anyone else have any guesses?

9:32 PM  
Blogger Han Solo said...

Is John going to come back and tell us the answer? I'm likewise stumped (I'd also guess hairline).

1:34 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I know. I'm wondering myself.

If he had a blogger profile, I'd go on his blog comments and ask him.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator said...

I would guess that it's his gut getting bigger.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous john said...

And Jon takes it! Well done, and sorry I haven't been back to drop off the answer. We're in the middle of a heat wave here, and the comp room is the hottest room in the house.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Afe said...

that's gold.

9:51 PM  
Blogger otvs74skhj said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Helen Louise said...

I thought about this essay recently, whilst having a discussion with a guy who, among other things, set up a program to turn his lights on via his mobile phone. He is possibly the most nerdy person I know. I've no doubt that he knows how to mod a Playstation. "Nerds love things that no one else understands", I thought, as I remembered that this guy's *first* language was Esperanto. He never had a chance; he was born a nerd and will die a nerd. I can't wait to meet someone whose first language is Klingon.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Ben O. said...

The coolest thing about nerds is that no matter how nerdy you get, there is always someone out there that is undoubtedly going to be nerdier than you will ever hope to be.

It is in the Jedi Code, look it up.

Ben O.

4:13 PM  
Blogger kalisekj said...

Hey, I have enjoyed...your blog is informative - even entertaining.

I have a halloween sites. They pretty much covers costumes and masks related stuff.

Thanks again and I'll be sure to bookmark you.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Orthodoxy said...

Re: NinjaNun v. Han Solo,

I always understood the term "geek" to be a class of "nerd". A "nerd" is an intelligent, yet dorky person, regardless of industry (not all nerds are in IT - there are movie nerds and biology nerds as well).

My understanding (altho admittedly not the common understanding) is that generally, a "geek" is "a nerd who gets paid for being a nerd". This is why your company's IT department is composed of computer geeks, not just a bunch of nerds.

Then again, I could be wrong, especially since this definition does not explanation the phenomenon of "the band geek".

10:04 AM  

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