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The trouble with telepathy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problems with telepathy. Writing about it, understanding it, using technology to develop it, and how humans would respond to it.

My recent fascination was prompted by an article in Popular Mechanics called Brain-to-Brain Communication Is Closer Than You Think. Lest you decide that Popular Mechanics has taken an unexpected new age turn, let me point out that the subtitle of the article is “Don’t call it telepathy, but call it very cool.”

The article describes a successful experiment in which a video game player wearing an electroencephalography cap (which records brain activity) decides when to shoot, and a second player in another room wearing a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil (which emits a focused electrical current) over the part of his brain that controls finger movement, does the actual shooting.

Researcher Chantel Prat at the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences and one of the designers of the experiment cautions that “This is not the X-Men version of telepathy where you hear a disembodied voice. … Whatever shape [this] takes is going to be very different than listening to someone’s thoughts in your head.”

magicYes, it may not be the classic telepathy of fiction, but we are talking about direct brain to brain communication here, aided by modern technology. The article goes on to address possible real life uses including already successful work on adapting a brain-to-machine interface to help paralyzed patients walk by using their brain signals to control prosthetic devices. This is cool, and it is really happening.

It reminded me of an article I read a while back about how neuroscientists have recreated movie clips by looking at a person’s brainwaves. It also reminded me of the waves made by Mark Zuckerberg in 2015 when he wrote “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too.”

He was referring to an advanced form of this sort of brain-to-brain communication, using something like a VR headset to encode brain signals into bits and send them to another person for decoding and playback. You can read more about this in my post Telepathy and Technology, where I quote The Washington Post as responding with “even if Facebook isn’t leading the charge toward telepathy — a worrying concept in itself, given the site’s past indiscretions re: research consent and user privacy — the field poses tons of ethical challenges.” True. Cool things like this tend to have a ton of implications that we haven’t considered.

The second thing to set my synapses firing about mind reading was hearing about Connie Willis’s new book Crosstalk. I haven’t read it yet for a few reasons, one of which is that I’m not that big a fan of her writing based on To Say Nothing of the Dog, her one book I have read. But that was written twenty years ago and it’s time to give this science fiction great another chance.

ganzfeldThen I read an interview with her in Wired. The quote that got me was “Willis does enjoy writing about the paranormal, but as far as she’s concerned it’s pure fiction. For her new novel Crosstalk, a romantic comedy about telepathy, she did extensive research into the history of psychic claims, including the notorious Rhine experiments. ‘I found no evidence at all of actual telepathy,’ she says. ‘I don’t buy it.'”

A lot of people would agree with her. However, I was put off by her tone. How odd to write a book about an ability and yet to harbor no feel for how it could be possible, and no sense of “maybe, if ….” to help bring the magic to life. I probably will read Crosstalk eventually, but now I’m in less of a hurry to do so.

However, Ms. Willis does make an interesting observation in the interview. She says “Let’s say telepathy became the norm … the first thing that people would begin to do would be to attempt to stop that, for themselves at least. They would try to build barriers, mental barriers or physical barriers—I don’t know, tinfoil hats maybe or something—that would prevent other people from being able to read their thoughts … I don’t think most relationships could survive if you knew virtually everything that flitted through the head of your partner.” Good point, In fact, a very good point.

And this brings me to the third reason why telepathy is heavy on my mind these days. I’m finishing a book of my own, the sixth book in 46. Ascending, and it is revisiting my hero Lola and her organization of telepaths. Obviously new problems have arisen, including the discovery of non-empathic telepaths, once thought to be impossible. As my heroes and villains go to increasing lengths to keep each other out of their heads, I’m forced to confront just how difficult day-to-day life would be in a world where telepathy is common. It’s forced me to revisit my own world-building, and to better define my own fictional ideas about what telepathy is.

I’ve had to conclude that while technologically aided brain-to-brain communication is cool, is likely, and poses dangers, it is not what I am writing about. I’m also trying not to write about X-men style sentences popping unbidden into the heads of others. Rather, I’m playing with the idea of extreme empathy. I postulate emotional connections between skilled receivers that enable the exchange of ideas without words or machines, and I’m having some fun finding the charms and the limits of my particular theories.

Do I believe in them? I tell people that I’m a scientist first, and a writer of science fiction second. To me, being a scientist means believing that any thing is possible. It also means knowing that while many things are highly improbable, the universe has a way of surprising us, no matter how much we think we already know.

 

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2017 in telepathy, writing

 

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A mind traveling 16-year-old seeks her kidnapped friends.

My 4th novel is out on Kindle today! Please check out Teddie’s story here at Amazon and share it with others if you enjoy it.

c3 cover smallc3 Synopsis:

Teddie’s life as a sixteen year old hasn’t always been easy, but nothing has prepared her for the unexpected dangers she encounters as an exchange student in Darjeeling. A frightening world in which young girls are bartered and sold stretches its icy fingers into the beautiful resort town and touches her friends one by one.

Terrified, Teddie finds that her own mind develops a unique ability for locating her friends and that an ancient group of mind travelers is willing to train her to use her new skill to save these girls. It will require trust in ideas she barely believes, and more courage than has ever been expected of her. When it becomes clear that the alternative is her friends’ deaths and the unchecked growth of an evil crime lord’s empire, Teddie accepts the challenge and shows those guilty of unspeakable crimes just how powerful a young woman can be.

c3 is part of 46. Ascending, my collection of loosely interrelated novels about five very different family members who each discover that they can do the extraordinary when circumstances require it. I have designed these books to be read as stand alone stories or in any order.

If you enjoy c3, consider z2, the tale of Teddie’s father as he learns to use his ability to warp time to protect Teddie and her friends against a threat from a white supremacy movement at Teddie’s high school, available here. You may also enjoy y1, the story of Teddie’s brother Zane as he develops an odd ability to alter his appearance. You can get it here. Of course please check out x0, the subject of this blog and the story of Teddie’s telepathic mother as she finds herself the unlikely hero in a rescue mission in Nigeria.

c3 is out on on Kindle starting today (January 31, 2014). It will be available in paperback and in other electronic bookstores early this summer.

Also, check out my new blog for c3 here. Not only will I feature fun tidbits about the book and information about giveaways, but I will also be blogging about the struggles faced by real life young women the world over, and be telling stories of the true heroes amongst them.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2014 in my other novels, writing

 

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What if?

What if you could do far more than you realize?  What if you could do things that others would consider z2 cover impossible?

The collection of books called 46. Ascending asks this question as five very different members of a family each discover that they respond to danger by developing skills that appear to defy logic. The next novel in the collection will be released on Amazon in late January.

Meet Alex Zeitman.  An injury ended his hopeful basketball career decades ago and today he coaches, teaches physics, and parents three talented quirky children alongside his rather odd wife Lola. His country school has a long history with organized hate groups and a sad tradition of bigotry, and the recent influx of Latino immigrants has brought out new intolerance. But when the administration itself looks like it wants to turn the clock backwards to an era of white supremacy, Alex can no longer sit idle.

Then an old friend from his own high school days reappears along with an ancient Mayan mystery that Alex can help solve, and suddenly Alex has his hands full. The past and present  intertwine as both sets of issues force Alex to come to terms with the time altering talents that he thought that he left behind years ago on a basketball court.  As he and his family find themselves in danger, Alex struggles to regain his unique relationship with time before legacies from long ago  harm those he loves, and before his own era loses a rare opportunity to bridge the past and the future.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2012 in my other novels

 

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Doing a little publicity for 46. Ascending

What do you think? Any suggestions? I’m pretty excited about the the new z2 cover.

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in my other novels

 

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Chain letters for authors

People love chain letters for some reason, and last week fantasy author Jaq Hawkins tagged someone in a chain post. Her blog does look cool and you can find it here. The person that she tagged, supernatural thriller author Michael Brookes,  then had to answer the same set of questions here. And he tagged me. Who am I tagging? Luckily I found two people with seriously interesting blogs. Please meet:

Fantasy author Brian Rush (check out his blog here)  and hard core science fiction author Rob Lopez (check out his blog here)

My answers are below.

What is the title of your next book?  My next book is called z2

Where did the idea come from for the book?  It is part of a six book collection involving a family with mild superpowers.  This one advances the story of telepathic mom, and shape shifting older son, while introducing a dad who has a sort of special relationship with time.

What genre does your book fall under?  It’s a sub-genre called “magical realism”. The best way to explain it, I think, is that things happen that would be considered magic in a fantasy book but here they are explained as scientifically possible.  I reluctantly call it science fiction when I have to choose a major genre.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I don’t see these particular novels as a movies. Too many subplots.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  By book three I’ve fallen into a pretty good pattern.  A month of research, four months to write, then a month of  basic first pass editing to get it to a draft I’ll show to someone else.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? It’s not quite like anything I’ve ever read, and I like that.  But it kind of vaguely reminds me of the Clan of the Cave Bear Series, or The Mists of Avalon. Sort of real and sort of not.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I love to travel, and each book partially takes place in a location very different from my home in Texas.  In response to other readers who are curious about the far-away, each book has a couple of dozen live links that lead to more information about books location, subject matter, and even to the music that the characters listen to. I guess you could say that each book has a sound track that reflects its main character.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2012 in writing

 

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write about what you do, or what you wish you were doing?

The hero of my first novel, x0, spends her days largely doing what I do. She interprets seismic data for an oil company, loves her husband and three children, plants flowers and loves to travel.  Okay, she also spends a little time reading minds, but basically she and I both have similar lives.  It’s a very nice existence, but it’s not the only one I find appealing.

y1, the second novel in this collection, takes place largely on a sailboat in the Pacific.  Have I been there? Barely. Do I sail? Not really. But I did wake up one morning about twenty years ago filled with a fire to sail around the world. It came out of nowhere and there was no explaining it.  I had to do it. When I wouldn’t stop talking about it, my family finally bought me sailing lessons.  Looked at maps with me.  Agreed that it could happen. Then slowly it became apparent that my husband could think of few things he would rather do less.  He hates being confined on anything, gets seasick, yearns to run around playing any sport involving a ball.  My children were growing up and their wasn’t a budding sailor among them. I had to face the fact that while I could still do this thing, it would be years spent on a solo venture, far removed from all those I loved.

And then I discovered a secret.  That’s what my writing was for. Those of us who create stories are blessed with the chance to enjoy alternate existences that would come at too high a price in our real lives.  Conventional wisdom says that you should write about the things you know. That makes a certain amount of sense.  However, writing a novel takes a tremendous amount of research, thought, planning and plain old day dreaming. Why not use that energy to enter a world you barely know but yearn for? y1 let me learn to sail well, let me hear the sounds of the gulls  and feel the thunk of the waves hitting my boat. I woke to the smell of salt air, ate cold canned goods when I was too tired to cook, studied navigation charts and planned my routes.  It was a wonderful year at sea, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And, just like my hopeful readers who might also enjoy sailing around paradise, I never had to leave my front porch.  That’s is what books are for.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2012 in writing

 

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Please enter the world of y1

AImage new blog devoted to the second novel in this collection has gone live and will be adding content over the next few months. Check it out here. I’m very excited about developing it!  As always, your comments and suggestions are most welcome.

The preliminary cover is shown on the right. If you’re already in the mood to offer an opinion, feel free to weigh on whether the cover should feature one chameleon (the book is about being unique) or two (it would be so nice to match the cover of the first book).  Other thoughts are welcome as well.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in my other novels

 

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