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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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Everybody is shouting

Light Within 3The truly skilled telepath is admired for her or his uncanny ability to listen to the feelings and thoughts of others. At least that is how it works in my imaginary world of x0, in which any old fool can transmit emotions but only the adept can receive them. Clearly I am making an observation about ordinary conversation as well. Listening is an art, and actually understanding what one is hearing is a high level accomplishment. Yes, most of us do spend our non-speaking time figuring out what we are going to say next. But at least in conversation, we pretend to pay attention to others.

Enter the world of social media. There is no question that I love writing my blogs and I love reading the blogs of others, but in my humble opinion the exchanges that take place in the comments sections can hardly be called conversation. They appear to me to mostly consist of (1) you are sooooo right or (2) you are soooo stupid or (3) the ever popular thanks for stopping by and liking my blog. (I’m not going to count the various spam comments that show up every day saying things like “I simply stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to say that I get actually loved account your weblog posts.” Who writes this crap and why?)

Facebook and the various Pinterest/Instagram type spin-offs are largely ways of shouting out what you are doing and what you like and don’t like. Yes, it is entertaining, but no isn’t conversation either. Maybe if we had a few more choices on the “like” button …… you know, emoticon responses of dismay, embarrassment, maybe a wink….. nah, probably a bad idea.

Then there is Twitter. I’ve had an account for years and I every so often I would read tweets on a topic of interest. I hardly ever tweeted anything, however, because I didn’t see the point. Seldom does anyone have a unique take on a subject and usually dozens of people had already said what I thought. I could hashtag all I wanted, but it seemed to me that I was just one more person shouting “Listen to me! I think this!” Shouting isn’t satisfying and it isn’t the way to make friends.

True voice 4Then I became an author. To my own surprise, I discovered that I was as desperate to be read as all the other authors you know. “You’ve got to use Twitter” they told me. Okay, I tried. And I found that all of us are out there, shouting about our wares and running little giveaways trying to snag another 100 followers when we can.That’s nuts. All the people out there shouting advice to authors (and there are a lot of those, too) think it is nuts as well. They say you shouldn’t peddle your books, you should engage socially. That sounds like reasonable advice, but I’ve got a problem with it. I am basically posting tweets to sell my books. It’s the truth and I don’t like pretending otherwise.

I found a solution that works for me, and it was in my first book all along. Act like a telepath. Act like a good one. Every time someone new follows me on Twitter, I now try to read their mind. Not really of course, but I pretend. Who are they and why are they there? If the answer is to sell me something, win a contest, or give me no information, I ignore them. But if they write, or read, or support a cause, or create or otherwise have a voice, I try to listen. I spend a few seconds looking into them online and I try to really hear them. Then, I thank them personally for following me and wish them good fortune with their passion. It gives them a tweet to like and retweet, and it makes me smile when they do.

No, I’m not making friends. Two or three 140 character exchanges does not a friendship make. And no, I’m not selling books from this, because my sales haven’t increased either. However, I am having some interesting exchanges and some fun. This “listening” is good stuff, no matter how it works out. Looks like there are ways to do it everywhere.

(Speaking of listening on social media, please drop by the Facebook pages of The Light Within and Your True Voice and give them a like for the great images above.)

 

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2014 in telepathy, writing

 

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Wearing many hats well

Many hats2We all balance a lot of identities as we make our way through an ordinary day.  I’ve managed girl, nerd, daughter, cook, wife, manager, mother, PTA  president (seriously) and irritable neighbor all in the course of single afternoon. Adding an extra persona like “writer” into my normal mix has challenged me, even more so because it seems to require several distinct pieces of head gear.

There is the wild creative hat that yields stories at traffic lights and helps me type with a manic fury when the ideas just won’t stop coming long after I should have gone to bed. I love that hat, and I wear it whenever I can.

Then there is the careful, tidy little headpiece that I wear when I proofread, edit, rewrite, add links, check everything and check it twice again. What? The font for the chapter five title is twelve not fourteen point? How did this happen? It is a nit picky little hat, but I have to admit that there is a lot of satisfaction to getting something perfect. At least I think it is perfect until the next time I proofread it.

It’s the third writer’s hat that just doesn’t seem to fit me very well. It feels to me like a loud gaudy thing and I hate to put it on. It is the hat of sales. Writers of all sorts, whether they produce self-published works, short stories, or trade novels found in the front racks of brick bookstores, all have to get out there and sell their wares. Fiction is a product. If you want to be read, and I do, then you need to convince people to read your work.

Now that d4 is off to my real editor and I have promised my family and myself that I will pause and breathe before starting the next book, I decided to play with this awkward hat for awhile. I returned to scouring writer’s forums for ideas to increase purchases and I finally let myself take a long hard look at my sales statistics. Yes, this area could use a little more work..

x0_sw final

Click to get x0 for free at Kobo

Turns out I sell books in places I have never heard of. Thanks to my opting in for everything at Smashwords, the ebook distributor I use, I can be found at a cool new online store called Inktera. You can also find me at Scribd, this great new service where for only $8.99/month you can read all the ebooks you want. I have got to get out more.

Even better, I made a list of thirteen new ideas to try to increase the visibility of my books. The first was to do an interview at Smashwords. Please check it out, I think it turned out pretty well. The second was to make my first novel free for awhile, ideally to generate sales of my other books. I decided to give this a try, and you can now grab x0 FOR FREE at Smashwords, or at another surprising site called Kobo.

How is this free thing working out for me? Well, when I posted on my Facebook page that x0 would be free for a short time, 915 people liked it. 915! That is probably a record for me for number of people ever liking anything I have ever done. However, how many have downloaded it? Zero. That’s right. Not one, so far.

As I look at this post, I think I see the problem.  If I was better at wearing that sales hat, this post would have started off with FREE BOOK in big bold letters at the top. Instead I started it out by writing what I thought was more interesting. Oh well, I’ve still got eleven more ideas to go. I’ll try to do better with the next one.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in writing, x0

 

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Weapons for peace

click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

click to like Hippie Peace Freaks

I live in Texas where the very idea of gun laws cause heartburn. We like our guns. My father collected them and my co-workers discuss their firearms in the break room. In the novel x0 my telepathic hero Lola has a gun in her purse and has to consider whether her new powers will render her unable to use it. Guns show up in my next two novels as well.

In spite of the disposition of my home state, and the behaviors of my fictional characters, I am an advocate of reasonable gun regulations.

According to the blog of the Houston Chronicle a state gun law scorecard was released yesterday (Dec. 9) which showed that in the last year 21 states have created or expanded gun laws while 25 other states, including Texas, get F’s for failing to provide the most basic safety restrictions.

This didn’t surprise me, but it prompted me to learn more. Thanks to a website called Texas Gun Laws I found out that in Texas

  • There is no waiting period for purchasing a firearm
  • There is no state registration of guns
  • If you have a concealed handgun license you may carry as many hidden revolvers as you like
  • You can get a CHL now with four hours of instruction and a proficiency exam at a shooting range
  • You can keep a gun loaded and within reach in your car, and a school campus cannot prohibit you from doing so.
  • You may carry a gun while drinking but not while legally drunk
  • Machine guns, suppressors and other assault weapons are perfectly legal
  • There is no limit to the number of rounds the magazine for your gun may hold.
  • Background checks are required by federal law and Texas leads the nation in running them. No check is needed for sales between private citizens or at gun shows
  • Texas averages about ten major gun shows a month
click to like Word Porn

click to like Word Porn

That’s a lot of firepower out there folks, in a lot of inexperienced hands. Additional changes have been proposed to allow concealed weapons to be carried into a bar and into places of worship, and to allow weapons to be holstered so that they are visible.

Accidents happen. Stupid things get done. Tempers flare, people show off, children get curious. Is this sort of world we really want? Not me. I like my heritage and my freedom, but I also like my peace of mind. The idea of a whole lot of barely trained people strutting around with assault weapons does not make me feel safer.

How does one fight the sort of paranoid movement that wants the most dangerous of guns readily available? Luckily there are other kinds of weapons in this world and other ways to fight.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in peace

 

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Like Me?

We refer to it euphemistically as “social networking”, but let’s be more blunt. Facebook has changed the world. Granted it has moved from a universe inhabited by youth to the home of everyone’s great aunt, a storage facility for family photos and a world where pets have their own pages. That doesn’t change the fact that liking and friending are now key concepts for getting along in contemporary society.

It’s also part of modern marketing, and apparently I am well behind the times for not having realized this. Silly me, I was all caught up in the family photo thing.Well I’m proud to say I have now entered the year 2005 and made a Facebook page for my collection of books.You can find it here or by searching for Number 46. Ascending on Facebook.

FB
As I understand it, the object of the game here is to get more and more people to like my page, and as they do they comment on or share things I post and it gets increasingly easier to get even more people (you know, actual strangers) to like me too. It sounds a little like playing Risk or Monopoly. If I get enough momentum going, I take over the world. And maybe after awhile one of these likers even buys a book.
Why wouldn’t you like somebody’s Facebook page? The biggest reason is that you rightly fear getting a deluge of stupid posts from them that clutter up your news feed. It has happened too often to me, and after a few days of junk I most emphatically do NOT like the product, person or page. So obviously this marketing approach requires ongoing thought and courtesy on the part of the poster, or a “now I actually hate you” button provided for the general masses.
In spite of these difficulties, I’d like you to like me. Fear not for your news feed. I am a delicate poster, aware of your sensibilities. I promise to be barely a flutter in your daily Facebook life, and if possible an enjoyable one at that.
So please. Like me. I’ll like you back. 🙂
 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in x0 elsewhere

 

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it grows and grows

4 coversI’m building a world. It’s very much like the world we live in, but the differences are what make it worth visiting. In my special universe, there is a growing number of telepaths, working as agents of empathy. They belong to an organization known as x0, and its members rescue and train others as they work for world peace.

There is also one very unique shape shifter, whose friends each celebrate their own uniqueness in an organization called y1. Meanwhile an aging athlete has formed a group known as z2 for those who are able to slow down time, or who are trying to understand the nature of time better.

Now there is another secret organization, with a power and mission all of its own. Please consider visiting the universe of c3 in late December, and join a teenager from Texas as she comes to terms with a skill set unlike any other.

#SFWApro

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in empathy, my other novels

 

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x0 on 1670 people’s to-read list!

Like most independent writers who have decided to not go the traditional publishing route, I am always looking for effective ways to promote my three novels. I don’t have training in advertising, and in truth I would much rather write than sell. However, if I am going to spend some time trying to get folks to read my books, I would like that time to be as productive as possible.

goodreadsSo far, my best results seem to have come from advertising and doing give-aways on Goodreads.com. After about six months of steady effort, I am happy to see that I now have 77 ratings and 43 reviews (mostly good), and over 2700 different people have selected one or more of my books to go on their shelf of books to be read.

I have been promoting x0 for the longest, and so not surprisingly it has the most reviews and most would-be readers. It’s true that some ratings appear to be random from people who have just joined the site and haven’t read my books and I have no idea why someone would do that. (These people seem to grab about 50 random books all on the same day and often give them all the same rating, be it three stars or five.)

Others, however, have taken the trouble to provide thoughtful reviews with both compliments and criticisms and their efforts are greatly appreciated by this author and hopefully by the possible readers who they help inform.

Check here for news on z2 out in paperback and here for news on y1 making it to the semi-finals of a contest.

 

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in x0 elsewhere

 

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