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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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Wise and quiet

Days aren’t what they used to be. About a year ago, I did the math and decided that If really wanted to, I could retire. I was a little young to do so, and of course one can always use the extra money from working longer. But my husband, who is a few years older, was a retired teacher already and I was discovering that being employed is harder when your spouse no longer is. Besides, I have this crazy dream of writing more speculative fiction, much more speculative fiction in fact, and I was beginning to realize that was only going to happen if I didn’t have to go into an office every day and try to figure out seismic signals bouncing up from the earth. I was ready to be an early retiree.

Psychedelic 13So I gave my notice at work, and we sold our house and moved, and I woke up in a strange new place with boxes everywhere and spent about a whole month unpacking and tying to get my arms around what sort of life I now had. All my reference points were gone, and I was far too discombobulated to post a blog, much less to write fiction. Hell, I could hardly sleep or eat. In spite of a fair amount of careful planning, this was not the dream life for which I had hoped. Nothing, other than the slowly shrinking mess of boxes, was wrong. But nothing was right either and I didn’t even know why.

Something deep inside us knows what we need. Apparently, I needed yoga. I already have a little daily qigong routine I do, and that practice helped keep me grounded through the house sale and the move. But once I arrived in a strange place and found myself with no job and no schedule, I seem to have overloaded my circuits well beyond what my solitary qigong sessions could handle. So I spontaneously signed up for a monthly all-the-yoga-classes-you-care-to-attend program in the small town that is my new home, and it probably saved my sanity.

wise and quietIt got me to breathe slowly. It got me to sit with other people who were breathing slowly. It gave me a reason to bathe and go into town and know what time it was. And, thanks to several wonderful instructors, it gave me bits of wisdom to ponder.

When I wrote x0 four years ago, I had very little idea about how to write a novel. I only knew that I was compelled to tell this story, the tale of two women who shared a special gift. In the world of x0, everyone broadcasts their emotions all the time. Only the gifted can receive that information. Only the very gifted become telepaths, because they are the ones who have the rare ability to listen well. My two heroes were gifted because they knew how to listen.

During a yoga class last week, the instructor encouraged us to be wise enough to listen to our inner selves, and to let our minds be quiet enough to hear. I decided right there on my yoga mat that this advice needed to be carried further. I needed to be wise enough to listen in general, and quiet enough to hear that which was worth hearing. I was overcome with believing that this wonderful advice was good for writers, good for would-be telepaths, good for yogis and very good for newly retired people. In fact, it is probably wonderful advice for everyone.

For one thing, if you listen, you will hear what you need to hear. Like in my case, when I heard that I needed to listen more.

(For more thoughts on retiring early and pursuing a dream, see my posts If you’re going to be an old car, Am I a Shape Shifter Now? and Greener Grass.)

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2015 in telepathy, writing

 

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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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Seeing as how you’re going to have a little wire running into your brain anyway ….

One of the problems of writing speculative fiction, I suppose, is that reality has a way of getting weirder than the stuff you make up. So I’m going on about how amazing telepathy would be and how it would work ……. and then ….

glasses1. My son sends me this link to check out google glass …. a technology he describes as both fascinating and frightening.  No question he has a point.  In the end, why bother with the glasses? He may be squeamish about having an implant in his head someday, but I bet that the generation that comes after him by and large won’t be. More entertainment and information faster, brighter and better?  I think we’ve already proved as a species how we respond to that.

2. My news feed (yes I embrace all this better brighter information too, although I think in the end I do refuse the implant) just threw up a story in Science about lab rats who have successfully had their brains wired together.  What one rats learns can be transmitted by direct wire to the other.  Turns out that the other rat listens better if he gets a treat for doing so (big surprise) but basically they can communicate pretty well with what the researchers call a BTBI (brain to brain interface).

ratNot a big step to set these rats up with little wireless transmitters, is it? Then they can walk around talking to each other like all those obnoxious people in the grocery store checking in with their wives to see if they should get 1% or 2% milk.  Only there are no vocal chords involved. One rat learns something and sends it straight to the others brain  It’s like …. it’s like …. yes folks, we have telepathy.  If we’re lucky, it can use the same implant that’s giving us that wonderful feed from Google.

At least the dairy aisle in the grocery store will be a little quieter. It could be an improvement over cell phones.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in telepathy

 

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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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Come take a Journey to Light

Fellow indie author and kindred spirit Bob Craton has written a fascinating trilogy about four pacifists who must join forces to save their world from a brutal empire. I enjoyed the first novel in his series recently, and below I share the synopsis and Bob’s bio with you.

Journey to Light: Part I of The High Duties of Pàçia: Imagine a world populated with the entire spectrum of humanity. Good people, ordinary citizens of small cities, fear attack from brutal and powerful men called the Zafiri. Great Cities are divided between the decadence and splendor of the wealthy and the deprivation and squalor of the poor. An organization of women known as the Sistéria is widely known but little understood. Its members have the talent to use ‘effect,’ the ability the read and control the emotions of others, and sometimes to have prescient visions of the future. And people in Pàçia, a land with an ancient history set apart from the rest of the world, were once gentle, kind and peaceful. Their leaders did not have the power to rule or command; instead they had duties to fulfill – High Duties which for millennia helped make the world a better place. That is, until twelve years earlier when the Zafiri invaded Pàçia with a massive army, capturing the beautiful city Abbelôn and crushing the gentle people. Now the rest of the world is threatened by more war and destruction.

Then an extraordinary young woman named Sistére Graice crosses paths with a man unlike any she has met before. Her ‘effect,’ which has always worked on everyone else, has no power over him. Known only as Holder, the man has no memory and doesn’t know his own identity. Graice’s mentor Sybille hires him as a guide for a journey she and Graice must make, partly so they can keep him close until they discover his secret. As they travel, Graice tries to help Holder recover his memory. While he is in a drugged sleep, she ‘sees’ into his mind and discovers small fragments of past events, all involving a beautiful golden-haired woman. When he wakes, Holder still does not remember these scenes but Graice gains clues about his identity. The women now know who he is (or was) but do not tell him. He must remember on his own for the recovery to succeed.

In the backwaters of the land meanwhile, a boy age thirteen travels with his aunt (his sole surviving relative) hiding from enemy spies by moving constantly and using false names and disguises. When he complains that he knows nothing about his parents, she reveals his family name and bits of its history. It’s and old and honored lineage. Later, she gives him an amulet and implies he will wear it someday. It’s an Emblem of High Duty, she says. His grandfather and mother had held two of the three High Duties before they died.

A girl named Caelia, also thirteen, hides from the same enemy. She lives with her parents and many other refugees in a cavern where her father searches for secrets of the Anziên people, a civilization which collapsed 3,500 years earlier. Named after a legendary heroine from antiquity, Caelia is unusually bright and mature for her age and her shining red-gold hair sets her apart. Girls with that hair color are born once in a millennium, people say, and everyone in the community loves Caelia. At this point, however, even the girl herself does not know why they do. When she wants to leave the cave on an adventure, everybody objects but no one can say no to her. She gets her way and departs with a trading expedition.

Along their separate paths, Graice and Holder are attacked by a monstrous creature; outlaws kidnap Caelia and drag her into a forest wilderness; and enemy soldiers close in on the boy, causing him to flee for his life. Not only do all survive but the encounters also reveal hidden secrets. The story continues in Return of the High Protector: Part II of the High Duties of Pàçia.

Biography of the Author

When he was a child, Bob Craton’s teachers often remarked (not always favorably) about his day-dreaming. He spent much of his time lost in his own imagination, often creating elaborate elementary school tall-tales, and the habit never went away as he grew up. Coming of age in the 1960s filled his head with dreams of saving the world and having a career in academia. Then the real world closed in. With a family to support, he took a job at the corporate grindstone, just temporarily until he could get back to grad school and earn the PhD he desired. Somehow ‘temporarily’ turned into thirty-three years of stress and boredom but he kept entertaining himself by creating stories inside his head. Interestingly (well, he hopes it’s interesting anyway), his best ideas came to him while he was stuck in rush-hour traffic during his daily commute.

At age fifty-seven, he retired early (a euphemism for ‘got laid off) and had time to put his tales on ‘paper’ (an ancient product now replaced by digital electronics). The ideas in his head were all visual, like scenes from a movie, and as began writing, he learned to translate visual into verbal and improve his skills. Or at least, that’s what he says. He admits that sometimes minor characters – or some who weren’t included in the original plan at all – demand attention. Frequently, he agrees with them and expands their roles. Many people believe he is bonkers for believing that fictional characters talk to him, but he calls it creativity and remains unrepentant.

If you are interested in reading this book it can be found here at Smashwords and here at Amazon.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in other authors

 

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Seeking Kindred Spirits

Face Painting for World Peace (the official blog of the novel x0) is seeking other indie authors of speculative fiction to feature on this blog.  If you know someone who has written or is writing a novel, whatever the subject matter or style, pass this link along and ask them to contact me. They may be a kindred spirit!

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2012 in other authors

 

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