Jun 12, 2013

Slow Science Fiction

cover design
I've been agonizing over the subconscious telepathic experiences of Gohrlay, a Neanderthal who lives on the Moon. At the start of The Foundations of Eternity, Gohrlay is haunted by the idea that her orbho assistant Nan can "read her mind" using telepathy.

What if some people suddenly attained a new "mental ability" like telepathy? Isaac Asimov explored that theme in both Nemesis and Forward the Foundation.

In The Slowers (, Joski Cottee imagines that a form of "mental time travel" suddenly appears in the human population. Spoilers follow, so stop here and read The Slowers before reading the next section of this blog post or skip ahead to the following section.


    - spoilers -


The Science of Slowing
Several decades ago I read a story in which two lovers found that they were able to slow the flow of time whenever their bodies were touching...that is, time slowed for everyone except them!

In The Slowers, Cottee presents readers with the idea that some special people, "Slowers", have the ability to mentally live in the past and, "time spent in a Slow, goes a lot slower than the actual ‘real-time’ used". For a Slower, 15 minutes of daydreaming in the present might provide enough "cognitive time" for a Slow that includes all of the rich experience encompassing an entire rock concert of the past. Is it ironic that Slowers have faster cognition than the rest of us?

Cottee writes: "Slowers want a longer more meaningful life experience and nature has provided them with the means to make this possible,"  and: "Slowers, as we know, use their daydreams to visit events from the past."

Just exactly how does the phenomenon of Slowing suddenly arise? I'm not sure that we are supposed to ask this question, but in Chapter 8 of The Slowers we are told: "it is thought that it was the fast pace of life and density of information, as well as the impact of nutritional changes and certain environmental chemicals, that encouraged this development of the human brain".

Cottee introduces a type of "inertia for time" that reminds me of how Asimov envisioned the course of events in Time naturally resisting changes. In their daydreams, run-of-the-mill Slowers can interact with people in the past, but Time automatically "heals itself" and the future is never changed.

After the first few Slowers appear, the number of Slowers in the world just keeps increasing. Maybe Sheldrake could explain that.

In Chapter 2 of The Slowers, Dr. Gansoni experiences something like a Reality Change. Readers learn that in addition to run-of-the-mill Slowers who can only watch the past, there are "Super Slowers" who, while visiting the past, can change the course of time.

Reality Changes
The End of Eternity
In Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity, the Eternals could watch Reality Changes take place either from within the protected spacetime bubble of Eternity or by having themselves protected by a personal "temporal generator" which if worn while in Time, would protect you from the effects of a Reality Change.

Super Slowers
Apparently the Super Slowers have no such protection: can they change their own past and eliminate themselves from Reality?

Why is Dr. Gansoni able to notice when the past is changed?

How do the secretive folks at the research facilities of the mysterious Cansiis (operating as an offshore corporate entity only registered in the "Free Alaskan State") detect ripples in time caused by Super Slowers? Apparently by taking advantage of the fact that "magnetic centrifuges running at very high velocities" can create something like Asimov's Eternity, a bubble outside of normal Time.

In The End of Eternity, even the Eternals did not seem to understand the science and technology that made time travel possible. I like to imagine that it was positronic robots who invented time travel and those robots simply provided humans with access to the technology. Eventually, the robots realized that time travel is a trap: if humans are allowed to use time travel technology then they eventually manage to cause the extinction of the human species.

Gohrlay and morphic resonance
Don't ask me to explain Sheldrake's concept of "morphic resonance". However, in my own selfish way I like to use that term in the context of conceptualizing my own fictional scientific account of how telepathy might be possible. I like to imagine that two brains with similar structures and activity patterns can more easily develop "T-particle resonance" and achieve telepathic communication.
T-particles can move between two locations (for example, the Sun and a brain) by conventional propagation through normal space, and have been shown to be a normal component of the ultrafast solar wind, moving much slower than the speed of light. However, T-particles (and virtual T-particles) can also interact by absorbing and releasing ultrarelativistic twitinos that can propagate through compact dimensions, allowing very rapid transfers of information over long distances. Such telepathic information transfer depends on twitino resonance between arrays of T-particles in two telepathically coupled brains, which can be mediated by telastids (see below).

T-particles can exist in different energy states. Large numbers of both Band I and Band II solar T-particles reach the Earth. Band III solar T-particles almost all decay to lower energy states before they reach the Earth. This makes Band III particularly useful for human telepathy. The Antenna/Reaction Center 2 of Type B telastids specifically detects Band III T-particles.
When high energy T-particles convert to lower energy T-particle states there is release of two paired twitinos. Similarly, pairs of twitinos that "resonate" can combine with a low energy T-particle and boost it to a higher energy state. Type C telastids use twitino resonance to allow for conscious telepathic communication of language-like information.

Animals on Earth originally had a simple capacity to detect T-particles coming from the Sun. The basic sensory receptor (a modified neuron) contained telastids, a type of organelle that is able to convert Band II solar T-particles to Band I T-particles and capture the released energy as useful chemical energy that can modulate neuronal activity. This original sensitivity for T-particles allowed animals to sense the location of the Sun and make use of that sensation for orientation in their environment. In more complex brains, T-particle receptor cells were linked into complex neural networks that allowed processing of telepathic signals from other brains, signals that were useful for social cohesion, but almost exclusively among highly social apex predators.

An interesting feature of telepathic communication as depicted by Asimov in Foundation and Earth is that telepathy between elements of the forming Galaxia was not restricted by distance. When T-particles (and virtual T-particles) interact by exchanging ultrarelativistic twitinos then a signal can propagate through compact dimensions, allowing very rapid transfers of information over long distances. Long range language-like telepathic information transfer depends on twitino resonance between arrays of T-particles in two telepathically coupled brains (see Type C telastids, below).

Telastids are central to the biological mechanism of telepathy in humans. Telastids are a type of organelle that is structurally similar to mitochondria. They originated by endosymbiosis. The original free-living precursor organism obtained energy by efficiently catalyzing the conversion of Band II solar T-particles to Band I T-particles. These organisms had Antenna/Reaction Complex 1, but they all became extinct when molecular oxygen levels became high on Earth. A T-particle Antenna/Reaction Complex has a precise and unusual molecular configuration which can catalyze changes in T-particle energy level. Of critical importance for The Foundations of Eternity, positronic brain circuits can also efficiently interact with T-particles. Three types of telastids can be found inside humans:

Type A. They retain a rudimentary capacity to detect solar radiation, but they have been evolutionarily modified to specialize for using chemical energy to facilitate the boosting of Band II solar T-particles to the Band III energy level (see the diagram, above). This conversion of Band II T-particles to Band III T-particles is used to allow unconscious exchanges of T-particles between humans for creating social cohesion and allowing for assessment of fitness. This capacity for Band III T-particle production evolved in parallel with Type B telastids. The capacity for solar radiation detection depends on a rudimentary form of twitino resonance by which solar twitinos modulate the rate of Band III T-particle production. Most of the Band III T-particles produced are on the edge of the band and they quickly fall back to the Band II energy range with the release of a pair of twitinos. In Neanderthals, neurons in Broca's area heavily express these telastids so that some individuals could subconsciously transmit twitinos carrying language-like information. Such transmissions from Gohrlay to R. Gohrlay allowed the positronic robots to learn that the orbho were created by the Huaoshy.

Type B. These have Antenna/Reaction Complex 2 (A/RC2, see diagram to the right) which is specialized for interacting with Band III T-particles. They allow social mammals to detect Band III T-particles produced by other animals. These telastids are only expressed in neurons that cannot directly contribute to conscious brain activity. In humans, telepathic signals received by Type B telastid are used unconsciously to promote social cohesion and allow assessment of fitness.

Type C. These were created by genetic engineering, starting from Type A telastids. This genetic engineering was achieved by positronic robots and Type C telastids became particularly important during their 20,000 year-long project to create Galaxia. These telastids were designed to be expressed in Wernicke's area and allow for conscious telepathic communication of language-like information.

Humans with Type C telastid-mediated telepathy were mostly involved in the Galaxia project, but some were also used to launch the Second Foundation. Type C telastids were designed to use twitino resonance for the production of Band III T-particles. As shown in the diagram (to the right) the required twitino resonance involves matched patterns of twitino production by two telepathic brains.

There are two important kinds of telastid mutations:

T-particles in The Search for Kalid
Loss of function mutants. There is an important class of loss of function mutations that prevents Type A telastids from using chemical energy to generate Band III T-particles. In some cases, the mutation only prevents Typa A telastids from being expressed by neurons in Broca's area. People who have these mutations are "pure telepathic sensitives" with no ability to consciously transmit language-like telepathic signals.

Gain of function mutants. Some humans have mutations that allow their Type C telastids to produce Band III T-particles by means of twitino resonance between solar twitinos and twitinos that they generate with their Type A telastids. Almost always these mutants have lost the ability to control where their Type C telastids are expressed, so most of their T-particle production does not reflect their conscious brain activity. Such mutants can often produce very large numbers of T-particles. These mutants played an important role in the history of telepathy. For thousands of years the high levels of T-particle production by some modern humans played a role in the spread of Homo sapiens across Earth and the rapid displacement of Neanderthal populations. High levels of unconscious T-particle production disrupt the ability of telepathic minds to efficiently communicate language-like information. Only when these mutants are “silenced” can true telepaths have a chance to develop their telapathic skills.

Gohrlay contemplates positronic brains.
As a Neanderthal, Gohrlay had high levels of telastids and a capacity for subconscious telepathic communication. Gohrlay was specifically selected by Orbho Anagro as a clone of a previously well-studied Observer Base resident who displayed efficient interactions with the type of nanites that were used by the orbho to erase human memories. Anagro's choice unwittingly led to the first positronic brain having a high capacity for telepathy

The Foundations of Eternity
The Huaoshy were well aware of the existence of "T-particles", but until the positronic robots of Earth discovered their utility for telepathy the Huaoshy believed that T-particles were a rather uninteresting type of hierion. After the Huaoshy performed dimensional engineering in order to make faster-than-light space travel possible, T-particles became sensitive to a fundamental asymmetry by which positrons could allow for sophisticated quantum computational decoding of the information content of T-particle-based signals.

When Orbho Anagro was studying the human capacity for inventing and using tools, a small group of human scientists was established on the Moon. Anagro did not allow the humans to develop electronics and nanorobotics, but even Anagro was intrigued when the humans started advancing the new discipline of positronics.

When human research into positronic brains stalled, Anagro pushed that research project to completion. It was an accidental discovery when R. Gohrlay found that positronic brains are particularly well suited for manipulating T-particles. The consequences of that discovery, including how it leads to the invention of time travel, are explored in The Foundations of Eternity and Exode.

Slow Science Fiction
One of the first science fiction stories I ever read was The Skylark of Space. The story of how Dick Seaton invents space travel is what might be called "fast science fiction": the hero makes a dramatic technological advance with very little effort. Such fast-paced and startling scientific and technological advances are popular in science fiction. Readers would get bored if they had to slog through the complete story of how thousands of people developed space travel technology over the course of many decades.

I've always been embarrassed by "fast science fiction" because it is not true to the way science really works. That embarrassment has played an important role in my gravitation towards stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. In such stories the god-like Huaoshy have been around for about a billion years. If the plot of a story calls for a sudden scientific discovery or burst of technological progress then we can always arrange for some "cultural contamination" and let the critical knowledge leak from the the top down, in the direction from the scientifically advanced Huaoshy to the primitive yet heroic human protagonist (hooray!).

If "fast science fiction" depicts the pace of science and technological progress as being unreasonably quick, then what is "slow science fiction"? Here are some examples: 1) Jack Vance speculating about the evolution of humans over the course of 50,000 years, 2) Arthur Clarke suggesting that aliens altered the course of primate evolution millions of years ago, and 3) Isaac Asimov depicting the 20,000 year-long development of Galaxia by R. Daneel.

One of the great changes that has come with the development of science is recognition of the vast sweep of human evolution. Slow science fiction stories respect the idea that human behavior has evolved over the course of millions of years.

Many fantasy stories involve amazing "mutations" that suddenly create a "superhero" with super-human behavioral capacity. What about the appearance of "Slowers"? Has Cottee provided readers with a scientific foundation for The Slowers or are readers invited into a fantasy?

For many people it doesn't matter, as long as they enjoy the story. Just say "mutant" and switch off your brain...and get on with the romp.

Moon Hammer
As a "hard science fiction" fan, I'm still struggling to expand my interests and learn to appreciate genres such as horror and fantasy. In Alan Marling's list of 10 reasons why people like fantasy as a genre, only #3, magic, is a problem for me. All of the others (including imagination, escape, wonder, freedom, adventure, and fun) are also part of other types of fiction. In his novel Contact, Carl Sagan described aliens who shared the human desire to experience "the numinous".

Also on Marling's list is "limitless possibilities". By Clarke's third law, science fiction stories can always use imagined advanced technology to move stories past limits and introduce what seems like magic to the ignorant primitives. For me, there is a quantum leap between belief in magic and the existence of a mystery that seems magical. Marling says that he'd like to have magical powers.

Exode fantasy
I'm "fantasy blind" in the sense that I can't kick back and enjoy a story that involves a magical or supernatural force. For me, "nature" is everything that exists. We can all imagine nonexistent things and supernatural forces, but from my personal perspective I'm baffled by the prospect of trying to build a coherent story around magical plot elements that are not constrained by reality. When I gaze upon other people's fantasies I become distracted by the lack of rules and I can't generate any interest in the story.

Yes, I like the limits that are imposed by reality. In particular, I like the fact that as humans we can find ourselves to be ignorant of how reality works, but by study and hard work it is possible to figure out nature.

by Sebastian Grzyw
For me, this is the most important part of being human: we can figure out the rules, we can participate in the process by which the universe becomes self-aware. From my perspective, the fantasy genre throws away the importance of science and the anchor of reality....and I want those things.

John in Fantasyland
So, I'm still in search of a way that I can position myself where I want to write a fantasy story. As a start, I admit that I enjoyed reading Perfectly Formal, a story within Asimov's short story Cal. Surely I can write a fantasy story within the story Exode.

Thomas becomes acquainted with Isaac Asimov and his wife, Janet. Thomas is a science fiction writer, but he writes a fantasy story that will attract the attention of Parthney. 

When I was young I tried reading one of Asimov's Lucky Starr novels...I don't remember which one: Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids, Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn...

Asimov wrote those novels under the pen name "Paul French". Similarly, Thomas publishes his fantasy novel using the name Saul Greek. The title is: Daveed the Luk'ie and the Humans of Earth.

"Daveed the Luk'ie" is inspired by the names David 'Lucky' Starr and Daneel. Luk'ru is the name of the planet in the Andromeda galaxy where the humanoid Kac'hin were developed and trained for their mission to Earth.

When Asimov is on the Moon he meets Captain Hooski, the Kac'hin who commands Many Sails during the mission to Earth.

When Asimov travels back in time, he helps Hooski defeat the positronic robots who took control of Earth. With that mission complete, there were then two Asimovs on Earth: the younger Asimov and the older Asimov who traveled into his own past.

The older Asimov uses alien nanites to disguise himself as John Campbell. Later, when Noÿs Lambent takes her son Thomas to meet with "Campbell", all hell breaks lose. The alien nanites from "Campbell" end up inside Thomas, so he becomes aware of the fact that aliens have long been visiting Earth. Thomas writes Daveed the Luk'ie and the Humans of Earth as a fantasy account of Hooski's mission to Earth.

2014 non-review
When Parthney realizes that the "undead Oshy" are the Huaoshy, he suspects that "Saul Greek" is one of Asimov's pen names and that somehow Asimov knows about the alien Huaoshy.

2014 non-review: human-alien hybrids, oh, my!

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