Jan 4, 2014

True Science Fiction

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For me, "true fiction" is an inherently fun concept because it thrusts upon us a paradoxical juxtaposition of opposites. Fiction is supposed to involve stories that were invented in our imaginations, stories that are not real. In contrast, truth is the domain of the real. There must always be connections between reality and fictional stories, but can there be true fiction?

Human brains are devices that record the true stories of our lives. If your brain does a good job then you are provided by your memories with a true account of the world of your past experiences. If your brain is functioning efficiently then you will be able to make use of your memories to help successfully guide you through future challenges in the world.

If our brains evolved to be "truth recording machines", then why do we enjoy fiction? Isn't there a risk to our survival when we can imagine lies and fiction? What keeps us from slipping into fantasy worlds of our imagination, self-inflicted traps where we lose touch with reality?

True History
Note: I am not trying to make the sort of distinction that Lucian made in his True History (included here). The true fiction that I am discussing here is "truly fiction" in Lucian's sense, but it arises from an intellectual game in which the reader is asked to participate in a game of "what if?": what if this were true?

Paradoxically, for our survival in the world our brains must function as truth machines, but at the same time it can be useful to have a creative imagination. The human condition has been defined by ignorance: in the absence of reliable knowledge about the world, humans often must imagine a path into the future and hope for the best. As social primates, we can imagine how to influence other people and make plans for how to talk them into cooperating with us. Recognizing when we don't understand the world and then thinking creatively is our path to discovery of hidden truths.

I don't know, therefore I hypothesize.

fact or fiction? image source
Shades of Gray
There will always be a fuzzy boundary between fiction and nonfiction. Some writers joyously take on the task of exploring that boundary rather than comfortably settling into the role of being a writer of "obvious fiction".

Some science fiction stories deal intimately with the question: how do we know what is real, particularly in modern times when reliable knowledge about the universe is increasing so rapidly?

Isaac Asimov
Here is a quote from Asimov: "SF is the branch of literature which deals with the response of human beings to changes in the level of science and technology". As we humans increasingly make use of science and technology to better understand the true nature of the world, how does our civilization change and respond to "new truths" revealed by our scientific study of reality?

Are there times when new ideas seem so strange, so contrary to past beliefs, that the new truths seem like fiction or can only enter into human culture if first presented to us as fiction?

the mystery of human origins
The Exode Trilogy
My current science fictional obsession is the Exode Trilogy which is a rather twisted tale about human nature and the origin of our species. We humans have always been intrigued by the puzzle of our origins. During the past few centuries a scientific understanding of the universe and human origins has been constructed. Previously, various pre-scientific cultures invented "creation stories" that often involved imagined divine intervention.

image source
One particular creation story that greatly influenced Western Civilization involved a deity that created humans from scratch. Based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, some people have imagined that humans were created just a few thousand years ago. However, scientific evidence indicated that we humans evolved by natural processes from other primate species that were part of a great chain of life forms stretching back billions of years into the past of our planet. The universe is much older than people like Bishop Usshur ever imagined.

From our modern scientific perspective, we can understand that "creation myths" from our past were fictions, imagined stories about human origins. That some people have made prodigious efforts to defend those myths as truth is an interesting illustration of how fiction can take control of our minds and distance us from a true understanding of reality.

Erich Anton Paul von Däniken
Of course, our current science-based creation stories are still incomplete. Millions of working scientists daily continue with the task of improving our understanding of who we are and how our species fits into the universe. The Exode Trilogy plays with the idea that our current scientific world view is fundamentally incomplete. In particular, The Exode Trilogy explores the idea that we humans were created, not by divine intervention, but by "space aliens" who arrived at Earth 7,000,000 years ago and who then started "domesticating" primates. The Exode Trilogy plays with the idea that we humans are the result of that alien influence.

a Kac'hin hermaphrodite
True Fiction
The Exode Trilogy asks: what would happen if a few Earthlings finally began to obtain objective evidence that the human species was created, that we did not evolve spontaneously by natural selection?

In my previous blog post I explored the idea that one of the "Atlantis clones" might write a "fictional" account of the Kac'hin base that has secretly existed on Earth.

Imagine that Grean and Lili  operated a well-hidden undersea (or, more exotically, within the Hierion Domain) base for several decades which became a refuge for Andy, an Asterothrope/Ek'col hybrid. Kac'hin females such as Lili had been specifically designed to mate with such hybrids and give birth (with help from a sophisticated zeptite symbiont) to children who would be inter-fertile with Earthlings.

half pregnant
Believing that the existence of certain Preland gene combinations will be valuable for long-term human survival, Grean is ready and able to "sneak" some Preland genes into the human gene pool of Earth.

Grean is a scientist with a special interest in time travel, but the Huaoshy put an end to time travel, so Grean shifts towards biological studies. Grean takes pity on Andy and invites Lili to Earth. Andy and Lili become parents and grandparents and then when Grean's work on Earth is complete, the two Kac'hin depart, leaving Andy's descendants in a rather delicate position.

Kepler faced a similar challenge when he tried to write about the "new astronomy" of his age. He ended up writing a "science fiction" story (Somnium) about a boy who learns that his mother has contact with a mysterious being who can transport people to the Moon. In Kepler's story, a journey to the Moon is described, complete with Lunar inhabitants.

Somnium was not published until after Kepler's death (1634, more than 40 years after he began to write the story). His mother had been accused of being a witch and Kepler spent years adding a scientific subtext to Somnium. I'm reminded of Darwin spending many years "padding" his book about evolution with fluff while he delayed exposing his "heretical" ideas to public scrutiny.

Ivory Fersoni
For Exode, I created a character named Ivory who is one of Andy's grandchildren. Ivory is born at "Atlantis", but she grows up with no real understanding of her origins.

Ivory becomes involved in molecular anthropology research. She is surprised to find that her DNA is quite unusual. On the verge of publishing her results, Ivory is called back to "Atlantis" and told part of the truth about her unusual ancestors.

Ivory hypothesizes that her family is the last remnant of a nearly extinct branch of the human family tree.

The other part of the mystery of "Atlantis" are what Ivory is taught to refer to as the "nanites" that her sister (actually a clone of Ivory) Ana has been experimenting with for several years. Ivory suspects that there must be another hidden community of fellow "Atlantians" somewhere on Earth, a secretive group that has developed advanced nanite technology.

With guidance from Grean and Lili, Ana has pioneered the use of "nanites" to constrain brain development in several additional clones of Ivory. All of the "Atlantis clones" display slow maturation of the nervous system. The nanites seem to act like a catalyst to modify the pace and course of brain development. However, by the time that Ivory starts to study the nanite-mediated alterations in brain development, Grean and Lili have mysteriously disappeared.

With the hope that she can find the location of the other colony of Atlantians, Ivory decides to write the story of The Atlantis Clones. However, Ivory does not want to reveal the secret location of the undersea base where she was born. Ivory ends up publishing her story as science fiction even though it is a true and factual account of her unusual life. This provides an opportunity for "the editor" of the Exode Trilogy to get some help with his difficult task.

Related Reading: Investigative Science Fiction
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