Mar 12, 2016

Fear and Fantasy

human flight in myth
Some observers have defined science fiction as the literature of change. However, much has been passed off as science fiction simply by re-telling ancient myths and fantasy stories with everything dressed up in a science fiction shell.

1928: cover art by Frank R. Paul
I've long been intrigued by dreams about having the ability to fly. Among the first science fiction novels that I ever read was The Skylark of Space (see the Frank Paul cover art to the left).

"He snapped the switch which started the Tesla coil in the shed and pressed a button on an instrument in his hand, attached to his harness by a small steel cable. Instantly there was a creak of straining leather and he shot vertically into the air for perhaps a hundred feet" (source)

able to leap over tall buildings
In The Skylark of Space, Dick Seaton's ability to fly is due to his use of the imaginary substance "X".

The science fiction literature is full of such flights of fancy. In The Languages of Pao, after Palafox flies, he explains his 'wizardry': "Antigravity web is meshed into the skin of my feet." According to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, antigravity as a plot device in fiction began appearing in the 1800s.

Inspired in part by the planet-hopping John Carter, Superman originally had super jumping ability due to his evolutionary origin on a planet with high gravity. Later, it was suggested that Superman's species evolved special organs that produce an artificial gravity field and allow for controlled flight.

Flying Cars
flying car
Myths and fantastic literature are full of various flying vehicles including celestial barges, chariots, broom sticks and carpets. Erich von Däniken famously made explicit the idea that if early humans had seen alien spacecraft then that might have led to myths about flying gods.

In science fiction, if you can use "antigravity web" to make a man fly, then surely you can have flying cars that make use of antigravity technology. In The Face, Kirth Gersen takes his aircar out into the desert night of Dar Sai. After picking up Jerdian Chanseth, they ride together in the aircar, floating over the dunes near the Chailles, under the full moon Mirassou:

"The boat drifted low and grounded upon a sand dune. The two sat quietly, looking out over the moon lit sand."

Mind-Body Dualism
brain-computer interface
One of the most persistent elements of myth and fantasy is the idea that conscious minds can exist independently from a material substrate. Of course, mind-body dualism has long been more than just another popular plot element in stories: it became a self-perpetuating meme that is central to many religions.

creating a new universe
When science fiction authors such as Isaac Asimov began including computers and artificial intelligences in their stories, they started writing about the fusion of biological and artificial minds. In 'The Last Question', Humanity of the far future merges with a universe-spanning artificial intelligence and becomes a god-like entity with the power to create a new universe. In his novel Contact, Carl Sagan also explored the idea that our universe could have been created by a technologically advanced entity.

In the cyperpunk subgenre, the transfer of minds between biological and computer substrates is placed in the near future. A common plot element in such fantasies has become the idea that you could attach a computer interface to your spinal cord and "jack in" to cyberspace. In many cyberpunk stories, people are unable to tell the difference between their real world existence and a simulated life in cyberspace.

Gohrlay's Fear
I've been gently probing the basis for Gohrlay's reluctance to provide me with an account of her first life. Apparently she is afraid that her behavior in the First Reality will be judged as having been socially unacceptable. Previously, I've argued that there were great similarities between the micro-society at Observer Base and Earth's current global society. However, according to Gohrlay, there were also many dramatic differences.

Many of these differences arose from the fact that Observers were forced to take on the Preland body form. That was accomplished by developmental control nanites. The residents of Observer Base were unaware of the presence of nanites in their bodies, but those tiny devices influenced all aspects of Observer life.

Gohrlay suspects that as adults, the Observers were provided with a subtle type of technology-assisted telepathy. Nanites in their brains allowed for unconscious linkages between individuals that forced the residents of Observer Base to form social units known as clans.

Apparently Gohrlay was being "set up" to be treated as an anti-social pervert who could be prosecuted for her crimes and condemned to death. Her brain had been selected to be destructively scanned so that its architecture could be copied into positronic circuits. Towards that end, Gohrlay was largely excluded from participation in clan life and she turned her social yearnings in other directions.

That act of duplicating Gohrlay's brain structure led to the creation of positronic robots, the most famous of which we know as R. Gohrlay. According to Gohrlay it is silly to single out just one of the positronic robots as "being R. Gohrlay" since those robots were telepathically linked and all shared the same brain structure.

in Deep Time
Gohrlay is still reluctant to tell me what was particularly odd about the social dynamics of the Observers. Apparently it has something to do with both "the very youngest and the very oldest" Observers. The first possibility that came to my mind was that maybe there was a practice of euthanasia that was applied to young and old Observers. Gohrlay denies that.

Next: investigating the First Reality
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