Like the meaty interview with Joan Slonczewski a couple months ago, Locus Magazine’s May interview with Kathleen Ann Goonan, of which I posted excerpts this afternoon, has several passages of particular interest to my theme here.
About science fiction:
At Georgia Tech, the student’s minds are prepared for science fiction because it’s one of the top engineering schools in the world, so I also taught ‘The Short Story in Science Fiction’ during my first semester there. Since then, I’ve taught the SF Novel, and used Neuromancer, The Female Man, Dawn, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Lathe of Heaven, The Diamond Age, and Zendegi. It was a wild ride, a lot of reading, and very intensive. The student’s enthusiasm regenerated my interest in science fiction – its history, its long-running conversation, its boldness in bringing important issues to life.
For a long time we had no tools to study the brain, so consciousness was a subject for religion and philosophy. I minored in philosophy because I was so interested in not only the mind, but in what is going on around us – everything. I started from the ground up, I suppose, since gaining the tools to see what is very small or very distant is what moved humanity from religion and philosophy as explanations for phenomena to careful observation – science. Philosophy and religion, disciplines that examine questions like what is free will, what is life, what is really going on? They fascinate me. That is why my own interests turned from pre-science philosophy and religion to science.
What we think of as ‘reality’ is the brain putting together an idea of what’s happening around us, and we base our behavior on that interpretation. We live in a shared reality. That’s what the title, This Shared Dream, means to me. What we think of as the familial past is actually a lot of different people’s versions of the past. Every child in a family has a different idea family history, depending on their birth order, because their very presence changes family dynamics. That’s another thing I wanted to explore, because it echoes the concept that consciousness has much to do with how we perceive time.
This resonates as I think back on my own personal history and how different that history must have been for my siblings.
One more, which I didn’t include in the post:
I am always struck by the idea people have that consciousness is just in the brain. They think, ‘Oh, we’ll freeze the brain and live forever.’ That’s a mostly discarded idea now, although Henry Markram, head of the European Blue Brain Project, wants to slice the brain really thin, including his own brain when he dies, with the idea that all the information of memory and consciousness will be there. But consciousness involves your entire body, and time. A lot of what happens in the body simply isn’t known by the conscious mind. These processes are totally mysterious, and we don’t even realize they’re happening. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true: we are not just our conscious state of mind. We are not only our brain. We are our whole bodies, our entire hormonal system. Everything is all one system. The history of humanity in religion and philosophy is about how the soul will survive: the idea that there is something in us that is not physical. But I don’t think that’s true. There’s not anything that isn’t physical, including consciousness. If you are going to preserve yourself, what self do you want to be, really? What a nightmare that could be. In 2005 I was totally depressed – what if that’s the age at which you’re preserved, by chance? Or, ‘I will be in a perfect digital world and everything will be fabulous.’ It’s a bit like the questions that might plague one about the possibilities of heaven.