Of course, there are trends in SF. Once, there were novels about the next stage in human evolution. Van Vogt’s Slan was a real paranoid adolescent’s fantasy. Often the new species – with whom the reader identified – had telepathic abilities.
Wyndham’s excellent Midwich Cuckoos had a different slant, with its inhuman children. Arguably, it belonged to a time when British writers shared none of the optimistic enthusiasm of their American counterparts.
Nowadays, fictional post-humans have accelerated from homo sapiens to something different with technological help, exemplified by Charlie Stross’s hard SF, in a trend begun by Vernor Vinge.
And yet there was another trend, back before the New Wave, of humanity improving via psychological disciplines, particularly General Semantics. The obvious example is van Vogt’s (rather bonkers) World of Null-A, which I could practically recite by heart when I was 14. Perhaps a truer example would be the more rational Heinlein. General Semantics arose from post-World War One determination to bring logic to an insane world, after the madness of the Somme and Ypres.
So that worked well...
Still, van Vogt’s book gave me a powerful dictum: “The map is not the territory.” It has the equally powerful corollary that saying a thing does not make it true... even when the speaker believes it. These are tools for the rational mind. I’m grateful to have learned these so young.
That saying became one of the assumptions-we’ll-keep-while-useful (aka presuppositions) of neurolinguistic programming. Another descriptive term that semanticists used was “false-to-facts”, and I wish it, too, had carried through to NLP in order to emphasise that not all maps are equal, and some are just plain wrong.
And yet I find that skilled NLPers have a really useful cognitive toolkit. I learned how to wield the techniques from Paul McKenna, pictured above, for which I am hugely grateful. Also, hypnosis is so cool.
I may, however, be jealous of Paul’s dog, Mr Big. If you find Mr Big’s blog – possibly written with the help of Paul’s partner Clare – you’ll see entries like: “Today I had my belly rubbed by Cameron Diaz.” Well, blimey.
Many of the best hypnotists don’t really ‘believe’ in hypnosis. In the more advanced training, Paul teaches techniques that are generally known as Deep Trance Phenomena, but doesn’t consider ‘deep trance’ a useful concept. If you’ve ever been lost in a book – and you have, haven’t you? – that state of mind is all that people mean if they use the word ‘trance’.
Anyone can turn up on such training courses, and some are delightfully bonkers, while others are rationalists, including lots of medical doctors.
Only this week, I was chatting to a neuroscientist about his research on neuroelectrical changes during hypnosis. Interesting stuff.
For me, if you want a philosophical framework for understanding the universe, you need more than that handy toolkit. A book that nicely links current academic psychology to established philosophical ideas is The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. It’s clear and logical despite the title (and the British cover could be better). A cynical Arena critic wrote that it looks like “one of those limp pieces of lifestyle philosophy” but is actually “a superbly argued, crystal clear and intelligent blend...” of psychology and philosophy.
A jolly overview of neuroscience is Johnson’s Mind Wide Open, and for deeper thoughts on the nature of mind, I turn to Pinker, Dennet and Hoftstadter. (Why, you cry, I’ve got all their albums!)
One reviewer of my novelette Sideways from Now (appearing in Lou Anders’ Fast Forward 1) said I’d anticipated an idea of Douglas Hofstadter in his new book, I Am A Strange Loop. He was right.
Although it might have come from a throwaway sentence in The World of Null-A. Oh, good grief.
Still, I blame Hofstadter’s phenomenal Goedel, Escher and Bach for my long-abiding interest in self-reflexive statements, recursion and paradox.
Now, aged somewhat more than 14, I’m happy not to be a mutant (except to the extent that everyone of us actually is). I’ve settled for being human.
How about you?