Reading and writing

Anything you dream is fiction. Anything you accomplish is science. The whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.

Ray Bradberry

By Dr. Jim Ferguson

I’m always on the lookout for a story, especially an essay topic. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about communication and especially about writing.

Each week for the last thirteen years I write about what currently interests me. And because you read my column, we are able to share a common experience. This is even true for those misguided people who disagree with me! That’s a joke, people. Lighten up. I say this because so many are so offended by so much.

My grandchildren are learning to read and write. It’s a struggle for younglings, but a necessary one. Someday they will be able to read my essays and books. So, part of me will still be present after I’ve “shuffled off this mortal coil.”

Recently, Becky asked me what books I read as a kid. Remember, I was no bespeckled Stephen Hawking as a youngster. I remember reading “The Story of Jim Thorpe,” probably because I thought of little else but sports as a young pup. As a middle schooler I read all the Horatio Hornblower books. And I remember being turned on to science fiction by Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “The War of the Worlds” by H. G. Wells.

My interest in communication has increased over the years. In medical school I was trained to listen. I have taught many young doctors that if they listen their patients will tell them the diagnosis. These days, too many young doctors want to know the results of the CAT scan rather than what their patient said. It’s probably good that I am now retired from medicine because I believe, “there is no keystroke for caring” on the data entry systems of electronic medical records.

Writing is one of our principal means of communication. But it wasn’t always so. In antiquity hearing the spoken word was preeminent because most could not read or write.

We also communicate visually through body language and with visual platforms like TV, movies and multiple types of screens. We even communicate through touch. (This is a family friendly column so I won’t delve into communication by smell or taste. However, science has shown that memories are firmly imprinted through smell, taste and sexual interaction.)

We are in the early stages of communication through a virtual reality medium. Years ago, I read a science fiction novel where characters called “jacks” could plug their brains into a computer-generated virtual reality using coaxial cables, hence their moniker. We are now able to do this without surgically implanted jacks in the skull by using VR (virtual reality) headsets!

A friend of mine is a video game producer and has VR equipment. I have experienced his VR constructions and find it interesting yet unsettling.

Communication is the focus of my new science fiction (SF) novel which I just finished and hope to publish this summer. This is the second novel in a planned SF trilogy. The first novel was “Epiphany,” published a decade ago. It’s a good yarn, but I think my writing has improved.

Writing is a solitary enterprise. It is also an adventure because you never know where your thoughts will take you. How do you know what I am thinking at this moment? You don’t really and that may be a good thing. You can read the words on this page or you might hear my spoken words, but at best these are but an approximation of what I think.

Have you ever watched a movie with a friend and escaped the moment? In a sense you share that visual alternative reality. But what if you were able to share your thoughts directly with another person?

As a kid I wondered what it would be like to read someone else’s mind. (I still try to figure out what my wife is trying to tell me at times.) Apparently, I’m not alone because we have the word telepathy to describe this imagined phenomenon.  I explored this perspective in my first science fiction novel and again in “Mantis,” the second of the trilogy. Stay tuned!

Most human communication is with the spoken and written word as well as body language. (Men certainly know when they’ve stepped in it by their wives’ body language.) But suppose technology could produce a chip which would allow integration between your mind and a computer and then link that conjoined mind to others.

The fastest a human neuron can send an electrochemical nerve impulse is 100 meters/second. However, a computer, operating on electricity, transmits signals at light speed or 186,000 miles/second. Imagine a “chip “interface which would function like a high voltage electrical transformer and link these two systems in a human being. What might it be like to have Alexa in your mind? This is the “stuff “of science fiction.

On a more practical level, we are not to the point that I would like an Internet interface in my mind. I don’t trust the tech lords even a continent away in Silicon Valley. However, I like to dream of an evolved human being who is able to meld the power of a computer which supplements the wondrous “fuzzy logic” of the human mind. Again, this is the stuff of science fiction and perhaps a future reality. At any rate, I find it preferable to dream of futuristic possibilities rather than thinking about the present-day border catastrophe, ruinous national debt, the Chinese Communist Covid Pandemic, “fools put in high places” (Ecclesiastes) or the social justice claptrap destroying my church.

A friend of mine recently quipped, “Maybe it’s a good time to be an old person.” In other words, she was expressing her awareness that the radicals are now in charge. She has lived north of the Biblical three score and ten years and was expressing a bit of resignation. I’m not there yet, but I can see it in the distance.

 

 

 

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