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Haha, thanks--but first, I want to go more in depth than just "fascinating read" about your WIP.

The identity and neurology stuff--was it kind of terrifying? Young-me who's still alive inside of grown-up me is terrified by that stuff. Grown-up me is kind of zen about it all, but the zen-ness is, I think, cultivated to avoid the terror.

Hah! Cultivated to avoid the terror sounds about right! It's one of those things--if "who I am" is really just an emergent property of the way my brain is set up and can easily be changed by a head injury or a stroke--or even if it's an illusion, a by-product of the way my brain cells work when they're in a big lump the way they are--well, there's nothing I can do about that, is there, and it's a convincing illusion so I might as well go with that, right?

It's not the first time I've had to read scary or disturbing stuff for the sake of a story. Honestly, I know some things now that I might not mind unknowing--but then again, the stories came out pretty well by and large, and that's important to me, so there's that.

Identity is an emergent property of the brain; the sum total of your synapses defines you (with feedback from the rest of the brain and body). Change of personality is one of the most common outcomes of head injury, stroke -- and of course, dementia.

Yeah, this is one of the things that has frustrated me over the last five or ten years about the kind of story where everyone's uploaded, and therefore has no physical body except whatever image they wish to construct, but they think just like embodied human beings, and experience emotions exactly the same way and I go "but emotions are physical, if our bodies are different or not there, the emotions are going to be different, right? Let's not even talk about what, if anything, gender could possibly mean in such a situation but here you're characters are all straightforwardly male and female, too!"

And of course, the (I imagine related) old "body switching" trope. Change your body radically enough, you're no longer the same person. When Crichton finds himself in Aeryn's body, he's not going to be Crichton anymore, right? (Though generally I enjoyed Farscape, things like that bug me.) He's just going to be Aeryn, because Aeryn's physical brain and body, that's what makes her what she is. Sheesh.

Which, also lately whenever I run across the "emotion spoils rational thought, if you could just remove emotion you'd be so smart!" or the related "being really smart means no emotions!" thing I grind my teeth and throw things. Emotion is part of the way we think, and when you take it away you have a hard time making decisions, people!

Anyway.

I have written extensively about this issue, both in my book and in response to the wet dreams of transhumanists who think that you can "upload" without consequences (example: Why Our Brains Will Never Live in the Matrix). The mind cannot be separated from its physical substrate (the brain and the body associated with it).

As for emotion, people who say such nonsense are invariably thinking of the "four F" thalamic emotions that are reflexive. However, cortical emotions are as complex as thought -- and, in fact, they enable people to make decisions and choices.

well, there's nothing I can do about that, is there, and it's a convincing illusion so I might as well go with that, right?


Absolutely! It's just unnerving to think how tenuous it may be. Tenuous, but surprisingly durable, for all that.

the stories came out pretty well by and large, and that's important to me, so there's that.

:D There is that.

Awesome. I was already planning to buy it, but this convinced me again.

And after I had a bit of time to mull on this, two thoughts: first, I am fascinated by your take on the problems of embodied identity. I am intrigued by those enslaved or colonized bodies, and how the central identity encompasses them (or not) - will disposable bodies be as intrinsic to identity as non-disposable bodies? It seems not, and yet those disposable bodies are still peripheries of a central nervous system (right)?

Do you know, if the right part of your brain is damaged, you'll believe very surely that you're dead, or that you don't exist, or that your right arm isn't actually part of your body even though it's clearly attached? How fascinating and scary is that?
As you know, it's more complicated than that - but the "you believe," the sense of self in people with stroke damage is very interesting - and hard to research for obvious reasons, since if emotional or language capabilities have shifted from the previously established baseline, then we might expect the cognitive categories to shift accordingly, so that "you believe that you are dead" may no longer mean the same thing - am I making sense? These studies are often extremely annoying to me :/ What is clear is that there is an identity shift after any disability involving somatic changes.

The second thing is the pronouns - that is awesome. I have something similar going in one corner of the novel (one of the cultures switched languages to a language with gendered pronouns, but their original language had gender-neutral pronouns, so they are now using 'she' as a default).

I am intrigued by those enslaved or colonized bodies, and how the central identity encompasses them (or not) - will disposable bodies be as intrinsic to identity as non-disposable bodies? It seems not, and yet those disposable bodies are still peripheries of a central nervous system (right)?

As I see it, yes. So who is who? What is the character? And if you lose some part of your body/self, who is what's left? And then it became clear to me very early on that this needed to be in first person, and how the heck do you write first person with that person?

Also, yeah, the first time I heard the phrase "the colonized mind" I went zing and said "I have to find out more about that." Which isn't to say I've done anything really interesting on that score, to a large extent it's still stuff I'm learning and thinking about, but wow, I read a lot of interesting stuff and it made me really think more about what's underneath those standard space opera tropes.

What is clear is that there is an identity shift after any disability involving somatic changes.

Yes, absolutely, and I know what you mean about it being more complicated, and the popular versions of those studies (and sometimes the studies themselves) being infuriating.

I read this book--I can't find the name of the woman, now, you'd think I'd learn to take better notes--by a woman who had some odd identity stuff going on that was pretty clearly (at least from my perspective) the result of something like a series of strokes she had at a fairly young age. I could easily be wrong, it wasn't diagnosed as such, but her descriptions had a strong flavor of that sort of neurological involvement, to me. IIRC she died relatively young of a stroke. But anyway, starting from a particular moment her sense of self changed drastically, first moving to somewhere just outside her body and then moving around a bit, finally, disappearing entirely so that, she said, there was no self at all. Yes, there was a body moving and talking and doing things, but there was no self, she did not exist. It was really fascinating to be able to read her own description of her experience. It was fascinating, and also saddening the way it is when you see someone going through something really difficult and terrifying--she was frightened and upset for a long time, until eventually she interpreted her experience as being the loss of ego/enlightenment that some religious traditions aim at and came to terms with it that way. I really wish I could remember her name.

The second thing is the pronouns - that is awesome. I have something similar going in one corner of the novel (one of the cultures switched languages to a language with gendered pronouns, but their original language had gender-neutral pronouns, so they are now using 'she' as a default).

Oooh! I'm such an amateur at the language stuff, but I do love it. And hooray for 'she' as a default!! :)

That's comforting to know that she did find a way of living with her altered perception of her self (however constituted or not constituted), and it shows, I think, the organism's desire to get on with living, to self correct--like how a tree crushed by some heavy thing will grow up around it, righting itself as best it can.

The WIP sounds very interesting, Ann. Thank you for the tag! I'll answer the questions as soon as I'm done proofing the galleys of the EPub version of my anthology so it can go out for advance reviews. And of course, as you well know, space opera is prima inter pares as far as I'm concerned!

P. S. : our bodies are part of the brain feedback loop that defines us; there are identity shifts even after abrupt menopause (following cancer surgery, for example).

Edited at 2012-10-06 05:08 am (UTC)

I am very much looking forward to that anthology! Space opera was really my first engagement with science fiction, so, as I said over on another LJ, for me it's baseline, what science fiction is. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy anything else, or think anything else is "real"--I do. The more I read the more I saw the variety sf was capable of and it's part of what I enjoy about it.

But my particular place where I'm looking from, it's part of what infuriates me about the occasional "but SF used to be all about the future and science and now all this fantasy is ruining it!" because, while I do like the stuff that tries to be all about the science, just like I enjoy all sorts of sf, really for me the core is space opera. And I know that's a product of my particular history and I think, "You can't see that you're only speaking from where you're standing, not some God-like objective universal authority that lets you cast any other sort of sf into the outer darkness? I'd take your post so much more seriously if you'd recognize that."

I hope it meets expectations! Its publisher said that she can't pick a favorite, which is a good sign.

As for the argument that "SF suffers from loss/fear of extrapolation because the world moves so fast" the only domain for which this is valid (possibly) is computer applications. I discussed the issue of science in SF from both directions, I can send you the links if you're interested.

Links would be cool--I've been through your blog archives but really only haphazardly so I'm sure I missed interesting posts!

And, yeah, and also is SF really all about the prediction or extrapolation? Once again, it can be, and that can be really awesome wonderful stuff and if that's what the writer wants to do then fabulous and I want to read it! But it's not the only thing SF can or should do.

Plus the "we're just recycling old tropes!" thing kind of bugs me. I mean, that's how art works, right? You chew over and recycle and repurpose and reframe and twist and play with a stock of existing tropes. Sometimes someone adds something new, or changes an old one so much that it might as well be new. But the idea that SF's virtue is only in an inexhaustible supply of Stuff You've Never Seen Before and any attempt to explore or work with something previously existing is some sort of failure--no, sorry. And in fact, something truly radically different that didn't converse with any old tropes would be pretty near incomprehensible. Which, that's fine if that's what you're doing, every artist chooses her own project, but it's hardly the only valid way to do things, not by a long shot.

(It's related in my mind, oddly, to the way simpleminded critiquers sometimes complain that stories ought to be understandable with no previous, outside knowledge. Well, I mean, what story would that be, then? You just aren't thinking about the extensive previous knowledge you're already bringing to this, or thinking about the fact that your set of previous knowledge might not be a perfect match for the audience the author intended and you know? That's all right and no one's stopping you from learning more so you can appreciate new things, right?)

Agreed. The best stories have deep roots and many layers; these presuppose knowledge beyond just the matter at hand. Not all readers will be familiar with all the layers, but even those who aren't will sense the extra depth. The demands for "fresh new tropes" are actually those of spoiled brats ("I'm bored! Astonish me!") who also want to be perceived as deep thinkers and ushers of paradigm shifts by handwaving. Here are links that discuss aspects of this issue. I have written more, but that will give you a flavor.

SF Goes MacDonald’s: Less Taste, More Gristle

To the Hard Members of the Truthy SF Club

The Persistent Neoteny of Science Fiction

Ain't Evolvin': The Cookie Cutter Self-Discovery Quest

Oh, this sounds so fascinating! Can't wait!

Oh, hey, I remember that NaNo! Was it 2002, or '03? Ten is a nice round number, and, correctly or no, I frame my own NaNo from that year as "the novel I've been writing off and on for ten years."

Those things about personality, perception, emotion, and the brain are indeed fascinating and terrifying. While not having read much, or at all, on the subject matter, there are several things from my own experiences I can relate to it, like my grandmother's senility.

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