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Mental Telepathy In Science Fiction

I’m currently working on a story of about 23,000 words (that makes it a “novella” or “novelette,” depending on your definition) that has to do with humans from Earth who come in contact with beings on another planet who communicate almost entirely by mental telepathy.  Their brains are so big—maybe 50 to 100 times the size and mass of an adult human brain—that they have developed the physical power to send signals to others of their species in the their immediate vicinity.  They’re all on the same wavelength, so to speak.  These signals are received as communication.  Literally.  The signals are received as a string of words, in the same way we communicate with a string of words using the vibrations of our vocal cords to send vibrations through a gaseous medium, air.  These creatures have no specific organs of communication as we do at all.

All of that got me to thinking.  How does one species communicate by mental telepathy to another species if they speak different languages?  Is mental telepathy even possible in that situation?  A string of words just won’t work because the recipient still won’t understand the meaning of the transmission.  But in my story, one of the two main characters is capable of understanding the foreign species.  In fact, that’s the whole basis of the story, that humans may be able to contact beings on another world.  But, the devil is in the details: how would that work?  Science fiction writers might want to take note of this; it could be useful in stories about first contact(s).

I did a little looking around at the concept of “mental telepathy,” and it’s usually defined as the ability to communicate through means not involving talking, reading, or any other standard method.  It’s basically a sort of transmission from one mind to another.  But that’s as far as it goes.  I haven’t found anyone who has actually wondered how it takes place.  What is it that’s being transmitted?  If someone says she/he can read another person’s mind, what is it they are reading?  In my humble, and perhaps somewhat flippant opinion, here’s three possible ways that mental  telepathy might actually take place, in order of simplest to most complex.

1.  By concepts only.  In this method, only broad concepts are actually being transmitted from one to another.  The concept of rocket propulsion, for example.  Or weightlessness in the vacuum of outer space.  The necessity of an atmosphere for life to exist.  No actual images are sent, and no details at all.

2.  Mind visualization.  In this method, actual images are sent.  That could transmit a vast amount of information.  The image of an Apollo space capsule, inside and out, for example, would tell the recipient—assuming he’s sophisticated in space travel—just what it was like for our species to travel to another heavenly body in the early stages of our space program.  The information transmitted would be only in the image itself.  Any other information, say, what it was like to live in one of those cramped capsules, would have to be inferred by the recipient.  But an Apollo space capsule in one language would be an Apollo space capsule in any other.

3.  Transmission of a string of words.  This I expect would be the most complicated form of transmission, but would convey the greatest amount of information.  That is, of course, what words are designed to do.  An image of the Apollo space capsule might give a visitor from another planet a lot of information, but many details he/she (it?) might not understand.  Words, description, these would be the most detailed.  But the recipient of the mental transmission of a string of words would have to understand the language of the sender to be able to interpret it. and so this method, while highly accurate, might be seriously limited.

I’m not an expert in ESP or mental telepathy, certainly, and I’ve never heard if any of these methods are currently being tested.  I’m not sure if mental telepathy really exists outside of science fiction.  It’s a controversial subject in real life, but in science fiction the sky’s the limit.  If you need mental telepathy in your writing, have a go at one of these types.  They seem, to me, to be the most likely modes of transmission of information.

 

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Beauty In Outer Space

One of my three science fiction novels is about a group of explorers who land on a distant planet in an attempt to see if it could be colonized by people of their civilization.  Many things go wrong on that planet, and that leads most of the group to consider it as dangerous and unattractive, a place to be avoided at all costs.  But a couple of explorers find the planet exciting and beautiful.  They are willing to look beyond the death and destruction to see the planet for what it is, a lovely and inspiring place on which they could live.

Fine.  But that got me to thinking, what are we likely to find when we get into outer space and see planets and moons and asteroids and comets up close?  What will we think once we land on them and take a good look around?  Will we think of them as “beautiful?”  Or will they be little more than desolate blobs of dust orbiting a hot, blistering sun?

Over the past fifty or so years of the US space program, we’ve seen a lot of images taken on the surface of two major celestial objects in our solar system, Mars and the moon.  Astronauts on the moon (the only body outside the Earth mankind has walked on) took many spectacular photographs of their moonwalks (largely on film, mind you) and brought them back for us to wonder at.  Several unmanned robotic travelers have landed on Mars and tantalized us with more vivid images, and the European Space Agency landed an unmanned probe on a comet.  All three sets of images show a largely barren landscape, though to a great extent that was planned since it’s much easier and much safer to land a spacecraft on a smooth surface than on one littered with rocks.  (The Russians did land a spacecraft on Venus, but its few images don’t show much.)  I don’t know about you, but I found the landscapes of Mars and moon to be rather plain and not terribly lovely or “beautiful” in the usual sense of that word.  They are stark, and in themselves compelling in a minimalist sense.  But not “beautiful” in comparison to, say, an evening sunset on the Rocky Mountains, or an autumn  landscape of the woodlands of Vermont.  Just my opinion here.

Still, in our solar system are planets and moons that we haven’t landed on (and in most cases I hope we don’t), and from above they show many various mottled and unique surfaces.  I imagine that the surface of Jupiter’s moon Io would be a fascinating place on which to stand.  With volcanoes that spout liquid sulfur, and lava flows and what not, it might be intriguing.  (Dangerous, too.)  But would we characterize it as “beautiful,” especially in comparison with the Earth?  I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  We might have to come up with new adjectives to describe the new worlds we encounter.

Nothing we’ve ever seen on any image returned from outer space even begins to compare with the beauty of the surface of the Earth.  But we’ve only just begun to explore.  Who knows what we will encounter when we land on planets and moons of other solar systems.  Will we think of them as “beautiful?”  Do you think of the moon or Mars as “beautiful?”

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