Sunday, 24 August 2014

Inner Change

I propose to revisit a conceptual connection that I recently drew between:

In The Days Of The Comet by HG Wells;
Brain Wave by Poul Anderson;
Eon by Greg Bear.

These three science fiction novels describe not mere technological innovations but also a psychological transformation or a change in "human nature." I emphasize this phrase because I fundamentally disagree with the way that it is often used, to imply that human beings are basically and unchangeabley selfish. On the contrary:

our species is differentiated by the fact that it actively changes its environment and has changed itself in the process, in fact has brought itself into existence by cooperating and communicating;

people often act compassionately, generously and hospitably - this is equally our "nature";

because we are social beings, many of our actions are neither selfish nor altruistic but are expressions of a common interest - you and I are doing this now by agreeing the meanings of English words in order to communicate.

"Human nature" can and does change. Future psychological changes are an appropriate subject for science fiction. In a Michael Moorcock novel, an alien visiting Earth in the distant future expects his message that the universe is about to end to perturb human beings. He does not realize that they are in full control of their emotions. His apocalyptic speech is a social disappointment. A man who has returned from a temporal journey to the twentieth century gradually realizes that no one back then was playing a role: when they looked old, they were old etc.

In a recent post, I said that Brain Wave describes an increase in intelligence whereas the other two works describe control of emotions by intelligence. But this second change is in Brain Wave also. More later.

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