Re: Psi and Science Fiction

Bryan Moss (
Thu, 5 Aug 1999 15:13:27 +0100

Damien Broderick wrote:

> The many writers who then clambered on the [psi] gravytrain did so just
> because it was the way to get their fiction sold - and maybe because
> there's some pleasure to be had in working out the next tweak on a hoary
> plot gadget.

Sf writers, and fiction writers in general, seem to start with some idea ("I want to show that government doesn't work", for instance - although it could be less ideological) and then create a world in which this is 'convincingly' true using whatever narrative devices they have at their disposal. There's a trend in popular science to do the same - if your peers don't believe you, write a biased account of your ideas to sell to the public. In a sense such popular science writers are also contructing a world where their ideas are bound to be true, but instead of narrative devices they use selective culling of information and biased presentation. Storytelling is about either deception or suspension of disbelief depending on whether you're an realist or a storyteller.

The problem I see is that some sf writers (I don't know if you're included or not, I doubt it) seem to think they're doing a service to humanity. The thing is, if you want to write about a future where white males have been found to have superior genes and a Klansman is President, then you can, and you can do it just as convincingly as you can a story about the dangers of nuclear warfare or global warming. Because of this I'm worried about the Brin's and Vinge's of this world who are taking their ideas out of their stories and claiming they have some validity (Vinge, for instance, seems incapable of defending his ideas on the Singularity).

I appear to of gone off on a tangent, for this I apologise.

> Meanwhile, I myself have used psi and UFOs in certain stories, but always
> in the knowledge that there is a difference between fact and fiction,
> Sherlock.

You know I've been reading your posts on this list for years and I still haven't read any of your books. I'm going to make it my mission to read at least one before I die - any suggestions?

> Meanwhile meanwhile, I've also followed some of the statistical
> and experimental arguments, and actually do regard the matter as still
> open. I don't know how psi would work, or how it's consistent with what we
> know of the brain's workings, but the accumulated anomalous data at PEAR,
> for example, doesn't go away.

I find it difficult to conceptualise what exactly these people are studying. They seem to be looking at the body of science and then looking for anomalous data. Why aren't telekenesis researchers physicists or telepathy researchers neuroscientists? Why do these people go out of their way to study things beyond the realms of (common sense) science? To me it doesn't seem very scientific.