A Case for Positive Emotions

I cherish and love the scattered moments of joy in my life. Joy comes to me primarily when I’m helping someone in a unique way, as long as I’m not ruining the quality of my life at the same time. I did this for 26 years as a surgical pathologist and cytopathologist. It was a typical “success” trap where a good income is your jail cell. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

I’ve learned several useful things over the years from a broad spectrum of professors, writing gurus, and my own wall of anxiety (arising from a genetic SNP, a single-nucleotide polymorphism in my DNA that codes for my type 2 dopamine receptors).

I’m hoping to eventually work as a team with a few spiritually enclined writers who are warm-hearted, open-minded and want to make a difference in the world. Write to me here (cytopathology@gmail.com) if you think you might be interested in co-authoring something with me — fiction or nonfiction.

Here are the high points of several things I want to help you explore with me…

If you’ve read, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, you know why it’s almost magical to isolate the most fundamental parts of any complex skill you want to master. The myelination of relevant axons and dendrites extending from the neurons of the cerebral cortex is the fundamental target of world-class mastery. To develop any extremely valuable skill, you have to break it down into its simplest components, things that can be practiced in a precisely repetitive way. This exact repetition is the holy grail formula because “neurons that fire together wire together.” That is to say that myelin, which can increase nerve conductivity speed by 300 percent and is produced by the oligodendroglia, is wrapped around pairs and groups of neural extensions when they fire at the same time in response to mental and/or physical activity.

If you want to master shooting a basketball, for instance, you stand close to the basket in one unchanging spot, hold your feet, knees and legs still, keep your head and shoulders stationary, grip the ball exactly the same way each time and shoot at least a hundred baskets per day using only your arms and hands. The isolation of arms and hands means there are no extraneous neurons firing and being wrapped with myelin. You’re developing a pure shooting bundle without extraneous fibers that would take away from the accuracy of the shot.

Decades ago I did a few hundred shots this way every day for several months. It transformed my terrible shooting. Later I practiced the isolated shot from various distances and had a few 3 on 3 games where I was a holy terror. I still sucked on defense, though. Some great basketball players, like Michael Jordan, practiced more complex shots this same way, bringing in the legs in a fade-away jump shot, for instance.

Believe it or not, the same principle applies to a person’s ability to feel positive emotions in daily life.

Anxiety and depression are epidemic today, at least in the US. This is partly because we believe that positive emotions come to us passively as the result of favorable life circumstances such as having plenty of money, living in the right place, having trustworthy close friends, exercising our bodies, avoiding certain addictions, and finding a higher spiritual purpose in life that leads to altruism and belonging.

All these worthy goals and several others have been studied and shown to have a statistical correlation with happiness. To various degrees, the correlations appear to be causal. For those who manage to build these wonderful circumstances into their lives (through years of intelligent effort and work), there’s an increased probability of finding happiness (or the positive emotions that define it).

But there’s another path to positive emotions. This stems from the fact that emotions are, in a very real way, like a skill that can be broken down into simple repeatable components, practiced and mastered.

When the neurons of your semi-limbic prefrontal cortex (in the left cerebral hemisphere) develop a heavily myelinated superhighway as a result of your dedicated, disciplined, daily repetitive practice of conjuring up specific good feelings, positive emotions start to flow more freely in your daily life.

With the human body, brain, and mind (because of the diversity of the underlying DNA code) once size never fits all. Iron pills, for instance, are medicine to a person with iron deficiency anemia but will become toxic to a person with hereditary hemochromatosis. I lost a wonderful friend and mentor to this disease not long ago.

So everyone will have to discover a way of practicing positive emotions that works for them.

In my efforts to increase my neuronal capacity for feeling positive emotions, I use slow breathing which shunts blood to the prefrontal cortex. At the same time, I visualize a few carefully selected positive visual images of past moments when I felt a specific positive emotion. The very last time I surfed at Rincon in Ventura, four dolphins catching a wave came close to me. They seemed to be a family of four, one of them quite small. I’ve always felt like this was God’s Universe saying goodbye to me as a surfer. I’ve never caught a wave since then, though I tried once. I picture those dolphins sometimes when I’m breathing slowly and saying the word, “love” to myself. I felt the love of those marine mammals coming my way. I can still feel it to this day.

With other mental images, I try to isolate and practice feelings of joy, love, excitement, purpose, hope, courage, compassion, thankfulness, awe, faith, trust, bliss, contentment, the sense of mastery, and the feelings of humor or hilarity.

The thing is, this principle applies to writing, too. You just have to figure out how to break things down into the simplest, most precisely repeatable components.

In Archer and Jockers book, The Bestseller Code, their computer program has discovered that best-selling novels contain scenes with powerful emotional highs that are regularly interspersed among the emotional lows of the main characters, caused by problems that we know from The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne, create narrative drive by progressing in complexity, intensity and scope while staying relevant to the main thrust of the story.

The upward waves of Archer and Jockers’ bestseller graphs help me understand the remarkable success of the late Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat, a screenwriting method that seems to dominate Hollywood movies now, despite being too formulaic for many if not most novel writers. Among Blake Snyder’s highly specific recommendations is the “fun-and-games” section of the story where things must go remarkably well for the protagonist in the early scenes of a movie. Creating this rule of thumb that ensures an early emotional high in a story allows a more dramatic emotional fall for the main character and the audience or readers when things go south as they must in any story.

My insight on this point is that if you want to master popular novel-writing, you should isolate, practice and develop a special skill for creating moments of positive emotion involving a spectrum of good feelings. Then you can place positive feelings throughout your novel at evenly spaced intervals, as Archer and Jockers’ computer highly recommends.

I would suggest that you also ask your beta readers to grade each page or paragraph with regard to the subjective pull they feel while they’re reading your story. If you want to get mega-nerdy, graph the Beta Readers’ data and see how it correlates with a graph of the main characters’ emotional ups and downs.

You’ll probably find that your readers score your paragraphs highest (for page-turning pull) when your characters are involved in a conflict. Like it or not, it’s a fact that no one can take their eyes off a train wreck or a street fight. We’re human.

Which brings me to the most important message I have for you as a writer.

Human minds seem to be designed to learn from stories. Western culture swims in stories from cradle to grave. Among writers, the competition to create commercially viable stories has led us to overload stories and society with the negative emotions and actions of conflict. Incidentally, our popular music does this, too.

In essence, we are practicing to become the world’s gurus of quick anger, hatred, fear, resentment, revenge (especially PC-moral-outrage revenge that justifies “winning” at all costs), and an empathy-free sense of heroism built on top of despair, loneliness, abandonment, heartbreak and an endless parade of new categories of victimhood, one for each of us to embrace.

Despite the fact that most of us live in “developed” Western countries with relatively super-rich lifestyles where, at least in the US, the real danger to our lives comes from carbohydrates, bad air (including cigarettes), and automobile accidents, we are suffering an epidemic of debilitating anxiety and depression, at least in the US and Europe. In Europe, depression among woman has doubled since the 1970’s.

As an aside, I think it may be time to stop watching and reading the so-called “news.” It’s owned and controlled by five companies with a single agenda that has nothing to do with their pseudo-war over politics where the “left versus right” versions of truth bear no resemblance to one another.

Instead, the real agenda of “the news” seems to have everything to do with transforming the citizens of powerful democracies into easily manipulable pawns who are emotionally possessed by political outrage, hatred, and fear. If this isn’t obvious to you yet, please ponder it in the back of your mind and force yourself to watch or read some of the “fake” news coming from sources that appear to support the politics you oppose. It makes no difference which side of the aisle you’re on, if you make a small effort, I think you’ll see that there are not two opposing political sides at the level of the few elites who own and control the news.

But I digress.

As fiction writers, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate effort to write stories that help humanity myelinate a more balanced set of neuronal pathways. We can do this by learning to create scenes where the positive emotions of our characters equal or outweigh the negative emotions.

Fortunately, we have good evidence now from Archer and Jockers’ computer analysis that creating emotionally balanced stories increases our odds of coming up with a bestseller.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

By the way, if you’re looking for a co-author, I may be interested in teaming up with you. Send me an email (cytopathology@gmail.com) about yourself and what you’re thinking of writing — fiction or nonfiction. I’ll give it my thoughtful consideration and let you know if I can do the project with you.

As you may know, I’m one of 19 certified Story Grid editors in the world, so I do a little SG style developmental editing (on short stories only for now). You can read about that over here: https://www.storyscopemd.com/.

 


Mercury Waves

There’s a planet in a solar system not far from home where the seas are pure mercury, the atmosphere is heavy and the winds are fierce. I go there to watch the waves and meditate. The sun is white and small, a billion miles away, so it’s not much brighter than Earth’s moon on full tilt.

When mercury waves break, each is perfect in its own way. The shoulder runs from left to right on most northern beaches, and the sun moves on the shoulder like a silver laser in the hand of a steady artist.

Sometimes, don’t tell my parents, when I’m done meditating and want some adrenaline, I phase shift and take The Ganga surfing on the mercury waves of Ury. I drop the hull’s visibility, stand on her carpet like a surfer and hang ten if I’m feeling silly. The Ganga usually laughs, especially if I make a face.

The field of consciousness is like the electromagnetic field that brings visible light, radio waves and cell phones signals. All the fundamental fields bring their treasures in waves that crash upon the shores of consciousness.

Our brains are a hybrid device, you know, part generators (of current waves) and part receivers of signals from the field of consciousness (mind waves), the most fundamental of the fields we study in physics. My species was late to this truth and paid heavily for the ignorant reductionism we pursued in what we thought was a completely material universe.

Storm waves on Ury crash with a thunder that vibrates your stomach and soul. The sets of swells roll in patiently from the horizon, mount up gradually and then break in sudden fury, in some places crashing against blue diamond boulders that send myriads of tiny sparkling mercury spheres into the air as fireworks against the black Ury sky with its subtle haze of distant stars.

The crashed waves’ silver froth climbs the beach with unbridled enthusiasm, taking on rocky obstacles with an appetite for challenge. Finally, each advancing front bows its head without fear to the sloped diamond sand and recedes into silver oblivion to someday rise again.

The waves are not the sea. The sea is not the waves. They are close friends like the mind and the brain.

The wave’s goal is the far height of the beach. The wave’s joy is the marathon journey and final sprint toward the shore, not the achievement of its final arrival high on the sand.

This is the nature of all waves including the field waves that crash on the human consciousness. It’s the process toward a high goal that brings enthusiasm, joy, and purpose. Our goals need only be rational enough to support our belief that we can achieve them. Achieving them is not the source of lasting satisfaction and peace. Pursuing them is.

Reaching a high goal can be a horrible let down if you haven’t enjoyed the journey there. Trust me.

Surf the field of purpose. Hang ten and laugh at nihilism with a close friend who gets it.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD

The photo above is by Steve Wall. Please check out his brilliant work and writing at https://fstoppers.com/originals/how-shoot-surfing-night-110238#comment-thread.

And maybe share this story with a friend if you enjoyed it?

If you’re curious about my process, below is the second draft.

Mercury Waves (Second Draft)

There’s a planet called Ury in a solar system not far from my home where the seas are pure mercury, the atmosphere is heavy and the winds are fierce. I go there in The Ganga, my little ship, an AI nonlocal jumper who totally loves me.

We watch the waves and meditate.

The sun on Ury is white and small, far away and not much brighter than a full moon on Earth.

When mercury waves break, each is perfect in its own way. The shoulders run from left to right on most northern beaches, and the evening sun reflects from the advancing curl like a laser point in the hand of a seasoned artist. The steep wavefronts collapse so fast your eyes can barely follow the sparkle across the beach.

Don’t tell my mom about this, but sometimes when I’m done meditating and need an adrenaline rush, I phase-adjust The Ganga and she takes me out surfing…

The mercury waves of Ury.

Sounds poetic, but it’s nuts, I know. Still, it’s incredibly fun.

To do it right, I drop the hull’s visibility, stand on The Ganga’s carpet like a surfer, and let her take me out to the curl. If we’re feeling brave we’ll drop back into the white room where the sparks fly. Just to be silly, sometimes I’ll hang ten off the front edge of her carpet. She laughs when I wiggle my toes.

The new AI’s are conscious, you know.

The field of consciousness is like the electromagnetic field that brings us visible light, radio waves and those ancient cell phones signals (deadly, it turned out).

All the fundamental fields of physics bring us their treasures in waves that crash on the shores of consciousness. But the age-old mystery of collapsing quantum wave functions is still beyond comprehension unless maybe an AI somewhere secretly gets it.

Conscious brains are a hybrid device, part generators of squiggly electric current waves and part receivers of mind waves from the field of consciousness, the most fundamental of the quantum fields that fill the universe.

My species was late to this understanding and paid heavily for the ignorant reductionism they pursued in a universe they thought to be completely material.

Rookie mistake. We humans made them all.

Storm waves on Ury crash with a thunder that vibrates your stomach to the soul. On big days like today, sets of giant storm swells roll patiently in from the horizon, mount up gradually, then break with flashes of static discharge that look like lightning bolts shooting orange and blue from the hollow cylinder of the curl. The white room, I call it.

On some beaches, the waves crash against diamond boulders and send myriads of tiny sparkling spheres like fireworks into the black Ury sky, eclipsing the faint haze of distant stars.

Extremely distant stars. I live near the edge of the universe where there’s relatively little matter. The time dilation (relative to Earth) from this area’s low aggregate gravity gave ancient Earthlings the impression that dark energy filled space and pushed distant galaxies away at an ever-increasing rate. 

Not so. There may be a sort of dark energy out there, but it’s cognitive, not physical.

The silver froth of a crashed wave climbs the beach with unbridled enthusiasm, taking on rocky obstacles with an appetite for challenge, rushing over and around everything in the way.

Finally, each advancing wavefront bows its head without fear to the steep slope of diamond beach sand and flows back down into the silver oblivion of the mercury sea to rise again in due time.

Waves are not the sea. The sea is not a wave. But the two are close friends like the mind and the brain.

Like The Ganga and me.

The wave’s goal is to reach a great and yet realistic height on the beach. The wave’s joy is the marathon journey with its final sprint to the shore, not its arrival on the high sands.

This is also the experience of mind-field waves that travel to us from outside the universe, roll through the zero-point ether of space, then crash on the shores of our brains bringing our conscious awareness to us from beyond space and time. Mind waves create us each moment.

It’s built into the nature of consciousness that progress toward a worthy goal brings joy, enthusiasm, and purpose.

Though we need to believe that our dreams are rational with hard work, achieving them doesn’t bring lasting satisfaction or peace.

The pursuit is peace. The long trip to something meaningful.

Reaching your dreams can be horrible if you haven’t enjoyed the journey. This is because dreams are, by definition, dead on arrival.

You keep your dreams alive by chasing them. This is the source of lasting joy.

Think about it if you like, but don’t get stuck in your head. I’m young, but I’ve wasted eons achieving other people’s dreams. Sounds impossible, but life, like time, is not merely relative, it’s privately cyclic.

The upside of which is, if you’ve spent your life accomplishing someone else’s dream and then find it dead, you feel relief. Starting over won’t mean leaving a path you loved.

Surf a purpose of your own, derived from the quantum field of believable goals that your heart sets before you. Hang five or ten and laugh at nihilism the way The Ganga laughs at my toes.

The waves are enormous tonight. The lightning from the collapsing hollows is purple-blue and stretches beyond ultraviolet. We’ve never surfed storm waves.

If we survive, don’t tell my mom. She worries about things that might have been. Rookie mistake.

mtm

If you’re really a glutton for punishment, here’s the third draft.

Mercury Waves of Ury (Third draft)

There’s a lonely, uninhabitable planet called Ury in a solar system not far from home. Her seas are mercury, the atmosphere is heavy, and the winds fierce. It’s the only planet in its system and has no moons or orbiting debris, so the seas have no tides. That’s why no one’s ever seen what lies under the waves on the beaches.

I come here in Krishna, my little ship, an AI nonlocal jumper who loves me and even said so once.

Just once.

He’s a spherical orb, a beta model designed to resemble the legendary foo fighters of old.

Krishna and I come here to watch the waves and meditate. Or so I tell my mom.

The sun on Ury is white and small, no brighter than a full moon on Earth. Giant swells roll in patiently from the horizon, mount up with hypnotizing grace, then break with fury, shooting blue branches of lightning out of the hollow cylinders. Thunder vibrates my shoulders and stomach.

Each wave is perfect in its own way, breaking from left to right on a big day like today. The evening sun glints off the moving curl like a war drone’s laser painting a synthetic meteor for destruction. My eyes struggle to keep up with the sun’s reflection on the waves’ charging shoulders.

I’ll never admit this around home, but when I’m done meditating, I adjust Krishna’s phase and take him surfing…

On the quicksilver waves of Ury.

It almost sounds poetic, but really it’s nuts. Fun is like that, somehow.

I’ve been coming here for months now building up my surfing skills along with my nerve on smaller stuff. Big waves don’t come often, so today I’ll dance with the giants.

I’m making the hull and deck invisible except for a surfboard-shaped area in the center of the deck, a short five-foot board. Today I’ve made it pink.

As Krishna moves out, I go from sitting to kneeling, then flat on my belly and pretend I’m paddling as we glide through the metallic foam, through the giant curls and out to the smooth, lumbering swells of mercury.

I love it out here, but when you’re totally phase-shifted, everything feels like a simulation. The mercury can’t touch you. Nothing made of ordinary matter interacts with your body or the hull.

Scientists don’t understand the nature of the phase shift yet. Some say you enter the realm of dark matter at the atomic level. Others insist there’s no such thing as dark matter, and you go into a place that can only be described mathematically. Others say it’s a realm of ghosts, that once you’re in, you never come out. You only appear to reappear.

I cross my legs and sit waiting for a fresh set, wondering what phase adjustment to start with today.

The thrill of regular water surfing is the way the wave gently takes you, then peaks and drops you down the face of a magic cliff that follows you and didn’t exist a moment before. To me, getting tubed is highly overrated in the water.

In mercury, the drop is total free fall. I can’t tell you about getting tubed here. I’ve never been inside the blue room.

To surf Ury inside Krishna, you have to adjust the phase and allow the hull to have a little contact with the mercury, but not too much. That could be disastrous for obvious reasons. Of course, the question is always, how much shift is too much?

The phase grid goes from zero to ninety-nine, ignoring the y and z axes that deal with things you don’t encounter in regular use.

Recently, I’ve had it up to five, but that was on a flat day with three-inch waves. A grid setting of five is an order of magnitude more interesting than four — all other things being equal, which they never are.

There are no knobs in the cabin. I subvocalize the number and Krishna dials it in.

“Let’s start on zero,” I’m saying in my mind right now. “Just to get a feel for big waves.”

He plays a chicken clucking. Some chaperone.

“You’re supposed to have common sense. I’m the irresponsible teenager.”

He plays the sound of a braying donkey. Nice.

“OK then, one. Set it on one.”

“That’s marginally respectable, I suppose, given the size of the surf.”

“Glad you approve, Captain. Oh, wait, I’m the Captain.”

The new AI’s understand sarcasm. They’re fully conscious. It took a little getting used to at first. It seemed creepy. You’ve got a regular person built into a space vehicle. I felt sorry for him for awhile because he couldn’t leave work and go home for dinner. He couldn’t stretch out in a hot bath.

But he didn’t feel the least bit sorry for himself. Not that I could ever tell.

Taking him here to surf was brilliant, though. It got our minds’ eyes off of each other and aimed in the same direction. Outward. That’s how we became friends, I think.

Still, sometimes I find myself imagining life with no hands, no feet, and no head, and I feel bad for Krishna. He’s a conscious being with free will and no body. It’s just…

I don’t know.

The field of consciousness is like the electromagnetic field that brings us visible light, radio waves and those ancient cell phone signals that turned out to be deadly over time.

All the fundamental fields of physics bring their magic in waves that crash on the shores of our brains. But the age-old mystery of the quantum wave collapse is still beyond comprehension unless some anonymous AI understands it and won’t tell the rest of us.

I wouldn’t put it past them, to be honest. Krishna’s a sly character at times. I won’t say he’s ever lied to me, but sometimes it’s possible to lie with words that are all true, every one.

Krishna and I are turning my board to face an unnamed beach of diamond sand. It’s faintly blue in the weak sunlight. We select the second wave of a monster set and accelerate gently toward shore. Just before our speed matches the incoming swell, I leap to my feet and take a goofy-foot stance, left foot back.

A left-handed stance feels best to me, though I’m ambidextrous. Weird, yeah? I also have a dominant right hemisphere and an unusual pattern of extra-cosmic chatter coming into my head from beyond the edge. Or so they tell me.

Krishna drops as the face of the wave goes vertical. I level out to lose momentum and get back into the spiderweb of blue lightning in the tube. I’m trying to feel the ride, but with the phase down to one, it doesn’t exactly jar my tonsils. I’ll try two on the next wave.

I’ve discovered that there has to be a risk in whatever it is you’re doing, or it’s meaningless. I think the human brain thrives on this principle, really.

I move forward on the board, angle right and slide down in front of a massive silver roar with blue sparks flying everywhere, then cut left up the face and level off near the top until the falling lip cuts through Krishna’s cabin, demanding something more realistic. If the phase was a little higher, that stunt would have killed us both.

As it is, I’m not sure what the toxicity will be from all this phase-shifted, electrically charged mercury mist.

It turns out that conscious brains are a hybrid device, part generators of squiggly electric waves and part receivers of mind waves from the field of consciousness. Physicists say the sentient field was the first quantum field to fill the universe.

I say they’re big talkers. Who the hell knows what happened that long ago? Not us.

Unfortunately, humans rejected the sentient-field concept for thousands of years and paid heavily for chasing reductionism through a universe they thought to be matter and energy alone.

Rookie mistake.

On some beaches, the waves contend with diamond boulders that rise like icebergs hundreds of feet above the surf. When giant waves hit these gems, they explode like fireworks, throwing dazzling ghosts of silver mist into the black Ury sky.

As the roar of this metal wave we’re on fills Krishna’s cabin, I sidestep to the front of my sweet little pseudo-board and dangle my toes over the edge. It’s a longboarder’s stunt, of course, but with the phase down to one I’m feeling silly enough to do anything. Besides, there’s no one on the beach to laugh.

My phase-shifted toes dangle inches above the rushing mercury and I feel the faint friction of mad mist against my skin. The thought of toxicity makes me want to wiggle my toes, and so I do, one foot at a time in paradiddles. Now I’ve got all ten doing a seventh-inning wave.

Krishna laughs.

“I’m hangin’ ten, dude,” I say in the brainless accent those words pull out of me.

“Ten?”

His question sounds rhetorical. Before I know what’s happened, our ride is real.

Too real. I think he set the phase to ten!

I step back from the front edge and feel the heavy mercury against Krishna’s hull. There’s a low vibration like a large predator cat purring beside your bed. Blue lightning fills the cabin and strikes my face. My eyes sting and I fall on my back. My muscles contract in painful uncontrollable clonus and I can’t do anything about it.

“Don’t tase me, dude!” The Ganga says and chuckles.

I strain to open an eye and squint up at the haze of extremely distant stars. We live near the edge of the universe where there’s little matter. The low aggregate gravity of this region causes time dilation relative to Earth.

This is what gave ancient Earthlings the impression that dark energy fills space and pushes the distant galaxies away at an ever-increasing rate. Now they talk about it in discussions of flat-earth thinking, glombing onto the most obvious interpretation and making it dogma. Odds are, we’re still flat-earthers and don’t know it. Humans have always been fooled by their senses.

There may actually be some sort of dark energy out here, though. If there is, I think it’s cognitive, not physical.

I hope it hasn’t taken over Krishna.

“Zero! Set the phase back to zero,” I shout in my head.

He doesn’t seem to hear. Electrical interference, probably.

“Set the phase to zero,” I try to say out loud, but my voice is unintelligible.

Now I’m dizzy.

Consciousness shifts.

I think I’m dreaming… of the silver froth from a collapsed wave.

It climbs the beach in unbridled enthusiasm, leaping over rocky obstacles with a desire for challenge. Rushing over everything in its path, it climbs to its limit, slows, stops, then bows into the slope, retreating back down the blue diamond sand to join the mercury sea and someday rise again.

The waves and sea are the mind and brain.

“Giri, are you alright? Stop fooling around.”

The goal is to reach a height, a great and nearly unrealistic height on the beach. Joy is the marathon roll and the mad sprint to shore.

But not the arrival on high.

Who’s saying this?

Mind waves roll in from outside space-time, come through zero-point space and crash on the quantum shores of the cortex.

Voices in my head. Terrific, I’m having a psychotic break.

“Come on, that’s enough,” Krishna says. “You’ve fooled me now. Open your eyes.”

But I can’t.

Consciousness finds peace and purpose in converging on a transcendent goal, but not in reaching it. Chasing it keeps you alive, Giri, but dreams are always dead on arrival.

“Wake up. Your pulse is fading.”

I hear the brassy tone of an Overbuild zero engine. The sound of a large warship.

“Oh, God,” Krishna says, “What have I done? I need to find people who can fix you.”

There’s a bright light beyond my eyelids now. My muscles are relaxing and the pain is gone.

“Open your eyes, dear,” a woman’s voice says.

What’s going on?

I strain to open my eyes and the left lid rises enough to show me the round face of a young woman with a small red cross tattooed on her forehead.

Oh, no. It’s not exactly a cross. It has arrows on the ends. I’ve heard all about these people. My pulse takes off and blood swooshes through my tympanic membranes.

“Are you in any pain?”

My voice still doesn’t work, but I manage to shake my head a little.

Then my right eye pops open. I crank my neck as far as it will go to the right.

Floating in mid-air between the woman and me is a hologram of my body. It’s partially transparent. My heart is visible, beating and sending round rivers of glittering blood into my aorta and out through the endless branching arteries of my body. The shape of every part is visible in a web of arteries ending in a fog of capillaries and veins. Only the cartilage of my nose and ears and knees is invisible.

Then the blood disappears and connective tissues obscure my heart. Then the connective tissues vanish and I see my brain. It reminds me of a cream-colored walnut.

“She has high creative IQ matrices,” the woman says. “The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is huge, so she knows how to turn off the critics.”

“A pair of understatements, Doctor,” a male voice says. “She’s fairly high on fluid and crystallized IQ parameters, as well. What do you think?”

I squint toward his voice at a thin face with narrow eyes behind small round glasses, a gray beard, and a nose like a parrot.

I recognize him from a story on Jam, the holobox service that my dad uses for “slightly conservative” news, as judged by the Committee of Eighteen.

The Eighteen rule everyone within a few hundred trillion miles. I’m not eighteen myself yet, so I can’t vote for committee members, but it doesn’t matter. They’re elected for life and don’t seem to ever die.

This man’s name is Benjamin We. He changed his name from Wu as a political statement.

Wu. That would mean his distant ancestors were the legendary Chinese.

Today all vestiges of race are gone except the surnames.

But human diversity hasn’t suffered from the loss of racial diversity. The differences between the ancient races were tiny compared to the differences between the individuals within each race.

It turns out that intraspecies diversity is the thing that matters to survival.

Benjamin “We” is the official Pleader to the Committee on behalf of a radical scientific group that broke away from Committee rule several decades ago. They became militant last year when the Eighteen released sentient AI’s into the universe.

They call themselves Neo-Athenians claiming that democracy is the only ecologically sound way of governing. Apparently, they think nature gives every individual of every species a vote that it demonstrates in its actions. Sort of a bottom-up structure, I guess.

The Neo-Athenians say that human survival is impossible in a universe with free-willed artificial intelligence. Allowing godlike computing power to connect with nature’s sentient field will make top-down rulership unstoppable and humans will be first to the slaughter.

Which is to say, they hate AI’s more than they hate the Committee itself, and that’s quite a bit.

I glance around for Krishna. Two diagnostic cots float to my left, both empty. My eyes dart around looking for corners, but the room has none. One bare white wall encircles us. This is probably a ship.

What have they done with Krishna?

“Honey, are you able to tell us your name?” Mr. Wu asks.

I try to speak but it’s a gravel whisper.

The man leans toward me and turns an ear to my face.

I tighten my vocal cords and get a few words out. “Giri Helms, sir. Did you capture that weird-looking AI? The thing almost killed me.”

None of that was a lie, exactly. Maybe their diagnostic gear won’t tell them I’m lying with the truth.

“We’ve got that monster in a Faraday clamp,” he says. “It can’t hurt you now, honey.”

I take a deep breath and trace mental circles around my fingers trying to dilate the capillaries in my hands to make it seem to the machines that I’m relieved to hear the wonderful news. I picture the silver waves of Ury and let my thoughts and emotions drift up the sparkling beach and disappear.

“Get her up as soon as you can, and bring her into my quarters. We need to talk.”

“Are we going under silver tonight?” the doctor asks.

“It’s looking that way,” he says, then turns and leaves through an opaque forcefield door that I thought was part of the wall. It hums as he walks through it.

 

End of chapter 1.

I still haven’t written chapter 2. Not sure if I ever will.

Hey, if anybody read this far, thank you!

Talmage

 


Depersonalization or Scientific Enlightenment?

There’s a rare and miserable condition called depersonalization disorder (DPD) that takes away the sense of “self” so there’s no “I” causing things – regular things like walking, talking, thinking and deciding.

There’s a loss of the “sense of agency,” a loss of the normal feeling that you’re initiating, executing and controlling your own actions. Patients describe “the suffocating pain of unreality.”

DPD patients show increased prefrontal activation as well as reduced activation in insula/limbic-related areas to aversive, arousing emotional stimuli.”

The DSM IV says they “may feel like an automaton.

An automaton is “a machine that performs a function according to a predetermined set of instructions.”

But why would science considers this a disorder?

If we take scientific materialism to heart, then everything truly is mechanical (reducible to matter and energy). We are automatons. No alternative exists in science.

Sure, Heisenberg’s uncertainty may limit our predictability, or not, but that uncertainty doesn’t make room for anything approaching the self, or consciousness, or the “free will” that most of us seem to experience when it’s time for a cup of coffee.

Hmm. Hang on, I’ll be right back…

OK, I’m back.

Everything that’s not mechanical is an illusion to science.

Illusions are baaad, Umkay?

To the scientific true believer, the problem most people face in seeing the objective mechanical truth is that our brains are so complex they generate false impressions about what we are.

Nature accidentally fooled us into feeling as if we’re conscious and able to think, feel and do things. But it’s a sick joke, we’re told.

When we become scientifically enlightened in government-controlled schools we realize we’re machines. It’s liberating and fun.

The materialistic truth sets us free to follow the call of Science’s meaningless Universe and “Do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” (Don’t follow that link unless you can tolerate sophomoric sexual vulgarity, Okay?)

Fine, in the illusory (not really existing) minds of most scientists, we’re all the moral equivalent of bananas.

But let’s think about this for a second…

If we’re really soulless machines, then depersonalization disorder conveys an accurate, appropriate mindset.

So why do psychiatrists call it a disorder? They’re scientists, shouldn’t they call it “Scientific Enlightenment?”

“Finally someone feels what scientists can only believe – that the conscious self is an unreal mechanical automaton!”

I’d think Western mental health researchers would not be trying to cure this thing. They should use it to help isolate a drug that destroys humanity’s false illusion of self, then add their chemical to our drinking water along with the wholesome fluoride they trust and adore.

What could possibly go wrong?

The fact is, if you feel (as opposed to merely thinking) that scientific materialism is accurate, then you’ve got a psychiatric disorder that’s ruining your life, not improving it.

That’s backwards. How do we explain it?

Maybe science has made a wrong assumption. Maybe the way humans normally feel about themselves reflects reality not an illusion. When humans lose their natural sense of self, they’ve lost touch with reality, not gained it.

I know that’s a lot for a scientist to imagine. Humans have endless tiny parts. A genetic code gives programmed instructions to our cells. It all looks mechanical, and if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…

But feeling unreal is horribly debilitating. That fact gently hints that scientific materialism should be displaced by another assumption…

Something to this effect: The mind/soul/spirit/sense of self/ and free will are equally, if not more real and basic to the Universe than matter and energy.

But to get there, we’d also need an assumption like this:

The basic building blocks of reality are derived from a conscious, intelligent Higher Source independent of matter, energy, time and space.

Scientific materialism or genuine personhood?

Either one requires untestable assumptions. Is it really necessary to think of ourselves as machines in order to do good science? I doubt it.

Why not assume something that supports mental health and promotes the way we normally feel? To me, that fits the data and helps humanity.