Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sex and Telepathy: In Your Pants and in Your Mind

I can't remember since when I've been interested more than tangentially in the problems associated with human communications and how they'd 'work' if, say, two people were able to share each others' thoughts and feelings without the medium of language, body-language, and so on. I suppose the first time I began to tackle it was in Keaen. But this was embryonic at best. After all, the two people involved, Caitlan ♂ and Ailin ♀, weren't always in telepathic contact, but only sporadically so. The things came to a head several books later, in Tethys, very near the end—a wide arc spanning the five novels. In between that, there was another novel, SeladiĆ«nna, in which the theme was pursued further and to greater length—again, between the male and female protagonists. You can see a preoccupation developing, yes?

Why am I so interested in this? Well, initially I guess it just 'happened', as these things often do. Idle speculations, possibly occasioned by the plot of a novel. Also, there was dissatisfaction with the inadequate way in which the issue has almost always been treated by other writers. There seems to be a failure of imagination at work. The way this is usually dealt with is that either telepathy is sporadic, or it's pervasive and ubiquitous. In the former case it's used for occasional communications over long distances, mind-control, spying, and so on; while in the latter it's usually placed in a world which is very different to ours, where everybody and sundry shares some weirdo cosmic consciousness or some crap like that, or else people just aren't 'people' anymore. These are the extremes. And please, anybody feel free to point me at some book where the theme hasn't been dealt with basically in one of those two ways. I'd be happy to amend my judgment.

Back to my own preoccupations. There are two things about the notion of what you might call 'persistent' and 'pervasive' telepathic contact, which I find especially interesting. The first is the inability to lie, conceal, obfuscate and so on. The second is the fact that this kind of telepathy, maybe coupled with strong empathy for the other person, has got to feel pretty much like being possessed—a theme I've dealt with in recent blog.

So, there are some truly fascinating issues here, especially if you construct a scenario where the people involved are real human beings, and not transhuman freaks; and if you suppose that the contact is persistent, continuous and basically unfiltered. That the people aren't 'transhuman' is important, by the way, and particularly for a storyteller. That's because, let's face it, everybody reading the story, plus the storyteller him or herself, is not transhuman; and humans have no idea, except for data-less unfounded speculation about what it might be like, of what being 'transhuman' might actually entail—with the exception of being emortal maybe, but even that, in the long term, will probably lead to changes that are quite unfathomable.

So, for The Storyteller, I decided to pursue the theme further, this time without fear or holding bacj, and basically just running with it. What happens when two people, who also happen to be sexually very attracted to each other—and partially this is a means to establish the connection, of you will—find that they make, with frightening speed, a mental connection that is of the kind of quality, where you could say that each of them is basically 'possessed' by the other, but with them still being two distinct individuals with different histories. Also, it isn't obvious, by any means, what this communication is actually like. Words? Images? Notions? Emotions? How does one 'know' what another person thinks or feels? How do they remain human in the face of such changes? Or is this actually an issue?

'Feeling' is probably the easiest to deal with, because that needs no words, just empathy. If you want to be clinical about it, think of it as mirror-neurons in action. But propositional thought—which I consider to be just a different way of looking at mental narrative, the chassis of the human mind...remember?—is a different thing altogether.

And then there's the thing about identity. For if two people are in each others' minds, then each doesn't just perceive what they perceive, but also what the other perceives. Which means that both partners in a sexual act become each a manner of speaking. Feeling what the other feels, seeing what the other sees, partaking in the act as oneself and the other at the same time.

Fascinating, as you will admit. And there is another thing, which is that, because of the inability to lie, there can't be any of the sexual mind games that people often play. And I'm not just talking about the sexual act itself, but also about what you might call 'everyday sexual politics' between individuals. The stupid and, to my mind utterly dumb-witted, power games between the sexes. And yes, I know they have evolutionary roots, but screw evolution!

What will such honesty do to people, and how will it change them? Can they live with it? How can they survive—and pretend not to be what they are—in a world that once was theirs, but which is now, from the point of view of human relationships, a universe distant from where they are? How do they communicate? What if verbal communication is actually better at some things than the mental stuff? What if they combined both? (And how, as a writer, should I represent that on a page, and still make it readable and have 'flow'?)

I'm still struggling with all of that, as my protagonists work their way through their discovery of what they share.

And this, if I may just come back to that, is another reason why writing sex and romance is such fun; because it keeps one grounded in Ur-issues, rather than making the whole thing into some intellectual what-if game. And it also helps me as a writer, because caring about those people makes it easier for me to deal with the complexities that emerge from such a premise.

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