The Science of Happiness

Here’s an interesting article I came across courtesy of Julian Simpson’s always excellent INFODUMP email newsletter – The Science of Happiness.

Here’s the kicker: Every time this electrical charge is triggered, the synapses grow closer together to decrease the distance the electrical charge has to cross. This is a microcosmic example of evolution, of adaptation. The brain is rewiring its own circuitry, physically changing itself, to make it easier and more likely that the proper synapses will share the chemical link and thus spark together–in essence, making it easier for the thought to trigger. Therefore, your first mystical scientific evidence: your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality. Let that sink in for a moment before you continue, because that’s a seriously profound logic-bomb right there.

Your thoughts reshape your brain, and thus are changing a physical construct of reality.

Read the rest here.

Don’t be afraid of the future…

Warren Ellis posted a talk he gave last year in Dublin to his ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter – which you should sign up for. If you’re interested in the modern science fictional condition, it’s required reading.

We just need to keep telling the folklore.  Using the language.  Tell the stories.  There’s no such thing as future shock.  It turns out that we’re all much stronger than we ever gave ourselves credit for.   We dealt with gods and monsters, so by god we can deal with the space eels.  We adapt.  Everything tells us that we should be overwhelmed by our accelerating future that’s happening faster than we can prepare for.  But Stewart Brand said “we are as gods and might as well get good at it,” and he said that forty-seven years ago, the year I was born.  And we are monsters, and might as well admit it: we’re pursuit predators who can heal almost any wound, show up just when you think we’ve gone away, and we’ll attempt to have sex with pretty much anything in the universe.  Don’t be afraid of the future.  We will never die, we can do everything we ever want, and we love stories more than anything.  Stories are magic, magic is science, and science is what makes us human.   Don’t be bored, and don’t be afraid.  Have a drink.  Sit around the pool in the clearing.  The future is coming, and we’re going to win.

The whole things is here.

Atemporality for the Creative Artist

Reading Ales Kot and Will Tempest’s comic Material (which I highly recommend – it’s near-future SF with socio-political issues coursing through it, and stark, striking art) put me onto this talk by Bruce Sterling: Atemporality for the Creative Artist.

We’ve moved into a new town, and the first order of business is like : ok, what gives around here? Well, there seems to be this sort of decayed castle, and there’s also a lot of slums…. That’s not the sort of thing which requires a punk ‘no-future’ rage. Like: ‘You’ve taken away my future, and I am going to kill you, or kill myself, and throw a brick at a cop!’ I don’t really think that is helpful.

What’s needed here is like a kind of atemporality that’s like agnosticism. Just a calm, pragmatic, serene skepticism about the historical narratives. I mean: they just don’t map onto what is going on.

So how do we just — like — sound out our new scene? What can we do to liven things up, especially as creative artists?

Well, the immediate impulse is going to be the ‘Frankenstein Mashup.’ Because that’s the native expression of network culture. The “Frankenstein mashup” is to just take elements of past, present, and future and just collide ’em together, in sort of a collage. More or less semi-randomly, like a Surrealist “exquisite corpse.”

You can do useful and interesting things in that way, but I don’t really think that offers us a great deal. Even when it’s done very deftly, it tends to lead to the kind of levelling blandness of ‘world music.’ That kind of world music that’s middle-of-the-road disco music which includes pygmy nose-flutes or sitars.

The kind of thing is tragically easy to do, but not really very effective. It’s cheap to do. It’s very punk rock. It’s very safety pins and plastic bags. But it’s missing a philosophical high-end, really an atemporal meaning of life. High-art.

And I would like to see some of that. I think there is a large hole there that could be filled, from an atemporal perspective. Not at the lowest end of artistic expression, but way up at the top philosophical end.

And this great piece of wisdom that Sterling passes on from William Gibson:

The ‘pre-distressed antique futurity’. William Gibson wrote about this when we was writing about atemporality, associating it with his ‘Zero History’ novel that he is working on. Gibson was saying that if you have a genuinely avant garde idea, something that’s really new, you should write about it or create about it as if it were being read twenty years from now. In other words, if you want to do this, you want to strip away the sci-fi chrome, the sense of wonder. You want it to be antique before it hits the page or the screen. Imagine that it was twenty years gone into the future. Just approach it from that perspective.

No longer allow yourself to be hypnotized by the sense of technical novelty. Just refuse to go there. Accept that it is already passe’, and create it from that point of view. Try to make it news that stays news.

Refuse the awe of the future. Refuse reverence to the past. If they are really the same thing, you need to approach them from the same perspective.

Our Generation Ships Will Sink

Have a look at Our Generation Ships Will Sink over at Boing Boing, in which Kim Stanley Robinson tells us why, as a living, thriving species, we’ll never get off this planet (and therefore should look after it better).

We are always teamed with many other living creatures. Eighty percent of the DNA in our bodies is not human DNA, and this relatively new discovery is startling, because it forces us to realize that we are not discrete individuals, but biomes, like little forests or swamps. Most of the creatures inside us have to be functioning well for the system as a whole to be healthy. This is a difficult balancing act, and does not work perfectly even on Earth; but divorced from Earth’s bacterial load, and thus never able to get infusions of new bacteria, the chances of suffering various immune problems similar to those observed in over-sterile Terran environments will rise markedly.

Because we need a broad array of bacterial companions, one would want to bring along as much of Earth as you could fit into a starship. But even the largest starship would be about one-trillionth the size of Earth, and this necessary miniaturization would almost certainly lead to unknown effects in our bodies.


I’m not convinced that Solarpunk will become the next true movement of SF (I feel like it could easily go the way of Steampunk, becoming more of an aesthetic movement rather than a literary one with sociopolitical importance, but I’ll get into the -punks at some other time [and remind me to tell you how I invented cli-fi years ago, but I called it Ecopunk {but never managed to finish my Ecopunk thriller}]), but this is some very interesting food for thought.

On The Political Dimensions of Solarpunk:

Novelist Bruce Sterling […] says that the future is about “old people in big cities afraid of the sky.” This is inexorable. Barring radical cataclysm, the reasonably inevitable trends of urbanization, an aging populace and climate change will set the stage for life in the coming five decades. If you are a human living in the middle of the 21st century, chances are you will be elderly — or surrounded by the elderly. Chances are you will live in a city. Chances are your community, country and supply chains will be plagued by some combination of extreme weather, rising sea levels and droughts.

These are the facts we must build on and around, whether we are making solarpunk fiction, solarpunk fashion, solarpunk infrastructure, or solarpunk political demands. If solarpunk is to back up its optimism with meaningful solutions, or even meaningful notions, we must consciously consider how to respond to each of these trends.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll warn you now, it’s a long one.

And the above points to this: Notes Towards a Manifesto, which is shorter and shallower, but still interesting, and a better bet if you’re short on time and/or processor cycles.

And if you do want to think about Solarpunk fashion, it’s probably worth reading the below excerpt, taken from Deb Chachra’s Metafoundry Newsletter, about textiles and fashion after our current fashion industry has become so much dust inside so many abandoned sweatshops:

At some point in the 90s, I got my hands on modern synthetic technical textiles for the first time, made of polyester fibres that were now fine enough that the fabrics were soft and comfortable to the touch and could wick moisture. The first item was a Christmas gift, a Polartec fleece headband for running outside in the dead of winter in Toronto. When I went for a run wearing it for the first time, a day or two later, I didn’t think much about how my ears and head were warm and dry, until I got home, took it off, and was amazed to see the beaded moisture on the outside surface. The second item was a wicking polyester t-shirt that I bought for triathlons (and only for triathlons–it was expensive enough for me at the time that I saved it for race days). I could pull it on over a wet swimsuit and get on my bike, without worrying that it’d end up soaked and clammy like all the cotton t-shirts I normally wore to train. When I starting spending time there in the late 90s, I joked that the tech boom in rainy Seattle was facilitated (if not driven) by the rise of Gore-Tex. Since then, I’ve been keeping a close eye on advances in textiles as they move out into the mainstream (for me, that means 100% synthetic workout clothes from REI and the Gap–no more cotton t-shirts, ever–plus a few items from Nau and Outlier, and also amazing microfibre dishtowels). So I predictably absolutely adored this piece in Aeon about how textiles are a technology that has been underappreciated throughout history. A day or so later, a friend commented on the post-apocalyptic clothing in Mad Max: Fury Road and elsewhere, and that sent me down a late night rabbithole.

Given a vaguely-specified Hollywood-style apocalypse, where we ignore how going back a hundred years in technology will make the Black Death (and its associated massive cultural change) look like a day in the office when everyone is at home with the flu, what might clothing look like, say, a decade or two afterwards? If everything is pushed back to the level of handbuilt tech, the biggest issue with clothing is that there won’t be much of a supply chain. No supply chain means that, at least in the short term, the local clothing stocks will be a major determinant of what people wear. Where I live (the northeast US), that means cheap and ubiquitous t-shirts patchworked into everything, for a start–making quilts out of a hundred thousand unneeded t-shirts. Notions (zippers, hooks, buttons etc.) will be cannibalized from worn-out clothes–even cheap zippers bring together out-of-reach precision metallurgy and polymers, and reliable YKK zippers will be sought and prized. Speaking of polymers: Patagonia and North Face and Gore-Tex outerwear will be prized heirlooms, the most valuable garments made of durable, functional and irreplaceable technical synthetics (especially needful in New England winters). No supply chains means no polymers, nor much by way of dyes (most of which are derived from petroleum), which means returning to fibres that can be grown (and grown locally, initially). Plants or animal products like wool, as well as leather (probably not black, though) and fur. This was nicely captured in Mad Max: Fury Road: the Vuvalini of Many Mothers, who gardened, wore handwoven-looking scarves and fabrics in colours consistent with vegetable dyes. No sweatshops on the other side of the world means that the urban hipster hobbies of knitting and sewing are suddenly survival skills, assuming that raw materials can be found (and disposable sewing kits from hotels become immensely valuable for the sharp, strong steel needles). The city of Lowell, just north of where I live, was built in the 1820s as a factory town to manufacture textiles. Many of the canals, some of the water wheels, and a roomful of looms have been preserved as a national historic park. While they could be converted back to water, the timescale of that seems long enough that other technologies might be rebuilt.

This is just off the top of my head–I wonder about needles, about spinning strong but fine threads, about how warm clothes allow mobility in the wintertime. But ultimately, it’s hard not to feel like the idea of a catastrophe as a short sharp shock is an artifact left over from the Cold War and the insanity of concepts like ‘full-scale nuclear war’ and ‘mutual assured destruction’ and ‘nuclear winter’. The catastrophes that loom over us now are all happening in slow-motion: anthropocentric climate change, planetary-scale pollution, peak oil, pandemics (or some combination of all of the above, as occurs in William Gibson’s The Peripheral and referred to, with grim humour, as the Jackpot), which will likely allow at least some evolution in what people wear as they play themselves out. One thing is for sure, though–there’ll be mismatched plastic buttons everywhere, since they need millions of years to decompose, and crafters will be finding stashes of those suckers until the sun goes out.

And finally, I feel as though Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield’s Freakangels might have been the original solarpunk text, without realising it and long before the term was coined. Think about it – it’s set in a flooded world, and follows the exploits of a small group of people struggling to build themselves a sustainable community without help (or interference) from any authority but themselves.


How Will We Live?

This article by Anab Jain is a thoroughly interesting and human look at… well, at a whole bunch of things relating to the modern experience (or perhaps the up-coming experience unless you live in the US and are well-off), Amazon, algorithms, the internet of things, death, etc…

How Will We Live?

How Will We Live?

It also includes this little piece of craziness: