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Interspecies Communication

I first met Sammy Davis, Junior, when I was nine. At the edge of the kitchen counter, he waited, a gray house lizard—what we in the Philippines called butiki. No bigger than my father’s index finger, half of him was a thin, twitching tail that tapered to a point.

 

Butiki

 

Sammy Davis was a similar specimen of Hemidactylus frenatus that my mother and father discovered long ago in their first apartment near España Boulevard in Manila. He had kept the moths and mosquitos at bay, and so they’d tolerated, then befriended him.

Now, several years later, my father approached Junior, making a series of clicks with his tongue, his hand outstretched with a pinch of boiled rice. My mother continued nibbling at her steamed chicken while my seven-year-old brother watched with a kind of stunned, frightened look in his eyes.

Still clicking–a quick click-click-click, pause, repeat–my father carefully set down the pinch of rice about two inches away, while the lizard watched with rotating eyes.

It took about half a minute while the lizard twitched his tail, swung his head first this way, then that–before he darted forward and snapped up the rice, swallowed, then darted away down the vertical side of the counter.

Triumphant, my father offered another pinch of rice.

Click-click-click.

Junior poked his head over the edge, scrambled to the rice, and gobbled it up.

Click-click-click.

 

koko-a-talking-gorilla

 

Koko, a lowland gorilla trained by Dr. Penny Patterson, is said to comprehend over one thousand signs from American Sign Language and to understand and respond to a spoken vocabulary of over two thousand English words. Beyond that, Koko is reported to have invented her own signs to communicate new thoughts: for example, describing a ring by combining “finger” and “bracelet” into the new word “finger-bracelet.”

 

kanz-icon

 

Kanzi, a bonobo, has been using a specialized keyboard with symbols on the keys to communicate with the team of primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, using a vocabulary of six hundred words.

 

Alex

 

Alex, an African Grey, was shown by Dr. Irene Pepperberg to understand over a hundred English words and could identify various colors and shapes.

 

Nim

 

A controversial project in the 1970s saw a baby chimpanzee named Neam Chimpsky—“Nim,” for short—taken from his mother just days after birth at a primate research center. Behavioral psychologist Herbert Terrace aimed to raise Nim as a human child, placing him with human families who strove to teach him a form of American Sign Language. Despite a sad end, when researchers attempted to re-integrate him unsuccessfully with other chimpanzees, Nim learned to sign in three- and four-word sentences:

Apple me eat.

Drink me Nim.

Finish hug Nim.

Give me eat.

Hug me Nim.

Tickle me Nim.

Yogurt Nim eat.

Banana eat me Nim.

Me eat drink more.

Tickle me Nim play.

 

Dolphin

 

In a NASA-funded experiment with a bottlenose dolphin named Peter, neuroscientist John C. Lilly tried to prove his theory that dolphins could learn language via constant human contact. Over ten weeks, Margaret Howe, his research assistant, spent day and night with Peter.

Dolphins can make human-sounding noises via their blowholes, and Margaret’s goal was for Peter to mimic sounds that he heard.

Over time, Peter could pronounce a rough version of several words, including “hello,” “we,” “one,” “triangle,” “diamond,” and “ball.” His favorites:

Hello, Margaret

Play, play, play

Disturbingly, Peter got emotionally attached to and aggressive with Margaret, circling around her, nibbling her, and jamming himself against her legs. The behavior escalated, and he was quickly re-instated with other dolphins until he had calmed down enough to be re-introduced to Margaret.

Unfortunately, after ten weeks, funding for the project ended, and Peter was shipped to another lab. Without Margaret, he apparently lost the will to live and refused to breathe, sinking to the bottom of his tank in what might be understood as suicide.

 

Butiki 2

 

Months later, I’m alone in the kitchen when I hear a clicking beside me.

There is Junior, his eyes two quivering balls of black, his tail flicking, right in the middle of the table.

Click-click-click.

I throw a rice grain at him, and he runs forward, catching it in his mouth and swallowing. I follow with several more.

Click-click.

Two clicks means “I’m done.” He twitches his tail one more time, turns, and is gone.

 

Big Ear

 

On August 15, 1977, astronomer Jerry Ehman was examining data from Ohio State University’s radio telescope, part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. He saw an anomaly in the data from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius in the 1.43GHz frequency. Most scientists agree that would be the most likely frequency an alien civilization would use to broadcast a signal. It was so amazing that Ehman circled it and wrote “Wow!” in the margin of the print-out. Up until then, the signal had resisted all explanation. The signal’s strength was represented on a scale of thirty-six intensity levels by the numerals 0-9, then A-Z. The 72-second signal formed a perfect bell curve:

6EQUJ5

We are here.

 

Wow_signal

 

Out there, beyond the furthest arms of our galaxy, our radio telescopes broadcast our own signals, our hopes and dreams, in a language we hope someone will understand.

Our spacecraft bear plaques engraved with drawings and symbols of ourselves in a form we hope someone will decipher.

And we listen, straining to hear beyond the noise of supernovae and neutron stars, to ascertain if there is indeed somebody out there.

 

adoptaspacecraftvoyager1

 

Click-click-click.

 


SAMUEL PERALTA is a physicist and storyteller. An Amazon bestselling author, he is also the creator and driving force behind the Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, with 14 consecutive titles ranking at the top of the Amazon SF Bestseller lists, several hitting the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. His own work has been recognized in Best American Science Fiction and included in the author community anthology for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer.

Samuel Peralta

Samuel Peralta, creator of The Future Chronicles

This article was first published, in slightly different form, as the Foreword to Interspecies

https://www.amazon.com/Interspecies-Inlari-M-J-Kelley-ebook/dp/B01G7KON9U?tag=disscifi-20

Interspecies, a shared universe anthology

 

The Butterfly Effect

“Can anyone alter fate? All of us combined… or one great figure… or someone strategically placed, who happens to be in the right spot. Chance. Accident. And our lives, our world, hanging on it.”

— Philip K. Dick

 

Ray Bradbury’s classic short story A Sound of Thunder is the most reprinted science fiction story of all time. Set in the year 2055, a company offers time travelling safaris to the past, to the Cretaceous Era, to hunt a Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

The company takes great pains to choose targets that are about to die anyway, since the belief is that changes in the distant past could become an avalanche that changes everything. But despite all precautions, something goes utterly wrong—

 

Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", illustrated by Richard Corben (Topps Comics) 1993

Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, illustrated by Richard Corben (Topps Comics) 1993

 

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?

 

Butterfly Effect

Samuel Peralta

Because your father stopped in Strandja park
to point out that whirligig of wings–blue
argus
, he said, Ultraaricia
Anteros
–you were dazzled forever.

Those wings wafted you here, ten thousand six
hundred kilometres away, to the
University of California,
Davis. Encyclopedia of Insects

in arm, you haul yourself up the stairwell
of Briggs Hall. Your frail sandal spindles on
the threshold–and you trip, a beautiful,
crippled Lycaenidaen specimen,

into the butterfly net of my arms.
Somewhere in Texas, a hurricane stirs.

 

Ultraaricia anteros

Ultraaricia anteros

 

Besides the chaos theory reference, my free verse sonnet Butterfly Effect arose from many memories. Of my father writing a scientific monograph on moths and butterflies, and handing me a paper pamphlet of it, when I was young.

 

Of my fondness for the blue argus butterfly, from the family Lycaenidae, a specimen restricted to the Balkans in Europe.

 

Encyclopedia of Insects

Encyclopedia of Insects

 

Of seeing the Encyclopedia of Insects in a library, a bloody huge book.

 

And memories of the three years, I lived in Davis, California, where I won my first-ever literary prize, and where I first thought I was in love.

 

MU Entrance, Freeborn Hall

University of Davis, California

 

So here we are. Where we are now, what language we’re speaking, what foods we eat, what we believe in—all of these are based on a myriad of events happening in the past, just so. Accidents. Coincidences. Chance.

 

We don’t live in the world of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle because the Allied forces were victorious over the Axis powers in the Second World War.

 

From Amazon's production of "Man in the High Castle" by Philip K. Dick

Amazon's production of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

 

We don’t live in a world where Franklin D. Roosevelt was defeated in his third run for President of the United States, to be replaced by Charles Lindbergh, as in Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.

 

But what if? 

 

Speculative fiction itself is based on asking that question.

 

What if Pope John Paul I hadn't died after just a month in his office? What if the women's suffragist movement lost their battle for the right to vote? What if Steve Wozniak’s focus had turned to medical technology instead of personal computers? What if the Japanese and United States of America had allied to combat an expected Great Depression? What if Edward Jenner had died prematurely before developing a vaccine for smallpox?

 

butterfly-effect-1920x1200

 

The flap of such butterfly wings would surely have changed everything—lives, loves, the world as we know it.

 


SAMUEL PERALTA is a physicist and storyteller. An Amazon bestselling author, he is also the creator and driving force behind the Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, with 14 consecutive titles ranking at the top of the Amazon SF Bestseller lists, several hitting the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. His own work has been recognized in Best American Science Fiction and included in the author community anthology for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer.

Samuel Peralta

Samuel Peralta, creator of The Future Chronicles

This article was first published, in slightly different form, as the Foreword to Alt.History 101

Alt.History 101, part of The Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies

 

FTL – Science Fiction’s Fudge Factor

Hyperspace, warp drive, folding space…over the years, authors have come up with lots of ways to travel faster than light, a virtual necessity if we are to portray any plausible kind of interstellar civilization.  Yes, you can build a good story even with years of transit time between even close systems.  Generation ships and crews in suspended animation can be interesting, and of course, we can restrict the action to a single solar system.  The Expanse is a great example of this kind of action.  But sooner or later we want to break away from the gentle warmth of Sol and explore the galaxy.  And we need to leave light behind in our dust (cosmic dust) as we do.

 

This is where the fudging begins.  Without turning this into a physics symposium, let’s just say that even the wildest imaginings of our knowledge of science tell us it is impossible to do this, especially for something like a spaceship full of human beings (as opposed to a few sub-particles).  So what do we do?  We make something up, of course.

 

Here is where we branch off in options.  Some authors make considerable effort to create systems of faster than light travel that at least seem plausible (they’re not).  Others don’t even worry about it.  They may call it a hyper-jump or a Jaworsky Field (after the fictional inventor), but they don’t even try to explain how it functions.  It can also be a naturally occurring phenomenon, a warp point, for example, or something manmade (possibly by ancient aliens now mysteriously vanished).  But one way or another, we will get the spaceships from system to system.

 

Sometimes, however, there is method to the madness, though it is often driven by plot rather than science.  For example, look at something like Star Trek.  The Enterprise flits all across space, seemingly unconcerned with refueling or even maintenance, at least unless someone sneaks onboard and scrags the dilithium crystals.  This is a great system when you want your ships to be able to get anywhere, to function at maximum efficiency even when they are lost and cut off.  But what if you want the reality of travel to impose greater restrictions on your space fleet?

 

Other systems are based on more of a fixed system using point to point travel.  I’ve used warp gates in my Crimson Worlds series.  These largely unexplained natural phenomena allow travel back and forth between two systems that are lightyears apart.  A system like this offers a number of advantages, especially for the writer of military science fiction.  It takes space, in all its three dimensional glory, and reduces it to a series of connections.  It rationalizes battle lines, and it creates a value structure for systems, making those with larger numbers of gates leading to cool places worth fighting over.

 

FTL systems can also be used to regulate the pace of travel and warfare in space.  Perhaps ships can “jump” anywhere, without the need for warp gates or the like.  But they can only go so far, and then they need to stop and refuel…and possibly have repairs done.  This can drive the plot in a powerful way.  Why is this backwater world so important?  Why are there giant battleships in orbit?  Because it is on the invasion route into the heart of a space empire!  This can be used to create something akin to the “island hopping” campaigns of World War II, as fleets maneuver to secure bases along invasion routes.

 

So the next time you pick up a new space opera, stop and think about whether there was more than made up science in the author’s mind.

 


JAY ALLAN currently lives in New York City, and has been reading science fiction and fantasy for just about as long as he;s been reading. His tastes are fairly varied and eclectic, but favorites are military and dystopian science fiction and epic fantasy, usually a little bit gritty.

Jay writes a lot of science fiction with military themes, but also other SF and some fantasy as well, with complex characters and lots of backstory and action. He thinks world-building is the heart of science fiction and fantasy, and since that is what he's always been drawn to as a reader, that is what he writes.

Telepathy – From Science Fiction to Reality

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke

 

During the Golden Age of science fiction, John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Astounding Science Fiction was a vanguard in popularizing stories that centered on humans with enhanced mental abilities, and how ordinary society might look at people with those abilities, notably with A.E. van Vogt’s serialized novel Slan and the similarly themed stories that collectively made up Henry Kuttner’s Mutant.

 

Indeed, the first Hugo Award was given in 1953 to a novel that revolved around telepaths. The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester, is a police procedural science fiction story set in a world where telepathy has become commonplace, although so-called espers have varying degrees of ability.

 

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

 

That this work has become a landmark in the genre is evidenced by nods to his work, as in the television series Babylon 5, where the author lends his name to one of the primary protagonists, Psi Corps officer Alfred Bester, played by the iconic Walter Koenig from Star Trek (whose Vulcans were also able to mind-meld, to share thoughts, memories, and knowledge with others through physical contact).

 

Today this melding of minds, this staple of science fiction, is coming closer to reality than many of us may realize.

 

In his book The Physics of the Impossible, Michio Kaku, noted futurist and Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City College of New York, classifies three types of impossibilities. Class III impossibilities are what we normally think of as not possible: things that cannot become real, at least not according to our current understanding of science; these include perpetual motion and precognition. Class II impossibilities include things that may be realizable, but in the far future, such as faster-than-light travel.

 

According to Professor Kaku, telepathy is a Class I impossibility. These are phenomena that don’t violate the known laws of physics, and indeed may become reality in the next century.

 

A meeting of minds

A meeting of minds

 

Never mind the next century—some scientists believe the age of telepathy may be upon us.

 

The first clue? That people lacking one or more of the normal five senses can now, in certain situations, be given them.

 

Since the 1960s, around 350,000 people who were profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing have been fitted with cochlear implants, providing them with a sense of sound where previously there was none. Essentially, a microphone picks up sounds, which are filtered by a speech processor and sent as an electronically coded signal to a transmitter behind the ear. This transmitter sends the signal to the subject’s brain through an array of up to twenty-two electrodes circling the cochlea, which then send the impulses through the auditory nerve system to the brain.

 

Following European approval in 2011, the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2013 approved for use the first retinal implant. The system uses a video processing unit to transform images from a miniature video camera into electronic data, which is then wirelessly transmitted to a sixty-electrode retinal prosthesis implanted in the eye, replacing the function of degenerated cells in the retina. Although vision isn’t fully restored, the system allows those affected with age-related macular degeneration, or with retinitis pigmentosa—a condition which damages the light-sensitive cells lining the retina—to better perceive images and movement.

 

Retinal implant

Retinal implant

 

Similar advances are being reported for the other three senses of touch, smell, and taste.

 

But what about the sixth sense?

 

In my own speculative fiction universe, electronically augmented telepaths make use of technologies akin to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to associate perceived images of neural activity with a subject’s memory palace in his brain. This is a key point for my conception of the protagonist of my short story Trauma Room, a man who can use augmented telepathy to traverse a subject’s thoughts and memories using the method of loci.

 

Trauma Room by Samuel Peralta

Trauma Room by Samuel Peralta

 

Today, functional MRI has actually been used to sense words being thought by a subject, or to discern the images being formed in the brain as a subject watches a movie. It’s still very mechanical, matching monitored brainwave activity with a huge database of impulse responses to benchmark words or images, but it’s the same big numbers principle that enabled the IBM Deep Blue chess computer to win against then-World Champion Garry Kasparov in 1997.

 

In the same year that The Demolished Man was published, Theodore Sturgeon's More Than Human also came out. It’s the story of several people with extraordinary abilities who are able blend their abilities together and achieve human transcendence. The same theme—of humans transcending ordinary humankind—is explored in Time is the Simplest Thing, by Clifford D. Simak. It can be argued that a similar sort of communal experience—if not transcendence—is already part of our experience, with the spread of the Social Web.

 

It’s only a matter of time before all the input and output devices we have—keyboards, flat screens, heads-up displays—become obsolete. Why should you have to type or dictate information into a computer, when you can control it directly by thought? Why project information onto your eyes when you could send information directly into the brain? In time, many of us may be direct input/output nodes into the cloud.

 

Science fiction?

 

Direct brain interfacing

Direct brain interfacing

 

We live in a world where cochlear implants are already helping the deaf to hear, and retinal implants are beginning to help the blind to see.

 

We live in a world where smartphones and connected wearable devices—watches, glasses, health and fitness monitors—simultaneously receive and broadcast information to and about us through the cloud of the Internet.

 

We live in a world where deep brain stimulation is routinely used in therapies to address Parkinson’s disease, where implants in the brain allow people to bypass a broken spinal cord and move hands, arms, limbs with the power of thought.

 

Augmented reality heads-up display

Augmented reality heads-up display

 

In fact, we live in a world where real telepathy has already been achieved. A team at Duke University in North Carolina has, for the first time, demonstrated a direct communication interface between two brains. In the Duke experiments, two thirsty rats are placed into separate cages. They cannot see or hear each other, but their brains are wired together via electrode implants in their motor cortices. Each rat will be rewarded with a sip of water if it pushes the correct one of two levers. In the first rat’s cage, a light comes on above the correct lever to let the rat know which lever to push—but there is no such indicator in the second rat’s cage.

 

The experiment, then, measures whether, when the first rat pushes the correct lever, it sends a brain-initiated signal to the second rat, which must then correctly interpret the signal it experiences in its own brain, and push the correct lever.

 

The technology is simple: implanted electrodes capture the signals from the firing of the neurons in the motor cortex, translate them into binary code, and sends the signal—via a wire, wirelessly, or via the Internet to another location—into the electrodes in the other brain, which translates it back into neural signals.

 

Sheer chance would have the second rat pushing the correct lever 50% of the time. In fact, the rat chose the correct lever between 60% and 85% of the time. This was true even when one animal was in North Carolina and the other was in Brazil.

 

How much longer before what you read in the following pages is no longer science fiction?

 

The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku

The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku

 

In The Future of the Mind, Professor Kaku notes, “We have learned more about the brain in the last fifteen years than in all prior human history, and the mind, once considered out of reach, is finally assuming center stage.”

 

Science fiction writers peer into possible futures, using a literary form of precognition, as it were. And so we follow that grand tradition, celebrating this a new Silver Age of fiction, an age of online publishing and digital books, an age where we are surrounded by wonderment and wonders, where science, in many ways, has become magical.

 


SAMUEL PERALTA is a physicist and storyteller. An Amazon bestselling author, he is also the creator and driving force behind the Future Chronicles series of speculative fiction anthologies, with 14 consecutive titles ranking at the top of the Amazon SF Bestseller lists, several hitting the overall Amazon Top 10 Bestsellers list. His own work has been recognized in Best American Science Fiction and included in the author community anthology for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New SF Writer.

Samuel Peralta

Samuel Peralta, creator of The Future Chronicles

This article was first published, in slightly different form, as the Foreword to The Telepath Chronicles

Various_TELEPATH_CHRONICLES_EbookEdition-320x512

The Telepath Chronicles – part of The Future Chronicles anthology series