Thank you both for taking the time for this discussion. For anyone unaware of you or your body of work, could you both introduce yourselves?
I’m D.C. Wright-Hammer, author of the scifi thriller series Between Two Minds. Hailing from the Midwest United States, my working class upbringing grounded me in reality while my education and interests led me down a creative path. During the day, I help drive development at a large software company. Nights and weekends, I find myself knee deep in a number of different WIPs including the next books in the Between Two Minds series.
I’m C.R. Dudley from York, UK, and I’m a writer, artist and mind explorer. I’m fascinated by all aspects of mind - philosophy, psychology, dreams, mysticism – and particularly the intersection those things have with science and creativity. I’ve written two books to date, Fragments of Perception and Mind in the Gap (both fiction), lots of online articles, and more of both in the works.
Do you consider ‘brain’ and ‘mind’ to be the same thing?
No. In the same way computer hardware and software/data are different, so too are the brain and the so called mind (that which makes us us - our memories, personality, thought processes, tendencies, traumas etc). The science reality of today states that there is no way to extract the mind from its physical counterparts (brain, spinal cord, nervous system, etc), that it cannot be reduced to simple 1s and 0s. My series is predicated on the science fiction that minds could eventually be moved or migrated, not unlike computer software and data, to different brains and bodies.
It’s really an old concept in history, popularized by Rene Descartes’s ‘evil demon’ and later Gilbert Harman’s ‘brain in the vat’ or BIV. These thought experiments posited that a malevolent all powerful being (evil demon) or supercomputer (BIV) could simulate our bodies without our knowledge, and we could logically never know. However, the simple fact that we can doubt our existence means that we are in fact sentient beings, comprehending the possibilities. Descartes’s phrase “I think therefore I am” was shorted from “I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.” The doubt is very important.
I took these concepts and embedded them in my character driven scifi mysteries that thrust some of the experience onto the reader via creative storytelling and interleaved narratives.
I’m glad you mentioned the full Descartes quote there, D.C. I too think the ‘doubt’ part is vital because the spirit of inquiry is arguably at the very root of what makes us human. It’s a double-edged sword though - our chain of questions and epiphanies torments us as much as it propels us forwards.
The question of mind and brain is so interesting. I love the analogy of mind being software to the brain’s hardware; it’s a very useful way of looking at the classic Cartesian Dualism model, in which the mind and brain are considered to be separate, but interacting, substances. It works extremely well as a basis for the Between Two Minds series.
My answer is: it’s an unknown. I think the prevalent assumption in modern science is that studies of the brain will eventually lead to a full explanation of mind, the implication being that it is caused by the brain and cannot exist in any form without it. This is the physicalist view, which presents us as a kind of complex system that produces something that is more than the sum of its parts.
In Mind in the Gap, I take the opposite stance: what if physical reality is caused, or commanded, by the mind? What if the mind doesn’t actually need the body at all? The whole book is basically an exploration of Idealism, an assumption that the universe is fundamentally mental. This isn’t necessarily my personal view, but I wanted to demonstrate all the crazy avenues of thought this can take us down.
Another fascinating theory is that the mind and brain are two aspects of the same thing, but we can only perceive them as being distinct from one another. That has some lovely parallels with quantum theory, in which we can only perceive a wave or a particle despite experiments showing both properties can be present simultaneously. This is something I’m researching at the moment for a forthcoming writing project.
I’ve found myself in discussions about quantum theory, and I’m woefully ill-equipped to participate. But they’re definitely fascinating to say the least.
Most scientists will tell you if you think you understand quantum physics, you haven’t understood quantum physics. It has so many connotations that are dangerously close to woo-woo, and yet we know from experimentation that it works. It’s the nearest science has come to integrating consciousness into material theories, and that makes it a playground for science fiction authors!
Going back to your answer above, one of the considerations in the mind/brain conundrum is memory, I think. As in, where and in what form are memories stored? I know that plays a role in your mind migrations, DC. Do you see them as ‘data stored on the hard drive, accessed by the software’ kind of arrangement?
Yes, specifically because that concept is accessible to readers today. I went so far as to say that the procedure included duplicated the brain’s “central processors” to mimic the way the brain processes thoughts and memories, and microscopic medical machines mold the host brain to match. Then, the thoughts and memories were moved over and reprocessed as they first had been. Fiction, but somewhat believable.
If a brain is exactly duplicated - let’s say with every single neural connection precisely simulated by computer - is the mind also duplicated?
That’s the idea, but as C. R. pointed out, there’s some synergy in our brain, and further the spinal cord and central nervous system, that science hasn’t figured out yet. Even if they could explain it, replicating it from one individual body to another body (or supercomputer) would be an impossibly difficult task in and of itself. If you think about it, we’d be trying to recreate tens of thousands of years of evolution with the added difficulties of an unfathomably challenging data migration project.
I agree, we’re nowhere close to figuring that out yet. We still know surprisingly little about the nature of things like memory and how things are recalled and what makes us us. It’s why I find it odd that so many people believe we are close to making conscious AI; it shows how widespread the idea is that mind can only be a product of brain. It perhaps also shows an exaggerated faith in what we are already able to achieve.
I wrote a couple of the stories in Mind in the Gap around the idea of copying and transferring minds. It’s difficult to say much without spoilers for the book, but there’s one story in which a human mind is imported into a machine and takes on mechanical characteristics. Because it was written from the perspective of ‘the universe is mental’ the brain wasn’t actually involved in the moving of the mind at all. The intention was to raise the question, do our minds make us who we are, our body structure, or both?
One of the refreshing aspects of Mind in the Gap was the immersive paranormal feel to the stories. The minds felt fluid, not bound to their brains. The idea could have come across as nebulous and hard to follow, but I never felt lost in the stories. It was brilliant to juxtapose that against commuting (in transit) aspect of each story. I have some ideas about why you did that, C. R., but I’d like to hear it from you.
Thank you, I’m glad that was your experience with it. I wanted to emphasise the idea that nothing stays still, everything about us is transient. It’s easy to think of states of mind and human properties as being fixed because that’s how we look at our environment more often than not. But we’re always moving, always changing, even if it’s in repetitive patterns like a daily commute.
That’s what I thought. It’s fascinating that our works are very different in approach and storytelling, but I feel like we both grapple with the concepts of permanence and existentialism. The transference you mention is always happening with energy and mass, but unless you subscribe to an afterlife, sentience seems to appear when we’re born and disappear when we die. That seems to contradict the observed behavior of the universe, and I suspect that sentience really just changes forms like energy and mass. One thing is for sure. The old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same” is nonsense.
Is there a soul then, along with brain and mind?
It really all depends on your definitions of these things. As we said earlier, the difference (if any) between brain and mind is still open to interpretation. So too is the difference between mind and soul. From a purely intellectual perspective, it seems that the word ‘soul’ has been used to describe all the things we have no explanation for in terms of mind or body. The more we discover, the more things end up being moved into the mind or body box, which would suggest that soul isn’t really a thing of its own.
But, speaking as someone who explores altered states of consciousness, we are not only creatures of intellect. Once we see the world from a perspective other than ego, it takes on different qualities that are just as compelling in their bid for reality. In these states we ‘know’ there is something beyond mind and brain. There is no doubt. We are somewhere beyond the Descartes definition. Will you value direct experience or the status quo?
The soul is very much the historical explanation for the concepts we’ve been discussing. While the originals of that word might be less than scientific, I still think there is merit to using the term if only to describe the spark that makes us different from things lacking consciousness. Interestingly, the minds in ‘Mind in the Gap’ feel very much like souls without having religious undertones to them, and it gave the story a paranormal feel but didn’t feel “ghosty”.
Yes, I think the word ‘soul’ brings historical and religious connotations. I rarely hear it used these days, perhaps because it has been transcended by the more secular ‘consciousness’. Although the two ideas are not identical, they are comparable as the third aspect.
Some of the themes in my books are metaphysical, but the notion of religion is quite absent (the only GOD in Mind in the Gap stands for Great Omniscient Darkness!). I come from more of a philosophical angle, and use extrapolations of existing technologies to look at the future of mind and consciousness. I think that’s why they sit closer to sci-fi than paranormal.
If an exact duplicate of your brain (and mind) was created, would it be you? The copy, after all, would not share your continuity of consciousness.
We see this with identical twins where they share 100% exact DNA. Micro differences experienced in utero can lead to major differences upon birth, not to mention the macro differences they experience as life goes on. As soon as the copy is made, you have forked down two different roads. You’re immediately considered two individuals, even at the cellular level.
I agree. Correct me if I’m wrong, but in your mind migrations, DC, the mind is only transferred and not copied? So the patient has continuity of consciousness and (in theory) there’s no way of him losing that. Were a copy to be made, it would be indistinguishable until either one registered new sensory input or thoughts. Both could argue that they were the original, and only the presence of a unique ‘soul’ (or serial number!) would prove otherwise.
For classified reasons ;), I actually did go with copy of thought bytes (thoughts and memories), stating “ADG prided itself on being able to obtain thought bytes down to the last microsecond prior to the transfer of data.” Combine that with the specialised sedative they used, and it was my way of providing a kind of continuity or as close as one could get. Because my series take place in the not-too-distant future, I didn’t want to fudge the science too much.
Do dreams have a purpose or are they just the unintentional effects of processing sensory input during sleep?
Dreams are one of those things that vary so much from person to person in their type and clarity of content, their lucidity etc. I’ve done a lot of experimentation with my dreams over the years, from keeping journals to planting suggestions and re-entering ‘scenes’ in meditative states.
The conclusion I favour, from this work and reading about the latest scientific research, is that they are indeed an information processing of sorts. But that doesn’t mean they’re useless to remember.
We are pattern-seekers by nature, and it’s the patterns we use to create our internal models of the world. When we dream, we seem to search our memory for similar existing content and match it to the new to form a more complete picture. The objects, people, places we see when we sleep are symbols; things we have unconsciously attached informational and emotional content to. Their combinations create an evolving language all of their own. Some seem common, others unique. We don’t always get the associations right, and dream recall therapy can help with that.
The exciting thing to me is that we aren’t only processing the things we’ve noticed during recent days. We’re also processing emotions and all the things we picked up that bypassed our conscious attention. We have become quite efficient at ignoring certain signals from our environment altogether, deeming them unimportant or incorrect. But they still go in, and need ‘processing’ like everything else. That’s why I think we can gain such interesting insights from our dreams and find unexpected opportunities for personal growth.
Like with all of these topics, we can only really touch the surface in a conversation like this. There are whole books to be written on each!
It’s fun to think of our dreams as our brains processing information while our minds are resting, almost like a disk defragmenter running at night (to keep the computer analogies going). I don’t personally believe it, but I could sell it in a fictional book. I’m otherwise no expert. I think our brains are running on autopilot using whatever memory material they have, and that leads to skewed versions of people and reality.
When I was 18, I was heartbroken that my first love had left me. I had an incredibly vivid dream that I called her, and she agreed to hang out to watch a movie, and eventually, we worked out our differences to get back together. Upon awakening, I followed the instructions from the dream, and to my surprise, it was essentially prophetic, almost in a scary way. Except when I got to the point where I asked her if she’d thought about getting back together, she didn’t hesitate. “Not gonna happen.” So, dreams can also be complete BS, too! Haha.
Haha! I don’t think dreams are ever so outrightly prophetic as that. The things we can learn from them are far subtler. Research into the function of dreams, like all areas of neuroscience, is progressing. Rosalind Cartwright wrote a fantastic book called The Twenty-Four Hour Mind, for anyone interested in the topic.
How much control does the subconscious mind have over our actions? Is it in a subservient role to our conscious minds?
It varies from person to person, but I do believe in general that the subconscious has essentially as much control over a person as their primary consciousness. It motivates us in ways that aren’t clear unless we focus on them, and we have to actively try to overcome them.
It might sounds like a no-brainer, but if your mother asks you a question vs. a stranger, you’re going to answer differently - in content, tone, openness, and other characteristics. Most people don’t think about it, they just behave differently.
Absolutely. What we think of as the self when we are conscious is only really our ego acting as ‘front of house’. It is the self-referential thinker. Everything in the mind is connected far more than we see on the surface. It’s not that we are a slave to some outside or dumb force: our unconscious is just as much a part of ‘us’ as our ego.
What research did you both do before you started writing?
I didn’t do a whole lot before because I didn’t even know where the book would take me. As my story went on, I found that I would need believable science to make the fiction less obvious. I did some internet digging on spinal injuries and deformities, areas of the brain, a bit on the brain/mind dynamic, Pakistan (mentioned in the story), guns, cars, and a few odds and end.
I read a lot of non-fiction, and often that’s where my story ideas come from in the first place, so for Mind in the Gap a lot of the conceptual research was done before I started. Because I also wanted to include real cutting edge tech, I spent a lot of time learning about recent developments and potential future applications. Things like quantum interference brain scanning, super sensitive microscopes, camera-carrying insects and grown organs. Then there were things specific to individual stories – for example I had a lot of fun researching the International Space Station and Soyuz journeys for The Fold. Of course all of these things are bent into more useful shapes for purposes fiction, but I like to think everything is at least based on plausible concepts.
What do you feel is the primary emotion at the core of your writing?
Even though I don’t write horror, fear is probably the primary emotion driving my writing and the characters in my books - fear of missing out, being different, not being able to make ends meet, being taken advantage. I think everyday fears make my character relatable which lets readers just focus on the plot. I did notice some similarities there in C. R.’s writing.
I think fear could be said to be the driving force in most works of fiction. It’s where the intrigue comes from for the reader, the sense that something is at stake. Fear is definitely present in Mind in the Gap: fear of letting go, fear of the unknown. Fear of robots stealing your mind or giant squids pulling your spacecraft out of the sky… The other emotion that’s present throughout, though, is wonder. One of the core themes of the book is transcendence, so there are a lot of people staring into the face of discovery.
Can anyone be a writer or does it take a particular type of person?
There’s a reason all writers are people (believe it or not), but not all people are writers. I think that reason is that the overwhelming majority of people aren’t shown from an early age how powerful it is to convey themselves through text. Even countries with so called good education systems typically claim that while mandating the students conform to the norm and pass standardized testing. That’s no way to teach how beneficial writing can be for just about anyone. It’s therapeutic and stimulating. It really one of the best way to release the feelings, ideas, and stories trapped in your head.
It’s like anything really: everyone has the potential, but there are definitely skills and disciplines to be learned in order to do it well. Some people are more predisposed to picking these up than others.
Adverbs: yes or no?
Everything is fine in moderation, right?
What is the one small part of your body of work that you’re most proud of?
I took some risks that could just as easily turn off casual readers as it could intrigue focused ones. C. R. can attest that I added a couple small writing techniques attempting to produce meta experience for my readers so they're not only reading a story about being between two minds, but they themselves feel like they’re between two minds.
I agree with this completely, it’s one of the things DC and I share in our approaches. Make it an immersive experience, turn something on, twist expectations. I’m proud to stay true to unusual visions, even when popularity is screaming to play safe.
Thank you for participating: it's been a fascinating conversation!