Wednesday, November 28

And now from Rob, a long-time correspondent:

On Nov 22, 2007, at 9:52 AM, Rob Suder wrote:

Hey Matt, I always appreciate you taking the time to answer emails and such. So thank you, especially considering how busy you probably are with you current works. I have a mixture of questions, a few about writing and a few observations mostly about the Caine novels. I’ve been rereading Blade of Tyshalle and I’m about three-fourths the way through it, at the point where Caine has been moved from the Pit to the Shaft. Something I’m just not sure if I caught onto the first time or not regarding Tan’elkoth, Ma’elkoth, and Hannto the Scythe is how they could be viewed as a split-personality disorder. They way there’s countless personalities, but some are more dominant than others each believing they need to be in control, rather than Ma’elkoth truly being a God it throws an interesting view into Heroes Die when Caine first meets Ma’elkoth and wonders. It also parallels Deliann’s argument to Caine, that Hari is merely a mask so Caine could get by on Earth as a parapalegic. At any rate I know you do an enormous amount of research on the background sources for your novels, and I wondered if you did any into psychiatric disorders? Of course Overwold magic is still more…traditional…than it is on Earth in the novels, and sometimes the simplest answer is correct. But with a lot of the philosophy in the story, I’ve been trying to think (and hopefully not over-think) aspects from a different point of view. In regards to the philosphies, especially in Blade of Tyshalle, I was wondering which ones much of Caine’s, Duncan’s, and Tan’elkoth’s musing are based on? Tao for example? Or Hindu beliefs? I’ll admit my knowledge of them is pretty small, but I’ve tried to research them in the past and most of the books in stores or libraries don’t seem very accessible to the average person. Okay…now I have a few writing questions I was hoping to I could pester you with. I’ve been working on an outline for a story, and I have an overall plot but I find myself constantly stuck on the catalyst at the beginning of the story. I have my main character, where he’s at emotionally/personally and where I want him to go. I know the basics of the overall journey, but I’m having trouble finding an event that starts or prompts him to move through the story. So I guess I’m hoping you would be willing to give me a different perspective, when you hit a tought spot while working on a story? Did you skip past the trouble spot, and come back to it later? Have you found it more difficult to jump around when writing in such a manner? I haven’t really tried writing later events, because I’m inclined to try to write the story from start to finish. Regardless I’m grateful for any advice you might be able to give. With that I’ll wrap this up with one last, probably always asked question: How are things going with Caine Black Knife? Any news you’re allowed to mention? Thanks again for taking the time to write!


Hey, Rob.

I didn't do any research specifically into psychiatric disorders, though I have read any number of the novelized case histories (THE THREE FACES OF EVE, SIBYL, etc) that were popular in the second half of the last century, and I do keep up, more or less, with developments in the field.

The theory of personality that underlies HD and BLADE is largely my own, cribbed from my own experience as an actor -- how a character played with sufficient conviction becomes a secondary (sometimes primary) personality. It's not so much a question of MPD as it is that personality, in my view, is a perceptual framework one uses to filter experience. Personality is not a discrete feature of life, but rather an aggregate of certain habits of mind. Tan'elKoth's view of art is specifically a metaphor for this, for example. (It's also my personal view of art, but let that go.)

Duncan's political philosophy is grounded in John Locke, by way of Abraham Lincoln . . . though its primary basis is in the works of mid-period Robert Heinlein, specifically THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. There are ways HEROES DIE, specifically, can be read as a critical reply to Heinlein's political theories, but that's a side issue.

The theory of consciousness that underlies Deliann's discussions with Caine (and, for that matter, the metaphysics of Ma'elKoth), is mostly mine . . . though I have seen a few references in neuroscience journals in support of the premise, which is that the human nervous system is not the producer of the mind, but merely its receiver, tuned to a specific frequency of a greater "field of mind," which -- you will note -- neatly explains the results of "identical twin separated at birth" studies, as well as the occasional flashes of telepathy and insights one experiences while under the influence of certain "mind-altering drugs" -- as well as the personality and cognitive changes that proceed from traumatic brain injury . . . it also explains the physical changes in the wiring of the brain that we naturally produce when we learn . . . we're re-tuning our nervous systems. It also explains the effects of differing styles of religio-mystic training, everything from yoga to Zen to Catholic mass -- each of these is designed to tune the nervous system to certain frequencies that eventually result in a specific type of mental experience . . . and the type of experience depends on the type of training, if you follow me. The inspiration for that came from the Western mystic traditions (i.e. the Greek mystery religions, druidic lore, and some of the Native American shamanic traditions, as well as the works of Teilhard de Chardin).

The conceptual framework of Cainism is an outgrowth of Nieztschean perspectivism, leavened with a dash of chaos theory.

As far as the writing problem goes, it sounds to me like you're trying to start the story too early in the plot. The genesis of any good story is in the initial problem: you need to make sure than when we first meet your protagonist, he's ALREADY in so much trouble that he MUST act . . . and then his action produces a counter-action from his antagonists (whether they be villains, society, or an uncaring universe) so that it escalates the tension rather than relieving it. If you're just writing a short, then you need to start at the climax, and fill in the plot that led there as you go along; if you're writing a longer piece -- novella-length on up -- then you want at least a couple of escalations in there before you hit the climax.

Let me know if this helps.

--Oh, and can I post this correspondence on my blog? It seems to be a good way to keep the thing going, and some of these questions are worth sharing.

Matthew Woodring Stover
numquam desisto


AeW said...

Hi, Matt,

Thank you for posting these emails -- it's first great to see the blog updated, and then, these are some great discussions! (and thanks for the reminder I really need to brush up on my various philosophy movements =) Oh, and nice new look of the blog! (but then I'm biased, I happen to use the same design for mine)

From your answer to Rob's email, I was very interested in the theory of the human nervous system acting as a tunable receiver. It puts words to something I've tried to formulate for quite some time for myself. While I don't necessarily prescribe to the idea of a greater "field of mind" -- if I understand your meaning correctly -- I do think the enviroment, and types of stimuli (inherently influenced by the social structure(s), amongst others, to which the individual is exposed) would fit into the category of such an external field; the mind would as a result be the individual's filtered version of this external field; adaptability would be a function of speed of "re-tuning" and range of frequencies perceivable, both influenced and potentially increased by the amount and type of training which the individual's nervous system receives.

Though, speaking of MPD, would this be one disorder that's beyond the reaches of this theory? I would think suggesting there is a mechanism in the nervous system that stores previous "tuning" settings (much like a radio does?) and can, for all practical purposes, switch between these stored setting instanteously, may be somewhat far fetched?

As I said already, very interesting concept, and I certainly need to mull over it some more.

Once again -- thank you for sharing! And, as always, I look forwart to Caine Black Knife (any news till then would be nice too =).

MWS said...

My understanding of MPD puts it very much in line with my premise (I don't call it a theory when talking science, since -- at least so far -- it's not falsifiable). In MPD, the nervous system would be somewhat analogous to a car radio that gets stuck on a certain few pre-sets (like the channel buttons in older systems), and can't receive any other signals. A healthy nervous system doesnt' jump from signal to signal, but slides between them on a continuous scale, so that the primary ego-sense of identity is maintained.

As for not ascribing to the idea of a "greater field of mind," I should point out that a number of thinkers (both philosophic and mystic) posit that there is nothing which is NOT mind (it depends, y'see, on what exactly you think "mind" is) . . . but that's a different, and much longer. My point is almost identical with yours: that there is no distinct line of separation between mind and matter. Any of those neuroscience-nihilist "mind is an illusion" guys, like Scott Bakker, are actually saying the exact same thing I am . . . just using a different metaphor.

Whenever you begin to insist on a separation of the two (Platonic idealism or -- if one uses the term "soul" in place of "mind" Christian dogma, for example) you are forced into all sorts of irrational contortions to maintain the distinction. Those of us who deny the distinction have a much easier time of it.

Rob Locke said...

My brain hurts... but this is much better than arguing over politics.

AeW said...

Hey, my brain hurts too. =) I’ll still try to make some sense out of the mess in my head…

The point over which I'm stumbling is that from the little I know about MPDs, the personalities are complete with distinct identities, often unique memories, and are "set." Therefore, there must be a mechanism with the nervous system that stores these settings? So, the only rationalization I can think of is that a nervous system subject to MPD will have "preference" for certain settings... and I'm having trouble visualizing this in the physical sense (neurons are non-preferential within the limits of their type, maybe as a function of the configuration of synapses? But then, when does it stop being a function of a particular location inside the nervous system – to use the analogy, distinct parts of the CNS/PNS (and therefore, individual functions) tuning to different frequencies – and becomes the whole system (all parts, and therefore, all functions) tuning to one unique frequency... But I also have to admit I'm threading in pretty unfamiliar territory when it comes to the anatomy of the nervous system, so my problem with the concept may just be due to poor understanding).

And then comes the question of storing and accessing memories. Would memory be another manifestation of the matter drawn solely from an external field, "personalized" by the nervous system, or would memory be stored locally, but accessed only depending on whichever "frequency" the nervous system is tuned to?

On the definition of “mind” – I would put a distinction only in the sense the mind seems to me to be a specific partition of the whole of “matter,” in its probably chance characteristics of self-awareness. So, I suppose this paints me nihilistic as well. To take this a little further, though, by accepting the concept of an external field that is inherently influenced by the nervous systems subject to it, and thus, in a sense, accumulates “history,” tuning becomes a capability not only influenced by random natural discrepancies (evolution?) and the nature of the field (strength of specific frequencies, etc.), but also by the mind itself. That is, defining self-awareness as the capability of matter within the nervous system to be shaped to a configuration capable of applying complex logic (the “if-then” and “and-or” variation) for justification of the system’s instinctive reactions (caused by direct interpretation of the external field?), it becomes possible that a mind could influence its own training upon application of logic producing a different (incorrect in the context of the currently tuned frequency?) answer. (hah – which mimics "natural" processes; for example, anything useful we can do with materials – shaping them for our use, conducting electricity, etc. etc –. is only possible because of imperfections in their structures). So, I guess what I’m leading at, is, that by the definition of mind, it is possible for an individual nervous system to realize its potential for “deviation,” to intentionally retune itself to a different frequency, or to resist retuning from an external influence.

Ok, I think by bringing up self-awareness, I’m managing to run myself into a wall… So, how do you explain self-awareness, or even sense of identity, in your premise of mind and matter? (though I’d hardly qualify this discussion as “scientific,” so I think “theory” would be a safe term to use as well =)

Peter Scheyer said...

Aew, I like thinking about mind/matter interactions too. See if I can help a bit.

On your nervous system thing, I think it makes more sense to think of matter as a whole as tuned. Explains a bit more neatly why certain configurations of atoms are more stable than others. If that's the case, then the nervous system is more like your computer than a telephone. A phone requires specified tunings for each set, but the computer is an interface which gives you memory capabilities and a way into the world, for example internet browsing.

Then you might think of early computers without internet access as organisms without neural systems, standalone per say. The internet, in a way, is like a brain in that millions of computers (neurons) are functioning as a network which can influence them back (downloads, browser updates, viruses etc).

Then the Central Nervous System (I'm assuming that's your CNS) is like the programs the user is running, the PNS (peripheral, i think) is the operating system.

There's a lot in your post to address, but I think that might let you clear up a few questions on your own. Just my interpretation of the whole brain mind/matter interface idea. Tunings and personalities might be different programs for different purposes, and MPD just has more complete, self-sufficient, and resource intensive programs, to extend the metaphor.

Sorry bout the long post.