Before getting my first computer in 2002, I thought they were unnecessary gadgets that got in the way of Pure Thought and communication. They forced you to stare at a screen instead of thinking and depersonalized the exchange of ideas and emotions. Pen, paper, and snail-mail were all that they required. As for learning, one read books and articles. But when my friends and colleagues stopped answering my letters (money for stamps was no problem) and radio ads started shouting URLs at me, I decided to acquire a computer. I did and never looked back. Better late than never.
I made up for lost time by sending at least five emails a
day to friends, academic colleagues, and some of my teachers. I was thrilled to
receive many replies and checked my email at least three times a day. A site run
by two fanatical lovers of my old NYC neighborhood and its Far Rockaway High
School connected me up with many old schoolmates, most importantly my confidante
Vivian and scientifically likeminded best friend Bernard. Now they play these
roles once again. What a delight!
Equally pleasurable were the contacts I made in the SF world. As a neophyte I simply Googled SCIENCE FICTION and had no idea what to do with the humongous number of descriptions and URLs that popped up. I thought, “OK, now I better learn to Google strategically.” I did, became quite good at it, and can no longer engage in research or writing without it. It enabled me to contact SF fans, writers, intellectuals, and political activists, including several people who are all of these.
By the end of last summer I belonged to three SF organizations (two Dutch ones and the BSFA), helped out with several political and SF blogs, corresponded with fans and writers, contributed to SF websites, assisted and was assisted by two influential public intellectuals, collaborated with several philosophers (and sold their books to various EU libraries), contributed to that high school website, researched present-day American torture and started writing for DAPPER. I still take part in all these activities and don’t plan to stop. Buying books online became an exciting but expensive pastime. Sources such as Wikipedia expanded my knowledge of science, politics, history, and of course SF. Writing about Science Fiction became what I call my ‘second career.’
A recent example of these changes followed my reading of BLINDSIGHT (Tor, 2006, also available online under a Creative Commons arrangement), the 2007 Hugo Award Finalist by Peter Watts, an excellent Canadian writer with a Doctorate in marine biology and a lively interest in the neurosciences. I first heard of this book last year from Peter Turney, a well-informed and delightfully argumentative Canadian AI researcher and philosopher who I met on Ken Macleod’s blog. I bought the book about two months ago and gave it a first reading last July and August. It’s the most science-driven SF book I have read since Alastair Reynolds’ REDEMPTION ARK. Both books motivated me to learn more science, thus providing me with the intellectual satisfaction I often demand from the best literate SF.
I’ve been studying several areas of neuroscience since 1969, when a psychologist told me that “nerves work by FM, not by AM.” I didn’t understand this, started reading, and have tried to keep abreast with, for example, the physiology and psychology of vision and research into neuropsychological deficits (e.g. those made famous by Oliver Sacks). Since these subjects fuel BLINDSIGHT’s plot, I read the book with excitement and intense interest. Its seventeen-page scientific appendix is dense with standard and cutting-edge information. I learned a lot from it.
Strategic Googling quickly revealed Dr. Watts’ email address, so I wrote to him describing the above material and more. I told him that his book was one of the few SF books the comprehension and enjoyment of which is greatly helped if you have my detailed clinical and theoretical understanding of several neuroscientific domains. He kindly replied with an email that was, in my opinion, excessively modest: he denied having much systematically detailed knowledge of neuroscience, illustrating this by admitting that he had never read V. Ramachandran, a leading, well-known neurologist. This remark encouraged me to read two instructive papers by V.R. Our correspondence continues.
This course of events is a good example of my fruitful internet enthusiasm (some say ‘addiction’), since it involves several significant features of my life and personality: my love of science and SF, my late but quick adoption of new technologies, and (I’ve been told) my fearless yet friendly way of approaching anybody at all, especially those whose minds attract me.
George Berger, Amsterdam, 16 September 2008 Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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