This is usually done as an afterword in a book. I personally like reading about the scientific basis for sci-fi books in the afterword but some people might not. So, I decided to post this on my “blog” instead. This way, the people who want to can read about the science here while those that don’t, won’t. And it allows me to link to studies, include YouTube videos, use images, and have a comment section, something that can’t be done in a book.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Samurai Barber Versus Ninja Hairstylist is such a ridiculous title that one might wonder if it’s based on reality at all. Well, I’m here today to tell you about the science behind the science-fiction.
First up is the idea that memories are reconstructions. This is based on the experiments done by Elizabeth Loftus that was detailed in the study Semantic Integration of Verbal Information into a Visual Memory. The experiments consisted of showing subjects a series of slides that depicted a traffic accident, then asking the subjects if the car involved had stopped at a stop sign or a yield sign before the accident. Some of the subjects were shown a stop sign and some were shown a yield sign, but some of those shown a stop sign were asked if the car had stopped at a yield sign and some of those shown a yield sign were asked if the car had stopped at a stop sign. Then the subjects were asked at a later date if they had seen a stop or yield sign.
What the studies showed was that a significant amount of people, up to 68.5%, would answer wrongly if the misleading question was asked sometime after the slide was shown.
Elizabeth Loftus would later go on to publish a study about The Formation of False Memories, where 20% of subjects remembered being lost in a mall as a child, even when it didn’t happen.
A new study, False Memories for Repeated Events, seems to show that it is possible to implant false memories for repeated events. And while this study is a preprint (haven’t been peer reviewed yet), it contains a handy table of all the false memories studies done before, with one of them showing an 82% false memory implantation rate!
Now, some autistic people have extraordinary memories. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. See, one of the reasons I wrote my characters the way I did was because I was tired of seeing and reading about psychopaths who are a-ok after killing someone. Furthermore, these psychopaths are supposed to be our heroes! The trigger for me was when I read my friend’s book, Misdirection, where I remembered that the protagonist shot the antagonist in the head and was a-ok.
Imagine my surprise when I told my friend about it and she told me that the protagonist doesn’t shoot anyone in the head. I went back, reread the section, and read about the protagonist throwing something at the antagonist which hit the antagonist in the head. Now, there’s a pistol in the scene, so I didn’t just make up a gun from nowhere. But what probably happened was I misread it the first time and was shocked beyond belief that my friend would write such a violent scene in a YA book, then I corrected my misread because the following paragraphs don’t make sense if the antagonist was dead as he was still saying and doing stuff. But after some time, I only remembered the shock of the misread and forgot about the relatively milder relief of the correct reading.
A significant portion of the characterization in my book was inspired by a faulty memory!
There is also this idea in the book that even if we could broadcast our consciousness in some form, it wouldn’t be accurate because of differences in perception. The most famous example of this is perhaps The Dress. Different people perceived the same stimuli differently, which lead to team #whiteandgold and team #blueandblack. A recent study has also shown that people with different political attitudes can interpret the same stimuli differently. This is perhaps best exemplified by the Covington Kid event, with some people viewing the kid as trying to provoke a situation while others saw him as trying to defuse the situation.
Regarding the plug, the brain is a remarkable organ, able to adapt to all sorts of stimuli. The Innsbruck Goggle Experiments show that it is even able to adapt to a world that is upside-down, when the experimenter wore special goggles that inverted what he saw.
In this TED talk, Dr. David Eagleman talks sensory substitution, where the deaf can “hear” by feeling sound that has been translated into vibrations through their skin, before going on to talk about what is basically extrasensory perception. One example he gave was pilots learning to pilot a quad-copter better by feeling things like yaw and pitch.
So the idea of a man-machine interface that can transmit and receive sensory stimuli and emotions (which might also be a kind of sensory stimulus), like plugs, is not that far-fetched. I drew the line at thoughts though, because I think that conscious thought is probably a function of the brain interpreting stimuli and everyone interprets the world differently. This is why broadcasting in my book only involves senses and emotions but not thoughts. But I might be wrong though, who knows?
As for bioengineering, we are probably very far away from the mastery of genetics necessary to design and create complex organisms like the phones and trains in the book. But we have been modifying existing organisms to suit our purposes for quite some time now, for example in golden rice. Another recent development is the engineering of adeno-associated viruses to deliver healthy copies of genes to patients with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
Now, you might think that the idea that a haircut can change the person to be pretty ridiculous. But if you see episodes of Queer Eye on Netflix, the people always say they feel like a different person after getting their hair done. So, all I’m doing is exaggerating that. There’s also this thing called Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is basically what it says, stimulating the brain using magnetic fields from outside the cranium. There seems to be some results for using it to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and PTSD. So I wouldn’t say that a samurai barber is impossible, just unlikely.
I take back what I said about samurai barbers!