Sunday, 22 April 2012

Solipsism Syndrome and Other Horizons in Poetry.

There are moments when you realise, as you sit battling with the new Blogger layout and system, that blogging is an act of total and utter solipsism. Nothing I say within the limits of this blog feels real to me as an experience for anyone else, not that I don't think you are real dear reader or that your experiences are not valid. However if there is no interactive experience other than the self, the very early stages of solipsism syndrome may kick in now and then which may be displayed in mumblings to the self and a slight sense that it may be a hop, skip and a jump from here to starting to stack newspapers in the hallway and appearing on Life of Grime. Solipsism is a philosophical position that nothing outside one's own mind can be known to exist, or, sometimes, the position that nothing outside one's own mind does exist. Solipsism syndrome is, by extension, the overwhelming feeling that nothing is real, that all is a dream. Sufferers become lonely and detached from the world and eventually become completely indifferent.Luckily I went through all that 'Am I the figment of someone else's imagination' angst when I was thirteen and decided back then that if I was whoever was imagining me had a really poor imagination if all he could come up with was what I was living.Watching the Matrix also confirmed to me that if Hollywood could put Keanu Reeves in a film that purported to show our whole lives as being the construct of some giant computer then the reality option was to be preferred. However I became interested in solipsism syndrome whilst researching something for a SF short story. Psychological considerations are important in the design of enclosed spaces such as artificial habitats in deep space or under water, with aolipaiam syndrome being specifically identified as a factor by scientists and engineers.Several strategies to attempt to avoid occurrence of solipsism syndrome in artificial environments are discussed in NASA's "Space Settlements: A Design Study" which proposes designs for space colonization: 1. A large geometry, in which people can see far beyond the "theatre stage" of the vicinity to a view which is overwhelmingly visible. 2. Something must exist beyond each human's manipulation because people learn to cope with reality when reality is different from their imagination. If the reality is the same as the imagination, there is no escape from falling into solipsism. In extraterrestrial communities, everything can be virtually controlled. In fact, technically nothing should go beyond human control even though this is psychologically bad; however, some amount of "unpredictability" can be built in within a controllable range. One way to achieve this is to generate artificial unpredictability by means of a table of random numbers. Another way is to allow animals and plants a degree of freedom and independence from human planning. Both types of unpredictability must have a high visibility to be effective. This high visibility is easier to achieve in a macrogeometry which allows longer lines of sight. 3.Something must exist which grows. Interactive processes generate new patterns which cannot be inferred from the information contained in the old state. This is not due to randomness but rather to different amplification by mutual causal loops. It is important for each person to feel able to contribute personally to something which grows, that the reality often goes in a direction different from expectation, and finally that what each person takes care of (a child, for example) may possess increased wisdom, and may grow into something beyond the individual in control. From this point of view, it is important personally to raise children, and to grow vegetables and trees with personal care, not by mechanical means. It is also desirable to see plants and animals grow, which is facilitated by a long line of sight. 4.It is important to have "something beyond the horizon" which gives the feeling that the world is larger than what is seen. All the above begs to become a found poem which I shall work on and of course I see metaphors for so much else in these points made in the study. There are so many people now that have no access to something beyond the horizon let alone a future space colony on Vega. Why am I talking about all this ? Because I have just had a poem published in Focus the magazine for writers published by The British Science Fiction Associations and it set me thinking in my embryonic solisistic way about horizons and boundaries. Science Fiction and Fantasy is a genre that I admire and love, when well written. It is a genre that offers up the opportunity to explore beyond what is now or possible and interrogates the imagination in complex ways. Fantasy and Sci Fi have to sometimes create not just a narrative but a whole world for that narrative to unfold in. There are no short cuts in a story, the 97 Bus to Peckham is something most people have a concept of but place it in an urban fantasy or Sci-Fi story and it becomes other; it has to be defined, it has to be described, its purpose and history created because in an urban fantasy this bus may not be just a bus. It may be a sentient being who manifests itself as a bus, it may be a thought bus created by the necessity to get to Peckham and that thought can move you through space and time, it could be a holographic bus created for nostalgic reasons in the 23rd century. Everything is up for grabs in fantasy and Sci Fi, even in hard scientific sci fi stories, as long as the writer remains internally consistant. Charles Christian in his article in Focus in which he addresses 'Why Poetry in a SF Magazine?'talks about the sort of prejudice that exists against poetry in Sci Fi and Fantasy genre but he suggests that if you call it magic realism then it becomes something far more acceptable. The rose by another name will indeed smell sweeter to some poetry readers. Whilst there are no boundaries about what a good poem can do, some readers can still occupy the border crossings demanding to see the poems paperwork, its passport and visa before it can be truely welcomed to Poetryania. Some poets, because they are beloved existing citizens of Poetryania can cross the border now and then into Sci Fi and Fantasy and still be welcomed back to their homeland, their brief excursion viewed with some minor interest or ignored as a brief but ill advised excursion. The best Sci- Fi and Fantasy( both Urban and otherwise)can tell us something about ourselves and our world now. At the moment I am reading China Mieville's Iron Council the last in his Bas Lag trilogy. In these books he creates a world and writes a story set during three different period in this world's history. The whole work is rich with metaphor about our world and the history of capitalism and empire , the nature of freedom and what makes us free beings despite our differences. Here is a world where characters can be giant cacti or sentenced criminals remade as hideous part human, part insect, part machine or a monstrous compilation of attributes, there is, by definition, an exploration of what is the defining qualities which make a sentient creature capable of moral judgement. What makes an individual capable of good, ill or both at the same time because in the end characters and their choices are what drive a story.The use of magic and strange steam technology may enrich that world but it is the why of things rather than the how that holds the real magic of looking at the commonplace with different eyes. Equally a poem that explores strange context, the nature of reality, what might be or not be,creates a whole new world, is only a stone's throw from the old so called Martian School of poetry which uses the strangeness of the everyday to underpin the poem. The late Edwin Morgan was of course one of the great poets who embraced the Sci Fi genre and he saw no reason why poets should not be as comfortable in the journey to the planets as in any walk in the countryside.He didn't believe in boundaries and to go back to the design specs for future human existence in space then there needs to be a sense of something beyond the horizon to make sense of it all. I would also like to point out that I have created paragraphs in this blog but the new system seems to deny all knowledge of this means of creating boundaries between thoughts.....walks away from the computer mumbling to self and tripping over a pile of newspapers.

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

I'm new here via the wonderful Mark Doty, ever on the lookout for wonderful writing such as yours re, despite the absence of paragraphs. I agree that the blogging life leads to an uncomfortable tendency towards solipsism - what a great word. From time to time I worry about it, but then I tell myself I'm becoming too solipsistic and try to move on. It's good to meet you.