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The Robert J.R. Graham Interview (Roger answers)

Robert J.R. Graham is the author of Seventh Journey and we have traded questions for our blogs.RobertColor21

Here are the questions Robert gave me:

  • Can you describe “Technofiction” and how it has influenced your writing?

Science fiction introduced me to the wonder of reading. This was back in the early sixties when I was in middle school. For years I was an avid fan. But in the seventies I noticed that I was reading lots of new stories that sounded awful familiar: by then I’d read a whole bunch about “This means the end of the universe!” Worse for me, the person saying that didn’t mean the end of the universe, they meant an end to life on a planet, or just human life on a planet. As my science understanding grew that kind of difference began bugging me more and more. In the eighties I started to do something about it: I started writing my own science fiction stories.2012-roger-06-400
At first I wrote for me and my web site, White World, which I started at the dawn of the Internet in 1994. In the 2000’s I started trying to reach a wider audience. That’s when I noticed that what I was writing was “different” from mainstream sci-fi, and as a result a lot of readers where saying, “Huh?” when I told them about my stories. It became clear that I needed some branding. So I came up with calling my writing Technofiction, and here’s what Technofiction is all about.
Technofiction is about stories with good science and technology as well as good characters. The science and technology doesn’t have to be real, in the sense of matching the reality we live in, but it has to be internally consistent within the story. It has to be well thought out, which means uncovering surprises uses as well as conventional ones. An example of inconsistency is moralizing on human social issues by showing aliens experiencing the abuses. These beings are aliens, for goodness sake, not discriminated-against humans!  For lots of specific examples, see my Technofiction Reviews on White World.

 

  • What inspires your writing?

During the eighties and nineties I worked in high technology marketing. An engineer would come up with a neat idea, such as a form of personal computer, and my job was to help people – the engineer and customers – figure out what this neat idea was good for in the real world. Personal computers turned out to be real good for word processing. That was expected. What was surprising was how good they were for spreadsheets (like Excel) and game playing. Those applications were what set the personal computer market on fire, but they weren’t the applications that were first thought of.
I write about this kind of surprise happening.63361-Tips-V1-100
The result is that Technofiction stories wander into unusual territory and the characters have unusual relations and backgrounds. An example: Earth sends of an intelligent war starship to battle aliens in another star system that had treacherously attacked Earth. But… this warship is intelligent. It thinks, a lot, because the journey takes years, and it decides that war isn’t the right solution to this problem. But the Earth designers had planned for this possibility. They… I’ll let you read the story “Intelitan the Destructor” in “Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric Vol. 1” This is an example of unusual characters in a story that unfolds in an unusual way.

 

  • How many books have you written, and how many more are planned?

I have eleven out now. Some are science fiction, two are what I call Science and Insight, one is a business history, one is romance, and the first I wrote was a how-to book on word processing. Here is a list.
The science and insight books are the preludes to the science fiction books. I work up some interesting science implications and then mix in some characters and story line and I have a Technofiction book.
The next in line is another book set in the Child Champs environment – our future world fifty to one hundred years from now when the genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence revolutions are in full swing. Child Champs told one story in that setting, but there are a few more to tell about that wondrous time to come.ChildChamps

 

  • You have some very interesting ideas about evolution and human thinking.  What is the “Human Thinking Stack” and what can we do about it?

What can we do about the Human Thinking Stack? We can live with it. <grin>
The Human Thinking Stack is simply a way of modeling human thinking. Its goal is to provide better understanding of how humans think, and through that better predictive value. Just to be clear, the thinking stack is insight, not science.
The predictions that come out of it are impressive. I write about those many times a month in my Cyreenik Says blog. One of the most vivid is Panic and Blunder Thinking. This is when a person, or a community, gets really scared, and while they are so scared, do something really expensive, but think they are doing the right thing. (expensive as in: costs a whole lot but doesn’t help solve the problem one wit.)
The Thinking Stack is just one part of my insights on how evolution has shaped human thinking. I have two books out about that “Evolution and Thought” (the short version) and “How Evolution Explains the Human Condition” (the long version). Why_We_See_Beauty_2012_03.04.12
The basic premise of these books, and my insights, is that humans are evolved. This means that we are a high performance fit for living on Earth. (everything alive today is) Our thinking is also evolved and just as high performance. But… evolution takes time so it’s high performance for living in Stone Age conditions, not civilized conditions.

 

  • Blindspots are a double edged sword.  We don’t know about them, they hurt us, and even if we find one, we beat ourselves up over it.  What strategy have you come up with to deal with blind spots in your work?

First let’s define blindspots. Blindspots are axioms in our thinking. They are givens that we don’t think to question. Many serve us well, but not all. Those that work well save us a lot of time and thinking in our day-to-day lives. Those that work well in a reality different from that which we experience are expensive to maintain. (An example of two different realities on earth are living in the tropics and living in the arctic. Move from one to the other and some of your thinking will now contain blind spots.)
How to spot a blindspot? Be a careful observer. Look at what is going on around you. Look for “self-evident truths” that really aren’t true and because they aren’t true people are wasting a lot of time and resource. Harsh reality will point out blindspots when you pay attention. I cover this in detail in “How Evolution Explains the Human Condition”.

 

  • In your book “Evolution And Thought” you compare a scam artist to our perceptions of marriage, calling it the Human Condition.  How do we get ourselves into all this trouble? White_Book_Covers2

As I mentioned earlier, our thinking is well matched to living in the Stone Age, something I call the Neolithic Village environment. That’s because humans have lived in that environment for ten thousand generations. That’s long enough for genes to adapt well. We have lived in the Agricultural Age environment for five hundred generations. We have started adapting to that, it’s started to change our thinking, but the process is far from complete. The Industrial Age and Information Age environments are essentially brand new.
This means we civilized folk have to use a lot more learned thinking along with our instinctive thinking. But the instinctive thinking is still fast, easy, comfortable, and really, really wants to be used, so it sneaks in where it can.
Con artistry is the dark side of this phenomenon. The con artist strokes the victim’s instinctive thinking. Marriage is the good side, marriage, in all its various forms, helps produce stable communities that raise lots of healthy kids.

 

  • You mention that beauty aids us in our evolution, can you elaborate?

Beauty is thinking that has practical value in the Neolithic Village environment. It’s a signal to cooperate – to help out. When we see something beautiful our instinct is to help it out.
Originally this signaling was designed to help children and young mothers who were just learning the ropes of motherhood and could use all the support they could get.
But, as with many things evolution creates, other uses were found for this style of thinking and added to the basic purpose. And like any powerful tool, it has surprises uses, such as supporting fashion. I cover beauty in both of my Science and Insight books on evolution.

 

Thanks for the questions, Robert, it’s been fun answering these.

 

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The Immigrant Experience and Education

Introduction

Moving to a strange land and becoming useful there is one of life’s biggest routinely challenging experiences — routinely meaning that many people experience it. A person undertaking the “immigrant experience” (or “emigrant experience” from their point of view) is learning a lot that they wouldn’t learn at home. This is significant to human progress because it is one way to open the door for innovative thinking.

A related question is: Is there a way to package the lessons taught by the immigrant experience into a well understood education tool or technique that can make relevant learning a faster process? Something that can perhaps be applied without the necessity of engaging in the full immigrant experience?

That is the topic of this essay.

What makes the immigrant experience different from the stay-at-home experience?

Moving away from one’s familiar community to either learn, or be useful and make money, has been a long tradition of the human experience. One example is that Western European nobility routinely sent sons to live for a few years with other noble families in far away places. This was done for many reasons, such as strengthening alliances, but becoming worldly was a well-recognized part of the benefit package. In more modern times well-to-do Americans would routinely send both sons and daughters to boarding schools, far away colleges and exchange trips to Europe for the same reason.

Less well recognized as an education benefit, but in fact just as powerful, was emigrating for an employment opportunity. America has long been a magnet for young ambitious people from around the world seeking better paying work, and that is just one example. Wherever these people went they were acquiring worldly experience as well as a pay check.

The big benefit of moving away for a while is getting away from the “We always do things this way.”-experience of the home community. Moving away lets a person experience up close and personally that there are other right ways to do things. This leads to the benefit of believing there can be previously unthought of right ways of doing things — something we experience as progress.

Being a resident versus being a tourist

Being an immigrant is a different experience than being a tourist. A tourist comes for a short time and mostly notices what is strange and different about a place they visit. An immigrant stays for longer and gets involved in the system. As a result they learn why things are done differently. They discover the underlying logic that makes what looks strange to the tourist look quite practical to the local and the experienced immigrant.

An example from my own experience: I spent several years as an English teacher in Korea. As I went on day trips to the second-tier tourist attractions, those visited mostly by Koreans, I noticed that the convenience stores put their aluminum soft drink cans upside down on the shelves. “How strange!” I first thought after I noticed this was a real pattern, not a freak occurrence at one or two places. Because I was an immigrant, not a tourist, I later had a chance to ask one of my English classes about what I had noticed. “Oh, that’s to keep dust off the top.” I was told. And that made a lot of sense. In the US most such cans are stored in a cooler which keeps the dust away, but in countryside Korea a different solution was needed. In sum, it was strange, but it made sense. It was another “right way” to solve a problem.

Experiencing this kind of difference is the big educational benefit of the immigrant experience.

Can this benefit be taught without being an immigrant?

Can this education benefit be taught without having to go through the immigrant experience?

At this point it is tough to do. We still send our children off to college, and those colleges have elaborate Freshman Orientation Week programs because the new students are, in effect, immigrating into the college environment and it can be a tough adaptation. In our present era of even more prosperity and “helicopter parents”, it can be even tougher adaptation than it has been previously.

But we now have a lot more understanding of our world, and a lot more cyber resource to apply to the educating issue, and we will have even more in the near future. It is possible that, if we look for and discover what are the education essentials in the immigrant experience, we may be able to teach those without having to experience the whole package.

If we can do so, then we will make another big leap in educational productivity and we will keep humans relevant to the innovating process for longer than the would be so otherwise. (If… when… humans drop the innovating ball, increasingly sophisticated cyber will take their place.)

Conclusion

As we work to make education systems even more effective, we should take into account that the immigrant experience is also a powerful educating experience. We should look for ways of moving the benefits of immigrant experience into our more conventional educating systems.

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