This week a man told his parents and his doctor that he wasn’t in pain. That wouldn’t be remarkable if it weren’t for the fact that the man was in a vegetative state. Twelve years ago an accident put this man in a coma, and recently doctors found a way to communicate with him. While the communication isn’t deep yet (simple yes and no questions with the answer interpreted through a brain scan) the fact that he can now communicate at all is miraculous. The news made me smile and tear-up at the thought that his family can now know that he heard their messages of love and support. I’ve been told that art imitates life, but many people forget that life also imitates art.
In this case, life may not have exactly imitated art, but art sure as heck saw it coming. Maybe I should explain. We’ve seen it before. Science fiction has predicted and inspired technological innovations as long as I can remember. Star Trek had floppy disks. Jules Verne wrote about submarines long before they were a scientific reality, and I think it was Neal Stephenson who invented the concept of virtual worlds in Snow Crash (and the online gaming community sighs in appreciation). The news story about the man man communicating made me think of one of my favourite TV shows Saving Hope.
(Yes, I am a TV addict and I blame the inventor of the DVR. PS. I can’t get enough of Michael Shanks on TV, even though when I had the chance to meet him, briefly, in person I was so star struck I couldn’t even bring myself to look him in the face… I am not a shy person, but he brings out the blushing school girl in me.)
Saving Hope show explores the idea that the mind is conscious and active even in a coma state, and follows the main character’s mind as it roams the halls like a ghost. Ok that last part is still a stretch even for me, but I hope you can see why I saw the connection to the recent scientific advance.
Why would I share my revelation about a news story you probably already heard and its connection to a television show? Well, two reasons. The first is it gave me an excuse to think and write about Michael Shanks, sigh. Secondly, the connection between art and life reminded me to not limit my thinking while writing. I try to make my creative writing true to life emotionally in the hopes of creating something people will see as art. But aside from that, I don’t want my writing limited by reality. Easy to say, but not always easy to execute. I have a voice in my head that says “Laura, ton’t be silly, no one is going to buy that idea.”
What I need to remember is that science is a creative imaginative pursuit, just like writing. I couldn’t be a scientist, I just don’t have the maths for it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t create and be part of the scientific process. Maybe if I silence my own doubts and pick up the challenge of writing creatively about a problem I see today, my work will one day inspire an actual scientist to take up the challenge of making my idea a reality.
So join me in my effort to silence the doubt. If you have a creative idea that involves making up a solution to a problem of the world, or creating a new piece of technology, don’t let the haters and the doubters tell you that you shouldn’t write about it just because it is “impossible”. Today we have the World of Warcraft. Today we travel in submarines. And today a man in a vegetative state can talk to his parents. I challenge you to join me and inspire the next generation of scientists.
Everyone has a challenge in their lives. Maybe you or your family has been touched by illness, hunger, a physical limitation or tragic circumstance. Pick your favourite problem and brainstorm about what a solution would look like. Sure, in the end the best science fiction is rooted in reality, but for now don’t let reality get in the way, just start imagining a solution. Spend ten minutes brainstorming all the different ways scientists may solve the problem in the future. At some point one of those ideas will probably make you say “oooh, that’s neat”. When that moment strikes, put pen to paper and spend twenty minutes telling the story of that solution. Your work may take the form of an outline of the problem and fantastic solution, or it may be a short story about the life of a person remembering how the technology changed their lives. Or, maybe your story will be about barriers to the implementation of this new technology…does someone want it stopped? Happy writing.