While reading this morning Brainpicking’s, “The Science of Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” the article stood out to me because of its connection between sociality, survival and mindreading:
“[Matthew D. Lieberman] argues that this osmosis of sociality and individuality is an essential aid in our evolutionary development rather than an aberrant defect in it:
Our sociality is woven into a series of bets that evolution has laid down again and again throughout mammalian history. These bets come in the form of adaptations that are selected because they promote survival and reproduction. These adaptations intensify the bonds we feel with those around us and increase our capacity to predict what is going on in the minds of others so that we can better coordinate and cooperate with them. The pain of social loss and the ways that an audience’s laughter can influence us are no accidents. To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.
The implications of this span across everything from the intimacy of our personal relationships to the intricacy of organizational management and teamwork. But rather than entrusting a single cognitive “social network” with these vital functions, our brains turn out to host many…”
“The Social Brain and Its Superpowers”
Taking Lieberman’s words and linking them Tanekeya Word’s tumblr post about afrofuturism and imagining the future as more than robotics, flying vehicles, androids and aliens, she also thinks we have “elements like super powers.” She asks, “are we not telepathic, forward thinking, ambiguous, layered beings who are genetically coded with futurist/supernatural capabilities? We have always created awesome culture out of the bare minimum. I have yet to see the average person of the African Diaspora with any robot parts and they’re still pretty damn spectacular. We’re walking, talking, breathing magicians.” Our emphasis on social cultures and communities obviously helped us survive, but it also shows our mind-reading abilities that humans, as Lieberman says, possess.
Looking at Bajan writer, Karen Lord’s latest work, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Lord gives a story that reflects on survival, migration, the formation of connections between various beings and psionic ability. Yes, the novel is traditional science fiction /fantasy, including aliens, faeries, and spaceships, but that is not the center of the novel. The novel is about relationships. Although it is not revealed through most of the novel, (spoiler alert) it builds up into a romance between the two main characters, two humanoid people of different ethnic groups of various planets, Grace and Dllenahkh, the latter of which is from a group, the Sadiri, who are telepathic/high-level psionic savants. The Sadiri, as well as other groups, form strong mental bonds with each other, with other people, and technology, like their living mindships. Some strong monks even have telekinetic powers, are able to walk on water and fly through treetops. Although Grace is not a Sadiri, she too displays some psionic abilitiy, such as an average emphatic ability to read facial expressions on the very emphatic Ntshune (a few Sadiri actually perform limbic emotion tests on her).
The power of the story is the building of relationships between people of disparate ethno-cultural identities, after disaster strikes — enemies destroy Dllenahkh’s home planet with few survivors, mostly men. Dllenahkh is on a mission to preserve the Sadiri way of life and to preserve as much Sadiri genetic heritage as possible. He asks for help from Grace, a biotechnician, who is studying the culture of the Sadiri, to locate Sadiri women. But as Grace and Dllenahkh end up finding each other through understanding each other, especially after moments between Grace and Dllenahkh where he links his mind to hers, including when he used his mental powers to transcend his own body to heal her body after a rescue.
A few of the other characters of the book also apply to Word’s mention of ambiguousness, whether it is social labels or genetic diversity. For example, a main crew member of the mission, Lian, who is gender-neutral, and the character, Qeturah, who has Dalthi’s Syndrome, which is treatable, but she chooses to deal with and wear as “a badge of honor” because it gives her certain advantages. A genetic “mistake” or mutation is viewed as an opportunity for another kind of person and new connections. They all exist within our “infinitely permutable and permissive landscape.”
We survived through apocalyptic situations with our empathy, with our understanding of a diversity of people, with our social shape-shifting flexibility, our ability to “extend [our] awareness of [ourselves] beyond the boundaries of [our] physical bod[ies].”