ashnistrike: (lightning)
[personal profile] ashnistrike
Elizabeth Bear ([ profile] matociquala) has an excellent guest post on SF Signal, about disability in science fiction--why it's worth including, how to do it right, and how to do it wrong.  I read it with interest, both because it's a topic that interests me in general and because it's a topic that shows up in my own stories.  I like playing with how deficits get defined, and by who, and how much trouble comes from an actual physical or mental issue versus how much comes from the way society handles it.

But, so, anyway.  The first comment--actually, the first 3 or 4 comments--is S.M.Stirling "pointing out" that within a hundred years we'll have a perfect understanding of biology, and therefore we won't have disabilities, so why should we write about them.

Obviously one could argue with every assumption in that very weird statement.  From a purely scientific standpoint, for a start... since we've never reached a perfect understanding of any other field of inquiry, we have no data points to infer how long it will take in biology.  Nor do we have any reason to suppose that perfect understanding equals perfect control.  We understand computer programs pretty well, after all, having created them.

Also, I just went to a seminar on neuroscience data, and we were all really excited by a database that mapped the physical shape of 13 neurons in the hippocampus.  They had 2000 human neurons total.  Not all from the same human, you understand, or connected to each other.  I'm sure we'll get better at this over the next few years, but from a Bayesian standpoint I would bet a fair amount that perfection will take longer than a century.

But, so anyway.  Circumstances did not permit me to get in a neuroscience slapfight on Tuesday merely because someone was wrong on the internet, and by the time I got back someone else had done it.  Instead, I decided to take Stirling's scientific postulates for granted--we will have a perfect understanding of biology, and perfect understanding allows perfect control--and asked what disability would look like under those circumstances.

  • The Nanobots That Fix Everything take an hour to integrate with your immune system.  Your allergy to a key component kicks in at 30 minutes.

  • Not everyone who understands biology is on the same side, politically, and now there are 2 (or 3, or 5, or 15) competing groups of Nanobots That Fix Everything in your bloodstream, with predictable results.

  • Two desirable cures/enhancements are incompatible (e.g., improved memory versus enhanced inferential or creative ability). Society prefers one of these choices; circumstance has forced you to go with the other.

  • A particular cure takes months or years to become fully effective.  In the mean time...

  • Adapted to Jupiter, unemployed on the moon.

  • Software bug (no one ever said we understood other fields perfectly).

  • Treatment must take place during a critical period to be effective, but your parents were antivaxxers.

  • We know how to get to perfect mental health, but it depends on stimuli no longer available, or made extremely inconvenient by societal mores.  (Try refusing to use a computer after the sun goes down.)

  • Your sister committed a heresy.  We will be lenient, however, and only turn off your family's eyes for 10 years.

  • Lack of insurance.

  • The AIs who take over scientific research in 2074 understand biology perfectly.  However, the AI who oversees your district has calculated a high probability that you will benefit psychologically from overcoming adversity.  Your profile is that of someone who will experience post-traumatic growth and/or produce classic poetry.  You wouldn't want to disappoint the computer, would you?  The computer is your friend.

...and so on.

This is all composting in my head with Bruce Schneier's Beyond Fear, so expect stories about transhuman thieves with broken enhancements any day now.  Or are we all set for cyberpunk at this point?

ETA: S.M. Stirling, not Steve Brust. Apologies to Brust, whose name was in my head because I just got excited about the publication date for Hawk.

Date: 2014-04-12 09:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
SM Stirling is not Steve Brust. Unless there's been comment deletion, I don't see any comments from Steve Brust on that post, and several of the format you describe from SM Stirling.

Date: 2014-04-12 09:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Eek--thank you for the catch! I just read that Hawk is coming out in October, and apparently got my files tangled up.

Date: 2014-04-12 11:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with you-- a more complex society leads to more possibilities for disability.

My bet is that if they can completely understand the human body, they'll just have post-human bodies which they don't understand as well.

Do you mind if I link your post at Less Wrong?

Date: 2014-04-12 11:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Different possibilities, anyway. Given that the current variations seem to be endless, I'd be reluctant to compare numbers.

Re Less Wrong--now that I've got the names all right, feel free!

Date: 2014-04-13 12:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You have a gold mine of story material right there.

Date: 2014-04-13 04:02 am (UTC)
ext_3690: Ianto Jones says, "Won't somebody please think of the children?!?" (BRAAAAINS)
From: [identity profile]
I foresee getting to beta some very interesting stuff once this composts. And if you need any ways for the ways things could Go Wrong to go wrong, well, I've probably already been there and gotten the rash... ;)

Date: 2014-04-13 02:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How about neo-luddites/neo-amish who intentionally don't get the mods? Mark of the beast etc?

I'm also thinking the whole recent set of articles on how coclear implants are impacting deaf culture.

Date: 2014-04-13 03:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This is all a lot of fun. It also reminds me that I have some vague maybe-eventually-story thoughts swimming around in my head you might find interesting, and which might interface with some of the things you're talking about here.
Edited Date: 2014-04-13 03:56 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-04-14 03:53 am (UTC)
ext_63737: Posing at Zeusaphone concert, 2008 (That's It boater)
From: [identity profile]
At the Chicago Worldcon I met Kathryn Allan, who has edited a book bridging science fiction criticism with "disability studies" (a whole subdiscipline I hadn't previously known about). SF has run a lot of thought experiments about what disability means and how that might change in the future. and so may be worth the attention of scholars studying disability.

Here's an excerpt from her introduction to Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. Here's a review. Here's another.

If you're thinking about such matters, Dr. Allan's blog, Bleeding Chrome, may be of further interest.

(I suppose I should go mention her book over at SF Signal.)
Edited Date: 2014-04-14 03:55 am (UTC)


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