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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Robert Silverberg on the Pleasure of Vicarious Experiences

Can you guess what this bird is thinking?

In his novel Dying Inside, Robert Silverberg offers us a different vision of how psychic abilities might affect our lives. His protagonist, David Selig, grows up knowing exactly what his parents think of him, and uses this ability to get his own way with them. Well, not quite. Because he seems so quiet and insular, they send him to a psychiatrist, a Freudian who places great import in dreams and fixations. In order to make the man happy, David tells the man what he expects. Yet the psychiatrist surprises him by advising his parents that their son needs more socialization. He should have a sibling.

His parents try for many years, and when biology seems forever fixed against them, they reach out to society and adopt a baby girl. As David has always enjoyed their full attention, he resents her presence, and ignores her as best she can. But unlike their parents, as his sister matures, she begins to suspects the reason he's so adept at reading her moods and anticipating her actions. When she finally accuses him of being able to read her mind, he's so shocked he does the one thing he's never done before: he admits that he can peer into other peoples' minds. She pushes him away, compares what he has done to her with rape, and tells him that she will hate him forever.

As a child and teen, David loved nothing more than to find his own quiet space. He lays down, closes his eyes, and reaches out mentally, and "listens" for new and interesting minds. When he finds one, he latches hold of it, and rides it for a time, thinking the person's thoughts, and feeling his or her emotions. Unlike reading, his second-favorite pastime, this is no vicarious experience. He really is accompanying them in their lives, and gaining an enhanced understanding his world. His ability is not limited to his fellow Humans. He can tap into the mind of an animals, and see or smell the world with the species' enhanced visual or olfactory senses. He can sink into the consciousness of a bird or insect, and feel the sheer exhilaration of flight.

Regardless of whether or not I could read other people's minds, it'd be cool to experience flight from a bird's perspective. Don't you agree?

Dragon Dave

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