Character arc: like a scramjet, or a lead balloon?

I’ve been considering different methods for plotting the scenes in my novel and have come back to the Action-Reaction concept; that is, something happens and the character reacts.

At a higher level each scene must move the story forward; the state of the story must change. It can either be; a change to the character’s goals, needs, fears, or state of mind; or simply changing the reader’s understanding of the character.

This Action–Reaction–Change loop changes the state of the story and increases its momentum.

I plot a scene out for eacharacter:

  • Action
  • Reaction
  • Change

ARC – Character ARC:

But is it the arc of a lead balloon or a rocket?

The momentum of object can increased by either adding mass, or accelerating it to a higher velocity. It’s the same with a story; we add mass by incresing the readers understanding of the character or place, and accelerate it with action.

But the two changes must be in balance. Simply increasing the mass i.e. learning about the character slows it down, as energy is lost in getting this new material up to speed. And increasing speed alone puts the story in a precarious state where it could be either deflected off course, or leave the reader behind.

My brother worked for NASA for about a decade before returning to continue his research at the University of Queesland in Australia. His primary focus is the Scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet). For this type of propulsion system to operate everything has to be in perfect balance; so that a controlled hydrostatic air flow through the engine can be achieved.

Planning my scenes I try to to get the mix just right too. I include a little of both mass and accelleration that change the story; it’s a balancing act.

Too much mass to early and the scene or entire story will drop like a lead balloon, too much action and the story will accelerate out of controll or the reader will let go…they won’t care.

The art is to get the balance right and soar like a scramjet

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What is the next power base for human society?

I’ve heard many arguments against the development of artificial intelligence (Ai) and the possibility of uploading our consciousness to similar artificial environments, or at least artificially enhancing our minds and bodies. They say that our governments will not let it happen, or that the churches will be able to put sufficient pressure to bear to prevent it. I disagree. Ai will have access to sufficient computational resources to be able to “what if” its way past our societal limiters; governments, churches etc. It will know what an un-enhanced human will do long before we ourselves do – or at least it will have worked out many millions of scenarios, with solutions to preserve themselves banked for each perceived action, ready to be deployed.

Once the singularity is close, it is inevitable. As to the question of how close, to have proposed this question is itself a strong indicator that the turning point of human engineering has passed and that a human engineered limiter is no longer possible.

Am I frightened? No!

Who should be frightened? The current powerbase. In any revolution, power shifts and those who cling longest and most desperately to the old ways will suffer the worst.

Lets look at a powerbase from recent history; the monarchy. The English monarchy still exists today and although they are still wealthy from a capital perspective, they do not have either the cash flow or the power of life or death over their people. It is quite the opposite; they exist at the mercy of their people, kept on life support in a human zoo or museum for the people’s amusement.

How did the English Monarchy survive when the Russian or French did not? They divested their power to the people; they set their people free and this act of grace and trust enabled them to avoid the fate of many other monarchies that clung too desperately to their historic powers.

So who amongst us will hold the power when the inevitable singularity occurs? I think it will be those who embrace the opportunities to enhance our intelligence; it will be those who are able to free their minds.

Moeraki Boulders - let go

I don’t know, and haven’t had enough time to digest the implications of these thoughts. If I hark back to the beginings of this note; I don’t have the neural capacity to “what if” my final opinion in the time it has taken to write the words from there to here!

Transcending the physical limits of Einsteinian laws

Just as humans have broken through barriers we’ve previously thought to be insurmountable, so will we find a way to transcend the physical laws of gravity, space and eventually time.  In simplified terms Einsteinian law sets the practical physical limit for space travel at much less than the speed of light; the faster we travel the greater our mass and with a corresponding increase in energy to continue to accelerate. Yet in contrast we can send data at the speed of light without even trying, and have done since early last century.

Distant Spiral Galaxy NGC 4603, Home to Variable Stars
Source: Hubblesite.org

Ray Kurzweil describes a point in our evolution—it is closer than we think—when we can convert our entire consciousness into data (not just our memory), and, therefore, send it at the speed of light where ever we want. But if there is nothing out there to receive it, it will remain as data and continue on infinitely through the universe. If we do come to communicate with a similarly intelligent and advanced society light years away we could first send information and instructions on how to build a biological vessel for our transported consciousness to be downloaded to. We will find ourselves having traveled across space at impossible speeds for physical objects.

To me this sounds perfectly plausible and if it sounds plausible to us in our current primitive state then it will be much simpler in the future.

We have to unshackle our minds from the physical world, and limiting our thoughts to the current and immediately past paradigms. The universe is too big [yet another physical term?] for that. I think this is a way for us to comprehend the universe as infinite. With our minds shackled to physical ideals we cannot grasp the infinite; the best we can do is think of something so large we can barely comprehend it. To truly be able to understand the infinite we must release our maniacal grasp on physical ideals…all of them.

Kurzweil’s Singularity and artificial enhancements to our body

The concept of the singularity came up last night while I was researching an aspect of my novel. According to Ray Kurzweil, the singularity is point in the evolution of the universe when technology can improve itself faster than humans can improve it and the technology cuts us out of the loop.

ieee-spectrum-technological-singularity-thumb

Long before this point, however, Kurzweil predicts there will be only a few humans without extensive artificial enhancement wether it be enhanced limbs, digestive systems, or the insertion of entertainment driven nanobots. He also suggests the possibility to upload your mind entirely from your physical body. I found this disconcerting and a little depressing. It is not the future I imagined for my grandchildren where the line between their natural human presence and a humanoid cyborg is blurred.

This was a distraction to my research and I pushed these thoughts to one side and continued along, suitably engrossed, on my original path of discovery. The next time I looked up from my books and notebook I noticed it was 1am and thought, “Why do I have to sleep? There’re so many things I want to research and understand!” My mind raced while I reluctantly closed the notebook and slid my fountain pen into its leather case. How could I get by with less sleep? And then, like the target of my own satirical attack I choked on the thought. This is why humans will opt for artificial enhancement; not just to run faster, or to breathe in a CO2 rich atmosphere, but to release our mind from the dirty biological container it’s entrapped in.

I realised I will be tempted to upload my mind. But this realisation led me to consider what would become of the mind/body that remained—I must assume the uploaded “consciousness” is a copy. Would it be culled and consumed as some form of payment for service, or could the physical part be “parked” as a potential refuge for the mind if an emergency eventuated that threatened the security of the artificially supported entity in the world wide neural web? A hard copy backup or snapshot…

How would these artificially supported consciousnesses interact? Just consider the difficulty in sustaining a long distance relationship without the occasional physical visit. Maybe we’ll interact in a completely virtual environment so authentic the experience sufficiently meets the demands of our minds; however unclear they currently may be. There’s has to be a short story here at least!