The Science of Sci-Fi, Tick Style: Pt. 2

In Part One of The Science of Sci-Fi – Tick Style, I discussed the use of optogenetics as a possible cure for mental illnesses in the future. It is exciting science, to say the least, especially with the implications of it being a non-invasive way of giving so many people piece of mind. However — as a the skeptic that I am — I can’t help but wonder about the abuse that could come out of such a technology. Where does the desire to “fix” one’s self stop? Who is to determine what exactly is a defect worthy of fixing? And if all the mental abnormalities are removed, what does that do for the creative muse?

It begs the moral question: Is the creative muse a neural defect and should it be fixed?

THE BRAIN, THE MIND & THE MUSE

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the road to mental recovery

My research of optogenetics not only aided me in the extensive rewrites of Tick, but also made the threat of brain alterations feel that much more real, and therefore real for my main character, Jo. Over the course of my scientific research, I had a bit of a mind-bending experience.

Let me get a little personal on you for a moment. In my formative years, I was plagued by a severe depression. No matter how brutal it was at times, I continually battled against the idea that whatever depression I was suffering was not the result of a chemical imbalance in my brain as the psychiatrist insisted. It was environmental, I argued. I was always an overly perceptive kid. People called me an “old soul” when I was 10. I knew my compulsion to create art and express myself was not just a product of an excessively emotional teenager. Still, I couldn’t function in the “real world” so they put me on anti-depressants. My mind was not my own on those drugs, those thoughts were that of someone who could care less about literally anything at all. I made no art. I wrote no music. I was a shell of my former self. After a couple of years, I stopped taking those drugs and took the time to simply grow up a little. A decade later, I am living life depression-free, but the experience has forever changed my perception of my own mind. Continue reading

The Science of Sci-Fi, Tick Style: Pt. 1

Simon says,

“They’re called botheads!”

I have been thinking for some time about writing a post about the scientific research that went into Tick, but found that the information (and the many connections to my book series) was an intimidating amount, too much to add into one block. So, I have decided to break them down into more readable chunks so that I can share with you the science behind the science fiction in my debut YA series, Tick.  This post commences Part One.

Let’s go back a bit. I honestly can’t say exactly where the inspiration came from for my YA sci-fi series, which is, in short, about Josephine Bristol, a teenage girl desperate to become an artist in a drone-surveyed Los Angeles where neuroscientists permanently “fix” people with brain disorders, a task perhaps not so daunting were she not plagued by a violent mental and emotional dysfunction. I have mentioned in quite a few interviews that my main character’s “tick” — as she calls it — bears resemblance to issues of my own adolescence, although not in the “art imitates life” sort of way that has caused readers to question my husband’s safety (people are worried!). Jo’s tick is rather a dramatized representation of my years suffering from a deep and dark depression and the journey I have taken to finally write a book about it. In my series, the use of these brain-adjusting doctors is a futuristic evolution of psychiatry, and I am in awe of how many readers have noted the possibility that sometime in the near future, neural brain adjustments can become something not only used for medical purposes, but for personal advance as well.

I didn’t just make this concept up. Scientists are in the process of targeting specific neurons in the brain to inhibit or assist the movement of signals between synapses, thus altering certain cognitive functions. The purpose for this research is hoped to be applied in treating brain disorders such as schizophrenia and depression, but it takes no stretch of the imagination to see how easily this technology could be used to “fix” people of minor inflictions, like their compulsion to drop $20 at a fancy coffee shop every day. The science is called optogenetics, and I’ll get to the specifics of it later in this post, but first I want to get into how I even learned about optogenetics in the first place. Continue reading