Neuroscience, the Neuronovel, and Science Fiction

Several conversations with Tammy Clewell on the neuronovel rekindled my interest in the biology of the human brain. As a result, I have decided to do some research on the neuronovel and its relationship to science fiction. The neuronovel, with its emphasis on the hardware of the brain over the software of psychology, is arguably a hard science fiction topic (albeit most lacking an extrapolative element). Additionally, novels traditionally seen in terms of psychological explanation can be re-read with neuroscience in mind (pun intended).

I am building a list of science fiction novels and short stories that specifically addresses the neuronovel’s emphasis of brains over mind. What titles of novels or short stories from approximately 1950 to the present can you recommend that emphasize brains over mind, and the brain’s influence on one’s sense of self and understanding of the world. This would include brain trauma over psychological trauma, neuroscience over psychology, depictions of creating or developing brains and how that shapes one’s engagement with the world, introspection or internal dialog that might have a biological explanation rather than a psychological one, etc. Two sets of works that immediate come to mind are Asimov’s robots (they exhibit psychological problems, but there is an emphasis on those behaviors resulting from the way they are hardwired), and Dick’s VALIS novels (the author’s 2-3-74 events can be more simply diagnosed as the first in a series of unfortunate strokes).

This is a very rough sketch at this point, so please bear with me as a work through it. All suggestions are welcome and much appreciated.

I am a professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on 20th/21st-century American culture, science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology.

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2 comments on “Neuroscience, the Neuronovel, and Science Fiction
  1. Alex Hall says:

    I’ve been meaning to write a paper on trauma in the work of Joss Whedon, which I know has nothing to do with novels, but it seems that trauma triggers interesting things in his work (see: River Tam).

  2. Jason Ellis says:

    Hey Alex,

    You should definitely write that Joss Whedon and trauma essay–you could send that lots of different places including Slayage and Science Fiction Television and Film. Trauma was a keyword that didn’t come to mind in my earlier thinking, and I thank you for jarring my brain into remembering it! We will have to talk on campus when school begins. Good luck with your classes.

    Jason

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Who is Dynamic Subspace?

Dr. Jason W. Ellis shares his interdisciplinary research and pedagogy on DynamicSubspace.net. Its focus includes the exploration of science, technology, and cultural issues through science fiction and neuroscientific approaches. It includes vintage computing, LEGO, and other wonderful things, too.

He is an Assistant Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) where he teaches college writing, technical communication, and science fiction.

He holds a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University, M.A. in Science Fiction Studies from the University of Liverpool, and B.S. in Science, Technology, and Culture from Georgia Tech.

He welcomes questions, comments, and inquiries for collaboration via email at jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu or Twitter @dynamicsubspace.

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