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Sometime in the late 1950s I ran across accounts of what was then called "chemical memory." The way in which memory is transferred to the neurons in the brain for storage was mysterious at that time (and no one really knows today how the brain remembers). Robert Jordan and James McConnell, while still graduate students, began doing experiments with planarian worms at the University of Texas, studies that McConnell continued while a professor at the University of Michigan. His work and those of others was published in a publication whimsically titled The Worm-Runners Digest.
Other researchers picked up the research: Holgar Hyden, George Ungar, David Krech.... All that, if the reader is interested, is summarized (in quotes from journal and magazine articles) in the middle channel of the Mnemonist's ruminations.. The final statement in that brief history, in the Mnemonist's last section, speculates about the future potential of chemical memory. Such speculations are the spark to the rocket of the writer's imagination.
I included references to chemical memory in my novel Kampus, in which they became pills of instruction that students could pop instead of going to class--though there they became a metaphor for getting knowledge--or information--without having to work for it. But they also contained a central core of possibility: that learning itself could be encapsulated, so that one could learn to be a computer technician, say, or a surgeon by popping a pill. If that became possible, civilization would be transformed more radically than it was by the industrial revolution or by science.
The Dreamers assumes thatthe chemical memory revolution has already occurred. All the everyday problems of existence have been resolved. Now chemical memory is being applied to the arts, and people have the opportunity to indulge themselves in the ultimate escape fiction: the living of other people's lives through memories that have been encapsulated for them.
But there still will be a need for a few people who hold themselves apart from the common pool of pleasure, who must make decisions, create dreams, and supply the basic materials for the dreamers and their poppets.
Even in the 1950s and early 1960s, the concept of chemical memory was viewed skeptically by most biologists and physiologists, and today has been discarded. An article in the January 2001 Analog by Kyle Kirkland, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, dismisses chemical memory and describes what scientists today think about the way memories are recorded in the brain. Synaptic physiology, he wrote, is one of the most important areas of neuro-science research. Just because you can't inject other people's memories, he goes on to say, doesn't mean that you can't replicate them. But chemical memory always was more potent in what it implied about the human condition than in what it might achieve in the real world. [Science fiction, editor John W. Campbell once wrote, exists in the gap between the laboratory and the marketplace.] Memory is what makes us individuals, and the creation of memories is what, when it structures our dreams, we call art.