Futurist Ramez Naam’s first science fiction novel, Nexus, garnered a review last year that spoke to the Buddhism intertwined into the plot. The novel ostensibly is about future human enhancement:
A few decades into the future, a drug/biotechnology called Nexus is making its way through the underground. When ingested, it creates a temporary computer network in your brain — which allows you to be “programmed” with anything from emotions to information about what songs are playing at the club where you’re dancing. The government has outlawed Nexus, just as it outlaws any form of “emerging” technology for human enhancement that could be a threat.
But what intrigues the reviewer is the Buddhist aspects.
What I found most interesting about the novel, however, wasn’t the post-human technology or the neurocomputing interfaces. It was Naam’s use of Buddhism as a form of biotechnology. When Kaden gets to Thailand, he discovers that Buddhist leaders and monks have been secretly hacking Nexus themselves — not with computers, but using the power of meditation. Because of their spiritual training, they’ve figured out how to use the technology to rewire their own minds and generate incredible collective meditation experiences. There is actually a scientific basis for this idea, as neuroscientists have discovered that meditation actually does affect the neuroanatomy of people’s brains.
The addition of Buddhism as a kind of socio-scientific force makes Nexus more than your average futuristic techno-thriller. It’s a smart thought experiment about how a single technology might be used by different cultures and political groups in radically different ways. Ultimately, the book is about why no single group — whether national or scientific — should be allowed to control a technology that could ultimately change humanity for the better. We can never predict exactly how a life-altering technology will be used, and erasing it before people have a chance to tinker with it is more destructive than any of the possible ill effects it might generate.
What we here at Tesseracts enjoy is the interplay of religion and science fiction, of course, but also that human brains wired for religion could actually be an asset, and not a drawback to human existence. That Buddhists might have a leg up on this technology makes me wonder what other religions might have to offer when it comes to future human enhancement. Buddhists may offer meditative strengths. In what science fiction future could Pentecostals or Muslims have a future edge in human society? Pantheists? Wiccans?