Sci-Fi Author Patrick Hemstreet Talks About VR, Neuroscience, and His New Book, 'The God Peak'
Image credit: Harper Voyager
Patrick Hemstreet might just be the most interesting man in the world—he's a neuroscientist, author, entrepreneur, former comedian, and inventor. His new book, The God Peak, is a sequel to his highly acclaimed debut novel, The God Wave, which deals with quantum physics, brain waves, and the future of human evolution. We caught up with Patrick in a phone interview to talk about the book, the science behind it, and what's next for humanity.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE GOD WAVE AND THE GOD PEAK
When I asked Patrick whether he was inspired or influenced by works of science fiction, like Scanners or Minority Report, he admitted to loving Dune with a passion, but said that wasn't his inspiration for The God Wave. "I didn't get out there to emulate Frank Herbert," he joked. According to him, he didn't intend to write a science-fiction book at all when he sat down to work on God Wave (which took him about two years to finish). Instead, as someone who has studied both mysticism and neuroscience, he wanted to write a book about the convergence between the two.
The results were the Alphas and Zetas—humans with the power to manipulate matter and energy using only their brainwaves. The God Wave follows a research institute called Forward Kinetics as its head scientist, Chuck Brenton, explores this new ability in his test subjects...before a covert military operation called Deep Shield tries to take control of Chuck's project and turn his subjects into living weapons. The God Peak explores the aftermath of Deep Shield's attempts to harness the power of the Zetas, and swings between techno-thriller and hard sci-fi.
One of the most interesting aspects of the books is that much of the neuroscience is pulled from Hemstreet's own professional experience as a neuroscientist and engineer—the science of brain waves, like the alpha, beta, theta, and gamma waves, is represented accurately, with small departures here and there (such as the shapes the characters' brainwaves make on the EEG machine and the algorithms used to regulate them). In person, Hemstreet can easily dive into the precise terminology when explaining the fine line between science and sci-fi in his books, from the distinction between beta and gamma waves to the difficulties of navigating, say, an airplane using only one's thoughts. He mentions Paul Dirac, the Nobel-prize winning physicist, as an influence on his view of the universe, along with Carl Jung's collective unconscious.
THE COLLISION OF SCIENCE AND SCI-FI
Strangely enough, Hemstreet's visions in The God Wave are already coming true: when I brought up the Boston startup Neurable, who we had previously interviewed about their quest to turn human thoughts into actions using VR and brain-computer interfaces, Hemstreet immediately said "That sounds like Forward Kinetics!" Neurable is learning how to convert brainwave patterns into mechanical movements, VR video games, and menu interfaces, making humans masters of our increasingly digital worlds, but VR production company Abelana is taking it a step further: they're creating VR experiences that can bring together hundreds of people from around the world to interact and listen to speakers like scientist Brian Greene.
To Hemstreet, the combination of though-controlled VR and worldwide VR communities sounds like the beginning of a new chapter in human society: "Imagine a society where instant change is rendered at the speed of thought, where anyone who has a thought can share it..." he says. "That will be the greatest step in human history...VR is gonna be the great enabler of people's unity."
The question of when (or if) humans will be able to manipulate the world around them without a computer interface lies at the center of Patrick's fiction, but regardless of how it's done, his message remains the same. According to Hemstreet, "Human existence is always about breaking through barriers of what's impossible."
We couldn't agree more.