I wanted to dedicate a post to a specific aspect of writing science fiction: writing aliens. Or, as the title more accurately asserts, failing to write aliens.
the neurological ones. We sometimes seem to forget that our brains are as much a product of evolution as the rest of our bodies, as if somehow the brain was derived from a different process than produced that enlarged cranium that contains it. Plus, it’s one thing to understand the history of the amygdala or the hippocampus, and something else entirely to understand the evolutionary underpinnings of something more nebulous, like imagination.
If I had to distill Blindsight down to a single, central theme, it would be that of self. What is the concept of self? How does it relate to the concept of what is human? What is the origin, function, and cost of self-awareness? How does it relate to free will, and does free will exist, or is it merely an illusion? Watts seems to have created the entire novel as a thought experiment to explore these concepts, and he leverages two lenses to accomplish that: the various neuro-atypicalities of his characters, and the distinctively intelligent but unaware aliens. Either of these ideas alone could have easily been the foundation of a compelling novel. Combining them together made this one both more compelling, and more challenging, and is in many ways at the core of my personal dichotomy over Blindsight.