After my first semester as graduate researcher I am proud to present to you my most surprising discovery: charismatic deviants. It turns out that they are essential for our survival. This is as true for our life on Earth and, I propose, for space life too.
The nature of my research is on isolation. My focus is how isolation impacts astronauts when confined inside a spaceship taking a very long excursion, which not only takes you away from everything familiar but is challenging in its very long flight, then upon arrival to your destination you are greeted by further difficulties as you endeavor to survive a hostile environment that may kill you. And you thought the holidays are going to be tough with the relatives coming. But there is hope. Studies suggest that having a charismatic deviant (CD) aboard will help make things go better. Here’s why:
A CD can be a person, person-like, animal, or animal-like. But whatever the form, they help you cope with difficult environments, like when astronauts are on long-duration space excursions (LDSEs) or when you are at your Aunt Hilda’s for a family get-together. The CD is characteristically good-natured and often humorous, not in a threatening or negatively disruptive way to an individual or group, but rather by contributing positive power to the psychology and physiology of people around them. Besides offering unique value in their behavior, they are often unusual or outside the norm in their appearance. In short, they make us feel better and show us their own humanness through their non-human ways and form. Here are some examples taken from way out there to closer to home.
From Star Trek, Data provides a good example of a charismatic deviant. Sage and funny despite himself, Data is an android with a fast mind as well as a warm ‘heart’ who aspires to connect with the humanity he loyally serves. Another couple from galaxies far (far) away are from the movies of Star Wars with the ever-polite golden droid, C3PO, a verbal stand-up comic who is always exasperated with his whistle-speaking rolling droid counterpart, the delightfully feisty R2-D2. These CD’s put the welfare of their group first and are inclined to relieve stress and even boredom on space missions that have high potential for inter-personal conflicts by the very nature of being in strange new worlds with challenging and ill-intentioned other life forms. They provide useful information, but something even more powerful than that: stress relief in a cosmos fraught with imminent danger. Charismatic deviants are not just denizens of the domain of space. Closer to home we have life forms of similar character and power.
The house pets we live with, and often can’t live without, are similar in style and function as charismatic deviants. Generally well behaved but known to be mischievous, the presence of a pet, faithful and seeming to know when to give a caring expression or loving nudge can defuse the stress of even the worst day. There are compelling indications that they do more than provide psychosocial support for us. Physiological studies show that they can provide cardiovascular aid too: lowering blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. They also help us increase needed exercise time. Best of all, they make us laugh. They’re not just at home anymore either; they’re accompanying owners to our best-recognized companies (Google and Amazon). There is still much to be determined, but the stakes are higher when in space where countermeasures to isolation are needed. Can we send charismatic deviants along too?
Working today on the International Space Station, astronauts are testing many ways to prepare for LDSEs coming up that will take many months or years: to the moon, to Mars. With a dedicated, smart, and empathic robot in space, the impact of isolation could be mitigated. A faithful, morale enhancing companion, life-like but not alive—can this be our next and charismatic deviant for space? For Earth and our many living with feelings of isolation too?
Next semester will include more research on social robotics. My own dog and charismatic deviant, Aero, is at my side right now. Even when asleep, which is most of the time, his presence a reminder that I am not alone and helping sustain my sanity and humanity with his own unique appeal.
The goal is to help astronauts on their journeys that will be the most profound humankind has ever undertaken. It will also provide a lifeline to others on Earth.
May 2017 bring you many blessings, and among those may there be a charismatic deviant to call your own.