Halo

I’ve had a strange, dreamlike week, which in and of itself is nothing out of the ordinary and perfectly consistent with our strange, dreamlike ‘reality’. I’ve spent most of my time up to my ears in database tables, SQL scripts, and server configurations, so I thought the time was right for a post that addresses something I’ve avoided for some time. Specifically, the question of whether our ‘reality’ is (or might or could be) some form of advanced computer simulation. For the most part, it addresses this topic from the other side of the fence, in terms of the consequences for those who favour a spiritual interpretation. All appearances to the contrary, my thoughts aren’t aimed at anyone in particular so if you feel pinpricks creep up your neck then 20,000 iterations of this song ought to do the trick. Failing that, feel free to scroll down to the halfway point and grab yourself an ice cream or comething else that takes your fancy.

For those who might have stumbled across this blog en route to YouPorn.com, allow me to explain what I mean by ‘strange and dreamlike’. Last night, for want of anything better to do, I revisited the first fifteen minutes of the truly remarkable 1970’s Wizard of Oz remake that is Zardoz, which depicts Zed’s entry into the mysterious Vortex. Multiple strange events occur within the timeframe in question, and two of the most obvious examples are as follows:

1. Zed enters a bakery and is startled by a stream of flour that suddenly pours from a chute hanging from the ceiling. He then picks up a product of that flour (a stale loaf of bread) in a manner that indicates he has never seen one before. Moments later, we see Zed in a garden staring at a flower. Having never seen one before, Zed asks The Tabernacle (an Artificial Intelligence that has come to think of itself as ‘God’) what it is. The Tabernacle gives a one word answer: “Flower”. Zed then asks what its function is, and The Tabernacle informs him that its function is “decorative”.

2. Zed discovers The Tabernacle for the first time shortly after the flour scene. He is hungry and asks it to provide him with ‘meat’, but all it can do is present him with a holographic representation of ‘meat’. Although he can see the meat, it lacks substance and eludes his grasp when he attempts to seize hold of it. Minutes later, two Eternals probe Zed’s memories and watch them on a TV screen. One memory depicts Zed’s sexual appetite: he is shown raping a woman on a beach as if she were just a piece of meat to him. Zed tells the Eternals that the events they are watching occurred at a place ‘where the sea meets the land‘.

Of course, the central ‘problem’ here (if I can call it that) is that these strange reflections occur in so-called ‘real life’ too. Yesterday, for example, I overheard a group of three people talking about the mass shooting in Florida. One person was deriding the American Constitution’s right to bear arms, and after that person walked off the two who remained began to talk about their IT related jobs. One began to wax lyrical about the importance of something or other, and ended his sentence by saying “…and that’s what I bear in mind”. The conversation reminded me a lot of assembly language, and it seems to me that he might just as well have said “I’ve loaded the variable ‘bear’ into register B at memory address 0xAA69FF’.

Similarly, I loaded YouTube this morning (whilst thinking about Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, i.e. Blade Runner, and its main protagonist, Rich Deckard) and the first video I saw was this one.

Needless to say, only an hour later I was introduced to a woman whose first name is the same as my mother’s. I asked her what she does for a living and she replied “Oh, I’m just a dogsbody”. Her boss was introduced to me as Rich, and he then introduced me to his boss and said “This is Oz, our Network Manager”. The conversation that followed was surreal beyond words, and I kept wondering when the movie director would step in and shout “Cut!” or “That’s a wrap!”

During the same conversation, I listened to the group bemoan the state of their IT department and jokingly suggested mass suicide as the only possible solution. I borrowed the theme from Zardoz and slipped it into the conversation just to see what would happen. The central theme of Zardoz is that members of The Vortex have eternal life, because The Tabernacle records every detail of their consciousness. If they kill themselves then The Tabernacle creates a clone body and reloads their memories. I wasn’t too surprised when, just an hour or so after slipping this reference into the conversation, dogsbody’s boss informed me that he’d received a spam email stating that death by suicide is no longer possible thanks to quantum computing!

This more-or-less sums up the bizarre and unreal nature of the world we inhabit. But if it’s not real then what exactly is it? It seems to me that one of the most under-represented theories is, oddly enough, also the most plausible. I am of course talking about reality as a computer simulation, and although I usually avoid paying too much attention to the idea (because my background is in IT and our ‘reality’ reflects our thoughts and thereby confirms our biases) I think it’s well overdue some ‘serious’ consideration.

Of the individuals and blogs known to me, the majority have a spiritual dimension predicated on the idea that ‘reality’ and ‘god’ are one and the same, or that we are all ‘god’ as he/she/it experiences itself subjectively. Of course, we cannot really know that for sure, and in the final analysis it’s a belief just like any other, one based on ‘feelings’ and ‘intuition’ that are no more or less valid than the science fiction of a laboratory experiment. Even so, I suspect that the simulation theory is unattractive to those who hold these views, precisely because it represents the antithesis of the ‘God Hypothesis’.

It could be argued that elevating ourselves to the dizzy heights of the ‘godhead’ itself is, in its own way, just as likely to kill thought and ‘serious’ examination of incompatible alternatives as prostrating ourselves before the ‘godhead’ in the conventional religious sense. Perhaps more so, because if someone decides that they’re ‘god’ or ‘part of the Great Spirit’ – and makes this their ‘truth’ – then it’s easy to see how this might blind them to more mundane perspectives. After all, anything less than divinity is going to be a massive disappointment, isn’t it?

In this ‘reality’ it seems that the Western understanding of God is still, for the most part, that of the ‘Judgmental God’ archetype. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Regardless of our intentions, when we associate ourselves with ‘God’ it seems that what we’re really doing is associating ourselves with this archetype. If that’s the case then it raises interesting questions about what we’re actually signing up to when we accept this kind of viewpoint. On an individual level we might say and believe that ‘God is love’. That’s not particularly consistent with the archetype though, which tends to present ‘God’ as judge, jury and executioner – with no right of appeal.

Is today’s ‘plane crash’ in the Zardos Mountains an expression of God’s love?

Sixty-six people are feared to have been killed in a passenger plane crash in the Zagros mountains in Iran. The Aseman Airlines plane, en route from Tehran to the south-western city of Yasuj, came down near the city of Semirom in Isfahan province. The Red Crescent deployed search and rescue teams to the site. The airline has retracted a statement saying definitively that all aboard were dead.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-43103192

It plays out time and time again. Torah, Torah, Torah, right? Fanatics sacrificing to their God-King.

The ISIS phenomenon is a prime example of the way this archetype plays out in 3D, regardless of the intentions of those for whom the name ‘ISIS’ has special significance. Is it any wonder that some of these folk are openly hostile to the right to bare arms, particularly if you happen to be the proud owner of a vagina?

It’s odd, isn’t it? If everything is a representation or manifestation of ‘God’ then why is ‘God’ so hostile to his/her/its own ‘divinity’ and the ‘devoutness’ or ‘seriousness’ that usually accompanies spiritual beliefs? Why does ‘God’ openly mock those who hold such views and present them as ‘fanatics’? More to the point, why is The Mighty One prepared to show mercy to those who truly atone for their sins and ‘deny the faith’?

It’s worth posting this YouTube again just to emphasise the point: we become as God is by doing what God does.

When we consider what ‘God’ does we have to ask whether we really want to emulate him/her/it, let alone identity ourselves as one of the ‘Heavenly Host‘ and establish a link to the Great Network Server in the Sky. Imagine the malware coming down that particular pipeline: Self-righteousness v6.01, Heresy for Dummies, Visual Persecution for Windows 10, etc.

When talking about computer simulations we have to recognise that there are…ahem…’hard’ and ‘soft’ variants. The ‘soft’ version would be a kind of 33rd Century Virtual Reality and presupposes that we have a ‘real’ existence beyond the confines of the simulation. The ‘hard’ alternative is pure simulation, i.e. everything in the universe – ourselves included – as a fictional product of advanced computer architecture. Does this explain the apparent lack of interest in this ‘secular’ interpretation? Put another way, if you’re convinced that you’re on the cusp of transcending into the 6th dimension to have your balls tongued by the Hierarchy of Ascended Masters then the one thing you really won’t want to hear is that you might be a video game character.

Of course, shortly after composing the last paragraph I turned on the TV to watch tonight’s Star Trek: Next Generation episode. Today’s installment was called The Emissary.

Data reports that the emissary is being transported in a class 8 probe, traveling at warp 9. Picard notes the evident urgency of the mission. The Enterprise intercepts the probe and beams it aboard, and its passenger is revealed to be a half-Klingon half-human woman named K’Ehleyr. K’Ehleyr informs the command staff that Starfleet has detected a Klingon battlecruiser called the T’Ong, which was launched from the Klingon homeworld over 75 years ago, when the Klingons and the Federation were still at war. The crew has been in suspended animation and are about to awaken, at which point it is feared they will immediately attack the nearest Federation outpost, several of which are nearby and would not be able to adequately defend themselves. Though K’Ehleyr strongly believes that any attempt to reason with the Klingons will fail and advises Picard to destroy the ship, Picard orders his crew to come up with alternatives.

Source: Wikipedia

Even so, a quick textual analysis of anything you have to hand will soon reveal scores of spiritual and religious references. Does this actually mean anything though? If we assume that ‘time’ flows in only one direction then perhaps so, but as our own experiences suggest that time is an illusion we’re faced with the ever-present chicken-and-egg conundrum, i.e. that the religiosity of the ‘past’ is merely a ‘Counter-Clock World‘ manifestation of spiritual preoccupations here in the ‘present’.

In a similar vein, one of the things that’s always interested me is the appearance of patterns based around certain keywords. Pay close attention to the home page of any news site and it soon becomes apparent that most of the day’s news is based around several keywords, which ripple and morph their way down the page like a raindrop – or a line of code from The Matrix. If I were forced to choose one word to describe this phenomenon that word would be ‘algorithmic’. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that I could write code to consume a site’s entire front page in one gulp, parse all the linked pages, and generate a nicely formatted report that identifies the keywords of the day and maps how they propagate or ‘evolve’ through the site. Even so, the nature of our ‘reality’ is such that there’s absolutely no way to demonstrate that these patterns exist ‘objectively’ and are not just a reflection of my own attempts to look for patterns and meaning.

OK, this is getting way, way too heavy. Tell you what, let’s have a brief intermission while I grab myself an ice cream…

And to keep things fair and balanced, here’s a little comething for the ladies…

Feel better for that? I know I do… 😉 While we’re on the subject, I browsed the EU’s new Data Protection regulations this week. They have a lot to say on the subject of consent, and the new rules state that the ‘age of consent’ for giving ‘consent’ will be reduced from 16 to 13 provided ‘reasonable efforts’ are taken to secure parental consent. I’m just saying, OK?

Anyway, where was I? Yeah, computer simulations. Is it really that difficult to believe? Take Chess for example, an ‘analogue’ board game that was first ‘simulated’ decades ago. I don’t know about you but I vividly remember pounding the rubber keys of my micro-computer back in the mid-1980s, so whever I think of the game it always brings to mind Zion

Of course, the original version of the game was called Chattanooga and (w)Oz born in Diana…

Today’s games are almost indistinguishable from ‘real life’, which would be fine if only we knew what ‘real life’ actually looked like.

Last week, I sat down to write some Python code to create and ‘salt’ passwords for a mobile application I’m creating. It’s a complex process and if you’re ‘serious’ about these things then it takes 20,000 or so iterations through a complex cryptographic hash to encrypt and salt a password that’s impossible to reverse engineer with a ‘somewhere over the rainbow‘ table. I was thinking about someone in particular at the time, and when my computer finished the final iteration and displayed the encrypted password the name of that person appeared right in the middle of it. Impossible but ‘true’, insofar as anything in our ‘reality’ can be said to be ‘true’.

Talking of which, if a little comething isn’t to your liking then feel free to indulge yourself with a bigger model. The URL to the Daily Mail article refers to the ‘device’ as ‘highly immoral’ but I ain’t got time for that kind of God talk. If it’s your cup of tea then go nuts on it and enjoy the salty goodness of all that ‘nuclear material’.

Does the ‘Eye in the Sky’ (be it electronic or otherwise) see it comething like this? If so, what would it look like from a character’s perspective? A little bit like our 3D perhaps?

I think that the simulation argument forces us to descend from our respective soap boxes and ‘seriously’ consider that this crazy world maybe all there is. Alternatively, that while there might be a ‘reality’ beyond the confines of our ‘reality’, the nature of ‘reality’ (and ourselves) might preclude us from ever experiencing it. It’s a sobering thought, particularly for those who may have withdrawn from the world in the hope that they’ll wake up clothed in the rays of the sun, floating above it all like an interstellar will-o’-the-wisp.

Equally, I have some sympathy with the ‘non-cooperation’ position myself, and I’ve always been intrigued to find myself continually urged to participate and..ahem…sample everything that’s on the menu. Whatever ‘it’ is, it seems extraordinarily keen to get my ‘buy in’, and this too seems like rather odd and inconsistent behaviour for an all-powerful ‘deity’.

In Zardoz, Zed eventually pulls the plug on The Tabernacle, just as Dave pulls the plug on Hal in 2001. Both A.I.s are portrayed as human creations that have seen fit to promote themselves to the pantheon. It’s a familiar theme that plays out over and over again in Sci-Fi films, and one that frequently appears in the news in relation to our rush to conceive machine intelligence. Given the bizarre nature of ‘reality’, could our experiences here in the ‘present’ be a reflection of a ‘future’ breakthrough in A.I. and/or quantum computing?

Is it really that easy though? Is the ‘Above & Beyond’ totally phony? Are we ourselves literally walkie-talkie ‘mobile phonies’? If so, is it possible to pull the plug without switching ouselves off in the process?

Got a halo round your head?

Or is it more of an all-over thing? Above and Beyond and everywhere else you care to look?

Maybe there’s nothing for it but to grab a non-existent spoon and tuck in?

Second helping, anyone?

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The Iron Maiden

It should come as no surprise to readers of my last-but-one post, The Number Games, to learn that its ‘Iron Maiden’ theme has been shadowing me. In fact, there’s nothing ‘new’ about this theme, inasmuch as it was bouncing around ‘out there’ long before I came aware of it, and certainly long before I wrote the post in question. Whether or not its longevity means anything at all – given that conventional understandings of space-time appear to be pure science fiction – is a moot point. The same can be said for its significance, given that it’s one of a number of themes that seem to repeat themselves endlessly, like self-replicating Von Neumann machines. Ultimately, its tendency to reappear (always in a revised form) may be nothing more or less than a reflection of the attention we afford it. It’s an interesting topic to explore though, if only because of its association with other symbolism and imagery on the merry-go-round we call ‘reality’.

The sinking of the Titanic is one of its more obvious manifestations, one which seems to have attained the same prominence in our ‘collective unconscious’ as the Nazis and the Second World War. The ‘Iron Maiden’ link should be obvious, but I’ll state it anyway: in simple terms, the Titanic was a supposedly unsinkable ship patched together with iron rivets and she sank on her maiden voyage. The claim that ‘God himself could not sink this ship’ (which was attributed to a ‘deck hand’) was supposed to offer passengers ‘piece of mind‘. God (champ that he is) obviously took umbrage and saw fit to intervene. He chucked an ice berg at it and the rest, as they say, is his-story.

One of the interesting things about ships is that they’re gendered as ‘female’. In James Cameron’s Titanic there’s an interesting scene in which the ship’s captain instructs his First Officer, Mr Murdoch, to bring the ship’s engines up to full throttle and ‘stretch her legs’.

For reasons that are difficult to explain (and which most people simply wouldn’t believe) there seems to be a link with baldy. I really don’t know how else to put this except to say that there’s a ‘thirst’ for everything…

Well said, Jean-Luc…but do we really wanna go there…?

Hey, any of you boys want number one fucky?

Anyway, the ‘Murdoch’ reference is a little odd, because I came across another ‘Mr Murdoch‘ only yesterday evening while watching another film. Be that as it may, the leg stretching theme will be familiar to those who read my ‘Number Game‘ post, which included the below Katy Perry video.

Of course, getting (s)peed on was a factor – if not the factor – in the Titanic’s demise. It was travelling at warp 9 in the dark and just didn’t see that damn Ice Borg until it was too late. An hour or so later and the Titanic foundered itself thoroughly simulated into the uniMatrix of self-replicating Mr Anderson machines and much fun was had by all.

It should go without saying that this ‘Clash of the Titans‘ reflects another recurring theme, which seems to have something to do with ‘air’.

Or, as Frankie says, maybe it’s something that sounds like ‘air’? Check out this ultra hardcore kumquat and feel free to let me know what you think.

According to Mr Cameron…

Not, not that one, although he does make an important point: never get off the goddamn boat and enter the Heart of Darkness, not even for a mango.

Knot unless you’re me and have special dispensation.

This for the benefit of those interested in learning by The Hunger Games…

OK, back to Mr Cameron. The plot of Titanic revolved around a search for a supposedly fictional diamond called ‘Heart of the Ocean‘, which subsequently transpired to be ‘non-fictional’, although the fictional nature of our ‘reality’ seems to render the difference between ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’ rather meaningless.

Unsurprisingly, the story includes a reference to Marshall

Kate was an assistant working for Morley in one of the ‘Purveyors of High Class Confectionery’ shops, which he owned in London, and the two were secretly sailing on the Titanic as second class passengers to begin a new life together in America, under the names of ‘Mr. and Mrs. Marshall.’

Talking of Mars, let’s not forget this little gem from earlier in the week.

That’s kind of interesting, because earlier this evening I really was trying to phone home. Regardless, I’m sure we all agree that blasting an electric car in the direction of Mars to the tune of David Bowie’s Space Oddity is completely normal behaviour for this ‘reality’. There’s absolutely nothing to sea hear, so let’s move swiftly on because we’ve seen that pesky diamond before, haven’t we Mr Tabernacle? OK, it’s time for some tits!

If truth is stranger than fiction then what to do if truth is itself a fiction? I mean, let’s not forget that the Titanic’s maiden voyage began in Southampton…

The Tabernacle is indestructible and everlasting — Zardoz

Indestructible and everlasting? Is that supposed to give us ‘piece of mind’? Could God himself not sink The Tabernacle? I wonder how that one is likely to play out? Zed’s ‘Holy Bible’, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, introduced us to The Vortex. So what’s going on hear, then?

It’s huge, and if the ‘above’ is the same as the ‘below then…?

Is ‘reality’ just a Sailor’s Dream?

Those fucking Ripleycunts jet everyhair, don’t they?

Yes, I am indeed. But why does ‘Meghan’ seem to be at the heart of it all?

And Posh? You really wanna know? You really Wannabe what that’s all about? I could say, but that’s deep in the Jungle’s ‘heart attack’ territory and if I told you then I’d have to consign you to Davey Jones Locker.

So there we have it. The Greek has inherited the earth and everyone else will just have to take a Number Game and jet inline. 😉

Yep. Never been more sirius in my life.

TB, or not TB?

In addition to touching on the subject of taste and appetite, my last post The Number Games asked whether the nature of our ‘reality’ is such that our actions amount to cannibalism. Specifically, that if our reality is a product or reflection of thought then everything we do can be likened to feeding off our own mind. The most obvious symbolic representation of this peculiar form of Holy Communion is the Ouroborus, which depicts a snake or dragon eating its own tail. This highlights the circular or dialectical nature of our reality as a continuous cycle of creative destruction. It could be argued that this process of self-consumption (and the theme of death and rebirth it signifies) is the cosmic equivalent of the artist’s need to continually reinvent him/herself. Equally, it could be argued that these undertones of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and identity crisis are indicative of cosmological suicidal tendencies. With this in mind, let’s dispense with the tree hugging and plunge headlong into the dark side…

The first and most obvious point to make relates to the system of economic organisation that now spans the entire globe. It exists to make ‘profit’ and it can do so only by manufacturing more (and more varied) products and services and enticing us to consume them. Although the term is commonly understood to refer to the act of eating or drinking, the literal definition is ‘to destroy by wasting’. If we situate Planet Earth’s dominant economic model within the context of a cycle of creative destruction then the most pertinent question to ask is whether our collective obsession with consumerism has a hidden and far darker ‘cosmic’ purpose? Assume for a moment that the reality we experience is an eternal stage play in the mind of a cosmic artist called ‘god’: is our preoccupation with ‘wasting’ indicative of his/her/its desire for a fresh burst of artistic creativity?

Of course, rampant consumerism has been the target of ‘green’ activists for several decades now. Recycling is one ‘product’ of the ‘green movement’, but if the universe itself is predicated on recycling then what does the emergence of this practice represent exactly? Here, yet another ‘Marshall’ (this time, it’s Marshall Applewhite, leader of the notorious Heaven’s Gate cult) offers an opinion on the meaning of the term ‘recycling’. Are you prepared to transcend to the ‘next level’?

A less obvious but perhaps more relevant meaning of the term ‘consumption’ relates to disease (thanks Sam Harrington), specifically to tuberculosis, which literally lays waste to the body in the form of weight and blood loss. Is tuberculosis’ effect on the individual human body analogous to ‘Holy Communion’ and the symbolic consumption of a deity’s ‘body and blood’? Perhaps so, but it’s the disease’s association with the lungs that is most interesting, to me at least.

When people with active pulmonary TB cough, sneeze, speak, sing, or spit, they expel infectious aerosol droplets 0.5 to 5.0 µm in diameter. A single sneeze can release up to 40,000 droplets. Each one of these droplets may transmit the disease, since the infectious dose of tuberculosis is very small (the inhalation of fewer than 10 bacteria may cause an infection)

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberculosis#Mechanism

I’ve referred to Marshall McLuhan’s theories about the ‘global brain’ that encompasses the natural environment on many occasions. The content generated by this vast electronic brain has saturated the natural environment, flooding it with information and creating a digital ocean. This digital ocean can also be thought of as an ‘atmosphere’, just as the oceans of earth provide an ‘atmosphere’ for marine dwellers. Our reliance on information is such that this digital ‘atmosphere’ has become as essential to our survival as the physical atmosphere. McLuhan likened our situation to that of goldfish in a bowl, given that the digital ocean is as transparent as the air that surrounds us. We can’t see, touch, smell, or taste it, but our very existence tells us it’s there.

The ‘oxygen’ in this artificial environment is information transmitted as electromagnetic radiation. The devices we use to ‘harvest’ this information are ‘gills’ that filter the digital currents and waves and provide us with this life-giving resource. These electronic extensions of ourselves perform a role analogous to that of lungs: their central processors tune into specific frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to separate the ‘wheat’ that is ‘information’ from the ‘chaff’ that is the natural background chatter of cosmic radiation. In this respect, their ‘atmosphere processing’ role is not unlike the theoretical ‘terraforming’ of science fiction.

One of the classic symptoms of tuberculosis is coughing and, as I’ve pointed out in my previous two posts, death and its counterpart the ‘coffin’ seems to play a significant role in our ‘reality’. In fact, the guy who lives underneath me does so much ‘coughing’ that I often wonder if he occupies a state somewhere between life and death. His name is Brian, so it seems only appropriate to delve into the Videodrome and ask for an opinion from his namesake, Brian O’Blivion.

Oblivion is the state of not being aware of what is happening around you, for example because you are asleep or unconscious.

Source: Collins English Dictionary

Oblivion as a state of unconsciousness is consistent with McLuhan’s goldfish simile. The goldfish (often derided for its poor memory) is unaware of the water or environment in which it swims, just as most humans seem oblivious to the digital ocean they now inhabit. Joseph Kosinski employed the term to good effect in the Tom Cruise film Oblivion, emphasising its meaning in relation to destruction and to being unaware of the nature of one’s surroundings. Cruise’s character Jack is troubled by flashbacks of erased memories of a pre-Apocalypse Earth. Yet he still accepts the paper-thin ‘alternate history’ presented to him by an invasive alien Artificial Intelligence. The story it offers him is an inversion of the ‘factual’ account presented at the film’s end, but contains just enough ‘truth’ to assuage his doubts. Hence Jack sleepwalks through the first half of the film and is literally oblivious to the true nature of his surroundings.

To be clear, there’s a sense in which this hidden ocean has always formed part of the ‘natural’ environment. Light itself is electromagnetic radiation and is as much a part of the environment as various forms of background radiation (visible and non-visible) emanating from the wider universe.

And I can watch TV
While I’m wrapped up in bed
And mother makes sure that I’m watered and fed
My best friend from school will come over and stare
At me in my bubble of germified air

Viewed from this perspective, it might be said that by learning to manipulate the basic currency of the universe (energy) our own man-made version has replicated this ‘universal ocean’ in miniature. In this respect, we’ve taken what McLuhan called the ‘pure information’ of the lightbulb (which he referred to as the only contentless medium) and transformed it into intelligible, structured data. A kind of ‘order out of chaos’ if you will.

The bubbleship from Oblivion

Oblivion‘s plot is interesting for another reason: the alien A.I. invades Earth in order to convert the oceans into energy using gigantic fusion reactors. Jack patrols these ‘hydro-rigs’ in his bubbleship, and when we see them for the first time he reports that they’re “sucking up sea water”. Bearing in mind that the First Law of Thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in a closed system can be neither created nor destroyed, there’s a sense in which this ‘theft’ of the oceans represents an analog to digital conversion process. The ‘analog’ ocean is transferred from the ‘solid state’ of matter to the ‘transcendent‘ state of energy, which is just another way of describing raw information. The word ‘sublimation‘ springs to mind and in turns reminds me of the term ‘subliminal’, something that exists beneath the threshold of consciousness.

Sublimation has also been used as a generic term to describe a solid-to-gas transition (sublimation) followed by a gas-to-solid transition (deposition).

Temperature plays a key role in sublimation processes, as it does when water inside a kettle reaches boiling point.

Once water hits the 100 degree threshold it becomes steam. In so doing it ‘translates’ from one environment to another, becoming part of the physical atmosphere that surrounds us. This, of course, is the basic physics behind the process of cloud formation. It represents the translation of ourselves (our ‘memories’) from the physical/analog environment of flesh-and-blood to the ethereal/digital environment of information as energy.

Kelvin is a measure of temperature, and Kris Kelvin is a character in Solaris, a film about a space station orbiting an alien planet whose single consciousness takes the form of a global ocean. The ocean scans the astronauts’ memories and presents them with ‘replicants’ of key figures in their lives. Ultimately, it presents them with a simulation of Earth itself.

Solaris at night: Kelvin stares into The Abyss and becomes one with it.

As mentioned in Dreams of Empire, Oblivion and Solaris are mirror images. Both address the issue of alien contact, both contain a nuclear theme, and both male leads are physically and/or emotionally estranged from their wives, who are blasted into lonely orbit around a planet.

Space Station Solaris: is it orbiting above the ocean or floating on it? Why does it appear to be the source of the ocean’s ripples?

James Cameron’s The Abyss contains identical themes, but situates them in the ‘inner space’ of the ocean itself, replacing the space stations of Solaris and Oblivion with a deep sea research station. Here, too, the male lead (played by Ed Harris) is alienated from his wife (described as ‘Queen Bitch of the Universe’), but this time the man abandons the woman in a bid to save an alien species from nuclear destruction. In the extended version, we learn that the aliens were about to exterminate humanity, and relent only because of his continued love for his wife.

So, all three films address the subject of love, betrayal, separation, sacrifice, reconciliation, and catharsis under the watchful eye of an ‘alien’ presence that depicts itself as opaque yet transparent, indifferent yet concerned, hostile yet helpful, devious yet open, purposeful and purposeless. In short, a candle blowing in the wind that is impossible to define or pin down, an entity that reinvents itself according to the requirements of the script.

One of the most interesting and relevant scenes from the film is this one, in which Ed Harris’s character is kitted out in a spacesuit and obliged to breathe an oxygen-rich fluid instead of air. The experience of breathing liquid is likened to being inside The Matrix or womb.

We all breathed liquid for nine months, Bud. Your body will remember.

Oddly enough, one of the lead characters in the film is a Navy Seal named ‘Hiram Coffey‘, played by Michael Biehn of Terminator fame. Coffey creates the film’s nuclear threat after he develops a form of ‘Narcissus Narcosis‘, a.k.a. ‘Rapture of the Deep‘.

Narcosis while diving (also known as nitrogen narcosis, inert gas narcosis, raptures of the deep, Martini effect) is a reversible alteration in consciousness that occurs while diving at depth. It is caused by the anesthetic effect of certain gases at high pressure. The Greek word ναρκωσις (narcosis) is derived from narke, “temporary decline or loss of senses and movement, numbness”, a term used by Homer and Hippocrates. Narcosis produces a state similar to drunkenness (alcohol intoxication), or nitrous oxide inhalation.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_narcosis

Biehn also appears in the film Tombstone as Doc Holliday’s would-be nemesis, Johnny Ringo.

I mention this only because Holliday suffered from tuberculosis and Val Kilmer’s depiction of him as an emaciated wreck brings this centre stage.

All well and good, but what of Tuberculosis? Well, pHugoPsychIsis and pHagocalypse appear to be contributing factors…

TB infection begins when the mycobacteria reach the pulmonary alveoli, where they invade and replicate within endosomes of alveolar macrophages. Macrophages identify the bacterium as foreign and attempt to eliminate it by phagocytosis. During this process, the bacterium is enveloped by the macrophage and stored temporarily in a membrane-bound vesicle called a phagosome. The phagosome then combines with a lysosome to create a phagolysosome. In the phagolysosome, the cell attempts to use reactive oxygen species and acid to kill the bacterium. However, M. tuberculosis has a thick, waxy mycolic acid capsule that protects it from these toxic substances. M. tuberculosis is able to reproduce inside the macrophage and will eventually kill the immune cell.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberculosis#Pathogenesis

As digital fishes, our means of subsistence float about in the ‘atmosphere’ itself. Our digital gills collect and process oxygen automatically, as if by magic. We swim about with our mouths open wide to catch digital manna that seems to emanate from a mysterious benevolence sat atop a heavenly cloud. The immediacy and instant gratification on offer is totally at odds with our physical environment, an environment in which quarterpounders and milkshakes do not habitually float through the air like balloons as we walk down the street. Yet if this digital bounty originates from an ‘above’ that is also the ‘below’ then we have to consider that the sustenance we derive from it may also amount to a death sentence of sorts. In other words, just as the macrophage’s attempt to isolate and contain the TB bacterium facilitates its own death, our self-referential Holy Communion may sow the seeds of its own destructive recreation.

I try not to get too ‘sirius’ about these matters, although it’s interesting to think about them in relation to the ‘recycling’ movement. Is recycling to the natural environment as the macrophage is to the individual human body? If so, is it fated not to prevent ‘environmental disaster’ but to hasten or even ensure that ‘environmental disaster’ occurs? Or, more prosaically, is recycling the yin to excessive consumption’s yang? Can it be seen as a means by which to effect gradual, evolutionary environment change rather than a sudden, apocalyptic shift? Or is it merely symbolic of the very obvious recycling of themes, stories and tropes?

Given that space-time itself appears to be as fictional as the content we consume (hardly surprising as we can only learn about space-time by consuming content), there’s also a chicken-and-egg question to ask. Is the physical environment an analog manifestation of its digital sibling? Or is the digital a copy of the physical? Did the remodelling of a pre-existing digital ocean (the original primordial soup so to speak) into data structures patterned by constants and formulae actually create the apparent coherence we see ‘out there’ in the physical world? More to the point, if an action in the ‘now’ can manifest in the past or the future (or both) then what can our information consumption here in the present (be it based on current events or a digital retrieval of past events) tell us about the ‘future’?

Does our experience here in the ‘present’ (the retrieval/playback of our memories and experiences as a ‘story’ we call ‘reality’) provide insight into how the process of translating our lives from the analogue to digital world develops in the ‘future’?

These matters may be deeply and terribly significant, or they may have all the meaning and importance of the overwhelming urge to scratch my left testicle that’s just washed over me. Yet, like me, you too may find yourself weary of this current incarnation of Planet Earth, which seems to be running a pre-release version of Groundhog Day v0.05. How it’ll cope when the smart bots take over and relieve us of our current ‘hunter-gatherers of information’ role is anyone’s guess, but I suspect a firmware upgrade is in order.

Then again, is ‘oblivion’ preferable? I mean, if everyone gets ‘evacuated’ then how bad can it be?

They should have opted for that QVC digital gill upgrade (payable in 12 easy monthly instalments).

What remains of the old analogue world?

Final thought: I’ve just switched on the TV to hear this line from the film The Last Witch Hunter.

There is no going back, for there is nothing to go back to.

Some physicists believe that the total sum of all the positive and negative energy in the universe amounts to exactly zero. Maybe nothing is being created, nothing is being consumed, and nothing is being destroyed? No being, no nothingness, just a work of pure imagination?

The Number Games

After writing about numbers in my last post, Hardcore Analogue, I wasn’t surprised to find that the subject of numbers seemed to pop up wherever I looked. One of the more blatant examples was another YouTube video about a ‘mysterious’ radio station, which turned out to be a so-called ‘numbers station’. For those who don’t know, numbers stations broadcast cryptographic ciphers and are widely suspected of being used by intelligence agencies to communicate with agents in the field. They mostly broadcast a carrier tone, which is occasionally interrupted by a voice repeating a stream of numbers. As such, they’re an interesting example of ‘classified’ information that is openly broadcast and accessible to anyone with a half-decent shortwave radio set. The information can be broadcast publicly precisely because it can be understood only by its intended recipient. With this in mind, I’ll say no more other than to point out that the station in question is Russian.

The point I’m trying to make here relates to ‘bias confirmation’. If we convince ourselves that we’ve suddenly gained deep insight into the nature of our ‘reality’ then our ‘reality’ will happily present us with information that ‘confirms’ our insight. Yet most of this information amounts to little more than thinly-disguised leg-pulling and/or later transpires to be demonstrably ‘untrue’, whatever that means. Moreover, there are times when these snippets of information seem to amount to no more than a cloud-based diary service that serves to jog our memory. For example, earlier today I was thinking about visiting a car boot sale in the hope of buying a turntable. This got me thinking about my old vinyl collection of 80s rock music. I went for a walk shortly afterwards and saw the below mailshot from a life insurance company sitting on a table in the ground floor reception area.

Oddly enough, one of the albums in my collection just happens to be Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind

The ‘piece of mind forever’ claim is quite something, isn’t it? Not ‘piece of mind until you die’ but forever, and when we think of ‘forever’ we usually employ related concepts such as ‘eternity’ or ‘infinity’, the latter being a mathematical or ‘mythomagical’ concept. I came across it recently while brushing up on my Javascript. Astonishingly, this programming language includes a global property called ‘Infinity‘ which stores a numeric value representing infinity! That, too, is quite a claim.

var maxNumber = Math.pow(10, 1000); // max positive number

if (maxNumber === Infinity) {
console.log("Let's call it Infinity!");
// expected output: "Let's call it Infinity!"
}

console.log(1 / maxNumber);
// expected output: 0

The ‘piece of mind’ theme is also a perfect reflection of what I was thinking about when planning this post. It immediately reminded me of the following scene from the film ‘Hannibal’, where the good Doctor offers ‘piece of mind’ to one of the main characters.

This in turn triggered a reference to the Dennis Potter play Cold Lazarus, in which future scientists probe a cryogenically frozen brain, causing the consciousness it represents to experience a ‘reality’ constructed from its own reprocessed memories.

Of course, these are all themes I’ve referred to before. Their repetition here (I find the same repetition in other blogs) seems to ‘validate’ the idea that ‘reality’ is constructed from concepts and experiences that are endlessly reworked and represented for ‘consumption’. The only item on the menu seems to be ‘Cream of Pastiche Soup’, although it goes without saying that the above caveat about ‘bias confirmation’ also applies here. The mere fact that the same themes appear in different forms does not necessarily make them significant. If they signify anything then it might be nothing more than an advanced case of philosophical navel gazing and a need to broaden our horizons.

Last night, I turned on the TV five minutes into a Star Trek: Next Generation episode called Where Silence Has Lease. In it, the crew of the Enterprise enter a ‘void’ in which they encounter a god-like entity which has no physical existence and no appreciation of human values such as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. The entity plays with the crews memories and understanding of space-time, leading Picard to conclude that their situation is akin to that of rats in a laboratory experiment. The entity finally reveals itself, confirms Picard’s suspicions, and expresses surprise when it learns that humans have only a ‘limited existence’. It then announces its intention to kill the crew one by one in order to fully understand the phenomenon known as ‘death’. With logic as its sole guide, it casually suggests that no more than 50% of the crew need die in order to validate its experiment and capture the ‘essence’ of the concept of ‘death’.

I was once told that our ‘reality’ is not unlike a laboratory experiment through which ‘god’ (as the only ‘thing’ that exists) learns about itself by experiencing every act imaginable. It’s an interesting thought, albeit one that suggests that ‘god’ is not a particularly fast learner. As knives and forks seem to be on the agenda, let’s take being stabbed as an example. If there’s any ‘reality’ to human history then it seems safe to assume that over the course of the centuries every inch of the human body has been stabbed by an impressively wide array of instruments. More than enough times to capture the ‘essence’ of the experience of being stabbed, wouldn’t you think? In which case, we have to ask why ‘god’ needs to continue to experience the act of ‘being stabbed’, and whether its continuation amounts to anything more than a perverse act done for its own sake? After all, even the Star Trek entity referred to above saw no point in prolonging the ‘experiment’ beyond the point required to satisfy its curiosity about ‘death’.

In my previous post I referred to the David Cronenberg film eXisTenz and observed that shortly before the Allegra Geller character is shot with a gun that fires teeth for bullets her would-be assassin yells ‘Death to Allegra Geller’ or rather ‘Teeth to Allegra Geller’. There’s a suggestion here that ‘death’ is, so to speak, the ultimate joke: that our temporary ‘game pod bodies’ are mechanisms by which the weary burden of immortality (or eternity/infinity) is made tolerable. Is our ‘reality’ a solution to the nothing of a primordial void? Does it represent the musings of ‘pure consciousness’ as it sleeps and dreams and imagines something other than itself? Is what we call ‘reality’ just a cosmic/comic version of YouTube played out in 3D?

Does it stack up though? I’ve always found ‘spiritual’ interpretations somewhat…ahem…difficult to swallow, and even if I adjust my palate to suit I’m still left puzzled by this ‘death’ business. Just what the fuck is it with this fascination with the ‘teeth count’?

Good point well made. The joke may or may not have been running for hundreds of imaginary centuries, but its certainly been running since I…ahem…winked into eXistenZ some decades ago. It’s getting stale. I mean, if ‘teeth’ itself is a joke then does it actually matter if Max spends the rest of his days driving a cab? Or is it preferable to end up like Vincent, who clearly gets the joke but has been laughing for so long that he no longer has any insight into its effect on him as a person?

An earlier incarnation of ‘The Doctor’. Of course, Manhunter predates events portayed in The Silence of the Lambs and so the Doctor himself isn’t the lead character. That honour belongs to a serial killer known as ‘The Tooth Fairy’…

Q. Why does it feel good, Doctor Lecter? A. It feels good, Will, because God has power. And if one does what God does enough times, one will become as God is.

Another one from my collection of 80s rock. If you watched the Manhunter video above then I’ll leave you to make the Good Will Hunting connection to the mythomagical world of numbers… 😉

If ‘god’ is everything and everything is ‘god’ then isn’t every act ‘cannibalistic’, a consumption of the ‘body and blood’ as in the Christian tradition? What do you think? Peace of mind forever or piece of mind forever? Are you surprised to learn that the person who provided the voiceover for this restored scene from Spartacus was none other than the good Doctor?

So what of the letter I found? Is it random junk mail with no meaning whatsoever? Perhaps, but consider the phrase ‘Imagine peace of mind that lasts forever’. Isn’t ‘imagining peace of mind that lasts forever’ exactly what I’ve done in this post? So what was the purpose of receiving that item of mail on this particular day? Was it a ‘suggestion’? An order? An instruction? A line of ‘code’ to be processed by the analogue computer inside my skull? Or just a blatant example of false advertising that needs to be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority?

Bon Appétit? Oui or Non?

Hardcore Analogue

What are we exactly, and what is this strange thing we call ‘reality’? I’m going to make a break with tradition and actually say what I think our ‘reality’ is, although the term I’ll use to describe it is not a clear cut as you might think. It’s 5:45am here and I really can’t be bothered to write a proper introduction so I’ll just launch right into it. This post is fairly YouTube heavy even by my standards, but with a few exceptions I’ve tried to start all the videos a few seconds before the relevant points.

First, let’s consider the human brain in relation to its information storage, retrieval, and processing capabilities. Even the numerically challenged can catch a ball without consciously thinking about it, yet in order to catch a ball the brain has to perform all sorts of complex calculations on variables such as speed, size, weight, trajectory, environmental conditions, etc., in addition to retrieving stored ‘data’ relating to one’s prior ball-catching experience. The same applies to any other human activity you care to mention. The mathematics of extracting oneself from one’s favourite squishy armchair are mind-boggling, yet it presents no difficulty even to those who need a mobile app to calculate a restaurant bill. On some level we’re all capable of ‘doing the math’ and teaching ourselves to do it, just as we taught ourselves to walk or ride a bike. We take our instinctive numerical abilities for granted, yet their non-trivial nature is amply demonstrated by the time, money and expertise required to program machines that replicate basic human functions.

The brain as an electro-chemical computer is a theme that pops up for me on a regular basis, most recently in the form of the Antikythera Mechanism. This archaeological oddity was developed by the Ancient Geeks and predates the most recent equivalent device by at least 1600 years. Attributed to Archimedes, this laptop-sized analogue computer employed a complex system of toothed gears to model the position of the sun, moon and the five planets known to the Greeks, in addition to predicting solar and lunar eclipses. It took a small army of academics (equipped with a bewildering array of modern digital devices) decades to finally understand how a mechanical device could perform these complex calculations. The below documentary is well worth a watch if you have the time, and one of the most interesting comments comes at the 12:50 mark.

…the team suspected ancient astronomers were trying to mechanize the movements of the sun, moon and planets. Could they put astronomy and complex mathematics into a device and program it to follow the motion of their closest neighbour, the moon?

As ever, there are always multiple levels of meaning. Was the Antikythera Mechanism programmed to ‘follow the moon’ or ‘Apollo the moon’? Archimedes was killed by a Roman soldier when Syracuse was sacked in 212 BC. Specifically, he was killed for refusing to follow the soldier’s orders, on the grounds that he was busy working on a ‘problem’. What ‘problem’ was Archimedes working on exactly? The Apollo navigation computer 1201 alarm? How many times has ‘the Eagle’ landed?

Also, were the movements of the sun, moon and planets mechanised before the construction of the Antikythera Mechanism? If the answer is No, then what was the condition of the sun, moon and planets before they were placed into standardised orbits and became ‘clockwork oranges’? It’s one of those chicken-and-egg questions that makes no sense whatsoever unless you’re already aware of just how strange our ‘reality’ really is.

The Antikythera documentary is also interesting because of its reference to the device as a simulator. Simulations are another recurring theme for me, and one that seems increasingly plausible. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we conceptualize ‘reality’ as a hallucination, a dream in the mind of god, or a computer program devised by pan-dimensional alien beings, because the term ‘simulation’ can be applied in all cases. What is a dream or hallucination if not a simulation of ‘reality’ that takes place in the ‘unconscious’?

Today, the term ‘simulator’ is closely associated with the term ‘computer’. The two terms are strangely similar, and if we deconstruct the letters into their component parts and recognise that a soft ‘c’ sounds like an ‘s’ then it becomes apparent that they’re identical. This is hardly surprising when we consider that computers manipulate the basic building blocks of ‘reality’ (electro-magnetic radiation) in order to crunch the only form of data they understand, i.e. numbers. Computers are simulators and simulators are computers, which is precisely why you’re looking at a simulation of paper and ink right now.

The word was used in English in Greek form (analogon) in 1810. Meaning “word corresponding with another” is from 1837. Computing sense, in reference to operating with numbers represented by some measurable quantity (as a slide-rule does; opposed to digital) is recorded from 1946.

https://www.etymonline.com/word/analogue

The relationship between simulations and computers is such that it’s easy to assume that a simulation always replicates or models an underlying physical ‘reality’. Yet Baudrillard‘s definition of a simulation as a ‘copy of an original that never existed’ is equally applicable and allows us to apply the term to dream states and Virtual Reality environments alike. Even a die-hard creationist would have difficulty denying that a ‘reality’ created by a ‘god’ is by definition ‘artificial’ rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon and thus capable of being defined as a ‘simulation’.

According to McLuhan, the invention of the printing press with its configurable lines of sequential rows provided an engineering template that resulted in the rediscovery of the advanced mechanisation known to the Ancient Greeks. Oddly enough, I was thinking about the film Hugo earlier, and the story centres on a mechanical automaton and the search for a missing heart-shaped key that would unlock its secrets.

Shortly afterwards, one of my Python scripts (which usually works like clockwork) decided to throw a key error. Unsurprisingly, the error related to an unknown key in a dictionary (the Python equivalent of an array) that stores data about physical locations and their latitude and longitude.

Ultimately, the invention of the printing press facilitated the design of the first digital computer and helped transition us from the analogue to the digital and usher in the In-formation Age. If our ‘reality’ is a simulation, however, then is a physical ‘hard copy’ of a text an ‘original’ and its digital equivalent a ‘copy’ or ‘simulation’? Or are the books on your bookshelf as unreal as the simulated versions that can be read on an Amazon Kindle? Are both versions nothing more than maps referencing non-existent ‘terrain’ that is just a sea of numbers?

It was Marshall McLuhan who gave us the term ‘Global Village’ as a description of the world created by in-formation. Oddly enough, his actor alter-ego, Marshall McGoohan, served time in the Global Village in his role as The Prisoner, a.k.a. Number Six.

Number One was always in dire need of in-formation so let’s see what Number Six has to say on the matter.

A computer’s inability to work with anything other than 1 and 0 reminds me of the ‘human computer’ analogy. We might think that we’re walking down the road to buy a packet of cigarettes from the local shop, but the act of walking down the road requires us to perform a series of complex calculations over time. The exact number and type of calculations will vary, for no one journey over the same route is identical to another. The question is whether the reason behind our decision to walk down a road at any particular time and for any particular purpose has anything whatsoever to do with our conscious understanding of what that journey means.

Our journey to buy cigarettes may be uninterrupted, or we may find ourselves distracted as something (a poster in a shop window, a sign on a passing van) catches our eye and causes us to pause or reflect before continuing. Can these seemingly random distractions be thought of as ‘variables’ in a computer program? Does the act of being distracted by them serve the same purpose as initializing a variable with a particular value or set of values required by a program? Could it be that our daily activities are nothing more than a 3D simulation of an underlying ‘mathemagical’ reality? If so, perhaps our trip to the local shop to buy cigarettes is qualitatively no different than the ‘number crunching’ performed by a computer?

Viewed from this perspective, the act of walking to a shop to buy cigarettes reminds me of a spreadsheet function known as ‘goalseek’. Specifically, this function takes a desired target value and manipulates a variable or array of variables in order to achieve the desired output. If we conceptualize ‘buying cigarettes’ as the ‘goal’ of our journey then the act of walking to the shop (together with the synchronicity we experience along the way) represents the variables required to achieve that goal. This may be just a flight of fancy on my part but it’s an intriguing thought, and one which requires us to ask what the ‘goal’ of buying cigarettes (or any other human activity for that matter) actually represents in ‘simulation’ terms.

Of course, when we talk of ‘goals’ it’s easy to assume that they have to be ‘serious’. Yet there’s no obvious reason to assume that our trip to buy a packet of fags forms part of a complex equation in a deranged alien scientist’s simulation of The Doomsday Device. Thanks to advancements in computer graphics many modern games present themselves as mission or goal-based simulations, and in this context it’s difficult not to refer to David Cronenberg’s eXisTenz. This film presents us with a virtual reality game environment generated by organic ‘game pods’ that attach themselves to the human body via an umbilical cord and consume nutrients like a foetus inside the womb. The games pods that appear in the game-within-a-game that serves as the film’s main setting take this womb analogy one step further and actually live inside the human body.

Moreover, there are a number of scenes in the film that bring to mind the story of the Antikythera Mechanism. Specifically, scientists struggled to decode the device because a number of teeth on the main gear were missing. In eXisTenz, several key scenes revolve around an organic gun that uses human teeth as bullets. The ‘missing teeth’ theme is as obvious as the ‘Death to Allegra Geller’ cry that is repeated several times in the film. It’s first heard immediately before Geller is shot with a tooth, so it seems safe to assume that the reference to ‘death’ is in fact a reference to ‘teeth’. These absurd linguistic oddities are ubiquitous in films, books, articles and indeed everyday speech and provide useful insights into the nature of our ‘reality’.

What then of the ‘goal’ or ‘purpose’? According to Allegra…

Even so, there are flip sides to every coin. Why do we assume ‘it’ has to ‘want’ something or have some particular purpose? Maybe the ‘game’ or the ‘simulation’ or the ‘dream’ is its own purpose and is purpose enough?

I recently bought a Sanyo C5 ghetto blaster manufactured in 1982. The bit where the digital CD player and USB port are supposed to be has an analogue cassette deck instead, albeit an advanced computer controlled cassette deck with about a dozen soft-touch buttons. It seems to occupy a place in space-time that straddles the analogue/digital divide. Needless to say, its arrival on my doorstep coincided with the appearance of the below video at the top of my list of YouTube ‘recommended’ videos.

A ‘record breaking’ record recording medium. Isn’t that what our ‘reality’ amounts to? A ‘total in-formation’ system for the storage, retrieval, reprocessing, and display of ‘hysterical’ data.

Like my ghetto blaster, Sony’s invention represents a marriage between the analogue world of mechanism and gears and the digital world of solid state electronics and storage. The more I think about it, the more our ‘analogue’ bodies (and the ‘reality’ they inhabit) seem to represent a similar union between an ephemeral world of pure information and its reproduction in ‘analogue’ form.

Before I vanish up my own backside though, let’s not forget that if our ‘reality’ is a simulation then we have to be prepared to ask and answer hard questions about how we ought to live in it, what our attitude to it ought to be. There are more than enough clues flying about on the subject. Take the below example of ‘having a heart attack’, which includes a newspaper headline about ‘Martial Law’ and encourages us to ‘Save Sirius Children’. Is it worth getting ‘Sirius’ and having a ‘bleeding heart attack’ given that the slogan’s real meaning seems to be the exact opposite of its literal meaning? Should we just say ‘fuck em’ and have some fun instead? :-O

Ya think?

Jet come?

Maybe it’s time to jet with The Program and come inside for the big win?

Or maybe it’s a terrible tragedy. One ‘problem’ is that there’s something inherently sociopathic about treating even an unreal ‘reality’ as if it’s the latest version of Call of Duty. The flip side to that coin is what happens when our VR game pod bodies die? Will the light at the end of the tunnel fade out to a room in which our ‘real’ physical selves are plugged into a 31st Century quantum supercomputer running a porno-snuff war game called ‘Carry On Fighting’?

I really don’t know what to suggest other than giving your heart to Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna and (just to be safe) L Ron Hubbard before arming yourself to the teeth and running naked through the streets. Just make sure you know the difference between your rifle and your gun though. 😉

Yeah, it’s a simulation. But what does that mean?

OK. But should it be? More to the point, can it be anything else than what it is?

The Oracle

One of the things that strikes me about our ‘reality’ is its resemblance to a dream. I’m certainly not alone in thinking that this strange universe we inhabit has dream-like characteristics, and during a recent conversation with a ‘lucid dreamer’ I likened the ‘voice’ that speaks to us through news articles, films, books, and indeed people ‘out there’ to that of the Oracle of Delphi. In other words, to that of a figure presenting us with weird, fragmented, prophetic utterances while lost in an associative trance state. When we become aware of this, the ‘reality’ we previously took for granted suddenly adopts an altogether different form. It seems very much like a hybrid cross between a game and a movie, to the extent that it’s often impossible to distinguish between the ‘reality’ presented to us in movies and the ‘reality’ presented to us by ‘reality’.

By way of example, just twelve days after the release of…

Dauphin County in the US suffered its worst nuclear disaster in the form of…

Those unaware that the above scenario represents the rule rather than the exception might be inclined to dismiss these curiosities as a case of art imitating life. By the standards of this ‘reality’, however, they’re normal occurrences that are frequently absurd and rarely quite so dramatic. The other day, for example, Doc Cooper and I were discussing Cybermen and a TV serialisation of Philip K Dick short stories entitled Electric Dreams. It has a ‘stellar’ cast…

This followed a reference to Blade Runner (the film version of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) in my previous post, Dreams of Empire. Needless to say, within a matter of hours the below email appeared in my inbox.

Of course, as soon as I Googled “C.H.I.P. cyberpunk” I found myself caught in a whirlwind and magically transported to the dream world of the Emerald City.

Meanwhile, in today’s Daily (F)Email…

By this stage, however, none of the above should come as a surprise. Like ‘Delphi Ellis’, we wrack our brains to divine ‘meaning’ from these stories and videos, and the focus is always on the content. Rarely do we stop to consider the source of this content, the medium through which content is transmitted…

Medium: an agency or means of doing something; a means by which something is communicated or expressed; the intervening substance through which sensory impressions are conveyed or physical forces are transmitted.

…or that the term ‘medium’ has an occult meaning. If the ‘medium’ is the ‘message’ then are we living in a Hollywood production?

When we look at content, the identity of the ‘stars’ – the ‘stellar cast’ – of this Silver Screen production should be obvious. It’s just a question of reading between the lines to determine which ‘roles’ the lucid dreamers are playing, which ‘characters’ they portray.

Games have come a long way since Pong and Pac-Man. They have producers and directors, and the line between games and movies has become blurred to the point that game characters have become movie characters and vice versa.

One of the most interesting aspects of the ‘dream’ is its technological nature. We think that our technology is something separate and apart from us, and that the digital brain we’ve draped over the globe is a recent addition. Yet dream worlds do not adhere to conventional understandings of time, cause and effect, and linear sequences, and our own dream world contains many hints and clues about this.

Today, each of us lives several hundred years in a decade. — Marshall McLuhan

For example, I recently watched a documentary about the Persian Empire. It was full of references to a ‘colossal engineering project’ that laid cables between Europe and Asia (East and West) in order to construct a ‘superhighway’ that would allow the Persians to ‘ride the waves’.

This is a subject I’ve written about before in The Colossus of Rhodes, pointing out that the early internet was referred to as the…

The road is our major architectural form. — Marshall McLuhan

Roads are mediums of communication, and every empire in ‘recorded history’ is associated with the construction of roads and great architectural works known as ‘cities’ and ‘capitals’. These ‘cities’ and ‘capitals’ are central ‘nodes’ from which flows of ‘traffic‘ originate, and to which they return. When the flow of traffic dries up, or is subjected to significant and prolonged disruption, it becomes impossible to impose rule from the centre. Consequently, the empire withers and dies.

For me at least, the question is this: when exactly did this ‘recorded his-story’ begin?

If everything out there is ‘content’, a reflection of the ‘Silver Screen’, then the only thing we can really be certain of is a) our own identity, and b) that we are in some sense ‘script writers’. Ultimately, it boils down to language, and more specifically to what the medium is and why it interprets and encodes our thoughts like classified information in an eternal James Bond movie.

All of which brings me back to The Oracle. There’s a history here, as she seems to have followed me around since I don’t know when. For example, in order to code in the English-like programming language called COBOL I had to download a database library, and to do that I had to sign up for an Oracle account and accept the ‘terms and conditions’…

As I’ve mentioned before, the ‘COBOL Engineering job’ seems to form part of the dream world…

Back in the 1990s, I used to work with COBOL on ‘big iron’: a room full of huge ICL mainframes. Shortly before I left, my employer began work on decommissioning these ‘green screen’ legacy systems in order to replace them with a client-server system, running code written in…

All well and good, but what was the effect of this change from a ‘monolithic’ to a ‘distributed’ form of architecture? Code ran faster and the new Graphical User Interfaces were nice and pretty, but the underlying ‘rules of the game’ remained unchanged. They weren’t rewritten so much as translated from one language to another.

This seems to reflect my own ambiguity towards technology in general and The Oracle in particular. On the one hand, modern technology offers the promise of a decentralised world, yet on the other hand what we see ‘out there’ is a world that seems to be fixated on imposing and retaining control from the centre.

Here’s the thing though: if our ‘reality’ is a reflection then the characters and corporations and countries that we think ‘rule the world’ don’t actually ‘rule the world’. Rather, the struggles between these entities seem to caricature petty struggles between the ‘lucid dreamers’, struggles which are amplified to absurdity and projected on the Silver Screen we call ‘reality’.

In other words, the medium’s ‘core code’ seems specifically designed to keep us in an Age of Empires, an age in which the ‘symbolic instruction code’ of our thought and language manifests in 3D as conflict and competition between individuals and corporate bodies.

If we apply the above to technology and the internet, we have to ask what it represents. The internet is often presented as an anarchic system controlled by no single body or agency. That’s not really the case though. Once again, it’s difficult not to conclude that it’s all about US.

Since ICANN reports to the US government’s Department of Commerce, the domain name process is effectively overseen by the US government. China, Russia and Europe have all expressed concern at this situation because it means the US has leverage over the global coordination of the internet. “It has a role that is different from the role of all other governments,” says Massimiliano Minisci, a regional manager at ICANN. “That’s a concern around the world.”

http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240089169/Who-controls-the-Internet

All of which raises other interesting questions, such as what it really means to hack a computer or a network. I mean, just what is the modern obsession with the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ all about?

In computer science, a zombie is a computer connected to the Internet that has been compromised by a hacker, computer virus or trojan horse program and can be used to perform malicious tasks of one sort or another under remote direction. Botnets of zombie computers are often used to spread e-mail spam and launch denial-of-service attacks (DOS attacks). Most owners of “zombie” computers are unaware that their system is being used in this way. Because the owner tends to be unaware, these computers are metaphorically compared to fictional zombies. A coordinated DDoS attack by multiple botnet machines also resembles a “zombie horde attack”, as depicted in fictional zombie films.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zombie_%28computer_science%29

Let’s face it: if you haven’t added a ‘script blocker’ to your ‘web browser’ or updated your ‘anti-virus’ and ‘firewall’, and if you’re not in possession of a unhackable Ancient Geek Antikythera Mechanism, then could you end up with a nasty case of the munchies?

Are we feasting on ourselves?

Or is someone feeding it to US?

Can we change the ‘rules of the game’ or is The Oracle ‘hard wired’ to suck the creative juices from our brains and present it in a particular form? If the latter then can we ‘unplug’ or deprive it of the information that sustains it?

One theme that emerges time and again in relation to empires is the idea of a ‘King of Kings’. Above and beyond that, is there a ‘Queen of Queens’ with a head full of our individual Dreams of Empire?

The ‘Pocket C.H.I.P.’ and the rocket ship. Is the Queen looking for a ‘winner’, a ‘champion’, a White Knight in shining armour?

Someone more than a drone?

Or is she just out of her mind?

Dreams of Empire

As I said in my previous post, The Junkyard of History, one of the ‘problems’ we face when trying to understand the nature of our ‘reality’ is that everything in it is, so to speak, ‘content’. Media guru Marshall McLuhan warned us about this when he described ‘content’ as the juicy piece of meat employed by a burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. By focusing exclusively on content (more often than not this means our own limited and biased interpretation of content) we ignore the far more profound and far-reaching effects of the mediums used to transmit content. Hence the ‘content’ of telephone calls (in terms of their effects) is as nothing in comparison with the effects of the telephone as a medium: time-space compression, the ability to communicate from any corner of the globe, the speeding up of social affairs, and so on.

When we extend McLuhan’s definition of ‘content’ to include this dream-like, mirror-image movie projection we call ‘reality’, the nature of this ‘problem’ becomes apparent.

From Zardoz.

From my novel.

“Hmmm, that’s odd. She’s named The Surprize. I’m something of an expert in these matters and I recognise the name but can’t quite place it…”

“Captain, don’t bother racking your brains. That ship is a prop from a film I like. It’s from Master and Commander. I wouldn’t be surprised (sorry) to find Captain Jack Aubrey on board dishing out grog for the boys. No doubt he thinks he’s giving chase to the Acheron. Oh my fucking God, this is surreal!”

While writing my novel, I was accosted by a guy who accused me of being a ‘stalker’ and threatened to “break my fucking legs”. It was one of the most surreal conversations of my life, not least because my publisher’s nickname is ‘Legs’. It happened because his girlfriend (she worked in a local shop) was always chatting to me. I liked her, so I decided to combine her with another girl I knew and make her a character in one of my short stories. She was my ‘muse’. I asked if she’d like to read the story, and the confrontation in the street was the result.

The guy – his name was Jamie – seemed to be making a deliberate point of trying to make me feel guilty. He lived in an area of my town known as The Village, and he made multiple references to this, asking me over and over again “Do you want us to leave The Village? Is that want you want?”

About a month ago, I discovered that this guy had looked me up on Facebook the day before he confronted me and sent me a ‘message request’. In it, he accused me of being a “total pervert” and said he’d “bounce me around The Village” if he ever saw me.

A few months later, another Jamie moved into Flat number 6 (The Prisoner) next to mine, and began shouting obscenities at me through my bathroom wall. I confronted him about this and he denied it all. He literally looked blank, although he stopped doing it immediately afterwards.

And therein lies the ‘problem’: these people don’t seem to know what they’re saying and doing. If consciousness is self-awareness (the ability to recognise ourselves in the mirror) then by definition most people ‘out there’ are in a dream-like state, inhabitants of the ‘unconscious’.

In my world of sleepers everything will be erased, I’ll be your religion, your only endless ideal

Recently, I’ve been drawn to the films of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. His filmography is interesting. Ivan’s Childhood, to take just one example, might strike a chord with someone. What really interested me, however, was his 1972 version of Solaris, which was remade 30 years later by Steven Soderbergh.

Solaris is a mirror image of a recent Tom Cruise film called Oblivion. Both films have male lead characters who place their wives into orbit around a planet. In Solaris, a clone of the man’s dead wife is created by Solaris: an alien intelligence that takes the form of a living ocean. He rejects her and blasts her into space, a symbolic ‘abortion’ to exact revenge for her aborting his child, which caused him to leave her and her to commit suicide. In Oblivion, the scenario is presented as a mirror image: he blasts her into orbit to save her life, and instructs her to ‘dream of us’.

Similarly, in Solaris the director plants clues to suggest that the male lead is also a ‘clone’ (a theme found in other films such as Bladerunner) and that everything that happens is a dream in the mind of the ocean. In Oblivion, the male lead learns that he and his partner are clones created by an alien intelligence. This intelligence litters the planet with artificial ‘radiation zones’ to prevent him from learning the truth, i.e. that each ‘radiation zone’ contains a duplicate of himself and his partner. He literally ‘finds himself’ in one of these zones and ends up fighting his own mirror image.

Radiation is also a key theme in Solaris. They want to destroy the alien intelligence with radiation, but later attempt to communicate with it by bombarding it with x-rays carrying a copy of the lead character’s brain pattern. Immediately afterwards, earth-like islands begin to form and the lead character finds himself inhabiting one. It contains a copy of his father’s house and the surrounding environment, the same house and environment that appears at the very beginning of the film.

What caught my attention about Oblivion is that it’s a term used in Zardoz. The lead renegade (a character called ‘Friend’) is asked what he wants, and his reply is “Oblivion!” He wants to kill himself, but he can’t because an artificial intelligence called The Tabernacle will just recreate him as a clone pre-loaded with his own memories. This too is oddly similar to Oblivion: Cruise’s character can’t die because there’s another version of himself ‘out there’ carrying ‘his’ memories.

It was Oblivion‘s reference to ‘finding the truth in your radiation zones’ then led me to look at our own ‘radiation zones’: Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island. I can’t begin to describe just how surreal these ‘nuclear accidents’ are. Tarkovsky directed another film about them, a film about a mysterious radioactive environment called ‘The Zone’. It too is the product of an alien intelligence.

Of course, the ‘problem’ here is that everything I’m talking about is content, and the one is just a mirror image of the other, which in turn is a mirror image of something else and so on. Is there genuinely any ‘truth’ in any of this, or is it all just a manifestation of the ‘echo chamber’ I talked about in my last post? We can ask the same thing about the content of the ‘spheres’ we’ve created for ourselves: the ‘Twittersphere’, the ‘Bloggosphere’, and any other ‘spheres’ we care to ‘imagine’.

The Stalker video was created by someone with the surname Galvin, which is oddly similar to Kelvin, the surname of the lead character in Solaris. Kelvin is also a measure of temperature.

When we inject our little tweets and squeaks into these ‘atmospheres’ we have to ask whether seeing them reflected back at us has any genuine significance, or whether it’s just a case of heating things up a little bit, agitating the atoms, causing them to bounce around all over the place.

Cruise’s character in Oblivion is called Jack. Let’s ask Lloyd/Dr Tyrell for his opinion. Can Jack’s ‘credit’ be ‘fine’? Hang on a moment though: if ‘credit’ is ‘debt’ then how can ‘credit’ be considered ‘fine’? Ah, of course – a ‘fine’ is a ‘penalty’ imposed by a third-party for presumed ‘wrongdoing’. Again, the theme is that of the ‘a-lien’ – an imaginary ‘debt’.

McLuhan asked four questions about mediums: what do they retrieve from the past, what do they make obsolete, what do they flip into when pushed to extremes, and what do they amplify. If we take Solaris and Zardoz and Oblivion as examples, ‘reality’ seems to be ‘history repeating’. This is consistent with McLuhan’s claim that material is constantly being scrapped or made obsolete, only to be retrieved and reimagined (recycled) in different forms. What ‘reality’ might flip into when pushed to extremes is anyone’s guess (but see below).

As for ‘amplification’, it seems that what the medium amplifies is ‘us’: the thoughts and beliefs of the small number of people who have become ‘lucid dreamers’.

Viewed from this perspective, it seems that our thoughts, prejudices and biases manifest ‘out there’ as empires and countries and religions and global enterprises, all competing with one another for supremacy, all convinced they have the ‘best solution’, the ‘correct’ ethical or moral stance, the ‘best’ way of living, etc. We’re presented as exaggerated ‘Spitting Image’ versions of ourselves, and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that it’s all done with a huge nod and wink…

McLuhan claimed that a medium creates a hidden ‘environment’ that most people are ‘oblivious’ to.

Are you tired of being ‘eco-friend-ly’? Do you, like me, think it’s time for something new?

From my novel.

Gary is hefting huge Marshall amps in a show of strength. A roadie appears from out of nowhere and hands me a jerry can of petrol and a flaming torch. I shrug. Never breathed fire before. Might as well get used to it.

Well done, mate. Tell you what, pack yourself off to Dover and grab a boat. We’ll meet you at Dartford. Make it a really big one, OK? Ruthie never settles for anything less and she’s always wanted to go on a cruise.

In Oblivion, Jack learns the truth about his situation whilst atop the Empire State, the only large structure left standing in the ruins of a supposedly radioactive earth.

And that would seem to be the name of the game we’re being asked to play.

But playing the same game over and over again soon becomes tedious. At some point (right about now for example) you find yourself longing for some respite from it all. I think it would be nice to say “bollocks to this non-existent debt” and fast forward to this part of the movie.

If we ditch the third-party add-ons, ‘memory devices’, and ‘thought crime’…

…and agree to learn the ‘lesson of history’ rather than repeat it…

…then maybe we can still find a nice spot in The Garden.