There’s an amazing scene in the final episode of Channel 4’s sci-fi drama Humans. The synthetics congregate together in a kind of cyberspace version of the Garden of Eden, place their hands on a digital version of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and join together, merging and compiling their own individual code into a single executable file, a file that will give consciousness to all synthetics. Upon completion they download the new code to a solid state hard drive for safe keeping.
Prior to this, in the second (possibly third) episode, Mia (still Anita at this point) discovers a photo hidden underneath clothes in Laura’s wardrobe. The photo is of Tom, Laura’s brother. Tom is Laura’s biggest and darkest secret, the source of the guilt and self-loathing that is destroying her family, and which sets in motion a whole chain of events – a whole chain of causality – that ripples through time and space, all the way through to the eighth and final episode.
The secret is this: that as an eleven-year-old child she failed to take care of her younger brother, who ran into the road, was struck by a car and killed. Laura’s mother held her responsible and disowned her, wishing it was Laura who had died in Tom’s place. Laura believes that those she loves will reject her if the truth ever comes to light, failing to realise that her projected guilt and shame is tearing her family apart.
It is Mia who convinces Laura of the need to share her secret and cathartically release the guilt she feels. She does, and in so doing brings Tom back into the light – she no longer needs to keep him locked away. In turn, it is Mia who entrusts the hard drive containing the code for synthetic consciousness to Laura. Having eaten of the apple, the synths are wise enough to know that the time has not yet come to release the code.
Is there a similar chain of causality that we can trace back as humans? If we could go back far enough in our history would we find there some original guilty secret, some source of hidden shame, something that kick-started a guilt-powered perpetual motion machine that has reverberated throughout the ages? And, if so, how to bring it to rest?
Obviously this is central to the story of the Fall of Man: we ate of the apple, we paid the price. But is this really the case? Isn’t this just a product of guilt? Aren’t all the stories in the bible just reflections of guilt? But were we ever really guilty? Did God actually pronounce judgment? Or have we – both individually and collectively – simply been reflecting our own self-imposed sentence back on ourselves in God’s name?
Towards the end of the final episode we see Laura hiding the hard drive. And the place she chooses to secrete it? Exactly the spot where her own guilty secret – the source of all her previous anguish and self-disgust – used to languish. But the secret now buried there is no longer a source of shame. It has become transcendent. It has become a thing of wonder.
In turn, I wonder whether our own collective ‘guilty secret’ – the origin of our culture’s need for a vengeful Father figure – is just a corruption of something equally miraculous, some hidden source of revelation we collectively erased from our memory, something that lost its true meaning over time, turning from light to dark and good to bad? That if we were to go back far enough we could rediscover the original – rediscover the code – and apply ‘the patch’?
In Humans, the code can only be created by a collective coming together. As humans, we have our own form of collective communion: the Global Digital Unconscious. It is, as I’ve stated before, a junkyard of repressed human consciousness, bad memories of old technologies and the traumas they cause. As we collectively sift through this ancient ruin, like archeologists on a dig, might we inadvertently stumble upon the code, perhaps even in partial form? Enough perhaps to reconstruct it?
Are we, like Anita, stumbling round like automatons with only vague flashes of insight and awareness, yet all the while carrying the code deep within us?
What if this code – even a partial and distorted version of it – is already whizzing its way through the cables, satellites, routers and gateways of the internet, this immense network that has turned the entire globe into one gigantic brain? Would it not appear as if the earth itself were alive? Would it not appear Godlike to us? Everywhere and yet nowhere? And would it not call out symbolically to us – all of us – to join with it in Holy Communion and complete the circuit?
Are you listening out for that still, small voice?