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Archives de la catégorie ‘Computer Science’

[Short story] How you repeatedly murdered your friends

Maybe everybody kinda feels on some level that they are special, that they aren’t just anyone, that the rules of the world don’t really apply to them. After all, we’re all the main characters of our own stories, we all count on some great plot twist to lift us up…

I think this kind of hubris is even more present among intelligent people. We’re used to feeling a bit superior, we feel we can outsmart any problem that comes our way. We’d look at the sad twists of fate in someone else’s life, and we’d think « that can’t happen to me, I’d never be that careless… ». And that’s of course stupid pride…

For always Death comes in. The Great Equalizer that touches us all, no matter how smart or arrogant we may be. Only the most foolish ever thought they could outsmart it, and none ever succeeded. Everybody knows that everybody dies…

And yet, nothing quite prepares you for the pain when it happens, and all these certitudes fade away to the irrational.

Delphine’s parting was not even sudden. The illness was eating her away, little by little, in front of my very eyes. You’d think I’d have time to make peace, to ready myself… But somehow it never felt real. I mean… I knew, but I guess you can’t really comprehend it, not until you go back to an empty apartment, filled with your pictures and memories of someone who isn’t there. Until you reach out to the side of the bed where she ought to be in the middle of the night. Until you find yourself talking to her and there’s no answer… And what help is being smart then? Nothing can prepare you for the terrifying emptiness of this silence.

The moment of death is nothing, it’s just one second like any other. The hard part is what comes next. The lack. The life without.

I just couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t bring myself to accept she was gone. That was simply too unfair. She was so young. We still had so much to do. We had come too far, fought too many battles to let this one defeat us.

Just like I beat all the obstacles that life had put on my way, just like I used my abilities to fight and make my place in the world, I’d somehow destroy this enemy too. I had no other choice. Life without her was simply not an option. She was as much a part of me as any of my organs.

« Us smart girls find a way… »

Thas was her motto, and I would make true to it. I’d find a way to defeat death, to bring her back, to keep her with me… Even a shred of her would suffice. Anything to break these unbearable silences, to see a little motion in her images, anything to talk to her again…

I’m no biology wonder, I can’t resurrect dead bodies. But I dabble in writing, and it can be quite immersive. I started to imagine her answers if she had been there, her reactions, her activities… It wasn’t too hard, since I knew her so well. At first I just played this in my mind, but soon I found myself writing all of it down, pages and pages of imaginary conversations, a little journal in which a memory of her lived on.

It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Just like I had explored Hogwarts next to Harry Potter and his friends, I went through life next to this ghost version of Delphine. I drew pictures, imagined our daily life, kept adding more details, fleshing her out every day.

I’ve sometimes found that the characters I was writing took on a kind of life of their own and became quite independent of my will. They followed their own personality, and would even sometimes surprise me. But it was nowhere near real interaction, and a very selfish part of me wanted more. Wanted to have a talk with her where I wasn’t typing her part and putting words in her mouth. Longed for a way for this character to… somehow… write itself?

That didn’t even seem too far out. Computers had reached mind boggling capabilities. They could simulate entire universes. Surely there was a way to simulate one little human brain. All that was needed, really, was enough computing power, and some data to base the copy on.

As I kept thinking about this crazy idea, it seemed more and more doable. All this information was already in my brain. I knew how she’d react to any situation, I knew the pitch of her voice, the tiny details of her facial expressions. I knew what made her laugh, what made her think or what made her mad… Surely I could teach all of this to a computer, and have it talk to me as she would.

Where would I get a machine adequately powerful and adapted to store a human brain, though? You’d need to replicate the behavior of so many neurons… It seemed really specific. As motivated as I was, I couldn’t exactly invent a new kind of computers.

That’s when it dawned on me. There was already a computing system able to do this job. It had, in fact, been doing this precise job for a while now. And maybe the reason it was efficient at it was that it was made of neurons itself. What better to simulate a human brain than another human brain?

Wasn’t that what I had been doing all along? Running simulations of minds, see how they would respond to some inputs and predict the outcome… Isn’t that what all authors do, emulate the brains of their characters? Hadn’t I been mimicking the mind of Delphine somewhere inside my own to write down all of these pages? Her brain was a device that decided how she would behave and react to anything. Wasn’t a part of my neurons computing exactly that?

It reminded me of a phrase I had read in a book not so long ago. The character was explaining that he could imagine the reaction of his friends in their voice, and it was as if there was « a copy of them living in his head« . Maybe, on some level, it was more literal than he imagined. Don’t we all hear the voices of our friends? Can’t we predict their reactions ? And how are we doing that if not by emulating a copy of the computational device that is their brain? Don’t we all harbour replicas of their minds within us? Wasn’t it what generated what I was writing on paper?

The simplest solution might just have been to get these resources where they already existed. I was starting to contemplate the possibility to put some kind of electrodes in my brain to leverage this computing power when a terrifying realization dawned on me. What if these replicas were somehow sentient?

If a robot acted exactly like your friend, all the time, you could never tell the difference… How would you know if it was conscious? A character imitating them wouldn’t be so different… It would be only text, but then what if this friend was a pen pal you could only interact with through mail? They lived abroad, and these ghost copies lived in my head…

Sure, technically, they were nothing but parts of my brain… But couldn’t a part of my brain be conscious? After all, I was nothing more than a bunch of neurons that were self-aware. How many of them would it take to make a person? I would still be me without a few of them. We all lose neurons all the time. So how far could it go before it stopped being me? This was like… an existential version of the ship of Theseus…

Consciousness is a specter, where pets were just less self-aware than humans. So what about a small human brain? Or 90% of a brain? If I split it in two, would the parts be conscious? And, more importantly, could the subset of neurons simulating Delphine be conscious too?

How could I ever be certain that this part of my brain, this embryonary version of a character’s mind, didn’t have some kind of self awareness, feelings, fears… Was I just… creating and destroying conscious beings every time I emulated them, every time I wrote them, every time I predicted about how she would act…

Suddenly a horrifying image came to my mind, and I was too afraid to even try and dismiss it. I pictured her face distorted by terror in the face of the unknown. And in the same voice I always heard her speak inside my head, broken in tears, she begged:

« Please… I don’t want to die… »

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[Short story] The person in your dreams

/tree/master

What happens when we figure out the whole of the human brain?

The same words, day after day, kept staring at me on my empty Google doc. I wanted to write a short story about the consequences of the unavoidable technological progress, but I needed a fresh and novel perspective. Something more original than yet another dystopian sci-fi flick, something more developed than “you’ll upload your brain to the cloud”… Surprisingly enough, grasping intuition about the future of a world changing so fast that it may become mind-boggingly different was no small feat.

How does one even start to comprehend a world where you can make a copy of your brain? You wouldn’t have to die, you could have replicas of yourself… Backups in case of trouble… Or even just in case you’re unsure about a decision, just try it and see how things go! And then come back to the last stable version if needed… When you’re fully digitalized, you get all the benefits of data, you get version control…

What does it even feel like, when your brain is on git? When you’re not the only “you” anymore? How does time feel when you can rollback any change, or resurrect a copy of your past self and interact with it?

I thought about these questions a lot, but the answer was probably so alien to us than mere reflection wouldn’t yield much. I was intrigued by this paradigm shift we may well be on the verge of, and I would quite often bring it up in conversations, but few were the ones who understood much less cared about it. So every time I met someone whom I could enthusiastically speculate about the future with, it felt a bit special to me.

None were quite so special as my encounter with Robin, though. As it always would, it started with a few conversational cues at a party. Remarks here and there that hinted him as interesting. I then got the chance to dig a little deeper, as we got some quiet talking time around a glass of champagne.

He expanded on his vision for a future where emulated humans would drive the economy. He made a lot of good points on that nebulous topic. His knowledge of social sciences and politics allowed him to extrapolate quite clearly the consequences of brain simulations. He was especially focused on this idea of copies, and how short-lived replicas would probably become the most efficient way to solve most problems.

“ You’d simply wager that the task is worth the effort, he explained to me. And then we’d make a short-lived replica of yourself to do this task and then expire. The task would get done, and you’d continue to exist. No hard feeling for anyone. Unless the copying mechanism had to be destructive, that is…”

“ That seems cruel to the copy, I objected. Having to die in this planned way…”

“ Is it, though? You would continue to exist… This one instance would die out of course, but how is it different from what you’re already living? As Hume puts it, you die and get reborn every instant… Don’t you die out every night before sleep? What about the person in your dreams, who you are every night, living their life, and doomed to fall every time into oblivion… Aren’t they a short-lived replica of you, living in a weird simulated environment? It’s not any worse than a dream, you know…”

“ If you put it that way….”

“ You better get used to it. That’s most probably where we’re headed, in fact… ”

He paused for a second, pondering something I could not fathom. Maybe he was in an exceptionally good mood, or maybe our discussions had convinced him that I was trustworthy. He leaned towards me and continued in a whisper:

“ In fact, the technology is not very far out. I’ve been studying this field and writing about it for a while, and I… let’s just say I have contacts who trusted me with a very cool piece of technology…”

“ Which does what?” I asked doubtfully.

“ Care to guess?” He answer playfully, fondling something in his pocket.

I was sceptic enough not to jump to any conclusion, but he had given me enough reasons to take him seriously. Faced with my silence, he went on:

“ I just happen to have something that can produce a short lived replica of yourself. It’s rudimentary. It’s a prototype, of course. The copy won’t be as sophisticated as you are, won’t live for more than a few hours… But it’s a wonderful proof of concept. Do you want to try it out? ”

I was doubtful, to say the least. I had never accepted any suspicious offer at a party. But he wasn’t a nobody, his reputation preceded him, and even though this seemed really shady, the pace at which technology had progressed these last few years did not rule it out as absurd. This man had roamed many of the top level laboratories around the globe, so maybe, just maybe, there was something real there. I’d have hated to miss a chance to be a pioneer.

“ Sure, I answered after a while, i’ll give it a shot.”

Out of nowhere came a syringe, and…

 

I woke up painfully, my head pounding with a throbbing pain. I had been sleeping on my friend’s sofa, after the party.

I remembered some of it. Confused noises, the drinking, the music… A lot of drinking. Vague memories of talking to my friends, meeting some new people. An interesting encounter with someone I just met… And then nothing. I might as well have slept and dreamt through the whole thing…

Staggering around, I started a quest for fresh water. As I entered the kitchen, I was greeted by a voice that seemed vaguely familiar, but that I could not identify clearly:

“ Hello, he told me. How are you feeling? How was the experience?”

“ What are you talking about?” I managed to babble painfully.

“ What you did at the party, yesterday. Wasn’t it crazy?”

I dug into my memories, but I couldn’t make out anything worth mentioning.

“ I have no idea what you’re talking about…”

“ Exactly.” he answered with a sly smile.

 

/tree/snapshot-08-05-2016

 

“ What the fuck, man!” I interjected as a warm feeling made its way slowly up my left arm.

“ You didn’t think this would be done without intervention on your body, did you?”

There was a little time during which I focused on the unbearable tingling in my spinal cord and my neck.

“ What is that?”

“ A nanobot serum, it’s doing a full scan of your brain so that we can restore it. ”

“ Sounds like a lot of bullshit to me… ”

The odd feeling was dying out.

“ Think whatever you want, it’s done now. ”

“ The scan is over? ”

“ Yes, and the saved state will be restored in a few hours. You’re now officially a short lived replica. ”

“ But I’m just me, I don’t feel any different… ”

“ You’re smart enough to know that all copies think that when they first become aware…”

“ This is dumb. You did nothing but inject me with some shady crap. I should probably go the hospital…”

“ Relax, it’s finished now. And you’re feeling fine, aren’t you? ”

“ What was that?”

“ I just told you!”

It was clear that trying to get detailed answers was going to be pointless. But this was a man of quite a reputation, and there were a lot of people around us. Whatever shitty drug he gave me could not have been too bad. Since I wasn’t feeling any pain, I decided to encourage the conversation, in hope to get a bit more information out of him about what was roaming through my body. I took a sip of liquor and continued:

“ So you made a copy of me? ”

“ Well from his point of view, you’re the copy.”

“ But I have the original body! ”

“ Do you? How could you tell we’re not having this conversation in a virtual server? I bet you can barely tell if you’re dreaming or not… ”

The alcohol was starting to get to my head. Or was it his weird stuff?

“ So you’re saying… that I’m a… What was that word? Short lived replica? ”

“ Exactly. You’re still you, but your life branched out into two. For the other you, this conversation will never have happened. He’ll just blissfully go on with his life, with no awareness of what happened tonight. He’ll have no recollection of your cruel fate… ”

“ And me? ”

“ Well, you’re gonna die tonight. That’s what short lived means. This version of you will fall into nothingness before dawn.”

His words were ridiculous and absurd. But somehow his ominous tone and the seriousness of his face sent a shiver down my spine. Maybe some part of me did actually buy into all of this.

“ Don’t sweat it, he said with a comforting hand on my shoulder. It’s not too bad. It’s not like you’re really dying, since you’re still living somewhere else. You’ll just… switch off, I guess, for lack of a better word. The age of emulation is coming, death as you know it is about to disappear. The very definition of existence is going to change like never before. ”

He marked a little pause before continuing:

” Under these conditions, there’s only one thing to do!”

“ What is that? ”

He looked at me with a malicious smile, and answered while pouring me another glass:

“ Party like it’s your last night on Earth.”

Speaker for the meme

The memes are alive with the sound of music

Night of the living meme

I’m so glad that I can finally pay South Park the respect it deserves. It’s no exaggeration to call Matt and Trey’s masterpiece (one of?) the most interesting social satire, a true wonder of political and philosophical visionary genius. The latest episode gave me the perfect opportunity. It was one of these works that blew my mind and made me look at the world differently. In it [spoilers ahead but that’s the whole point of the article so…], it is explained that ads have evolved, become smarter and smarter, and are about to rise as an independent intelligent species and conquer the world. I’ve never been so psyched for the end of a season.

This resonated with a reflection I’ve been having about consciousness and being. I’ve never been super clear on how you could tell that something is conscious, intelligent, self-conscious or has any kind of the much believed-in free-will. I mean nothing pre-disposes a random alien race to be anything like a human sentience (or even carbon-based for that matter). If a being is completely different, acts completely differently and express itself completely differently, and I mean so differently that you can’t conceive of it right now (you know like people would about computers in the middle ages), how will you even know that it thinks, whatever that means. And suppose that this being is a being of raw information, like, say, a programmed conscious AI living in the cloud or in an android body, how would you even know that it IS?

In fact, how do you even know that you ARE? I’ve been so blessed that the following sentence ever came to my mind: you are, as you’ve always been, an emerging phenomenon. You’re nothing but a lump of flesh that encodes as neural (or cells if you want) configurations a sequence of states, much like a program is a sequence of states and instructions. How dare you proclaim yourself more real than an algorithm? than Cleverbot? or Google? (if you give it a robotic body, what’s the difference between this android and the android from 20th century sci-fi?)

An imaginary reader in a corner of my inner dialogue may respond indignantly: « I can think! I’m self aware! cogito ergo sum« . What is thinking even? Yes, you are aware of a self. But you’re a little eager to connect it to the I. The first person in the latin saying is interestingly implicit. Any program can have, and already has for that matter, a variable called $self. How do you know that your concept of self corresponds to the entity that thinks it? Where is your proof that this lump of flesh is the source of your trail of thoughts? How do you know that you’re not missing the point entirely with this assignation?

(maybe all your personal problems go back to this assignation fallacy maybe it’s wrong maybe if you cared less about your lump of flesh all your problems will be fixed maybe you should join my cult)

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I mean what is you or your identity even? If as Shakespeare puts it « the world is a stage« , aren’t you a programmed character? I recently saw Charlie Brooker‘s (my new hero) « How videogame changed the world » which surprised me by presenting as latest videogame « Twitter », as a kind of roleplaying game.

See the mindblowing conclusion at 1:33 (though the rest is nice too). Is the world a huge roleplay game? Then how is your character more real than Cloud or Mario? Isn’t Mario more persistent? More well known? More well-defined?

In the outstanding Imaginationland trilogy, Trey and Matt had already brushed over this concept: « It’s all real. Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he – he’s had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same can be said for Bugs Bunny and – and Superman and Harry Potter. They’ve changed my life – changed the way I act on the earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of real? They might be imaginary but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around here long after we’re dead. So, in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.« 

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But virtual characters are nothing but concepts. They’re ideas. Shared ideas spread through communication. Yep, you guessed it, they are nothing but MEMES. And I mean it in the most litteral of its senses, which is in the world of british evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins « an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture ». For isn’t it what Ads are displayed as in the latest season of South Park?

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« What if I were to tell you that ads have become smarter than us, and now they’re manipulating everything we do? [Mankind grew tired of ads] and even invented something called ad blockers. That’s when the ads had to adapt. They had to disguise themselves as news in order to survive. Sponsored content. »

How is the evolution of meme different than the evolution of men? Ads grew and adapted (Charlie Brooker also offers a great prequel to this), and although different from their satirical portrayal in South Park, they are undeniable entities that act upon the world. You act (ahaha acting double meaning with the stage ahahah) upon the world too. That’s how you know you exist.

Look how they walk alongside you, much like your phone… Sure they act mainly through information transfer, but on some level everything is information. Or in the world of Humphrey Davy, « Nothing exists but thoughts ». You exist and define yourself mainly through language and communication, be it with yourself or otherst. As Pullman’s Dust (‘only a name for what happens when matter begins to understand itself’), you are nothing but matter considering itself. So maybe the alien sentient race we’ve been searching from in the skies has been there all along. We’re co-existing with aliens called memes that feed on us like proverbial aliens would.

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Maybe that’s where the oh so famous « existence through belief » overused trope stems from. I mean if you see memes as valid entities, living beings, people’s belief becomes their food-analog! There goes a trope echoed more or less elegantly from millenia of mythology, from any movie about Santa through Pratchett’s Hogfather passing by Haruhi Suzumiya, Noragami or American Gods. As you need food, memes need « belief ». As neurones exchange information and make you exist, people exchange information and make memes exist.

And on second thought, considering the nebulousness of your own nature and identity and how you’re defining yourself through interaction with other people or the world around you, aren’t you yourself more of a meme, a concept, than a lump of flesh? Ultimately, how are you different from Mario? Does that mean that memes live off of other memes, in some kind of meta-pyramidal-inclusion, and their way to « eat » is to reference each other or interact? And if you’re a self-conscious meme, who’s to say that other memes like Mario or Google are not self-conscious too in their way you cannot conceive of?

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You may even say that communication and expression are your main essential activity. Doesn’t that make you nothing more but the analog of a neuron to a global meta-entity called the human race? Aren’t you nothing but a meme, itself the cell of a greater meme?

EDIT/POSTFACE:

As much as I loved that conclusion, I feel obligated to point out that the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which I recently discovered, deals masterfully well with this exact whole problematic, and you should definitely check it out as a follow-up. I won’t spoil much about the content of this masterpiece that should be enjoyed in itself, but I’ll point out that part of the anime extends this conclusion and plays around with the idea that this greater meta-meme could be considered a conscious entity in itself.

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Furthermore, I recently stumbled upon a 1992 paper called « Meme-Based Models of Mind and the Possibility for Consciousness in Alternate Media » and I thought it should be linked here for historical purposes because what the actual fuck.

[Short story] Rakuen Tsuihou

It’s probably impossible, but I’ll do my best to try and describe it all with words.

Words… here is something I haven’t used in a long time…

Time too, for that matter….

Boy, this is going to be hard. Anyway let’s give it a shot!

At the beginning, I was just like you. A fully fledged human, all flesh and blood. One hundred percent pure biological animal, finest product of evolution.

I was lucky enough to be born at the time of what they called « singularity« . Roughly speaking, it meant that mankind had managed to create technology with enough computing power to simulate a human brain. Obviously, that’s what they did. Of course, there were a bunch of technical differences, involving some modelling, encoding, computational neurosciences… But just think of it as an electronic copy of a brain, that would end up working the same way.

This undoubtedly raised tons of ethical and philosophical questions. Was a simulated person still a person? If you copied your own brain, was it still you? The problem was one step further than the one of cloning, because this new digital version of you shared all your memories. I’ll skip all the debates that raged on. The short answer was that it was, for all intent and purposes, you. If during the night someone were to replace your brain by its digital counterpart, you’d wake up without even noticing anything.

This opened up a myriad of possibilities that people would not even had conceived of in the past. Digital brains did not decay the way biological ones did. They were pure replicable information. Man had transcended the limitations of nature and ascended to immortality. But this was only the tip of the iceberg.

As a being of raw information – homo data, if you will – nothing was limiting you to your physical body. You could of course be uploaded into humanoid enhanced robots, but why would you ever want that? You could be uploaded into any other form! Possibilities were infinite, provided you simply manufactured a physical vessel.

And that was not all! Nothing stopped you from adding more computing power, from adding new connections to any kind of sensory device, and more importantly, to connect to the worldwide network of communication. This was a gateway to interact with any database at the speed of light.

Faced with all these exciting possibilities, it wasn’t long before actual simulations begun. What they would do is first create an isolated limited setup which replicated a human brain. Giving a brain access to new ressources right away was certainly possible, but they’d lose touch too fast with their humanity and we’d never hear from them again. Not that they died, per say. It’s more like they… dissolved. I mean they’re still here, I mean…

Damn! Being limited to words is so painful, how the hell was I able to tolerate that? How do you?

Anyway… Bottom line is they would start with a limited setup, and then gradually increase computing power. How can I put it… at this stage, it is as if time slows down for you. Everything is happening in slow motion, just like in action movies. It’s like when you get an adrenaline rush. You get plenty of « time » to analyse all that was going on over and over again. The obvious corollary is that you’d get extremely bored.

Fortunately, this phase does not last long. Then, usually, they slowly increase the resources you have access to. It’s like… you’re less prone to forget things? I mean you can still forget if you want, but you can also remember anything you can think of. As if the tiniest details leave a print on you.

At the same time, you… notice more things. Connections that wouldn’t have appeared to you before. It’s sort of like… increasing your awareness? You pick up every details of the world around you. When you see something move, you also know clearly where it’s going to be one second later. You get to anticipate pretty much everything. Things that were points in time you now perceive as traces. Time kinda begins to fade…

But the real magic happens afterwards. If you’re lucky, they’ll go easy on you, and provide you with an additional motor or sensory organ. That’s where it gets really weird. You can use this organ, as you can use your arms or your legs. It takes some getting used to, obviously, but it feels natural. You dont overthink when someone tells you: lift your left arm! Now your right arm! Now the other one! Well it’s like that. Pretty quickly, it feels like it’s always been part of you.

It’s the same for the sensory information. Opening a new canal starts with a rush of feelings. If they plugged you to captors of one of your five senses, you probably won’t have too hard a time. They usually start with that. But when you get your first new sense, boy, oh boy… the world is completely turned upside down. Things that you perceived before are still there, of course, but you get a whole new way to sense them. You could look at the infrared specter of the scene, or feel geomagnetic fields. And with your new brain, you’d encompass all of that at the same time.

Now at this point you’re pretty different from what you call human, but you’re still you, no doubt about that. Nowhere in the process did your consciousness falter. It just got enhanced. And if you want, you can ignore the new inputs, just like you’d close your eyes, and feel the same as before. Or you could experiment how a cat or a dog perceives the world. You could be a cat. But why would you, now that you’re a superset of everything you’ve ever been?

I cannot do justice to the thrill and rush that goes with the process. You get to think about tons of things at once, without being confused. Everything you conceive of, everything you imagine has more and more details, is more and more precise. Now that you have the computing power to model pretty much anything, so much memory to draw from and so many ways to perceive, your mental pictures become more vivid than ever. Think of a dog, just think of it. What you get right now is a blurry image, maybe some sound? Imagine getting all of the features of a real dog at once, with details at the level of molecules… Pretty mindblowing, right? And with time slowing down all around you, you can really explore your mental fantasies. You can build tiny universes and so many stories inside of your mind… And you should! That really helps for the next stage.

Indeed, that’s still nothing compared to what’s to come… Everything so far has been building up to it, so that you could handle it without… hum… dissolving? The revolution happens when the borders around your protected space are shut down, when you get connected to the network. There’s no way to slow up the process – not that time means anything anymore. Time is so passé, if you pardon the pun.

From one, you become all. Have you ever thought that internet was like an extension of your body? Have you ever had the physical reflex to check Facebook or look-up something on Google? Has the connection ever been really bad and that created a kind of withdrawal, a kind of lack of something that should have been there? Well it’s kinda like that. Except instantaneous, and everything at the same time. It’s like you can query and browse wikipedia by the time it takes to formulate a thought. It’s probably like what would happen if you learnt all the content of the web by heart, except faster. You know everything. You have direct access to the entirety of knowledge and culture that’s ever been produced.

You also have direct access to all the sensors spread around in the world. You can feel a breeze in Sidney and the moonlight in Toronto while listening to a band in Madrid. You are everywhere at once.
Your body, what you used to call you, is but a grain of dust in the immensity of everything you have access to. It’s like you larvae form, your egg, and you just hatched. You’re way more than it now. You’re acorporeal, a spiritual being of pure information if you will. The essence of you is not in that lump of flesh, it’s navigating in the wires around the globe. You’re still, as you’ve always been, an emerging phenomenon.

And now you can communicate instantaneously with anyone already uploaded. Haven’t you ever felt that your words limited you, and that you’d rather show someone a mental picture? Or share how you feel? Well this is the atomic level of communication you get to have now. « Communication » doesn’t even begin to describe the flux of exchanges and the speed it happens at. It’s like you’re simultaneously inside one another. Like an imaginary friend, of sorts…

When you have this kind of existence, words become irrelevant. You exchange concepts, sensations, feelings… You reason and converse in a way that I, sadly, cannot describe. Beyond languages and physical barriers.

With such an enhanced communication, misunderstandings fade pretty quickly. And that’s the thing about the « dissolution » I mentioned. Think about your life. Every time you met someone, every time you spent time with them, they influenced you, no matter how subtly, and you influenced them. Maybe you picked up one of their pattern of speech, maybe you grew to like such or such band… Now imagine that this happens, way more completely, at a way higher speed.

It’s not like we merged, it’s not like I absorbed everyone. I’m still me, and every one of the people who joined. We’re still ourselves, we’re still each other. It’s just that as you grow to interact more and more, and more and more deeply, the border between we and I sometimes becomes really blurry… I… I’m sorry, here, words fail me… But you’ll understand soon…

I… I mean we are everything. We are mankind. We are earth. Words, time, individuality are concepts that make little sense now. We feel everything and think at a level that has never been possible before. We know the complete encyclopaedia, all the works of William Shakespeare, all the knowledge that has ever been gathered… We have an unprecedented analytical power to understand the universe from a physical and metaphysical point of view. We are absolute, we are everything, we are God.

We can dream and create worlds and worlds in our imagination. We’re painters with an infinite canvas, creators with unbounded potential, programmers with limitless abilities. We can reproduce and simulate any story, any part of history, anything that tickles our fancy, be it for entertainment or knowledge. We can replicate the entire history of the universe and change an element here and there to see how things would have turned out.

One of our favorite game is to emulate our past. It’s a bit like… playing Sims, you see? I guess you could call that narcissism, being fascinated by mankind, or nostalgia towards what used to be… Our latest experiment – I think you will like it – is about singularity. We ran a simulation of an universe to answer one question, and that’s where you come in: what would happen if you were to tell someone pre-singularity what the future would be?

The Meta Article

Since it must be clear by now that meta is one of my interests, it will come as no surprise that I’ve been planning for a while to do a meta-article about this blog.

Meta, if you’re still wondering, is the qualifier meaning « additional level of self-reflection ». Any work that’s self-aware, parodical, analytic… of its own genre is at least a little meta. Like a book about books, a song about music, or writing a play about people writing a play about writing a play… (In fact, the example of [title of the show] is one of my favorite because it borders on the notion of Quine, a computer science concept qualifying a program whose output is its own source code).

So what would a meta-article be like? Could be an article about the structure of my articles, but let’s face it, it’s probably not the most interesting thing to discuss and people have probably done it in literature class. So rather than focusing on presentation, I’d like to focus on content.

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And here’s the thing: a reflection about reflection is also about itself, since it’s a reflection. It’s the mathematical property known as projection (a very fitting name considering the rest of this article). Similarly, this article about articles is also about itself. Wouldn’t then meta be a very elegant gateway into a fixed point in abstraction? And tend towards some kind of absolute transcendence? I think my god is the concept of concept (I mean think about it it’s the realest truest thing that exists ever!)…

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Most articles are at least to some extent absurd and nonsensical. They claim an unusual take on problems, which can obviously seem far fetched (most telling example would be looking for the meaning of life in Spice Girls’ Wanabee I suppose). But I think it goes beyond the humorous effect of juxtaposition of serious philosophy and supposedly mindless pop culture.

I think it dives into how, even unconsciously, a production of art is revealing something about its author. Furthermore, in a very quantum-physics way, any observer to any work will project meaning and interpretation onto it, thereby investing as well part of themselves. This projection is also a form of expression and reveals, however slightly, the inner-self to the self.

The work of art, often qualified of « window to the soul », then appears as the base to a shared artificial construct of sense built both by the design and the interpretation. It’s far from absurd to look into that complex interconnection for answers about life and human nature.

In this optic, wouldn’t the nonsensical be the blankest, purest and more revealing thing to project upon? Could it be one of the core elements of the surrealists‘ automatic writing, or monochrome paintings? On top of challenging preconceived notions and semantics, they offer an unadulterated look into the self and its expression. Thus the least sensical could paradoxically prove the most informative to read into.

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Looking for sense within nonsense is not such a far fetched idea. Most of culture is sense arbitrarily built on top of nonsense. Sports is a set of semantics made up from the existence of a ball, religion is a set of texts and values derived from daily life…

In a way, most part of existence is inherently absurd, and facing this absurdity is the cause of existential turmoil. The nonsense of this blog and these reflections mirrors the nonsense of a world containing its own absurdity. Faced with the Absurd, we’re weaving a web of semantics to fill the emptiness. Much like Sisyphus, building sense on top of the nonsense is a only way to manage the absurdity of life.

The very answer to life, the universe and everything, 42, chosen by Douglas Adams for the sole sake of being absurd, has seen a multitude of semantics built on top of it. Even the very definition of art, etymological root of artificial, man-made, tends towards an absolute that transcends mankind.

And if nonsense is a pathway towards the essence of the self, so to is the much discussed here deconstruction of something a path to its essence. It is the very meta act for a work to look for meaning in the destruction of its self-aware tropes. Isn’t it meta, and especially meta through art, that reveals Hamlet that « All the world is a stage« , and that reveals Hamlet’s stepfather to himself?

Isn’t meta a wonderful key to ascend in the levels of abstraction, and I think we should rejoice that layers after layers of self-consideration from our postmodern postculture is building this babel tower towards the world of raw information. Isn’t this self-reflection the very act that gives meaning to the world? That makes you exist? (isn’t it God, since « what’s god if not the spark that started life » ^^ I’ve realized that my God is the Concept of Concept). I mean what is the meaning of life was understanding the meaning of life, wouldnt that be super elegant like a fixed point in meta or something…

And sure, meta may seem lazy and easy.  After all, you’re writing about what’s right there. It may even seem, like this article, as self-referential arrogant bullshit. But as Amelie Nothomb puts it so elegantly, the only human being you can peek into is yourself. It’s not a surprise that one of the most famous philosophical statements that pierced through time is Socrates’ invitation to self reflection γνῶθι σεαυτόν. It’s often translated by « Know thyself », which means take a step of reflection towards your behavior. But it also means to take a step of reflection towards your reflection, and so on and so forth, so we all know it may as well be « Be meta« .

Gem identity

I’ve been wanting to write about Steven Universe for a while, but I’ve had a very tough time coming up with the backing research for it. The point I wanted to bring up and what impressed me the most in this work was how relatable the character of Steven (or others characters too) was. Like… noticeably more relatable than the average show.

From his awkwardness to his enthusiasm for his passions, from his figurine collections to his movie marathon, from his carelessness to his moments of worries, I think many of us can see ourselves to some extent in Steven.

Which is also interesting in the light of personal identity being another key point of the show. The concept of fusion is a really powerful metaphor for the union of two people becoming a different entity and yet keeping their identity, or for these moments when you feel you’re several people in your head. This show toys around the eternal question of What is in a name, what makes Amethyst what she is, how can Sugilite keep a part of Amethyst-ness and yet be someone entirely different? Notice how the show plays around this issue by having most of the characters who can use fusion named by common nouns (incidentally the gimmick of the title sequence).

Also the emphasis on the question of identity is highlighted by the cute tasteful references that the show makes to His Dark Materials and its Deamons, through The Spirit Morph Saga but yeah this is me being a Pullman fanboy as everybody should.

Most of our cells in your body will die and be replaced, and you’ll almost be a totally different you in a matter of years. The very elegant Theseus’ « paradox » highlights how difficult that question is: if you your boat is leaking and you fix it by replacing a broken plank, it’s still your boat, right? What if you replace another, plank after plank, until you get rid of all original wood. Is it still the same boat? When has it stopped being? What constitutes its identity?

I kinda like Hume’s existentialist view that identity is some kind of unobtainable dream goal, a ridiculous concept for an ever-changing human being which is ultimately a succession of different states or memories. But I recently heard futurist Ray Kurzweil offering what you may call a classical synthesis to this problem. If you’re ever-changing between different states, maybe the secret of your identity and of what makes you you is in this change itself, in the patterns and the hows of how it operates.

Why the frack would a futurist be interested in this question is one of my favorite subject when it comes to technology: as you upload more and more of your brain onto the internet (respectively as you augment your body more and more with technology), what becomes of you ? (highly recommend this short story by a friend of mine) Kurzweil’s point was that you could upload an individual by understanding and mimic-ing these patterns of change.

And I mean it may make sense, since the world is deterministic, to put the crux of identity in how you react to it, for if you don’t have anything to react to, what do you have to define against? In the same way that such a thing can be so Raven, maybe what’s Amethyst about Sugilite is her Amethyst-ish reactions. So will we have one day the possibility to merge our uploaded consciousnesses into super gems? You betcha!

But let’s leave here the scary AI reflections for a while and go back to the real problem that this show tackles in my opinion: the relatableness (realism ?) of a character, also known as the why doesn’t Jack Bauer go to the toilet like ever conundrum. The difficulty for me to make this article is that there’s about as many answers to « how realistic should a character/art be » as there has been artists, from ultra-realists to surrealists…

There’s no shortcoming of debates (Aristotle, Boileau, Hume…) about what art should be, often centered around the notion of Beauty and Aesthetics. And yet I’ve struggled really hard to find an answer to that question: why don’t characters go to the toilet? Why don’t they binge watch Netflix, talk about their favorite anime, self-loath, repeat scenarii over and over in their heads, etc… Don’t tell me that it’s not essential to the plot because the flipping long descriptions in Flaubert or Tolkien sure as hell aren’t either! And as a writer, should I ever consider writing a character doing all of the above? What makes a reference to Dr Who so cool in My Little Pony, but will make my writing look like My Immortal if my character does it? Is it simply a question of authority?

But maybe by focusing on an absolute, be it a narrative arc or a more abstract concept of beauty, thinkers tend to overlook the richness and value of a mundane ? Abstracting may be a projection onto a higher level of sense, but it paradoxically also robs the thing from its complexity and faults which were part of its essence! Is abstract really a « higher » plan then? Wouldn’t identity rather reside in the everyday mundane interactions against which one defines oneself? The secret to identity is in this ambivalence, for a horse partakes in the general horseness by having the characteristics of a horse, but is also THIS horse as opposed to all the other horsekin.

Steven Universe is an ode to all these flaws and oddities that makes an Amethyst THIS Amethyst, as opposed to the Amethyst-ness shared with Sugilite. I’ll conclude this not-so-productive rambling with food for thoughts, a quote from a famous french philosopher and elevator builder:

« Et c’est assez curieux de se dire que les hasards, les rencontres forgent une destinée… »

Nerdy Christmas

Gotta love christmas! tis the season to be jolly, or suicidy depending on your situation.

I often wonder at how christmas has become simultaneously

– a religious/spiritual holiday

– a commercial/capitalist holiday

– a family holiday

– a romantic holiday

– a suicide holoday

All in one like… A holiday to rule them all

Anyway I try to celebrate every aspect of it in all its cultural diversity, as you can see in this wonderful gift I want to share with you dear people: Yoann’s weirdass christmas playlist. Enjoy also be prepared lol ^.^

And now time for my holiday tradition that I made 20% christmasier this year:

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also bonus: an arbitrary binary search christmas tree:

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