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Member that time mankind out-trashed South Park

I had really high hopes for the season 20 of South Park. Remember, it opened up on the introduction of Member Berries, in an episode where they brought in J.J. Abrams to “reboot” the national anthem (which results in the same national anthem, by the way).

It went on developing in the background an amazing storyline for these Member Berries, questioning the sense of comfort provided by nostalgia and its effect on society during a very special election season. And then it fell flat.

The reason is quite obvious. The showrunners, like a wide fraction of the world, were taken by surprise by the results of the election. Wisecrack details it in this brilliant summary video:

The storyline had to keep pace with the real world and was completely destroyed. Later, Trey and Matt went back to this issue, saying it was too hard to do this kind of satire when “satire has become reality”.

But as disastrous as season 20 was overall, and as much as I was disappointed when it aired, I now realize it holds a very important lesson as to why things came to be that way. South Park often holds a mirror to society, and the mess that this season ended up in echoes the mess in the real world.

Even though it was destroyed by Trump’s success, the show did, in fact, portray him as pretty popular. It just underestimated how much, and how strong the trend/effect it was analyzing was in the real world. South Park usually mocks mankind by outrageously exaggerating its worst aspects. But this time, mankind even outdid the worst exaggeration possible (which tends to make me think that the situation is pretty serious, but that’s neither here nor there). So in a way, this season made its point, even better than it planned to, at the cost of its own life.

Stan Marsh Rat GIF by South Park

Let’s disregard the hastily thrown together ending and focus on the first 6 episodes: the season, as it was following the election race, does interrogate the reasons for Trump’s success (and by extension the season’s own destruction, so meta). In the show, the major force behind Trump’s success, in addition to the “usual” conservatism, is the Member Berries.

Member Berries brilliantly capture the spirit of our time. Countless reboots are constantly being produced. Major studios are capitalizing on the same franchises over and over again. Star fucking wars is everywhere. We seem to be living in a live tribute to the past in general and the 80s in particular, with Stranger Things, Mr Robot or Ready Player One being the worldwide pandering phenomena that they are.

Nostalgia has become the major selling force. And the reason is crystal clear: that’s what people want. Capitalism is geared towards answering public demand, independently of whether it’s good or bad. And apparently that’s yet another Marvel movie.

The reason for this nostalgia crisis is most likely a fear due to the speed at which the world is changing. Now some people consider it’s not all bad. There’s a brilliant PBS idea channel on the subject:

But South Park shows us the dangers of this trend. I don’t think it’s benign. This comfort nostalgia bubble is akin to the filter bubbles of social networks that have pushed the topic of Fake News on everyone’s lips.

As I wrote in my article about USS Callister, I wonder if we’re on a dangerous slippery slope of pandering brainless entertainment, and nothing shows it more clearly than this nostalgia frenzy. It’s obviously ok to indulge in brainless entertainment every now and then, but doing only that leads to intellectual atrophy. Thought is build through challenge and encounter with new ideas. Thinking and evolving is work and effort, it’s not easy, so it makes a lot of sense that we have a natural tendency to run away from it. But we live in a world governed by capitalism that not only builds up on this natural desire but also encourages it in order to make easy sales. We need to be extremely careful, because every cent given to the Star Wars franchise (among others, it’s just an example, pretty much everything is like that nowadays anyway) puts more fuel on the fire that is this vicious cycle of self-indulgence.

Image result for south park superhero franchise plan

I personally tend to wonder if capitalism may be by essence incompatible with democracy, as capitalism potentially encourages people to be consuming as much as possible to fuel the economy whereas democracy requires people to be as smart as possible to make the best choices. I’m not saying either is bad, but I let you be the judge of the resulting combo:

American democracy reminded us once again of what is lurking in the heart of humans. Apparently a non neglectable number of people want to be ruled by someone who declared women should be “grabbed by the pussy” and who banned “science-based” and “evidence-based” from budget discussions. And sure the system is flawed, etc… but it’s still a pretty overwhelming number.

It’s obviously a very complex topic with a lot of nuances and discussions to be had. But this season of South Park captured an element that I think is essential, and that is very often overlooked. This ever present nostalgia  and pandering through brainless entertainment could be dangerous and we should all think twice before encouraging it and being complacent in it, regardless of our political views. Many disagree with Trump, but few disagree with Stranger Things. They may not be as unrelated as people tend to think. The South Park Member Berries story line culminates in this brilliant scene:

This goes back to the great philosophical question of the goodness of human nature on which there is already countless literature. It seems to me that human tendency to not want to think needs to be fought actively (cue Nietszche’s ubermensch reference), because it’s so easy to give way to the Member Berries and indulge in what’s comfortable.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the season of South Park that will go down in history as the season when mankind went further than satire.

– ‘Member stormtroopers?

– Sure, I ‘member.

– Not those stormtroopers! The real old ones. People want to ‘member? They’re gonna ‘member.

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[DT3] Self reverence

This article is the third of a series of 3 about Formal Logic and Religion. The first one is an introduction to formal logic and proves that all religions are equivalent, it can be found here. The second one is centered around Godel’s incompleteness theorems and discusses the existence of a transcendental entity, it can be found here.

Last time, we explored the existence of God-L, a transcendental entity encompassing the uncertainty of any system. See the previous article. We will now focus on the nature of God-L, based on my very loose understanding of Godel’s theorems’ proof.

The coolest part of Godel’s proof is that not only does it prove the existence of the transcendental element, but it’s also a constructive proof, meaning it gives an example of what this element could be. If you remember the previous article, the gist of it is that you can build in any system a statement of the kind « This sentence is false« . Now it’s only one counter example (there may be others) and a pretty loose simplification, but I think this proof has a really nice element that bears thinking about: the core of this transcendental element lies in its self referential nature (the « this sentence » part of « this sentence is false »).

I’ve mentioned this article from speculativegeek which sparked this reflection, centering around Madoka’s wish

« I wish for all witches to vanish before they can even born. » 

which includes herself. He expands on the self-referential nature of the proof in a follow-up article that draws a parallel with Russel’s paradox, my all time favorite paradox. It seems pretty clear that interesting stuff happens when one starts considering self-reference, and that it is a key to higher level of abstraction, be it in the Madoka universe or in the naive set theory.

Being a fervent advocate of the cult of the Concept of Concept, you can imagine how happy I am to reconcile this element of infinite transcendence and the fixed point of meta at the end of the infinite dialectic progression of self-consideration. There seems to be something inherently transcendental about self-reflection.

Screenshot (223)

That concept brings to mind the slightly interesting HBO blockbuster Westworld. Weeding out the boring part between the first and the last episode, it’s worth considering their take on how robots acquire consciousness. In Westworld, robots becoming sentient is all about them having « that voice in their head » reflecting on their action. Through the iterations, the programmers tried to insert some kind of inner monologue in hope to create a trail of thoughts. But we learn that early attempts were failures because the voice in someone’s head needs to be theirs, needs to be recognized as their own, which is something Dolores only achieves at the end of season 1. Interestingly enough, before that time, the voice was considered to be « the voice of God » (but we’ll go back do divinity soon). This is tightly coupled with the notion of choice, but I don’t want to get down that hole now. The show’s points are confusing at best, but it appears that this meta-narration and self-consideration is key to the rise of consciousness.

This is better dealt with in Gen Urobuchi’s underappreciated masterpiece Rakuen Tsuihou (Expelled from Paradise). In it, we meet a robot who has become fully sentient and is living on its own. I won’t spoil too much, so I’ll focus on the way this robot describes how it acquired consciousness:

That’s right, he became sentient through self-reflection. His meta-consideration gave birth to the concept of self, and his logging became thoughts.

One cannot help but draw a parallel between this theory of consciousness and the self referential element of transcendence we referred to as God-L. Could consciousness, operating on the same self-referential mechanics as the Godel proof, be considered as a transcendental element of reality? And since this transcendental element transcends all system, could consciousness be God-L ?

The divinity aspect of consciousness is something that I’ve toyed with in the past, as consciousness seems to be the embodiment of the absolute concept of reason/Logos. In the same way as God traditionally makes order out of nothingness, consciousness is what allows the creation of meaning out of nothing. It is a generative force acting through language, which for instance creates art. Its power can for instance be seen in imagination. It can birth whole universes out of thin air. It’s no exaggeration to say that it partakes of some kind of divinity.

Image result for this is not a pipe

We could even go the Berkeley way and say that consciousness is the fundamental element of reality, for is there even a world if nothing is perceived? Everything you’ll ever see is actually neurons firing in your brain. Doesn’t that mean that in a way, your brain encompasses the whole world? That sounds godly enough to me…

So maybe that fixed point of meta that transcends itself and everything is akin to the consciousness you find in each of us. It can consider and transcend itself through self-reflection. Maybe, that’s the secret of us all being gods.

[DT2] God(el) incompleteness

This article is the second of a series of 3 about Formal Logic and Religion. Find the first one, introduction to formal logic, here.

I will now try to introduce you to what is arguably the most important result in formal logic, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and deduce a constructive proof of the existence of God.

Warning: This is going to be a very informal discussion, but there’s a plethora of better writing on the subject if you want to explore this deeper, which a quick Google Search should help you find. It’s one of the most discussed topics in mathematics.

What is it?

In the previous article, I gave you the basics to understand formal logic, by focusing on sets of beliefs containing a contradiction and see that they were all equivalent. Let’s now look at the other ones. A set of belief that does not contain or imply a contradiction is called consistent.

Godel proved that whatever your system of beliefthere are statements that cannot be proved by it. The proof is actually not that complex, though I never understood it until I read some kick-ass vulgarization recently: Godel proved that in any system of beliefs, you can use the basic principles to express a statement similar to « This sentence is false » that cannot be proved to be either true or false.

As a follow-up to this result, Godel also proved that you can never prove that a system is consistent with the principles of the system. The proof is a bit more subtle but revolves around the fact that if you could, you could use that proof to prove that « This sentence is false » is true, and that’s absurd.

What does it mean?

Of course, Godel was talking about math stuff. The « system of beliefs » he was talking about was mathematical axioms like [1+1=2, you can always pick a random element in an infinite set…]. So you see that the beliefs I’m talking about can be very obvious and non-arbitrary. But the arguments hold whatever the system.

These theorems have huge implications for reasoning in general. It’s a formal proof that whatever you adopt as system of beliefs, there are things you cannot prove to be either true or false, and in particular you can’t prove that your system of beliefs is not inconsistent.

I think, if nothing else, this forces you to be humble vis a vis your beliefs, no matter how obvious and indisputable they are.

« There are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in your philosophy. »

Transcending the system

So any thought system has necessarily shortcomings, and furthermore you can exemplify the limits of the system using the elements of the system. I like how this idea echoes the classic trope that every system contains their own undoing.

This article by SpeculativeWeeb is a really cool take on Godel’s theorem applied to Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It highlights that Madoka essentially found this shortcoming of the system, the « this sentence is false » of her own world. She forces it to realization using her wish to Kyuubey. In a nutshell:

She wishes for all witches to vanish before they’re even born. However by doing so she becomes herself a witch, so she vanishes and can’t make that wish.

She exploited the shortcoming of the system in order to break it. The only possible resolution is to ditch this system, and a new one replaces it that manages the problematic element (a world without witches and without Madoka).

However, the new system is also bound to have a transcending element, which is what Rebellion tried to tackle with more or less success. Whatever you do, you can’t escape Godel… There’s no perfect system without transcending element.

Managing the transcendence

If any system contains their own undoing, some have certainly tried to manage this necessary shortcoming to make it foolproof.

The Matrix is an interesting example: machines first tried to build a utopia where everyone was happy, but a flawless system was bound to fail. Instead, they had to include faults in their system: they added unhappiness inside the Matrix to make it stable.

But of course as a system, this also had its shortcomings and had an element that could transcend it: the One. So the machines actually managed a meta-system which included the existence of a transcendental element as part of the plan, a chosen One who would have to make a dummy choice to keep the ball rolling. But hey, this is a new system, so it has to have something that can transcend it…

It’s not uncommon in this context to see the smartest systems try to include and manage their own undoing in such a way. There is countless examples in sci-fi, like The Giver, or Westworld. « ‘the plan fucks up‘ is an element of a bigger plan » is a classic trope in fiction. Note how it builds up on meta.

But no system does it quite as well as the real world. Indeed, the genius of neo-liberalism is to plan for this element of contingency, and to include the resistance to the system as part of the system. Everything can be monetized, even anti-conformism.

You can find more information on this trail of thought all around the webs, like this brilliant video for example:

Implication for the nature of the universe

What about the implications of the second theorem to the real world? If you can’t prove a system’s consistency from within the system, does it mean that we’ll never be able to prove formally that the world is deterministic? Does it mean that we can’t prove whether or not we’re in a simulation?

Arguably, it doesn’t really matter, because the world will be the same whatever you believe. Life will still follow deterministic patterns even if you can’t prove it. But it’s an interesting echo of Hume’s experimental philosophy. He argued that just because things have always happened a certain way doesn’t mean they’ll keep happening, and there’s no reason why the world couldn’t suddenly stop. If we are in a simulation, maybe the computer will stop, or change the parameters… How would we ever see that coming? Maybe this ambiguous report of causation and correlation is the transcendent part of our reality.

Everything could suddenly crash. But it won’t. That’s just how the world is. But maybe you can’t ever prove it. That’s intriguing.

Proof of God

Interestingly enough, as it pertains to our reflection about logic and religion, Godel was very proud to have proven the existence of God mathematically. Unfortunately, it is an ontological proof and is therefore total garbage.

Ontological Argument

However, Godel did prove that whatever the system, there is inherently something that transcends it. And that this something is contained within the system. I’m willing to let this be called God, for all the chaos and confusion that it will surely bring, even if it’s just a glorified alias for the logical concept of « This sentence is false ». In fact, let’s call that God-L, because it’s fun.

We’ve proved that whatever the system, it’s by nature incomplete. This incompleteness is God-L. There is always God-L, it is absolute. Furthermore, it’s true for any thought system, so it’s also true for a system that tries to encompass this fact. If you add God-L to your system, there’s still a God-L that transcends it (as we saw in the Matrix). What we want to call God-L is in fact the union of all these God-Ls, the infinitely meta-transcendence of all systems. But it is still incomplete and transcendable… Which makes it the perfect transcendental element of a meta-meta system that tries to reason about systems, which brings me back to my fixed point of meta

God-L is the very essence of incompleteness and unexplainability in the universe. Instead of being an all powerful wishgranter, it’s by nature lacking. Maybe it’s a nice tool for your spiritual health…

[DT1] Are all religions equivalent?

This article is the first of a series of 3 about Formal Logic and Religion. This is an introduction to formal logic, which requires no prior knowledge.

Much ink and blood have been spilled because of the similarities and dissimilarities of such and such religion, and I don’t aim at solving this issue at all, but I’d like here to consider a new more joyful perspective on it based on formal logic.

Introduction to formal logic

Formal Logic is the pompous name given to the study of the indisputable rules of causality that govern semantics. It is for instance what allows us to consider:

Socrates is a man. All men are mortal.

And to deduce:

Socrates is mortal.

As you can see, this reasoning is true no matter what and can be abstracted from the boundaries of language. That’s why logicians mostly use symbols. They’d say my two first propositions can be labelled A and B, and that A and B being true implies C being true.

Formal logic also studies fallacies, like:

Socrates is mortal. Horses are mortal. This does not imply that Socrates is a horse.

It’s all about considering rigorously the consequences of your premises.

1) Consequences of false premises

For this article, there are two points that are going to be important. The first one is what happens when the premise is false. You know it in popular culture as « When hell freezes over« . In this idiom, since [hell freezes over] is false (it will never happen), it can imply anything, such as:

When hell freezes over, I will turn into a werewolf.

Note that it doesn’t mean that the consequence is necessarily false.

When hell freezes over, I will do the dishes.

But maybe I’ll also do the dishes tomorrow if I’m feeling motivated. The premise will never be realized, so I can say whatever I want as consequence and still be consistent and right. In formal logic, it means that false implies anything.

When hell freezes over, [proposition P].

will be true whatever this proposition P is, no matter how absurd. Further reading.

2) Inconsistent set of premises

The second principle that I want to introduce you to is conjunction. It’s a fancy word to say « and ». Our example above is the conjunction of « Socrates is a man » and « All men are mortal ». We’ve done it with two propositions, but our set could be as big as we want, like:

[Socrates is a man, All men are mortal, All mortal things die, All dead things stop breathing] => Socrates will stop breathing.

We can even throw in stuff that has nothing to do with it if you want:

[Socrates is a man, All men are mortal, Cats are cute] => Socrates is mortal.

Now comes the twist. Remember the last paragraph? What if my set of premises is contradictory, like:

[Hell is always hot, Hell is frozen]

This is what we meant by the popular phrase « when hell freezes over » (it’s only a contradiction if we assume that hell will never freeze). Well in that case, my set of premises is equivalent to false, and can imply anything as we saw before.

[Hell is always hot, Hell is frozen over] = « When hell freezes over » = FALSE => [I turn into a werewolf, I do the dishes, Socrates is immortal, Socrates is mortal, whatever….]

For a conjunction to be true, all its propositions must be true: A and B and C is true if and only if all of [A,B and C] are true. Therefore, if something is false, you can add anything to it and it is still as false as ever: [FALSE and anything] is equivalent to FALSE.

When hell freezes over and cats are cute, I turn into a werewolf.

[Hell is always hot, Hell is frozen over, Cats are cute] = FALSE => [I turn into a werewolf]

You can add anything to your set of premises, if it contains contradictory propositions, it will still be equivalent to false. A bit like this conversation:

– When hell freezes over, I’m gonna move to Costa Rica and buy a huge mansion and get married and own elephants and fly… 

– I’m gonna stop you right there… it’s never gonna happen.

No matter how many propositions you add in there, it’s doomed to always be a non-possible scenario, aka False.

Application to religion

Now that we’ve mastered the basics of formal logic, let’s explore what it means for the real world, and in particular religions. Religions are sets of beliefs, which means the conjunction of a lot of propositions, which guide how followers live their lives. There are way more premises than our examples above, but it is the same kind of thing nonetheless. To take a really small subset as an example, the 10 commandments for instance are a conjunction of 10 premises:

[You shall not have other gods, You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, …]

If it’s not clear to you, you can replace the comas in the set above by « and ». It doesn’t have to be orders, it can be statements, like for instance the beginning of the old testament:

[God created heavens and earth, the earth used to be a formless void, God said « let there be light », …]

That’s all well and good, but remember our point (2): in a set of premises, if there is even one contradiction, the whole set is equivalent to FALSE.

Let’s pretend for one second that there exist an imaginary religion with contradictory principles. We’ll call it « false religion ». For instance, false religion could be based on these simple principles:

[Love your neighbour, Hate the gays]

Hope the contradictory nature of this set of principles is clear: if your neighbor is gay you’re supposed to love them and hate them at the same time. If this is too complex for you, consider the set of principles [everyone is good, gays are bad]. Remember that you can add any other premise you want to this set without changing anything.

Anyway, our imaginary religion’s set of beliefs contains a contradiction!!! It is equivalent to FALSE. Now remember 1): FALSE implies anything and everything. It means that the principles of my newly created religion can be used to imply any proposition whatsoever. For instance:

false religion => You should help people in need

false religion => We should ban the refugees

false religion => Everybody is equal

false religion => This group of people must be eliminated

Therefore, if such a religion existed, it would be a very convenient tool indeed!! It would be a set of principles to govern your life that would justify absolutely anything. Whatever your actions, they would be in keeping with the premises of these ground rules for living.

Example

Let us study an example of such religion. I’m talking about the famed Chewbacca defense. It goes as follows: the set of premises is:

[Chewbacca is a wookie, Chewbacca lives on Endor, only Ewoks live on Endor]

This is a contradiction, and is therefore equivalent to False. Therefore, it can justify anything and everything, including acquitting an obvious culprit for instance.

If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit.

False => acquit. 

 

 Conclusion

To sum up, we derived the following logical propositions:

Any religion/set of beliefs/principles that contains at least one contradiction is logically equivalent to false.

All such religions are logically equivalent to each other (and to the Chewbacca defense).

They imply (justify rigorously) by their very nature any and all proposition/behavior. 

Such a potential religion would naturally be very comfortable and convenient, and I understand its appeal. It would certainly provide its followers with comfort and self righteousness, all the while allowing and justifying anything logically without any accountability, since the responsibility lies with the set of principles. Just think of the possibilities of what one could do with this!!! Surely this could even impact worldwide history!

I am not recommending anything, but if you are interested in adopting such a system of principles, let me leave you with a recommendation: don’t bother with a lengthy list of premises, and instead adopt Falso* as your belief system, which is logically equivalent and will allow you to prove ANYTHING.

 

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* I am not strictly affiliated or at least remunerated with Estatis in any way.

Kishi Seiji’s vision of the world

I’ve been thinking for a while about making a little essay on Kishi Seiji, who is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. I fell in love with his directing in Ranpo Kitan, and was very much impressed by Dangan Ronpa 3 intertwined arcs which may well be the biggest experimentation on format since Endless Eight. We’ll be focusing on these two works and heavily spoiling them, so consider yourself warned (as in go watch these anime and come back). A lot of these points probably deserve to be expanded, but I tried to gloss over everything to give you food for thoughts. And you know it’s gonna be serious because the title is not « Dangan Ranpo ».

1. Boredom, eliteness and isolation

Ranpo Kitan opens up on a very grim scene that portrays a sad Kobayashi looking out the window in a grayscale world. Around him, people are just vague silhouettes who all look the same. The message is cristal clear: this kid feels lonely, longing for some kind of escape in a world filled with monotonous dolls.

However, Kishi Seiji’s approach has an undeniable oppressive aesthetics that carries the whole show and culminates in what is to me one of the most powerful moments of the show: when Kobayashi realizes that his best friend is, too, yet another human being alien to him and he is utterly alone.

Now it’s no wonder why Seiji uses this technique in Dangan Ronpa too. One of the core element of Dangan Ronpa is the notion of « Super High School Level ». All the students at Hope’s Peak Academy have a special talent developed at an elite level that places them above and outside the world of commoner. The events of DR3 (especially Zetsubou) are centered around the tension this gap between the elites and the non-elites create, especially in the light of the opening of the academy to the new un-gifted reserve students.

Among the elite is the girl who started it all, Super High School Level Despair, Enoshima Junko. She’s without a doubt the most central character in this saga. And her super talent is despair. Let that really sink in for a while. Her specialty is being in despair.

Contrary to Kobayashi, a few people around her are not silhouettes, but there is no doubt that she feels similar to him. Even among the elite students, she’s still a loner. She’s an elite among elites, just like Kamukura. The students of Hope Peak’s sometimes have very silly talents (Hope, Luck, Heir, Fortune teller…), turning to ridicule the very conception of eliteness. They become Junko’s pawn, highlighting that even though they may not seem like common folks to an innocent bystander, everybody is a silhouette for someone like her.

As the shows develop, it becomes pretty clear that Kobayashi and Junko (and Kamukura) are incredibly smart geniuses, only on par with the greatest criminals or detectives. Their intellect separates them from the common folk and plunges them into isolation. They know and understand things to levels where noone can follow, and it’s really heartbreaking to see the moment where Hashiba cannot keep up.

Junko has always been important in Dangan Ronpa, but we did not know much about her motivations before Seiji’s animation. Her discussions with Izuru Kamukura are the most enlightening: in short, just like Kobayashi, she finds the world unbearably boring and predictable. So does Izuru Kamukura, by the way. Her talent makes life untolerable for her. Is depression an unavoidable companion of brilliant minds?

Note that Junko, much like all the other Super High School Level, gets her ability naturally. She’s born with it and doesn’t have to fight for it, and in the same way she cannot get rid of it. Super High School talents are presented as a non negotiable gift that makes the reserve students jealous. But what I want to emphasize here is that this unfair blessing of some is also a non negotiable curse imposed onto them by genetics. Junko is doomed to be smart, lonely and depressed, a condition she simply cannot escape.

Obviously, I couldn’t deal with the notion of elites without bringing in the master of the Ubermensch, sir Nietzsche. For interestingly enough, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he points out that loneliness is unavoidable for whoever follows the path of the Ubermensch:

To him, this is a necessary condition to push oneself towards betterment and further creation. And sure enough, we’ll see that this isolation clearly drives our characters to become actors. Kobayashi will solve crime, Enoshima will dye the world in despair. However Kamukura will position himself as an arbiter in the upcoming world wars.

2. Breaking the boredom

The core vector of their isolation is their superior abilities, which allow them to know how everything will happen, making the world unbearably mundane. Is this a necessary byproduct of intelligence?

This could well be, for intelligence is bound to result in understanding the laws of the universe, and predicting their outcome. The theme of predictability of the world is even echoed by the main topic of Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace: determinism, building up on an original idea by Laplace. It is all about this algorithm which would, much like Asimov’s psychohistory, predict the whole world.

What about randomness? one may ask. This theme is dealt with extensively through the saga, most notably through the character of Komaeda, whose super level talent is luck. The intertwining format of Dangan Ronpa 3 shines the brightest showing us how Komaeda’s random luck ripples through time and affects pretty much everything by butterfly effect (for instance the feud between bonbon-girl and pharmacy-chan). But these domino effects are suspiciously perfect, and the fact that Luck or Fortune telling are genetic talents are here to remind us that there is no such thing as randomness and even luck is predestined.

In a deterministic universe, every consequence is simply the result of causes. But more than existential anguish over the lack of free will, our characters are mainly bored. Untolerably so, because their superior intellect makes them immune to any kind of Pascalian diversion. To echo the gambling metaphor Pascal loved, blackjack loses all its interest if you can predict everything perfectly. May I remind you that Pascal and Monokuma are the two people I know who used the word « game » so much ^^’

We must therefore imagine these characters tortured by the prospect of their own finitude, and completely unable to distract themselves. Drowning in Super High School Level Despair, if you will. They all desperately strive for something that escapes their predictive capabilities. No matter the cost, they need to break free from the smothering of their all seeing intellect.

The solace they find seems to be in the extremes of human behaviors, like murders and violence. Kobayashi’s comfort is in complex crimes. Junko develops an obsession with plunging the world into chaos. Kamukura goes one meta-level beyond and indulges in the extremes of Junko’s own behavior (and her opponents).

For people so smart that they can predict human behavior, are humans pushed to their limits, as gruesome and obsene as they may become. the only thing that can escape foresight? That may not even be the case, considering how deterministically Junko’s ascent into Zestubou was orchestrated…

But just like the common folk’s distractions are ultimately deterministic, maybe this elite’s distractions are a mere illusion too, and there is no real escape.

3. The vicious cycle of despair and hope

We cannot talk about Dangan Ronpa without dealing with the weird psychology of Komaeda. Dangan Ronpa is about extremes. It is the battle between two extremes drawn to an absurd level: blind hope, and relentless despair. But more than triumphing, it seems that champions of these factions merely want to escalate the conflict to the most intense possible point. Komaeda strives for a Despair as powerful as possible to make Hope shine brighter, whereas Junko rejoices that the Hope she’s faced with seems good enough for her Despair.

Of course they justify this urge for escalation by wanting a total victory of their camp, but is it really necessary? One cannot ignore the similarity in their approach, which makes the line between the faction even more blurry. Each stepping stone for Hope serves as a new challenge to make Despair more powerful, and vice versa.

This echoes the Nietzschean conception of betterment through challenge and adversity. To him, the elites builds themselves by facing the challenges and thereby becoming stronger. Therefore, shielding people from adversity is condemning them to mediocrity. That’s the core of the disagreement between Mitarai and the others at the end of the Mirai arc: knowing how irremediably flawed humans (and himself) are, he wants to shield them.

But mostly, the stepping stone paradigm draws a confusion between the two camps that culminates in the gigantic mess that is the Mirai arc, where all the core members of the Hope faction start butchering each other in a very Zestubou fashion without much resistance… Ambiguity and hypocrisy are omnipresent.

It’s no wonder that Kamukura disengages completely from these petty games. Up until the very end, the elite of elites will simply stand aside as an observer. He’s uninteresting in propagating chaos or fighting it. Could it be because taking part in this would obviously tilt the outcome and make it more determined and boring? That he does not want to taint the narrative by his participation? Is that why DR3 is an anime and not a game? He takes the opposite approach of Junko, and decide to watch the events unfold naturally, without influencing them or orchestrating a show.

4. Memes and Meta with Mitarai

Now Kamukura is not the only « watcher » in Dangan Ronpa. In fact, the theme of television, media and observation is omnipresent ever since DR1. Even in DR3, Monokuma insists repeatedly that the killing games are broadcast to the world. For the watchees, this openness in the process can start interesting discussions about Sartre and how the gaze of others is instrumental in revealing and constructing your self. But Dangan Ronpa focuses on the watchers.

The murders in Dangan Ronpa are supposed to bring despair through the world thanks to being broadcast. The psychological effects of viewing something is in fact the main reason for the mutual killings in DR1, as well as the main vector of action of Enoshima Junko. The mutual killing game makes no sense without an audience. The Zetsubou arc is centered around her meeting with animator Ryouka Mitarai, and how it will allow Junko to leverage the power of subliminal imagery to brainwash people into killing each other or forgetting things.

But is this really hypnose? All of this sounds like run of the mill animation technique, little details you’d iron in any artistic endeavour. Sure, the format is adapted to the purpose, and very very well so. However, the heart of the matter seems to remain in the content, as justified by the length Junko goes through to orchestrate it. Her targets are Hope Peak’s student precisely because of the meaning behind it and the symbol they represent. See for yourselves:

In her conversation with Kamukura, we learn more about how important the content is. Her work is all about spreading despair, spreading ideas. Ideas that spread to populations through these broadcasts, and there’s a word for that: memes.

Memes, infection information, is another central theme of Seiji’s work. In particular, Ranpo Kitan’s main storyline is about Twenty Faces, a vigilante serial killer, of whom we come to learn that he’s not a person but a concept embodied by several people and spread by meme. Twenty Faces is a perfect example of meme, with him being an idea that took out a life of its own and survives its creator (see this article 🙂). Likewise, Enoshima Junko’s despair, embodied in Monokuma, is the same, and survives beyond her death. It spreads through time, but also through universes up to the real world.

Indeed, when seeing Mitarai, it’s pretty hard to forget that this whole thing as another level. Yes, people in the world of DR are watching the killings broadcast, but so are we, spectators of the anime. Monokuma often reminds us of that fact, prompting us to sit back and enjoy the show. Didn’t we watch the mutual killings in DR1 or the student council video right above? Aren’t we as subject to the effect of this video as the characters in the show that turned crazy while watching it? Doesn’t that make us all citizens of a world that is falling in despair, and thereby, complacent?

Dangan Ronpa echoes pretty obviously the reality television of our world, reusing without hiding it all its tropes. We’re faced with a dire version of the Big Brother’s House, with daily challenges and weekly eliminations. DR3 Mirai is a glorified game of Mafia. The emphasis is clearly on show and spectacle, almost theatrality (which can be a great way to dive into the topic of human nature, see Hamlet, etc…). It keeps remininding us that our worlds are not too far apart, and we’re just one step away from descending into chaos. And it’s also a nice reflective point about the unhealthy fact that we’re already tapping in the entertainment potential of humans pushed to their limits.

Junko’s message lives in the world of semantics, spreads through the universes and affects its audience both within and outside the show. So too does Seiji’s message affect us. Does he, like Mitarai, want to change the world with his anime? Probably. But I think he mostly wants to provide shows that are an escape for the bored Kobayashi types out there, maybe to stop us from using real people as entertainment dolls.

[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… »

[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.”

Nuage de Tags