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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.

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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.

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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.

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[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.

By the end of this article you’ll be immortal.

Ok so this is based of an article I posted recently on a spur called « How death is an absurd illusion« , that I decided to dust off and reshape a little bit into a fully fledged article for propaganda purposes. As you probably know, I’m the founder and sole member of a cult that praise the Concept of Concept, and that proposes its followers immortality through becoming a meme. I’ve received a very nonplussed reaction, so I’ve come up with yet another way to access immortality. I will now vanquish death once and for all in the laziest possible way.

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Please ponder with me the implications of making a copy of yourself. It could be biological or digital, or even just your brain, it simply has to be a perfect copy of you. Think about uploading your brain to the cloud, or about that common conception of teleportation where instead of making your body move, you recreate it at another place and destroy the old one. So when you make that copy, what happens when the original dies?

From the point of view of the copy, everything is fine. It has all your memories up until the copy and then its memories, uninterupted consciousness. So you keep on living, even if one of you die. If you copy yourself and die just after during your sleep, everything is fine and dandy you just wake up as the copy.

But it gets freaky if two of you live and one dies. There may well be one that survives, but you know, what good is knowing that for the one who dies? But at the same time you didn’t die, considering you still exist and you are identical copies… If you had died earlier, during your sleep in the previous paragraph, you wouldn’t even have noticed, you’d just wake up as usual. Heck maybe this morning you were a copy of yourself and you don’t even know. So let’s say that it’s not that big a deal if the original dies when there’s a copy running. You’d have to be pretty petty to bitch about your death when you’re still alive.

So bear with me here. There is no reason for the copy to start living right now. Just like the original can keep on living after the copy process, the replica can start living later. It’s not that big a deal. It’d be kinda like cryogenisation, bam, you wake up in the future, right? But for a robot. You save your brain on a hard disk and you load it up in the future.

However, a copy of you is just a sequence of atoms, or bits, or whatever. One among many many many, but one nonetheless. So what happens  if a programmer just types that sequence? Nothing says that this « file » cannot be obtained without the original to make a copy from.

So yeah, it’s super unlikely because the « code » that defines you is super long and specific and the chance of randomly stumbling upon it are super little, but consider this:

  • Let me start by saying that you’re still feeling like you through all your life, whereas you go through a lot of configurations. Reproducing one is enough to get on the right track, so that already increases the odds. Life+after+death_428e93_5157142
  • Then, it doesn’t have to be « randomly ». Maybe people in the future are trying to reverse-engineer you. 
  • Maybe someone in the future (or the past!) will be really similar to you and BAM stumble upon that configuration through their own life. It’s less unlikely if the departure point is human-like. 
  • And even if it is « randomly », the universe is big, like really really big, and there may even be an infinity of them if that’s what you believe. So isn’t there a very good chance that there is some collision at some point? But ok, that’s not guaranteed, kinda like we don’t know for sure that pi is a normal number (I want to believe though).
  • However, if the universe can be simulated, it’s very likely that there is an infinite number of universes running simulations in an infinite inclusion stack (which makes it very likely that we’re in a simulation /o/) and then it’d be really flipping bad luck if there is no collision. That’s by the way an hypotheses that has been talked a lot about recently following the statements of Elron Musk, so if you like that guy, you gotta buy in!

  • But I’m still unsatisfied at this point, basing my immortality on hypotheticals, so I kept thinking about it. This piece of code, this configuration that describes you, is just a bit of information, right? And you know what processes information? Algorithms. Machines are becoming more and more powerful and complex, the states that they process is getting bigger and bigger. And some day, pretty soon, this state will be large enough to contain the sequence defining a human (singularity alert /o/). And that’s way less big than a whole universe to simulate, so it can be done for sure. UntitledSo it doesn’t seem unlikely, considering how a fair number of algorithms try a bunch of different configurations to solve a problem, that one of this algorithm can try a configuration that corresponds to your code. Maybe you are a middle state of a super powerful algorithm. Maybe that’s what it feels like, how could you tell? Your consciousness is just a neural configuration, after all.
    At which point I’d kindly direct you towards my favorite talk of all time, where the inventor of Skype and Kazaa explains why it’s very likely that you and your whole universe is a middle state of a glorified phone system, essentially.

In the movie Jupiter Ascending, a race of advanced humanoids were breeding humans to stumble upon their very same DNA combination that would allow them to resurrect. This is obviously preposterous because it ignores all the acquired qualities of your life. I was so disappointed at the Wachowskis for letting me down after Matrix… But maybe I discarded this movie too quickly… It makes much more sense if you replace DNA with brain configuration, and it is obviously true if you replace randomness by some kind of design

So to sum up, this is a solid mathematical proof that you’re already immortal because you’re a finite neural configuration in an infinite set of possibilities with collisions.

You’re welcome.

PS: wow this is like a religion based on pseudo science, I wonder what I should call it 🙂

 

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?

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… »

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