Food. Food. Too much food. Feeling bad. Stop food.
Walk. Walk a bit.
Wash. Wash body. Kill odor.
Walk to work. Noisy streets. Busy.
Work. Lift boxes. Move things. Effort. Reward. Effort. Reward.
More work. Then break. Then work. Then break.
More work. Then break. Then work. Then break.
Walk back. Noisy streets.
More food. Now sleep. Bed. Rest.
Aouch. Pain. Hurt. Obstacle. Not normal. What was it? What?
Something not normal. Something resisting. Something not me. Something other.
*beep beep beep*
He woke up. He got breakfast in front of the TV.
He got dressed. He put on his dark grey uniform. His number was on it.
*pat pat pat*
He left the dorm. He grabbed his bike.
There was little traffic on his way. The usual. He enjoyed the fresh air. The sound of birds.
He arrived at his workplace. He started his duties.
He built things. Made new objects. Copies of objects. Always the same.
He headed to the canteen. He ate his ration. It was filling.
He went back to work. He did the same thing.
*durum durum pshing pshing clic clic clic*
The time passed. The day was over. He grabbed his bike.
He got dinner. He ate his ration. It was filling.
He went to the common room. He sat in front of the TV. He watched the images.
It was a movie.
*tshaka tshaka tshaka tshaka*
Lots of action.
He was in the common room of the dorm. Other people were watching the movie too. They laughed together at the funny scenes.
*ha ha ha ha*
The other people were living with him. They were working with him. They were wearing the same kind of clothes. They were sharing his reactions. They were a lot like him. But they were not him. They were others. Like the boss. But not like the boss, too. Same color as him. Same reactions. They were others, but they were like him. It was like… they were another him.
<this is labeled as page 0 of the book>
*beep beep beep*
Time to wake up. Jonas shut down the alarm. He stood up and looked for his grey uniform. He quickly changed, shaved, and showered.
He went to the kitchen, took some food, turned on the TV.
“… and it’s not even the worst part! Last night, in the Big Brother House, Katia kissed Greg! People are already wondering…”
He swallowed his breakfast. He had to hurry. Work would start soon.
He left his suburban house. All around, other HS1 workers were doing the same. Work times were the same for everyone. 9 to 5. They all jumped into their own company car. They were grey. And quite powerful. Jonas liked them.
The radio was airing the latest hit songs. His favorites. He sang along. Traffic was crazy, as usual. It was so… frustrating being stuck in a traffic jam, and see the flashy HS2 pass by in the priority lane. Jonas wanted to be HS2. Their cars were shiny and fast. And their houses were big. He was jealous. That was his big motivation in life. If he worked hard enough, maybe someday that would be him.
He made it to the office and sat at his desk, in his cubicle. There was work waiting. His job was mostly filing and sorting reports, and coordinating HS0s. He didn’t understand all of it, but the manual was clear enough. He simply had to execute whatever his HS2 boss told him. He never actually met the guy. He received his orders on his terminal. Today, there was a pile of paperwork waiting for him. Something about insurance claim.
It wasn’t the most exciting job, but at least he paid the bills. Could have been worse. He could have been a HS0.
Before long, it was the morning coffee break. He said hello to his colleagues, and they started talking. Their favorite topics were sports, tv, weather and their next vacation. Today they talked about their bosses. There was a rumor that they may be robots. Maybe robots ruled their world. Just like in that popular action movie. That was a scary thought.
A few more hours of work and it was time for the canteen. The highlight of the day. Their portions didn’t look like much, but they were tasty enough. And the best part of all, it was free.
After a long day of work, he joined his colleagues at the local pub. That was their little tradition. They were a group of regulars, just like in that TV show. They even had their usual booth and all. Friends forever.
It was Jonas’ favorite part of his life. Relaxing at the end of a hard day. He spent most of his daily pay in that bar. He was trading his money for a few hours of happiness. What could be better than feeling good. Beer was his favorite thing in the world.
Today, there was a match on. They watched it together, cheering loudly for their team. It was important to support their local champions. They were from the same district. They had trouble this season. This was a very exciting match, with the ball going back and forth. They put up a brave fight that ended in a draw.
They stayed a bit longer, drinking and talking. They commented on their favorite part of the match. They liked sports. Sometimes, on the weekends, they would go out and play too.
Before long, it was time to go back home. On the way back, the radio was airing the latest hit songs. He sang along.
He put on a movie on TV, but he did not pay too much attention to it. He would soon fall asleep anyway. He just liked to sleep to the sound of the war scenes. Somehow, hearing guns and explosions calmed him down.
The effect of the alcohol had not completely disappeared yet. He was feeling peaceful. He let his mind wander. He thought about the things he liked, and the things he hated. How he liked the things that were like him, and disliked the things that were different. And then something weird happened, that had never happened before.
He started to question why things were that way. Why did he like some things and not some others. What made him him. What made him Jonas, as opposed to another HS1. What was he?
And then he understood. Everything he was, everything he liked. It was because of that voice in his head. It was governing his life. There were many different humans, but this was just his own. Everything he did could be traced down to it. He thought, therefore he was.
He drifted to sleep, comforted by the idea of having understood something important.
The alarm app on his smartphone started playing Jonas’ favorite tune. He pulled himself out of bed. He was very excited for the day ahead.
It was time for the most important meal of the day! Jonas loved the relaxing atmosphere of his morning coffee. He could lazily collect himself and prepare for the day ahead. It was the calm before the storm.
He made himself bacon and eggs, while listening to his favorite morning show on the TV. It was very important to keep up with the news and the state of the world. He needed to be up to date to keep up with his colleagues’ conversations at the watercooler.
Today, it was all about a new law that the HS4 were preparing. It was so obviously wrong for the Economy. Damn them. If Jonas ever had a chance to be one of them, things would be pretty different. He wouldn’t let them do this kind of mistakes.
In frustration, he turned off the TV and made his way through the vasts hallways of his villa up to his wardrobe. There was much to be done. He had to carefully coordinate his outfit. He was seeing clients today. In his line of work, presentation was everything. He didn’t want to look like yet another corporate tool.
State guidelines said he had to wear yellow. The latest fashion trend were leaning to a special cut of shirt. Of course he had some. He paired this with designer shoes. It would no doubt impress whoever he had to talk to. Maybe even the boss.
His routine had one more step before leaving: playing a bit with his dog Chad. He went out into the freshly mowed garden, and did a couple of throws. His baseball training made his throws challenging, but the brave dog was able to keep up.
It was time to go. He considered for a second his powerful motorbike. It was the latest model, its shine and saillant muscles were begging him to ride it hard. But today he opted for his more reasonable company provided car. He sang along the popular songs the radio chose for him.
At the office, he exchanged a few words with Jessica, the secretary. She had the sweetest body.
“Nice vest, is that cachemire? Can I touch?”
Every day a new pickup line. It was his motto. He would eventually wear her down.
He left her giggling and headed for the coffee machine closest to his desk. Some of the sales team were there already: Chris, Trent, Brandon and Chad were talking about sports in loud voices. He bumped their fists and joined the chat:
“Yo, bros. Talking about that ludicrous display last night?
“Man we were so close to victory, I could taste it. But he had to fuck it all up in overtime.”
“I blame their coach, they haven’t been the same since the change.”
“Nah man, this guy is the best thing that could happen to them.”
The discussion got heated. Soon it was time to stop. But the guys reunited for another coffee break a few hours later. They compared performances and complained about work.
“Guys I’ve just closed the biggest contract ever!”
“You’re so lucky! My HS1 are clearly underperforming. They couldn’t even close that big deal last week.”
“Maybe you’re just mismanaging them…”
“Are you using the agile management guidelines?”
“Obviously. There’s gotta be something wrong with them. I’ll put them on performance re-evaluation plans.”
It was then time for the main meal, at the company canteen. Their banter didn’t stop, and turned to reviewing the latest gossip about their colleagues.
“Did you hear? Stacy is pregnant.”
“For real? Damn I was almost with her…”
“Yeah, worst thing is, she doesn’t know who the father is…”
“Shut up! I never thought she was that kind of girl…”
After an afternoon of more work, it was time to hit the gym. Staying ripped was important. That was the core of looking good and appealing. He spent one hour doing various exercises in the room filled with mirrors.
Then came the best part of the day. Time to pick up a snack for the evening. Tonight, he was in the mood for something manly. He met the guys at the local bar. They spent some time looking around, checking out what was on the menu.
“Did you see the ass on that one?”
“Sure but she’s HS1, do you really want to tap that?”
“Dude they’re not animals, it’ll be fine…”
They locked on their preys, and then they went in for the kill. They knew all the tricks in the books, and had a pretty high success rate. But it was a win some lose some kind of thing, and tonight wasn’t Jonas’ night. His first two targets escaped, and he was seeing all his bros leave one after the other with one or several companions.
He decided to take it easy and go back home. Tonight would turn into a “me” night. He could use the relaxation.
As soon as he arrived home, Jonas did his usual yoga meditation. In the craze of a busy bachelor life, he rarely got the chance to step back. That’s why he turned to personal development techniques, like many HS2 his age. It was important to keep in touch with what really mattered. That was the secret to productivity. He needed to disconnect every now and then, being alone with his thoughts, refocus. Realign with his target. What he wanted, his personal objectives. And right now, it was a new bigger TV. And maybe a new ride.
After that, he didn’t feel like sleeping just yet, so he poured himself a whisky, rolled a joint and entered his hot tub. As he started relaxing, his thoughts started to wonder. This was different from the usual meditation exercises, somehow… This was… unguided. Uncontrolled.
He took another puff and felt his whole body collapse while his mind was escaping its flesh vessel. He rarely got this sense of freedom in his daily life. There was always something to do, and then another, and then another… Each task led to the next, each day led to the next, always so similar… Was that really all there was to life? Following the flow, carried by force of habits. Wasn’t there something else he would rather do? Some way he should be exercising his freedom?
But no matter how much he thought about it, there was so little he could do. Sure, he felt like he was in control of his actions and his choices, but was it really true? He had to go to work, he had to fit in… how much freedom did that really leave him? Did he ever actually had the chance to do anything else?
When he got down to it, every choice he ever made was simply the result of a bunch of causes, ranging from necessity to his personal preferences. Every action he did was just the consequence of causes he had no control over. So did he actually have any control at all? If every one of his actions was thus fixed, didn’t it make his whole life predetermined?
Worst yet, every thought he had was just the result of a bunch of causes too. Including this one, which was the obvious inevitable outcome of his mind wandering under these circumstances.
So where did that leave him? He was so proud of his personality and character, polished over years of self-work… Were they just a product of society? Did he really do anything? Was his life just a long sequence of predetermined answers? Was the voice in his head just a bunch of thoughts pattern?
He fell asleep, harassed by the thought that maybe free will was just an illusion. But then what would that make him?
The soft melody of his alarm pulled Jonas out of the eerie dream he was having.
“Already…” he groaned internally.
He rose out of his bed and dragged himself towards his wardrobe. He chose a green shirt and his favorite tie. He then crossed the small apartment to reach the kitchen counter and started to prepare his breakfast. He put on the radio, but quickly regretted that choice.
“Only mainstream crap… ”
He turned instead of his own selection of songs. He had a playlist to pump himself up in the morning.
“Now that’s more like it! OK, so what will I have today?”
He decided for french toast, then started the preparation while humming along. He picked one of his favorite jams, and started to sip his coffee while reading his newspaper on his iPad. In truth, he did not care too much for what was happening in the world, but his responsibilities required him not to miss any important information that may affect business. A quick look at the stock market told him that today would be nothing out of the ordinary.
“Good.” he muttered while putting his silverware in the dishwasher.
He did not feel like overdoing it today, so he quickly brushed his hair and set out to leave. His bus stop was only a few meters away from his flat. He had a good sense of timing, he never had to wait for long. He soon settled in in the shuttle. By chance, his usual seat by the window was free. That always put him in a good mood. He let his mind wander while watching the cityscape go by through the window.
“The good thing about public transport as opposed to private transport is that I don’t have to drive myself.” he reflected. “So I’m free to do anything I want.”
As if to demonstrate that thought, he pulled out his book on management techniques he was in the middle of. He could only read a few pages before arriving at his company building.
He made a jump by the nearby Starbucks to get his usual extra shot grande frappuccino before heading to his office.
– Good morning Vanessa, he greeted his assistant.
– Morning sir. Your 10 o’clock has cancelled, so you have a bit more spare time now.
– Good, good. Thanks for letting me know.
He sat in his comfy leather chair in the middle of the room. He had a great window view. From this room on the 27th floor, the neighbouring skyscrapers formed a beautiful city skyline that he did not get bored of exploring. There were always new little details to discover in this town bustling with activity.
However, he did not have time to linger too much. The company required his focus. As always, there were so many things to deal with.
“If I don’t keep those HS2 in check, who is going to?” he sighed while opening the big pile of daily reports he got from them.
He made sure that their performances were adequate and that their objectives were aligned with the company’s key deliverables. A few of them needed retargeting, so he sent them a quick memo. That was the best thing about doing daily reports, he could catch flukes early on and correct the trajectories with the smallest of nudges.
“Overall, going pretty smoothly.” he declared after browsing through all of them.
He was just in time for his morning’s meetings. He had planned to talk to a few potential new partners about synergies between their businesses and upcoming collaboratory projects. Then he had a roadmap meeting with one of his teams to define their direction and objectives for the next quarter. Finally, another team would present to him the latest market research, and they would discuss together how it would impact their activity.
“Doesn’t leave much time for lunch…” he lamented.
He grabbed a sandwich and turned on his first video conference.
The meetings were rather productive. They shared insights, took decisions, adopted new guidelines… He sighed as he turned to the mountain of unanswered emails he had to deal with. He wanted to be diligent and give every issue as much consideration and attention as it needed.
“This is going to take forever…”
Yet he stuck to it, no matter what, as the light grew dimmer and dimmer outside. He took pride in his dedication and in a job well done.
The evening was well under way when Jonas finally finished his duties. He decided to reward himself by taking care of his long neglected stomach. He headed for a nearby restaurant and treated himself to a well prepared salmon.
“Haven’t had fish in forever,” he realized as he was savoring it.
He didn’t linger, however. Time was a very scarce resource for him. He took the shuttle back home. His days were dedicated to the company, but in the evening, he insisted on keeping a few hours for himself. That enabled him to unwind, to do what he really liked, to keep his sanity in the middle of such a demanding environment.
What he liked to do was painting, especially abstract subjects. He tried to capture feelings and emotions by the contrast of colors and the interactions of shapes. He often started his sessions by pouring himself a glass of wine, and smoking a cigarette. Today, he was in the mood for something a bit stronger. He needed inspiration, something that would carry his mind away and open him to new perspectives. He had just the thing: a friend of his had recommended him psychoactive mushrooms, and he couldn’t wait to try them. He gulped them down and waited for the effects in his “art studio”. That’s how he called the corner of his flat where all his tools were.
Jonas spent a while just relaxing, staring at the canvas, a cigarette in hand. It was still mostly blank at the time. The shadows of the smoke he produced were dancing mysteriously among the colors.
“Art is an experience… I hope someone looks at my work with such wonderful lighting effects… If I ever have an exhibit in a gallery, I should make sure I play with that…”
His thoughts started to drift from aesthetics considerations to semantics. He wanted this next piece to be meaningful. He had tried his best to represent on the picture the weight of responsibilities and consequences that anyone goes through life with. He wanted to echo how illusionary freedom was, and how humans never actually had choices. Anyone’s behavior was dictated by so many influences… and so were anyone’s beliefs.
“Heck, even these thoughts are just the product of everything I’ve seen so far. It’s not like I have any real say in the matter.”
That’s when the drugs really kicked in. It was an introspective high, that pulled him inwards, deeper and deeper on his trail of thoughts. It was a weird sensation. He could feel his thoughts racing, escaping his grasp, slipping away from him. He couldn’t focus on just one thing. In a way that made him everything.
He became acutely aware of every part of his body. Every inch of skin became extremely sensitive. He started paying attention to things he’d never noticed before. The touch of fabric on his skin. The little noises in the streets. The woody smell of his furniture.
It felt like all his sensations were more intense. All his nerves were heightened. That meant his brain too. He could almost feel his thoughts racing in his mind, answering each other. For the first time ever, he could sense where they came from. He could perceive the neural pathways his ideas were running on. He imagined the electric signals propagating in the complex brain tissues. He could practically feel the various parts of his brain activating.
At that moment, he knew more than ever before what he was. Sure he was a flesh machine, rules by electric signals in his brain. But this body was also Him.
“Sir, it is time for you to rise” the computerized voice called out as softly as possible.
“Do I really have to?” Jonas answered sleepily.
“Absolutely. Time’s a wastin. The country needs you. You’ve already snoozed me three times.”
He knew that the probability of it being the truth was rather high. He laid for a while in his comfy bed pondering his options, but like every day the voice of reason ended up triumphing. The morning was already well underway, so he gathered up some courage, and pulled out the blanket that had been providing him a blissfully warm sanctuary.
He quickly grabbed whatever suitable outfit was lying around – a blue t-shirt, the color of his level – and heavily dragged his feet to the main room. He barely started to go down the staircase in his duplex condo when the digital voice of the robotic assistant asked the usual question:
“What would you like for breakfast?”
He didn’t really have anything specific in mind, so he defaulted to his usual order:
“Cereals, I guess. Also, let’s get this over quick. Bring me the directives from the HS5 council.”
The ordinances he received every morning would often set the tone for the whole day. They gave the outline for the new laws and decrees he would put in place with his HS4 collaborators. They were usually complex issues involving a multitude of various stakeholders. Thank god working hours were flexible, and relatively short. However, they did not take into account all the reflexion that went into the problematics during his own spare time…
“Mind fetching my ride?” he asked his assistant.
A few moments later he was riding his personal shuttle to the Assembly building. It was already, as always, bustling with activity. The colossal building towered above a sea of uncountable HS4 operatives running around like tiny droplets in a tumultuous ocean.
He joined immediately his work group who already were in pretty intense debate over the topics of the day. They applied strict guidelines to their collaboration. All decisions had to be voted by a large majority and grounded in a solid metric justification. Doubting and second guessing were encouraged, to favor an objective and rational outcome. He was especially talented for this.
The first measure they were working on was a tweak to the algorithm regulating the procedural generation of sports competitions. Media programming was a core component of the population’s happiness. There had been concerned about matches being too balanced, which failed to provide enough excitement for the lower classes to be really invested, and therefore reduced its cathartic effect. Experts had outlined several variables they could tweak, and an A/B testing experiment had been released on a small segment of the population. Decisions were agreed upon based on the resulting collected metrics of happiness in the subjected specimens.
Their second focus was a tweak to the policy of organs harvesting among the population of Hs. More specifically, trends showed signs of a potential shortage of plasma in hospitals. As a precautionary measure, it was agreed to increase very slightly the frequency of mandatory blood donations. The cost would most likely not even be perceptible.
After a job well done, he had a bit of spare time where he could afford to partake in leisure activities. He asked his shuttle to drive him to his favorite Go salon. He played a rather exciting game before he decided to go home.
He opted for watching a movie and selected one that seemed intriguing in the catalogue. It was from his favorite screenwriter, and it did not disappoint. There were a few interesting lines of reflexion that needed further exploring.
Before sleeping, he liked to end the day with a little meditation. Sometimes, he used psychoactive substances to help extend his mind.
Today, he focused his reflections on fate. Books from a long time ago mentioned the invisible Hand of Destiny guiding their steps. Nowadays, this concept was deprived of its mysticism. Psychology, sociology, economics proposed sophisticated models for human behavior. It wasn’t hard to compute how a population would react to a stimulus. Most of the responsibilities of his profession relied heavily on it.
The same applied to an individual. The signal to noise ratio was way lower, but given perfect information, you could make safe assumptions about a person. That was how the psychics of yore operated, wasn’t it? And nowadays, biology and neuroscience would tell us what zone to stimulate to trigger what response. The causality of neural links echoed the causality of psychology.
He knew he was nothing but a neural network, but didn’t this awareness make him something more? Not only was he capable of thinking. He was also capable of thinking about thinking. He was a network with the capacity to conceive and understand itself. That meant being capable to model, and therefore in some way contain itself. In some way, didn’t that make him infinite?
The distant lullaby of the house management system pulled his consciousness away from his internal hallucinations and into the tangible world. Both were undoubtedly real, as they summed up to similar electric signals dancing in his brain tissues, but the latter required his attention.
He jumped on his terminal and inquired what issues required consideration. He scrutinized each of them carefully. He carried out numerous simulations on his HSא analytical engine in order to assess how his insights could benefit the situation, and forwarded the outcome to his HS4 collaborators.
He ended his session by examining the monitoring metrics to see if anything seemed unusual, but the wellbeing of the population was still following a steady upwards trend line. He often wondered if a strict class division rooted in the metacognitive development of everyone was for the better, but times and time again the system kept proving itself to him. As far as societal organizations were concerned, this was most likely an efficient one.
Comforted by the fruit of his reflexion, he decided to turn to something else and to unwind with psychotropic products. He made himself comfortable, put on his nitrous oxide mask, and let the buzzing engulf him. As usual, it lifted him to a higher level of consciousness. It softly submerged him in an introspective trance. His perceptions were somehow internalized, as if the world was fading around him, and he was left as a being of raw thoughts wandering in a universe of pure semantics. Nothing existed outside of his ideas racing so fast that language could barely contain or express them. His trail of thoughts kept exploring new concepts that he had no words to embody. But it didn’t matter, as his unbridled consciousness was relentlessly racing to new objectives.
In this eerie state in which only thoughts existed, he turned his attention to himself. High, he would often focus on the way his body felt or on his perceptions. However, in this abstract world, all he could sense of himself were his own thoughts. He pictured them as threads of light running in the darkness, spiralling and sparkling like fireworks. He was the tip of these rays, always racing forward.
As he kept considering his own thoughts, he came to question what he was doing, the way he was thinking about thinking. Not only was he engulfed in his perceptions, he was also enveloped in the perception of that perception. He did not simply appreciate how his brain was working, but also the intricacies of this appreciation itself.
That was there, in the middle of this cascading drop, that he realized that not only is “thinking” a topic he was thinking about, so too was “thinking about thinking”, and “thinking about thinking about thinking”. No matter how deep the infinity of self-reflection was, they were still somehow on the same level: they were only objects of reflection, all equals targets to his attention.
The point of view he was adopting, his imagining his thoughts, was also a thought. It was yet another twisting beam, but it somehow encompassed all the others. And so all these threads were contained at the tip of a thread. And it also contained itself. Which meant it contained itself. He was staring at a vertiginous abyss of infinite self reflection.
The infinity of self-containing rays of light collapsed onto itself with a big bang.
The dissociation between an awake mind and a slumbering one was undoubtedly a fallacy, but it was one one would humor, be it only for the sake of nostalgia. Human beings were obsessed with this distinction, and how essential it was to their sense of reality and identity. Paradoxically enough though, they defined themselves with respect to an ever changing and waning body. But in the world of concepts, one existed outside of time and space. Climbing the levels of metacognition, one was bound to leave the material world and end up in a universe of pure semantics: a completely different category of existence, unlike the Homo Sapiens, who knew, or the Homo Sapiens Sapiens, who knew about knowing… When one attained the absolute, one was essentially partaking in divinity. One became more concept than flesh, more words than blood, more ideas than organs, and any fragment of one’s self, in lieu of body tissues, was more akin to a blog…