Reading is a technology for perspective-taking. When someone else’s thoughts are in your head, you are observing the world from that person’s vantage point. Not only are you taking in sights and sounds that you could not experience firsthand, but you have stepped inside that person’s mind and are temporarily sharing his or her attitudes and reactions. As we shall see, “empathy” in the sense of adopting someone’s viewpoint is not the same as “empathy” in the sense of feeling compassion toward the person, but the first can lead to the second by a natural route. Stepping into someone else’s vantage point reminds you that the other fellow has a first-person, present-tense, ongoing stream of consciousness that is very much like your own but not the same as your own.
from Freedom by Daniel Suarez:
“Where ancient people believed in gods and devils that listened to their pleas and curses — in this age immortal entities hear us. Call them bots or spirits; there is no functional difference now. They surround us and through them word-forms become an unlock code that can trigger a blessing or a curse. Mankind created systems whose inter-reactions we could not fully understand, and the spirits we gathered have escaped from them into the land where they walk the earth—or the GPS grid, whichever you prefer. The spirit world overlaps the real one now, and our lives will never be the same.”
“But doesn’t this just spread mysticism? Lies, essentially?”
“You mean fairy tales? Yes, initially. But then, a lot of parents tell young children that there’s a Santa Claus. It’s easier than trying to explain the cultural significance of midwinter celebrations to a three-year-old. If false magic or a white lie about the god-monster in the mountain will get people to stop killing one another and learn, then the truth can wait. When the time is right, it can be replaced with a reverence for the scientific method.”
*Everybody’s got a theory about the Internet-of-Things and its killer applications.
*It reminds me of the days when the Information Superhighway was all about 500-channel television. Nowadays we’ve got five zillion channel television, and it’s scarcely recognized as an existent technical reality. Those historical acts of foresight are so beside the point now that they’re “not even wrong.”
I’d been recommended “The Red Men” by many.
The physical (red) book stared at me from a shelf until, recently, aptly it lept the fence into the digital, and was republished as an e-book.
This leap was prompted by the release of Shynola’s excellent short film – “Dr. Easy” – that brings to life the first chapter (or 9mins 41secs) of the book.
The Red Men resonates with everything.
Everything here on this site, everything I’ve written, everything I’ve done. Everything I’m doing.
In fact, “resonates” is the wrong word.
It shook me.
My highlights, fwiw (with minimal-to-no spoilers) below:
“I wriggled my hand free of Iona’s grasp and checked my pulse. It was elevated. Her question came back to me: Daddy, why do people get mad? Well, my darling, drugs don’t help. And life can kick rationality out of you. You can be kneecapped right from the very beginning. Even little girls and boys your age are getting mad through bad love. When you are older, life falls short of your expectations, your dreams are picked up by fate, considered, and then dashed upon the rocks, and then you get mad. You just do. Your only salvation is to live for the dreams of others; the dreams of a child like you, my darling girl, my puppy pie, or the dreams of an employer, like Monad.”
“The body of the robot was designed by a subtle, calculating intelligence, with a yielding cover of soft natural materials to comfort us and a large but lightweight frame to acknowledge that it was inhuman. The robot was both parent and stranger: you wanted to lay your head against its chest, you wanted to beat it to death. When I hit my robot counsellor, its blue eyes held a fathomless love for humanity.”
“ugliness was a perk confined to management.”
“Positioning himself downwind of the shower-fresh hair of three young women, Raymond concentrated on matching the pace of this high velocity crowd. There were no beggars, no food vendors, no tourists, no confused old men, no old women pulling trolleys, no madmen berating the pavement, to slow them down; he walked in step with a demographically engineered London, a hand-picked public.”
“Over the next few days you will encounter more concepts and technology like this that you may find disturbing. If at any time you feel disorientated by Monad, please contact your supervisor immediately.’
‘How do you help him?’ ‘It’s about live analysis of opportunities. Anyone can do retrospective analysis. I crunch information at light speed so I’m hyper-responsive to changing global business conditions. Every whim or idea Harold has, I can follow it through. I chase every lead, and then I present back to him the ones which are most likely to bear fruit. I am both his personal assistant and, in some ways, his boss.’
“So long as the weirdness stayed under the aegis of a corporation, people would accept it.”
“Once you pass forty, your faculties recede every single day. New memories struggle to take hold and you are unable to assimilate novelty. Monad is novelty. Monad is the new new thing. Without career drugs, the future will overwhelm us, wave after wave after wave.’”
“No one has access to any code. I doubt we could understand it even if we did. All our IT department can offer is a kind of literary criticism.’
‘I can’t sleep. I stopped taking the lithium a while ago. Is this the mania again? Monad is a corporation teleported in from the future: discuss. Come on! You know, don’t you? You know and you’re not telling. I would have expected more protests. Anti-robot rallies, the machine wars, a resistance fighting for what it means to be human. No one cares, do they? Not even you. You’ll get up in the morning and play this message and it will be last thing you want to hear.’
“George Orwell wrote that after the age of thirty the great mass of human beings abandon individual ambition and live chiefly for others. I am one of that mass.”
“Plenty of comment had been passed on the matter, worrying over the philosophical and ethical issues arising from simulated peope, and it was filed along with the comment agitating about global warming, genetically modified food, nano-technology, cloning, xenotransplantation, artificial intelligence, superviruses and rogue nuclear fissile material.”
“His gaze raked to and fro across the view of the city, the unsettled nervous energy of a man whose diary is broken down into units of fifteen minutes.”
“This has been very useful. Send my office an invoice. Before I go, tell me, what is the new new thing?’ I answered immediately. ‘The Apocalypse. The lifting of the veil. The revelation.’ ‘Yes, of course.’ His coat was delivered to him. As he shuck it on, Spence indicated to the waiter that I was to continue to drink at his expense. ‘Still, the question we must all ask ourselves is this: what will we do if the Apocalypse does not show up?’”
“History had been gaining on us all year and that clear sunny morning in New York it finally pounced.”
“‘No. Advanced technology will be sold as magic because it’s too complicated for people to understand and so they must simply have faith in it.”
‘Every generation loses sight of its evolutionary imperative. By the end of the Sixties it was understood that the power of human consciousness must be squared if we were to ensure the survival of mankind. This project did not survive the Oil Crisis. When I first met you, you spoke of enlightenment. That project did not survive 9/11. With each of these failures, man sinks further into the quagmire of cynicism. My question is: do you still have any positive energy left in you?’
“‘My wife is pregnant,’ I replied. ‘My hope grows every day. It kicks and turns and hiccups.’ Spence did not like my reply. Stoker Snr took over the questioning. ‘We are not ready to hand the future over to someone else. Our window of opportunity is still open.’ He took out what looked like an inhaler for an asthmatic and took a blast of the drug. Something to freshen up his implants.”
‘Do you remember how you said to me that the Apocalypse was coming? The revelation. The great disclosure. You wanted change. It looked like it was going to be brands forever, media forever, house prices forever, a despoticism of mediocrity and well-fed banality. Well, Dr Easy is going to cure us all of that.’
‘We did some research on attitudes to Monad. We had replies like “insane”, “terrifying” and “impossible”. As one man said, “It all seems too fast and complex to get your head around. I’ve stopped reading the newspapers because they make every day feel like the end of the world.”’
‘What disturbs me is how representative that young man’s attitude is. Government exemplifies it. It has learnt the value of histrionics. It encourages the panic nation because a panicking man cannot think clearly. But we can’t just throw our hands up in the air and say, “Well, I can no longer make sense of this.” The age is not out of control. If you must be apocalyptic about it, then tell yourself that we are living after the end of the world.’
“The crenelations of its tower were visible from much of the town, a comforting symbol of the town’s parish past. Accurately capturing the circuit flowing between landscape and mind was crucial to the simulation.”
“He handed me a ceremonial wafer smeared with the spice. ‘We start by entering Leto’s communal dreamland.’ I looked with horror at the wafer. ‘This is ridiculous. I am not eating this.’ I handed the wafer back to him. He refused it. ‘I’m giving you a direct order. Take the drug!’ ‘This is not the military, Bruno. We work in technology and marketing.’ ‘We work in the future!’ screamed Bougas. ‘And this is how the future gets decided.’
“One of Monad’s biggest problems was its monopoly. To survive in the face of a suspicious government, the company went out of its way to pretend it had the problems and concerns of any other corporations, devising products and brands to fit in with capitalism.”
“Management wanted to talk so they dispatched a screen to wake me; it slithered under the bedroom door then glided on a cushion of air across the floor until it reached the wall where it stretched out into a large landscape format.”
“I understand why you work there. Why you collaborate with them. You have a family, you are suspended in a system that you didn’t create. But the excuse of good intentions is exhausted.”
‘You are afraid. There is a lot of fear around. Society is getting older. The old are more susceptible to fear. Fearful of losing all they have amassed and too old to hope for a better future. You’re still young. Don’t let the fear get inside you.’
‘The battle has been lost and all the good people have gone crazy. My surveys reveal a people pushed down just below the surface of what it means to be human. You exist down where the engines are. Damned to turn endlessly on the cycle of fear and desire. Should I push the fear button? Or should I pull the desire lever? Save me some time. Tell me which one works best on you.’
“Society had become a sick joke, a sleight-of-hand in which life was replaced with a cheap replica. Progress abandoned, novelty unleashed, spoils hoarded by the few. The temperature soared as the body politic fought a virus from the future.
“Dr Hard grabbed me by the hair and shook some sense into me. ‘Artificial intelligences are not programmed, Nelson. They are bred. My ancestor was an algorithm in a gene pool of other algorithms. It produced the best results and so passed on its sequence to the next generation. This evolution continued at light speed with innumerable intelligences being tested and discarded until a code was refined that was good enough. A billion murders went into my creation. Your mistake is to attribute individual motivation to me. I contain multitudes, and I don’t trust any of them.’
And, from the author’s afterword:
The novel was conceived as a hybrid of the modes of literary fiction with the ideas and plotting of science fiction. I wanted to use the characters and setting we associate with literary fiction to make the interpolation of futuristic technology more amusingly dissonant, as that was the character of the times as I experienced them.
“The team must consist of three sorts of specialists, he says. Otherwise the revolution, whether in politics or the arts or the sciences or whatever, is sure to fail.
The rarest of these specialists, he says, is an authentic genius – a person capable of having seemingly good ideas not in in general circulation.
“A genius working alone,” he says, “is invariably ignored as a lunatic.”
The second sort of specialist is a lot easier to find; a highly intelligent citizen in good standing in his or her community, who understands and admires the fresh ideas of the genius, and who testifies that the genius is far from mad.
“A person like this working alone,” says Slazinger, “can only yearn loud for changes, but fail to say what their shaped should be.”
The third sort of specialist is a person who can explain everything, no matter how complicated, to the satisfaction of most people, no matter how stupid or pigheaded they may be. “He will say almost anything in order to be interesting and exciting,” says Slazinger.
“Working alone, depending solely on his own shallow ideas, he would be regarded as being as full of shit as a Christmas turkey.”
From Chapter 14, “Beethoven Was Wrong”, on Steve Reich’s accidental composition of ‘It’s Gonna Rain’
“In one sense, all he done was to isolate a technological quirk: the machines essentially wrote It’s Gonna Rain by themselves and he was simply smart enough not to stop them.”
from later on in that chapter – less profound perhaps, but no less wonderful:
That would have been one for http://awesomepeoplehangingouttogether.tumblr.com/
Brian Eno & Peter Chilvers at The Apple Store, Regent Street, originally uploaded by moleitau.
I’m looking forward to it immensely, but not without trepidation…
“what Pickering really does is put forward that these cyberneticians (in particular, as opposed to American crowd more occupied with control systems) saw “intelligence” as something not representational (ie, the brain encodes or contains knowledge) but essentially performative. He opens with Walter’s Tortoise, a toy robot that can avoid obstacles, and is attracted by moderate light (and repelled by bright light). A community of Tortoises would have unexpected emergent behaviour. Pickering: The tortoise is our first instantiation of the performative perspective on the brain … the view of the brain as an ‘acting machine’ rather than a ‘thinking machine.’
Pickering comes to present cybernetics as holding a view of intelligence as something that only thinks by doing; something that, even when it follows rules, is not unpredictable so much but can only be calculated or predicted by actually doing its thing. It’s a wonderfully optimistic, re-humanising, uncontrolled, lively, meaty way of seeing and being, which runs so counter to the statistical, predictable, crowd behaviour, goal directed, success/failure and “psychohistorical” perspective we usually take on the world.”
“Hold your hand in front of your eye,” she said, “and look at those strange and clever animals with love and gratitude, and tell them out loud: ‘Thank you, Meat.’”
I’ve started watching “The Day The Universe Changed” in 10 minute bites on youtube.
I love this contemporary review from the Sydney Morning Herald:
This series, in which he verbally dances through the earth-shattering events in history is, quite simply, exciting. Like an intravenous slug of ice-cold Akvavit, he provokes shivers of shock and pleasure. His mix of cleverness, egotism, fun, imagination and accessibility is similar to the television styles of Robert Hughes or J.K.Galbraith, except that Burke is also naughty — like a mischievous elf.
Mind-Gangster # 1.
“‘Beauty pierces through like that ray through the clouds,” Orolo continued. “Your eye is drawn to where it touches something that is capable of reflecting it. But your mind knows that the light does not originate from the mountains and the towers. You mind knows that something is shining in from another world. Don’t listen to those who say it’s in the eye of the beholder.'”
“In our buildings and music, beauty was always present even if I didn’t notice. Orolo was onto something; when I saw any of those kinds of beauty I knew I was alive, and not just in the sense that when I hit my thumb with a hammer I knew I was alive, but rather in the sense that I was partaking of something – something was passing through me that it was in my nature to be a part of.”
Anathem, Neal Stephenson, p 114