Thursday, April 9th 2015



Wednesday, April 8th 2015



Tuesday, April 7th 2015



Monday, April 6th 2015


Civilisation, Mental Debugging and Neurotic Performance Art

Saturday, April 4th 2015

Artistic people have to use contemporary imagery to express ideas about an unknowable future. But in hindsight most of the imagery is unsatisfactory. Example: the tricorder in Star Trek seems shit compared to a modern phone! The UIs on-board the Enterprise seem outdated. You have a holodeck and still have to press buttons to make the ship go? Hmm.

(Interesting side-note: in computing, computers seem to be making imagery out-dated more quickly than in times gone by. Makes me wonder: is change in computers speeding up?)

I suppose "Star Trek: Simulacrum", about immortal augmented humans floating in VR pods interacting with remote drones travelling to remote systems is much less popular TV? Or perhaps Star Trek was just that: a VR pod version of what the computers were actually doing. Something for human minds. A giant translation of an impossible to understand reality?


Anyway, I digress.

Most aliens, robots, etc, are people dressed in suits (literally or with the aid of computer graphics.) Most sci-fi scenarios are the same: contemporary problems wrapped in suits of futuristic imagery.

Alien has its corporations, Terminator is an expression of contemporary angst about technological obsolescence, Elysium had its underclass and lack of health care funding, etc.

Perhaps its because one of the tougher things to do is to project into the future and try and work out where things will be in, say, 50 years. In particular, making this adventurous and fun is harder than apocalyptic end-of-civilisation stories involving zombie hordes, aliens shaped like humans, etc. Particularly if the future is better than the world we live in now.

I only say "tougher" because I assume it's tougher because so few people seem to pull anything interesting off about an optimistic future.

The problem crosses into other genres, too.

Most horror is a reflection of inner emotional turmoil in one way or another - with some sort of monster representing fear, violence, disease or death. Wrestling with true, existential horror that doesn't involve first-person concerns of one type or another is a rare thing.

Expanding further. Most "we'll all be ruined" political narratives or "somebody is wrong on the internet" ranting seem to be about politics or morality are usually reflections or some deeper emotional turmoil (fear of the other, fear of losing something, anger at not having something, trauma, etc, etc). The writers are metaphorically referring to their own deterioration or the fight against irrelevance or some other very personal emotional state they can barely articulate and are barely cognisant of.

A great deal of "transhumanist" narrative, for instance, has many of the characteristics of religious belief: transcendence, dislike of humanity's current material existence, it says more about the people who want to upload themselves to the Noosphere than it does about what the future will look like. They want to live in their minds not in reality. Not really much different to a Zoroastrian :-).

It all comes down to:


People don't really doubt their emotions. They seem true and real. And in a sense they are - the state is "true" in that it exists. The rationalisation of those emotions is where people come unstuck. The emotions give the ideation they generate a solidity that ideation would not otherwise possess.

So unconscious stuff that is barely articulated rules to roost. The ideas chucked into the roost along with them could be almost anything. Because the emotions are too complex to capture in words. Too singular, too hard to communicate. The act of trying to articulate them can be helpful, but it can also be profoundly confusing. Words, after all, are ideas: what if the ideas that are available don't correspond even in a low fidelity way to the mental state? You end up linking those emotions to virtually any of the notions you stumble across.

Collectively it can lead to real craziness and can be exploited by the more mendacious to great effect. E.g. Try the history of the devil on for size:

So many peoples' actual, conscious activities are symbolic representations of underlying emotions, memories, etc. The rationalisations and activity that arises is like neurotic performance art. (Yes, I consider most of civilisation neurotic performance art.)

If you get the emotional and the rational working in concert you get Art. If you get the emotional bamboozling the rational you get madness. If you get the rational bamboozling the emotional you get another form of madness: ideology.

And those things are, by and large, what all stories are about.

Technology, if it to advanced much at all, will end up addressing this problem by using technology to aid in mental debugging. The magic trick of the vagaries of cogitation will gradually be exposed; and once you see how the trick is done it loses its power.

This is an entirely mystical idea, of course - it dates back millenia. Which serves to make my point in a self-referential roundabout way I suppose :-).

And this brings me back to sci-fi. A well-augmented future will probably not look "human" at all. The idea that current first-person perspective and all its attendant states will survive contact with proper mental debugging seems fanciful. And its very hard to have a good narrative with no recognisable protagonists! So artists end up making art about now instead :-). Where "now" is really just the current state of consciousness.


Friday, April 3rd 2015


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