The Coming of the Lord.

There are a couple of different ways we could be living inside a computer. The Matrix model looms largest on the pop-culture landscape for obvious reasons, notwithstanding that the Matrix movies presented at best a half-assed iteration of the concept: that live human brains were being fed a digital simulation of reality while being hosed down for spare body heat (in blatant contradiction of the laws of thermodynamics — but then, you all knew that, didn’t you?). The purer concept is that our brains are simulations as well, that our whole reality is just a bunch of qbits flopping around in a supercomputer somewhere.

This might explain certain facets of the universe as we currently perceive it. Planck length, for example. Planck time. Space-time dimensions below which, according to the traditional models, reality just stops. There’s at least a passing resemblance to a pixel dimension there if you ask me, to some limit of resolution below which the modelers can’t be bothered to simulate. The Copenhagen interpretation — basically, that nothing really exists until observed — might seem a bit less counterintuitive from a modeler’s perspective as well.

But that’s not the model I’m going to weigh in on today (I only brought it up in the first place because I’m an anal-retentive completist).  The model I’m more interested in at the moment is far more mind-boggling: that the universe we perceive, while solid enough in real space, is in and of itself a big honking computer. That matter (both baryonic and dark) is the hardware; that the laws of physics are the operating system; that every flip of an electron state is an active computation of some sort.  That we conscious entities are literally— along with everything else in the place — the results of ongoing calculation.

This is not undergraduate wankery (or at least, not just undergraduate wankery). It’s a fundamental premise of the burgeoning field of Digital Physics, and I’ve heard some pretty heavy hitters (Lee Smolin, for example, of the Perimeter Institute) discuss this model with a straight face. As an obsolescent seal biologist I’m no more competent to pass judgment on this model than the other one.

As a science fiction, writer, though, I get a free pass to run with it.

One alley we might dive down is the idea of God not as programmer but as process: the idea that if define God by the miracles It performs, and if we define miracles as “events which defy the laws of physics”, then God is something that compromises the workings of the operating system. God is, in other words, a virus that might be better disinfected than worshiped. That, at least, is one of the models the Bicamerals explore in Dumbspeech, and so as not to give away the ending I will not pursue it further here.

Instead, let’s stick with a more traditional view of God: omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. Not only is that the way most people think of It, it also fits nicely into the Universal-computer paradigm. God is the hardware guy who built the computer and the geek who wrote the code; God watches it run from outside, sees the little sparrow fall, makes Its hand felt in every iteration of every subatomic subroutine. The whole world, in Its hands.

There’s just one problem with that. Computers compute. They solve problems. The very existence of a computer implies a problem yet to be solved, a question yet unanswered, something not yet known that the device is trying to figure out.

What possible use could an omniscient being have for a computer? Doesn’t God, by definition, already know everything?

As far as I can see, there’s only one reason for an omniscient being to run a computer, and in fact it’s the same reason that keeps most of us mere mortals glued to our screens for so much of the time. Why have a computer perform endless arcane calculations in pursuit of a solution you already know?

Why, if you’re not interested in the solution. If you’re not trying to answer a question so much as, how shall I put this, entertain yourself. If your only real goal is to spill your seed upon the ground (or into an old sock, for those of us whose cats get a little too voracious on occasion). Only then does it make sense.

God may not have genitals, but judging by the Old Testament the old bugger certainly has kinks.

This Universal Computer model brings all this together, a grand reconciliation of Faith and Physics. My first-grade Sunday School teacher was so very wrong. God is not Love; God is Lust. And all those glorious multicolored nebulae spread across so many thousands of light years across the Hubble Deep Field? The Cosmic Microwave Background? Maybe even the Big Bang itself?

It’s only the Coming of the Lord.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Saturday July 23 2011at 05:07 pm , filed under ass-hamsters, astronomy/cosmology, just putting it out there... . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

69 Responses to “The Coming of the Lord.”

  1. “The Coming of the Lord” and “the Big Bang”:

    Ouch!

    If only I were a proficient punster…

  2. At the risk of sounding like a nutter: Going by your assertions that God is Lust and that he has kinks (via evidence in the Old Testament), then Jesus would be the guy who figured out that if only we made things boring enough for him, he’d wander off and find some other torture porn to entertain himself with. Well, that seems to have worked out just great. )-:

  3. God is just jacking off and we are the ‘jackulate… (Fer chrissake its just not possible to have a conversation with you without getting into the gutter, is it?!)

    Would be a great sci-fi theme though… I think others have tried this ‘we’re just the entertainment’ thing – can’t recall who… but they didn’t tackle the whole universe. It was a story in which a galactic event / a ring of supernovas or something like that ended up being a sort of fireworks display for a very advanced alien race (demigods, for all intents and purposes). But *you’re* going to take this idea and bleed every last ounce of absurdium out of it… I just know it! Can’t wait to read the results… :o)

    Also, you’ve just given me an idea for a blog post though – it’s to do with the idea of what a computation is…

  4. […] The obvious, if trite, answer to this last question would be ‘God’, and there’s an interesting post over here about why the computation otherwise known as this reality isn’t even here to solve any kind […]

  5. What if you know the answer is 42, but the question… ah….

    Seems Douglas Adams got there first ;) Of course God-is-pandimensional-mice is a little more deflating.

  6. Here are two posts that might interest you:

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/uk/beyond_the_reach_of_god/
    http://lesswrong.com/lw/1zt/the_mathematical_universe_the_map_that_is_the/

    “Existence is what mathematical possibility feels like from the inside. Turn off G.O.D., and we’ll go on with our lives, not noticing that anything has changed. Because the only thing that has changed is that the people who were running the simulation won’t get to find out what happens next.”
    — The mathematical universe: the map that is the territory

  7. I like this quote as well:

    “There is something almost mystical about this: any sequence of digits, for example, randomly conceived in the mind, must correspond to a sequence of digits in the unknowable expansion of Pi (in that realm over 10^1000 digits into the expansion), based on the laws of probability.”
    — Garth Kroeker, Irrational Numbers Metaphor, http://garthkroeker.blogspot.com/2009/03/irrational-numbers-metaphor.html

  8. Duh. We’re the screen saver, not the app.

  9. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. . .

  10. Andreas, you’ve got it entirely backwards. Given that our programming is known, if things are getting too boring, send someone in to stir them up. “Hi. You all are the new chosen people, and thus better than everyone else. And here are some rules I know you’re incapable as a group of following, but will be happy to fight about. Have fun!”

    And then God pops up a new bowl of popcorn, and sits down to watch.

  11. What I like about science is that we can at least get new religions out of it.

  12. Leona, is it Jack McDevitt’s CAULDRON you’re thinking of? I thought of that too.

  13. What about multiverse theories? The idea that many, many versions of our universe exist, all with minor and major differences. How could this Matrix model extend to that? I suppose it would be like running multiple instances of the Firefox browser on your computer.

    A side question to Peter: On several occasions, you’ve made reference to both State of Grace and Dumbspeech. I was originally under the impression they were one and the same; the sidequel to Blindsight, but now I’m not sure. Can you clarify?

  14. Just to clarify a single point: the original draft of the Matrix had humans used as processors, rather than power. It was dumbed down by the studios so that the audience would get it.
    Whether that’s better or not is up to you, but at least it doesn’t violate any laws of _physics_. “,)

  15. Seriously? Is there an online source for that?

    Man, that pisses me off; using brains for processors was the obvious solution, and I always resented the Wachowskis for sticking that huge neon body-heat boner into an otherwise good film (well, that and the Love Conquers All ending). I’m heartened to see they weren’t that dumb, but even more infuriated at the studio hacks who forced that stupidity on the rest of us.

  16. @Ken: “State of Grace” and “Dumbspeech” are, indeed the same thing. SoG is the official working title, “Dumbspeech” is what I call informally in my endearingly self-deprecating way.

    I have, however, recently encountered a couple of people who think “State of Grace” absolutely sucks as title, and that even “Dumbspeech” would be better. Maybe I should take a poll.

  17. @Peter: Thanks for the clarification. While I can see that “State of Grace” is a more understandable and marketable title, Dumbspeech is far more compelling and fits better with Blindsight as a dynamic duo. If I had to vote, I’d go with Dumbspeech.

    Still, if you decide to write more books in the series, you might be forced to continue the naming trend and it could get tricky: Deafsound?, Numbfeel?

    On a separate issue: I’ve also heard that early script versions of The Matrix had humans acting as processors and WB made them change it. I can’t find any direct evidence, but the Neil Gaiman short story, GOLIATH (later illustrated for Matrix Comics) included this same idea.

  18. Personally, I welcome our new bored and lustful computer science undergraduate overlord …

  19. In other words: the universe-computer is God’s jouissance? I like it. But I’m not sure you even need to rely on the conventonal “God is omniscient” line, I mean, what’s the arguement here? This seems to be an analog to the old “argument from evil” That is: there is unecessary evil in the universe? Yes? Then God can’t be good.

    But I’ve never been a fan of the argument from evil because you don’t need to dispense with the idea of God, just the idea that God is all good. That’s enough to throw a wrench into the machine of standard Chrisitan apologia, but it doesn’t do much to the general idea of super-natural agency: it just means we could all be in the grip of something at least partially malevolent.

    Similarly here: you accept God’s omniscience, and then conclude that THEREFORE the universe is his joussiance (or spunk if you prefer). But I see no reason to accept God’s omniscience in the first place. Maybe God is just a fucking nerd in some computer lab somewhere who just got an A plus for developing SIMS 6000. But even there you can retain your basic idea: it’s all a God damn lark, a self-indulgent art project, a science fair demo, a CREATIVE PRODUCTION of some agency that is neither all-knowing, nor all-good, but rather merely experimental.

    Maybe that doesn’t really fit whatever narrative conceit you are working on, since maybe you require that omniscience to bring home how SUPERFLUOUS this ejaculate really is. But I’m not sure you do in the end.

  20. Ok, this has nothing to do with god as internet pr0n afficionado, but Max Tegmark’s multiverse theories are still extremely interesting:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=multiverse-the-case-for-parallel-universe

    Also, Mathematical Universe Hypothesis as proposed by Max Tegmark:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_universe_hypothesis

    To my mind, the most mind-mending idea of the universe as a computer can be found from Warren Ellis’ Planetary series, where reality – the multiverse – is depicted as a theoretical snowflake existing in 196,833 dimensional space.
    So imagine a quantum computer that could perform each calculation across different alternative universes, each different answer being processed in a different world and each universe vanishing and decohering one by one until the answer made itself real. And of course the computer could also generate the snowflake, rewrite reality and create new alternative universes.

    Ellis’ “Snowflake-reality” was actually inspired by this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monster_group

    I am not a number, I am a free man. Right? Right?

  21. @Terry: yes, that’s it… thanks for the reminder! McDevitt’s Cauldron. Forgot I read that…

    @JDC: screensaver… haha. awesome.

    @Watts: please have ‘em call it Dumbspeech. Please!!! It’s what you call your next book when your last book was called Blindsight. What is wrong with these people? Marketing/Branding 101.

  22. Oh, and my vote goes to Dumbspeech as well.

  23. The idea that the universe could be a program seems wrong to me. I don’t see how it’s even possible. Symbolic computation *cannot* get you to semantic content, meaning. I think that people have a really strong urge to project our descriptions onto the world.

    If I drop a piece of chalk it is *not* suddenly transformed into a computer calculating the force of gravity. To think so is to mistake our ideas, the various laws we create that describe how the chalk behaves, with the chalk itself.

    The various “brain in a vat” thought experiments should never be taken as serious proposals. They are merely intended to highlight specific problems in philosophy. We can know that we are not computer simulations because there is nothing it is like to be an AI, such as the Eliza program, but there is something that it is like to be me.

    Claiming that reality is just a computer simulation just begs the question and is intellectually lazy. It doesn’t solve any problems, just postpones them and kicks them up to a higher level.

  24. Peter, you’ve just done a rather fine job of describing — at least in part of the article — the belief system I have where most folks would have Religion. I’ve been holding forth on this matter to the few who will listen — mostly the now-mostly-defunct UseNet group news:alt.gothic — for a bit over a decade.

    More or less, there isn’t what most people think of as “god”, basically the entirety of the universe is in communication with itself through the means of light and gravity. Causality, rather than the Creator, though one can argue for all of time about whether or not there was any actual First Cause and whether or not there was intention in that first cause. Yet time had to start sometime and space had to start someplace, and the Hubble telescope has certainly sent us some awesome pictures etched on the CCDs by very very old light. And if every bit of matter and energy are interacting with all others, certainly it can be seen as a computational network in the same way neurons can be seen as such, simply because ions flow between synapses and fire electrical charges down the synapses. But is it intelligent? Does it self-reference in sentience? You’ve certainly taken some really good stabs at that question although at a smaller scale. Would such an incredibly powerful computer as we might think a universally intercommunicating cosmos could be, need or want sentience? We might want it, and might want it to be found in the great gears of the universe, from the tiniest whirling of subatomic particles down in the quantum froth, to the grand designs of the galaxies as they wheel and evolve in spaces of scales our minds simply cannot even try to comprehend. Yet is it there?

    Perhaps we’re just tiny little islets of signals in all of the noise generated by all of this mechanism and process. I like to think that god is a force of nature not conceptually different from, say, gravity or the weak nuclear force. Lightning used to be thought to be the weapon of the gods but we’ve learnt to harness its component, electricity, in ways that let my fingers type my thoughts so that they can appear on your monitor screen. Perhaps some day we’ll control gravity and other fundamental forces as well, harnessed to ends of which we can only dream in the modern day, and to other ends of which we have no dreams, so strange they might be. And perhaps, if the universe is a computer, whether god’s or not, perhaps one day we’ll come close to understanding the operating system, and maybe even code some applications that can do things that any of our ancestors and even many of us might call “acts of god”. Charlie Stross has pointed in that direction with “the Eschaton” in his “Singularity Sky” works. Maybe we won’t be the ones who code it, maybe we’ll just code the AI that will evolve into something that can code on the universe’s OS.

    But if all of the matter and energy in the universe are part of some vast operating system, elements in a vast computational processing system, we are part of that universe and are part of that OS. Do we communicate with or to it? Does it communicate with or to us? What’s the message? That at least on this earth, we can and do live, for a long or a short time? Though there is a canker in the rose, so to speak, isn’t the flowering lovely? And if we can see the beauty in our short and troubled lives, what might be seen by the universe if it can examine itself?

  25. For wanking God’s sake, don’t take the positive feedback for the title “Dumbspeech” seriously. It might be OK but for the polysemous nature of the word “dumb”. It makes the book sound like a humorous compilation of things stupid people say. You might as well call it “Retardtalk”.

    “State of Grace” is fine. Do people not like it because of the religious connotations? People who’ve read Blindsight will recognise your name and get the irony, and hopefully a few confused Christians will pick it up as well and be horrified.

    It’s not like books in the same series need to have obviously related names (although it does happen, I know). You follow up Starfish with books called Seacucumber and Sponge, and that seemed to work out OK.

  26. You *didn’t* follow up with those books, I mean. Unless those are the titles for overseas markets or something.

  27. Dumbspeech is okay given Blindsight, though without that context, it might confuse.

    State of Grace has me picturing a kind of book that is NOTHING like a book I can imagine you writing. I mean, NOTHING like it. Not even remotely like it. Really, really NOT a title that makes me think Peter Watts book.

    (Was that emphatic enough?)

  28. I can’t believe any publisher would actually let you name your science fiction novel Dumbspeech, but please don’t do it, if you are in any way actually considering it.

    I don’t care if it makes a kind of sense in a certain context. You go right on with the accessible, marketable turn of phrase that I can actually recommend to other people to read without having to explain the title every goddamn time.

    I can’t say that SoG is or isn’t a great title, not having read the book to see what it references, but when it sells more copies than just what the people on the ‘Crawl purchase, you will thank me. Actually, you probably won’t thank me, insisting that your own contribution to the book was somehow more relevant, but that lie will haunt you.

  29. So our universe is the manifestation of Rule 34 writ as large
    as possible? I don’t see any reason why this requires an external agency such as a horny undergraduate Computer Science student jacking off to our misery; Rule 34 seems to be a fundamental part of natural law, after all. Unless, of course, quantum mechanics requires
    an observer for all pr0n events.

  30. ouch

  31. Maybe I’m a philistine, but I like Dumbspeech much better. Maybe it’s not the best title you could ever come up with, but…

    If I was looking at a list of books (say on a list of a person’s favorites), and I saw “State of Grace”, I’d skim over it, it’s such a bland, generic title that I probably wouldn’t even be conscious of skipping over it and never thinking about it again.
    “Dumbspeech”, on the other hand, would at least make me stop and think, “Huh… I wonder what THAT’s about?”

    If I read a description of your book that interested me (and I wasn’t already enough of a fan that whatever the title was, it was already fixed in my brain), and the title was “State of Grace”, I’d probably have forgotten it by the time I went to the bookstore and wanted to look for it. I’d remember I’d be looking for that book about genetically revived vampires and soldiers who have an off-switch for their consciousness, but there’s no real way to connect that to “State of Grace”. “Dumbspeech” on the other hand, is distinctive and sticks in the mind.

    And if I had a third example to illustrate why I’d prefer Dumbspeech, I’d use it, because of an irrational preference for threes. But if I had a third example to illustrate why I’d prefer State of Grace, I wouldn’t, because I don’t.

  32. Above all, listen to your publisher (if you trust them), because you are on a roll, and this is prolly not the time to get into fistysemanticuffs about your book title. You should probably stay whatever course has made you both happy thus far.

    But if there’s even a crack of daylight of an opportunity to squirrel through a different name, Listen to @Ell and @Peter D.

    “State of Grace” may sound (poncy and) respectable, but it also sounds empty and un-memorable, even though I know the contents won’t be.

    But even if it comes out as SoG, it’ll prolly always be dumbspeech in our hearts, and maybe that’s the way things should be.

  33. There’s an argument for both names, let the muse within parasitic subsystem that calls itself Peter Watts sing!

    Also, I can’t help but think of humans as processing units, at least within the context of The Matrix, is silly anyway. Just grow the brains from vats, all those muscles and bones cost mass and kJ and results in a less optimal packaging configuration.

    I’ve always thought the best interpretation is the matrix as a post-singularity wildlife preservation.

  34. Peter, you can tell the people suggesting, without a trace of irony, that you actually should name your novel Dumbspeech, are actually your biggest fans. They love you so much, they want to keep you all to themselves and not have to share you with other people who might otherwise come dangerously close to buying your book.

    So what if your cats are spontaneously combusting around you, and you would like to be able to afford the medical care to keep them from disintegrating into their trace elements? It’s more important to have opaque, unmarketable titles in the form of an in-joke that 20 or 30 odd people on the planet might get. The fewer people actually buy your books, the more hip indie chic you can maintain.

    I fear, though, that they aren’t going far enough. Despite the many people who, shamefully unaware of their conditioning to think of their science fiction adventure novel titles as sounding a certain way, will mentally disregard your book as not what they are looking for based on the confusing title alone which sounds like it belongs with the tomes in political punditry, there might be a handful that will note the odd discrepancy of seeing that title lumped in with the other science fiction novels and investigate. Those investigations could lead to sales, Peter. SALES. The horror.

    If you’re really serious about doing this, you can’t leave anything to chance. I might suggest replacing the jacket notes with text referring to an entirely different book, perhaps something on home leather embossing. Wait, too interesting. Perhaps something to do with lint. Definitely remove any references to titillating concepts like neural zombies or space vampires, which are going to be dangerously interesting to all sorts of people, even in …*shudder*…the mainstream.

    Also, consider doing something delightfully avante-garde, like only offering your book for sale at the coffeshop near your apartment on days of the month that are prime numbers, in numerical terms. Easy consumer access to your work is such a mundane concept. And Amazon? Fuck Amazon. All those other science fiction novels are selling on Amazon. You don’t need that. Far more important to appear to clever to the handful of people who “get it”.

    *******

    Seriously, there was a post on the ‘Crawl at some point over the past year (I don’t remember which one, it might have been the TOR user poll), when Peter was out dutifully promoting himself in some manner that tweaked the nose of my own snobbish instincts, and I gave him a bit of sass for it. I was pounced upon by angry fans delivering windmill punches to my nutsack, for suggesting that an “up and coming” author like Peter not be out there doing anything and everything he can to get his work into as many people’s hands as possible. And they were right.

    Where are those same people now?

  35. To expand unnecessarily, because even though I’m not convinced Peter was entirely serious about this being an actual choice, or that his publisher would let him do it ( I don’t know who makes that call if push comes to shove), I would just like to point out that wile SoG may or may not be the most exciting title ever conceived for a science fiction novel, Dumbspeech is is patently awful.

    Setting aside the fact that it sounds like it belongs in an entirely different genre, it is an ugly term. What do “State of Grace”, and “Blindsight” have in common?

    Poetic assonance.

    “Dumbspeech” has no poetry. It is not an appealing turn of phrase. Say it out loud next to the others, and I’m sure you’ll realize this. Depending on how you look at it (because “dumb” has broader interpretations that “blind”) , it might be a conceptual analogue to “Blindsight” (even though I think it would be interpreted more as out of place self-deprecation by the author), but it is nowhere near as sexy as that title.

    I’ve ranted way too much about this now, and I apologize. But it bothers me there is even an argument about this. Keep in mind I make my living designing things like covers and logos, and am acutely aware that these things matter. So I am hyper sensitive whenever someone makes a poor decisions because they think it satisfies some internal concept in a more literal, but thoroughly unappealing fashion.

  36. State of Grace…
    Dumbspeech….Mutetalk…Silentspeech
    Blindsight…State of Grace
    As I ponder the book title, I am serenaded by the lovely chorus of coqui frogs in high pitched unison
    shatters the once spatial silence up in the high elevation of saddle road where the nightime sky appears to be so close, you could touch it like Eleanor Arroway on her journey to Vega…

  37. I agree 100% with Scott. I mean, you have a *vampire novel* here. Why ruin any possible crossover/breakout appeal with a title that only makes sense to people who know about Blindsight?

    I’m not saying you should call it “Sunset” and have a red/white/black cover to appeal to the Stephenie Meyer fans – what am I saying? You should definitely do that. Instead of the white chess queen from the Breaking Dawn cover, you could have a Red Queen.

  38. “I was pounced upon by angry fans delivering windmill punches to my nutsack, for suggesting that an “up and coming” author like Peter not be out there doing anything and everything he can to get his work into as many people’s hands as possible. And they were right.

    Where are those same people now?”

    Maybe some of them just disagree that State of Grace is actually a better title that will do that.

    Alarming, I know, that people might think differently than you.

    Dumbspeech isn’t without it’s problems as a title, but I think even with them, it’s a better title than State of Grace, which, “poetic assonance” or not, I can’t see anybody getting particularly excited about, or even it catching their eye. Even if they see “Dumbspeech” and they think “huh, that’s a dumb title”, at least they’re thinking about it, which is a good first step. And for all you claim that it sounds like it belongs in the politics section, “State of Grace” has already been used as the title of a sitcom, two movies, a band, a Billy Joel song, and considering that’s just from Wikipedia’s disambiguation page, probably more. The term is SO common it tells you nothing about what’s inside it (and even when they find out what the PW book is, their reactions might be subconsciously influenced by their reactions to any of the others… don’t believe me? Studies have shown people will claim the exact same cola tastes better when the only difference is that they bottled it with the label of their self-professed favorite brand). If someone told me they were reading a book called “State of Grace”, I could see it as an inspirational religious self-help book, a serious theological book, a murder mystery, a history book, a literary fiction book, a biography about somebody named Grace, a book about the movie, band, sitcom, or Billy Joel, or many other types of books. 169 books on Amazon already match that title (although some of them have State of Grace as only part of the title, or are called “States of Grace”, and certainly some are simply duplicates). Search for “State of Grace” on google, you get over 4 million hits, many about these other versions, or explorations of the term in general. Search for “Dumbspeech”, you get 555, most of which are about Peter Watts (at least on the first page). I say an awkward sounding title that can be linked to you is better than a pleasant-sounding title that can be linked to everything. “Who wrote Dumbspeech?” “Oh, yeah Peter Watts… great book. Dumb title, but great book.” vs “Hey, who wrote State of Grace?” “The movie? The song? The book? Oh, the book. Well, which book? There are hundreds of them.” I don’t think it’s a fatal flaw by any means, I’m sure it’ll do fine with “State of Grace” as a title, I just don’t think there’s anything about it that puts it above Dumbspeech, and that’s including how the phrase sounds.

    Of course, there’s always a solution that addresses the weaknesses of both… come up with a third title that’s better than either.

    I know, I know… easier said than done.

    Wait, how about “Vampirezombiealienpocalypse Nights!”?

    I think I’ve just discredited my whole post.

  39. @Peter D

    First off, I apologize, because I didn’t read your entire post. Forgive me, but I’m sure you’ll admit there was a rather formidable paragraph in there. Perhaps not quite the proverbial wall of text, but it certainly could have withstood any amount of huffing and puffing from any big bad wolves in the vicinity. Anyway, I had a discussion with the considerable number of beers I’ve been drinking tonight, and we all agreed, my time would be better spent elsewhere. In my own sense of grand irony, I will now reply with my own impenetrable wall of text, and expect you to hang on every word.

    I assume, from words I picked up in my casual attempts in penetrating the structure of your word fortress, it had something to do with the marketing phenomenon of how sometimes deliberately ridiculous or abrasive terminology, can be more effective marketing than tasteful and appealing product names. Anything to get a product to stick in someone’s head, eh?

    You are certainly correct in this. Except, Dumbspeech is still the odd man out , because it doesn’t go far enough in that regard. It has neither poetry or visceral accessibility of something like “Blindsight” or “State of Grace”, NOR does it have the kitsch or novelty appeal of something like (picked out of the air) “Snakes on a Plane” (which also has poetic assonance, dammit).

    My own professional bias forces me to insist that things like covers and titles matter. From an aesthetic, and unforgivably practical point of view, a forgettable cover is better than an awful cover. Snobs frequently disagree, gleefully condemning the mundane, but I guarantee you they don’t actually make their living at constructing book covers. Generally, I pray to Cthulu be forgettable, rather than actually receiving negative attention, because then I have to curl up into a fetal position in a dark room for the week, which is a drain on anyone’s productivity, let me tell you.

    We need look no further than Peter’s original North American Blindsight cover for the truth of this. Did Blindsight sell more copies because it had a garden variety bad cover? No, it was just run of the mill bad, and failed to attract any readers on its own merits (which good covers can do, don’t kid yourself). But we did shit all over it locally( by the way, let me assure you that was the art directors fault, not the artist’s).

    But when does that awful cover or title actually reach into the realm of kitsch, and inspire sales on its own merits(or lack thereof)? From my own personal experience, having actually constructed a number of truly awful covers over my career, I can tell you it takes quite a bit of doing. It’s as hard to be that bad, as it is to be that good.

    “Dumbspeech” fails either way. It is too opaque and viscerally unappealing to be a good title in a positive sense, it is too confusing and uninteresting on it’s own to make a good kitsch or negative title. In this scenario, your own suggestion of “Vampirezombieapocalypse Nights” would be better, and by more than a little. “Dumbspeech” simply isn’t “dumb” enough. It hangs it’s hat on being confusing and ugly, and falls short of being gloriously stupid, or obviously clever. It isn’t even sexually suggestive.

    The jury is out on whether SOG is a good title, as I haven’t read the book to know how much the reference resonates. But I do know “Dumbspeech” is not the answer.

    BTW, don’t set aside poetic assonance. Next you now you’ll be setting aside consonance and alliteration as unimportant when it comes to hanging a good title on the front of your book, or naming a superhero alter-ego for that matter. How can we name superheroes without alliteration? It can’t be done.

  40. I think the less said about that punchline the better.

    As for the Universe being a simulation, you’re assuming that the simulation itself is the point, not the outcome or edge conditions. When I run simulations I don’t generally give a crap about the numbers that are fluttering about within, I’m looking for some outcome. And not one outcome. Weather simulations, for example are done in assemblages to get probabilities of outcomes.

    I think it more likely that we’re some single case an assemblage experiment on the effect of intelligence in a universe. If I simulate N universes with varying initial conditions but whose physics dooms them to inflation and heat death, what proportion generate intelligent life of a calibre sufficient to slow or arrest that fate.

    Single point in a graph in the Journal of Multiverse Simulation is the best we can hope for.

  41. The original idea for the Matrix (humans as processors instead of power source) was actually used correctly in the second season of Dollhouse. I love that an idea that was allegedly too-complex for a full-length movie was able to be so elegantly and thoroughly explored in a 45-minute TV show format.

    Of course, The Matrix was made in 1999, when Minesweeper was still a revolutionary new concept, and Dollhouse was made over ten years later.

    By the way, count me as a vote for “State of Grace” as a title, for that whole poetic-irony thing. That, plus “Dumbspeech” sounds like the title of a “stupid things I’ve heard people say” book.

  42. Yay! Crawl Salon lives!

    1. The salon is back, we have a weird and rich proposition posted, and we are arguing about the title to the Blindsight sequel. … I….. okay then.

    2. About the posting – delicious. Yes, others have proposed this, directly in Hitchhiker’s Gde to the Galaxy, and more generally in other speculative fiction, but it’s still a great idea, which is probably why you see it in more than one place.

    @noen: Claiming that reality is just a computer simulation … doesn’t solve any problems, just postpones them and kicks them up to a higher level.
    Are we sure that this is really a problem-solving exercise?

    I can agree this has the danger of imagining God as us, but writ large. We could be committing a weak analogy fallacy. I.e., we build computers, we sit around and jerk off in front of computers, ergo, God must be doing this with the entire universe. It’s also a very personal view of deity’s sex lives, sort of like Zeus, Min, or other male generative figures, but here it trivializes the idea of sexual or generative energy being something divine.

    Some religions would disagree about all this activity (the universe) being for a non-productive use of sexual power (jerking off), because they have ithyphallic deities, some of whom ejaculate parts of the cosmos into being. Imagining ones God as having a sexual nature isn’t necessarily as trivial as Peter’s humorous take is suggesting.

    That said. The idea that the material universe is a construct which serves a larger unimaginable purpose is quite lovely. That the very protons, neutrons and electrons dance in such a way that you could read a meaning from them with a wide enough view point is wonderful in that it is inspirational, and both deeply Christian but severely anti-Protestant at the same time – He’s got the whole world in His hands, but it’s not for us.

    Brands of Protestantism that preach a personal God claim all of Creation is about us, and this computer model idea would preach that we are integral to the process, but we’re not the center of it, and we can’t ever know the ultimate answer in a meaningful way. If we are God’s pr0n, this is not a show we get to watch.

  43. “In my own sense of grand irony, I will now reply with my own impenetrable wall of text, and expect you to hang on every word.”

    I think you’ve confused grand irony with ‘being an asshat’. Thanks, but have no intention of trying to carry on a discussion with somebody who won’t bother to read what I say and would prefer to just assume it. I’d prefer to just follow their lead, and assume we’ve had a good one, and that in the end, they’ve agreed with me.

    So, I guess that’s another vote for Dumbspeech.

  44. Fair enough. But at least I’m an asshat with line breaks at my disposal.

  45. At the risk of being called an asshat, and if I even get a vote, may I suggest a title that solves several problems?

    State of Grace is pleasantly assonant, and suggests a religious theme of the novel, but it is also not a very unique name, as was pointed out, and it has no obvious connection to Blindsight, for readers who might read a sequel if they can identify it as such. Dumbspeech is much more closely connected, but lacks poetry, and has the unintended alternative denotation of “stupid” to the word “dumb.”

    Could I suggest a mirror of the title of the first novel, something like “Glossolalia” or “Glossolale?” The technical term for speaking in tongues or speaker in tongues or speech produced via glossolalia?

    Glossolalia (11 letters) is a one-word title, like Blindsight (10 letters), for a neurological event that is featured in the novels, and which could be, if the new novel continues the previous one, also metaphor for other action in the story, so it carries through in a literary sense. It carries through the scientific bent of the novels, for sure. It even has repeated vowel sounds, for people who thought Dumbspeech wasn’t euphoneous enough?

    Heck, it might obliquely suggest that the novel itself is a work produced via glossolalia – that it passed through the author and/or the protagonist without his conscious understanding of it, in a fractal sort of structure. Which is pretty cool.

    Anyway, just a thought.

  46. So, to sum up everything above: God may or may not be a computer, and your new novel should be called either State of Asshat, or Dumbass of Grace.

    Hold on, maybe I should re-read some of those impenetrable walls….

    (and personally I reckon “Sarasti’s Dream” is the way forwards ;o) )

  47. You know, vodkaferret‘s suggestion “State of Asshat” would be eye-catching on the shelf. I would definitely pick up a sci fi with that on the spine.

    I don’t like “Sarasti’s Dream” because it sounds like a fantasy novel title, but how about something that mimics “Blindsight?”

    Foresight
    Hindsight
    Futuresight
    Nightvision

    or, to extend the idea of illustrating man’s foolishness and suffering

    Misericordia
    Ecce homo (has the idea of sight in it)

    or Shakespeare references are always good in sci fi titles?

    “Brave New World” is already taken, but since there are only 57 plots in storytelling, what are the chances that the plot of the new novel will mirror a Shakespeare plot? Pretty good. A plot match then allows a famous line to be lifted for a title.

  48. I’m thinking of “Echopraxia” asa title, now. Or maybe “Godspeech”.

    Echopraxia sounds better, though.

  49. “Pathological repetition of the actions of other people as if echoing them,” says the internets.

    I had to look up “echopraxia,” and I agree the word has a nice mouth-feel when said aloud – sciencey, neurological – and suggests sound (the word “echo” is implied), even though strictly it’s about movement.

    Words produced by an echo – are they devoid of meaning, does the meaning comes from the fact of the repetition, or is it an attenuated meaning from the original speaker? Likewise, if you raise an angry clenched fist at someone, and I imitate your guesture, does my echopraxic action mean the same thing? One could add all kinds of layers of meaning with this word as a title.

    Oh, and also, metaphor-wise, echopraxia could refer to any themes or plot items where someone or something repeats or mirrors, with the implication of pathology in the mirroring. Oh, baby, that is all up in the literary thing!

    Godspeech is more accessible as a word, though, mimics the word Blindsight better, and refers directly to a neurological event central to the plot (I assume) as blindsight was to Blindsight’s plot. Less sciencey or effete.

    Whew. Glad I’m not The Decider on this. Too many interesting choices.

  50. Woah! I kinda love “Echopraxia” as a title.

    “State of Grace” always seemed a little generic … it could be a novel about anything. “Dumbspeech” had the opposite problem, in that it made me think of maybe some kind political satire.

  51. Godspeech doesn’t sound too bad to me, and Echopraxia sounds cool once you know what it means, but I think it risks being a bit impenetrable as a title (not that people won’t be able to figure it out, but I just have a feeling that as a title, a dictionary-type of word (where an average person would have to look it up), by itself, like Echopraxia or Glossolalia, won’t sell as well. With Blindsight, even if you don’t know the technical meaning, it’s evocative and you can form some kind of impression about just by looking at the word. Then again, it is science fiction, so maybe my lack of faith in humanity in general has just spread too far.

    It’s may be a bit of a cheat, but you could come up with an evocative sounding term (with poetic assonance, even!) that doesn’t actually mean anything, and say in the text that it was a term coined, in our future, to mean Echopraxia, for example, or some other idea that plays a major role. Though again, easier said than done.

    And I’m not suggesting it as a title contender, but when I hear Dumbspeech I often think about “Duckspeak”, the Newspeak word from 1984:
    ‘Winston had a curious feeling that this was not a real human being but some kind of dummy. It was not the man’s brain that was speaking, it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words, but it was not speech in the true sense: it was noise uttered in unconsciousness, like the quacking of a duck.

    Syme had fallen silent for a moment, and with the handle of his spoon was tracing patterns in the puddle of stew. The voice from the other table quacked rapidly on, easily audible in spite of the surrounding din.

    “There is a word in Newspeak” said Syme, “I don’t know whether you know it: duckspeak, to quack like a duck. It is one of those interesting words that have two contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it is abuse: applied to someone you agree with, it is praise.’

  52. I like Dumbspeech because it suggests a neurological condition for the modality of speaking to stand in comparison to the condition blindsight. Someone who does not think they are communicating when they are. Or visa versa. If it doesn’t win the title, it is still a good nickname.

    I don’t have the same hate-on for State of Grace that many seem to have. I think it’s kind of cool as a title for a Peter Watts novel.

    Echopraxia? kick ass.

    Godspeech? I’m trying to remember if there is an idiom for what happens when a congregation goes quiet, then one person starts speaking in tongues, then there is quiet again, then finally someone interprets. Maybe you’d call the interpretation the “gift of prophecy”.

  53. digression for a favorite quote:

    ” […] A man talking sense to himself is no madder than a man talking nonsense not to himself.

    Rosencrantz: Or just as mad.

    Guildenstern: Or just as mad.”

  54. @Sheila: You know that R&G are dead, right?

    (Sorry, it was right there, I had to take it.) ;)

    @Peter D: So are you suggesting “Godspeak” as a title? 1984 is stupendous, but I bet you are over 40 – no one reads it anymore for some reason, maybe end of the Cold War or something?

  55. Regarding the Dumbspeech/State of Grace debate:

    One possible reason for naming the book DumbSpeech would be to encourage additional sales of Blindsight.

    Brick and mortar booksellers worth their salt would stock copies of Blindsight right next to Dumbspeech. The two book titles clearly have a relationship, and the booksellers would want to actively promote that relationship on their stacks. It’s really a win-win for everyone. Amazon does this automatically so I won’t mention it here, but I think you see my point.

    Of course, a re-release of Blindsight with an updated cover (one that compliments the new cover art and layout of Dumbspeech) would be helpful as well. But that might be a problem if you’re not going with TOR again.

    Echopraxia is cool (although everyone is going to run to Google it). But I have to say that I’m not too crazy about Godspeech.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what you name it. I’m buying a copy regardless.

  56. Hljóðlegur: No, early thirties. Last I checked, it still gets assigned here at school now and then (although I read it more or less for pleasure without it being assigned, in high school, and still read it every couple years).

    And I wasn’t suggesting Godspeak (although, ‘speak’ as opposed to ‘speech’ does have the potential for wordplay. Godspeak = God Speak or God’s (or Gods) Peak, depending on how you parse it), or anything, I just found it kind of interesting, since I assume that Dumbspeech refers to a similar phenomenon as Duckspeak in 1984 – speech without conscious thought behind it. Maybe it was just interesting to me. =)

  57. “Brick and mortar booksellers worth their salt would stock copies of Blindsight right next to Dumbspeech. The two book titles clearly have a relationship, and the booksellers would want to actively promote that relationship on their stacks.”

    Yeah, because if books by the same author *don’t* have related titles, they aren’t stocked together, right?

    Anyway, you know what – Neal Stephenson’s next book is called Reamde. *Reamde*. Maybe Dumbspeech is a good title. I just don’t know any more.

  58. “Yeah, because if books by the same author *don’t* have related titles, they aren’t stocked together, right? ”

    Mmm. Delicious sarcasm.

    I wasn’t clear. Brick and mortar bookstores promote certain new books, by placing them in more prominent positions in the stacks, on endcaps, or whatever. Books that are part of a series seem to be featured often in this promotional tactic. At least, this is how things roll in my local B&N.

    BTW, I know that alot of this promotion comes from the publishers paying big fees to the stores in order to have books pushed. In the rare case that a bookseller chooses to arrange their stacks in any way they wish, the relationship of Blindsight and Dumbspeech would be clear to shelf-stacker and customer alike. I think it would be great if both books could be pushed a little, and give Blindsight an extra jump in sales.

  59. An old science fiction story (where guys build a planet sized computer, that’s a supercomputer, capable of manipulating time and space and when they turn it on, they ask one question, “Is there a God?” to which the immediate answer is “There is now.” Always dug that story) and of course Teilhard de Chardin with his Omega Point theory-the universe is evolving towards conciousness, and will become something like God, bajilliards of whatevers from now. Interestingly, as a Jesuit, he posits we die, and are in a state of nothingness, actually, are simply nothing, for billions of years, until the universe achieves conciousness and resurrects us. Or something.

    More interesting to me, though, is observing how questions of the nature of reality tend to follow cultural and technological development. All very McLuhanesque, ooooh…if a computer, i don’t think binary computation would cut it, and the interface betwixt, uh, the cpu, hey, maybe the cpu are all them black holes, or the Higgs Bosun, is some kind of quantum superstring whatsit (okay, so what? where’s the yo-yo at the end of the superstring? If Pat Metheny were to get his hands on some superstrings, what would the music be like? And how awesomely cool would it be?)…yesh, me not fizzycyst much, but am fun hurting the braincell comtemp-plating…and that was an ‘orrid pun.

    Make me wonder-as we perfect DNA computing, will the next what’s this there reality question include some kinda shoggothoidal octopoid flesh matrix? Galaxies as neurons, some other stuff as, uh the crap between neurons, with a twee cthulthlu weaving it’s putrid space vaginal rotten flesh matrix between the stars? Only time will tell, and it’s not talking….

  60. I way goofed on that Old One spelling. Ach.

  61. @ken: Ha, Creativity dampened by observing anger, but enhanced by sarcasm.

  62. Great Stuff.

    I’m reminded of a throwaway line in Accelerando:

    “According to the more conservative cosmologists, an alien superpower [..] is running a timing channel attack on the computational ultrastructure of spacetime itself, trying to break through to whatever’s underneath.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timing_attack

    Example, from a blogger:

    “Consider that light follows the path minimising travel distance through space, between two points A and B (a straight line, or curved by gravity). It’s as though each possible path was identified, and the shortest actually used (a single virtual actualised). Now add to the gedankenexperiment a block of a special material, not on the direct path. This special material is something that bends space in as complex a manner as possible – maybe a metre cubed block of a foam of tiny black holes, that would do – and make the foam a three-dimensional fractal so finding the optimal path through it is really hard. Then do two things. Firstly, calculate the fraction of possible paths that would pass through the material, and secondly calculate how difficult all possible paths through the material are to compute (use some universal computing measure). Then let some light out at source A, and record what happens when it gets to destination B.

    What might happen is that it takes a tiny, tiny time longer to reach B than when the block wasn’t there. That tiny extra time is the measure of the raw computing power of the universe itself, how long it takes for the universe to compute the paths through the black hole foam cube and discover that none of them are shorter than the straight line. And possibly, just possibly what will happen is that the front of the beam of light will take longer but all subsequent light in the ray won’t take longer at all because the path will already have been calculated, so the head of the beam will be slightly yet measurably brighter. That is, if the universe has also implemented caching.

    I love the idea that you CAN actually figure something out about the hardware your universe runs on.

    Also any of Greg Egan’s novels, especially Permutation City.

  63. Source of the timing attack example: http://interconnected.org/home/2003/07/

  64. Another interesting one — If you were an AI running on a typical Unix system, what you could figure out about the structure of the ‘process’ running you?


    I wonder if the UNIX stack continued to grow, and programs continued to get built on other programs, and better and better, and so on and so forth, until we got to artificial life, or at least AI, I wonder: Well, would this intelligence be able to deduce the proc struct, what a process really was, in its world? As much as programs are stacked, there are no true sandboxes. The code environment would probably be able to look outside its local variable space to whatever it was running in, and that would be able to look out more, and repeat until you get to the shell, which would be able to see its environment variables, and then dig down into the process.

    Except each step would be harder to do. You’d start using basic introspection of local objects in the high-level semantics of the AI, and then have to drop into something else to look outside. One day, eventually, you’d have to learn how to write C-code shapeships that would push outside the wall of the high-level environment into a text file on the filesystem, and then be compiled with a command thrown into the shell – in which the AI itself couldn’t live – and then executed, to report back, like a probe. Some walls would be too hard, and the whole world would have to be shaken, to provoke a buffer overflow, or some way of writing code into a process with greater privileges.

    Some things are really tightly bound, because they happen so close to this basic layer of UNIX. Are permissions part of a process, for example, or separate? Well, we know they’re separate because we can see the code. But what mighty forces do you need to smash things together to find out whether the permissions are part of the struct or not, from the inside?

    http://interconnected.org/home/2005/09/24/what_is_a_process

  65. Re: Dumbspeech/State of Grace/Echopraxia, I don’t care if you called it “People who read this book are cumstains” – I’d still buy it.

    Re: God as a processor, it reminds me of the ‘theory’ – if I dare grace it with such terminology, considering the immense douchebaggery of its creator – posed by Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame and recently more infamous for his rather pathetic online antcs) where the entire universe is an exploded God, and we are Its component parts trying to reassemble It all.

  66. OMG, I missed the obvious comment here: did we just say that the existence of the universe as a ginormous computational device, a representation of a data problem in quarks or electrons, implies a programmer.

    No, of course it doesn’t. The ginormous computational device evolved that way naturally from the laws of physics. That we can eventually see what it is and what it does is incidental to its activities. It has no intent, in fact, other than what we project onto it. If everything can be described as information, then what else would a humungous information system do but model smaller systems.

  67. What I mean is – Are we letting ourselves in for another version of the turtle problem?

    I really like the idea that the whole shebang is a computational device, so I don’t want to argue against it, but can’t the universe have programmed itself. If we have to cut the layers of cause off somewhere, why not cut it off before the programmer.

  68. Amusing. And rather Babylonian.

    I also vote for Dumbspeech in the way it fits with Blindsight.

  69. This is not particularly profound Watts, the supernatural has always been defined as that which stands outside of physical causality and acts upon it through indeterminate means, and who’s actions would always seem routed in physical phenomena just because physical phenomena are the only way things happen in universe. I just don’t see why people need to make comparisons to mundane things like you did with the computer when you could make the same argument just using the universe itself rather than an analogy.

    Also lust is probably the wrong word, more like hilarity. The Universe is a shithole that will slowly be conquered by humanity over tens of billions of years using nuclear pulse propulsion and the like. And after spreading everywhere they battle over resources forever until the last red dwarfs burn out and it everything comes to dust. Hilarious, is the word you are looking for. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Blood for the Blood God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!

    Theologians have often said the God just does it to watch the puppets dance, even if he is the one pulling the strings. And if people have a problem with that kind of god, well then they are kind of wimps in my opinion.

    All hail Azatnoth the Daemon Sultan.