A Young Squid’s Illustrated Primer

Part the First: Liminal

Apparently, this is how Jasun Horsley sees me. I presume I'm the one on the right. (non-old-one elements by (Maria Nygard).

Apparently, this is how Jasun Horsley sees me. I presume I’m the one on the right. (non-Old-One elements by Maria Nygård).

I recently did a kind of free-form interview with fellow US-border-guard-detainee Jasun Horsley, for his Liminalist podcast. It went okay, if you discount the fact that the Skype connection seemed to go dead without warning every couple of minutes. I certainly hope that we repeated our respective Qs and As often enough to redundify those gaps— I note that, while we spoke for over two hours, the podcast itself weighs in at only one (including some nifty little musical interludes). Given the number of dropouts, that seems about right.

I’m listening to the final result even as I type, and so far my giddy enthusiasm isn’t quite loud enough to distract from the random boluses of dead air that shut me up every now and then. I do not envy Jasun the editing job it took to beat the raw recording into shape.

He also wrote a companion essay, “Neuro-Deviance and the Evolutionary Function of Depression“, from the perspective of someone halfway through Starfish. I think the Neuro-Deviant is supposed to be me.

Anyway, the on-site blurb describes our interaction as

…a roving and rifting conversation with Jasun about killing Jake (the One) and integrative therapy courtship, Lonesome Bob’s death ballad, Peter’s marine biology years, the initial impetus, Peter’s childhood “Everyone can have their own aquarium!” epiphany, astronaut dreams, getting off the planet, Jasun’s views on space travel (again), a bleak ET future for mankind, the ultimate displacement activity, Interstellar’s message, space travel benefits, the military agenda, 2001: A Space Odyssey opposing views, the hope for higher intelligence, determinism vs. transcendence, rejecting the duality of spiritual-material, how neurons are purely reactive, fizzy meat, the psychology of determinism, response vs. reaction, selective perception, truth and survival, depression’s correlation (or equivalence) with reality-perception, God and the anti-predator response, three men in a jungle, how natural selection shapes us to be paranoid, how anxiety allows us to see patterns, the many doings of paranoia, shaping the outside to match the inside (the devil made me do it), seeking the perks of depression, how depression fuels creativity, a thought experiment, is removing the lows desirable, depression as a new stage in human development, the difference between biology and psychology, the psyche and Behemoth, the pointlessness of survival, he who dies with most kid wins, what science is missing, the hard problem of consciousness, the difference between intelligence and consciousness, nipples on men, the best kind of mystery, the language variable, what if consciousness is mal-adaptive?

I think I remember most of that stuff.

(I would like to apologize, by the way, for repeating to Jasun the oversimplification that neurons only fire when externally provoked; I’ve been recently informed that neurons sometimes do fire spontaneously, as a result of changes to their internal state. Ultimately, of course, those internal states have to reflect some kind of historical cell-environment interaction, but I should probably start using a more nuanced bumper-sticker anyway.)

 *

Part the Second: Scramblers

Nicely done, Alienietzsche.

Nicely done, Alienietzsche.

 Last week’s ego-surf turned up this great little illustration from Deviant Artist “Alienietzsche“— whose vision of Blindsight‘s scramblers is perhaps the closest I’ve seen to the images that were floating around in my own head while I was writing about those crawly little guys. This is going straight into the Gallery, with thanks and with ol ‘Nietzsche’s blessing.

 *

Part the Third: Lemmings

If you look closely, you'll see that the plankton sliding into the astronauts bootprints look like neurons. Yeah, well, I was only thirteen.

If you look closely (you may have to click to embiggen), you’ll see that the plankton sliding into the astronauts bootprints look kind of like neurons.Yeah, well, I was only thirteen.

I recently told the Polish website Kawerna about a few of the novels that had had the greatest influence on me (they asked, in case you’re wondering; it’s not like I called them up in the middle of the night and forced my unsolicited opinions down their throat or anything). You won’t be surprised to learn that one of those titles was Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. You may, however, be unaware of the profound resentment that book instilled within me when I first discovered it:

I spent most of my thirteenth summer trapped in a basement apartment in some Oregonian hick town, with little to do but read while my dad attended summer classes at the local university. I beach-combed on weekends, though— and while wandering Oregon’s coast that summer, my adolescent brain cooked up the idea of an intelligent ocean— a kind of diffuse neural network in which the plankton acted as neurons. I was going to write a story about it, even penciled a couple of sketches based on the idea.

Two weeks later I discovered Solaris in the local library. I’ve kind of resented Lem ever since…

The Kawerna assignment inspired me to dig back through the archives to see if I could find any of those sketches— and I did find a few, yellowed, moldy, nibbled by silverfish in their cheap plastic frames. I present one here, as evidence that while I may not have come up with the idea for Solaris before Lem did, I at least came up with it before I knew that Lem had. Which wasn’t bad, for a thirteen-year-old stuck in a basement while his Dad took post-graduate Bible-Study classes.

 *

Part the Last: Reprint Roll

dsc_00012Specialty micropress “Spacecraft Press” has released an extremely-limited-edition reprint of “The Things” as a chapbook, printed on a kind of translucent plasticy paper and inventively formatted in a manner more reminiscent of free verse than of prose. And I’m not kidding when I say “extremely-limited”: the total print run was only 21, which— when it comes to my work at least— is significantly fewer copies than even Tor usually loads into a print run. And only ten of those are available for sale (or would be, if they hadn’t already sold out). I guess this explains the eleven copies of “The Things” that appeared in my mailbox the other day.

If you look closely, you'll see that the Introduction is written by someone who does not write Science Fiction at all.

You’ll note that the Introduction is written by someone who does not write Science Fiction at all.

Last, and probably least— not because of lesser importance, but because the news is a week old by now, and has already been trumpeted on every social medium from HoloBook to carrier pigeon— legendary Canadian publisher ChiZine has announced the contents of this year’s Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Fiction. “Giants” is in there, but it almost wasn’t. It was supposed to be “Collateral” until a few weeks ago— and before that, it was supposed to be “The Colonel”. I’m actually kind of pleased things finally fell out the way they did; I’ve always had a soft spot for “Giants”, even if it hasn’t got the love that “Collateral” and “the Colonel” have in terms of year-end collections. Still, I can’t help but notice that “Giants” is also the shortest of the three, word-count-wise— which makes me wonder if a more appropriate subtitle might be The Best Canadian Speculative Fiction that fits into 300 pages or less.

It’s all good, though.

*

Epilog:

I have come to the end of Jasun’s podcast at almost the same time I’ve come to the end of this post; turns out it’s only part one of a two-parter, to be continued this Wednesday. Which is odd, because— while I recognize all the bits I’ve just heard coming through my laptop speakers— I don’t remember anything missing from that dialog.

Now I’m going to lie awake all night, wondering what else we talked about.

 

 

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday August 03 2015at 01:08 pm , filed under art on ink, fellow liars, interviews, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “A Young Squid’s Illustrated Primer”

  1. Wait, you mean you wrote that post *while* listening to the podcast?

    That’s like Kim Peek reading both left and right pages of a book simultaneously.

    Deviant!

  2. Dr. Watts is a mere meat puppet of our great lord Cthulhu. A god can do anything, and if it can’t for some reason, like the stars are not right, then it will suck your brains out for their moist juicy neuronal goodness.

  3. […] Watts at his blog reports on sundry […]

  4. 2nd part now up, rest in peace, Dr. Watts: http://auticulture.com/peterwatts2/

  5. Have you read Stanislaw Lem’s “Golem XIV”? It’s one of the few depictions of an AI in which the author honestly tries to avoid anthropomophism.

    It’s anthologised in Imaginary Magnitude and there’s a short film adaptation of an early part, with music by Cliff Martinez (who did the soundtrack for Soderbergh’s adaptation of Solaris).

    https://vimeo.com/50984940

  6. A couple of other random observations whilst in the throes of digestion.

    He says “dissociation” like it’s a bad thing. My antennae twitch whenever someone says “undesirable” and I have to ask “why?” The ability to mentally dissociate or compartmentalise may be a useful adaptation as a form of metacognition.

    Regarding the incrementally replaced neurons – it’s actually an old philosophical thought experiment, usually called Theseus’ Ship: If you keep replacing the timbers of a ship during maintenance and repair, at what point does it cease being the original ship, if at all? This however is premised on assumptions that are materially essentialist, ie. that there is a material “original” However, this is not a universal assumption – In Ise, Japan, there is a Shinto temple that is burned down every twenty years and rebuilt on an adjacent site. This has been going on for something like a millennium now and as far as the Japanese are concerned, it’s always the same temple. My own background is in architecture, where “bricks and mortar” is synonymous with reality and eternity, and debate is rife over whether buildings should be preserved in a state of ruin or restored to how they might (or might not) have been, but the Japanese example shows that to be a peculiarly Western cultural concern.

    (Another analogy was used by Jonathan Miller in his television series on the history of medicine, The Body in Question. Sitting next to a fountain and a statue, he asked which was most like a human. His answer was that it was the fountain, which maintained its form through continual cycling of material.)

    Back in the West, Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum seems to be an attempt to overcome the problem of Theseus’ Ship without resorting to Platonic idealism.

    My point, if there is one, is that Jasun seems to be bringing a lot of unspoken assumptions to the discussion that could to be taken apart in a hypothetical part three.

  7. Finally got some quiet time to check out the podcast part 1. Got halfway through part 2 when the writing bug struck.

    Space travel scifi as religion is an interesting idea. I do think it quite probable it fills that void for some people, assuming–as I do–that there’s some sort of need for religion that is the result of evolution.

    What Peter said about Interstellar reminded me of ID4. Never liked that one, I think in part because the aliens were so one-dimensional. Becomes interesting if we think of ourselves as the locusts.

    Paranoia as result of survival. What about the human predators? Does seem to be some paranoia there, too, plus the reptilian thing, but how did that evolve? Shaman and chieftains? Paranoia to the point that actually becoming the tiger becomes a desirable thought for survival? Don’t know.

    This does not answer exactly how it came to be, nor at all how it works… But I do think there’s a good case to be made that consciousness serves a purpose even if sometimes it also gets in the way of survival.

    Underlying all of this, of course, is attempting to answer that big question of what success as a species or organism looks like. Depending on how we answer that, the relative value of consciousness, if this theory has any merit, may vary.

    But what I like about the hot plate and holding breath theory of consciousness is that that as an answer may also answer the “faith healing”/placebo effect question at the same time.

    The irony here is I think you guys answered some of the questions without being conscious of having done so. Jasun at one point forgot what he was going to say and Peter suggested to stop thinking about it. Get it out of the consciousness so that other portion can do what it does without interference.

    Jumping back to the narrative that religion is something that came along, not just as social dominators controlling the rest of the tribe, social constructs for cooperation, and worldview placeholder for science to come along later, can’t prayer and/or meditation do the something similar? A person has a problem, they “give” it to something perceived as external and so stops thinking about it as a problem consciously. This method winds up putting the problem in the province of the unconscious which is likely better as solving problems {and at the same time better accept a negative response from the Universe as part of some wiser being’s decision and thereby improve coping strategies assuming dissatisfaction and disappointment are bad in certain quantities}.

    So may it be similar with the placebo effect. We don’t yet understand what’s happening physiologically when it happens. Were the ailments fake to begin with? A manifestation of some other unconscious process such as guilt or similar?

    Though I’ve lost the article, the NYT once published an article in the 1990s where doctors claimed grapefruit sized cysts melted away after they injected the patient with water after telling him it was a radical, experimental drug. After he recovered, they told him the truth and his health quickly declined and he died. Very similar to Peter’s short story “Hillcrest V. Velikovsky,” though as I recall he hadn’t read the article.

    The self-examination as escape from pop culture slavery Jasun mentioned is another example. Wouldn’t an unconscious system merely respond to the task-reward circuits unless interrupted by some outside influence? Isn’t that the, albeit more about the function and proper place of pleasure, the plot of “This Side of Paradise” from ST:TOS? And the study with monkeys staring at pictures of pack leaders in preference to drinking their favorite fruit drink.

    How do you get a species to change its behavior when it has become artificially complacent to the point that the unconscious is tricked into believing that it is getting what it needs? Well, that depends on what you think it needs and whether or not it’s actually getting it or if simulation is sufficient.

    I think.

  8. Brett Davidson: Have you read Stanislaw Lem’s “Golem XIV”? It’s one of the few depictions of an AI in which the author honestly tries to avoid anthropomophism.

    Someone e-mailed me a copy a while back. It’s on my to-read list. Along with another hundred or so titles.

    I’m downloading the Vimeo short now. Can’t stream it because one of the pones is hogging all the bandwidth downstairs watching Futurama for the eighteenth fucking time.

    Brett Davidson: Regarding the incrementally replaced neurons – it’s actually an old philosophical thought experiment, usually called Theseus’ Ship: If you keep replacing the timbers of a ship during maintenance and repair, at what point does it cease being the original ship, if at all?

    Yeah, I’ve heard of that one. But this iteration was specifically tailored to an AI context. I’m kind of embarassed that I couldn’t remember the guy who posited it during the interview.

    Moravec, of course. Hans Moravec. He even got cited in “Transmetropolitan”.

  9. Brett Davidson: He says “dissociation” like it’s a bad thing. My antennae twitch whenever someone says “undesirable” and I have to ask “why?” The ability to mentally dissociate or compartmentalise may be a useful adaptation as a form of metacognition.

    From my experience of working with clients with severe and enduring mental illnesses, ‘dissociation’ as a diagnosis is not a positive life experience. The difference between the casual use, dare I say misuse of dissociation, and the psychiatric diagnosis is profound.

    I would say that I find the use of psychiatric terms to describe what generally falls into the three standard deviations of the normal behaviours rather troubling. For me it trivializes the condition being described, but I recognize that YMMV.

  10. Ashley R Pollard,

    Thanks for the clarification – J seems to be rather glib in his use, admitting himself that he knows little of psychiatry.

  11. Edit/addition: I have come across anecdotal accounts with people with DID who have considered it better than the alternatives, or, through the process of reintegration, been able to recover from the trauma that may have provoked the condition in the first place.

  12. Brett Davidson:
    Regarding the incrementally replaced neurons – it’s actually an old philosophical thought experiment, usually called Theseus’ Ship:If you keep replacing the timbers of a ship during maintenance and repair, at what point does it cease being the original ship, if at all?

    I seem to remember reading a pretty decent SF-novel set in space, where the name of the ship was Theseus, I wonder if the author had that thought experiment in mind. I doubt anyone here has read it though, it has vampires and stuff as well, a Twilight in space you might say. For the life of me I can’t remember the title, something like “The blind who see”?

  13. “You’ll note that the Introduction is written by someone who does not write Science Fiction at all.”

    Is she still insisting on this? Sorry lady, you may be a “real writer” who gave a Massey Lecture, but Crakers, pigoons and chicky nubs are science fiction. Not to mention Gilead. Nobody’s going to take away your Canadian passport just because you don’t just write novels about small-town prairie girls being raped in a snowbank by the local priest. I’m going to start calling Atwood “that biopunk writer” just to piss people off.

  14. I actually only just got why Theseus was named so, because she could replace parts of herself.

    Peter, let me buy one of those chapbooks if you have any lying around still. The limited printing is sending my collectors brain into overdrive 😀

  15. (It’s the wrong kind of odd character decoration on the last a in the photographer credit, it should be nygård, not nygärd)

  16. Fuck, I know that. How did that slip in there?

    Anyway, thanks. Fixed.