Author Archives: Abalieno

I’ve picked up the terrible habit of reading a few chapters of a book, then move to another, and so on and on. Even when I come back to the same book I read it again from the beginning. The circle is so wide I could continue forever.

The only one I was able to complete is The Skylark of Space. Probably the worst book I’ve ever read.

The last I started, instead, was Bleak House by Charles Dickens, I read this in 2009, but only got to page 450 or so, then I couldn’t resume because there was a gap and I forgot everything. So now I’m reading it from the beginning, and I already know I probably won’t even get to the same point where I left…

The introduction to the book by Terry Eagleton is noteworthy.

(This may appear as me poking fun at supposedly high literature and being sarcastic… But I’m not. I mean it. It is indeed the ideal height of it all. A true erection of sense and purpose. A monument of the sacred. You see this and think these professors are just like us, and it’s all a fraud. But nope, they just have fun, make you believe you’re in the same league, buddy, but they’re not.

We are the same, and then not.

And this goes ’round and ’round, a loop of uncomprehending comprehensions…)

The article is here, and it is good:
https://dalkeyarchive.substack.com/p/how-does-this-get-read

A reminder that I bought the physical book a while back, still a treasured thing.

The first image is from that article I linked. I’ve verified it’s in the physical book, page 127.

The following three are just other instances I found, pages: 1328, 1141 and 1310.
Thee fourth image is from another High End classic: William H. Gass “The Tunnel”, page 92 (of the edition I own).
The final quote is again from Bottom’s Dream, page 1068.

Still quite kissabell’ ‘nfackt, those rondelles.

“Is that a decent reason?
Just ’cause others think you’re true?
You need to have good reason
to believe the things you do.”

“Should one take ideas on faith?
Or turn them on their head?
Look at them from all angles?
Think the opposite, instead?”

“Our gang has this idea.
Are you with them, or us?
Truth’s contingent on my tribe?
Belong, don’t make a fuss?”

From “XX”, by Rian Hughes.

One of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen (and held). Look it up. It’s a novel, graphic. To not be confused with a graphic novel.

(the binding could be better, and the paper too, but it’s still a pretty good price for what it offers)

A “first contact” novel as if written by an hybrid of Danielewski and Grant Morrison. And it doesn’t seem to trade words for just artsy white space. It seems to strike a good balance.

I’m the guy who cracked the problem.
On a Many-Worlds principle.

Yes, exactly.
And it worked, beautifully.

So what’s the implication of that?

He doesn’t want Many-Worlds.
Just one.

But there is no “just one.”
That’s the point.
If he doesn’t like it, he’s got to change the laws of the fucking universe.

He’s a tech genius.
Those laws are secondary.

From Dark to Tenet, now Devs.

What is happening?

I am of course carefully selecting things, following a pattern, but the pattern is also there for me to be found. For some reason everyone is in love with this “new” concept of time-travel, and I keep digging to see if there’s a new angle that makes it work.

Will it happen in Devs? The show itself is almost the opposite of Tenet. It’s a good show, with some good characters and an intriguing, unsettling story. Compared to Tenet, it does focus on the important theme instead of looking away from it. And yet… already at the 2nd episode there’s something that is way sillier than the worst stuff in Tenet, and this also is fundamental to how everything develops.

While Devs keeps its meaningful focus, it doesn’t answer it. It doesn’t challenge it. It still goes untested. There’s even a magical (and entirely unnecessary) handwaving at the end. But the ending is not completely pointless. I liked its tone, and there’s some merit with it moving from science to ontology. The finale itself is able to seize something meaningful, that makes it work, somewhat. But it’s nothing new and it’s the same Philip Dick mold when it comes to truth and epistemology/ontology.

The bigger point is that I assume most people who watched Devs, all the way through, still believe it’s not about time-travel. But it is. And it’s exquisitely close to Arrival. People don’t jump in time, but they move information. This also means that Devs has, perfectly organized on its conceptual table, ALL THE PIECES to solve the puzzle. Yet it doesn’t, not deliberately. I have no idea, no logical explanation, how a show that is otherwise clever and lucid, still loses all its senses when it comes to face the fundamental theme.

As I’m used to do, I’ll try here to point at what the show does wrong.

1- simulating the system of the world, without sufficient data
2- time travel & contradiction in block universe/determinism

Even in this case the problem is in the premise. I kept watching till the last episode to see if they added a twist, but it didn’t happen. The premise is that they have a (quantum) computer and an algorithm that can make accurate predictions. In the first episode they work on a program that can predict the movement of a very simple living organism, but the prediction is only accurate for a few seconds, then it goes off the rails and needs to be re-synced. In the second episode it’s shown that the computer and the algorithm are already much more advanced and they can go back to “predict” the image of Christ on the cross. Two thousands years of backward prediction.

This doesn’t work, of course. The suspension of disbelief wants that such a computer and algorithm exist. That’s fine. But the premise is itself impossible, for reasons that are already shown and discussed through the episodes.

The fundamental problem is chaos, or how they better define it: complexity. Even if you have a very good insight, and almost infinite computational power, you cannot make a prediction that goes back 2.000 years, not even in theory. And not even if we accept the world is deterministic.

Toward the end of the show we see that the algorithm is able to deduce all reality starting from a specific point. This is only apparently similar to Laplace’s demon: if we know the position of every particle in a specific moment, then we can calculate, both forward and backward, everything that happens. The caveat is: the position of EVERY particle.

We cannot deduce the position of OTHER particles by knowing one.

The premise of determinism implies there’s a system and then there are the variables it contains. Once you know both the rules and the variables, you can accurately predict everything that happens within that system. But if you know a PORTION of the system, your predictions are weak and temporary, because you’ll get interference from all the other particles. You cannot predict ANYTHING if you are blind to some data. That data can upset everything, even if your vision of a portion of the system is perfect. There’s always something that barges in the picture and sends everything to shit.

That’s why you cannot go back and predict Christ on the cross. Because you need the total system universe to make that prediction ACCURATE enough to hold the complexity of 2.000 years. A whole lot of interference “from the outside.” From out of the limited picture. In the show they only make explicit a problem of the prediction being “fuzzy”, and noisy. That’s not the real problem. A tiny deviation a second in the future (or the past) produces major deviations, over and over. The further back you go, the larger the divergence. A completely different world, in a macroscopic way.

To summarize this first fundamental problem: the fictional principle we can accept is the existence of a really powerful computer and algorithm. That’s fine. But it’s not a matter of being too powerful, the problem is what the system cannot see and cannot map, regardless of its power. Not a problem of computation, but of vision, of access to data. To be able to make these types of predictions, you need to “scan” the universe in its totality. Because the complex system you observe doesn’t exist “in a vat”, or a computer simulation… It is still immersed in reality. You cannot just cut out a portion and predict what happens in there, because EVERYTHING OUTSIDE your observation still chaotically/complexly interacts.

As far as I know there is no way, even theoretically, to predict the behavior of a system by only knowing a portion of it. You could maybe exclude every possible universe that doesn’t align with what you observe, but that’s even more silly than making a prediction. You’d have to calculate and predict ALL POSSIBLE UNIVERSES and then exclude those that don’t fit your observation. You just cannot solve this blindness. Not a problem of computation. If you cannot see, you have nothing to calculate.

The other problem is of course free will and time travel. These two themes are the real focus, but again they are never really challenged, it’s like observing a standoff, like in a Western movie. They glare at each other, but no one dares acting first.

Time travel here happens because they can make accurate predictions about the future. If you can do that, you can go check the future for the solution of a problem, and bring that information back. Even here the premise is that everything is deterministic, and so nothing can change. We are in the same context of Arrival, Watchmen, Dark and Tenet. In Devs there’s a rule that actually forbids looking at the future, all the tests should be done about the past, in order to not disrupt things. Yet we immediately know they don’t really respect this rule, and have observed the “last day” many times. They know precisely what is going to happen, and live their life in a resigned, calm & fatalistic way.

One could guess that the progress on this computer was obtained through future-looking power, and so accelerating the process. It makes sense, but this is not encouraged in the show. They ignore the possibility, in the same way they ignore addressing the problem of free will. They TALK about it. They do nothing to test it. Taboo.

Better than Tenet because at least they don’t ignore the problem. They frame it quite nicely, early in the show. They can make a visual prediction even a few seconds in the future, so what if you see yourself ten seconds in the future, lifting your arm, and decide to contradict what you see? They talk about this. They do not test it. But they say you won’t have the freedom to keep the arm down. You don’t have the freedom to contradict what you see.

This contradicts the way we understand “free will”, leading to the facile, convenient conclusion: because we don’t have the free will we think we have. This is precisely what the show wants to say. And it’s completely wrong. Easily proven wrong.

Yes, we don’t have the free will we generally assume we have, but we assume we have it for a reason. Science reveals what happens in reality, sometimes challenging assumptions and perceptions, but it still HAS TO remain compatible with perception. If you’re drugged and have visions, those visions are still causally produced. Your interpretation of those visions might be wrong, but they are real, in a way. In the same way, quantum mechanics replace classic physics, but classical observations and models are still valid within their application domain. Quantum mechanics don’t invalidate macroscopic observations. They offer a bigger picture, but a picture that still needs to be compatible to previous observation/data. The interpretation we have of free will can also be wrong, then, but the interpretation being wrong doesn’t erase our possibility to act and decide the way we’ve always perceived to act and decide.

WHETHER I have free will or not, I CAN decide to keep my arm down once I see a picture of myself with the arm raised. If I want to do that, I can. Same as I always could. I repeat: whether I have free will or not. Science cannot contradict my common perception. Science can complete it, offer a wider, deeper picture, but it cannot REMOVE what was always observed. It cannot force my arm down through a magical power.

That’s why when I was writing about Tenet I converted my experiment, that was originally built on humans, to be performed by MACHINES. Because this isn’t a problem of free will, therefore you can test the prediction through simple machines.

Me lifting my arm or not is not the product of magical free will. It’s the product of a brain, operating like a very complex machine, subject to prior cause. As the show also preaches about:

…does anything ever happen without a reason?

Yes.

No.

Things happen without a reason.

-Like?

-An example?

Yes.

A kid getting leukemia?
Getting hit by lightning?
It’s an endless list.

No, Lily.
I didn’t ask if things ever happen without a good reason.
I said a reason.
The leukemia was an aberration in the kid’s DNA.
The lightning was a static discharge.
Why did the pen roll across the table?

You pushed it.

Why did I push it?

I’m guessing to make a point.

That’s a reason.
It’s why the pen rolled across the table.
You blinked.

What?

Why did you just blink?
Your eyes were dry.
Or you were nervous.
Does anything ever happen without a reason?

There must be some events.
Random events.

Name a random event.
Take a moment.
Think about it.
And then name one.

A coin flip.

A coin flip is not a random event.
It’s a complex event.
How hard was the coin flipped?
What was the weight of the coin?
The air resistance?
The temperature of the room?
The angle it landed on the table?

Okay, not a coin flip.
But some things are random.

Then name one.

-Selection.

-Selection of what?

Selecting from things that are all the same.

What things are all the same?

Objects.
Identical copies of a book at a bookstore.

You chose the one beneath the top of the pile because it had been handled less.

Meteors landing.
Roulette wheels spinning.
Misfortunes suffered.

They can all be unraveled.
You can’t name a random event.
Because there are no random events.

So, let’s push the possibility of free will out of the picture. Assume the brain is simply mechanical. This means that, with a good enough computer and a good enough description, we can perfectly predict a brain. THIS IS the premise of the show. (this is about the second problem, the first problem described above is that a good enough description of reality requires being complete, so requires to accurately map the universe)

Fine then, with an accurate description of the brain we can the predict something in the immediate future with a good amount of accuracy. So we can say the brain will send the signal to lift the arm. And the arm will be lifted. No free will. Okay? Okay. Nothing wrong here. It’s a simplistic example, but it’s acceptable.

The problem appears in the picture when you introduce the fucking time travel. What is time travel, again? Recursion. Something in the future that goes back, to itself. It returns to itself. So, what happens when a brain SEES information about itself (arm being lifted)? That the just acquired information joins the calculations that the brain performs. INFORMATION FROM THE FUTURE is input data. Input data that becomes part of the computation. Therefore, if the brain sees the arm lifted, IT CAN DECIDE to not lift it. Because the brain has access to that data.

That’s why you can fuck with free will AS LONG you don’t make it recursive. For example, toward the end the protagonist is told what she WILL do a day later. She wants to challenge that prediction, so decides to not do it. Our test. Of course then we see what happens, and enough motivations so that she will indeed decide to comply to that prediction, reinforcing the thesis. But while watching that scene I was on a different track: she is blind. She isn’t seeing the prediction herself, she’s being told the prediction. This means you can lie to her. Tell her she will do something in order to manipulate her doing something else. If you don’t know anything, then you cannot DECIDE. You cannot try and contradict the prediction if the prediction you’re being told might be the correct one or a lie. You’re blind, whatever you decide is out of your control. You don’t have enough information to make that choice. Whatever you do, you’re out of control, and they can manipulate you any way they want. You are in their hands, because they have access to data, and you don’t. You have no power against this. (and from your perspective you’d also be “free”, since the “free” in “free will” is about being blind to prior cause. Freedom IS only ever possible through blindness… as long we establish blindness is fundamental)

This is a thing precisely because it isn’t recursive. Someone else holds that information. You don’t have any access. So if they hold a map of your brain, and they control the input data, THEY OWN YOU.

Game fucking over.

But this is of course not what happens in this show. This isn’t Westworld. Here they are predicting reality at the fundamental level of physics. Brains are just small pieces of this overall complex fabric. They don’t simulate thoughts, choices and brains, they simulate the particles brains are made of… So there’s nothing about the problem of free will here. We have a problem of contradiction, due to time travel. If these people built the computers and then made those predictions, then all this stuff was always part of the overall picture. It’s at this fundamental level that it breaks apart. Information that is brought back from the future, becomes new input in the past. This recursion and self-reference duplicates matter. It duplicates those fundamental particles.

This is why this doesn’t function even if you stretch it to the theoretical limits. You are imagining a map that is identical to the territory, but a “map of everything” needs to recursively contain itself. What is being mapped and the map. Recursively implying itself, and creating another case of infinite regression: the map will never contain the territory, unless the map is NOT PART of the territory.

If the map is outside the territory, then it can map it precisely. There’s no self-reference. So if some people have a map of your brain, they can control you. Because their map (of your brain) is outside your brain. But they cannot have a goddamn computer with a map of the universe WHILE this computer IS PART of the universe. Because it would need to integrate itself in its map.

IF the computer integrates ITSELF in its map then it can predict its own impact on reality. It can predict what happens when someone sees a projection of the future. Because it itself has made that prediction, and has mapped it. If it doesn’t map itself, then it will make a prediction of the future that doesn’t take in consideration the possibility of some people observing a prediction it produced. It would be blind to itself, and its impact on reality. The prediction would be wrong because it doesn’t have access to that data. And that data will influence and upset the prediction. BUT if it instead integrates itself in the prediction, then it will have to recursively integrate its map with itself, triggering infinite regression. And this simply means it will never be complete, so it will never make accurate predictions.

This was about the second problem, that is the common theme about time travel I keep writing about. It’s ultimately unsolvable because based on a incomplete description. You will always be able to keep your arm down, because that’s your “free will” operating on the data you have. Nothing can contradict experience. Science never contradicts experience, it completes it, and challenges assumptions. But it never validated paradoxes.

That was the second problem… and the show fixes it beautifully with the last episode.

Through the various episodes there’s a typical challenge that goes between deBroglie-Bohm and Everett (many worlds) interpretations. The first would allow a form of determinism, but it’s the latter that is ultimately embraced. The “fix” at the very end is fairly easy to explain considering all I wrote: the two protagonists die at the end, but the computer takes their most recent “data” and plugs it, including their memories, in a simulation of the world. With the possibility of living an happier life, a kind of “heaven”, because either their knowledge or circumstances have shifted enough to let them live in this better, “corrected” world. A different reality. Why can this work? Look above, the prediction/simulation works as long the computer isn’t part of the picture. In this new simulated reality that we see, the project about the computer never existed. No one built it. The computer runs the simulation, but it is not PART of the simulation. The computer is in a dimension outside, external. The “system” of the world is sealed, so it can operate.

The map is the territory, because the map is not part of itself. It is itself. It is what it is. Therefore, this isn’t a simulation, it’s truth. The simulation is the world exactly as it is, because there’s no distinction between reality and simulation. Nothing escapes the simulation, nothing is missing in the map. The map is precisely the territory. And so the map is the truth.

In the last episode they try to sell their bullshit. The protagonist is shown a prediction, then with a plot twist she messes it up. For the very first time we see the prediction being wrong. Yet it’s all bullshit. They say she’s “special” and that give it a magical, biblical meaning by implying she “disobeyed” like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. She went against a rule set by the gods. 12 Monkeys ended with the exact same bullshitting. The difference here is that everything can still be explained after brushing the bullshit away.

Everett interpretation was always the correct one. Time travel doesn’t produce any contradiction, because it simply branches time lines. Everything works fine. This means EVERYONE at ANY TIME can break a prediction. Because every time a prediction is made, it is not consistent with the picture, it doesn’t integrate itself (because it cannot, it triggers infinite regress). Therefore, EVERY TIME a prediction is made, the timeline shifts. Everyone at any time can reveal a divergence. No one does, exactly like in Tenet, because they find convenient to “conform” to what is shown. They want that outcome, so they deliberately drive toward it. They are already in a divergent world, just close enough that it goes unnoticed. When the protagonist fucks it up in a more macroscopic way, it’s because that was always possible. It produced a new time line, as it always happens. A timeline that in this case doesn’t immediately diverges, so the outcome still matches the one they envisioned. They succeed, but without fully grasping what exactly happened and why. Their thesis was pragmatically correct, but imprecise. Ultimately wrong.

Same as in Tenet, Everett is the only solution to this kind of framework. You can make an act of blind faith, and refuse to see it for what it is. In this case your blindness is a choice.

A letter claimed to be written by Howard Phillips Lovecraft has surfaced. I don’t know whether authentic or not.

The potential of it being true is enough of a cautionary lesson.

All this from an antiquated mummy who was on the other side until 1931! Well—I can better understand the inert blindness & defiant ignorance of the reactionaries from having been one of them. I know how smugly ignorant I was — wrapped up in the arts, the natural (not social) sciences, the externals of history & antiquarianism, the abstract academic phases of philosophy, & so on — all the one-sided standard lore to which, according to the traditions of the dying order, a liberal education was limited. God! the things that were left out — the inside facts of history, the rational interpretation of periodic social crises, the foundations of economics & sociology, the actual state of the world today … & above all, the habit of applying disinterested reason to problems hitherto approached only with traditional genuflections. Flag-waving, & callous shoulder-shrugs! All this comes up with the humiliating force through an incident of a few days ago—when young Conover, having established contact with Henneberger, the ex-owner of WT, obtained from the latter a long epistle which I wrote Edwin Baird on Feby. 3, 1924, in response to a request for biographical & personal data. Little Willis asked permission to publish the text in his combined SFC-Fantasy, & I began looking the thing over to see what it was like—for I had not the least recollection of ever having penned it. Well …. I managed to get through, after about 10 closely typed pages of egotistical reminiscences & showings-off & expressions of opinion about mankind & the universe. I did not faint—but I looked around for a 1924 photograph of myself to burn, spit on, or stick pins in! Holy Hades — was I that much of a dub at 33 … only 13 years ago? There was no getting out of it — I really had thrown all that haughty, complacent, snonbish, self-centered, intolerant bull, & at a mature age when anybody but a perfect damned fool would have known better! That earlier illness had kept me in seclusion, limited my knowledge of the world, & given me something of the fatuous effusiveness of a belated adolescent when I finally was able to get out more around 1920, is hardly much of an excuse.

Maybe it’s a Lovecraftian GPT-3.

taking reality just as it is — accepting all the limitations of the most orthodox science — and then permitting my symbolising faculty to build outward from the existing facts; rearing a structure of indefinite promise and possibility whose topless towers are in no cosmos or dimension penetrable by the contradicting-power of the tyrannous and inexorable intellect. But the whole secret of the kick is that I know damn well it isn’t so.

Disclaimer as usual: this isn’t a review of the movie, this is a review of its conceptual framework.

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

That’s a direct quote from the movie.

You cannot go back in time and kill your own grandfather (for whatever reason) because if you could you wouldn’t exist and everything in this reality happens for a reason. If this makes sense to you, then this movie is for you.

If that makes sense to you, then it reveals you have a deep set anti-scientific bias.

I’d usually now write to build toward that conclusion, but lets spoil it right away. Science is about testing knowledge, put it through the grinder to see if there’s something left at the end of the process. When you have a theory, a description of something, an anti-scientific mindset would operate to DEFEND that theory. A scientific mindset, instead, works to take it down in every way possible. If you prove the theory WRONG (or a more recent example), then you’ve learned something. An opportunity to move forward.

Most common understandings of science are the exact opposite: you work to prove things true. Nope, science works in reverse: you learn by proving things wrong. By drawing further distinctions and pruning. You move forward when you know you don’t know.

At the foundation of Tenet there’s a common theme I covered already many times. It’s funny because just a few weeks ago I was writing about Dark, and now this movie appears and it’s the same thing, all over again. From Arrival, through Dark, and now Tenet, we see the exact same structure being repeated without ANY variation. The “innovations” that Tenet brings to the table are exclusively “visual” and performative. The concept of time, and time-travel, is IDENTICAL. Just wave away all the obfuscation the movie throws at you, and you’re left with the same structure, and nothing new being said about such structure.

Tenet, just like Arrival and Dark (and Watchmen), is founded on a flawed premise. This is easily proven, and the example I use is a simple one that I’ve already explained. But let’s quickly go through it again.

Tenet is based on a concept of time, and time-travel, where “what’s happened, happened.” That means it pushes away hypothesis of parallel worlds forked by time-travel. There’s only one timeline, everything that happens has to be inscribed in that same time fabric. This consequently means that time is “fixed”, nothing can be changed, and every cause produced through time-travel is always already part of the flow. Nothing is ever being “added” to the time flow. If something appears to change, it only changed because of limited perspective and knowledge of someone observing. It’s illusory change due to perspective and perception. But reality, and time, are fixed. And of course all this opens the philosophical theme of free will and what happens to conscious choice.

As I said, this framework is flawed in its premise and is easily proven with a thought experiment meant to test the thesis itself. As in typical scientific investigation you have an hypothesis (“time cannot be changed”) and conceive an experiment meant to test whether it is actually true or not.

The experiment itself is much simpler than the tortuous machinations the movie throws at you: imagine a simple computer that uses as input two big buttons, labeled A and B. The computer is programmed so that if you press the button A, then the computer outputs a B on a screen, if you press B instead it will show an A. The opposite of the button you press. To contextualize this experiment to Tenet, just imagine sending a “protagonist” in reverse. Being in reverse, he experiences time in the inverted direction, so first he will see the output on a screen, and his memory will record the letter that appears on that screen. Let’s say it’s “B”. His instructions are simple. After seeing the letter on screen he will have to press on the input the letter that he saw on the screen.

That’s all.

If he sees a B on the screen, then he presses B, because that’s what the instructions he was given say. But if he presses B then his action OVERWRITES the future, and the screen will show A, as it is programmed to do. But if he went in reverse and he saw A, then he would press A, but this again overwrites the future. And yet, none of this can happen, because we’ve established as the premise that time cannot be changed. So no overwriting can happen.

It is not about free will, it’s about contradiction. You can replace the protagonist with an inverted mechanical object and the contradiction will take place just the same.

Here’s a new experiment with mechanical devices only. The simplest proof of how Tenet falls apart.

Tenet defeated

Let’s take two devices, one that is wholly normal, and proceeds linearly through time, that we name Billy. The other instead is reversed, and we name it Tom.

Billy, the linear time one, is equipped with a microphone, and programmed so that if it hears one beep, it activates a projector that shows the color red on a wall. If instead the microphone hears two beeps then the projector will show the color blue on the same wall.

Tom, the one that is reversed, is instead equipped with a camera and a sound emitter. The camera is pointed at the wall of the first device, and Tom is programmed so that if the camera sees the color red on the screen, then the sound emitter will produce two beeps, if instead the camera sees blue, the emitter will produce one beep.

Caveat: there’s a small loophole that can be exploited, and that wants that Billy doesn’t show anything, and Tom, not seeing anything on the wall, doesn’t emit anything either. This can be easily patched up with an added rule that if Tom reaches Time 1, as described below, without the camera seeing a color, then it is programmed to emit either one or two beeps randomly. This makes sure than in all cases Tom will see a color at Time 2, and so won’t have to use the random function at all.

Let’s establish then two discrete points in time. Time 1 and Time 2. They are labeled in linear order. So in common linear time first we have Time 1, and then Time 2 follows. Tom, in reverse, experiences Time 2 before Time 1.

Summary:
Billy (normal), one beep = red, two beeps = blue.
Tom (reverse), red = two beeps, blue = one beep.

Since Tenet establishes that the past cannot be changed, and everything is inscribed already in the same timeline, then it means Tom, at Time 2 will have to perceive a color, because it has always already also proceeded to Time 1 and emitted a sound. But of course this opens the contradiction because if it sees red, then it emits the two beeps that will cause Billy to project the color blue, and so Tom cannot see red, it sees blue. But if it sees blue at Time 2, then at Time 1 it will emit only one beep.

Conclusion: this contradiction cannot be solved, because the fundamental principle Tenet is based on is flawed.

This proves not only how and why Tenet is flawed at its foundation, but that also the theme of free will is completely misleading and misplaced. There’s no free will involved in that experiment. Just two mechanical devices operating with simple rules.

(By the way, I also know the outcome of that experiment if it really took place. For example Tom will see red and emit one beep. This whether or not time is fixed. It will happen simply because either the timeline was changed, so proving the thesis wrong, or a change is still perceived even if it doesn’t really happen. This because it’s a matter of perspective and you are experiencing an inner loop where information is still flowing in a limited, occluded way. If your epistemology is solid then all these apparent contradictions will simply go away. So yes, the experiment will produce a PERCEIVED contradiction, apparently impossible to explain. Either the thesis is wrong, or time is perceived occluded and so partially. I will return on this theme of partial perception.)

Now, even if I proved that the concept of the movie doesn’t hold up to scrutiny it’s still a stretch accusing this movie of anti-scientific propaganda. This goes a step further, so let’s get to that point, since I’ve more territory to cover here.

All that I’ve explained above pivots around what’s generally known as the Grandfather Paradox. This is relevant as the most common solution to this paradox contains meaningful elements that have a lot in common with the movie (but the movie doesn’t propose any solution to the Grandfather Paradox, it quotes it, but it doesn’t address it).

The common solution is straightforward, you go back in time, try to kill your grandfather only to eventually find out that you only believed having killed him, but he somehow survived (Dark offers this exact example). Or maybe he never was your true grandfather.

All these different possibilities rely on one aspect: that the time-traveler’s knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. You think you’re going back and changing something, but that’s a byproduct of incomplete knowledge, you’re proven delusional. Things were always set in a different way, you just didn’t know.

This is where everything comes together. You can indeed write time travel stories, like Tenet, where what you see happening is coherent. Those scenes are thought and built to avoid contradiction. Precisely selected. But this also means that we see what the director decided to show. The concept itself only holds up for those specific scenes, it doesn’t hold up in general.

But what does it also mean? That Nolan came up with an interesting concept, then built a story around it to make it work and deliberately DODGE all the problematic questions it implicitly opens. The movie directly references them, like the Grandfather Paradox and the problem of free will, but these crucial points are left hanging, going unaddressed and untested because the movie selectively shows only what can work.

This “process” is essentially the sublimation of a fallacy: confirmation bias. You come up with a theory and only point at those elements that reinforce the theory while ignoring everything that proves it wrong. You make a movie so fast moving and confusing that no one has time to understand and ask questions. It works through distraction.

Its purpose is mystification. Smoke thrown in the eyes.

“Don’t try to understand it. Feel it,” said the illusionist.

The Prestige.

These are all signs of a bad story and a bad writer. Even if writing is an artificial process, good writers test their ideas and themselves. Writing isn’t simply putting on the page what you precisely know to indoctrinate who’s reading, it’s about discovering it. If there’s something of value for the reader is because the writer is also pushing himself on. Writing as a process of challenge and discovery, to push the boundary. You write to understand, you write to see.

“[Y]ou start working on something, and you find you’re really writing something else. You thought you were going this way; in fact, the text [the muse] is going another way.”

This movie is instead written to flee, to dodge, to hide from, to look elsewhere as soon there’s an hint of a problem. To distract. It’s a movie of mystification so that you fall for the illusion without questioning it. And all transpires for the general public, since you can read everywhere how the movie is convoluted, hard to understand, and no one truly believes it’s worth the effort of puzzling it together. The process is not fun because it’s felt as stilted and artificial. All these aspects surface to be perceived by everyone.

Tenet is a manual of confirmation bias. It shows what confirms the premise, ignores everything else that would undermine it. It explicitly asks you to watch it uncritically. To feel the illusion rather than reveal it. All the important themes and questions are brushed away and replaced by distracting loudness.

If Transformers by Michael Bay is militaristic propaganda, Tenet is anti-scientific propaganda. But where the first is explicit, the latter is devious, shifty, because it tries to sell itself as something else. Something clever, well thought and thought provoking. If Transformers is candidly sincere with its message, Tenet is deceitful. Going as far as choking dialogues with loud music so that you can’t even hear what they say. Because otherwise if you’d focus enough you’d see the sleight of hand, the illusion for what it is. The movie is only parroting complexity and depth.

A scientific mindset is that when you have a theory, you test it. An anti-scientific mindset is that when you have a theory you only look for confirmations while pretending not to see all that goes against it. Tenet is deliberately built to dodge all important questions and only show what’s convenient.

Tenet is built like a BELIEF SYSTEM. They state a holy principle and then go out of their ways to avoid testing it. Just like magic or religion. Characters in the movie either don’t know what they are doing (imperfect knowledge) or deliberately try to replicate it to avoid the risk of contradiction.

Tenet is a RELIGION, founded on faith and fate.

But Tenet is also exemplary of modern mythologies, a product of its time. “Fake news” work because epistemology collapsed and people operate through confirmation bias. They find confirmations for what they already believe and find soothing, convenient. To reinforce belief and identity, because they always come before truth. COVID deniers and Trump’s propaganda are so cartoonish that they wouldn’t be believable in a book. But they are the future.

It’s funny that the other main theme of Tenet is the nihilism of society and collapse, because that’s precisely the future that Tenet builds toward.

We’re driven by culture, to save us. And what do we get, precisely in these complicate days? Mulan, a propaganda for the Chinese regime, whose main actress coherently supported the regime itself. Deliberately a (misfiring) marketing move to win the sympathies of mainland China, following the example set by Blizzard a year ago (money runs further than short-lived boycotts, and Disney is the incarnation of pure EVIL). And Tenet, a movie built on anti-scientific mindset.

At the exact same time, Trump was tweeting…

And what’s this “critical race theory”, that I’ve never heard before and that got Trump so fired up?

“argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors”

Storytelling, counter-storytelling, and “naming one’s own reality”: The use of narrative to illuminate and explore experiences of racial oppression.

“Rather than marshal logical arguments and empirical data, critical race theorists tell stories – fictional, science-fictional, quasi-fictional, autobiographical, anecdotal – designed to expose the pervasive and debilitating racism of America today”

Storytelling, fiction. The culture that drives us. Those stories that tell you what and how to think. Those stories that make you feel before they make you think.

Modern mythologies, like Nolan’s, are the same old. Nothing changed. Modern mythologies are only lazier and sillier.

That’s why I’d support something bolder, like afrofuturism. From the last paragraph:

Afrofuturism has to do with reclaiming those identities or perspectives that have been lost.
“Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?”
Afrofuturism involves reclaiming some type of agency over one’s story, a story that has been told, throughout much of history, by official culture in the name of white power.
Because the ancestors of many African-Americans were forcibly removed from their homelands and stripped of their history like most slaves, any culture that has found its way into the Black lexicon is at its roots an Afrofuturist notion. It is at its heart reclaiming a past erased and creating a future based on that reimagined past.

Rasheedah Phillips writes about Black Quantum Futurism, a time-travel device.

A time-travel device to plant stories, mythologies, in the past so that we can have a different future.

Space-Time Collapse is an experimental writing and image series applying Black Quantum Futurism practices and theory to various space-time collapse phenomenon.

This inaugural collection explores possible space-time narratives and temporal perspectives of enslaved Black African ancestors, pre- and post-liberation. The slave ships and plantations themselves are traversed by the visionaries as chronotopes containing layers of different times, imprinted by the experiences of the people held captive therein.

The featured writers and visionaries attempt to visualize, hear, understand, and feel the experience of time overwritten — the rewriting of conceptions of the past, present, and future to a people displaced by the transatlantic slave trade. The works also examine perceptions of time and space in relation to Black memory, historical and societal change, systems and institutions, and technological development, and how these perceptions are sifted through or persist into the present. Some propose ways and tools for shifting the dominant linear progress narrative with alternative concepts and shapes of time.

If you look closely, there are traces here of Land-ian (Nick Land) CCRU accelerationism. Hyperstition: planting mythologies in the past to change the future.

Templexity, in essence, is the inherent nemesis that responds continually to modernism’s hubristically escalating negentropic reversal of the laws of thermodynamics. It is the radical externality of its defiance of the Void. When humanity plays with time, templexity is the whirls and eddies of disorder we leave behind.

All of this is more powerful and meaningful than Tenet’s sloppy time-travel and childish nihilism.

But obviously Nolan doesn’t know.

Why did I decide to watch this after Dark?

Sometimes it’s fun to track a pattern: I saw a tweet by Stephen King.

“DARK (Netflix) is dark and complex…and…well…very German. Terrific show. If you get confused, go to MetaWitches and check out Metacrone’s recaps. Detailed and helpful.”

So I check this “MetaWitches” website, only to find out that, at the time of my checking, it didn’t actually cover Dark’s last season. I was looking for different opinions on the ending, so it didn’t help. But the part I read had this:

“While you wait for Dark recaps, I recommend The OA, Twelve Monkeys, Orphan Black, Travelers and Fringe if you haven’t seen any of them already. Agents of SHIELD and Snowpiercer are also good. Twelve Monkeys is probably my favorite time travel show ever, with the most well done ending of all time. Yes, I said it. Orphan Black has a lot more in common with Dark than you’d think at first. I might be convinced to do recaps for 12 Monkeys or Orphan Black someday, if enough people were interested.”

…So, why not?

I had seen the first two episodes of 12 Monkeys back then when it started, and gave up. This time I’ve seen the whole thing.

While I didn’t end up with a good opinion about The OA, Fringe was okay to good (with some occasional brilliant moments) for the first three seasons (I think?), and Travelers truly excellent all the way through. Agents of SHIELD doesn’t belong to this list, and is more a rollercoaster going up and down, but it is quite entertaining and sometimes even rather good for the first three seasons, but I dropped it at the beginning of the fourth because I couldn’t tolerate anymore Skye (everything, from character to actress), downright unwatchable. 12 Monkeys… isn’t entirely shit, and it indeed has some cool stuff.

Let’s see. The first season starts bad. It’s barely watchable and the reason why I immediately dropped it the first time. It’s silly entertainment but too “cliche” to be worth it. But now I have a broader picture. As it goes on and more pieces are being added, the first season gets better. It grows, it becomes more interesting and ultimately it gets relatively fun to watch. But I then met another minor roadblock because the 1st season finale is instead terrible. The slight reset at the beginning of the second season meant I lost all the momentum that the first season gave me, and after the first episode of the second season I was already thinking about dropping it again.

…But I continued anyway, and as it happened with the first season, the more it kept going the more it improved and became interesting. This thankfully continued through the third season, that sailed pretty well, and leading to the fourth and final without losing anymore that momentum. The problems start again with the fourth. The first half doesn’t suddenly drop the momentum, but it gets boring as they go through rather pointless sidetracks. There are good isolated moments, here and there, but everything descends into utter silliness and lots of the same already seen. On paper it might be fun: hey, we got time travel, why not going to the Middle Ages with cool looking armors and swords? Alright, but it’s beginning to show it’s done “just so.” And signs of strain all over the place. Tiring, aimless, filler. It tries to find freshness by moving around, but finds none.

And then… “the most well done ending of all time.” Oh, wow.

The last few episodes of the last season and especially the finale, are UTTER SHIT. It’s just garbage and it’s not an “opinion” or some sort of philosophical disagreement as in the case of Dark. The finale is just ridiculous on the most banal level: it makes Michael Bay’s Transformers look like refined taste.

I mean, the whole show is rather cheap entertainment with silly action scenes and not much pretense. It is what it is, and as I said there’s good stuff (I’ll get to that). The finale, though, is like a stupid version of Lord of the Rings mixed with the worst of Star Wars, copied scene by scene but in a way that just makes it fail even as unpretentious entertainment. It’s EMBARRASSINGLY BAD. And this isn’t some very personal controversial opinion, I think most of everyone who watches it would agree. It doesn’t need any sort of insight or sophisticate sensibility to recognize it as the garbage it is. I could even start posting here direct screenshots from the finale to conclusively prove that point without any other context necessary. Take the very worst of Star Wars, strip the epicness, and leave all the ridiculous tropes, that’s all there is. And people hugging and looking sad for interminable moments.

In general, the finale of this show is so bad that I cannot quickly find something I watched that I can consider worse, or even comparable. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen. The closest comparison I can find is “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” levels of cringe, but even this would have its own merits (as a product of its time).

I’m of course not a movie critic and I don’t write movie reviews here. I deal with themes and concepts, and other stuff I care about. The finale of 12 Monkeys is garbage at the level of movie product, not for the lack of depth of its concepts. But even its concepts completely fall apart on the finale. So I’ll briefly focus on that aspect.

The general setup of the show is that there’s a plague that kills 7 billion people, and in the future they try using a time machine to go back and prevent the plague. Of course it also happens that they often try and fail, only finding out they inadvertently cause something instead of preventing it. Although, it is actually established early in the show that the future indeed changes. Time is somewhat resilient to change, but with enough of a push there are various smaller instances where they manage to trigger a difference. Through the seasons, you obviously also get a love story between the two protagonists.

So what do you expect from a basic level of entertainment where an happy end is guaranteed? Well, they will eventually, after four seasons, get to prevent the plague. No one is surprised about that. And everyone will be happy, including the two protagonists and their love story.

The problem is how they get there, and thankfully all the shit in the whole show is only concentrated in the last few episodes. Everything else is fine.

The problem they have to solve at the very end, beside all the pointless action scenes with them breaking into Mordor/Death Star, shooting and killing all the redshirts, and eventually murder Sauron/Palpatine too (in a scene that is “Revenge of the Sith” but done so much worse that demands to be seen for all the wrong reasons)… the problem is that to fix the plague they also have to “remove” the protagonist. You know, the pattern of Donnie Darko, and now Dark, where a sacrifice has to be made in order to restore order and normality in the world. So the protagonist has to be erased because this erasure is what makes possible the solution of the initial issue, the plague and everything else that is bad (similar to the “knot” in Dark, with the difference that here everyone who belongs to the knot happens to be evil).

And that’s what happens. The protagonist is erased, and with him the whole “journey” of the show itself. We see an aftermath where (after apocalyptic scenes where the whole earth literally blows up) a new timeline is produced. The plague is gone and we see EVERY dear major character, including those who died through the show, once again alive and now so happy. No one remembers anything, it’s a new world where everything is super great.

But this leaves the problem of the “love story.” Because the protagonist was erased, and the damsel doesn’t remember him in this new timeline. That won’t do.

So, the final revelation is that the protagonist has been transported to the new timeline as well. The motivation for this is straight to the point, without even trying to disguise it: it’s said that reality has its rules, and what are rules if you can’t break at least one? They gambled with time through four seasons, so what’s another one?

As in Dark, the idea is that the time-travel machine might as well work as meta-travel: if you can travel in time maybe you can travel to other dimensions too. So they produce a new timeline, make the protagonist travel to the new world, and because he’s the same protagonist who’s traveling, he retains all his memories. He not only doesn’t get erased, but he’s the only one who STILL remembers all that happened. It’s a mirror of Dark because in this case the real anomaly is produced instead of solved. The protagonist shouldn’t have been born in this new timeline, but he was moved there, and now he exists.

But this still leaves the problem of the love story. He’s a guy who remembers everything, but in love with a woman who doesn’t even know anymore who he is? That’s too bittersweet for this kind of show. So what happens? …She has a deja-vu and somehow remembers everything. The power of love that survives through different dimensions makes her remember everything.

That’s the whole thing: a fresh timeline is produced without the plague, the protagonist is the only one to remember because he meta-travels to the fresh timeline, and his love interest is made to remember through a magical deja-vu produced by the power of love.

Alright.

I don’t even know here if, brushing aside the silliness, the whole thing holds up or not on a basic level. This show is all about hand waving, silly characters’ motivations and stuff like that. It barely holds together but it’s generally fine as an unpretentious piece of entertainment. But I’m left with some questions, that probably lead to major holes that are very similar to Dark when you take them apart to see the inner workings.

As I said, here time travel is shown to produce new futures. You go back, change something, and something changes in the future too. In general one quotes chaos theory, the butterfly example. In the show they are aware of this, constantly repeating that they have to be very careful when going back, because some minor change might instead produce some major change and completely shift the course of history. And yet… This only exists in theory. By the time they reach the final season they jump through time with scores of people, guns a-blazing, killing everyone who happens to look the wrong way. No shit given.

But there are occasions where even death is avoided by going back and doing something different. The problem is that here, as in Dark, they want to have both things at once: a timeline that preserves itself and that can change too. This is weakly motivated by making “time” anthropomorphic, so there are certain things that can be easily shifted, and others that “time”, as an actor, demands going in a certain way. This is even validated, not simply perception, so it is said that “time” doesn’t like the time machine. It gives bad vibes. Time demands things, has certain desires.

It’s okay, it’s banal metaphysical hand waving without much pretense. The rules are silly but what is important is that the show sticks to them. “Time” as a sort of “will” is certainly not “hard” science fiction, but it might as well be the premise to accept here.

The problem is again they make a mess “knotting” the two concepts. And to figure out if “it works” or not would require an effort in un-knotting comparable to Dark, and this show certainly doesn’t deserve as much effort. So I’m not quite sure of the result.

The problem essentially is the same as in Dark: the origin of the protagonist is revealed to be in the future. Creating the same “knot” as in Dark where the future ties back to the past. And in the EXACT same way, the time anomaly is eventually removed to restore order to the world. In the same way, removing the anomaly ALSO removes the possibility of time travel itself, fully Donnie Darko. A loop is closed, falls off. It never existed.

But here we are in a context where time travel DOES produce change. It’s hard to, but it’s possible. Causality isn’t broken here, and it’s why all the way to the end 12 Monkeys works more elegantly than Dark. There are no silly paradoxes (well… conceptually).

BUT… the protagonist’s origin is the END of the last cycle. And this doesn’t make any sense. If we are in a context where time travel produces changes, then it’s mean the story starts at “A”, you travel back, trigger some change, so the timeline produces a divergence “B.” If you then go back again, produce some new change, you create a timeline “C”, and so on. The problem here is that the protagonist’s mother in “A” is only alive at the end of the journey, in “Z.” There is absolutely nothing in this show that introduces meta-traveling between timelines, they only run linearly from the previous to the next. So… There’s no logical explanation how the protagonist can be born, in “A”, if his mother is only alive in “Z.”

There is a confusion that this show never explains, and here too leads to contradiction. Sometimes time travel “causes” the events as they are known (same as in Dark), some other times time travel produces divergent timelines. For example, one of the last plot twists is that the plague is released voluntarily by the protagonists! So the real cause of the plague has always been them! Weirdly enough, this sounds incredibly silly, and yet it’s one of the points that work BEST logically (the ultimate enemy at that point is “outside” the timeline and wants to destroy the world, if they avoid the plague they lose the time machine, so they have nothing to fight back, and so they need to cause the plague to still keep “pursuing” and have a fighting chance).

I don’t know if it’s possible to disentangle this, it’s like splintering timelines are folded into one that is absolute and fixed. But this cherry picking about what can change and what cannot is just that, convenient cherry picking for dramatic effect.

They straddle and ride this ambiguity. For example, the mistake is plain in the last season where what happens is the opposite of what I just described. They know the same history as we do, they go back, they kill Hitler. Because why not. They move from a timeline similar to ours, to a timeline where Hitler is killed earlier. The meaning of this in the show is that nothing changes substantially: Hitler is replaced by Himmler who, in the logic of the show, is no better than Hitler, so proving that killing Hitler wouldn’t have produced any meaningful change. The course of history repeats with just that “minor” death.

But this automatically means they have two timelines. One as we know it with Hitler dead in 1945, the new one where Hitler is dead in 1940. Just because this death doesn’t produce any macroscopic consequence doesn’t mean the timeline didn’t shift. It’s a TOTALLY NEW timeline that just happens to take a similar course, but it’s CLEARLY not the same one. And okay.

The problem is, if you keep producing new timelines, how it’s possible that the MOTHER of the protagonist, a protagonist that already exists before time travel starts to happen, that mother only exists at the LAST timeline? How can the protagonist exist if at the original timeline his mother wasn’t there? Again, this can only be explained if instead of time-travel you have meta-travel: not traveling to a different *time* in the same timeline, but traveling to different (previous) timelines. That’s something they explicitly do during the finale, because they send the protagonist forward to the new timeline. But it’s the very first and only time it happens, so it doesn’t explain all the other cases (and there are many).

In conclusion 12 Monkeys is a radically different show from Dark, but ends up replicating the same problems with its concepts. It’s like a different angle on the same thing, and the more you dig the more you realize they work the same. In both, time travel is created and triggers all kinds of woes, and again in both the solution requires to remove time travel as an anomaly to restore order. In both an ultimate sacrifice is required, an erasure, but in 12 Monkeys then withdrawn in service of happy end. In both we see a time cycle that seems eternal and unbreakable, but both eventually introduce convenient “exceptions” to break it.

There are good things, tho, especially in the second and third season. The whole show is built on the concept of “Your Princess Is in Another Castle”. They think doing something can prevent the plague, like killing a specific bad guy, so they go back, kill the guy, only to find out he wasn’t the whole deal. But even if we have four seasons of this pattern constantly repeating, exactly the same… it works. Every time they go back, and fail, it’s not simply a reset. That would be pointless and frustrating. Instead knowledge grows. We don’t have information made invalid and constantly replaced, we have information that integrates information. They go in blind, because they have nothing to work with, but every time they acquire a new piece, and these pieces are assembled together to generate bigger picture. The sense of frustration is mitigated because this is a journey of discovery.

Knowledge is never sufficient, but it creates at least an illusion of progress. In this, they recreate something valid at its core. Almost a path to wisdom. From the first season to the collapsing finale it’s like being on a desperate chase, against time itself, that doesn’t make any logical sense because it’s a process too blind to succeed. But it is also motivated because it’s the only path available. The gamble way too risky to succeed but fed by desperation, and it creates a rather complex “feeling” where faith is mixed with fate in a meaningful way. A level of metaphysics done well.

Through this journey there are even clever moments. One I have already hinted above: they themselves spread the plague, but only because now the plague belongs to a different context. This deep shift of perspective is metaphysically powerful, way more than probably intended. The proof of how much the show doesn’t simply repeat but shifts in levels. It’s almost like spiritual ascension, done blind (enjoy the contradiction).

Another clever moment is something I’ve just seen done in a masterpiece: a manga titled “20th Century Boys.” Without sidetracking, the ultimate foe “is not who or what he seems” (the princess is in yet another castle, of course, with dark circles under her eyes because she’s truly evil, of course). Hide that duplicity: where you expect one, there are two. If you establish a metaphysical place of consciousness existing out of time, then it’s a place. The Witness’ place. A place that can be visited by various actors. But if it can be visited by many, then it can also be owned. Disguise one for another. Replace one with another. Wear a mask, become a concept, a symbol.

Once again, every time you have your hands on the princess, you realize she’s not the one you want. But it works, because it’s a path of discovery, piece by piece. A curtain that is peeled away, revealing another one, and then another one. It keeps repeating, but it’s a journey of knowledge. It mimics the very ending of Twin Peaks’ third season. Laura Palmer slips away again, Dale Cooper chasing through multiple dimensions. Keep seeking, for knowledge. As it is futile, it is meaningful.

It’s pretty good.

Going back to the beginning: “the most well done ending of all time.”

The opposite: it’s good as long you stop before the worst finale I’ve ever witnessed in a TV show. Or rather: just skip the whole fourth season and maybe watch the Hitler episode for the giggles (it’s the 6th, and it’s definitely worth watching).