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I had this article on free will bookmarked for quite a while because I wanted to add a few observations of my own to it. So now I’m checking boxes and coming to it.

In that article it’s the term “free will” that is being questioned and I always though that when a complex discussion ends up focusing on a word then the point is being missed. Language is merely convention. A word only means what it is useful for it to mean, and whenever you need a more specific term, then a new one is produced.

If you focus too much on what the term means then you miss the point. When dealing with “free will” I have this scheme that I think helps to frame the problem, and so more easily look for solutions. In this specific case the meaning and usefulness of the term depend exclusively on perspective. So we have two opposite answers that are both valid depending on who’s asking (or, from where he’s asking). And that’s why it all ends up in so much confusion and controversy. But in the end this is not a problem of an ambiguous term, it’s instead a problem of perspective and context.

So once again let’s start from the center. We pose the question. “We” are consciousness, and consciousness happens in the brain. It became evident that the peculiarity of consciousness compared to everything else is associated with language. And the peculiarity of language, and of that association by extension, is one of its functions: the metalingual. What is that makes this function “special”? Reflexivity. Reflexivity is the propriety that lets language describe and define itself, and reflexivity is the property that enables a brain to develop a consciousness as we know and experience it. This reflexivity is the true, fundamental culprit of all these processes. This was all properly identified and described in “Gödel, Escher, Bach” as a “strange loop”, and the peculiarity of a strange loop is again the reflexivity.

In information theory the concept of reflexivity is used on the observation framework. What makes reflexivity (or the loop) “strange” is that recursion on itself. Reflexivity in observation means, essentially, introspection. Which means “confusing” subject with object. When observing, you observe an object. But when self-observing, you end up with this weird duplication: you as a subject observe yourself as an object, so at the same time you are both subject and object, here and there. This split is at the source of what we call the human “condition”. That we also know as Cartesian Dualism. That dualism fundamentally originates in the split and duplication of the observation. The mind detaches itself from a body, perceives itself as something else, “more than”. This “mistake” is the base that causes all consequent conflicts and paradoxes.

So we have reflexivity on one side, and a split of the process on the other. The dichotomy infuses everything else. There’s not just a conflict of subject/object, but also one of inside/outside. If observations (as distinctions) happen in the general structure of system (the subject of observation) and environment (what is observed), then system/object are essentially built as inside/outside. A distinction between a self/subject/inside and an environment/object/outside. So, formally speaking, we already have the paradox laid out: we perceive consciousness as something else than a brain, or, we consider consciousness (a subject) separate and independent from its ambient, which is the physical brain. Otherwise neither reflexivity nor observation are possible. They require distinction, and an object that self observes without a distinction perceives itself as a wholeness. So as something that is formally not observable (aka: non conscious). A brain without consciousness obviously doesn’t “think”, because it can’t observe. It can’t recognize itself from anything else. So it’s undivided from the flux of all creation. Exactly as all non-conscious things, alive or not. It’s non discrete.

The problem is embedded in the formality of the process that allows us to be conscious. It means that consciousness is based/enabled by a contradiction. So it’s also obvious that it can’t escape itself. Consciousness is bound to its rules, and so to its limits (aka boundaries). This is important when we’ll define whether “free will” is an useful and appropriate term.

What I just described is a simplification that is useful to “frame” the problem. One of the basic distinctions I took out is inside/outside. This is important because it’s the context that motivates free will as a concept. What is free will? This: something that controls itself independently from the outside. Determinism runs counter to free will because it says, in Bakker terms, that what comes before strictly defines what comes after. Which means that there isn’t any freedom of consciousness in there, at some point, to take control. Everything is already set-up by the pre-conditions. Which also means that it’s the outside (environment) that determines what goes on in the inside (system). So the inside/system/consciousness is merely under the complete control of what’s outside. Everything is already firmly determined. There’s no “freedom” of choice.

Now let’s ask the important question: how would free will happen (if it was truly free and not some surrogate)? Free will, formally, is a system with the possibility to be independent. In the case of a human being, so a system that is part of a much larger system with its rules (physical reality, or the universe), free will means escaping the larger system. So it means the possibility to “exit” the physical reality, escaping it. In religion free will exists because consciousness is seen as a metaphysical entity that ESCAPES rules of physical reality, so religion defines consciousness as something that can’t be merely described by the physical properties it comes from (so consciousness is seen as “more than a brain”). By being “special” (and metaphysical), consciousness acquires its “superpowers”, or: the possibility to punch holes in the physical reality, so transcend it, so, formally, to “exit” the system.

Exit the system. That’s what defines free will as a possibility. But remember that I also said consciousness originates as a paradox, and the paradox allows for consciousness but doesn’t allow consciousness to truly break its rules and boundaries. Which means, from the scientific perspective, that a consciousness isn’t allowed to “transcend” physical reality. So a consciousness can’t exit the system (physical reality), obviously, and so science says that, nope, we don’t have free will, because we are inside this system and subject to all its rules. We are slaves to the system, or, formally, just a system wholly contained within another (and so defined by it, not independent).

How the hell do we exit then? Through information. This is kind of tautological, but if you can actually reach some kind of information external to the system, and bring it inside, then the system is essentially broken. You exited it, by introducing something new into it. So you added variables that were not yet there. Hence forced an outcome that wasn’t previously defined. You obtained “free will”.

Now I’ve defined the superpower but this doesn’t mean I have it, or can obtain it. That’s not the point why I’m writing. The point is that the frame, of outside/inside, is useful to understand the deal with free will. The point is: the system who’s asking the question (whether free will is available or not, or useful as a term) is the same system that pretends to answer it by self-observing. What I mean is that the question CONTAINS the paradox, and then why it then can’t easily obtain an answer. Do I (system) have free will? Who will answer? Still I. So I am both subject and object. I am the entity that asks, analyzes self and then offers the answer. Which means confusing subject and object, inside and outside.

So where’s the mistake? The mistake is that, formally, who says that human beings have no free will is an abstract entity that is not assimilable to a “self”. “You don’t have free will” is not what an human can tell to another human (or to himself). Because the observation “you have not free will” is only possible for the system of reality (that we simplify as a surrogate: science). It’s Science, to whom we give voice, that tells us: you have no free will. So we know we don’t.

We know we don’t, but we don’t EXPERIENCE we don’t. Because Science is not an external entity. We give science its voice. It’s a golem, or a man-made god. Which means that, sure, we have that judgement and may believe it, but since we can’t truly POSSESS that affirmation (we can’t formally tell ourselves we lack free will, because we can’t formally make that observation) then it simply means that knowledge/experience of that affirmation, “you’ve got not free will”, is… useless. It’s *formally* useless. It can’t formally produce any change (or we would have actually enabled free will by not having it, since finally knowing that we have no free will would have actually brought CHANGE, learning something new, and so obtaining actual free will). If we don’t have free will, then it means that knowing we don’t have free will doesn’t “move” the system. So it’s as if we know nothing new. Which means this knowledge is IRRELEVANT, whatever the outcome. We can be sure it’s irrelevant in all possible cases.

The point of this whole deal is that this question isn’t “legal” in the formal system. Only an external system can say we have no free will. The system can’t speak (or it would be equal to “reach god”, or have a transcendent experience). So the system isn’t allowed its answer. We may IMAGINE that answer, but whenever we further consider it we violate a formality, and so produce something false. Like breaking a mathematical rule. So I’m saying we can’t, formally, get an answer. It’s denied. And, in any case, even if we got an answer it would be irrelevant for the reasons I’ve explained. So we covered all possibilities.

The lack of free will is an actual impossibility. We are basically FORCED to have free will. Or: to live as if. We can’t formally live otherwise. This is bound to the human condition: you can’t NOT make use of your free will. You have free will because it’s formally impossible for you to NOT have it (as long you possess consciousness, and so reflexivity, and so possibility to self-observe).

Everything else is just consequence. Morally, considering the possibility of a lack of free will, as discussed in that article, is pointless. Because our morals exist on the premise we have free will. And as far as we are concerned we HAVE free will. Only god (the system) could tell us we got no free will, but god won’t speak to us (if it did, we’d automatically and immediately acquire legit free will). Science could tell us, but science is given a voice. That voice is ours and we aren’t allowed to tell ourselves that sort of thing.

All this simply amounts to going repeatedly at a solid wall. There’s no way through (again because of the formality of the inside/outside rule, you can’t be both inside and outside, so when you try you get the wall in the face). No way around. Which means that the concept of free will as a term is only useful to us in the measure we already use it: the idea of consciousness and free will as we *experience it*. Because that presence of free will applies to us, and exists for us, exactly in that measure.

Which is very similar to the example of the flipped coin. Is a coin being flipped truly “random”? Nope, because we know that the face the coin will fall on depends on a myriad of variables, all dependent on the initial stages that coin was in. The result is already determined, but *for us*, the coin being flipped is an usable approximation of “random”, merely because we just can’t effectively manipulate the outcome. It’s beyond our grasp and so we accept the randomness of a flipped coin even if randomness isn’t a thing in a deterministic world.

Same as “free will”. We can only have a good approximation of it. We are forced to exercise it, as long we live. There’s no way out, there’s no way in. You can only live and use that will, relatively free or not. Knowledge won’t let you free, in this case.

This is noir, pure and simple, a small-scale holocaust of the human soul–Lovecraft without the tentacled bodies; Revelations without the horsemen.

Elsewhere I commented the rest of the show saying that after the third episode it normalized itself and became more conservative and harmless. Now that I’ve seen the finale I confirm that view. Narratively the show is extremely conservative and all its stakes are on flawless execution.

But flawless execution it is. Despite the lack of excess of ambition I thought the finale was absolutely excellent and overall the show is the best television I’ve ever seen in such format. So I could accuse it of not pushing enough against the boundaries of convention, but this was only my wish, not the original intention of the show.

I don’t want to write a full review, just pointing out a couple of things. The most important aspect that transcends execution (how it’s written, how it’s acted, how it’s shot) is how the story bounds to its theme and how the mythology is bound to both.

When the King in Yellow was first mentioned we didn’t know anything about what to expect or where the show was going with it. We just thought it was a neat wink to this corner of geek culture. But this blog has a good article on what it means. It explains well what the King in Yellow represented in the life and breadth of work of his author.

What it couldn’t foresee, though, is that that was the key to the show as well. Here’s a good article by proverbial Jeff Jensen (who always enjoys the playful shows, like LOST or Fringe) on the finale and the meaning of it all (his articles are always more interesting for what they suggest than factual interpretations).

What I appreciated is that the King of Yellow isn’t just there to represent an undefined form of threat, that is finally defeated and exorcized/banished, only to reappear at the very last moment as it happens in dreadful horror shows. Because in the horror shows the threat is there, originating where the mythology comes from: some mythical, magic space beyond reality. But in True Detective all this mystical veil is redirected to an actual origin: the human mind. It starts with the human mind, it ends with the human mind. If the King in Yellow, accordingly to that article, was just the sublimation of a certain decadent culture:

This is also the most literal interpretation – The King in Yellow “himself” could also stand for, well, quite a few things. Take, for example, opium. Chambers wrote The King in Yellow following his experiences as an art student in Paris during one of its most decadent eras. Both opium (Thomas de Quincey’s “the dark idol”) and absinthe (“the green muse”) were prevalent – especially amongst the city’s population of Bohemian artists and poets. It isn’t much of a reach to think that “The King in Yellow” – a play that inspires weird genius, but is also addictive, physically debilitating and sanity destroying – is a metaphor…

And maybe even more telling is how Lovecraft criticized Chambers for not sticking to the mythology itself, as a form of purity that doesn’t need to be disguised (or sullied) in worldly matters.

True Detective, then, takes Chamber’s stance. You shouldn’t look at the mythology because it’s just a false idol. True Detective is not a show about the supernatural, and it never gives in to that temptation. Jeff Jensen pulls the curtains nicely:

He was fooling himself. Rust Cohle has always been fooling himself. His cynicism, his callousness were parts of the mask he wore to engage the world, to deal with himself. But it offered no protection when his mind — tweaking from the fetid evil around him — conspired against him and waylaid him with a vision of a coal-black vortex spiraling down to claim him. Maybe you were thinking: They’re going to do it! Cthulhu is coming! Coming to take us away, ha-ha! Ho-ho! Hee-hee! Beam me up, Lovecraft!

But nope.

True Detective was always all about authenticity — or rather, the lack thereof, and the stories we tell ourselves to get us through the day (religion, or nothingness, or our private Carcosa) and in turn imprint (and inflict) upon the world.

Carcosa is then a place of the mind. It’s just environment that contains this specific flavor of human evil. It’s projected and given a name, it’s made ideal and symbolic.

This is also the show’s dualism well represented. The show’s opening with the blending of shapes with landscapes stresses the dualism: we are people, made of solid matter, but we live in thought. Our life is symbolic. The mind is separate from the body, yet the mind is of the body. It’s made of those landscapes, we are part of that, continuous to that.

So Carcosa is our place, the place of the mind, of symbols and myths.

the stories we tell ourselves and in turn imprint (and inflict) upon the world.

We bring Carcosa to the world because Carcosa is our true self. “True” becoming perspective. What’s true, the symbol or the substance? The world as it is, or the world imagined? Matter or thought? Void or form?

As in Bakker’s “the darkness that comes before”, as human beings we enjoy displacing things. We create gods and then place them before us, so the gods can create us. Then we create evil and place it before us, so that we are not responsible.

Hence, the show’s corny final words are coherent with the theme. We decide and make the difference between light and dark. It’s on us. There’s no mythical elsewhere we can blame for our actions (or lack of).

But the ultimate point is also that the darkness is already here, all around us. And there’s no supernatural or fictional elsewhere to banish it to.

(required reading, for the point of view of the writer and context, and brilliant answers about accuses of misogyny)

I think there’s a lot of self-projection going on in certain cases; like the show has become a Rorschach test for a specific contingent of the audience in which they read their own obsessions into it.

I think True Detective is portraying a world where the weak (physically or economically) are lost, ground under by perfidious wheels that lie somewhere behind the visible, wheels powered by greed, perversity, and irrational belief systems, and these lost souls dwell on an exhausted frontier, a fractured coastline beleaguered by industrial pollution and detritus, slowly sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a sense here that the apocalypse already happened. And in places like this, where there’s little economy and inadequate education, women and children are the first to suffer, by and large.

HA! I’ve got this one in Italy one day BEFORE official US release. Take that, and blame Amazon Europe that didn’t respect the date (and if you are in Germany they got a really low price). Usually it takes me at least one week past release to get a book.

Anyway, while I’m not a big Sanderson fan and this isn’t exactly my preferred reading, I’m still very glad of getting this book and happy to start reading it right away (at my pace). It’s been three years and a few months after The Way of Kings. Maybe I could have planned my reading queue better since right now I was focusing mostly on The Shadow Rising and I consider Sanderson and Jordan relatively similar, in that both are fairly light and leisure kind of reading, but I’ll stick with it.

This Stormlight Archive series is a big investment for Tor, in this age post-Jordan, and you could have seen it concretely in the first book. It wasn’t just a way to deliver words on a page to you, but a rather nice package that had been very carefully built to draw attention and do the best service possible to the words it contained. They wanted this book not a book, but an event.

First, it got Sanderson’s favorite artist for the cover, Michael Whelan, who actually made a really good cover, with warm and strong basic colors and an evocative scene that let transpire the book’s aspired breadth and epic range. It celebrated the scenery more than it celebrated some chosen hero. It then had a bluish hard cover with a sword-like symbol impressed on the front, and a nice texture. Then you flipped the page and there were two gorgeously colored illustrations, one with a map of the regions of the world, the other with a Tree of Life wannabe diagram with fancy symbols. Again the two full-color illustrations mirrored on the back cover, one showing some spiritual equivalent of the map, the other a variation on the Tree of Life theme (and my disappointment was that absolutely none of this was introduced or even glimpsed in the actual text). Than a two-pages acknowledgements by Sanderson telling you how this wasn’t just another book he wrote, but actually the apex of his ambition, the one true project he was really investing himself into. So up the hype.

Then you got an index. And you could see that Sanderson was using every single permutation that he had available. Fantasy books indulge with structure-related artifices, like quotes or poetry to start a chapter, frontispieces, prologues and epilogues, maps. Sanderson took everything (almost, he’s missing family trees and Dramatis Personae). He had a Prelude, sub-division into Five Parts, Prologue, three Interludes (which I enjoyed the most out of everything else in the book), an Epilogue, Endnotes and even a quick & dirty Appendix. And then he took also quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and illustrated chapter headers. But not like WoT chapters headers, with a symbol to represent the chapter. Nope, he had an arc-like thing whose sculpted faces changes as the chapters change AND an illustration within a circle to better represent the theme. And then he got illustrations. Actually good and sometimes useful illustrations. Nineteen of them. Some of which artsy, inspiring maps of cities or other regions.

So the book was overflowing with presentation-driven aids and embellishments. It wanted to make this book more than a book, an experience. It wanted to seduce you with words and colors and art. Because that’s the point: ten of these 1000 pages volumes are planned by Sanderson for this series (without even considering a wider structure to which this series is supposed to belong to). He wants you with him for the long haul. This is his, and Tor, contemporary Wheel of Time, and this time, instead of being found by success, they are planning for it. Planning big, all in.

I can at least enjoy and empathize a little bit with this hype. It doesn’t hurt and I always admire and appreciate ambition. So if I can breath some of that hype it just adds to the experience and makes me actually excited to read the book without overthinking that in the end it’s average fantasy, really. At that point the writing itself is alone to prove itself, but up to that point the presentation made sure to put the writing in the best position possible.

So the point now is: has Tor weakened its effort and marketing push in regards to this second volume? The answer: it’s about the same.

I was worried that after the big splash we’d instead get far less commitment for this second volume, but instead Tor at least made the fist volume into a canon. So this second volume is a very precise copy of what we got with the first, with maybe slightly less love overall. The new cover is rather underwhelming, and nowhere comparable with the one used for the first volume. The chosen hero is now featured prominently on the cover, in a rather cheesy pose/act. The environment is dull, the colors a sickly and drab yellow palette. It seems more like a cover for Peter Pan. The scene has none of the depth of the one in the first volume, and the lance that the character is holding could have at least given the cover some dynamism, but it’s completely obscured by the title. So a mediocre cover overall (if you told me it was made by some dude imitating Whelan’s style I’d believe it). But it retains the style and artist, so it’s the artist in this case who failed to deliver. The book itself is instead red, with a nice silk-like texture to it and another symbol/glyph engraved in the front, different but in the same style of the one in the first volume. You flip the page, but the illustrations with map+Tree of Life are gone. We get instead a two-page illustration by Whelan again with Shallan on a rock, and it’s actually far, far better than the illustration on the cover, whoever chose that one over this is a total fool. On the back cover instead we get a two pages color illustration of the map. Which is basically the same map that you get in black and white within the book. So overall the four gorgeous illustrations in The Way of Kings don’t have an equivalent parallel in Words of Radiance, sadly. A bit of slack.

The inside instead follows closely the first volume. We’ve got again Acknowledgements by Sanderson, this time two pages and half, but only because they greatly embiggened the font. Sanderson again pushes on the hype with this book that is not just a book, and also explains that writing a book is becoming a thing of teamwork, with various “consultants” to help with specific aspects of the writing, like continuity, character psychology and horse behaviors. Then the usual Index listing the exact number of illustrations that were in the first volume, and a similar smattering of Prologue/Interludes/Epilogue. Interestingly, The Way of Kings played with part two and four subtitles: “The Illuminating Storms” and “Storm’s Illumination”. Words of Radiance does something similar with parts two and five: Winds’ Approach” and “Winds Alight”, but where ‘approach’ and ‘alight’ are titles of respective parts. The illustrations appear on a individual basis less cared for compared to the first book, somewhat more perfunctory. Everything else follows the model of the first book. Thankfully We get the exact same font, size, lines on each page. The official wordcount for The Way of Kings was 387k for 1001 pages. Words of Radiance has 1080 pages, and even if I didn’t manage to get a wordcount from Sanderson & assistant, we’re likely around 405-410k since everything is the same, including the wide margins on the page. In the end 400k make for a REALLY long book, but conventionally so. There’s nothing extraordinary about that.

So overall the quality of Words of Radiance, when it comes to the package & presentation, is slightly below the level of the first book, but thankfully Tor maintained the exact same, already lofty, standard. I’m very glad they are sticking to the format, and I roll my eyes thinking that most surely at some point in the life of this series will come an overzealous editor that will start playing with font sizes, pagination and overall layout just to ruin the consistence you expect. Because it always happens.

But for now the two books are a perfect match, and look great side by side.

This is going to be a little rambly. I only wanted to pick up a quote from episode 5 of True Detective because it repeats a pattern. One that I’ve been using in many of my posts on “mythology”.

This is a world where nothing is solved.
Someone once told me, “Time is a flat circle.”
Everything we’ve ever done or will do
we’re gonna do over and over and over again…
…and that little boy and that little girl,
they’re gonna be in that room again…
and again…
and again…
forever.

You ever heard of something called
the M-brane theory, detectives?
It’s like in this universe,
we process time linearly forward…
but outside of our spacetime,
from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective,
time wouldn’t exist,
and from that vantage, could we attain it..
we’d see…
our spacetime would look flattened,
like a single sculpture with matter
in a superposition of every place it ever occupied,
our sentience just cycling through our lives
like carts on a track.
See, everything outside our dimension…
that’s eternity,
eternity looking down on us.
Now, to us,
it’s a sphere,
but to them…
it’s a circle.

In eternity, where there is no time,
nothing can grow.
Nothing can become.
Nothing changes.
So death created time
to grow the things that it would kill…
and you are reborn
but into the same life
that you’ve always been born into.
I mean, how many times have we
had this conversation, detectives?
Well, who knows?
When you can’t remember your lives,
you can’t change your lives,
and that is the terrible and the secret fate of all life.
You’re trapped…
by that nightmare you keep waking up into.

The theme of circularity is less clear, but the rest is again about determinism and the loophole. The second block speaks of the fourth-dimensional perspective, but the important aspect is the shift from one perspective to the other. One, ours, is a perspective from within the sandbox, the other, belonging to a theoretical observer we can as well call “God”, is the perspective from outside the sandbox. Where “the sandbox” means the known universe.

What’s important about this sandbox is that all its laws are contained and the sandbox is sealed. The premise of determinism is that there isn’t any intervention to the inside of this sandbox from the outside. This is also the premise of “science”, or the belief that the laws that rule the world are not mutable (if not when subject to bigger rules).

From that perspective, from the outside, everything is cause and effect. If we toss a coin we might interpret the outcome as “random”, but we also know that the face the coin falls on depends on a great number of factors and laws. Ideally, if we could know every factor we could also then predict the trajectory of the coin, how many times it spun in the air, and so predict the face it would fall on. But since this complexity is already far beyond our reach, we still consider it a practical use of randomness: we just don’t have that kind of control when we toss the coin.

But we can imagine a different perspective if one looks from the outside. In this case it would be like a sequence of numbers, of the kind where you have to guess a few missing ones by looking and figuring out the relationship between the numbers that are there. This is a common game. But with the perspective from the outside the game is different: you know already the rule that generates the sequence of numbers, you are given one number at a random point of the sequence, and your job is instead to deduce all the numbers that come before, and all the numbers that come after. That’s determinism.

Within this context, looking from the outside, the life of someone within this box looks like “trapped”. Why trapped?

“if you can’t remember your lives, you can’t change your lives”

If a choice depends, is influenced, by processes that “come before”, then that choice is always the same if the factors leading to it do not change either. But if you have memories, then these different factors will produce different results. Within a single life, linearly, you can see how experiences influence different choices down the line. That’s a perspective from within the box.

The “loophole” is again theoretically personified as “God”. Or: you need a way to escape the sealed sandbox, a kind of loophole that lets you go “take a glimpse” from the outside, and then returning back in, keeping that knowledge, so that you can use it to “change” what happens within the sandbox.

That’s once again the idea playing in those quotes. If “God” granted us, whenever the timeline reboots and we are reborn, “memories” of our past lives, then it would be as if we would obtain the “breaching of the vessel” that grants us the loophole. Knowledge that passes through God, holding our previous memories, is knowledge that is taken from the sandbox, preserved outside it, and then injected in the box to alter its content: this is intervention from the outside, and so the sandbox isn’t sealed anymore (unless there’s another external observer, whose observed system would be a deterministic “sandbox + observed god”).

Why does this matter?

If it’s all a game of infinite perspective shifts, then we are all alike God, playing with sub-creations (see Tolkien on his mythology).

How many times those detectives had their conversation, indeed? I’ve played it at least twice. And it was repeated as many times that show was seen. Every time it’s the exact same conversation. Because those characters are trapped in a movie, and the movie plays always the same. Those characters can show feelings and everything, but they don’t have memories of the repeating acts. You can see “choice” happen, when you move from one episode to the next, those characters react depending on their past experiences, but if you rewatch the show they aren’t going to retain those memories, and so they can only repeat themselves in the exact same way.

(interesting how the genre of games called “roguelike” offers a good example of loophole and sandbox-violation. The sandbox is the game, the player is the god. The character in the game/sandbox can die permanently, but then his “knowledge”/memories passes to the player, who’s going to learn from those characters’ deaths, and play better)

So if god created the world, and sees it as a deterministic system where we don’t have any freedom, the same happens to us and to our sub-creations. We are small gods with small powers, just repeating the same moves in a smaller scale. I guess.

Oh, True Detective, HBO. Singular masterpiece on TV now.

Some pretentiousness and fluff aside, this is serious good writing, excellent use of music, excellent direction, and even more excellent acting, which is rare if taken alone, even more if you expect them to happen all at once. It comes as close as possible to an hour of perfect Television. I’m impressed (I’ve only seen the first three episodes, I’ve heard the fourth is better).

It’s also a fair bit like a TV adaptation of Bakker’s “Disciple of the Dog”. Matthew McConaughey is more than perfect for the role as Detective “Rust”, the most delicious kind of cynicism. Tasting exactly like Rust, who suffers from synesthesia. Bakker’s themes are all there and not /too/ flattened for the broader public either.

This show, contrary to the standard of TV productions, is also run entirely by a single writer and a single director. Eight episodes and the first season is over, but following seasons, if they happen, open up completely new chapters and characters. So this story will come to a close in these eight episodes. It promises and delivers.

To add more genius, the opening shows human interiority as physical landscapes. Human beings as environments. And The King in Yellow was mentioned.

But this post is simply supposed to collect quotes right from the script (or the three episodes I’ve seen).

- People out here, it’s like they don’t even know the outside world exists. Might as well be living on the fucking Moon.

- There’s all kinds of ghettos in the world.

- It’s all one ghetto, man, giant gutter in outer space.

Look. I consider myself a realist, all right, but in philosophical terms, I’m what’s called a pessimist.

- Um, okay. What’s that mean?

- Means I’m bad at parties.

- Heh. Let me tell you. You ain’t great outside of parties either.

- I think human consciousness was a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody when, in fact, everybody’s nobody.

- I wouldn’t go around spouting that shit, I was you. People around here don’t think that way.

- I think the honorable thing for species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters, opting out of a raw deal.

- So what’s the point of getting out bed in the morning?

- I tell myself I bear witness, but the real answer is that it’s obviously my programming, and I lack the constitution for suicide.


Ah, that’s not this. This has scope. Now, she articulated a person with vision. Vision is meaning. Meaning is historical.


Yeah, back then, the visions. Yeah, most of the time, I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times… I thought I was mainlining the secret truth of the universe.


- Some folks enjoy community, the common good.

- Yeah? Well, if the common good has got to make up fairy tales, then it’s not good for anybody.

If the only thing keeping a person decent is the expectation of divine reward, then, brother, that person is a piece of shit, and I’d like to get as many of them out in the open as possible.

What’s it say about life, hmm, you got to get together, tell yourself stories that violate every law of the universe just to get through the goddamn day?

Oh, yeah. Been that way since one monkey looked at the sun and told the other monkey, “He said for you to give me your fucking share.”

Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective in proportion to the amount of certainty he can project.

Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain, dulls critical thinking.

See, we all got what I call a life trap, this gene-deep certainty that things will be different, that you’ll move to another city and meet the people that’ll be the friends for the rest of your life, that you’ll fall in love and be fulfilled. Fucking fulfillment, heh, and closure, whatever the fuck those two– Fucking empty jars to hold this shitstorm, and nothing is ever fulfilled until the very end, and closure– No. No, no. Nothing is ever over.

The ontological fallacy of expecting a light at the end of the tunnel, well, that’s what the preacher sells, same as a shrink. See, the preacher, he encourages your capacity for illusion. Then he tells you it’s a fucking virtue. Always a buck to be had doing that, and it’s such a desperate sense of entitlement, isn’t it? “Surely, this is all for me. Me. Me, me, me. I, I. I’m so fucking important. I’m so fucking important, then, right?” Fuck you.

People. I’ve seen the finale of thousands of lives, man– young, old. Each one is so sure of their realness, that their sensory experience constituted a unique individual with purpose, meaning… so certain that they were more than a biological puppet. Well, the truth wills out, and everybody sees once the strings are cut, all fall down.

Each stilled body so certain that they were more than the sum of their urges, all the useless spinning, tired mind, collision of desire and ignorance.

This– This is what I’m talking about. This is what I mean when I’m talking about time and death and futility. There are broader ideas at work, mainly what is owed between us as a society for our mutual illusions. 14 straight hours of staring at DBs, these are the things you think of. You ever done that? Hmm? You look in their eyes, even in a picture. Doesn’t matter if they’re dead or alive. You can still read them, and you know what you see? They welcomed it, mm-hmm, not at first, but right there in the last instant. It an unmistakable relief, see, because they were afraid and now they saw for the very first time how easy it was to just let go, and they saw– In that last nanosecond, they saw what they were, that you, yourself, this whole big drama, it was never anything but a jerry-rig of presumption and dumb will and you could just let go finally now that you didn’t have to hold on so tight… to realize that all your life– you know, all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain– it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room, a dream about being a person…

I recently found a link to a Youtube video with a translation of a scene from a recent Visual Novel. I already mentioned how this particular medium is well suited for these kind of tricks like metafiction and fourth wall breaking.

This one is a good example (beware sexual themes and general meanness):
Part 1Part 2

It’s Part 2 where the interesting stuff happens. Visual Novels are quite often relatively simple “dating sims” where you follow a scripted story and only get to make an handful of choices through the whole game. Usually these choices can be about choosing which one of the girls offered you want to date, and so you branch out from the main plot into a specific, parallel “route” somewhat dedicated to that one girl you picked. And then these games often demand to be replayed so that you go through every route/option and sometimes unlock a “true end” with more mysteries and revelations.

In this case the metafictional play is that one of the girls suddenly drops the pretense of the story and starts talking directly to the “player”. Becoming somehow “aware” of herself as a character and knowing that the player previously went through a different “route”, declaring his “love” to a different character. So she breaches the timeline where she’s trapped in as a fictional character and confronts *the player* on his own choices. The scene is powerful because it actually reaches for a deeper truth: the player is a liar, he promises true love to every girl. Then she goes wild and takes control of the game itself by “rewriting” the script and disabling the possibility to save the game or even “quit”. Like some kind of AI gone mad.

There’s nothing too original about all this, but it still plays with interesting aspects. Metafiction is powerful because it is deeply linked to “truth”. It’s the frame, the condition we are actually in. The game here merely “plays” a reality, and it becomes creepy because it cuts some of the safe distance between fiction and you. When the character starts speaking to the player, and on the basis of true affirmations, it not only breaks the fourth wall, but it threatens to close that distance. Move one step too close.

Metafiction isn’t just one silly trick in the Postmodern deck of cards, but the laying out of the structure we can’t escape. If fictional characters are trapped within their medium, “real” human beings are trapped in their subjective world. You can’t reach outside the same way a character ideally can’t break the fourth wall. Fiction being real, and reality being fiction is just the original sin, the premise of everything. One box within the other. The idea of “self” as something you can observe as if who observes is also the object of observation SPAWNS all possible variations on the theme. Fiction is just the same pattern, an object you observe that in some ways reflects you. It’s the way the mind works.

So metafiction isn’t just a literary device among many, but it’s the structure that contains everything else. The same way as “writing” isn’t one of many possible human activities, but the one that includes all human experience.

Postmodern “awareness”, or the “great postmodern uncertainty” as DFW defines it, is a very specific and precise description of the kind of world we are currently trapped in. It’s not a trend you subscribe to, it’s the authority of this world.

It fits right in: