Category Archives: Mythology

Includes philosophy, science, religion, physics, metaphysics, and all kinds of speculative wankery.


Here we are again.

Ted Chiang has recently released a new short stories collection, and within it he has repackaged and repurposed the exact same faulty concept of time and free will. The difference is that it has been pared down to just ONE page, so it’s all the more easy to handle (and debunk).

I’m referring to the story with the title “What’s Expected of Us”. I haven’t read more than that, and I’m also discouraged for doing so.

I’m sorry but I can’t take Chiang seriously anymore, and I can’t take seriously anyone who considers him a decent writer, either. You cannot drag an idea for so long without noticing how deeply faulty it is, and keep preaching as if it’s gospel. Okay that you dressed it up nicely in “Story of Your Life”, but here it’s stark naked, and I’m astonished that you have no shame showing it.

I’ve written a few comments recently about Dark and its bootstrap paradox. And even this short story by Chiang is a variation on the same theme, and generally amounts to a simplification of the more interesting and articulated Newcomb’s Paradox. This just to reiterate there’s nothing new under the sun, just another coat of obfuscation by Chiang, that for some inexplicable reason people seem to mistake for insight and great sci-fi.

The concept here is a “Predictor”, that is just a basic box with a button and a light. The premise is that free will doesn’t exist, and the predictor works by flashing the light one second before someone will press the button. The device being of course infallible.

Let’s start here: I absolutely accept the premise. The premise no free will exists, and human behavior can be deterministically predicted with absolute accuracy by this device.

The real problem isn’t determinism and free will, the problem is that Chiang makes this device operate in a completely dishonest way, in order to HIDE and dissemble the magical trick it is based on. This is what he writes to describe the practical use of the device:

But when you try to break the rules, you find that you can’t. If you try to press the button without having seen a flash, the flash immediately appears, and no matter how fast you move, you never push the button until a second has elapsed. If you wait for the flash, intending to keep from pressing the button afterward, the flash never appears. No matter what you do, the light always precedes the button press. There’s no way to fool a Predictor.

The first example doesn’t seem very plausible. The idea is you’re trying to press the button as fast as possible, but “the flash immediately appears”. It still takes a whole second, so the thesis is that you cannot press a single button faster than a whole second. And that’s already hubris, but let’s move on.

The second example is more interesting because it actually describes what it would REALLY happen if such device existed: you want to fool the device, so you wait for the light just so you WON’T press the button. And the consequence of this “deliberate choice” is, correctly, that the flash never appears.

This example is more interesting because it reveals something hidden. If the predictor never makes a prediction, then it can never been proven wrong. The device correctly functions by avoiding the one state that would compromise its function, by proving the prediction wrong. Without a prediction there’s no possible confutation. This is just like saying you cannot disprove something that doesn’t exist (argument from ignorance or variations).

The solution to this is to avoid this dishonest way of shaping the conundrum that Chiang uses, and instead see what happens if the prediction is FORCED (instead of evaded), so that it can be appropriately tested.

“Most people agree these arguments are irrefutable, but no one ever really accepts the conclusion. What it takes is a demonstration, and that’s what a Predictor provides.”

And that’s exactly what I’ll do: demonstrate that Chiang’s concept is logically faulty and produced by misleading premises. To do this I’ll create an experiment, just like what Chiang did in the story, with a few variations so that I can properly test the predictor with the sensible data.

As I said, this has nothing to do with free will and determinism, so I can prove the fallacy by removing even more variables. Instead of predicting human behavior I just need the predictor to be connected to a computer, and still prove that it will fail. The predictor simply has to predict whether on a screen the letter A or the letter B will be shown. The basic function of the predictor is the same as in the story (“it sends a signal back in time”). So the predictor sees which letter is shown on screen, in the future, and sends it back in time the result for the prediction.

The new trick in this experiment is that the computer that executes the process that will show either the letter A or the letter B on screen, takes the predictor’s prediction as INPUT. So that if the predictor predicts that the letter A will be shown, then the computer will display the letter B on screen, effectively contradicting the prediction. No matter what the predictor predicts, the process is built to contradict it.

In every single case possible the prediction is going to be invalidated. Hence, the logical fallacy that is at the core of Chiang’s concept. There isn’t even a single case to make this work, and the reason is exactly because of the logical fallacy.

Explanation: what happens in this example/experiment is that the moment when the prediction is sent back in time, that information is new information that alters the global state of the system, and so shifting it to a new, different state. It’s not that the predictor “doesn’t work”, it’s that every hypothetical prediction that is made triggers a change of state of the system.

For a better comprehension: the problem here isn’t again about the plausibility of determinism, and so the possibility of prediction. Predicting the behavior of a deterministic system is of course logically possible. The real problem we have here isn’t about determinism and it isn’t about prediction either. It’s INSTEAD about a process built on self-reference and recursion. The prediction here informs the system it tries to predict, and doing so recursively alters itself. We can imagine to ideally get to the end of this process, as if hammering down these time loops in their ultimate state, when all it’s done. But the point is that the process we are observing is one of infinite regression. So that it never closes, and so that, without a closure, can’t be predicted. Unless the prediction is itself separated from the system, without informing it directly and without triggering the self-reference.

This works EXACTLY like the liar’s paradox. In this well known example we have a phrase that alternates between two states, true and false, that recursively feed on themselves, with self-reference, so that they endlessly shift between those two positions. Until human beings observe and heuristically classify this as a “paradox”. It’s not, accurately, a paradox, it’s just a recursive, self-referential system without closure, and so we make up our own human simplification by assuming that a system without a closure “doesn’t make sense”, and so it’s a paradox. Something that cannot be hammered down logically in a fixed position, since it’s built to shift endlessly.

So, you can predict the evolution of a deterministic system where the prediction itself is separated from the system being predicted. But you CANNOT create a self-reference within the system without facing the consequences. That self-reference recursively altering the behavior, triggering an infinite regression that, by avoiding closure, makes the prediction impossible too, since the idea of a prediction implies that the system being predicted assumes some fixed final state that can be mapped.

This is also the reason why what Chiang writes next is even more absurd and ill informed:

“People used to speculate about a thought that destroys the thinker, some unspeakable Lovecraftian horror, or a Gödel sentence that crashes the human logical system. It turns out that the disabling thought is one that we’ve all encountered: the idea that free will doesn’t exist. It just wasn’t harmful until you believed it.”

This is just magical thinking: the idea that a “belief” can trigger some special, unprecedented effect. This happens just as consequence of the logical fallacy at the foundation of the whole concept. What actually DOES happen is that a logical system “cannot crash”. Because it’s built on logic, it observes and operates on logic, and whatever hypothesis of something non-logical would be simply unseen by such a system. And if something is unseen and unperceived, it doesn’t exist. It never becomes experience. It never enters or even interacts with the environment (hence we pass the threshold and step into pure metaphysics, that Chiang obviously can’t deal with, being blind to what he’s observing).

The idea that “free will doesn’t exist” is locked off, out of experience. Because you cannot become aware of something embedded. The awareness of lack of free will doesn’t bestow free will, so it produces no change at all. No emancipation.

Chiang continues tripping on this, since he started from a faulty proposition:

“My message to you is this: Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma.”

The truth is the exact opposite of what he says here. Nothing is “essential”, and especially “your belief” is completely irrelevant. The truth is that there’s no escape from this system, so no matter what you believe, the result is immutable.

He partially admits it in the following paragraph:

“There’s nothing anyone can do about it”

So, logically, it’s really not important what you “believe”, because beliefs aren’t magical, they aren’t transcendental, and so they cannot help in any way out of this process. What you believe is irrelevant.

The opposite is true: you have no freedom to exit the belief in free will, because you cannot act on the premise of the absence of it. You cannot be exempted from what we can generally call the “human condition”, and the human condition is built around the *perception* of free will. Whether this perception is fundamentally and truthfully “free” or just an illusion, is irrelevant, because we are chained to this state, and its truth-ness or false-ness are both unverifiable and with no consequence. Hence they do not exist (we can assume “as if” they don’t, since it’s indifferent relative to our present state, as good epistemology would dictate).

Human beings are structurally chained to free will, because the nature of human beings is perspectival, partial. Caged within the system that builds them. In a similar way, you cannot predict determinism from within the system you’re trying to predict. Free will, like determinism, can only be factually proven by exiting the system (of reality). Until we remain caged within, we continue to submit to (perception of) free will, and the nature of self reference that doesn’t allow closure and so accurate, complete prediction (as to say: the Laplacian demon can only exist outside the system it is observing, otherwise it’s also bound to self-refence and incompleteness/non-closure).

That said, not all bootstrap paradoxes are logically faulty. I always thought that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus is a form of metaphorical, and logically valid, bootstrap paradox. There are ways to hide the origin, that’s the trick. Not so much, as in Dark, that origins don’t exist. But there can be patterns where origins could be “missed”, or unperceived. Unseen. There are ways for the world to “fall off” from its root, and so appear as if suspended. Independent. Just like consciousness.

It’s all about perception… and truth. Because so, if we value truth, we cannot value Ted Chiang, whose work is like that of an illusionist who tries to obfuscate so much more than reveal. Appearing to be smart and deep through the use of misleading intuition pumps.

EDIT: After writing this I searched online for other comments about this specific story and found one in particular that matches mine but that more directly ties with the example of the story:

“Consider the Free Will Device, put next to the predictor. Free Will Device is actually entirely deterministic, and doesn’t have any free will of its own. It consist of photocell which watches the LED on predictor, timer, which gets reset to 0 every time light hits photocell, and actuator which pushes the button when timer reaches 2 seconds. If predictor blinks within those 2 seconds, there won’t be a button press, and if predictor doesn’t blink, there will be a button press.”

EDIT2: I noticed later that the story here is from 2005, so I now have no idea if it pre-dates Arrival or whatever. But maybe Ted Chiang could be forgiven for dredging up some faulty old story. Still, this is Ron Hubbard type of quality, and so it’s fairly condemnable for its poor philosophy, regardless of when it was written.

Very little to say, this time. Well, specifically. What I have to say will be more meandering.

Dark is still a very good product to watch. It’s all about the execution and the seriousness of the drama that makes it get away with its absurd conceits (there are a few… moments, this season).

This time (but also the first) I just didn’t want to put the effort to learn again who all those characters are, and their names. I remembered very little of this whole convoluted “who’s who”, whose son, who cheats on who, and so on. And I was right because after a few episodes the plot surfaces anyway and the little details foggily fall back. I just don’t care.

As the episodes go by, and the patterns clear out, I started to think it was all very, very predictable. Minute to minute it still keeps me engaged, the tension is always there, but then the episode is over and there’s not much left on the table.

Right up to the last minute of the last episode. Then I laughed. I also laughed at the finale of the second season of The OA, even if in that case it was much worse.

That last bit was not just predictable, but also clumsy. In season 1 we’ve seen the present and past being explored, then the season ended with a teaser of the future. So if with season 2 we have explored past, present and future… what’s left? Oh right.

The problem isn’t so much the bland predictability of this development, that becomes unexpected just because you don’t think possible they’ll make such an obvious move, but that season 2 as a whole is just a “filler”. Nothing being added. They just push on the pedal to show a bit better the potential of those rules they already established.

While waiting for Dark I started to watch “Lucifer” as a kind of pop-corn entertainment. And it does its job splendidly. It also underlines a pattern I don’t personally like, so here’s a quick rant: people bore me. I have enough of people. Dark is, essentially, soap opera with some sci-fi sprinkled over. The meat and bone of the show is still the boring people’s drama. People loving, people crying.

Even WORSE, season 2 of this show decided to write THIS into its mythology. Made this stupid “Adam” villain whose purpose is trying to make sense of the bad metaphysics. And so he explains how PEOPLE are moved by PASSIONS, the mechanics of PAIN and DESIRE. And how all this baggage essentially erases their FREE WILL and causes this time loop to be a fixed, immutable loop. Locking people into their behavior. You know, Bakker, but shallow:

Men being moved by their passions, by something that precedes them and on which they have no control, and so they aren’t ‘agents’, because they are moved by what comes before. …That all makes sense from the point of view of the science. We have now a tale of the world that does without human agency, where all matter flows equally. With no metaphysical intrusion. But more importantly, without any anthropocentrism. The recipe of the world needs to describe and entail the whole world, equally, without putting any human being on a privileged throne of being.

…And yet the show fails to conform with its goal, because again it needs to compromise for its public, and so fall back to relatable, anthropomorphic concepts. Like a villain. And so this pointless Adam that for some illogical reason represents the ‘beginning’, or a trigger. If “time” is truly god, as it’s been said at a certain point, then it again comprises everything. If this time loop is fixed and immutable, then there’s no epistemological distinction between minor and major events. Nothing changes, even minimally. And this same rule needs to apply even to a blade of grass being bent by the wind some kilometers away, unseen by all.

Got it? The process is the king. Without a distinction, without a beginning. Without an agent.

Thankfully this idea of Adam having some sort of privileged status has been discarded, at least for the time being. But during those dialogues between Jonas and Jonas (Adam), I kept wondering how the hell could he believe he could change anything, when season 1 already established and proved how ill-conceived was the idea. What’s different now? Nothing. And that’s why season 2 is filler. It just introduced this anthropocentric red-herring of believing this Adam character having some special feature. Some deus ex machina or, rather, man-privilege. Turns out, for the time being, he does not. So season 2 opens and closes its illogical hypothesis, and simply pushes its metaphysical dirt under the rug of a parallel world. Yay?

There’s something else, though. They haven’t just tried the anthropocentric angle (that really is just a variation of classic “dualism”, and consciousness being distinct from the physical), but also tried the ‘other’ way. One idea they briefly toyed with was the possibility of a new particle playing a role. A “God’s particle” that could somehow trigger some new, unprecedented effect. But once again the point is that it’s all a self-feeding process. Whatever particle is ALREADY part of the process. It doesn’t arrive into this picture as ‘new’ material able to somehow derail this train. Physics is part of physics. There is no ‘beginning’, or extraneousness to this process… Unless it comes from somewhere else… And only to be welded into the same, but much bigger structure overall.

When you use paradoxes, what makes them meaningful is their solution. Unless you are a magician who speculates on keeping the tricks hidden. Otherwise a paradox that is left as a paradox only hints at a logical fallacy. Something that doesn’t quite follow. During season 2 they mention a few times the ‘bootstrap paradox’ as something clever. They don’t even try providing a solution, as if they believe it’s the simple statement of a paradox that is meaningful, that makes it possible. The epistemological possibility of paradoxes.

There is an apple. There is a paradox.

But nope. That’s not how paradoxes ‘work’. The bootstrap paradox, for example, is solved in the classical ways of time travel. It’s a system of parallel worlds, working like branches. So what happens is that something, indeed, always has a causal origin. No rules are violated. When the loop is closed what’s left (visible) is only the loop itself. The origin, the root of the process, doesn’t cease to exist in the complete sense. It’s simply hidden away, out of reach. Hence this paradox isn’t a true paradox, but only the sleight of hand that hides the trick. That cuts away the logical explanation. It’s not about the existence of a paradox, but the fickleness of perception.

For Dark, we had the mechanics already established through season 1. Season 2, then, explored the possibility of finding exceptions to those rules, but failing. I was definitely intrigued when they were suggesting the possibility of those exceptions, but they were all revealed as empty and vain.

At its core, season 1 was built on a concept that just doesn’t hold up logically. There’s not much to add because season 2 just explores a few dead ends, and all its promises of showing something new are ultimately disregarded.

All this means that this season 2 is metaphysically inert, and I watch this stuff for this reason. And I’m bored of people drama, and there’s very little left beside that.

Lucifer, I was saying, isn’t all that different. We don’t get soap opera here, but we do get procedural. So same as Dark is soap opera with some sci-fi sprinkled over, Lucifer ends up as a procedural with some mythology sprinkled over, and thankfully a main character (and actor, really) that somewhat holds it all up. Here I am, watching these shows for what they have hidden in the gaps. The weird angles, that immediately disappear if you aren’t looking closely. Ghosts in the machine.

Lucifer (I was saying) does something you absolutely don’t expect. Because it does for the metaphysics way, way more than what “Dark” can do. It’s so much deeper and subtle, despite being hard to catch.

On one hand Dark promised so much, and delivered nothing, with some clumsy missteps that make me doubt it will ever get somewhere even with its announced third season. Lucifer instead promised absolutely nothing beside that pop-corn entertainment, but while juggling those metaphors it really does breach the fabric of reality. It really pushes past perception, playing with various layers and curtains. Make believe.

It seems I spend all my time complaining, but we do have some good stuff. The third season of Twin Peaks was metaphysically excellent, for example. Lucifer shows glimpses of genius (episode 6 of the 2nd season, an episode that is otherwise quite dull). Travelers was very good. Both The OA and Dark, despite being more ambitious, were mostly interesting failures.

Quick addendum:
There are a few things that Dark does better than Arrival, others less so. The metaphysics of Arrival worked so one who witnessed the future was then compelled to make it identical to how it was seen. So we can say that one was brought to ‘will’ that same future, in that exact way. In Dark instead we see characters desperately trying their best to CHANGE the course, and fail. Here the solution in Arrival is forced and artificial, but more logical. But Dark instead is more consistent with its presentation. By showing how a daughter can become the mother of her mother, they demonstrate that time is simultaneous, that it doesn’t develop through actual casual loops.

(continues from here)

Here I go more conceptual, and away from the specifics of the show. I found a great article, written way, way better than I ever could. So this second section about the show will be in the form of direct commentary to that article.

https://thelastinstance.com/posts/transcending_a_mere_multiverse/

That first paragraph is spot on. I have avoided to comment on the “form” of the show, the direction, because it’s done really well and there’s not much I can add. There are aspects of it that are well done, but here I’m more interested to delve into “meaning.” As always I try to take things seriously, and so beyond the art form.

The rebus-like symbolic tangles that emerge within this world are a kind of apophenic sense-making.

Apophenia is about seeing patterns where there are none, so this line seems a kind of oxymoron. Apophenic sense-making is already about getting lost in the labyrinth. Being led astray by the very nature that makes “sense” possible. The hint here is that the condemnation is structural. Built in. Embodied. And so, again, not a choice.

it is as likely to turn out to have been All A Dream as anything else — but the shared activity of following the threads, puzzling out your collective condition, is all you have.

Here is the first big hint. Adding the rest of the line makes this read like it’s a straightforward statement on “the human condition.” But instead what we’re dealing with here is something a lot more specific.

We have to detach from the level of the narrative. Of course it’s all metaphoric, but metaphors can lead astray if you aren’t aware of context. So, “likely have been all a dream” doesn’t refer to OA’s story. It’s not fictional. The metaphor holds as a reflection on real life. What’s suggested here is Westworld’s iconic “have you ever questioned the nature of your own reality?” In the same way that question, in that show, is to us and not the robots, here the dream hypothesis isn’t about OA, it’s again about us. Our life and reality.

Yes, what we are living could all be a dream. Or a simulation. The show is gnostic, so it means it will have… a theory of consciousness and reality. It will need to be structured. We have to accept that it will work on these two layers. The fictional and the real, where the fictional is a metaphor to “illuminate” the real. What applies to OA is generalized and applicable to us.

So again, “the shared activity of following the threads, puzzling out your collective condition.” It’s about the “your”, so us. Not simply her and her peculiar situation, or other characters in the show. We are all caged in reality. Or like a “stage” where we act our lives. But we don’t know the nature of our reality, we don’t know real meaning, truth, purpose. And so we look for answers, for understanding. We follow the threads and try to find that meaning. But how we decide that meaning is found or created? How we decide truth?

Season 2 of The OA collides two seemingly disjoint epistemological stances, which I’ll describe as the “local knower” stance and the “big data” stance. The “local knower” stance grounds knowledge in embodied, situational, phenomenological experience, mediated via communal meaning-making practices; it eschews the global ontology of the scientific “worldview”, favouring a “view from somewhere” over the “view from nowhere”.

Here’s the deal: dualism. Plainly shown. The old dichotomy of philosophy. The mind and body, the explanation gap. Phenomenology and everything else. The distinction between first and third person. Observing systems. And so on, since it all unravels from there.

The quote is clear, what we are dealing with is epistemology. We are dropped in a cage (because it has boundaries), reality, and we have to decide what’s true. It all comes back to epistemology. The methodology of truth-making, or more pragmatically: how you decide to navigate the space. The tools you rely on. The foundations of knowledge.

The “local knower” is simply the phenomenological stance. The observer. Consciousness as it is experienced. The you who “feels”. The qualia. But you can see how that quote is already oriented. It’s not neutral, not much because it carries the point of view of who writes, but because it is explaining the show. And it’s the show to be oriented: somewhere versus nowhere. Something over nothing.

The straw man begins here because science and objectivity are demonized. They aren’t simply described, but they are qualified negatively. The view from nowhere is a false view. A trick. The “big data” is the obscure process that takes control and answers to no one. It all begins here: obscurity is moved outside, unknown processes outside the mind, nihilistic nonhuman voids.

It’s no coincidence that Hap, the “mad scientist” in this scenario, is a figure of evil

Oh yes, it’s called straw man. And it’s pathetically done.

an ontological malcontent who refuses to abide within the finite stance of the local knower, and treats the world around him as experimental material in a deranged and violent quest for transcendence.

And this is pure projection. Science, as a third person, doesn’t actively move. You need to give it intention, you need to make it human. At that point you have a villain, because you’ve taken the evil inside and you have moved it outside. You’ve fashioned a monster.

This is where epistemology dies. Hap, as the external knower, wants to transcend. But it’s instead the closed point of view, the first person that has the need to understand the truth of the world and should transcend its blindness. The outside is already free from that cage. It’s one step ahead.

And so knowledge has to be bound directly to violence. So that it’s automatically disqualified. Because otherwise knowledge would appear quite neutral, if not positive. Wasn’t the starting point about understanding reality?

So, lets see… What happens if you disqualify external knowledge. Make it EVIL. What happens? What other kind of knowledge is possible?

Delusions.

Those raw, vague “feelings” become your knowledge. Your truths. You’ve just disavowed science as a reliable tool and decided that what’s true is the feeling of truthfulness. You’ve just opened the gates to blindness, by making obscurity ontological. The loop closes. You can only see what you can only see. And so you are blind…

The truth heralded by the OA, embodied in the “five movements” (one for each of the senses), is a truth of revelation: it is not acquired by testing and falsifying hypotheses, but by becoming incorporated into a narrative.

Otherwise called as: truth by deus ex machina. Unquestioned truths coming from above: faith. Blind surrender.

Such knowledge is “proved upon our pulses”, by trial of personal commitment. It is Hap’s prescribed fate to remain permanently hapless in the face of this way of knowing, which eludes him as the Roadrunner eludes Wile E. Coyote.

Yes, the show is PERVERSE. The quintessence of EVIL.

Because it’s the other way around. Once you have disavowed the methodology of science you get hope-FULL. Driven by delusions. You have eluded the only movement possible toward truth (and the “movements” in this season are performed by *machines*, so symbols of lack of choice). Hap is here again just a demonized puppet to feed those delusions. To keep the eyes closed and continue to be a slave.

You look at Hap, feeling sorry for him, right when the cage locks closed around YOU. It’s all a game of misdirection and distraction.

You are driven into the cage while being told that it will be your freedom. You are being betrayed by the same systems you relied on. Seduced and brought to the slaughterhouse.

It happens that this process has accidentally uncovered “unnatural” phenomena, locating a fragment of dream-logic that is somehow germinating within the waking world.

There’s no unnatural phenomena. Only phenomena that aren’t well understood.

When you make of blindness a virtue: you make of obscurity a quality. So this phenomenon isn’t anymore simply “not understood”. But it becomes unnatural: impossible to explain. Obscurity as intrinsic quality.

The OA thus brings together, in a single imaginative gesture, two kinds of ontological excess.

Not quite because in the end they aren’t excess. They are merely the usual ontologies: idealism versus materialism. Perception versus an external reality.

On the one side, there is the local knower confounded by unrepresentable trauma, grief and loss, who has only experience with which to make sense of experiences that don’t make sense, and who must assemble a liveable world through shared narration and ritual practice.

And this is ultimately fine. If your methodology is good then you know that phenomenology doesn’t get overwritten. It might be transcended, so to speak, but it cannot be contradicted. This means that the basic, “foundational” level of the first person is virtuous. It stays valid.

There’s no looming presence outside that threatens it, unless you surrender again to false methodologies that simply project outside the monsters that always lived inside. The idealism, by its constitution, makes an habit of displacing the essence of “being.” It’s all a klein bottle, always inside even when it appears outside. For once the lesson is correct: fear yourself, not the world.

The fantasy here is not merely that an individual’s apophenic pattern over-recognition has a foothold in material reality — that there really is something special about every thirteenth paving stone — but that this over-recognition is mirrored by a breakdown in the global order of knowledge: the machine dreams the same impossible thing into being that we do.

Well, yes. When you bridge the gap then you merge the first person into the third. This is what happens. As I said, the third person doesn’t overwrites the first, it integrates it.

That’s the only thing the show vaguely stumbles on by aimlessly groping in the dark (this time I quote the show):

I don’t suppress the consciousness of the body that hosts me.
That would be vicious.
I integrate.
I share in the experiences of all the bodies that hold me.

Of course in the show this is merely the sum of different subjects. It’s just about merging “souls”.

The “truth beyond the veil”, instead, is that the necessary merging happens between the first and third person. That’s the real “integration”. You bridge the mind/body gap, instead of reinforcing it by making blindness a virtue.

That’s why the show constantly contradicts itself. That’s rejection at a radical level, not integration.

What is blindness, truly? A form of partiality. A distinction between seen and unseen. What is seen is only seen partially, because the whole is hidden. But when you then reject logic and rationality it means you’re building walls around that partiality. Make it your castle.

You are not integrating, you’re separating. You’re widening the gap so that the unreal stays real. And so that the obscurity stays shadowed (in anosognosia, “I don’t know that I don’t know”).

There is a kind of theory of vibe at work in The OA

“Theory of vibe” is another oxymoron. Something strict, like a theory, versus something vague, like a vibe.

Where’s the distinction? In obscurity.

A theory is a theory. It’s thoroughly explained, explicit. A vibe instead is only a theory that has been occluded. That you cannot exactly pinpoint even if you seem to glimpse its shape. It’s a potential coming out of doubt, but it’s once again dangerous if you take that obscurity as a virtue.

The series itself is more persuasively attentive to mood and incident than it is to plot: it short-circuits the logic of narrative, instead creating and sustaining a “feeling of meaning” that can attach itself to almost any event. It is the kind of series from which you come away slightly dazed, looking at the world around you as if daring it to come alive with meaning in the same way. Which would be terrifying — but at the same time, wouldn’t it also be strangely welcome?

It’s welcome because it’s alluring. It’s meant to seduce. The mothes go toward the artificial light because they trust their “feeling.” Their code. They are slaves to the machinery that moves them. They go through their “movements” as they received them.

But at least they don’t idolatrize that machinery. They don’t consciously justify slavery.

This is instead a movement TOWARD blindness. It’s blindness embraced. Ultimate misdirection. Perverse as a Pied Piper song.

It’s scary because it weaponizes the phenomenological grief. It earns trust through intense, honest emotion, but then cynically exploits it to induce delusions.

It’s sad that show preys on the ingenuity and credulity of its public. It’s shameful. And it’s, once again, perverse. The true face of evil.

Considering Westworld, The Man in the High Castle, and then Lost and its own rib, The Leftovers, but also that other stuff with Jason Isaacs like Awake, Touch and Dig. Or Upstream Color and Brit Marling’s own Another Earth… They are all more worthwhile to watch than The OA. (this is a reference to what I wrote back then about the first season)

(I’ve recently seen the three seasons of Travelers and that too is quite good and recommended. I mention it because it is also obliquely about the problem of epistemology)

I of course like and enjoy the “weird”, but only when it’s done well and those who do it know what they are doing, or at least sincerely try, like groping in the dark for meaning. Step by step. The earnestness of the struggle would be enough. The first season of The OA fell in this category and I still appreciate it. It was ambivalent, open, and it was quite “honest”, all things considered. There was a lot of worthwhile, well placed magic in that first season, and I was waiting this second one to see where it would all lead. In the end there wasn’t all that much to figure out. The show wasn’t a riddle to solve because it simply didn’t offer enough pieces to work with. It, in some way, “held itself back”, without really showing its hand. So I accepted it as a whole, as a kind of suspended thing that still worked on its own even if it felt also ephemeral.

The second season is somewhat satisfying in the sense that it offers a number of exhaustive answers to its mysteries. If season one held back and only hinted, season two instead is more blunt and explicit. The problem is that all these answers are very underwhelming and insubstantial in their meaning. The overall feel is that “the king is naked.” There are a few infodumps here and there, delivered by literal deus ex machina, and this foreign and unnatural source of information isn’t even the damning point. The problem is that when you brush away all these mysteries you are left with an exposed core that in this season is extremely emphasized to the point that it overwrites everything else: anti-scientific lecturing.

There is no way around this time. The character of Hap is even more clearly the straw man of science. This role is so heavy handed and unsubtle that this time it doesn’t work at all. There’s no nuance, no real complexity. Simply a cartoonish villain that at some point the show tries to re-enable through even more hokum.

This comes out after a little more than two years since the first season. I was really waiting for it because I had no idea in what direction it would be spun. This interest then increased because I read a few comments in the last few days calling it a “masterpiece”. Then I looked at the titles of the episodes and noticed one was “SYZYGY”. And I know what that is. Are they trying to blend in the mythology of the CCRU? Are they really diving into that stuff? Is that you, Nick Land? But nope, it was all for nothing. The “syzygy”, besides its very superficial and symbolic meaning, is used only as the name of a night club and then to solve a pointless riddle with no other ties. A macguffin that represents the great majority of the substance of this season. Inconsequential meanderings, looking for inspiration and ideas that just aren’t there…

That it is all largely pointless was quite evident from the first episode. This detective finds a riddle that reads something like “what’s above the sea but under the stars?” The detective comes up with a straightforward solution: “birds.” But it turns out it’s not the right one. At that point I stopped the video and tried to see if I could figure out another answer. I thought of consciousness, breath and stuff like that, but they didn’t quite fit with the five letters required. So I resumed the video to see where it all lead… Turns out the answer to the riddle is the code of an airplane that was flying over that specific location, that you could only see though the augmented reality app. This is quite exemplary because this riddle-house is one of the main themes of the season. Everything that relates to it amounts to nothing at all. Those riddles are so specific and so empty that instead of offering some insight, or a spark of intuition when you guess right, instead you are merely about guessing the arbitrary answer that the riddle-maker set up. The WORST kind of riddles. When the riddles are that arbitrary then there isn’t anything to them. No valid hints, no getting progressively closer to an answer. It’s all the random chance of ending on the same spot, looking at the same thing, and having the same thought of the designer. Pure coincidence. It’s predestination versus choice.

It then continues on this path of deus ex machina, “guess-what-I’m-thinking” pattern. The riddle house is a labyrinth without any direct or symbolic significance. It’s just that, a labyrinthine labyrinth that delays its solution until the very end, just in time for the necessary twist to end the season. And the solution is lame outside those 20 second when the post-modern layer drops. The “behind the curtain” moment is always cool. The fourth wall breaching. But if you have at least a little experience with it then you’d expect at least a tiny bit more than it simply being shown. Here instead it just goes nowhere. The OA can travel through dimensions, so why can’t she travel to a dimension where The OA is being made as a TV show? WHOA! Whoa… Well, alright. Is that really it? Nope, because they drop the ball by making it a fictional semi-reality. Where Brit Marling is actually married to Jason Isaacs and gets hurt during the finale while it was being made. So it’s not quite here, but almost. Am I supposed to be impressed?

So yes, the fourth wall breaking is always quite effective because you don’t expect it. And to the general public of Netflix it might also look like a shocking plot twist. But it is a known tool. You have to give it some purpose, make something out of it. There’s nothing here beyond that cheap surprise. It’s just sleight of hand for its sake, that it works because it simply aligns with the perspective of the show where multiple realities are an established mechanic. So why not? Because there’s nothing else to it. There’s nothing implied, nothing “truthfully magical.” There is no beyond, no revelation, no transcendence, no understanding. It’s a labyrinth that the showrunners couldn’t solve. It’s a closed loop without emergence. It ends flat, monotonous. It sinks.

Instead of understanding that mythology and using it to show the way, it falls into its trap. Fails to see ahead, to see clearly.

The enchantment that worked for the first season simply wore off, now the king is stark naked.

And again, the problem isn’t that nakedness. The problem is what’s left after you remove the game of mirrors and pretense: that anti-scientific core. The message couldn’t have been emphasized more. The king is not only naked, but completely blind, and he made his blindness a virtue.

Like in Twin Peaks, this show is itself condemned to OBSCURITY. That last moment when Laura Palmer SCREAMS. She’s lost once again because she’s trapped inside (inside fiction, worlds). Part of this loop that cannot be shattered. NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES Cooper tries to save her, traveling to other dimensions. Do you see the parallels? The OA is Laura Palmer, and she can’t save herself because she IS blind. She never got any insight because the show as a whole has made the gnostic obscurity its idol. You cannot awake if you are structurally blind, not able to see the forest for the trees. No help outside nor within. There’s nothing else but surrender to the blindness itself.

This celebration of gnostic blindness couldn’t be more EVIL because there’s no Cooper fighting against it. Instead of fighting darkness, it’s a celebration of it. It’s blissful nihilistic abandon to a false sense of truth. Like moths flying around an artificial light. The show essentially incarnates the enemy it pretends to fight. It blindly states that it lost the capability to navigate the space. It permanently lost orientation. A victim with no salvation. A prey to the higher forces. No choice, no will. Just a prey that cowers and wails.

The OA is the blind loop that in Twin Peaks Cooper tried to shatter. A cage. And if Twin Peaks ended with the perpetuation of that endless “chase”, maybe The OA embodies better our modernity. Because it idolatrizes blindness itself and shows that human beings are structurally unable to navigate the space. They are broken in a definitive way. Structurally broken in a way that salvation is simply not possible. There is no narrow bridge to cross. No journey to go through, no lesson to learn. There’s only the desperation that drives you deeper, closer to the ultimate damnation. There is no hope. There is no choice. And there is no understanding possible. You die, and die blind.

Here is where we go a little deeper, because this pattern of chasing after blindness isn’t new. And it happens in the show because the show comes from that same angle where blindness is always sublimated. What it would be? Idealism of course. That gnostic blindness mistaken for “light”. The power of the soul. Of this anti-scientific false idol.

(continues here)

I had this on a playlist for a while. It deserves closer attention:

I’m currently dealing with a philosophical problem about nihilism, idealism and phenomenology. But in trying to understand more the aspects that are to me more obscure I’ve found this good book suggested by Sean Carroll on twitter.

While skimming through this interesting book I stumbled on a page about “caos”, that has been one of those topics I was dealing with, and now I’m bumping my head against it and its deceitful wording.

Caos

The great power of science lies in the ability to relate cause and effect. On the basis of the laws of gravitation, for example, eclipses can be predicted thousands of years in advance. There are other natural phenomena that are not as predictable. Although the movements of the atmosphere obey the laws of physics just as much as the movements of the planets do, weather forecasts are still stated in terms of probabilities. The weather, the flow of a mountain stream, the roll of the dice all have unpredictable aspects. Since there is no clear relation between cause and effect, such phenomena are said to have random elements. Yet until recently there was little reason to doubt that precise predictability could in principle be achieved. It was assumed that it was only necessary to gather and process a sufficient amount of information.

Such a viewpoint has been altered by a striking discovery: simple deterministic systems with only a few elements can generate random behavior. The randomness is fundamental; gathering more information does not make it go away. Randomness generated in this way has come to be called chaos.

The result is a revolution that is affecting many different branches of science.

Okay, so this is the thesis. The randomness is fundamental. Information won’t make it go away. And this is what we now call “caos.”

The discovery of chaos has created a new paradigm in scientific modeling. On one hand, it implies new fundamental limits on the ability to make predictions.

But then:

On the other hand, the determinism inherent in chaos implies that many random phenomena are more predictable than had been thought.

Wait. That’s an oxymoron. The correct phrase would be: these phenomena are predictable, because they aren’t as random as it was thought.

If the phenomenon is “random” then you cannot predict it. And if we can predict them it’s because they only APPEAR as random.

But here’s the real contradiction:

A speck of dust observed through a microscope is seen to move in a continuous and erratic jiggle. This is owing to the bombardment of the dust particle by the surrounding water molecules in thermal motion. Because the water molecules are unseen and exist in great number, the detailed motion of the dust particle is thoroughly unpredictable.

But they opened the article saying the exact opposite:

It was assumed that it was only necessary to gather and process a sufficient amount of information.

Such a viewpoint has been altered

Cause => water molecules => if these molecules are absent from the model, then this absence IS a lack of information.

You’re obtaining unpredictability because your model doesn’t includes everything that takes part in this process. Your model is partial, so produces prediction errors. Your model LACKS the necessary information to make that prediction you want.

If “sufficient information” was provided, then there wouldn’t be any errors, because the model is complete and so can fully predict the evolution of the system it wants to model.

What makes the motion of the atmosphere so much harder to anticipate than the motion of the solar system? Both are made up of many parts, and both are governed by Newton’s second law, F = ma, which can be viewed as a simple prescription for predicting the future. If the forces F acting on a given mass m are known, then so is the acceleration a. It then follows from the rules of calculus that if the position and velocity of an object can be measured at a given instant, they are determined forever. This is such a powerful idea that the 18th-century French mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace once boasted that given the position and velocity of every particle in the universe, he could predict the future for the rest of time. Although there are several obvious practical difficulties to achieving Laplace’s goal, for more than 100 years there seemed to be no reason for his not being right, at least in principle. The literal application of Laplace’s dictum to human behavior led to the philosophical conclusion that human behavior was completely predetermined: free will did not exist.

This is the basic argument, clearly explained. But then:

Twentieth-century science has seen the downfall of Laplacian determinism, for two very different reasons. The first reason is quantum mechanics.

And okay. We know quantum mechanics are weird and that introduce a true, fundamental randomness. But the theory is incomplete and so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put it against the hypothesis of determinism, at least until we get a clearer, definite formulation of it.

What I care about, then, is the second reason. And it takes another couple of pages to get to the point.

It is the exponential amplification of errors due to chaotic dynamics that provides the second reason for Laplace’s undoing.

That’s not Laplace, though. That’s a very obvious straw man.

Laplaces’ true position, copy/pasting from above, was:

given the position and velocity of every particle in the universe

WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU SEE **ERRORS** IN LAPLACE’S HYPOTHESIS?

If you know the position and velocity of every particle in the universe then there isn’t any space for “errors”, because errors are caused, as in the example above, about tiny stuff that interferes with the model. And this external interference is in fact what the text points to:

A simple example serves to illustrate just how sensitive some physical systems can be to external influences.

It begs the question: what can be “external” to knowing the position and velocity of every particle in the universe?

The text even acknowledged that the problem wasn’t the PRINCIPLE, but the feasibility of that principle:

there are several obvious practical difficulties to achieving Laplace’s goal, for more than 100 years there seemed to be no reason for his not being right, at least in principle

But your thesis is that Laplace’s thesis is wrong *in principle*, and not just in practice.

This article states again and again that there has been a revolution in science, but when it comes to motivate why, it falls flat on its face.

On one hand there’s the thing about quantum mechanics and okay, I accept that. But on the other hand the article reduces the essence of chaos to computational errors, then puts these computational errors against the deterministic conclusion: human behavior being completely predetermined, free will does not exist.

And this conclusion would be false because WE MAKE COMPUTATIONAL ERRORS?

Caos can be two things:
– variables not modeled that interfere with the prediction (external interferences)
– computational approximations/errors within the model that have exponential effects

BOTH ARE ABOUT IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE, not imperfect determinism.

It’s completely ridiculous. This confuses a subjective level where you work with imperfect approximate models, and so with imperfect predictions, with an objective level where the idea of “errors” and external interference don’t have any sense. External from what, reality? Is it the hand of god that meddles with physics?

In Laplace’s hypothesis, without any straw man, there couldn’t be any external factors, as the thesis postulated that every particle is part of the model, so no other particle can arrive from outside reality to produce an interference. And of course the principle, in the same way it presumes an impossible thing like knowing every particle, then would assume that the computational model would also be accurate enough to properly handle that data. Because the thesis is that it’s computable in theory, so assuming that it is fundamentally possible even if not possible in practice because we just don’t have/won’t have that computational power and accuracy.

Nitpicking, Laplace is impermeable even to quantum mechanics. “Given the position and velocity… then…” Quantum mechanics undermine the possibility of the knowability of the initial condition, but not the validity of the hypothesis itself, that remains strong. This makes Laplace’s hypothesis not relevant, but not wrong.

The argument in defense of free will doesn’t even hold on the other hand: quantum mechanics want that the fundamental nature of reality is “random”, so unpredictable. But “free will”, in the sense of human free will, implies that human beings are IN CONTROL.

How a reality that is merely random, opposed to determined, makes human beings more in control? Huh? Whether the cause is determined or random, human agency remains out of the picture just the same.

WTF is wrong with these people who write these articles?

(Of course I’m not implying they are all idiots and me the smart one. I’m just putting emphasis on the subjective struggle I go through, in the way it happens in my mind. And that’s why I keep looking to figure out where and why I’m wrong.)

– I can see all the way to the bottom.

Before I started watching the newest episode I had been writing a comment somewhere saying that, no, Westworld doesn’t deal with the theme and problems of AI. It deals with theory of consciousness and, by extension, the construction of reality at a fundamental level. It’s more about metaphysics than physics. Or at least those parts of physics that are metaphysical-like.

That’s the main reason I was unimpressed by how this new season of the show started. I commented the first episode here on the blog, not much to say about the second. The third was better, but not significantly so. The main reason is that the core that I saw in the show just wasn’t present in this new season. It’s not anymore about the foundations of reality, it’s not anymore about metaphysical perspectives and observing systems. It is instead about going through more classical motions, just adjusted to a sci-fi setting. An effective metaphor, well executed, but an old message.

This fourth episode is a whole different matter and goes straight back to that core that was missing. Qualitatively it makes a leap upwards, becoming immediately one of the highest points of the whole series and a masterpiece in its own right. What’s even more interesting is that it’s a relatively self-contained episode, telling a story whole, and that might even be watched and understood by someone who has never seen a single episode… to an extent. Comprehension still relies on certain assumptions that come with the setting, certain things that you are meant to grasp at a glance, but it’s all structured so perfectly that it’s admirable in its simplicity.

The title I used is “screenplay and ontology” for a reason. The episode starts with a long take that doesn’t simply foreshadows the meaning of the scene we’re watching, but that is implicated at different levels at the same time. At first you notice that the camera moves following a strange pattern, strange because it’s not just linear. Then at the end of that first sequence you realize the motion was circular, the camera was following the walls because this room was a circle. I didn’t realize the implications after that first scene, I had to see the beginning of the following one, at the middle of the episode, to finally get the whole thing. And that’s when I realized this thing was simply sublime. This is movie language that becomes ontology, and becoming ontology it means we’re projected BACK right where it MATTERS. I was disappointed that Westworld lost sight of the point. The point being the observer. The point being not AI, but consciousness. The point being the construction of reality.

What might have been missed about that scene is the implications. The circular room wasn’t just a room, it became reality. From inside it was the WHOLE world. From the outside it was a PRISON. Screenplay becomes ontology because the MOVEMENT of the camera here is the metaphysical structure of reality and nothing less. It moves because it represents a process, and that process is consciousness itself, its loop. All you see is all there is.

But it doesn’t stop here. This scene also offers something downright impossible: a confutation of Idealism. Idealism being also a theme I wanted to write about the newer Twin Peaks. In the past year I spent countless hours arguing with a student of philosophy about all the themes that move around the idea of consciousness, and in particular his own studies about idealism and phenomenology. One of my conclusions and argument I used as a weapon against his views was that idealism’s bigger strength is also its weakness: it cannot be refuted empirically. But because it cannot be refuted, it also cannot be proven.

The scene we see hands us instead what is otherwise impossible. A plain and simple, direct refutation of idealism at its most basic level. And what it is? A sheet of paper handed over. That was simply amazing, the dismaying simplicity of a “proof” that has eluded us for thousands of years and that has kept busy philosophers and scientists without ever reaching a conclusion: a sheet of paper and a few lines of text.

That is what it is. The proof that consciousness isn’t what you think it is. What it feels like. The whole phenomenological perspective comes crushing down. It’s the death of philosophy as an entity. The implications are staggering.

But of course it is not real (yet). That simple sheet of paper can only exist within Westworld. BUT. That simplicity that is embedded into this device that destroys knowledge hints directly at the fragility of what we believe in. We don’t have (yet) a breach into consciousness, but we can see here, through this show, a glimpse about the implications.

It is not just a circular room. From within, nothing outside exists, and from outside nothing that is within exists, because it can be reshaped at a whim. The construction of what there is, is TOTAL. It’s the power of a writer, or a director, who DECIDES what to show and what to erase. And here, the moral implications dislodge the rest of what Westworld is doing as naive simplicity.

If you can rewrite reality, you can rewrite morality.

And that’s why outside this construction there’s another scene that chainlocks with the main one: the Man in Black. The MiB is on his quest to rediscover humanity in a world where the concept has literally just ceased to exist. And it is only through human experience that he can navigate this new territory, like a compass. But this is just an inner loop, slave to the other.

The main scene that is represented by the circular room is made into metaphorical hell. This is relatively straightforward, transforming “man” not into god, but into the devil. It becomes Heart of Darkness, when Elsie and Bernard enter the room to find Kurtz. But this is about consciousness. What’s important is the place they reached, not who they found. This is a place like real hell, where reality falls apart, where everything is rewritten. They set the place on fire, but the implication is that what they saw is reality itself, the bigger set they inhabit.

You stare into the world, the world stares right back at you.

P.S.
And despite this episode is an outstanding achievement, it’s hard to say if the season as a whole will be worthwhile. This episode was so self-contained that it also won’t impact the following episodes. It was so masterfully conceived and executed, but it doesn’t push the season itself on another level. We already saw it all coming, we just didn’t expect the story to go there yet.

I’m reading this was a directorial debut for series’ creator Lisa Joy. If this is the result it might be a good idea to let her deal with the whole thing by herself. She significantly outperformed everyone who came before.