The blog continues its summer drowsiness while I’m reading (slowly, savoring) The Forge of Darkness, and studying hard C++ to work on a roguelike project. The new Erikson book is quite a marvel. The writing quality has made a leap forward compared to the first half of the Malazan series I’ve read. He’s much more measured and in control, showing a playfulness with words that was at the highest only in the novellas. Here he is able to sustain it and go deeper. I’m only 50 pages in, but every line is delicious.

Here instead some thoughts fed by lack of sleep (mostly), this interview with Steven Erikson (the part about the search of meaning), and this nice picture of the Curiosity on Mars.

The starting point for this train of thought is that an artist wants his audience within his creation. That’s the highest ambition. The writer wants you there in the page, living through the characters. The more you are “caught within”, the better. Captured. I was also thinking that Erikson seems to expose an awareness that we usually ignore. We know we are mortal, and that goes quite deep. No one actually believes, within himself or explicitly, to live forever. It something that even defies personal romances. Yet no one really considers, or even assumes, that human beings as a species could be on the way out. We obviously perceive the risks about some mid-term ecological crisis, but we don’t consider that our extinction could as well happen without a reason or direct responsibility. If it happens we assume it’s because we deserved it, made some very bad choices and caused it. But the truth may be that an end WILL come, sooner or later, because an end is in all things.

So while we perceive our own mortality, we still consider our history as a species as something that extends way back, and into the future. Indefinitely. The idea is that it comprises the universe, because the universe needs to be observable to exist, and so it’s there for us, just us. We don’t comprehend what an universe is if it doesn’t contain us. This anthropocentrism is much deeper and ingrained. Yet it may well be that in the same way human beings “arrived” at a certain point in the life of the universe, not in the beginning, and not likely in an ideal “middle”, in the same way this private journey will end, and the universe will continue without us. So we (as human beings) hang in there. A mote of dust suspended in a universe, that may be just an universe among many. The scale works like an unending spiral.

In another post I was explaining that this scenario creates a paradoxical effect. This singularity of the human experience has value BECAUSE it ends. Because it has a beginning and an end. If things stretched out and repeated in continuity, you only get the idea of a tide, whose worth is always at the last point it reached. But instead our value is in the “here and now”. The scale is staggering. There may be infinite universes, parallel universes that make us as human beings infinitely small in the great picture. And every single person even smaller, completely irrelevant. Yet this is exactly what empowers and what makes every single human being the master of his universe. In the here and now, no one else exist. This single place in the breadth of the universe is entirely yours. Right here, right now, there is only YOU. You command everything because, while the universe is huge, this single place you have is absolute and unique. Irreplaceable. You are part of it, and this part is wholly yours, as precious as everything else.

We have an exclusive place in the universe because every place is exclusive. And it has a value because it is finite. With a beginning and an end. Dreams work the same way. In order for dreams to “work”, you have to be there, caught inside. Oblivious to the simulation. You have to believe, and you live in dreams exactly as you live in reality. You rely on what you can perceive, and try to live through the best you can. If there’s a threat you try to overcome it. You suffer, you rejoice. And if dreams have a purpose in human biology and psychology, then they require the “occluded horizon” that make your belief in them possible.

The creator of the dream is still “you”. In order for a dream to happen there must be a split, between the creator of a dream and the you who is caught within. A double is created. The dream forms a shell, a bubble around you, you’re trapped within. The dream fulfills its purpose as long you can’t see nothing of what’s outside, as long you are caught in its rules and follow them, believing. As long the shell remains completely opaque. With Bakker we often talked about an “occluded horizon” that is at the origin of this bubble. It builds that effect of “self-sufficiency” that is central both in the theory of consciousness AND is modeled into dreams. We (usually) never question the mad logic of our dreams, when we are “trapped” into them, because we are built to accept whatever our brain feeds us, no matter how crazy it appears when we wake up. Why can we proper judge it when we wake up, but have to take it unquestioningly when we are dreaming? Because of that occluded horizon. Or rather: the impossibility to distinguish.

This is central for example in Spencer Brown’s Theory of Form: a form is perceived as consequence of an ACT of observation. Through this act we perceive a form because we distinguish this form from the rest. So, in order to make ANY observation, you always need two parts, the one you point to (and see), and everything else, or its opposite. Or, if you want it from an only slightly different angle:

Baudrillard thought, as do many post-structuralists, that meaning is brought about through systems of signs working together. Following on from the structuralist linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Baudrillard argued that meaning (value) is created through difference – through what something is not (so “dog” means “dog” because it is not-“cat”, not-“goat”, not-“tree”, etc.). In fact, he viewed meaning as near enough self-referential: objects, images of objects, words and signs are situated in a web of meaning; one object’s meaning is only understandable through its relation to the meaning of other objects; in other words, one thing’s prestige relates to another’s mundanity.

The mechanics of dreams are explained in a way similar to the mechanics of consciousness: through that idea of self-sufficiency, that, by occluding the horizon and so limiting our possibility to perceive forms and evaluate them, makes the perception of an “elsewhere” impossible, and so traps you there in an undivided space. That’s why in lucid dreams you DO question the logic and reality of your perception: because you have a link back to another world, and so perceive the boundaries of the bubble you’re trapped in.

“introspection is nothing but a keyhole glimpse that only seems as wide as the sky because it lacks any information regarding the lock and door.”

This model (of dream/world) corresponds to a model in Kabbalah. Their idea of god, or “creator”, is not unlike the idea a scientist could have (because the creator is wholly “external” to the world, and so has no super-natural powers on it). It’s more abstract than what the idea of a god usually suggests. In this model we were separated from the creator (the “breaking of the vessel”, in technical terms) so that we could enter reality and experience it. We are essentially made of the same substance of the creator, virtually identical, because what only happened is the “split” that exists in the dream model. The creation of the double. The creator needs to separate itself from the observer, the “you” caught and trapped within the shell. The model of the universe, in the Kabbalah system, mimics the pattern. A creator that is fragmented into individual observers. In the anime Evangelion, that draws heavily from Buddhism and Kabbalah, there’s the idea of the “AT-Field” that is a symbolic membrane dividing each human being. If the membrane is breached, we all flow back to the original whole, as we rejoin our “double” when we awake from a dream. Adam Kadmon, the universe. The dream and the dreamer. The creator and its creation.

We have in a dream a plausible model of the entire universe. But this model is ambivalent. I have two ways of looking at this. One is consolatory. The therapeutic effect of a dream only works because of that limit imposed on you. You can find a similar idea in Christianity:

God lets himself be pushed out of the world onto the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.

That suffering from the limited awareness is required, so that you could truly live and be free in the dream. Similarly, you could imagine a dialogue with the creator. You have to suffer because there’s no other way, but eventually you’ll realize why. You’ll understand and forgive the creator because you’ll see that there was an obligatory path to achieve that value. If you aren’t forced into the shell, you can’t truly (be)live.

Then there’s the other nihilistic possibility I was suggesting in other posts. It seems to me that these patterns are truly our own. We don’t experience reality directly, because we live inside an egg called culture (and language). Through the membrane of this culture we think we perceive the outside. The idea is always that you look for sense and meaning, and that you would find it. The obligatory premise sustaining meaning is that it exists out there, and that can be found. Yet, meaning is made, not found. Whether in journalism or fiction we order things so that they make sense. But in science it’s different, because it has to follow its rules, not ours. Scott Bakker perfectly describes math like the tracing of a shadow. Math is not language because language is arbitrary. It’s a convention. Math instead is “found” in the world. Yet Bakker says we know nothing of the world. Math is a shadow projected by a kernel we can’t see. A real shadow would also have properties that have their truth, if you trace a shadow you’re bound to its rules, that are not arbitrary. But still, a shadow is not the same of what projects it.

The nihilistic possibility is that the closer we get to the shell, trying to look outside, the more we seem to perceive some shapes and patterns. We try to look better because we believe we can see something through this shell, into the real world. That we can transcend our condition, pierce through the occluded horizon. Yet it seems to me that the closer we get to the membrane of this shell, the closer we move to a mirror. We think we see outside, but we only see our own reflection. That we do not recognize because we do not know our face. The descriptions of the world we come up with, and the patterns we are able to trace, always seem to be “mise en abyme”. A mirror facing another mirror, downward the spiral. It may well be that we know nothing, absolutely nothing, of what’s truly outside, because we can only fashion copies of ourselves.

The model of the Kabbalah may be absolutely true. But it may describe the model of the creator and the universe as it can symbolically describe the dreamer and the dream.

God as a metaphor.

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  1. […] becomes a parody on reality, metaphorically strong. See my analogy with dreams and reality. The creator and his creation. The dreamer, and the dreamee, trapped into the dream, unconscious […]

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