Author Archives: Abalieno

I spotted a tiny recommendation for the Malazan series, on Twitter, and I got carried away adding some of my unsolicited thoughts to it.

I always said that Malazan is very hard to recommend to other readers. For example it’s a lot easier to recommend Sanderson, despite Sanderson not really needing any help to get known, since now he’s all over the place. But it’s accessible, and pretty good for a very wide range of reader types. You can read 100-200 pages and see by yourself where the qualities are. And know whether it’s your thing or not.

Malazan has this, instead:

To a certain extent, it’s true. But it’s still a narrow explanation. I ask often myself, why am I a Malazan/Erikson reader? What do I find there? Why it’s so important for me? Malazan is recommended a lot, often next to the more popular Martin and Sanderson, but I’m convinced it has a very low “success rate”. I mean readers who accept the recommendation, give it an honest try, but end up not enjoying the read at all. I always asked myself why.

For many, it’s all about a matter of taste and personal disposition. But that’s not a satisfying explanation for me. I always seek a reason, trying to find an objective motivation… that can describe what is that precisely works for me, and doesn’t for other readers. Many others.

I think I grasp at least some of the reasons why it happens. When I recommend Malazan I try to give objective, useful information. It doesn’t mean that I diminish the qualities there, but I do emphasize what the obstacles will be. And it depends on who’s on the other side of the recommendation. Because of the above, and because Malazan is huge, the main dilemma is that the reader doesn’t know if it’s worth committing. Therefore, the paradox: do I commit to read thousands of pages? Where is the threshold where one stops and decides if it’s worth continuing or better stop and read something else more satisfying?

That’s where I draw the line. Do you intend to commit to something huge, from the start? Fine, follow “the rules”. Start at the beginning. But if you are undecided, skeptical, and you want to know what’s there before fully committing, I’d suggest some …alternative, unconventional paths.

Garden of the Moon, the first book, is not a bad introduction to Malazan, but it is a bad introduction to Erikson. Its themes are buried very, very deep. Easy to miss. On the other hand you are buffeted by a million of things thrown in your face, constantly, vehemently. Scenes that seem inconsequential get lot of attention, scenes that are pivotal, or fundamental information end up being omitted only to be referenced offhandedly much later in casual conversation… or just vanish like a dead end. Sometimes things seem pointless, sometimes it all seems coming in the wrong order. Most readers feel confused, or detached from everything.

Eventually, through a lot of patience and a certain devotion, you read a few thousand pages and you have a map. You become the Malazan reader. Knowing where each piece fits, even appreciating the gaps, for they have an use too. You understand what, where, and why (a bit less when, but that’s not so important… Just to make a joke about the often criticized chronology that at times is a little wobbly).

Most successful writers use some proven “devices” to seize the reader. The book must have the reader in its center. The book is about Harry Potter, you identify with Harry Potter. The book is about you.

Me, me, me, me. I want the book to be about me.

The focus needs to be all about the reader, feeding this hole of attention. Malazan does some of this, but its greater part is the opposite. Kicks you out: fuck off, get out of the way. Take yourself out of focus, and maybe something worthwhile can be said. Stay quiet, observe. I’ll return to this…

Malazan is not lonely, but it is solitary, brooding, a bit forlorn. Especially now it represents the time. With lockdowns, being separate, and yet it’s now that we’re all connected, more than ever. And we can observe all, everything around us, collapsing. Governments that blindly repeat actions that have failed, imprisoned in a psychotic loop, rewriting and bending science to what’s more convenient. Over and over we know, with clarity, that measures are effective the more they are timely, focusing on prevention, and what we do is the opposite, we wait until too late, feeding onto a pervasive fatalism. We simply accept a number of deaths, making it a norm. Minimizing risks to make believe everything’s fine. Follow these five simple rules for a false sense of security. All because the world doesn’t want to change, and power needs to be preserved. And we can only observe, passively, this slow, progressive deterioration of reality itself. We just observe from our places. Solitary observers of something set into motion. Sorrowful but unable to act, like ghosts.

Malazan is the pain of the world, when it is spoken through a living or unliving mouth. You are meant as the vessel, Itkovian.

That’s why I sometimes I suggest a new reader to start with “Forge of Darkness”. If you are uncertain, whether or not to commit. You could start from the proper beginning, but you’ll have to dig, probably for a long time before you find those themes. Forge of Darkness is not an introduction, but it can be read on its own without prior knowledge. It might feel that you’re missing pieces you’re meant to know about, but you have to trust the text. The book is confusing even for veteran Malazan readers, in some cases even more because it plays around by scattering some expectations. You can go in blind, but read slowly, give it thought. Malazan is not a page turner, even if it has page turning scenes. Mull on the paragraph you’ve just read, not thinking about it only after you’re done. Dig for meaning.

Forge of Darkness is a brooding, mysterious book, but it has its themes on the front, explicit. Impossible to miss. You want to know what it’s all about without reading a million of pages, then it’s all here, wrapped up and well presented. One book, even if part of a trilogy it’s sufficiently self contained. Not an easy read, but it’s there, and you’ll see it.

But I wanted to go further. Condense more, to a point. What is Malazan about?

“Secret… to show… now.”

https://loopingworld.com/misc/erikson-test.zip

(This link includes two scenes, one from book 2 Prologue, one from book 7 Prologue. Six pages in total. No spoilers. You can read these without knowing anything else. The images are taken from Amazon previews.)

I read this prologue and this scene many months ago, but I immediately realized… This is Malazan, right here. Just three pages. It’s everything.

A woman walks up to this cliff. For the reader this is a blank page. You get the description of strong winds, the ocean beyond. Agitated waters. You get a mention of a Meckros City that sunk there. If you are new to the series you know nothing about it, but me, Malazan reader, don’t know all much more beside that these people built floating cities on the sea. So they knew how to be out in the ocean, and the fact they sunk here leaves an ominous feel about the place.

Like a painting, a white canvas, you add detail. Brush strokes. This vast open space in the ocean. You follow with your mind a small fisher boat, blown off course to these treacherous waters. Miraculously surviving the experience and reaching the shore. But something is missing from the picture. Something like a shadow, looming on the scene. Depending on what you use, there’s always an exclusive, irreplaceable quality. For example, in a movie you can use some tricks, but you show what you have to. The attention goes where it has to. But in a book, you control everything. You decide what is or isn’t there. Here you believe what you’re told. You have an ocean dominating the canvas, and then your attention is drawn to a tiny boat, thinking it’s the center, when it is instead pushed to the margin. There’s a giant shadow that dominates the canvas… but no perception of it. Just… A sense of urgency. A secret… to show.

The wind pushes her away, she endures. Drawn to this shadow. Some more details seep in, but the scene is interrupted by “a presence at her side”. A distraction. A merchant she completely ignores. He makes his presence known, loudly. He’s ignored again. The shadow is there, like a tear in reality. The wind rushing out of it, from a different world (a warren).

“Preda?”
“What?”

He tries to shake her as if she’s asleep or in a trance. She didn’t turn to him, she didn’t acknowledge his presence. It’s the shadow that draws her. And bit by bit, it is revealed. Half a million people that just vanished.

It’s already all here for me. The way a mystery is shaped, the choice of what is and isn’t shown, the momentum leading to the revelation. The contemplation, and an environment that takes shape to become a character. Telling its story, piece by piece. The sense of urgency that builds up… for something already happened, already over. The scene, beside the wind, is quiet. You don’t need to read 500 pages for the solution, in two/three pages you get both the set up and the pay off. A book of 900 pages, in a series of 10 book, and you get the pay off in three fucking pages. The mystery isn’t inflated and built by pretense, it’s there. Immediate. Fully delivering its awe. And when the answer comes, to fully deliver its promise (what is she seeing, why does the sight chill her?) you get an opening for more. It’s just an introduction.

And, why not? We see a woman, commanding the military, ignoring and then bossing around a rich, probably powerful merchant. There is no emphasis about any of this. It just is.

(imo, this scene already has too much dialogue, too many asides. It could have used less. Erikson, who’s never generous, already gives too much. Erikson works better the more he’s entrenched. Going the opposite way. Say less.)

I’m not commenting the other prologue scene because there’s a lot, and most of it is quite explicit, even if open ended. But it’s ironic that I could write a lot about those first three lines: “What see you in the horizon’s bruised smear, that cannot be blotted out by your raised hand?” What other witty commentary is possible when it’s all so straightforward?

Well, for me Malazan is always about a sense of scale. Big books, each one, ten of them. A sense of history, a large cast of characters, a big world, creatures, dragons. And yet it thrives on the small, intimate. Introspection. Often duos on their solitary journeys, like Mappo and Icarium. The human, more intimate scale (hand) is always the view on the world, on things much bigger, the gods, alien worlds (the horizon). A sense of reality that has to go through the filter of human perception. The world through, or into your hand. Animated. A construct. Maybe even a pretense of control, that is always mocked. Gods that are dragged, taken down. Heboric again. Erikson always plays with scale, and knows what he’s doing.

(btw, Paran – Felisin – Laseen, make an important pillar for the first FOUR books. And it’s omitted. Nothing about it is shown. Imagine reading Game of Thrones… and there’s no chapter on the Starks. The story is the same, you just don’t get any direct view of them.)

Malazan can be summarized in a word, a concept. Malazan is… “contemplative.”

It is all about the voice. If you take Lord of the Rings and you know Tolkien was a linguist, you’ll realize that everything that makes LotR what it is, to its core, is language. Language is the filter for everything, something that Bakker understood really, really well. It’s not one possible angle on that book. It is everything. It’s a dimension. Even the metaphysical/religious aspects are all about language (the elves who represent art, immortality, the god-like power of creation, and the world that begins shaped by music, all is a form of language).

Something similar happens in Malazan. Erikson was an archaeologist. This well known fact is often used to explain why the worldbuilding is so good. Because that knowledge gives Erikson a way to look at things, make them more realistic. But I think that worldbuilding in Malazan is extremely overrated. Even Sanderson that I mentioned above does worldbuilding better and more meticulously. What Erikson does is something else, and it is pervasive in the same way language is pervasive in LotR. An archeologist is someone who walks onto a site. He looks around, observes. Contemplates. He reads the place. In his mind he interprets the signs he sees, connects them. He imagines the people there, the culture, the life and blood. He walks though a place that is no more, and yet still there. Like a ghost, walking through an alien world.

Being an archaeologist, an observer of human culture, isn’t an angle, a point of view. It is an enclosure of the world. A receptacle, a symbol. An almost religious experience. Like Heboric before the Jade Giants.

How to observe the world, species, your people, your life?
How to understand things, how to give them meaning?

The same as Heboric in front of the Priest of Hood, there is a sense of urgency. But it’s about the world, not you. The observer is Felisin, not Heboric. It is not you. Felisin that came from a different world:

“The same city, but a different world.”

Passivity is her theme through the book. The flies crawling on her thighs are the least terrible thing that is going to happen to her, nothing is normal anymore. Her world collapsed, leaving her not even scared. Just numb.

This flow of human events that seems nonsensical, vain, empty.

Like Heboric watching the Jade giants, Heboric and the ghosts of a world that is no more: I observe my time as if I’m outside, but I am in it. And yet outside, observing with an external god-like quality… of inaction (powerlessness). There’s nothing to judge, because it’s like a river. It goes downhill. It’s not its merit, it’s not its fault. You get to understand it only when you aren’t anymore part of it. Because when you are in it, you are swimming for your life. The world is about you. You cannot understand the world until you surrender yourself to it. Until you stop pretendinga to decide its course.

Silence your ego, lets the world speak with its own voice. You stop deciding, you start understanding.

The secret of Malazan is transforming its readers in… Ascendants. From reader to witness. We are the witnesses, from this outside. Given sight.

The writer is a jade giant, the reader is a jade giant. We are all jade giants. We watch. Erikson teaches how to tune in. To the hum of the world. We give voice to these otherworldly giants. We are receptacles. We are vessels of the world. We do not find answers, we must answer.

(The buzzing of Hood’s files, they speak. The buffeting wind, it speaks. “The world is very, very old.”)

(In Game of Thrones Martin transforms Bran into a tree. He can do it. In Malazan, he cannot do it, Erikson transforms the reader.)

I’ve followed the original mini, this was the last part.

A follow through is deserved. So what happened to the grand, ambitious X-Men run by Jonathan Hickman?

It ended in a trainwreck.

It’s Hickman himself to explain, earlier this year:

When I pitched the X-Men story I wanted to do, I pitched a very big, very broad, three-act, three-event narrative, the first of which was House of X.
[…] as a three-year plan

I was also pretty clear with all the writers that came into the office what the initial, three-act plan was so no one would be surprised when it was time for the line to pivot.

during the pandemic, when the time came for me to start pointing things toward writing the second-act event, I asked everyone if they were ready for me to do that, and to a man, everyone wanted to stay in the first act.

the reality was that I knew I would be leaving the line early.

So after Inferno, I’ll be leaving to go work on my ‘Next Big Marvel Thing™’

I pruned the rhetorical noise.

The truth of it is that the ambitious project went nowhere. The original 12-issue mini presented a grand plan, followed by its first expansive arc titled Dawn of X, followed this year by Reign of X, and moving now into Destiny of X, I think now lead by Kieron Gillen. (if you, despite everything, still want to read this, I suggest the release order)

The project already went off the rails during the first year, so it’s not surprising that it ended with a trainwreck. Dawn of X didn’t even seem a sequel to the original story, it was all over the place and lacked the cohesion you would expect, and that was promised… Since House of X was just a setup for things to come. That didn’t come.

Rather than this expansive story in three acts we only got a clumsy 20%. We’ll never know the truth about why Hickman left it so incomplete. If we trust his words then it’s probably a mix of him wanting to support other writers while at the same time feeling like the story wasn’t anymore under his control. So he shrugged and left. He’s being paid anyway, and will continue to receive undeserved critical acclaim.

But it was also rather predictable. Marvel’s comics in general are in a really bad shape that more or less resembles to the collapse of the late 90s. There are many reasons for this and I’m not going to examine them here.

I’m disappointed because regardless of the quality of the stories from this point onward, and despite my original lack of trust on Hickman, I still wanted to see where it was going, and I still wanted him to have full control of it to the end. As I wrote before, I appreciate the ambition, and whether or not I like the story, I still want it to be fully realized as the author intended. Only when it’s done and wrapped up I can comment it for its merits and failures.

But this just went nowhere, and not only it is bad because we’ll never know how it was meant to be, despite following and trusting it for so many pages, but it also diminishes what is already there, because the whole thing collapses.

Please do not make grand plans if you don’t have what it takes to complete them. In the case of Hickman: please do not write grand things if you don’t give a shit. Are you trying to imitate J. J. Abrams?

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

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

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

The introduction to the book by Terry Eagleton is noteworthy.

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

We are the same, and then not.

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

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

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

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

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

Still quite kissabell’ ‘nfackt, those rondelles.

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

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

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

From “XX”, by Rian Hughes.

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

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

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

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

Yes, exactly.
And it worked, beautifully.

So what’s the implication of that?

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

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

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

From Dark to Tenet, now Devs.

What is happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…does anything ever happen without a reason?

Yes.

No.

Things happen without a reason.

-Like?

-An example?

Yes.

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

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

You pushed it.

Why did I push it?

I’m guessing to make a point.

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

What?

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

There must be some events.
Random events.

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

A coin flip.

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

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

Then name one.

-Selection.

-Selection of what?

Selecting from things that are all the same.

What things are all the same?

Objects.
Identical copies of a book at a bookstore.

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

Meteors landing.
Roulette wheels spinning.
Misfortunes suffered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game fucking over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s a Lovecraftian GPT-3.

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