Friday, 21 September 2007

Qui Make Ispum Makeman (warning: garbled quasi-scientific tuppencey)

(originally posted on myspace here)

In the Dungeon the Summer hours are over, the party thrown, the prize for best costume perched atop my locker and swaddled in the tubigrips that I wore as Milla Jovovich, and when the Germans aren't passing through my shows and blowing on their swatchels I've been tucking into the classics. Two hundred pages into Samuel Butler's "Erewhon" - a book from 1872 that crops up a lot in science fiction histories as the first to discuss Artificial Intelligence - I have finally hit upon those chapters that form "The Book of Machines". The meat. It was received as just a piss-take of Darwin upon its publication, but what The Book of Machines actually does is ask quite sincerely: "What will be the next living thing?"

"Machines" it goes on to suggest. "Not for a while, no... Not for say hundreds of thousands of years... But eventually we will have to consider them as living beings. Already we feed them and help them reproduce as the bees serve the poppies, and we hear them calling out to each other in the street - even though we're currently the ones who sound their horns - but the machines are evolving. And they will develop Consciousness."
And this was back in 1872! He was talking about pipes!

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So no wonder his readers at the time just went: "Hahaha, screwdrivers with souls, vair good." But reading it NOW... in the Dungeons...

Or sitting in a pub off the Essex Road last night waiting for John Finnemore to return with some shopping (I'd arrived half an hour too early for a read-through, despite losing myself in one of the most pleasingly evil and deserted underground stations ever to be burrowed, tiled and filled with cameras).... I sat with my copy of Erewhon and I thought of Battlestar Galactica (the new, good one) where it's only the machines who still believe in God. And I considered the old arguments - Monotheist: There must be a designer. / Atheist: Who designed him then? Eh?... And I don't know how the argument goes after that, or even if it does go on after that - I'd always up to this point assumed that "Eh?" was the last word on the matter... up until this point...

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But now, as I finished my half, I thought: Wait? What if we say that question ISN'T rhetorical, who did make God then?... What if we start singing along to the Pixies: "If man is 5, then the devil is 6, and if the devil is 6 the God is 7!"... which of course still leaves room for an 8, a 9 and a 10... And what in that case is 1? And what's 67,825?

And playing around with that idea I felt a lot closer to an understanding of... of our total lack of understanding (which is the MAIN THING) just as I had at that party full of architects last Saturday night where in a garden over some cake the Uncertainty Principle was finally explained to me NOT as the simultaneous existence of two separate states (at which point I would normally thank whoever was at the quantum desk and head off to look for a night bus) but simply as an illustration of the flaws in our definition of that state (Should I go into this?... ie: we're saying that something can exist simultaneously as both a wave and a particle NOT because we've discovered that reality is on the fritz, but because we've learnt that the multiple choice options we give reality - "wave and particle" - just aren't that useful at a quantum level. We're taking a poll and forcing the facts to choose from A, B or C when really what they would rather be doing is filling in the box at the bottom of the page and going onto a sheet of A4... See also: eleven bloody dimensions.)

So even if you say there is a God who made us he's not the answer, just the next level up... like the family tree at the back of my book of Greek Myths where the father of the gods is the son of Time, and Time is the son of, I think, Uranus, oddly.
And maybe in the end, as with everything else, the chain of command is a loop. I mean we know that if you're given a powerful enough telescope you can see the back of your own head. Hypothetically.

And maybe it's a really small loop.
I mean at CERN they've already got a machine that can recreate the big bang! A bit.

And at Essex Road they've already developed a machine that ignores you, and they've stuck it in a lift.

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