I keep coming back to the ideas in the story - Be Awake, Be Good and imagining that I had read it in Axiomatic. So I decided this book deserved to be reviewed both on my blog and goodreads.
I love the videos that this guy makes. Super inspiring, great stories, and other cool stuff that are hard to describe with a few words. The guy is unique. There is also a ton of controversy around him. Making him a prime case study for why (or if) it's ok to love the art and seperate it from the artist. But that is a topic worth really delving into, and I will later.
Anyway coming to the book itself, Exurb1a manages to create a most fabulous world. There are some true gems in this book,
For Every Dove a Bullet
A good way to start thinking about this world is that of a universe where anything can be conscious. It is just needs to have the right type of complexity.
With a little bit of gentle influence from myself, he took to work on a new metaphysic, Mentalic Ontology.
It was an ugly term. Neither of us were to know then, but the idea itself would live on for millennia.
The central tenet of his metaphysic consisted in declaring that mind as a stuff is not some property native to brains, or not necessarily native to them anyway. Mind is rather the product of a very particular complexity. This of course opens the door to all manner of entities being conscious then, not just humans, and not even just creatures rooted in biology.
With no help from myself, he also declared that self-consciousness was the product of a positive feedback loop between perception and reflection, the two eventually amplifying each other into a cycle that occurred so quickly neither could be separated from the other.
It is worth reading.You get to think about the forking of minds, about greed and fear. This is the kind of stuff that feeds your creativity.
It was too much gore for my taste. I am confident that there are worse fates than death out there. These kinds of stories and sufficient imagination will leave anyone convinced of this fact.
And the Leaves All Sing of God
One of my favorites! The idea of knowledge that is so incompatible with consciousness that if forcefully acquired will cause you to commit suicide is fascinating. The book closes with the idea of unity, that we are all part of a single natural process, that nothing is really independent and that the Song that we all sing with our essence is God.
Be Awake, Be Good
An absolute masterpiece. This had two remarkable ideas that I would like to highlight, one was about narrative collapse that I feel is surely approaching in our world as we lose trust in authority and institutions. With deepfakes and a variety of plausible explanations for any hypothesis. We can be forced to live without belief in anything concrete.
Io said, “You have values here. You believe in things. I miss that.”
“Don’t they believe in things on Ertia?”
“Not in the same way.” The sphere was in her lap now. She stroked it and the thing purred quietly. “There is a special problem in communications theory. We call it ‘narrative collapse’. When a planet is very connected, a time inevitably arrives when it becomes difficult to work out what is actually going on. Video and audio can be faked. Testimony isn’t reliable. All truths fall into a relative flatness. This is more dangerous than any doomsday weapon. You have a king and, if you don’t mind me saying so, not a very nice one. But at least his population knows when he’s being deceitful or harsh. On my world and the sister world we’ve lost even that. Many still don’t even believe Morae really exists. They claim it’s a fabrication by Al’Hazaad.” She held her beer up to the moonlight. “Doesn’t look like a fabrication to me.”
Tisho said, “Why would Al’Hazaad fabricate a whole planet?”
She shrugged. “Who cares? All you need is an enemy to take the punches at. Cut the world into us and them, manufacture dichotomies, boil complex issues down to sound bites. Divide and conquer.”
The other idea is about frameworks. We all perceive the world subjectively through a framework that is socially constructed. Learning different languages can maybe allow you to hold slightly different frameworks in your head ready to use. Maybe you have a specific framework to adopt when you are with your loving family while a different one when being ruthless at work. You find useful axioms and beliefs that are contradictory, so you package them into different frameworks. For example you motivate yourself using one frame and then if you fail; you summon a different frame in which you can make peace with your failure. This idea was explored in this story,
Before arriving at the compound, Ha’Izaak had been ordered to use Frame 12. He knew all 24 frames by memory. Most Al’Hazaadian children learned them early on. His favourite was Frame 9 which held that the stars were really points of light mere miles away and the entire universe revolved around Al’Hazaad. Frame 18 was its direct opposite, claiming the universe was in fact gigantic and stars were balls of hydrogen and helium. Well, who was to say?
In this case though it was Frame 12 he slipped into. Frame 12 asserted that Ertia was a backwards culture, an orb of excess and stupidity, and nothing short of total annexation could correct its inevitable slide towards self-destruction.
“Very well.” The science man scanned him with a medical sphere and appeared pleased. “Everything is in order. We will inspect the device now. I should warn you that the generals and staff here operate using Frame 12b.”
Ha’Izaak had not encountered Frame 12b before. He looked the file up mentally and found it was confidential, though now accessible to him. It was a simple frame, asserting that not only was Ertia backwards, but Morae too, and all lives were expendable if the Prime Objective should be threatened.
“You’ve familiarised yourself with the frame?” the science man said.
The other stories are also remarkable but I think I will leave that for you to discover and form your own conclusions. Finally a quote from the author, while I can never claim to know what crazy future awaits our species I do think there is some truth in these words,
Whatever happens, however clever we eventually become, there will be an end to our trials and projects. Whether we’re superseded by our creations or just put to sleep by exhaustion, the end of history will approach eventually. When that occurs, all the statues and books and paintings in the world won’t save our legacy. Better then that we just enjoy the time we have, living in a wonderful age like the one we find ourselves in now.
It's a lovely day in Sofia. I'm going to step away from the computer and go for a walk now. If it's a nice day or evening wherever you are, may I suggest you go for a walk too. And when you do, I'd like you to spare a moment to consider the almost infinite chain of ancestry that stretches behind you, and the almost infinite chain of descendancy that stretches ahead; the thousands and thousands of ancestors who were kind enough to hand you their genes and the thousands and thousands of descendents who will one day — perhaps — inherit yours. But right now, we're standing in the exact middle of the chain.
The mayfly lives for about 24 hours. From the perspective of the universe, perhaps the human race is on a similar fleeting timescale. It took a long time to get to this point. There have been enormous sacrifices. We're all sat around being the product of billions of years of chance and millions of years of biological evolution. But today, this moment, now, we're here. We can wander around and do stuff and make stuff and have a jolly old time if we like. We're alive and we're looking damn fine. We have enormous, self-aware brains. We inhabit very clever fleshy suits designed by the universe herself. We've got the capability for greatness. We've got the capacity to enjoy a million unique stimuli. We've arrived at the party. We exist. And we can take walks if we want. So please go take a walk; I hope it's a nice one. And let’s not waste our day out in the cosmos.
It's content like this that makes my heart heavy and mouth dry. I have never really managed to internalize the fact that no part of me can survive for any amount of time that matters. My name? My blog posts? My theories? All I can do is make a ripple and delude myself that I knew what the consequences of that ripple would be and take ownership of the changes caused. Believe that I mattered. But the truth is that nothing can save my legacy and like Yuval says, we strive for immortality, happiness and divine powers, the only thing holding me back from hedonistically enjoying the time I have left is my personal quest for a sort of immortality. If not immortality for me, then atleast for a few of my ideas.