Margot (midnight_birth) wrote in margot_quotes,
Margot
midnight_birth
margot_quotes

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.

rsz_bookclub_ta

Title: Stories of Your Life and Others.
Author: Ted Chiang.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, science fiction, fantasy.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1990, 1991, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 (this collection 2002).
Summary: This book collects 8 science fiction and fantasy stories. In Tower of Babylon (1990), a miner Hillalum is summoned to the Tower of Babylon, in continuous construction for centuries, to dig through the Vault of Heaven to discover Yahweh's creation, but when Hillalum is alone to break through, he finds himself in an unexpected place far from Heaven. Understand (1991) is a story that follows a man who, after being given an experimental drug to repair brain damage, becomes incredibly intelligent, and, while pursued by the government, eventually comes into contact with another being with a superior intellect. In Division by Zero (1991), when a gifted mathematician proves arithmetic to be inconsistent and loses her love for the subject, her discovery puts a strain both on her mental well-being and on her marriage with a man who is unable to empathize with the devastation of her discovery. The Story of Your Life (1998) is a novella in which linguist Dr. Louise Banks is invited to help decipher a language newly-arrived-on-Earth aliens are using to communicate, not knowing that when she deciphers it, it will change her mental capacities and understanding of time forever. In Seventy-Two Letters (2000), a novella, in a world where robots are animated by a correct combination of letters, a geneticist is invited to participate in a secret project that will prevent humanity's imminent and inevitable extinction, only to find out the higher-ups are planning to use the new-found powers for population control and class enforcement. The Evolution of Human Science (2000) is written as an editorial appearing in a future issue of Nature, which notes that humans are no longer making any breakthroughs in scientific endeavors because the much more advanced "metahumans" had moved science out of humanity's comprehension. Hell is the Absence of God (2001), in a world where angelic visitations bring both miracles and much collateral damage and deaths, several characters try to find meaning in the aftermath of these visitations in their lives, and set out on a pilgrimage to see an angel's light, which is believed to guarantee their entrance into Heaven. Liking What You See: A Documentary (2002) is a story about a college community which experiences and debates implementing a new invention calls calliagnosia, which prevents them from perceiving beauty.

My rating: 7.5/10
My review:


♥ Were the tower to be laid down across the plain of Shinar, it would be two days' journey to walk from one end to the other. While the tower stands, it takes a full month and a half to climb from its base to its summit, if a man walks unburdened. But few men climb the tower with empty hands; the pace of most men is slowed by the cart of bricks that they pull behind them. Four months pass between the day a brick is loaded onto a cart, and the day it is taken off to form a part of the tower.

♥ Hillalum and Nanni looked down. At the base of the immense pillar, tiny Babylon was in shadow. Then the darkness climbed the tower, like a canopy unfurling upward. It moved slowly enough that Hillalum felt he could count the moments passing, but then it grew faster as it approached, until it raced past them faster than he could blink, and they were in twilight.

Hillalum rolled over and looked up, in time to see darkness rapidly ascend the rest of the tower. Gradually, the sky grew dimmer as the sun sank beneath the edge of the world, far away.

"Quite a sight, is it not?" said Kudda.

Hillalum said nothing. For the first time, he knew night for what it was: the shadow of the earth itself, cast against the sky.

♥ The Vault itself remained just above a man's outstretched fingertips; it felt smooth and cool when one leapt up to touch it. It seemed to be made of fine-grained white granite, unmarred and utterly featureless. And therein lay the problem.

Long ago, Yahweh had released the Deluge, unleashing waters from both below and above; the waters of the Abyss had burst forth from the springs of the earth, and the waters of heaven had poured through the sluice gates in the vault. Now men saw the vault closely, but there were no sluice gates discernible. They squinted at the surface in all directions, but no openings, no windows, no seams interrupted the granite plain.

It seemed that their tower met the vault at a point between any reservoirs, which was fortunate indeed. If a sluice gate had been visible, they would have had to risk breaking it open and emptying the reservoir. That would mean rain for Shinar, out of season and heavier than the winter rains; it would cause flooding along the Euphrates. The rain would most likely end when the reservoir was emptied, but there was always the possibility that Yahweh would punish them and continue the rain until the tower fell and Babylon was dissolved into mud.

Even though there were no visible gates, a risk still existed. Perhaps the gates had no seams perceptible to mortal eyes, and a reservoir lay directly above them. Or perhaps the reservoirs were huge, so that even if the nearest sluice gates were many leagues away, a reservoir still lay above them.

♥ Somehow, the vault of heaven lay beneath the earth. It was as if they lay against each other, though they were separated bu many leagues. How could that be? How could such distant places touch? Hillalum's head hurt trying to think about it.

And then it came to him: a seal cylinder. When rolled upon a tablet of soft clay, the carved cylinder left an imprint that formed a picture. Two figures might appear at opposite ends of the tablet, though they stood side by side on the surface of the cylinder. All the world was such a cylinder. Men imagined heaven and earth as being at the ends of a tablet, with sky and stars stretched between; yet the world was wrapped around in some fantastic way so that heaven and earth touched.

It was clear now why Yahweh had not struck down the tower, had not punished men for wishing to reach beyond the bounds set for them: for the longest journey would merely return them to the place whence they'd come. Centuries of their labor would not reveal to them any more of Creation than they already knew. Yet through their endeavor, men would glimpse the unimaginable artistry of Yahweh's work, in seeing how ingeniously the world had been constructed. By this construction, Yahweh's work was indicated, and Yahweh's work was concealed.

Thus would men know their place.

~~Tower of Babylon.

♥ Penetrating computer security is really quite dull; I can see how it might attract those who can't resist a challenge to their cleverness, but it's not intellectually aesthetic at all. It's no different than tugging on the doors of a locked house until you find an improperly installed lock. A useful activity, but hardly interesting.

♥ No matter what I study, I can see patterns. I see the gestalt, the melody within the notes, in everything: mathematics and science, art and music, psychology and sociology. As I read the texts, I can think only that the authors are plodding along from one point to the next, groping for connections that they can't see. They're like a crowd of people unable to read music, peering at the score of a Bach sonata, trying to explain how one note leads to another.

♥ As my mind develops, so does my control over my body. It is a misconception to think that during evolution humans sacrificed physical skill in exchange for intelligence: wielding one's body is a mental activity.

♥ Of course, I actually experience far fewer emotions than I could; my development is limited by the intelligence of whose around me, and the scant intercourse I permit myself with them. I'm reminded of the Confucian concept of ren: inadequately conveyed by "benevolence," that quality which is quintessentially human, which can only be cultivated through interaction with others, and which a solitary person cannot manifest. It's one of many such qualities. And here am I, with people, people everywhere, yet not a one to interact with. I'm only a fraction of what a complete individual with my intelligence could be.

I don't delude myself with either self-pity of conceit: I can evaluate my own psychological state with the utmost objectivity and consistency. I know precisely which emotional resources I have and which I lack, and how much value I place on each. I have no regrets.

♥ My brain is on fire, my spine burns itself through my back, I feel near apoplexy. I am blind, deaf, insensate.

I hallucinate. Seen with such preternatural clarity and contrast that they must be illusory, unspeakable horrors loom all around me, scenes not of physical violence but of psychic mutilation.

Mental agony and orgasm. Terror and hysterical laughter.

♥ Blinding, joyous, fearful symmetry surrounds me. So much is incorporated within patterns now that the entire universe verges on resolving itself into a picture. I'm closing in on the ultimate gestalt: the context in which all knowledge fits and is illuminated, a mandala, the music of the spheres, kosmos.

♥ The sign language of emotion I once knew has been replaced by a matrix of interrelated equations. Lines of force twist and elongate between people, objects, institutions, ideas. The individuals are tragically like marionettes, independently animate but bound by a web they choose not to see; they could resist if they wished, but so few of them do.

♥ My mind is taxing the resources of my brain. A biological structure of this size and complexity can just barely sustain a self-knowing psyche. But the self-knowing psyche is also self-regulating, to an extent. I give my mind full use of what's available, and restrain it from expanding beyond that. But it's difficult: I'm cramped inside a bamboo cage that doesn't let me sit down or stand up. If I try to relax, or try to extend myself fully, then agony, madness.

♥ I now see his hand in the investment patterns, but the task of locating Reynolds is Herculean. I examine usage logs across the datanet to identify the accounts he's penetrated. I have twelve lines open on my terminal. I'm using two single-hand keyboards and a throat mike, so I can work on three queries simultaneously. Most of my body is immobile; to prevent fatigue, I'm ensuring proper blood flow, regular muscle contraction and relaxation, and removal of lactic acid. While I adsorb all the data I see, studying the melody within the notes, looking for the epicenter of a tremor in the web.

Hours pass. We both scan gigabytes of data, circling each other.

♥ Reynolds hasn't witnessed the beauty that I have; he's stood before lovely insights, oblivious to them. The sole gestalt that inspires him is the one I ignored: that of the planetary society, of the biosphere. I am a love of beauty, he of humanity. Each feels that the other has ignored great opportunities.

♥ I concede his greater ingenuity. It bodes well for his endeavor. Pragmatism avails a savior far more than aestheticism.

I wonder what he intends to do after he's saved the world.

I comprehend the Word, and the means by which it operates, as I dissolve.

~~Understand.

♥ Dividing a number by zero doesn't produce an infinitely large number as an answer. The reason is that division is defined as the inverse of multiplication; if you divide by zero, and then multiply by zero, you should regain the number you started with. However, multiplying infinity by zero produces only zero, not any other number. There is nothing which can be multiplied by zero to produce a nonzero result; therefore, the result of a division by zero is literally "undefined."

♥ There is a well-known "proof" that demonstrates that one equals two. It begins with some definitions: "Let a = 1; let b = 1." It ends with the conclusion "a = 2a," that is, one equals two. Hidden inconspicuously in the middle is a division by zero, and at that point the proof has stepped off the brink, making all rules null and void. Permitting division by zero allows one to prove not only that one and two are equal, but that any two numbers at all—real or imaginary, rational or irrational—are equal.

♥ In the Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead attempted to give a rigorous foundation to mathematics using formal logic as their basis. They began with what they considered to be axioms, and used those to derive theorems of increasing complexity. By page 362, they had established enough to prove "1 + 1 = 2."

♥ As a child of seven, while investigating the house of a relative, Renee had been spellbound at discovering the perfect squares in the smooth marble tiles of the floor. A single one, two rows of two, three rows of three, four rows of four: the tiles fit together in a square. Of course. No matter which side you looked at it from, it came out the same. And more than that, each square was bigger than the last by an odd number of tiles. It was an epiphany. The conclusion was necessary: it had a rightness to it, confirmed by the smooth, cool feel of the tiles. And the way the tiles were fitted together, with such incredibly fine lines where they met; she had shivered at the precision.

Later on there came other realizations, other achievements. The astonishing doctoral dissertation at twenty-three, the series of acclaimed papers; people compared her to Von Neumann, universities wooed her. She had never paid any of it much attention. What she did pay attention to was that same sense of rightness, possessed by every theorem she learned, as insistent as the tiles' physicality, and as exact as their fit.

♥ In the early nineteenth century mathematicians began exploring geometries that differed from Euclidean geometry; these alternate geometries produced results that seemed utterly absurd, but they didn't produce logical contradictions. It was later shown that these non-Euclidean geometries were consistent relative to Euclidean geometry: they were logically consistent, as long as one assumed that Euclidean geometry was consistent.

The proof of Euclidean geometry's consistency eluded mathematicians. By the end of the nineteenth century, the best that was achieved was a proof that Euclidean geometry was consistent as long as arithmetic was consistent.

♥ In 1931, Kurt Gödel demonstrated two theorems. The first one shows, in effect, that mathematics contains statements that may be true, but are inherently unprovable. Even a formal system as simple as arithmetic permits statements that are precise, meaningful, and seem certainly true, and yet cannot be proven true by formal means.

His second theorem shows that a claim of the consistency of arithmetic is just such a statement; it cannot be proven true by any means using the axioms of arithmetic. That is, arithmetic as a formal system cannot guarantee that it will not produce results such as "1 = 2"; such contradictions may never have been countered, but it is impossible to prove that they never will be.

♥ "I've discovered a formalism that lets you equate any number with any other number. That page there proves that one and two are equal. Pick any two numbers you like; I can prove those equal as well."

♥ It was three days later that Carl forgot the box of slides he needed, and drove back to the house, and found her note on the table.

Carl intuited two things in the moments following. The first came to him as he was racing through the house, wondering if she had gotten some cyanide from the chemistry department: it was the realization that, because he couldn't understand what had brought her to such an action, he couldn't feel anything for her.

The second intuition came to him as he was pounding on the bedroom door, yelling at her inside: he experienced déjà vu. It was the only time the situation would feel familiar, and yet it was grotesquely reversed. He remembered being on the other side of a locked door, on the roof of a building, hearing a friend pounding on the door and yelling for him not to do it. And as he stood there outside the bedroom door, he could hear here sobbing, one the floor paralyzed with shame, exactly the same as he had been when it was him on the other side.

♥ Hilbert once said, "If mathematical thinking is defective, where are we to find truth and certitude?"

♥ She, like many, had always thought that mathematics did not derive its meaning from the universe, but rather imposed some meaning onto the universe. Physical entities were not greater or less than one another, not similar or dissimilar; they simply were, they existed. Mathematics was totally independent, but it virtually provided a semantic meaning for those entities, supplying categories and relationships. It didn't describe any intrinsic quality, merely a possible interpretation.

But no more. Mathematics was inconsistent once it was removed from physical entities, and a formal theory was nothing if not consistent. Math was empirical, no more than that, and it held no interest for her.

What would she turn to, now?

♥ After six years of marriage, he had fallen out of love with her. Carl detested himself for the thought, but the fact was that she had changed, and now he neither understood her nor knew how to feel for her. Renee's intellectual and emotional lives were inextricably linked, so that the latter had moved beyond his reach.

His reflex reaction of forgiveness cut in, reasoning that you couldn't ask a person to remain supportive through any crisis. If a man's wife were suddenly afflicted with mental illness, it would be a sin for him to leave her, but a forgivable one. To stay would mean accepting a different kind of relationship, something which not everyone was cut out for, and Carl never condemned a person in such a situation. But there was always the unspoken question: What would I do? And his answer had always been, I would stay.

Hypocrite.

Worst of all, he had been there. He had been absorbed in his own pain, he had tried the endurance of others, and someone had nursed him through it all. His leaving Renee was inevitable, but it would be a sin he couldn't forgive.

~~Division by Zero.the ray of light has to know where it will ultimately end up before it can choose the direction to begin moving in.</i>

♥ I liked to imagine the objection as a Borgesian fabulation: consider a person standing before the Book of Ages, the chronicle that records every event, past and future. Even though the text has been photoreduced from the full-sized edition, the volume is enormous. With magnifier in hand, she flips through the tissue-thin leaves until she locates the story of her life. She finds the passage that describes her flipping through the Book of Ages, and she skips to the next column, where it details what she'll be doing later in the day: acting on information she's read in the Book, she'll bet $100 on the racehorse Devil May Care and win twenty times that much.

The thought of doing just that had crossed her mind, but being a contrary sort, she now resolves to refrain from betting on the ponies altogether.

There's a rub. The Book of Ages cannot be wrong; this scenario is based on the premise that a person is given knowledge of the actual future, not of some possible future. If this were Greek myth, circumstances would conspire to make her enact her fate despite her best efforts, but prophecies in myth are notoriously vague; the Book of Ages is quite specific, and there's no way she can be forced to bet on a racehorse in the manner specified. The result is a contradiction: the Book of Ages must be right, by definition; yet no matter what the Book says she'll do, she can choose to do otherwise. How can these two facts be reconciled?

They can't be, was the common answer. A volume like the Book of Ages is a logical impossibility, for the precise reason that its existence would result in the above contradiction. Or, to be generous, some might say that the Book of Ages could exist, as long as it wasn't accessible to readers: that volume is housed in a special collection, and no one has viewing privileges.

The existence of free will meant that we couldn't know the future. And we knew free will existed because we had direct experience of it. Volition was an intrinsic part of consciousness.

Or was it? What if the experience of knowing the future changed a person? What if it evoked a sense of urgency, a sense of obligation to act precisely as she knew she would?

..My gaze wandered over the shelves—peppermills, garlic presses, salad tongs—and stopped on a wooden salad bowl.

When you are three, you'll pull a dishtowel off the kitchen counter and bring that salad bowl down on top of you. I'll make a grab for it, but I'll miss. The edge of the bowl will leave you with a cut, on the upper edge of your forehead, that will require a single stitch. Your father and I will hold you, sobbing and stained with Caesar dressing, as we wait in the emergency room for hours.

I reached out and took the bowl from the shelf. The motion didn't feel like something I was forced to do. Instead it seemed just as urgent as my rushing to catch the bowl when it falls on you: an instinct that I felt right in following.

"I could use a salad bowl like this."

Gary looked at the bowl and nodded approvingly. "See, wasn't it a good thing that I had to stop at the market?"

"Yes it was." We got in line to pay for our purchases.

♥ When the ancestors of human and heptapods first acquired the spark of consciousness, they both perceived the same physical world, but they parsed their perceptions differently; the worldviews that ultimately arose were the end result of that divergence. Humans had developed a sequential mode of awareness, while heptapods had developed a simultaneous mode of awareness. We experienced events in an order, and perceived their relationship as cause and effect. They experienced all events at once, and perceived a purpose underlying them all. A minimizing, maximizing purpose.

♥ The word "infant" is derived from the Latin word for "unable to speak," but you'll be perfectly capable of saying one thing: "I suffer," and you'll do it tirelessly and without hesitation. I have to admire your utter commitment to that statement; when you cry, you'll become outrage incarnate, every fiber of your body employed in expressing that emotion. It's funny: when you're tranquil, you will seem to radiate light, and if someone were to paint a portrait of you like that, I'd insist that they include the halo. But when you're unhappy, you will become a klaxon, built for radiating sound; a portrait of you then could simply be a fire alarm bell.

At that stage of your life, there'll be no past or future for you; until I give you my breast, you'll have no memory of contentment in the past nor expectation of relief in the future. Once you begin nursing, everything will reverse, and all will be right with the world. NOW is the only moment you'll perceive; you'll live in the present tense. In many ways, it's an enviable state.

♥ The heptapods are neither free nor bound as we understand those concepts; they don't act according to their will, nor are they helpless automatons. What distinguishes the heptapods' mode of awareness is not just that their actions coincide with history's events; it is also that their motives coincide with history's purposes. They act to create the future, to enact chronology.

Freedom isn't an illusion; it's perfectly real in the context of sequential consciousness. Within the context of simultaneous consciousness, freedom is not meaningful, but neither is coercion; it's simple a different context, no more or less valid than the other. It's like that famous optical illusion, the drawing of either an elegant young woman, face turned away from the viewer, or a wart-nosed crone, chin tucked down on her chest. There's no "correct" interpretation; both are equally valid. But you can't see both at the same time.

Similarly, knowledge of the future was incompatible with free will. What made it possible for me to exercise freedom of choice also made it impossible for me to know the future. Conversely, now that I know the future, I would never act contrary to that future, including telling others what I know: those who know the future don't talk about it. Those who've read the Book of Ages never admit to it.

♥ I knew the heptapods were familiar with the conversation's eventual outcome, but they still participated enthusiastically.

If I could have described this to someone who didn't already know, she might ask, if the heptapods already knew everything that they would ever say or hear, what was the point of their using language at all? A reasonable question. But language wasn't only for communication: it was also a form of action. According to speech act theory, statements like "You're under arrest," "I christen this vessel," or "I promise" were all performative: a speaker could perform the action only by uttering the words. For such acts, knowing what would be said didn't change anything. Everyone at a wedding anticipated the words "I now pronounce you husband and wife," but until the minister actually said them, the ceremony didn't count. With performative language, saying equaled nothing.

For the heptapods, all language was performative. Instead of using language to inform, they used language to actualize. Sure, heptapods already knew what would be said in any conversation; but in order for their knowledge to be true, the conversation would have to take place.

♥ Usually, Heptapod B affects just my memory: my consciousness crawls along as it did before, a glowing sliver crawling forward in time, the difference being that the ash of memory lies ahead as well as behind: there is no real combustion. But occasionally I have glimpses when Heptapod B truly reigns, and I experience past and future all at once; my consciousness becomes a half-century-long ember burning outside time. I perceive—during those glimpses—that entire epoch as a simultaneity. It's a period encompassing the rest of my life, and the entirety of yours.

♥ Working with the heptapods changed my life. I met your father and learned Heptapod B, both of which make it possible for me to know you now, here on the patio in the moonlight. Eventually, many years from now, I'll be without your father, and without you. All I will have left from this moment is the heptapod language. So I pay close attention, and note every detail.

From the beginning I knew my destination, and I chose my route accordingly. But I am working toward an extreme of joy, or of pain? Will I achieve a minimum, or a maximum?

These questions are in my mind when your father asks me, "Do you want to make a baby?" And I smile and answer, "Yes," and I unwrap his arms from around me, and we hold hands as we walk inside to make love, to make you.

~~Story of Your Life.

♥ "..Thornburn, can you tell us the doctrine of names?"

"As all things are reflections of God, so are all names reflections of the divine name."

"And what is an object's true name?"

"That name which reflects the divine name in the same manner as the object reflects God."

"And what is the action of a true name?"

"To endow its object with a reflection of divine power."

.."Why do they even bother calling it natural philosophy?" said Robert. "Just admit it's another theology lesson and be done with it." The two of them had recently purchased A Boy's Guide to Nomenclature, which informed them that nomenclators no longer spoke in terms of God or the divine name. Instead, current thinking held that there was a lexical universe as well as a physical one, and bringing an object together with a compatible name caused the latent potentialities of both to be realized. Nor was there a single "true name" for a given object: depending on its precise shape, a body might be compatible with several names, known as its "euonyms," and conversely a simple name might tolerate significant variations in body shape, as his childhood marching doll had demonstrated.

♥ Robert Stratton went on to read nomenclature at Cambridge's Trinity College. There he studied kabbalistic texts written centuries before, when nomenclators were still called ba'alei shem and automata were called golem, texts that laid the foundation for the science of names: the Sefer Yezirah, Eleazar of Worms' Sodei Razayya, Abulafia's Hayyei ha-Olam ha-Ba. Then he studied the alchemical treatises that placed the techniques of alphabetic manipulation in a broader philosophical and mathematical context: Llull's Ars Magna, Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia, Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica.

He learned that every name was a combination of several epithets, each designating a specific trait or capability. Epithets were generated by compiling all the words that described the desired trait: cognates and etymons, from languages both living and extinct. By selectively substituting and permuting letters, one could distill from those words their common essence, which was the epithet for that trait. In certain instances, epithets could be used as the bases for triangulation, allowing one to derive epithets for traits undescribed in any language. The entire process relied on intuition as much as formulae; the ability to choose the best letter permutations was an unteachable skill.

He studied the modern techniques of nominal integration and factorization, the former being the means by which a set of epithets—pithy and evocative—were combined into the seemingly random string of letters that made up a name, the latter by which a name was decomposed into its constituent epithets. Not every method of integration had a matching factorization technique: a powerful name might the refactored to yield a set of epithets different from those used to generate it, and those epithets were often useful for that reason. Some names resisted refactorization, and nomenclators strove to develop new techniques to penetrate their secrets.

Nomenclature was undergoing something of a revolution during this time. There had long been two classes of names: those for animating a body, and those functioning as amulets. Health amulets were worn as protection from injury or illness, while others rendered a house resistant to fire or a ship less likely to founder at sea. Of late, however, the distinction between these categories of names was becoming blurred, with exciting results.

The nascent science of thermodynamics, which established the interconvertibility of heat and work, had recently explained how automata gained their motive power by absorbing heat from their surroundings. Using this improved understanding of heat, a Namenmeister in Berlin had developed a new class of amulet that caused a body to absorb heat from one location and release it in another. Refrigeration employing such amulets was simpler and more efficient than that based on the evaporation of a volatile fluid, and had immense commercial application. Amulets were likewise facilitating the improvement of automata: in Edinburgh nomenclator's research into the amulets that prevented objects from becoming lost had led him to patent a household automaton able to return objects to their proper places.

♥ "..For the purposes of our current discussion, the only relevant information is that I incorporated the sexual epithet. Are you familiar with it?"

"I know of it." It was one of the few epithets that was dimorphic, having male and female variants.

"I needed two versions of the name, obviously, to induce the generation of both males and females. ..As this method of reproduction does not involve sexual congress, I have termed it 'parthenogenesis.'"

Stratton looked at both him and Fieldhurst. "It's clear what your proposed solution is. The logical conclusion of this research is to discover a euonym for the human species. You wish for mankind to perpetuate itself through nomenclature."

♥ Stratton also learned more about the sexual epithet, traditionally used to confer either male or female qualities to an automaton. He knew of only one such epithet, and was surprised to learn it was the simplest of many extant versions. The topic went undisclosed by nomenclatoral societies, but this epithet was one of the most fully researched in existence; in fact its earliest use was claimed to have occurred in biblical times, when Joseph's brothers created a female golem they could have sexually without violating the prohibition against such behavior with a woman. Development of the epithet had continued for centuries in secrecy, primarily in Constantinople, and now the current versions of automatous courtesans were offered by specialized brothels right here in London. Carved from soapstone and polished to a high gloss, heated to blood temperature and sprinkled with essential oils, the automata commanded prices exceeded only by those for incubi and succubi.

♥ It was a basic dictum of biology: females were the source of the vital principle that gave the offspring life, while males provided the basic form. Because of this division, neither sex could reproduce by itself.

♥ "This disaster may ultimately turn out to be a boon. ..Why, once we have human reproduction under our control, we will have a means of preventing the poor from having such large families as so many of them persist in having right now. ..You must agree the potential is enormous. By exercising some judgment when choosing who may bear children or not, our government could preserve the nation's racial stock. ..Perhaps you have noticed that the lower classes are reproducing at a rate exceeding that of the nobility and gentry. While commoners are not without virtues, they are lacking in refinement and intellect. These forms of mental impoverishment beget the same: a woman born into low circumstances cannot help but gestate a child destined for the same. Consequent to the great fecundity of the lower classes, our nation would eventually drown in coarse dullards."

"So name impressing will be withheld from the lower classes?"

"Not entirely, and certainly not initially: when the truth about declining fertility is known, it would be an invitation to riot if the lower classes were denied access to name impressing. And of course, the lower classes do have their role to play in our society, as long as their numbers are kept in check. I envision that the policy will go in effect only after some years have passed, by which time people will have grown accustomed to name impression as the method of fertilization. At that point, perhaps in conjunction with the census process, we can impose limits on the number of children a given couple would be permitted to have. The government would regulate the growth and composition of the population thereafter."

"..Our goal was the survival of the species, not the implementation of partisan politics."

"On the contrary, this is purely scientific. Just as it's our duty to ensure the species survives, it's also our duty to guarantee its health by keeping a proper balance in its population. Politics doesn't enter into it; were the situation reversed and there existed paucity of laborers, the opposite policy would be called for.

♥ "I expect6 that most of the nobility and gentry would share Lord Fieldhurst's opinion on this matter." Ashbourne rested his forehead on the fingertips of one hand, suddenly looking very old. "I should have anticipated this. My error was in viewing humanity purely as a single species. Having seen England and France working toward a common goal, I forgot that nations are not the only factions that oppose one another."

♥ "What kind of a man are you, to do things like this?" Stratton gasped, his cheek flattened against the brick floor.

The assassin chuckled. "Men are no different from your automata; slip a bloke a piece of paper with the proper figures on it, and he'll do your bidding."

♥ "It's an outrageous injustice that he was the one to die. He'd nothing to do with this affair."

"It's always that way, sir."

~~Seventy-Two Letters.

♥ But as metahumans began to dominate experimental research, they increasingly made their findings available only via DNT (digital neural transfer), leaving journals to publish secondhand accounts translated into human language. Without DNT humans could not fully grasp prior developments nor effectively utilize the new tools needed to conduct research, while metahumans continued to improve DNT and rely on it even more. Journals for human audiences were reduced to vehicles of popularization, and poor ones at that, as even the most brilliant humans found themselves puzzled by translations of the latest findings.

No one denies the many benefits of metahuman science, but one of its costs to human researchers was the realization that they would likely never make an original contribution to science again. Some left the field altogether, but those who stayed shifted their attention away from original research and toward hermeneutics: interpreting the scientific work of metahumans.

♥ We need not be intimidated by the accomplishments of metahuman science. We should always remember that the technologies that made metahumans possible were originally invented by humans, and they were no smarter than we.

~~The Evolution of Human Science.

♥ Neil was born with a congenital abnormality that caused his left thigh to be externally rotated and several inches shorter than his right; the medical term for it was proximal femoral focus deficiency. Most people he met assumed God was responsible for this, but Neil's mother hadn't witnessed any visitations while carrying him; his condition was the result of improper limb development during the sixth week of gestation, nothing more. In fact, as far as Neil's mother was concerned, blame rested with his absent father, whose income might have made corrective surgery a possibility, although she never expressed this sentiment aloud.

As a child Neil had occasionally wondered if he was being punished by God, but most of the time he blamed his classmates in school for his unhappiness. Their nonchalant cruelty, their instinctive ability to locate the weaknesses in a victim's emotional armor, the way their own friendships were reinforced by their sadism: he recognized these as examples of human behavior, not divine. And although his classmates often used God's name in their taunts, Neil knew better than to blame Him for their actions.

But while Neil avoided the pitfall of blaming God, he never made the jump to loving Him; nothing in his upbringing or his personality led him to pray to God for strength or for relief. The assorted trials he faced growing up were accidental or human in origin, and he relied on strictly human resources to counter them. He became an adult who—like so many others—viewed God's actions in the abstract until they impinged upon his own life. Angelic visitations were events that befell other people, reaching him only via reports on the nightly news. His own life was entirely mundane; he worked as a superintendent for an upscale apartment building, collecting rent and performing repairs, and as far as he was concerned, circumstances were fully capable of unfolding, happily or not, without intervention from above.

♥ Neil's wife, Sarah Fisk, had been one of the eight casualties. She was hit by flying glass when the angel's billowing curtain of flame shattered the storefront window of the café in which she was eating. She bled to death within minutes, and the other customers in the café—none of whom suffered even superficial injuries—could do nothing but listen to her cries of pain and fear, and eventually witness her soul's ascension toward Heaven.

Nathaniel hadn't delivered any specific message; the angel's parting words, which had boomed out across the entire visitation site, were the typical Behold the power of the Lord. Of the eight casualties that day, three souls were accepted into Heaven and five were not, a closer ratio than the average for deaths by all causes. Sixty-two people received medical treatment for injuries ranging from slight concussions to ruptured eardrums to burns requiring skin grafts. Total property damage was estimated at $8.1 million, all of it excluded by private insurance companies due to the cause. Scores of people became devout worshipers in the wake of the visitation, either out of gratitude or terror.

Alas, Neil Fisk was not one of them.

♥ Neil didn't stop attending the meetings—he felt that he somehow owed it to Sarah to stick with them—but he found another group to go to as well, one more compatible with his own feelings: a support group devoted to those who'd lost a loved one during a visitation, and were angry at God because of it. They met every other week in a room at the local community center, and talked about the grief and rage that boiled inside of them.

All the attendees were generally sympathetic to one another, despite differences in their various attitudes toward God. Of those who'd been devout before their loss, some struggled with the task of remaining so, while others gave up their devotion without a second glance. Of those who'd never been devout, some felt their position had been validated, while others were faced with the near impossible task of becoming devout now. Neil found himself, to his consternation, in this last category.

Like every other non-devout person, Neil had never expended much energy on where his soul would end up; he'd always assumed his destination was Hell, and he accepted that. That was the way of things, and Hell, after all, was not physically worse than the mortal plane.

..For people like him, Hell was whee you went when you died, and he saw no point in restructuring his life in hopes of avoiding that. And since God hadn't previously played a role in Neil's life, he wasn't afraid of being exiled from God. The prospect of living without interference, living in a world where windfalls and misfortunes were never by design, held no terror for him.

Now that Sarah was in Heaven, his situation had changed. Neil wanted more than anything to be reunited with her, and the only way to get to Heaven was to love God with all his heart.

♥ Sarah had been the first woman Neil met whose demeanor hadn't changed one bit, whose expression hadn't flickered toward pity or horror or even surprise when she first saw his leg. For that reason alone it was predictable that Neil would become infatuated with her; by the time he saw all the sides of her personality, he'd completely fallen in love with her. And because his best qualities came out when he was with her, she fell in love with him too.

♥ That is not to say that Sarah's devotion had no effect on Neil. On the contrary, Sarah was far and away the best argument for loving God that he had ever encountered. If love of God had contributed to making her the person she was, then perhaps it did make sense. During the years that the two of them were married, his outlook on life improved, and it probably would have reached the point where he was thankful to God, if he and Sarah had grown old together.

Sarah's death removed that particular possibility, but it needn't have closed the door on Neil's loving God. Neil could have taken it as a reminder that no one can count on having decades left. He could have been moved by the realization that, had he died with her, his soul would've been lost and the two of them separated for eternity. He could have seen Sarah's death as a wake-up call, telling him to love God while he still had the chance.

Instead Neil became actively resentful of God. Sarah had been the greatest blessing of his life, and God had taken her away. Now he was expected to love Him for it? For Neil, it was like having a kidnapper demand love as ransom for his wife's return. Obedience he might have managed, but sincere, heartfelt love? That was a ransom he couldn't pay.

♥ Neil himself had read a pamphlet of the humanist movement; what he most remembered was that it had quoted the fallen angels. Visitations of fallen angels were infrequent, and caused neither good fortune nor bad; they weren't acting under God's direction, but just passing through the mortal plane as they went about their unimaginable business. On the occasions they appeared, people would ask them questions: Did they know God's intentions? Why had they rebelled? The fallen angels' reply was always the same: Decide for yourselves. That is what we did. We advise you to do the same.

♥ Their reaction shouldn't have come as a surprise: throughout Neil's life, people had attributed moral significance to his leg even though God wasn't responsible for it. Now that he'd suffered a misfortune for which God was unambiguously responsible, it was inevitable that someone would assume he deserved it. It was purely by chance that Neil heard this sentiment when he was at his most vulnerable, and it could have the greatest impact on him.

Neil didn't think his in-laws were right, but he began to wonder if he might not be better off if he did. Perhaps, he thought, it'd be better to live in a story where the righteous were rewarded and the sinners were punished, even if the criteria for righteousness and sinfulness eluded him, than to live in a reality where there was no justice at all. It would mean casting himself in the role of a sinner, so it was hardly a comforting lie, but it offered one reward that his own ethics couldn't: believing it would reunite him with Sarah.

Sometimes even bad advice can point a man in the right direction. It was in this manner that his in-laws' accusations ultimately pushed Neil closer to God.

♥ It was at that moment that another beam of Heaven's light penetrated the cloud cover and struck Neil, trapped in his vehicle.

Like a thousand hypodermic needles the light punctured his flesh and scraped across his bones. The light unmade his eyes, turning him into not a formerly sightless being, bit a being never intended to possess vision. And in doing so the light revealed to Neil all the reasons he should love God.

He loved Him with an utterness beyond what humans can experience for one another. To say it was unconditional was inadequate, because even the word "unconditional" required the concept of a condition and such an idea was no longer comprehensible to him: every phenomenon in the universe was nothing less than an explicit reason to love Him. No circumstance could be an obstacle or even an irrelevancy, but only another reason to be grateful, a further inducement to love. Neil thought of the grief that had driven him to suicidal recklessness, and the pain and terror that Sarah had experienced before she died, and still he loved God, not in spite of their suffering, but because of it.

He renounced all his previous anger and ambivalence and desire for answers. He was grateful for all the pain he'd endured, contrite for not previously recognizing it as the gift it was, euphoric that he was now being granted this insight into his true purpose. He understood how life was an undeserved bounty, how even the most virtuous were not worthy of the glories of the mortal plane.

For him the mystery was solved, because he understood that everything in life is love, even pain, especially pain.

So minutes later, when Neil finally bled to death, he was truly worthy of salvation.

And God sent him to Hell anyway.

..He knows his being sent to Hell was not a result of anything he did; he knows there was no reason for it, no higher purpose being served. None of this diminishes his love for God. If there were a possibility that he could be admitted to Heaven and his suffering would end, he would not hope for it; such desires no longer occur to him.

..And though it's been many years that he has been in Hell, beyond the awareness of God, he loves Him still. That is the nature of true devotion.

~~Hell is the Absence of God.

♥ The deepest social problem is lookism. For decades people've been willing to talk about racism and sexism, but they're still reluctant to talk about lookism. Yet this prejudice against unattractive people is incredibly pervasive. People do it without even being taught by anyone, which is bad enough, but instead of combating this tendency, modern society actively reinforces it.

♥ The condition is what we call an associative agnosia, rather than an apperceptive one. That means it doesn't interfere with one's visual perception, only with the ability to recognize what one sees. A calliagnostic perceives faces perfectly well; he or she can tell the difference between a pointed chin and a receding one, a straight one, a straight nose and a cooked one, clear skin and blemished skin. He or she simply doesn't experience any aesthetic reaction to those differences.

Calliagnosia is possible because of the existence of certain neural pathways in the brain. All animals have criteria for evaluating the reproductive potential of prospective mates, and they've evolved neural "circuitry" to recognize those criteria. Human social interaction is centered around our faces, so our circuitry is most finely attuned to how a person's reproductive potential is manifested in his or her face. You experience the operation of that circuitry as the feeling that a person is beautiful, or ugly, or somewhere in between. By blocking the neural pathways dedicated to evaluating those features, we can induce calliagnosia.

Given how much fashions change, some people find it hard to imagine that there are absolute markers of a beautiful face. But it turns out that when people of different cultures are asked to rank photos of face for attractiveness, some very clear patterns emerge across the board. Even very young infants show the same preference for certain faces. This lets us identify the traits that are common to everyone's idea of a beautiful face.

Probably the most obvious one is clear skin. It's the equivalent of a bright plumage in birds or a shiny coat of fur in mammals. Good skin is the single best indicator of youth and health, and it's valued in every culture. Acne may not be serious, but it looks like more serious diseases, and that's why we find it disagreeable.

Another trait is symmetry; we may not be conscious of millimeter differences between someone's left and right sides, but measurements reveal that individuals rated as most attractive are also the most symmetrical. And while symmetry is what our genes always aim for, its very difficult to achieve in developmental terms; any environmental stressor—like poor nutrition, disease, parasites—tends to result in asymmetry during growth. Symmetry implies resistance to such stressors.

Other traits have to do with facial proportions. We tend to be attracted to facial proportions that are close to the population mean. That obviously depends on the population you're part of, but being near the mean usually indicates genetic health. The only departures from the mean that people consistently find attractive are ones caused by sex hormones, which suggest good reproductive potential.

Basically, calliagnosia is a lack of response to these traits; nothing more. Calliagnosics are not blind to fashion or cultural standards of beauty. If black lipstick is all the rage, calliagnosia won't make you forget it, although you might not notice the difference between pretty faces and plain faces wearing that lipstick. And if everyone around you sneers at people with broad noses, you'll pick up on that.

So calliagnosia by itself can't eliminate appearance-based discrimination. What it does, in a sense, is even up the odds; it takes away the innate predisposition, the tendency for such discrimination to arise in the first place. That way, if you want to teach people to ignore appearances, you won't be facing an uphill battle. Ideally you'd start with an environment where everyone's adopted calliagnosia, and then socialize them to not value appearances.

♥ Girls have always been told that their value is tied to their appearance; their accomplishments are always magnified if they're pretty and diminished if they're not. Even worse, some girls get the message that they can get through life relying on just their looks, and then they never develop their minds. I wanted to keep Tamera away from that sort of influence.

Being pretty is fundamentally a passive quality; even when you work at it, you're working at being passive. I wanted Tamera to value herself in terms of what she could do, both with her mind and with her body, not in terms of how decorative she was. I didn't want her to be passive, and I'm pleased to say that she hasn't turned out that way.

♥ Every study on this issue turns up the same results: looks help people get ahead. We can't help but think of good-looking people as more competent, more honest, more deserving than others. None of it's true, but their looks still give us that impression.

Calli doesn't blind you to anything; beauty is what blinds you. Calli lets you see.

♥ And then she's like, "You mean he broke up with you?"

It took me a while before I could get her to tell me what was up; she made me promise twice not to get mad. Eventually she said Garrett isn't exactly good-looking. I was thinking he must be average-looking, because he didn't really look different after I got my calli turned off. But Ina said he was definitely below average.

She found pictures of a couple other guys who she thought looked like him, and with them I could see how they're not good-looking. Their faces just look goofy. Then I took another look at Garrett's picture, and I guess he's got some of the same features, but on him they look cute. To me, anyway.

I guess it's true what they say: love is a little but like calli. When you love someone, you don't really see what they look like. I don't see Garrett the way others do, because I still have feelings for him.

♥ So you see, this debate isn't just about commercials and cosmetics, it's about determining what's the appropriate relationship between the mind and the body. Are we more fully realized when we minimize the physical part of our natures? And that, you have to agree, is a profound question.

♥ ..Media pundits worried about the possibility of programming loyalty to a government or corporation, or belief in an ideology or religion.

The fact is, we have no access to the contents of anyone's thoughts. We can shape broad aspects pf personality, we can make changes consistent with the natural specialization of the brain, but these are extremely coarse-grained adjustments. There's no neural pathway that specifically handles resentment toward immigrants, any more than there's one for Marxist doctrine or foot fetishism. If we ever get true mind programming, we'll be able to create "race blindness," but until then, education is our best hope.

♥ In History of Ideas, we've got this T.A., he's named Anton, and he was saying how a lot of words we use to describe an attractive person used to be words for magic. Like the word "charm" originally meant a magic spell, and the word "glamour" did, too. And it's just blatant with words like "enchanting" and "spellbinding." And when he said that, I thought, yeah, that's what it's like: seeing a really good-looking person is like having a magic spell cast over you.

♥ The very notion that beauty is something we need to be protected from is insulting. Next thing you know, a student organization will insist we all adopt music agnosia, so we don't feel bad about ourselves when we hear gifted singers or musicians.

When you watch Olympic athletes in competition, does your self-esteem plummet? Of course not. On the contrary, you feel wonder and admiration; you're inspired that such exceptional individuals exist. So why can't we feel the same way about beauty? Feminism would have us apologize for having that reaction. It wants to replace aesthetics with politics, and to the extent it's succeeded, it's impoverished us.

Being in the presence of a world-class beauty can be as thrilling as listening to a world-class soprano. Gifted individuals aren't the only ones who benefit from their gifts; we all do. Or, I should say, we all can. Depriving ourselves of that opportunity would be a crime.

♥ Anyone who says the calli movement is good for women is spreading the propaganda of all oppressors: the claim that subjugation is actually protection. Calli supporters want to demonize those women who possess beauty. Beauty can provide just as much pleasure for those who have it as for those who perceive it, but the calli movement makes women feel guilty about taking pleasure in their appearance. It's yes another patriarchal strategy for suppressing female sexuality, and once again, too many women have bought into it.

Of course beauty has been used as a tool of oppression, but eliminating beauty is not the answer; you can't liberate people by narrowing the scope of their experiences. That's positively Orwellian. What's needed is a woman-centered concept of beauty, one that lets all women feel good about themselves instead of making most of them feel bad.

♥ Go radical ugly. That's what the beautiful people need to see.

I got my nose taken off about this time last year.

..I like it when I freak people out; sometimes I actually ruin someone's appetite when they're eating. But freaking people out. that's not what it's about. It's about how ugly can beat beautiful at its own game. I get more looks walking down the street than a beautiful woman. You see me standing next to a video model, who you going to notice more? Me, that's who. You won't want to, but you will.

♥ I say that physical beauty is something we no longer need.

Calli doesn't mean that you'll never see anyone as beautiful. When you see a smile that's genuine, you'll see beauty. When you see an act of courage or generosity, you'll see beauty. Most of all, when you look at someone you love, you'll see beauty. All calli does is keep you from being distracted by surfaces. True beauty is what you see with the eyes of love, and that's something that nothing can obscure.

♥ In my entire career, I've met only a couple people who have the kind of charisma they gave Ms. Boyer in that speech. People like that radiate a kind of reality-distortion field that lets them convince you of almost anything. You feel moved by their very presence, you're ready to open your wallet or agree to whatever they ask. It's not until later that you remember all the objections you had, but by then, often as not, it's too late. And I'm truly frightened by the prospect of corporations being able to generate that effect with software.

.. So that means that once this software gets into widespread use, we're going to be facing extraordinarily persuasive pitches from all sides: commercials, press releases, evangelists. We'll hear the most stirring speeches given by a politician or general in decades. Even activists and culture jammers will use it, just to keep up with the establishment. Once the range of this software gets wide enough, even the movies will use it, too: an actor's own ability won't matter, because everyone's performance will be uncanny.

The same thing'll happen as happened with beauty: our environment will become saturated with this supernormal stimuli, and it'll affect our interaction with real people. When every speaker on a netcast has the presence of a Winston Churchill or a Martin Luther King, we'll begin to regard ordinary people, with their average use of paralinguistic cues, as bland and unpersuasive. We'll become dissatisfied with the people we interact with in real life, because they won't be as engaging as the projections we see through our spex.

I just hope those spex for reprogramming neurostat hit the market soon. Then maybe we can encourage people to adopt the stronger agnosias just when they're watching video. That may be the only way for us to preserve authentic human interaction: if we save our emotional responses for real life.

~~Liking What You See: A Documentary.
Tags: 1990s - fiction, 1st-person narrative, 2000s, 20th century - fiction, 21st century - fiction, 2nd-person narrative, 3rd-person narrative, alien fiction, american - fiction, articles (fiction), artificial intelligence (fiction), babylonian in fiction, british in fiction, conspiracy theory (fiction), drugs (fiction), fantasy, fiction, futuristic fiction, genetics (fiction), linguistics (fiction), mathematics (fiction), medicine (fiction), mental health (fiction), multiple perspectives, novellas, parenthood (fiction), philosophical fiction, physical disability (fiction), religion (fiction), religion - judaism (fiction), religion - judaism - kaballah (fiction), science fiction, short stories, social criticism (fiction), steampunk, suicide (fiction), time travel fiction, university/college life (fiction)
Subscribe

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 0 comments