I still toss and turn about this all the time, by the way- it’s probably the most enduring obsession of my childhood, and a nontrivial chunk of what drove me to things like geology, programming, ratspace, and even stuff you wouldn’t expect like a fondness for time travel stories or Li Po poems.

One neuron is just a cell. Many neurons, arranged just so, is a person. Qualia, interiority, volition, values, all spectacularly inexplicable in physical terms. A whole world of imagination, captured in miniature as a net with just the right pattern of string. It’s so fucking goetic. Arrange these symbols in a circle, and a demon appears, using some dread fire to give meaning to form and animate base matter. “The hard problem”, they call it.

My hard problem isn’t that it works, as such. This, I can accept, although not with full equanimity. It’s that it demonstrates something about the cosmos, because everything demonstrates something about the cosmos, and I cannot for the life of me see through that fog. The universe is not billiard balls and it’s not negative-probability waves moving through fields, because when you arrange symbols in a circle you can summon a demon. That was there from the beginning, latent at the big bang that kicked us all off. But all we have is this one thing, this tiny little biosphere on a tiny little world that stumbled blindly in to the right incantations, and everywhere else we look it’s just billiard balls as far as the eye can see. This is not to say that ‘is there extraterrestrial life?’ is the most important question, though of course it’s instrumental, and the Fermi Paradox is maddening in this context as well. But the deeper question is, ‘why in the everliving tiddlywinks does a universe with a demon-summoning ritual in it pretend to be mechanical except in this one narrow thing?’ Where’s the rest of the magic system?

And now we’re closing in on perfecting the ritual ourselves, not understanding a damn thing of course, only marginally less blind than the evolutionary process that first succeeded in us. We zero in on intelligence, the one part of all this that we’ve managed to make tractable in analytical terms, and use that to bootstrap ourselves toward something that hopefully, hopefully shares all the rest. Demons summoning demons (of course it spirals out to infinity almost immediately, how could it not?), and maybe the new ones will be able to tell us what the universe is and how we happened within it. Makes sense as a strategy, I suppose.


#philosophy #that one post with the thing #(yes I *did* dig up this post and the last one as part of the same train of thought) #this probably deserves some warning tag but I am not sure what #apocalypse cw?

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