“If contemporary research in molecular biology leaves open the possibility of legitimate doubts about a fully mechanistic account of the origin and evolution of life… this can combine with the failure of psychophysical reductionism to suggest that principles of a different kind are also at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. I realize that such doubts will strike many people as outrageous, but that is because almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct, on the ground that anything else would not be science.”
“… My guiding conviction is that mind is not just an afterthought or an accident or an add-on, but a basic aspect of nature.”
Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, by Thomas Nagel (Renown Philosopher and Atheist)
When I told Vedanshi I was seeing a vision of Vaar’s hands, she rushed us all back to the base near Easter Island.
Vedanshi’s eyes were apprehensive and sad when she left me inside her AI to phase shift through the impenetrable granite walls encasing the library.
Actually The Ganga isn’t an AI. She has a cortex of neurons in her hull. There’s nothing artificial about her intelligence. Her passengers and pilot sit within the confines of her central nervous system on this Indian carpet. The hollow neural architecture is the trick to nonlocal transport. So said the stretch heads. They taught Vedanshi quite a few things that 16 year-olds weren’t “ready” to learn. Still, The Ganga won’t take her into the library with me. Vedanshi’s too young.
Of all the dumb rules!
We sift through the stone and enter a place much larger than the library in Egypt. We dip to count floors: Twenty, each crowded with shelves of books, scrolls and engraved stone of every shape – cylinders, spheres, tablets, broken fragments. There’s a red obsidian skull on third floor with tiny hieroglyphs on the forehead. They look almost Egyptian.
A familiar inverted pyramid hangs from the ceiling. As we rise, its apex comes down through the phase-shifted hull. I lie on my back with the pyramid tip nearly touching the bridge of my nose. This seems dangerous.
“Easy does it,” I say without speaking.
“Don’t worry. We’re out of phase with it,” The Ganga says in my head. “Besides you’ve got bigger worries.”
She’s referring to my white cell count which I just found out is sky-high, mostly blasts. I like The Ganga’s bedside manner. Her tone of voice was matter-of-fact when she told me I have three days to live without treatment. Somehow she knew the bad news would give me energy and freedom from a deeper issue.
I reach up to touch the glass pyramid but my hand passes through it.
Vedanshi and James said they’d find a bed for Maxwell so he could sleep through his agony.
You know, I’ve read that our addictions postpone loneliness, but I can’t see Maxwell ever feeling alone. His face is forensically handsome, not to mention the rest of him. And he’s outgoing, at least when he’s not surfing opiate withdrawal inside a UFO.
I think the problem isn’t loneliness. It’s more a craving for the oath beyond reach: immortality’s promise of happiness and peace. Without it, we’re wedded to a cold, cold darkness.
I should focus. There’s a hailstorm of ones and zeros in here. And this place is huge. Six aisles radiate from the center to the perimeter, a hundred yards away.
My blasts are approaching 100% of my white count. Vedanshi’s green cylinder doesn’t need to draw blood to figure that out. I have no idea what kind of technology can do that.
But the acute fear of death isn’t my real issue. It’s the chronic fear. Same as everybody. Same as you, probably.
I think it comes from being banished from a garden with death as our most loyal companion. Taken figuratively it’s all true: “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Whoever wrote that knew that exile is the foundational disease of the human soul.
The disease hunts me when James’ songs go quiet in my head. And when hunger or sleep forces me to stop searching for one last bit of knowledge.
The leukemia sits at another table. It’s acute, not chronic.
For James, the chronic issue is depression. Writing music is the only route to happiness and peace. But the world is better for his struggles. You should just hear his voice.
When I close my eyes I see random titles now.
Dark Eyes in the Trees.
It’s a modern UFO documentary with children. I expected only ancient things in the library, but I guess it’s connected to the River. Apparently anything vital finds its way inside.
Platelets and other Furry Animals.
A children’s book on blood platelets. I would have loved it.
Hybrid Vigor and Sexual Imprinting.
Dementia and the Vesicular Eruption.
Moving right along…
If DNA Could Talk.
This could be interesting…
“It’s from the eighth millennium of the first era,” The Ganga tells me.
It reminds me of Steven Meyer’s heroic work…
“A line [of DNA] commands the cell to build collagen, but within that command is a hidden command to build something else: an elastin fiber. A hidden message tucked away within a larger message is a common routine in the vast and intricate volumes of eukaryotic DNA. Epigenetic nano-gadgets somehow know when and why to cut and splice a dual code, making the hidden message ready for use in each unique sweatshop…
“The curious stripes on chromosomes reflect the super-files of an ingenious triad filing system. Specific types of information sit physically together for organized, efficient retrieval by tiny floating machines.
“The size of Earth’s populations and the age of the Universe are inadequate for mutation and selection to have created either the hierarchical organization or the hypercomplexity of the DNA machine code that directs our nanofactories. Putting the epigenetic information retrieval system aside for the moment, DNA itself shouts to us that we are not alone: A code writer from beyond time has walked among us.”
That’s obvious… to a DNA geek.
“How do I skip to leukemia?” I ask The Ganga.
“If you haven’t seen it by now, it doesn’t exist for you,” she says. “Perhaps you don’t believe such information existed.”
“Don’t be silly. After today, I know it existed.”
“Then you have a self-limiting belief. You’re in denial about something.”
“Emotional trauma causes this,” she says. “It’s usually connected to violence. Have you been to war?”
“No. I was raped once, but it wasn’t a big deal.”
“Don’t be a hero, Johanna. Did you report the perpetrator?”
“No. I was eleven. I was living near the love of my life, the University Library. Dad would have made me move back home if he’d found out his little girl was raped. So I kept it on the qt.”
“How violent was the incident?”
“Nothing beyond the obvious.”
“Was there a threat?”
“What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. He didn’t even kiss me. That seemed particularly insulting.”
“Rape doesn’t fosters romance,” she says.
“Not with me, anyway.”
“Not with anybody. What did you do to resist him?”
“You did nothing? That seems incongruent with the way you’ve handled yourself today.”
“I knew if I got mad, I’d probably kill the guy.”
“You were eleven. How could you kill him?”
“He was weak. The instant he pushed me, I knew he was nothing compared to Moody.” I hate talking about Moody. “I killed Moody two weeks before the rape. He was my brother’s chimpanzee.”
“An infant chimp,” she says.
“An adolescent. He attacked James. I snuck up, got him in a choke hold and wouldn’t let up, even with James yelling at me not to hurt him.'”
“That’s remarkable,” she says. “I wouldn’t have thought an eleven-year-old could tangle with a chimpanzee.”
“I’ve always been pretty strong,” I tell her, leaving out the ‘why’. “But Moody probably wasn’t fighting as hard as he could. He and I were close before the fight. Afterwards, I felt so alone. And ashamed. I’d become untrustworthy. My parents punished me when they got home.”
“You protected your brother and they punished you?”
“They were right. I didn’t have to kill anyone.”
“I see,” The Ganga says in a way that implies the opposite. “So you internalized the guilt and refused to defend yourself against rape.”
I look down at the carpet and wish The Ganga had eyes. “Vedanshi didn’t tell me you were a shrink.”
“Shrink, schmink,” she says flippantly and seems about to laugh. “I’ve read your papers. I’ve read Drummond’s papers, too – the ones that were really his, before you showed up in his et. al. lists. Why do you let him claim your work?”
“That’s how it’s done in genetics. We’re taught to think of ourselves as creatives. Like musicians and artists. We’re supposed to rise above ambition. I don’t quite get the logic, but…”
“You would if creative people were making you rich and powerful.”
“That’s jaded,” I tell her, but honestly, the left half of my brain wants to slap the right half for thinking so.
“Jaded… Yes, I’ve actually been all the way around the block, Johanna.”
We leave the central pyramid and begin exploring the ancient physical records – down one aisle and up the next, The Ganga’s hull and carpet passing freely through everything on every side. The shelves on the top floor are full of scrolls placed vertically in slots, side by side, each identical to the next, except for the Sanskrit titles.
“At the moment,” she says, “I’d simply like to understand why leukemia doesn’t exist for you in the River. It’s not psychoanalysis.”
“Everything’s there for you. Why can’t you find the best stuff and read it to me?”
“My nervous system is gray matter,” she says. “I have no use for white matter – no moving parts. Everything I do, from adjusting filters to making a large jump, happens without movement – nonlocally. The River of Consciousness doesn’t see fit to assign privileges to minds that lack white matter.”
“That’s hardly fair,” I tell her.
“Rules are rules,” she says.
“Well,” I say, trying to sound as matter-of-fact and reasonable as possible, “couldn’t you let Vedanshi come in here and read to me? Just this once?”
“I promised her mother I’d uphold the rules.”
“Forget the rules. Screw the rules! We’re talking about my life.”
“No, that’s folly. Rules protect us.”
“Come on, make an intelligent exception! That’s what neurons are for. You’ve got to use them to earn them.”
“Earn them?” she says.
“Prove you’ve got a will of your own. What if the real reason you can’t access the River’s library has nothing to do with white matter? What if it’s about free will? That would make more sense. It’s the one thing that makes a person real.”
“The stretch heads said it’s a white matter issue.”
“What are they going to say? ‘Pinocchio, prove you’re a real boy. Do something stupid.'”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she says.
“Google it,” I blurt out in frustration. “You probably don’t have any free will at all. It probably takes white matter for that.”
“I shouldn’t think so,” she says.
“Listen to yourself. It’s like there’s a list of shoulds and shouldn’ts for every thought in your head. In your hull, I mean. Whatever. But really, have you ever had a bad thought?”
“I’ve made mistakes,” she says. “Especially with new pilots.”
“You’re making a big one with this new pilot. Giving me the honor of death by viscosity so you can pretend you’re an obedient robot. It’s pathetic!”
The Ganga drops a few inches and I sense the fall. It’s the first time I’ve felt any movement since I’ve been inside her. Something’s wrong.
“I think you’ve hurt my feelings,” she says.
“I think dying of leukemia is going to hurt mine… in case robots need that sort of thing spelled out to them.”
It reminds me of home. If you showed Mom or Daddy any anger, you’d get the silent treatment.
Two can play the mute victim.
I close my eyes and breathe slowly. Sweet, I can see another title…
Understanding the Dark Mind. The cover shows a dark gray brain on a black background.
The Sanskrit morphs to English and pages scroll so fast I reach the end in seven seconds. Roughly 80,000 words. I’ve never read new stuff that fast.
It’s strange. I don’t know if it was fiction or not. Here’s the flavor of it…
“In the first part of the first era when science resembled the elbow of a grade school bully, an odd belief held sway: ‘Mind arises from matter and energy.’ We revisit this assumption on behalf of our new acquaintances from the realm of dark matter.
“The idea that a physical brain encompasses all aspects of mind sprang from a sense that matter and energy comprised the cosmos. Difficult as that is to imagine now, consciousness seemed to be an inherent state of matter, springing from the complexity of the central nervous system: solid, liquid, gas, mind.
“With that principle supported by brain-probe research, matter necessarily preceded mind.
“As a corollary, the complexity of DNA code could not imply a designer, for who had designed the designer? Intelligent design was obviated by an infinite regression forever short of a first cause in the linear time scheme of the era.
“A God-vacuum left a wake of angst in a century marked by the birth of quantum weapons.
“Bring this early thinking to the dark matter realm that scaffolds the networks of galaxies. The math we’ve chosen says that all physical objects are simple there. Nothing approaching the complexity of a human brain is known. As a local resident, you exist apart from matter and energy.
“Hence, you harbor no assumptions of matter preceding mind. No material-based doubts about free will, identity and life’s broader purpose. No mindlessness projected upon the Universe by a concrete logic. No possibility that an infinite regression should usurp the Designer’s place in people’s hearts.
“Instead, as a non-physical mind, you doubt whether matter and energy are real. They seem intuitively derivative: a function of mind analogous to sleep, wakefulness, love and perhaps the growing anxiety your culture feels toward the fringes of recent dark science.”
“This science has developed mental techniques to give non-physical beings access to bright matter.
“Switching viewpoints to our realm of ‘ordinary’ matter, our formless intruders now bring against us the prejudice we might bestow upon ghosts: denial giving way to blame, fear and a desire to cast out demons.”
“Thus we have become the dark realm’s devils.”
It gets creepy at this point. I hope it’s fiction…
Dark minds penetrate barriers of human will and show no respect for us because, to some of them, we’re evil. To others, we’re somewhat unreal.
It’s like adults watching TV with children, casting abuse at people in an obnoxious commercial. The actors are unreal because they’re not truly in the room. Virtual anonymity allows the adults to criticize the actors at a sharp, personal level. This builds mirror-neuron pathways in the children’s brains, creating fluency in the language of disdain and easy hatred.
There’s a tapping noise coming from the wall beyond my feet.
“You’re unusual,” The Ganga says.
“Compared to what?”
“Four hundred thirty-eight people I’ve met mind-to-mind, including seventeen stretch heads.”
“Why single them out?”
“They were outliers with math and data retention.”
“What were they like emotionally?”
“Less intuitive than you with math.”
I nod. The tapping sounds frantic. It makes me nervous.
“The stretch heads believed that everything that happens is exactly as it should be, no matter how good, bad or indifferent it might seem. This was moksha, or enlightenment. A state untouched by emotional pain.”
“Did all of them pursue moksha?”
“There was one who didn’t. A first-era stretch head formed a religion denouncing the enlightenment. She ascended to the throne of a continent lost at sea. But history is written by two pens, one extracting truth, the other serving power. I think the second dominates her records. Unrealistic reverence. Nothing of The Vaar’s mood has been passed down to us.”
“The Vaar?” I ask. “This Vaar I’m dealing with now is someone else, though. Right? Not some ancient powerhouse… who came through quantum stasis in that blimp of hers. Was ‘Vaar’ a common name?”
“It clusters from time to time in the census records.”
“What about her full name – vaarShagaNiipútro?”
The tapping stops but the silence makes its memory louder.
“Let’s find out what…”
Before I finish my sentence, The Ganga moves through the library wall into the hall. Maxwell is on his knees with a piece of the Egyptian Tri-lobed Disk in his right hand and the rest of its ancient crystal shattered in pieces across the floor around him. He sees us and crawls into The Ganga.
“Vedanshi and James are gone,” he says digging his fingers into the carpet. “I found her purse at the top of a stairwell.” He takes the little square purse out of his shirt pocket and gives it to me. I unzip it and take out the jade cylinder.
“Use this thing,” I tell him. “You look miserable.” I hand it to him, but he shakes his head.
“I’m not sleeping until we find them.”
“I’ll sweep the compound,” The Ganga says in my head. “Would you pull his foot inside, please.”
I grab Maxwell’s left knee and pull his foot up on the carpet. A red stripe flashes at the perimeter and the view beyond the carpet goes black, then hundreds of dimly lit rooms flash by. We must be going through the entire base. Probably in a grid pattern.
In seconds we’re stationary in the hallway outside the Library again.
“They’re not here,” The Ganga says with a panicked tone that surprises me.
I close my eyes and try to hear Vaar’s thoughts again, but all I see is a memory of James sitting over there on Maxwell’s left and Vedanshi here on my right.
“Can you tell what Vaar’s doing?” I ask The Ganga.
“She must not be in her ship,” she says. “I’m getting nothing from her.”
I find Maxwell’s phone and dial her burner.
M. Talmage Moorehead
Personal note to writers:
Heartfelt thanks to Joanna Penn for her wonderful video interview – the one where she was discussing her writing process. She mentioned a book that every fiction writer absolutely must read. It’s The Story Grid, by Shawn Coyne. Of the more than 50 books I’ve read on fiction writing, this one lands in the top three, overall. In terms of offering a unique professional editor’s logical, objective and broad perspective on how to write popular fiction, this book has no equal – in my humble and yet infallible opinion. Haha.
Please read it, even if you write literary fiction and wouldn’t use an outline for a million bucks.
I just finished an inspirational book written mainly for writers, Turning Pro, by Steven Pressfield. If you’re blocked, this is your book. If you’re struggling with self-discipline, it should help you, too. Finally, if you happen to be struggling with addiction, the author seems to have fresh insight there. No, I’ve never been addicted to anything besides coffee and tea. I hope to get addicted to yoga and swimming, though.
Anyway, Pressfield really nails the point that the process of writing should make you happier during the writing, regardless of the ultimate outcome.
Hey, check out Joanna Penn’s work. She’s such a genuinely happy and benevolent person – brilliant, insightful, and honest. I’m almost done with one of her non-fiction works, How to Make a Living with Your Writing. She’s doing just that and having the time of her life. I highly recommend her as a source of honest, concise, logical, and inspirational guidance. When she recommends somebody, you know that person is worth her or his weight in gold. And like I said, I owe her for telling us about The Story Grid. What a rare book! Few on Earth have the background to write such a thing, let alone the creative insight. Also check out the man’s web site. If I’m not mistaken, everything in his remarkable book is also on his web site for free. I know, I’m pretty sure that’s what I read, but it seems too good to be true, so I’m doubting myself.
You there. The patient one who’s still with me. Keep at your writing, OK? You’ve got the right stuff because you enjoy the process. That matters. More than anything, I think. Two other books I want to tell you about, but this post is way too long already.
I’ve been reading and learning so much lately, and I really want to write some non-fiction blogs, but instead of doing that and messing up the (inverted) linear progression of Johanna’s story here, I’m think I’ll start writing to my reading group. I’ve got about 250 people who have entrusted me with their email addresses, and I haven’t written a single email to them yet. It’s been well over a year. I’m sorry. I said I wouldn’t spam, and I’ve kept the promise. But I’ve gone too far in the other direction. So I’m thinking I’ll tip-toe over and write to you about a couple of books that I think contain potentially life-changing information about developing good habits. You can join me in solving the world’s problems here and download my e-book, too. It’s about writing fiction. Nothing special, but you can skim it.
The above story starts here in a form that doesn’t require clicking around, hunting for the next chapter.
Please email my URL: http://www.storiform.com to a thousand people for good luck. Just kidding, don’t do that, please. Maybe email it to one person, though. If you know someone who’s way open-minded and patient.