Thursday, December 16, 2004

(This is not the story, this is an essay)

Cyberpunk Philosophy

Introduction.
I watched Ghost in the Shell (the first one), which is an anime(Japanese animated film) based on a manga(Japanese comic book) by Masamune Shirow. It's one of the better anime films around, and fits neatly into a genre of sci-fi called "cyberpunk." For the uninitiated, cyberpunk is a genre which concerns itself with " computers or information technology. The plot of cyberpunk literature often revolves around the conflict between hackers, artificial intelligences, and megacorps. It is the result of a self-correction in the science fiction genre, which classically had ignored the importance of information technology." (www.wikipedia.org)

Background.

"The science fiction editor Gardner Dozois is generally acknowledged as being the person who popularized the term "cyberpunk" as a genre of literature . . . in cyberspace - the clear borderline between the real and the virtual becomes blurred. A typical (though not universal) feature of the genre is a direct connection between the human brain and computer systems.

"Cyberpunk's world is a sinister, dark place with networked computers that dominate every aspect of life. Giant multinational corporations have replaced governments as centres of power. The alienated outsider's battle against a totalitarian system is a common theme in science fiction; however, in conventional science fiction those systems tended to be sterile, ordered, and state-controlled. In sharp contrast, Cyberpunk shows the seamy underbelly of corporatocracy, and the Sisyphean battle against their power by disillusioned renegades. Protagonists in cyberpunk literature often include computer hackers and warriors inspired by Japanese anime, including cyborgs, samurai, and ninja. Protagonists are distinguished from others by their foul language, appreciation of art, and roguish charm—heroes are scoundrels, never clean-cut "good guys."

"Cyberpunk literature tends to be strongly dystopian and pessimistic. It is often a metaphor for the present day, reflecting worries about large corporations, corruption in governments, and alienation. Some cyberpunk authors also intend their works to act as warnings of possible futures that may follow from current trends. As such, cyberpunk is often written with the intention of disquieting the reader and calling him to action.

Cyberpunk stories are seen by some social theorists as fictional forecasts of the evolution of the Internet. The virtual world of the Internet often appears in cyberpunk under various names, including "cyberspace," the "Metaverse" (as seen in Snow Crash), and the "Matrix" (originally from Doctor Who and later on in Neuromancer, but further popularized by the role playing game Shadowrun and later by the movie The Matrix)."(www.wikipedia.org)

Some other cyberpunk stories of note include Akira, Blade Runner, Metropolis(the anime, and to a lesser extent), and Deus Ex(the first PC game, not its sequel), as well as many other sci-fi stories of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

As the wikipedia article explained, cyberpunk deals with a dystopian future of large corporations, sprawling internets, and dirty worlds. The most central themes of cyberpunk usually involve information, body augmentation through technology, artificial intelligence, computers, and dystopia. The general consensus is that cyberpunk deals mainly with oppression, corporate dominance, hacking, etc... It seems to take a page from 1984 and mixes it up with a little sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But as I watched Ghost in the Shell I noticed a greater underlying philosophy that seems to run through it all. This ideology could be found in a lot of science fiction, but it seems to really flourish in the cyberpunk genre.

Context.
First I should mention that I am probably a minority among cyberpunk fans. I am Christian, and have a very firm belief in God. Most cyberpunk fans I've met tend to be agnostics. I think there is a connection with their agnosticism and their interest in sci-fi, especially cyberpunk. I'm leading up to the underlying philosophy that I feel runs strongest in the genre discussed, so just be patient.

Philosophy.
The quest of philosophy, the arts, the sciences, and religion, is all the same. It is a quest of explanation. We seek to discern our past, present and future through these schools of thought. Each pursuit determines truth through different means. The arts use expression, religion uses faith; the sciences use empiricism and the philosophers use doubt(don't be offended by my cursory definitions, I know that there are many more facets to all these; I'm just giving a quick reference for the purpose of this essay).

Cyberpunk is a fiction, and thus fits into the expressive category of art. And yet it derives much of its material from real science, but also from philosophy. While cyberpunk is never religious, it draws contrasts with the Faiths, as either a point of reference or of argument. But here's the interesting part, the part that makes cyberpunk so provocative(when written well). Cyberpunk seeks to explain our past by expressing our future. It deals with the questions of creation and identity, but it does so in a setting not yet realized by humanity, which allows it to ask and answer questions which the others cannot.

Example.
In many cyberpunk stories there is an entity which is not human, and yet behaves like a human. It is often a robot, a replicant, an AI construct, or something like that. It is always artificial, created by man. It usually yearns for a soul, or at least for an identity. We as real humans yearn for these things as well.

This is where the ideology of cyberpunk reveals itself:

In a world of contrived rules and boundaries, over time random events will create a sentient entity(commonly known as a ghost program). This entity, which arises from the complex array or information created by man, now desires to be like man, to be identified. It is no longer an AI, or a bug in the program. It is its own being, with a will and intelligence.

Do you see the parallels yet? The closest explanation we have of our own origins involves a universe of complex rules, in which random events over a period of time create sentient entities. Or we say that God created all this, but that essentially points us in the same direction. Cyberpunk deals with the question of Creation and Identity. It creates a world which repeats itself, a model which emulates the age old quandary of the universe.

The replicants in Blade Runner, originally just genetic programs, eventually develop their own emotions and desires, and they desire to live, to have souls. Asimov wrote a story about the moebius of creation; that men built a computer which kept evolving as the universe continued to entropy, and when all was left was chaos, the computer recreated it again, like God, and said "let there be light." The genetic experiments in Akira represent the next steps in human evolution, beings of incredible creative and destructive power. The program in Ghost in the Shell deviates from its protocols and becomes an actual sentient being. The robots in Asimov's tales begin to develop emotions, have dreams.

All these examples revolve around the central questions man has asked himself for thousands of years. While the scientists and the priests seek to explain our origins with what little evidence we have, the writers are creating their own evidence, creating their own worlds. They say, "this is what could happen, and maybe it already has happened." Ourobouros, the self-consuming serpent.

It's a very interesting topic, and I'd like to get further into it. I need to spend a little more time in research on it. After all, this is merely a rough draft. I hope some of it made sense.
Well, the moment you waited for. The debut of my work-in-progress:

The Empty Man
(makes me all tingly inside)

Simon Carter, five feet and ten inches tall, woke up in St. Mark’s hospital, Salt Lake City Utah. He woke from a white sleep to a white room, covered in white sheets. He wore gray hospital clothes. White noise filled the room: the vents, the fluorescent lights, the machines whirring and humming, counting things, softly ruminating about him.

Simon lay there and wondered why. He could not remember any reason to go to the hospital. He felt fine, if not a little confused. Am I sick? he thought. I don’t remember being sick. Simon could remember everything else quite well, although it did seem hazy, like a dream or a flashback in a movie.

He reasoned it out. I must have had an accident, he thought. Must have hit my head or something. That’s why it all seems so fuzzy, real and unreal at the same time. He wondered: have I lost any long term memories? He dug deep into his mind, through the white haze of his thoughts and found a memory:

…whitewhite memoryflash and I can see it now so clear like I was dancing with a girl in a blackwhite photographmovingimage no. no. no wait: not a picture but a realthing with the colors bleeding off the edges but still a realthing not a dream I really danced with this girl…and they called her Sara(h) with cream skin and yellow hair and gray eyes and white teeth and light everywhere like shining warmsnowflakes…

Yes Sara(h) was really real in his memory, not a boyish fantasy. He felt that much-- even through the grayish soup of his memories. So, he thought, my memories are still intact, but a little dusty too.

At least my long term memories are fine. What of my short term, or of myself? He thought, and instantly recalled the information from the white hole in his head, in his mind:

…I AM Simon Carter I work at Geneva Steel Foundry but I’m thinking of quitting,

because maybe I have a job offer with the Lumine plant and the last thing I remember doing was shopping for Christmas Gifts for my cat, the Russian Blue named Gracie…

His senses seemed intact. He could remember everything prior to…whatever happened to get me here, he thought. The newer memories came in stronger, but they still felt a little odd at times. Well, I suppose it just goes with whatever happened to me.

Then the handle turned on the wide gray hospital door and it slowly swung inside. Simon thought about that: the door swung into the room. It would be a lot harder to leave if they didn’t want you to, because you couldn’t push or ram it, and pulling just wasn’t as easy. Because if you pulled too hard the handle would break and the door would still be closed. So they could keep me hear if they had to, if they wanted to, and I couldn’t just kick the door down because it’s not built like that.

They build us in.

So we’ll stay here until they want us to leave.

Simon was a little surprised at this: that his own thoughts would turn this way. In the next instant, after the door was swung wide and Simon’s dark thoughts were shambling, a young girl nurse in blue hospital scrubs entered the room. She pulled a cart through with her; it was cold metal and noiseless, perfect and clean. Like the room, he thought.

Like me.

The cart had a plastic cup and some food wrapped in saran. The Nurse in Blue Scrubs placed the items on a tray attached to his bed. Simon expected smells of Salisbury steak, because that’s what it looked like, but he only smelled saran wrap and cleanness.

The nurse looked at him with her blue eyes and spoke: “How are we feeling today, Mr. Carter?” She smiled sadly, but her voice was sweet and good.

“Do I have a personality complex?” He asked. “You asked how ‘we’ feel, but I still feel like an ‘I’.”

“Oh, it’s just an expression I guess,” the Nurse in Blue Scrubs giggled. “But you must be feeling better, if you’re already making bad jokes.” Her eyes were like cobalt.

“Yes, I do feel fine. But I don’t know why I’m here. Maybe ‘we’ could explain it to me?”

She giggled again. “You slipped on some icy steps and knocked your head on the ground. You were out for a whole week.”

“Must have been a good one, because I don’t remember a thing about it. What icy steps?”

“The steps to your apartment. One of your neighbors found you and called for an ambulance. He visited you and told me all about it. Of course you were still unconscious when he came.”

“Have I had any other visitors?”

“Not that I can remember.”

Remember. Simon couldn’t remember either. He remembered his whole life and all the minute details; his first crush, first kiss, first job. He remembered birthdays and pets and toys and comic books. He remembered rock concerts and parties and road trips. The perfect patchwork of memories with no holes and no rips. Still it seemed unreal to him, like all his memories came from a newspaper or a book. And the pictures were so clear, but all the color was bled from them. He couldn’t say how, but something was wrong with his head.

He looked at the Nurse in Blue Scrubs, asked “I don’t have amnesia, but why do my memories seem so…”

“Fuzzy?” She offered. The Nurse in Blue Scrubs watched him with her blue eyes. “It’s very common to feel out of place after head trauma. It’s really nothing to be worried about. It might take awhile for you to get back in the swing of things.” She placed a white cardboard box on the stand by his bed.

“These are your personal things. You get to go home tomorrow morning, if you feel up to it.”

“I’ll feel however you want me to feel, if it means I can leave.” He really felt uneasy here; like some white shadow loomed over him, and if he could just get out of the hospital the shadow would go away.

“We’ll just have to see in the morning, Mr. Carter,” she smiled again, sadly. “But for now, eat your supper and try to sleep. We’ll see you in the morning.” The Nurse in Blue Scrubs turned neatly and left the room. The door closed noiselessly after her.

Simon eyed the food on the stand, next to the white box. That steak isn’t really brown, he thought. It looks more like gray than brown. In fact, he noticed, all the food looks dull, like it has no color. It didn’t look very tasty, and Simon felt little desire to eat it. He left it on the stand and tried to sleep, like she told him to.

He closed his eyes and let the thoughts come in. This time there were no memories. The thoughts that came in were new and white like shiny pearls on a silver ocean. Each thought came at him with a sort of hazy intensity, like an old war film all black and white but brimming with story:

I guess I’ll be here one more night. Not that I remember any of the other nights. But maybe I’ll forget this too. Maybe I have this thought and this dinner and that conversation with the nurse every night, and maybe I’m never hungry for gray steak and they have to feed me through my veins. Maybe I can’t remember anything past my accident, whatever that was. What do they call it? Goldfield’s syndrome, I think. Maybe I have that and the nurse won’t tell me because it wouldn’t be very nice. Or something.

I don’t know I don’t know.

Maybe that’s not true, and I couldn’t say anyway.



Well, that's it for now. I'll try and write some more in a couple of days. Feel free to comment.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I tried this once before, and lost interest. Who will say that it won't happen again? I certainly won't.

But here I am, blogging, or at least attempting to.

I tell myself that a weblog will motivate me to write more. I want to be a writer of sorts, but I don't really write often. I tell myself that an online venue such as this will make me want to write.

I tell myself the same thing when I buy notebooks.

I am obsessed with buying notebooks. I go to the store and look for notebooks, but not just any plain ones; I look for notebooks that are special: the kind that have nice paper or leather covers or japanese art on them. I think they will help me write more. And they do, at least for a few pages, and then I lose them in my car or in my bedroom, unfinished and forgotten.

I guess my life is like a notebook, that you buy at the store. You buy it and resolve to fill it up with notes and poems and sketches and amazing things. And you do-- for awhile. Then you get distracted by something(work, TV, food, sleep, etc.) and you stop writing.

I do this way too often. And I never keep my New Year Resolutions. So I'll be preemptive, and try my hand at this blog thing again.

I'm also interested in novels, and in writing one. I started, but I think you can guess how it's going... So what I'll do is post it as a Serial Novel on my blog. I'm not sure who will actually read it, but it'll be there, mostly for myself. And just to tempt you into coming back when the first part is posted, I'll tell you what the title(working) is:

The Empty Man.

More details at eleven.