There Is No Spoon #5: Our Immortality

I’ve been working on this “thing” for a while now and it’s pretty, well, gigantic in scope. I don’t think I’m ready to divulge all the details yet, but some of them have been really in the forefront of my mind lately. The gigantic thing is sort of my personal attempt at an epic — a sci-fi/fantasy epic, to be more specific. Ever since I started writing this column, even back when I was doing something similar at Specter Literary Mag, I’ve been trying to reconcile ideas of literature, language and the fundamental properties of the Universe. A sci-fi/fantasy approach seemed to offer the most flexibility (plus, I think I really needed a break from “all literary fiction, all the time”).

All of the above is to say very little of my continued interest in blurring the boundaries between genres, always a favorite pastime of mine!

In my made-up world/Universe, there are a few familiar tropes, you know, just to initially ground the reader in the setting. There are warring Empires, airships, treason, plotting, thaumaturgic technology (Thaumatech), mysterious relics/artifacts, inhospitable wastelands, unlikely alliances, religious factions, Gnosticism, etc. &c. But all of those things are just vehicles for exploring much deeper relationships between humankind and the Universe it inhabits — and, as we’ve been told, if information cannot be destroyed, how might that fact affect our quest for immortality?

Information, language, physics, space, time, quantum mechanics, gaps between magic and technology, relationships, interconnectedness, poetry, memories . . . all of these are information, and if information cannot be destroyed so what does the repository for all of these bits look like?

I haven’t decided how (exactly) to address the idea of “time travel,” per se, but something reminiscent of time travel is certainly depicted in my epic. However, in my project, there is no faster-than-light (FTL) travel, so when the sun eventually goes nova, that’s all she wrote — the planet will be consumed. I wanted to work within a context where humans at some point realize there is in fact life elsewhere in the Universe (because, duh.), but they also realize they have no way to get “there” — they are for all intents and purposes marooned on a tiny rock in what amounts to the Outback of Space. Perhaps they’ve terraformed a Mars-like neighbor, perhaps not. Ultimately it doesn’t matter because (literally) everything in this solar system revolves around the sun.

No Sun? Do not pass “Go.”

My ideas — as per the usual — quickly started to exceed my poole of concrete physics knowledge, but I’ve got an- [or, rather, an incredibly rough sketch of an-] idea re: how I want to work the science out. Their sun, like ours, still has ~5 billion years before it dies, and my pseudo-Earth will bear witness to it. I don’t anticipate human beings (as we currently know and recognize them) will be around for the fireworks. However, some kind of intelligence (at least in my story) will be there. Enter: the infinitely* intelligent, self-perpetuating artificial intelligence (I.I.S.P.A.I. or just, A.I.).

As a last ditch effort, mankind — realizing their days on the planet are, in fact, numbered, spend their final years creating an infinitely* intelligent, self-perpetuating A.I. to record all of the details of human history that will analyze, organize, deconstruct, and finally, broadcast it (as a series of 1s and 0s) across the void to a planet capable of supporting life orbiting a younger star. Where my limited physics education becomes apparent — and where I’m relying on the knowledge and ideas of my sci-fi forbears, specifically, Peter Watts of Blindsight renown — is where the details that deal with reassembling the binary data from 1s/0s into energy into matter, &c. (This is in reference to my last column where I mentioned humans will [theoretically] be able to one day manipulate matter at an atomic level and ostensibly create unlimited supplies of whatever the hell they want . . . provided they have enough base matter/energy etc. etc.)

And so, OK, let’s assume that old adage is true and that “Perception is Reality” (capitals P & R, respectively). Let’s also agree to agree that all the data that comprises Human History can be broken up into some kind of binary information because 1s & 0s are the most basic units of energy (where, i.e. again, energy = information). The “capital-Q” Question after each reassembling/reconstruction (“each,” being our key word in context, or ‘kwic’ [stay with me]) is thus: What is/was “capital-R,” Real? {Quote un quote.*} and: Would special layers of demarcations then delineate Real History from, say, Literature?

Bits c/would get scrambled. The, let’s say, “Real” History of America might then get reinterpreted –> reconstructed perhaps as Michael Seidlinger’s The Sky Conducting, i.e. his book, or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, having Really happened to a country that may or may not be America, at least as we kn(o/e)w it. The verifiability of what “Really” “Happened” (quote/unquote/&c.) becomes impossible to determine. “We” will rely on a construct of ours (our I.I.S.P.A.I. i.e. n.b. an intelligence that is “artificial” {kwic}) to reassemble Real events of our History. Like, whoa . . . and stuff. . . .

The next question is rhetorical.

One of my primary villains understands the malleability of this Reality and, as a consequence, this History (because, of course, it stands to reason he is not the first person/entity to realize this “flaw” in the regeneration/propagation system). This also of course plays on the idea of the universe-as-holographic-projection popularized by Leonard Susskind. The theory allows that every scenario that can happen both does happen and has happened, simultaneously. The “hologram” image of these overlapping scenarios are then broadcast “backwards” from the end of time to the beginning.

The theory also ostensibly redefines the ideas of “In Here” and “Out There” because it assumes there is always layers of “In Here” and “Out There,” information stored on/at, say, a black hole’s event horizon, where gravity forces the information through a/the singularity, creating a new universe or even a new level of a multiverse — in other words, it beautifully illustrates multidimensionality. If one were to manipulate the 1s and 0s, one could, in theory, manipulate the basic fabric of Reality itself. Pretty gnarly, right?

I’d read somewhere recently that contemporary sci-fi hasn’t been “asking the big questions” as of late, that it wasn’t pushing the proverbial envelope(s) nearly enough. Of course I simultaneously took that as a challenge and used it as a legitimate reason to write about all of the ideas I have bouncing around the inner recesses of my brain. I’m hoping to tackle the ideas of what reality actually is, what it means, as well as address the potentiality that we are our own creations, reassembled ad infinitum from our basic binary 1s and 0s by an intelligence our former/future selves created as a last resort to avoid extinction — Deorum et Viri, “of Gods and Men,” from one comes the other.

I’m not even sure this essay makes much (or any) sense at all, but this project is the reason the rest of my writing output has decreased considerably in 2012. And, as I mentioned earlier, my piece — the one I described above — is only one sliver of a much larger pie. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited to share more of this project with you guys!


Joseph Owens Joseph Michael Owens

Joseph Michael Owens is the author of the 'collectio[novella]' SHENANIGANS!, and has written for [PANK], The Rumpus, Specter, Grey Sparrow & several others. He is the blog editor for both InDigest Magazine and The Lit Pub, but you can also find him online at Joe lives in Omaha with three dogs and one wife.

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