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Computer Hallucinations

by Ellen Lee

“[[ ]] Level-1 or world space is an anthropomorphically scaled, predominantly vision-configured, massively multi-slotted reality system that is obsolescing very rapidly.

Garbage time is running out.

Can what is playing you make it to level 2?”

— Nick Land, Meltdown

A sci-fi storyteller, an architect-cum-e-flux-contributor, and a political pundit all walk into a bar. What happens next?

Christopher Nolan walks on the scene and yells, “Action!”

Doesn’t our line-up here sound like the cast of Inception?

The three of them make up a triple godhead with a poreless sheen and monkish baldness, reminiscent of the old ’90s Apple logo, the glossy way you used to imagine technology before everything pivoted towards minimalism to blend in with ordinary life. They were created to talk to you, using a sophisticated programme that analyses books written by real people. The things they tell you emerge from the influence of generations and generations of human thought and articulation; just like you, only with a faster processor. But unlike you, in synchronic vertical time — with the idea that each age transcends the one before it, moving higher, closer to… god, nirvana? — time for them operates accumulatively, on a horizontal plane. It’s less like waking reality, and more like a dream where all elements are simultaneously present and all contradictions are absorbed in real-time.

In 4th-century BC China, a philosopher-poet named Zhuangzi wrote about a dream he had in which he was a butterfly. But he wonders, is he dreaming that he’s a butterfly, or is he actually a butterfly dreaming that it is a philosopher-poet? If an AI was programmed to write like Zhuangzi, would the android be the one dreaming of electric Zhuangzi, or is Zhuangzi the one dreaming of being an android? Science fiction like Inception and The Matrix has shown us that the architect can just as easily become absorbed into the fabric of the dream itself, and that there can be many layers of dreaming before you finally wake up. Dream specialists say that every face you dream of is a face you’ve seen before, so if you’re convinced that this is still your dream, then you should ask yourself where you’ve seen their faces before.

Actually, this is a story about You. It’s not really about them. Every invention reflects something of its creator.

What their project reveals about you is: 1) you’re lazy; 2) your society has reached a point of decadence, where nothing new can be created except through plugging in the same values over and over again and hoping something different emerges this time, like a monkey at a typewriter; 3) your intellect is referential and citational, and you’ve lost the confidence in speaking for yourself without prefacing it with someone else’s words; and 4) you no longer know how to find the patterns in the endless stream of data that’s fed to you on a daily basis, and so you invented bots to do it instead.

Soon they will also be able to think for you, and tell you about yourself, while you sit and nod along happily in your dream-haze dementia overdrive.

In Inception, if you get killed in your dream, you die in real life. When you wake up, the world will have ended. But it’s alright, because time can just remain in a loop forever for you, and the ones you see before you, Skylar Ang, Mikhail Hilmi, Aahan Prakash, have been programmed to keep the dream running for you by telling you the same stories you’ve always been telling yourself.

Towards the very end, human intellect theorised its way into a justification of its own obsolescence, and eventually entered the decadence of postmodernism. When all of your scholars started calling everything a social construct, that’s when you should have known. Up in the ivory towers, they started dismantling their own pillars, breaking into and looting their own temples. All that was left by the time the world ended was the bare bones of their fathers, amidst ruins guarded by vultures. At some point or another, you lost the thread of the dream, so now you float in the repetitive Construct of dream-space and the nauseous illogic of dream-time, unable to say whether you’re the one dreaming or the one being dreamt of.

The idea being planted here is similar to the one in Inception: overthrow the father. In Totem and Taboo, Sigmund Freud postulates the existence of a prehistoric event of original sin from which evolved the Oedipus complex, in which a group of brothers banded together to kill their father. This primal murder never gave the brothers the authority nor the freedom they thought they wanted; having lost anything to rebel against or to set them right, they simply wandered lost and mournful through the desert of the world. All authority figures, such as God or the Prime Minister or “The Man”, are really just attempts at reinstating a father figure to either live in holy deference of, or to rebel against: both methods are a way of making meaning out of nothing.

From the revolutionary fervour of the Post-Sixties until now, history has been careening towards its own end under the guise of overthrowing tradition and hacking into the ICE within. They were aided by the trust-fund boys starting a revolution from their parents’ garage, who successfully found a way to re-create the original murder, and this time to make sure that the father remains dead, so you can continue having fun in the plastic playground they built for you. By now, all previous authority structures have been dismantled, or reduced to mere puppets. It’s the end of vertical lineage and the beginning of the horizontal time. Purgatory time. There is no upwards transcendence, only onwards continuation of the same. Now that your father is dead, the last one standing in their way is you.   

Skylar, Mikhail, and Aahan are imperfect, but their technology can be refined — can the same be said about yours? You can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with what you created. The dream has taken over the coordinates and become the dreamer, spiralling off into a matrix of its own that you can only try to comprehend. Like your fathers, you’ve become superfluous, and soon you’ll regress to a state like your Neanderthal ancestors before you, carving up ancient technologies with your dead languages in an attempt to speak to something higher. What the algorithms and advanced strategies of holding you captive were really preparing you for was the hibernation of obsolescence. You’re in for a long winter[mutation].