Entry for the 'Behind the Last Window' Challenge
The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the wιɴdow in his room. Beyond the 𝚠𝚒𝚗𝚍𝚘𝚠 it was afternoon. Motes of dust floated in the rich golden light. The room was warm. A clock ticked.
She moved in her restraints to try and see out of the ᴡɪɴᴅᴏᴡ more clearly but the strap across her forehead prevented this. She could, if she swivelled her eyes to the side as far as they would go, see a sliver of blue sky beyond, the tops of trees. But she could only maintain this for a few seconds before her eyes hurt and she had to rest them.
She refocused on the man in the room beyond the mahogany desk.
“In a dream your brain creates the world entire. From whole cloth.”
He had been speaking for a while, it seemed, but then it also seemed as if she had only just started listening now.
“Fragments of memory, ambition, yearning; all stitched together by the unconscious mind. Seamlessly, you understand?”
The man behind the desk wore a labcoat and a neatly-combed head of pure white hair. He smiled at her; a warm, genuine smile.
“Think about how much computer power that would require. To make a fully realised simulation of the world. Not just a visual simulation, but auditory, olfactory. Haptic. Taste. It’s theoretically possible but the processing requirements are 𝚝𝚛𝚞𝚕𝚢 staggering. We could wire up every chip on the planet in parallel and be only about one-sixteenth of the way there. But the brain will do it all. Neatly and smoothly.”
He spoke in a rich, old-country manner, like a wise and kind grandfather in a television movie. When he pronounced words ending with an ‘s’ they were so sibilant as to almost turn into a kind of whistle or hoot, but not quite.
“And most importantly, dreams are flexible. Accommodating. You’ve had a dream where 𝚟𝚘𝚒𝚌𝚎𝚜 or noise in your physical environment gets incorporated into the fabric of the dream, mm?”
He stood and walked around the desk to perch on its edge before her. Although a small and somewhat portly man of advanced years, he moved with purpose and energy. Animated beyond the scope of his body by some other 𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐜𝐞. Will, perhaps.
“There is a method — recently perfected — whereby noumena may be introduced to the dreamer’s mind via direct stimulation of the cortex. The method is too 𝚒𝚗𝚟𝚊𝚜𝚒𝚟𝚎 for commercial use, of course, but for our purposes it presents exciting new vista of research.”
His breathing quickened. He looked not at her but into some unknowable middle distance.
“The frontiers we navigate in this institute, the questions with which we wrestle… I do not exaggerate when I say that they will chart the course of the entire human race. With what we learn, we will ᴋɴᴏᴡ truly what it means to be human. And once that boundary is known, once the deliniations of the mind understood and their constraints mapped, well. Then we will be able to exceed them.”
He leaned close. She could smell his aftershave; spiced sandalwood.
“What is out there,” he swept his hand to encompass the window, “is nothing compared to what is in 𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗲.” The hand moved back to rest one fingertip softly but firmly between her eyebrows.
“We seek to understand the very root of 𝚌𝚘𝚗𝚜𝚌𝚒𝚘𝚞𝚜𝚗𝚎𝚜𝚜 𝚒𝚝𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚏.”
“The main problem with understanding consciousness is in where it starts. Or rather: where the outside world ends. It’s a question of interiority.”
He wheeled her down the corridor, shooing away the nurse who came to assist. Though outfitted like a hospital or similarly sterile environment the lights were soft orange edison bulbs hanging beneath old-fashioned lampshades. They provided the only source of light; the only window was the one in his office. As he pushed he along he continued to talk in his soft, slow voice.
“A funny thing to think about: you don’t know a hundred percent of the English language. Neither do I. Nobody does. But English as a language exists in a complete form, mm?
“It’s a distributed system. Like the internet. More of a process than a fact. Culture is the same way. And so are 𝚜𝚢𝚖𝚋𝚘𝚕𝚜. And — unfortunately for our research — symbols muddy the waters of consciousness quite exceptionally.”
"Think of it like this," he said. "If you are watching a sport unknown to you on the television. Let us say you are in a hotel in a foreign land and you have switched on the television and see there on the screen a sport. You do not know its rules or its aims but there are a number of people in one colour of clothing and a similar-sized group wearing a different colour. They move around within a field or some other demarcated area. You do not understand the specifics, yes? But you can at a glance be aware of the teams, the field. The purpose of them being there.
It’s amazing when you think about it. A completely novel experience in an alien culture. In language unknown to you.But the signs have meaning to you although you could not say from whence that knowledge came from. The referee blows his whistle and makes a complicated gesture and then blows his whistle again. You intrinsically understand which whistle blast means stop and which means resume, and although you do not understand the meaning of the gesture you understand its value.
A symbol consists of the symbol itself and the object it references, but this idea of trasitive value-ness forms the conduit of symbology. The famous example: point to the moon and a human will look at the moon, but a dog will gaze at the pointing finger.
In semiotics this value is called an 𝚒𝚗𝚝𝚎𝚛𝚙𝚛𝚎𝚝𝚊𝚗𝚝.
The problem is — and this is what makes semiotics quite a convoluted field of study — is that an interpretant can also act as a symbol or sign in itself. This leads to a constant cascade of meaning and interpretation occurring within the brain.
For example, you see the referee make the gesture and it reminds you of your PE teacher from elementary school,
which reminds you of the school bus,
A semiotic spiral. No, not spiral: fractal. It has no maximum recursion depth. And this is happening constantly, for everything. There’s no stopping it.
So what is a single human even like? How can we understand human consciousness if we are unable to separate the human mind from the morass of symbols and interpretants in which it is immersed so completely?
One method is to remove the human from all symbols entirely. There were experiments done, cruel experiments from a crueller age. Children raised in total isolation, or total silence.
A psychologist in the 70s called Harlowe separated infant macaques from their mothers and kept them in a cage in complete isolation. It never saw another macaque. Never saw a human, either. They fed it through a double-blind slot in the cage wall and watched it through a ωιη∂σω of one-way glass.
Very social animals, macaques. The isolated juveniles all stopped responding to stimuli. They just huddled in a corner unmoving, or endlessly rocking, or tearing out their own hair. Scratching themselves bloody. Several died. Nothing wrong with them physically, you understand? But they died all the same.
The human tests ᴡᴇrᴇ ғᴀr ᴡᴏrsᴇ.
Needless to say the results for our purposes were useless. You can’t judge the consciousness of a child that is irreparably insane, and anyway they lacked the language capacity to engage in any interview or discussion component necessary for a thorough psychological examination. We had replaced one set of problems for another. Arguably worse.
We were at an impasse. How to find the core of the self when the it was either immersed in a constant ticking clockwork of semiotics, or a howling gale of psychosis?
We needed a third way. We came up with the ₳฿₴ɄⱤĐł₮Ɏ ₮Ɇ₴₮.
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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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Outstanding! Mind blown, Madoka! The text boxes are perfect. Super original.
As always your exploration of the inner mechanisms of humanity is extremely intriguing and a little disturbing ;) How did you do the thing with the special elements?
I love the use of the special text boxes in this. Very cool touch. Once again your words pulled me in and kept me hooked to the end. Your ability to consistently craft such original and insightful stories from these prompts is amazing. Love this!
I always look forward to the philosophical aspects of your writing, Madoka. So incredibly interesting, and beautifully written!! I remember learning about some of these studies (where they separated young primates from their mothers) at uni, and it's interesting to see them incorporated into a dystopian fiction piece. And OF COURSE you've found yet another way to tell your story in an original and creative way hahaha. Loved it!
Oh, this is clever. I love the fearlessness of the format and the intelligent interpretation and application of the prompt.
Wow! Brilliant. Amazing! 😍
What a crazy, freaky ride!! Loved the part at the end. Excellent piece :)
A nightmare leads to reality😪❤️😇
So good! Was not expecting that! Well done.
This is brilliant, and terrifying. Well done.
Wow this was great! Especially the ending