Tag Archives: genetics

Memory and Consciousness in “Neuromancer” by William Gibson

Neuromancer

I had high expectations for this book because I had heard so much about it, and I suppose as is often the case when you have expectations about something, the book did not quite live up to them. Not that it was bad; on the contrary, it’s a very good book. It’s just that the cyberpunk genre has become kind of cliché at this point and even though this was the book that launched the genre, it ended up feeling old. I suspect that had I read it 30 years ago, I would have had a completely different experience.

The book is about a hacker and a samurai attempting to “jack in” to an artificial intelligence (AI) program. Much of the book takes place in cyberspace, or the matrix. Yeah, if you didn’t know already, the book influenced the films, which made it hard for me not to picture Keanu Reeves jumping around and overacting.

“The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games,” said the voice-over, “in early graphics programs and military experimentation with cranial jacks.” On the Sony, a two-dimensional space was faded behind a forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire control circuits of tanks and war planes. “Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding . . .”

(p. 51)

For me, the most interesting aspects of the book deal with consciousness and memory. Human memory is described using the holographic model, which is a concept that I accept. I do not think of consciousness and memory as linear, but instead as existing everywhere at all times. The challenge is access.

“I don’t have this good a memory,” Case said, looking around. He looked down at his hands, turning them over. He tried to remember what the lines on his palm were like, but couldn’t.

“Everybody does,” the Finn said, dropping his cigarette and grinding it out under his heel, “ but not many of you can access it. Artists can, mostly, if they’re any good. If you could lay this construct over the reality, the Finn’s place in lower Manhattan, you’d see a difference, but maybe not as much as you’d think. Memory’s holographic, for you.” The Finn tugged at one of his small ears. “I’m different.”

“How do you mean, holographic?” The word made him think of Riviera.

“The holographic paradigm is the closest thing you’ve worked out to a representation of human memory, is all. But you’ve never done anything about it. People, I mean.” The Finn stepped forward and canted his streamlined skull to peer up at Case. “Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t be happening.”

(p. 170)

One of the questions that challenges us in the cyber age is whether consciousness can exist in a machine, or an AI. In the book, Gibson hints that probably, true human consciousness requires flesh in order to exist, that it is somehow encoded into our cellular and genetic makeup.

It belonged, he knew—he remembered—as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever read.

(p. 239)

Is it possible that eventually an AI will develop consciousness? What will a conscious machine look like? How will that affect humanity? These are questions that have terrified and fascinated people for a long time. I suppose it is possible. And questions like these, which percolate to the surface as you read this book, are what make this book worth reading. If you are like me, you will have to overlook the parts that now feel cliché and hackneyed, but if you can do that, you will find some interesting and challenging concepts to explore.

Cheers, and thanks for stopping by.

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Occult Symbolism in “Promethea: Book 2” by Alan Moore

Promethea_2

I’ve read a lot of books in my lifetime, so being completely blown away by a book has become a somewhat rare occurrence for me. This is a book that has completely blown me away. When I finished the last page, it was like a nuclear explosion of consciousness went off within my psyche. I have never seen such complex mystical ideas expressed so clearly and beautifully, both through the text and the illustrations. There is so much occult philosophy embedded in these pages, it’s impossible to do it justice in a short blog post, but I will try. I figure I will lightly touch on some of the themes and ideas that are incorporated into this work, and then elaborate on one chapter that demonstrates the complexity of this book.

Moore draws from a wealth of mythology and occult philosophy in the creation of Promethea, who is essentially the divine feminine manifestation of the Prometheus myth. This alone is a wonderful interpretation of the myth, about the bringing of enlightenment (symbolized by fire) to humankind. But like Yeats’ widening gyres, Moore expands on the myth by incorporating a plethora of allusions to occult philosophies and then ties them all together, showing the connection between the philosophies and myths throughout the millennia. Just to provide a sense of just how much is woven in, there are references to Aleister Crowley, Eliaphas Levi, the Goetia, Faust, the Vedic texts, kundalini, tantric yoga, kabbalah, tarot, alternate planes of existence, and the list goes on. The sheer amount of literary and visual symbolism on just a single page could spawn a lengthy analytical post.

So now I will attempt to give a very high-level summary of Chapter 6, the final chapter in the book.

In this chapter, Promethea, having studied the occult texts provided to her by Faust, realizes she has learned all she can about magick from reading and must now move into experiential learning. So she consults the two snakes that form the Caduceus, or the staff of Hermes. The twin serpents explain the occult history of humanity and all existence through the symbols of the 22 tarot cards that comprise the Major Arcana. Now, the explanation of each card and its symbolic connection to the evolution of being also includes many references to science, genetics, mysticism, numerology, kabbalah, etc. But for simplicity’s sake, I will only provide a brief summary of each card and its occult significance according to this book.

0 – The Fool: Symbolizes the nothingness or quantum void from which time and space are formed.

I – The Magician: Symbolizes the masculine creative urge, embodied in the phallic wand, which generates the initial spark or big bang.

II – The High Priestess: Symbolizes the highest female energy, the foetal darkness where all existence gestates. From her, the cosmos is born.

III – The Empress: Symbolizes fecundity and the seeds of life, along with the four elements. We now have the building blocks for life and consciousness.

IV – The Emperor: Symbolizes the moment when divine energy achieves substantiality.

V – The Hierophant: Symbolizes evolution, the visionary force that guides the first single cells to evolve into the first human hominid.

VI – The Lovers: Symbolizes sacred alchemy and the first spark of divine consciousness in humans.

VII – The Chariot: Symbolizes the advent of early shamanism and mysticism. Through the use of nectar, ambrosia, and soma, consciousness is expanded.

VIII – Justice: Symbolizes period of adjustment, where humans implement laws and build the foundations of civilization.

IX – The Hermit: Symbolizes a phase of entering a cave, from which will emerge a more developed and complex civilization.

X – The Wheel of Fortune: Symbolizes the cyclical rise and fall of civilizations: Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.

XI – Strength: Symbolizes lust, particularly for power, which is the impetus for conquering empires.

XII – The Hanged Man: Symbolizes man’s dark age, a necessary ordeal which marks the transition from the state of empire. The world is upside down.

XIII – Death: Symbolizes a period of transition, marking the end of dark ages before the rebirth of light.

XIV – Temperance: Symbolizes the Renaissance. Science, art, and beauty are combined alchemically.

XV – The Devil: Symbolizes the decline of the spiritual (Age of Reason). The inverted pentacle has four points (the four elements representing the earthly) while a single point (the spirit) is subjugated and trampled.

XVI – The Tower: Symbolizes Industrial Revolution, culminating in the first World War.

XVII – The Star: Symbolizes the renewed interest in mysticism and the occult following WWI. Here we have the birth of Theosophy, Golden Dawn, etc.

XVII – The Moon: Symbolizes mankind’s darkest hour before the dawn. Insanity. “Auschwitz, Hiroshima, each blight, each tyranny obscures the light.”

XIX – The Sun: Symbolizes the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Here we have new interest in Buddhism, astrology, I-Ching, and so forth.

XX – Judgment Day: Symbolizes the moment of apocalypse which will be brought about by the information age, once we reach the point where speed of technology and information causes a new form of consciousness to be born. (Note: Moore writes that this will occur in the year 2017.)

XXI – The Universe: Symbolizes the moment in which humans transcend the earthly plane of existence.

As I said earlier, there is no way I could do justice to this book in a short blog post. I strongly encourage you to read Promethea. Start with the first book and work through. There are I believe five books total. I have the third already waiting to be read. Expect to hear my thoughts on it soon.

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The X-Files Season 11: Issue #02

XFiles_11-02

As I mentioned in my review of Issue 1 of Season 11, the overarching storyline seems fragmented. And it still feels that way in this installment. But having said that, I confess that I enjoyed this issue.

This issue draws on an episode from the television series that was quite controversial when it aired. The TV episode was called “Home” and was the second episode of Season 4.

“Home” was the first episode of The X-Files to receive a viewer discretion warning for graphic content and the only to have carried a TV-MA rating upon broadcast. Critics were generally complimentary, and praised the disturbing nature of the plot; several made comparisons to the work of director David Lynch. Some reviewers nevertheless felt that the violent subject matter was excessive.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Creepy scene from "Home" episode.

Creepy scene from “Home” episode.

The television episode was basically about the Peacock family, which practiced incestuous inbreeding to keep their family lineage pure. The result was disturbing, to say the least. So in this comic, titled “Home Again” Part 1, Mulder ends up at a secluded farmhouse where the surviving Peacock family has been regenerating. He is captured and informed that he has been chosen to “mate” with the grotesquely deformed mother of the clan.

What intrigues me about this comic is that it bodes well for a possible tie-in to the upcoming X-Files television reboot. It appears that in this season, the writers may be going back and using “unsolved cases” as inspiration for the issues. I really like that and hope that this is the intention. Also, on a personal note, the whole concept of inbreeding and the genetic deformities that result from it is kind of fresh in my mind after reading “The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft. It’s kind of strange when things that you are reading have parallels or connections.

Anyway, if you are an X-phile, then you will probably enjoy this issue; if not, you might as well skip it. This is definitely written with a clear target audience in mind, one who is familiar with the X-Files mythos and who has been following the graphic series. As always, feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

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The X-Files Conspiracy: #2

XFilesConspiracy_02

This issue concludes the six-part miniseries. While the series as a whole was a little goofy at times, overall it worked for me.

In this issue, the Lone Gunmen are reunited with Mulder and Scully as they race to prevent the spread of the genetically modified alien hybrid virus. The story works really well and concludes nicely. There is a twist at the end that draws on parallel universe theory in quantum physics, but that’s all I’ll say. You know how I feel about spoilers.

What really stood out for me in this issue, though, was the quality of the art work. It’s very good! There is one particular set of panels where Mulder is exploring a dark warehouse using a flashlight. The artist does a great job with light and shadow that evoked some of my favorite scenes from the television series. I’m no artist, but I understand that capturing the way light works is very difficult for a visual artist. Kudos to Stephen Downer and Chris Mowry for their work on this.

Reading this was welcome and refreshing, especially after reading the dismal X-Files 2014 Annual issue. I’m not sure if IDW plans to continue the Conspiracy series, but I hope so. I am, after all, a life-long X-Phile.

Links to my reviews of past X-Files Conspiracy issues:

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Star Trek: Khan – Issue #2

StarTrekKhan_02When I picked up this issue from the comic store, I was puzzled by the blank cover. I later discovered that it is intended for you to draw and color your own cover. I think it’s a creative idea, but knowing how I draw, I think my cover is going to remain blank.

In this issue, Khan continues his story, which Kirk finds incredulous. Khan responds by asking: “Which part of my testimony strains your credulity, Captain? The secret schools turning genetically engineered children into killing machines? The fact that private enterprise funded the programs in order to sell those killing machines to the world’s governments? That those same killing machines rebelled against the scientists who bred them?” The truth is that if something like this happened today, it would not surprise me in the least. In fact, my cynical side assumes that this is already going on. We live in a world where suicide bombers, chemical warfare, secret medical experiments, and corporate influence on government decisions all exist. A genetically altered Manchurian Candidate certainly seems plausible.

But I digress. The issue is decent. The artwork and writing are solid, and the storyline moves along well. There are some slightly interesting things to ponder, but nothing too deep. Basically, this issue moves the story forward. The genetic “super humans” rise up and overthrow the world governments, establishing a unified world under their control. Also, the young Singh Noonien takes on the assumed name of Khan.

I really don’t have anything else to say about this, so I am not going to waste time trying to expound on this. It is good and so far, I’m enjoying the series. I’ll share my thoughts on issue #3 next month.

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Star Trek: Khan – Issue #1

StarTrekKhan_01Yes, I love Star Trek, so when I heard that IDW was running a comic series on the origins of Khan, I knew I had to read it. I went to the comic store, but they had already sold out of the first issue. Thankfully, they got more in and I was able to purchase a copy.

The story begins with a Federation trial where Khan is facing charges. Kirk asks him to come clean and give a truthful account of his origins. He agrees, and thus begins the tale.

The first issue traces Khan’s childhood as an orphan in India. He is rounded up with other orphans and subjected to genetic experimentation designed to create a perfect soldier. In addition to the genetic modifications, he is also subjected to psychological conditioning designed to stifle fear and compassion. The issue ends with Khan leading the eugenic soldiers in an uprising against their genetic creator and about to enter the world.

OK, so as a pseudo-trekkie, I admit that I am somewhat biased. That said; I really enjoyed the first installment. I found the writing to be solid, the artwork is very good, and the story is consistent with the Star Trek films. Also, I am fascinated with villains, and Khan is one of the greats, right up there with Iago and Raskolnikov. If you like comics and Star Trek, then this is a must-read for you; if not, you should probably avoid it at all costs.

Cheers!

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