Pendulum

When she lost her faith I said that falsehood yes feels true from inside, and in that moment she was born again.


There’s an old joke. Two lovers freed a genie who would grant them one wish. They wished to switch bodies for a day, so that they might better know each other and thereby grow closer. The genie declared with a sweep of his arm that their wish was his command.

Nothing changed, because dualism is false.


She’d had the bad habit of wandering during the round. All the other matches were always so interesting. Even when she was losing, as did sometimes happen, she couldn’t bring herself to think if it wasn’t her move. Strange what the clock does, and maybe doesn’t do, to your brain.

Once, against a particularly slow adversary, she wandered the entire tournament hall, subitizing some boards and puzzling absorbed over others. She stood finally behind one hopeless player, where for two minutes she invented variations that might save him before she realized she was standing behind her own opponent.

Of course, that was nothing like this. After all, she lost that game.


It started with a Glass knockoff that sold in pairs. See through your partner’s eyes. Experience their field of vision projected onto yours. Nobody cared.

(Well, it saw some success in the adult entertainment industry.)


She went to university to study chemistry, planning-without-planning to go to medical school. We met in P-chem, which I was auditing because I wanted to see just how physical it was. I accidentally convinced her to take quantum mechanics from the Physics department instead. She wound up doing a PhD in physics. These days she does research that sounds more like neurobiology.

If there’s an analogy to be found here, it’s facile, to say the least.


That part about neurobiology is relevant, though. She did a postdoc working on directly shared sensory experience in mice. Biocompatible, electromagnetically and chemically sensitive implants, plus some clever algorithms for inter-nervous-system compatibility. She used to tell me it was easy compared to what was coming next.


She told me about a book she read. It said:

“You must push your head through the wall. It is not difficult to penetrate it, for it is made of thin paper. But what is difficult is not to let yourself be deceived by the fact that there is already an extremely deceptive painting on the wall showing you pushing your head through. It tempts you to say: ‘Am I not pushing through it all the time?’”

She liked that so much she framed an extremely deceptive facsimile of the page on which it appeared and hung it by her desk.

But I hope you don’t think that explains anything.


Uploading turned out to be a dead end, to the chagrin of materialists everywhere. You could store all of the relevant static information, but it never became practical to evolve that information in time outside of a brain. So what are you going to do? Take fine enough timeslices and you can relive experiences by playing them back. And not just sensory experiences—even your thoughts at the time could be reproduced. Motor activity would be deliberately excluded, but proprioception could still be overridden. Your present conscious life would keep going, with part of you aware that you were merely observing; but as long as the present you didn’t interfere, you could without hyperbole relive your past.

A couple early consumer products tried it (isolation tank sold separately), once they figured out how to record and play back without surgery. Received breathless media coverage and millions in venture capital. Went out of business a year after launch, under the pressure of some monster class-action suits. Turned out the physical changes in the brain meant that the same signal eventually produced a different experience, one which was often bizarre and traumatic. The backups didn’t get corrupted—but the hardware did.


She kept a grandfather clock in her dining room. For the pendulum, naturally. So well-behaved at small angles, but force it hard enough and it never retraces its path in phase space. You can repeat a position, but only if you arrive with a different velocity. You can relive a velocity, but never quite in the same place you were the first time. Your only regularity is the fractal structure of your history, your strange attractor.

A terrible metaphor, as you can see. Her clock didn’t even work.


Anyway, that was where she came in: how to account for these physical changes? She’d already figured it out for the basic senses; the architecture was similar enough between individuals. With a mountain of data and graduate students she worked out a system of translation between different versions of an evolving brain.

From there it wasn’t long before she could stream all conscious experience and subconscious activity from one individual to another. The genie just hadn’t been creative enough.


We fought, once, about her poetry. She was struggling, and I dared suggest that she was trying to capture something that wasn’t there. Better to take joy in the real. Like Feynman on the beauty of a flower, or Wallace on the truth in a cliché.

She said:

How many people do you think nod smugly along to that Feynman quote, as though it vindicates their own insipid tastes. As though all art is as juvenile as their high school blue period, and there’s no post-Feynman looking down on them from the other side of the dialectic double helix. Like now that they’ve learned what words really mean and what reality really is they can know instinctively that there’s no materialist consequentialist boundary where art versus science is a meaningful worthwhile framing. Wallace at least knows that to be bullshit, that there’s a reason people talk about things that way. He understands what it means to sublate if anyone does. But he gets interpreted in just as regressive a way as Feynman, like our cynical sophistication failed us and we have to retreat back to where all truth is cliché. Like it wasn’t just another superstimulus, like the taste isn’t still adaptive in the right form and when better informed. But I guess I can explain all day that something not being literally true or materially there isn’t a reason not to write about it and you’ll still fold me with the pre-moderns until you’ve lived through the syncretism yourself.

How my heart aches. I said: Oh I thought you thought Hegel was nonsense.


The moment it was declared safe for humans, she wanted to try it. And who would she trust to stream from?

I asked only that it be mutual.

If you really wanted to understand, you’d have to experience it for yourself. I’m not even sure it would work to stream the experience from someone else. At first it’s just noisy. It takes time to adapt, to figure out how to listen. To see through your partner’s eyes. To think their thoughts, or your brain’s versions of their thoughts. To resolve a disagreement semi-automatically just by finally really seeing each other’s perspective. To mentally ask a question, and for your partner to involuntarily recall the answer in response. To notice the same happening to you, and to then realize how terrifying it is. But then also that your partner isn’t terrified, doesn’t see it as coercive, is sad that you don’t trust her that way. To demand that she turn this thing off before that difference and all your precious differences are resolved by this alien process so mutual that neither of you can control it. To never speak of it again.


There wasn’t much more to it. The two of us, I mean. I keep reliving these stories I collected in the too-short time that we were connected, even though I know they don’t explain anything that happened or might happen yet. There’s no such thing as explanation, after all. But perhaps the pendulum can be pushed back.

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