This will never become a book.

2014 January 23 Thursday

What Does the Crow Say?

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 18:58


Or rather, “Caw caw caw caw.”

Today I was walking under a telephone pole when I heard a strange noise coming from above.  It was a single burst of sound, somewhere between a honking squawk and a squawking honk, which felt to me as being both organic and yet artificial.

I kept walking, but when I heard it again I simply had to stop and find its source.  At the top of the pole sat a large black bird.  It made the sound again, and I simply stared at the bird while my brain debated whether this was a raven or a crow.  I had looked it up once, but I couldn’t remember any of the descriptions which would help me make a determination.  “Caw,” it said, as if trying to teach me a foreign language.

There is nothing in the vocalization of this bird which maps onto the sounds of the word “caw” as said by a human.  The bird has no vowels or consonants. Look at this list of words for the sound a crow makes in various languages.  Most of them begin with a hard, guttural letter, and most of them have a long vowel drawn out behind it.  All of them are a poor approximation for the sound I heard today.

I stood there, beneath the telephone pole, and watched the bird shout its thoughts to the air.  I stood there and counted the bursts as if there was a coded message in it just for me.  Four caws, three caws, five then two, with pauses in between.  I stood there and listened and toyed with the idea that the universe could be sending me a signal from the other side of the simulation we live in, telling me that there is a bigger world beyond what we currently see.

The bird was silent for a stretch of time.  I waited, and I asked it to repeat its message, because I hadn’t been paying attention to the beginning of its stream.  The bird started up again, with four caws, then three, then four again.  I wondered why I never heard more than five caws in a row, and then the bird cawed six times.

I did not write down the message.  I hope it wasn’t important.



2013 October 9 Wednesday

Turn on a Dime

Filed under: reality, synchronicity — kdefg @ 23:16

I used to write on this blog about reality.  I used to think a lot about the nature of reality.  I used to have time to ponder metaphysics and illusions and dreams. Then life became more mundane, and reality was simply real life.  I ran out of things to blog about.  Until today…

PROLOGUE:  Today started out simply enough.  I had the day off work and looked forward to spending time in front of the television catching up on a backlog of shows on the DVR.  I had a pile of laundry ready for sorting and washing.  I had websites to read, books to read, mail to read.  By noon, I had barely made a dent in most of those plans, having spent the morning reading forums online.  It was time for that cup of coffee I had promised myself.

INTRO:  I wanted to walk to Starbucks the way I used to, back in my days of unemployment. My feet have been hurting me more since I’ve been spending so much time on them — walking to work, standing at work, walking home again.  I dug into the back of a closet and found an old pair of hiking shoes, and marveled at how solid they felt compared to my worn-out sneakers. I put a load of shirts and socks into the washing machine, then headed out of the house.

SET-UP:  The walk was refreshing and immediately familiar. This was the path where I thought about the characters and setting of the last novel I worked on more than a year ago, during Camp NaNoWriMo last summer and again last November.  Lately I’ve been reading about ways to structure a story and how to create an outline, feeling more like a writer than ever, and looking forward to a new NaNoWriMo — my first as a plotter instead of a pantser.

FORESHADOWING:  When I reached Starbucks, a sign on the front door greeted me with this message:  “There’s a story in every coffee.” As it so happened, I was wearing a shirt I got from the American Red Cross which says, “Live a Story. Give a Story. Donate.”  In the parking lot out front, I had just passed a car with a bumper sticker which said, “writer.”  I believe the Universe was trying to get my attention.

PLOT TWIST:  Inside, I paid for my coffee and a muffin.  The cashier handed me $1.10 in change.  As I shifted the cash from one hand to the other, the dime slipped through my fingers.  I was intending to drop it into the tip jar anyway, but I couldn’t figure out where it had landed. It wasn’t on the counter or the floor, nor was it inside the pastry bag with my muffin.  The dime had vanished.  Maybe it fell into the display case, and maybe a worker would find it at the end of the day, but it was gone now.

CLIMAX:  I returned home.  Before settling down in front of the television to enjoy my coffee and muffin, I checked on the laundry.  I transferred the load of clean wet shirts and socks from the washer to the dryer.  My routine for this task includes clearing the lint traps and wiping the water seal around the door of the front-loader machine.  This time there was something besides hair and suds and water within the folds of that rubber gasket: a dime.  A shiny dime.

EPILOGUE:  A spooky feeling passed through me. For just a moment, I could believe that the Universe had teleported my dime from a shop three blocks away.  In the next fleeting moment, I wondered whether that would make an interesting premise for a new story.  My logical brain intervened and tried to explain away that dime as a stowaway in a clothing pocket — not from the most recent load, but the previous load of jeans.  Ridiculous! Who would believe such a story?

Reality has layers again.

2013 January 2 Wednesday

Sentimental Endings

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 22:54

With the start of the new year, I should be looking forward to new things.  This is supposed to be the time for making resolutions and being optimistic about the future.  Good riddance to 2012, hello 2013, right?

Instead, the coming year will probably involve some compromises.  I cannot talk too much about my employment situation, in case a prospective hiring agent is reading this.  You don’t need to hear about the details anyway.  I’ve enjoyed my time at home this past year, living at a leisurely pace, but the time has come for me to find a new source of income.  Change is coming, but I don’t know what form it will take.

Today was also the last day I could visit a particular virtual world.  I suppose it was classified as an MMORPG, in as much as it ran on a multi-player online platform and you role-played in the game.  The audience was simply not massive enough to sustain its business model, and the servers were taken offline today.  I would give you a link, but what would be the point?  They removed all of the in-game images from the website, and I didn’t grab any screen captures myself.

The computer game was an online component meant to tie into a live action game called MagiQuest which is installed at a variety of family resorts.  I played it because it was a virtual world built by Cyan Worlds and based on their engine for Myst Online: Uru Live — I might have mentioned that game in the past.  I didn’t care about being a “magi” or earning points for my wand.  I just enjoyed immersing myself in another 3-D environment.

The game itself could have run as a stand-alone offline game, but their business model was looking for subscribers.  The initial chapter had a meager amount of content, and the price of entry was low, but the cost of running servers just to access the game was never going to be covered by any number of purchases.  It was doomed, as so many of these worlds seem doomed.  A month ago, a friend of mine mourned the loss of Glitch, a Flash-based MMO by Tiny Speck, a game which I had never even heard of. That’s the problem, isn’t it?

I spent some time today in the MagiQuest Online game, waiting to see other players join me for the vigil.  No one did.  (In all of the months that I had played the game, I never did encounter another player online.)  I sat on a rock near the spawn point, and let the computer run while I did other things in the house.  I returned to check the chat window, but only my own text had scrolled there.  I listened to the sounds of birds chirping and the leaves rustling where I walked.  Eventually I shut the game down, rather than wait for the system shut-down message.  When I tried to connect to the server tonight, it simply never responded.

We knew this was coming.  We had an official announcement months in advance, and players used forums to arrange some final gatherings in the game.  Somehow I missed them, bad timing on my part.  It shouldn’t have mattered so much to me now, because the community was not a big part of the game for me. I had completed all of the available tasks a year ago, December 2011, and had no reason to return until now.  It just seemed important to show the company that we still cared.

I won’t compare the loss of a virtual world to real tragedies.  This isn’t the death of a family member.  This is like the cancellation of a TV show that you stopped watching a year ago.  This is like the loss of Twinkies when you haven’t bought one since you were a kid.  Life goes on.  New snack cakes are produced, new shows air on television, new virtual worlds are launched.  You get a new goldfish, and life goes on.  I just wish I had taken a picture when I had the chance.


2012 September 13 Thursday

Soul Search

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 11:15

I allow myself cycles of madness, days in which I obsess about the meaning of consciousness.  I feel like I am just on the verge of figuring it all out, like a great epiphany is hovering in space just above my head, tauntingly out of reach.  I read articles by scientists and pick up snippets of dialog from fiction writers, and in my head I try to blend them into a grand unified theory of life, the universe, and, you know, everything.  And then it dissolves, fades, leaving me back in the mundane world, and my madness goes away until the next cycle.

One snippet which has haunted me this week came from Babylon 5:

… the soul is a non-localized phenomenon … the universe itself is conscious in a way that we can never truly understand … We are the universe trying to understand itself.

That last sentence is also a quote by Carl Sagan.  I didn’t bother to research which source said it first. The concept is sprinkled across many other sites that I read.  Compare that to this bit from a neuroscience article:

… self-awareness corresponds to a brain process that cannot be localized to a single region of the brain …  self-awareness emerges from much more distributed interactions among networks of brain regions.

Non-localized activity in the brain gives rise to the illusion that we exist in a single point of awareness.  Our thoughts do not take up space, yet we feel like we exist inside a bubble looking outward from within the brain.  Could we really come from a higher dimension, and are limited by the way we “poke through” this physical plane to emerge as individuals?

During the month of August, I wrote a story based in a universe in which humans could actually “see” the field of energy which supports consciousness. I struggled with terminology, but tried to make it clear that my characters did not believe in the existence of souls.  The spirits they see are the presence of self-aware thought caused by human life itself.  After death, there is nothing to generate that self-awareness. What remains is an echo in the ether, like ripples on pond.

For narrative purposes, I deliberately excluded animals from this spiritual energy field.  One reason was that animals make for poor dialog, but mostly it was because I just needed my main character to question what it means to be human.  Whether or not animals are intelligent, emotional, conscious, sentient, or self-aware is often debated in contrast with the notion of a human soul.  It was easier for me to bypass that issue by inventing another quality which is unique to humans.  Such is the privilege of writing fiction.

Scientists can test almost every aspect of consciousness, but we may never know whether or not animals have meta thoughts.  Are animals aware that they are aware? Do they think about thinking?  Is the soul more than just the entity having these kinds of thoughts, or the essence of something higher which is watching itself have these thoughts?

The madness returns.


2012 July 12 Thursday

Ink Blot World

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 19:13

Walking down the street this morning on my way to the coffee shop, I saw a row of soldiers standing on the sidewalk in front of me.

They were there for only an instant, until my eyes adjusted and I realized that I was seeing shadows cast by the rising sun across a row of parked cars.

The mind can only interpret what the eye takes in, and that process of interpretation can take a few seconds.  I wouldn’t call it a hallucination, not even a trick of the eye, but a delay in gathering all of the data and putting it together in a proper context.  It can be fun to play with that lag and look at the world as a kind of Rorschach inkblot test.

With the mind’s filters in place, it makes the world a predictable and logical place to exist.  The world makes sense, and thus we can get on with the business of getting things done.  Turning off those filters allows other imagery to float to the surface.

A tree became a Native American dreamcatcher before me, its branches hanging down like strings of feathers and beads. A hand stretched out across the sky, formed by clouds raked by airplane trails.  The conversation of a pair of construction workers echoed against a fence behind me and became the disembodied voices of ghosts.

Behind the coffee shop, someone had dropped a small basket from the local market, and two fruit cups sat where their groceries must have spilled, their contents still sealed.  I imagined a homeless person would be willing to claim them, even if the owner considered them no longer worth picking up.  Then I wondered about why the basket was left behind.  Several scenes played out in my imagination, mostly disturbing stories about what must have happened to the shoppers.

Sometimes having a mind filter can be a good thing.


2012 June 26 Tuesday

Trapped by Existence

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 20:55

It has been part of my routine this year to walk to the library, once a week, and sit in their café and read a book while I drink a coffee.  I pick a book from their shelves, sometimes a new release or something from their displays of featured themes.  Today I wandered past some fiction and pulled a book I had read more than thirty years ago.  It’s one of those classics that I have in storage at home, because I have no room to display books now, but I keep them with the delusion that I will want to reread them one day.

I flipped through the chapters, finding bits that I had forgotten, remembering how it felt to be immersed in a fictional world, enjoying the skill of the author.  I was reading to pass the time, with no intention of thinking too much while I ate my pastry.  Then a line stood out on the page before my eyes, and I paused to really think about it.

“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.” — from A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

I exist in this body; I am not my body.  In this sense, the body is the container for the soul.  The Bible makes the analogy that the body is a temple in which the spirit resides.  But the walls of these temples keep us isolated from one another, rather than joined on a spiritual plane.

I went looking on the Internet for similar philosophies, and came across this page which imagines the soul as existing in an extended fourth dimension.  Our bodies are then projections into this 3-D world of the senses, like the shadow of a sphere is merely a circle when projected onto a wall.  We all come from a higher plane of existence, but must interact with this world by experiencing it only at the points of intersection.

Back in high school, I thought a lot about the fourth dimension.  I read about an imaginary object called a tesseract or hypercube, and was inspired by the book Flatland.  I also read about vectors and how time can be treated as another dimension.  I wrote two different papers on this theme for English class, one presenting the geometric theory and the other about Einstein’s space-time theory.  The teacher admitted not fully understanding either one, but pointed out the fact that they contradicted each other; both papers got good grades for the research and writing.

I wasn’t really thinking about questions of consciousness back in those early days.  My thought experiments were about how we would experience an extra dimension with our senses, using our three-dimensional bodies.  Decades later, I now imagine having an out-of-body experience and looking down on this reality from a new perspective.  Then I wonder whether all intelligent creatures could have this same special existence beyond their brains, or whether humans are measurably different in our self-awareness.

Whatever you call it — Soul, Spirit, Mind, or Consciousness — it is fundamentally a form of energy beyond the Body.  Some days I feel like I almost understand some great mystery of our existence.  Then I finish my coffee and remember that I have bills to pay and question everything.  I walk back home and feed the cat, and I look into her eyes and feel her looking back at me.  The cat is trapped inside her head as I am in mine, but we have made a connection across that extra dimension.


2012 June 8 Friday

Alien Driving Test

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 22:27

I once had a friend describe the traffic situation in the city as something an alien race must have invented to test humanity for intelligence.  At least this is how I remember him saying it; I do not recall whether or not he seriously believed it.

Imagine a world in which all of life’s troubles are actually put there in front of us by design, by a superior entity, for the purpose of challenging us.  If we succeed, we are not immediately rewarded, but we have earned bonus points towards our final score.  When we pass enough tests, we might then be promoted to the next level of existence.  Chances are, sadly, that we would not join the ranks of the ones running the tests, but instead are only confronted with more difficult challenges.  This is the way of video games.  As far as I know, Life doesn’t come with cheat codes.

On the other hand, my friend’s explanation for traffic has its own merits.  The aliens don’t control any other aspects of our lives, just the driving of motor vehicles.  When someone cuts in front of you on the highway, you can remind yourself that it’s all part of The Test.  That driver has no idea who you are, so there is no point in cursing back at him.  Instead, focus on staying alive and driving well, and curse the aliens later.  When they see that you have become aware of the situation, you will be snatched off this miserable planet to join them in enlightened splendor.  Perhaps you will then learn to drive their space vehicles.

Of course you could take this even further and imagine that the road and your driver seat are just part of an elaborate simulation.  Most of the time, driving can be pretty dull, and the windshield starts to look like a projection screen.  But then someone comes at you, driving the wrong way down your lane, and it is best to remember that this situation has very real consequences.  You cannot control the elements outside your car, you cannot even trust them to be in control themselves, you can only do your best to get out of their way.  You pass the test by staying alive.

I’ve turned the wrong way down a one-way street myself once or twice, but have always been lucky enough to realize it without meeting another car head-on.  I’ve also been lucky to be far enough back when another car took a turn too sharply and crossed into my lane right in front of me.  I hit my brakes and watched his trajectory as it completed an arc and continued past my front bumper into the next lane.  I sat there, stopped in my lane, for a good few seconds of stunned disbelief, both at his recklessness and my own good fortune.  If I had been only a few feet further down the road at that moment, my day would have gone quite differently.

I never did see that driver’s face.  Maybe it was an alien after all.


2012 June 3 Sunday

Out There

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 22:41

One of the delightful benefits of living in an urban area is that there are always activities of one kind or another to lure us out of our houses.  I took advantage of this and attended two completely different events today.  Both were going on all weekend, but today I found that there were things I could do at both which were free of cost.

A local Greek Orthodox church was having a Greek cultural festival.  It was what you might expect this to be: their church parking lot crowded with booths where people could buy food and art and clothing and more food, and a stage where ethnic music was performed along with dancing.  Personally I love to eat Greek food, and get it frequently enough at restaurants in the area that I didn’t need to stand in long lines in the hot sun to eat off disposable plates.  Instead, I had come for the tour of their church.

I’ve been inside many different kinds of churches over the course of my moderately long life.  This was my first time inside an Orthodox Christian sacred space.  The stained glass windows were familiar, as were the robes of the clergy, but the paintings and iconography were decidedly foreign to me.  It was a small space, for a small congregation, but the altar area was richly decorated and ornate.  Much of it was familiar to me from attending Roman Catholic Mass, which I have not attended for many years.  We tourists sat in the pews while the choir sang a selection of liturgical hymns, much of which was in Greek.  I followed along in the books provided, and marveled at the alien writing.

It was not so much of a tour as an opportunity to see inside their world.  The priest — I am assuming they are called priests — talked a bit about the church and let us look around.  Then everyone shuffled back out into the hot sun and long food lines.  I walked back to my car, which was parked on the other side of a highway, taking a path through an unfamiliar neighborhood with old shade trees and uneven sidewalks.  It was a marvelous excursion.

After a few hours back at my house for dinner, I made the transition to the next event of the day.  “Conspiracy Con 2012” was in town!  I was not interested in paying money to hear their panel of speakers, but I was curious enough to make the drive to the hotel to see what kinds of exhibits were open to the public.  Mostly it was a conference room of tables, on which vendors had stacks of DVDs, books, magazines, and bumper stickers for sale.  I picked up a few pamphlets, promising to visit their website if someone stopped me to make their pitch.  It was a sad assortment of paranoia and anti-government rants, mixed with some New Age spiritual advisors ready to read your aura.

I don’t mean to offend anyone who attends these sorts of gatherings or ascribes to their political leanings.  Some of it brushed the fringes of the kinds of things I am interested in, but most of it sounded like bad science and contradictory opinions to me.  The event organizers made an announcement inviting people to register for their upcoming Super Soldier Summit, and reminded us that the UFO Con would be coming back to this same venue in the fall. They ended their day with an open Q&A forum, which I left before it was over.

I walked outside into the night air, with the full moon just beginning to rise over the hotel complex.  I looked, but didn’t see any aliens.


2012 May 29 Tuesday

Turtle on the Ceiling

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 22:57

The subject of Near Death Experiences was on my mind today.  I’ve never had one myself, but I enjoy reading the testimony of people who have.  They’re all over the Internet these days, on a variety of blogs and in videos.  Researchers try to gather the similar ones for study, while other scientists think of ways to discredit them.

Even people who are not necessarily near death have reported having an Out-of-Body Experience, especially in the Emergency Room or while undergoing a procedure in the hospital. They claim being able to see details of the activity taking place during a period of time when their brain was unlikely to be capable of conscious thought.  One suggestion has been to place a card in a patient’s room or in the surgical operating room, hidden from direct sight.  Then researchers could ask these people what they saw from their vantage point above the scene.  In theory, if their point of view was hovering at the ceiling, then they should be able to read the text on a card placed on top of a cabinet.

I think this is never going to work, because reading text or seeing a symbol on a piece of paper requires light rays to enter an eye and strike a retina.  The hovering spirit of a person having an OBE is not seeing in the physical sense.  I believe they are experiencing their surroundings using something like the mind’s eye, which is really a construct formed by consciousness.  The mind (but not the brain) may be sensing everything going on in the room, and the memory of that upon waking feels like they “saw” it.

I’ve rambled on about “mindseeing” here before, in searching for a verb specific to visualization of the model of the world we keep in our heads.  I want to believe that it is an activity which we take for granted because we don’t have an accurate language to describe it.  When I see myself in a memory, I am not replaying a recording of what I saw at that time, but rather my current mind takes the vantage point of an observer, similar to playing a video game in third-person camera mode.  When I play in a virtual world game, I try to use first-person mode as much as possible, because it feels more like I am really immersed and seeing the world in real time from my own eyes.  I wonder why people choose third-person at all, and whether they experience their own memories differently because of it.

So, getting back to the experiment to test for an OBE in a hospital.  My suggestion is that the researchers should skip the clever signs and random words on a hidden card.  Instead, they should put real objects up there on top of a cupboard.  Choose distinctive but obscure things, to make it unlikely for someone to generate a false positive by guessing.  Make the objects have strange colors and unusual shapes, something a person would do a double-take if encountered in real life.  Let them be as memorable as possible, so the patient cannot help but report about it upon waking.

I’ve only had surgery or been knocked out for a minor procedure a few times, and it’s always seemed like no time passed at all.  I don’t remember any disembodiment or disorientation, neither going under or coming back up.  There is something fundamentally different about anesthesia compared to the unconcience dreaming.  For example, last night I dreamt about a turtle.  I can remember holding it, the feel of it in my hand, the dark color of its shell, the sound of it trying to talk to me.  If I should ever have an OBE, I would hope the memory is equally vivid, and not simply the word TURTLE on a piece of paper.


2012 May 27 Sunday

Parallel Surrealities

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 23:29

If you’re familiar with some of the more popular works by Philip K. Dick, you’ll know his characters often experience a shift in their perceptions of reality.  If you’ve read further background into his life, you might know that PKD himself experienced occasional shifts in perspective.  He described having the sensation that two different timelines were superimposed on our reality, but most of us never become aware of it.  (I have no specific links for you, but do a search for “Black Iron Prison” and you might read about how it appears in his fiction as well as the details of the incident which triggered his visions.)

I’m not a fan of the theory of parallel universes.  I don’t believe that a new reality forks off at every moment, nor that every choice we make spawns an alternate reality in which the opposite choice was made.  Certainly quantum physicists can write theoretical equations for such possibilities, but that’s just abstract math to me.  Even if reality is merely the illusion formed by waves of energy through space, there can be only one instance of the matter that coalesces out of these energy waves.  At least that’s how I envision the mechanics of the universe, despite enjoying fiction like the movie “Primer” which defies explanation.

Today, however, I got a taste of what it might have been like for PKD to experience that overlap.  I’ve been attending a Steampunk convention this weekend, sporadically dropping in on panels and taking in the ambience of the venue.  The event is running in parallel with a major anime gathering, which in itself is a jarring mix of fandoms, but at least they are hosted in two separate hotels.  While the anime (and manga and video game and general nerd culture) fans are all about the bright colors and exuberant self-expression, the steampunk enthusiasts are generally in favor of quiet elegance.  And yet, they co-mingle in crowds and share the shuttle bus without prejudice or resentment.

My moment of heightened awareness came as I sat in a foyer and listened to the sound of a teletype machine.  A corner of the hall had been converted into the working office of a telegraph company, complete with a ticker-tape clattering out the news headlines.  A Victorian clock stood outside their door next to the company sign, and a messenger delivered telegrams to citizens in the hotel.  The telegraph operator pinned pieces of paper to a cork bulletin board so attendees could read about events elsewhere in the world.  In my peripheral vision I saw women in corsets and bustles, and men in top hats and waistcoats.  For a brief moment, I allowed myself to believe that this was our modern reality.  This was not a step back in time, but a projection of how time could have progressed from the Victorian era to an alternative now, veering away from the invention of mass communication (and so much more).

I saw the past superimposed on my present, along with an alternate timeline crossing in front of me, like a pair of train tracks running an electric rapid transit system in parallel with a steam locomotive.  I could read the headlines about the United Nations and Syria typed out in monospaced capital letters on yellow paper with faded ink.  And just when I had wrapped my brain around this scene, the bell on the teletype machine rang, a signal indicating an incoming priority headline as was done in its time, and was still being used when I worked in a radio station in college.  I was simultaneously experiencing a memory of a real past and a simulacra of an alternate past-future, while also being aware of my modern clothes and lifestyle.

The illusion is not concerned with what is real, but which WHEN is real.  Perhaps they are all simultaneously real when you strip away the filters of linear time.  It is this kind of stuff which makes science fiction write itself.




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