language fiction Credit: ilcartello

Engineering New Language

[excerpt from London Literary Review]

…It can be argued that the entirety of human civilization has developed purely because of our ability to create those fictions which allow us to co-operate. The idea of an all powerful god, the ideas of nationhood and culture, the concepts of money and capitalism.

These fictions are powerful but ultimately limited. They can be ignored. Tuned out. We can all recognize the difference between our own first-person experience and what we are told by others.

While religion or capitalism may appear seductive they are both abstract concepts, both lack any direct sensory component. We may believe we are part of a nation or cultural group but we can’t smell a country or taste culture.

language fiction Credit: ilcartello

The more our language has developed — broadened in vocabulary, branched into different tongues, deepened in meaning — the more persuasive and powerful these fictions have become but still language has limits.

What happens then when our communication is linked more deeply into our brain? When it is on a par with our other senses? Plugged directly into our first-person experience? Maybe even more primary to our existence than our sense of sight or of taste?

Is it not likely that the forms of fiction we will develop in such circumstances will run deeper even still? If the immediacy of these intercortical communications is on a par with immediacy with our sense of touch or taste will we not believe them more — even if they are deceptions?

A bridge to new language

This is not to say that we will be hoodwinked or deceived in some way — at least no more than mankind was hoodwinked with the development of language.

Language has deepened our understanding of the natural world, doubtlessly, but it has also allowed us to create rich and deep fictions which in some cases allow people to manipulate whole populations. Is it not likely similar themes will play out with any new form of communication?

The rats in the Duke experiment already exhibited some signs of emergent behaviour. Since both rats got a reward each time the decoder chose correctly, the encoder rat started to try and aid its partner in the US by adjusting its movements to create a clearer signal.

Over the course of the experiment the Brazilian rat refined its movements making clearer, smoother presses on the lever. In this case, the system was set up to favour collaboration but what would the result be if only one rat could receive a reward each time? Would the Brazilian rat try to obfuscate its mental signal?

When it comes to human social interactions there are of course a far wider range of options than simply ‘left’ or ‘right’ lever. Some people will blurt out whatever is in their head while others show icy restraint, some people speak plainly while others always rely on irony, some people invariably tell the truth while others lie incessantly.

Would intracortical microstimulation make these variations less pronounced or more? Would an additional sensory input lead to fewer lies or more?

Before the first written language, human cooperation was limited but so too was organised religion or nationwide warfare. Certainly written language has done little to reduce the amount of fiction in the world.

It begs the question — what forms of language will this lead us to?…

 

Read the full article at London Literary Review

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Modern Reading

(originally published in Hourglass Literary Magazine     https://hourglassonline.org/news/modern-reading-by-lochlan-bloom)

Credit: David Evers

There is a group, let us call them the anti-fictionists, that proclaims the death of fiction. They call for an end to the make-believe, the fake, the imaginary. Who needs fiction, these anti-fictionists say, when there is the scientific method, progress, development.

We may be a society of readers but how much of that time is spent reading books? Certainly it seems the traditional novel is dead or dying. Is there really any need to read fiction?

It is true that we are reading more than ever, hour after hour spent staring at screens, reading, scrolling, scanning, reading, reading, reading… but the role of fiction in the modern world had never seemed more hopeless.

This group, the anti-fictionists, believe that if fiction is needed at all it should be a commodity. A product that can be pushed into the idle hours of our day, marketed as a consumable, valued according to economics.…continue reading on Medium.

Credit: Young-Deok Seo

The Slave Traders

It has been known for several years now that slave traders are operating in this area but despite the best attempts of the police captain and his men it has proven impossible to catch any of them.

Some people have blamed this on poor Captain Jacobs himself, suggesting he is corrupt, but this is unfair on the poor man as he is no more involved with the slave traders than the rest of us.

Wherever you go you will hear people talking of them. They are discussed everywhere in this town — from the bars to the library, the primary school to the prison cell — but still no one will come out and name names.

Nearly everyone, when the subject is brought up of an evening, will lay claim to some familiarity, yet when they are called upon as witnesses they crumble and talk incoherently leaving the jurors unimpressed. Some amongst us even pretend that the traders might have left the town or else claim that there have never been any slave traders here at all.

They point out, rightly enough, that……continue reading on Medium.

Credit: Young-Deok Seo

Credit: Young-Deok Seo

The Parcel

It is calm, there are no puzzles, the parcel arrives. 

It is not so big, perhaps the size of your head.

It is a box, a sturdy cardboard box. There is a stamp on it but the postmark is illegible. You pick it up. It is heavy. You shake it — it makes a hissing noise.

You open it; excited. There is a creature inside. Made of metal. Metal wires. An ornament, like a giant spider made of metal wires. It is not pretty.

You feel disappointment.

Who would send you this? It is not pretty. You put it on the side next to the glasses. You look at it again. It is certainly not pretty.

You move it over near the window. The TV is turned on. You watch it for a while. You watch the metal creature also but it does not move. You don’t have long before you have to leave. You wish you could just…continue reading on Medium.