I posted my Invasion of the Mind Snatchers jeu 1998 06 26. Revised, expanded, it went to Iona Arc, came back. It swelled, even bloated. I’m going to try to strip it back down to its original form, then string the many inserts and post scripts as a tail.
Integrity & the Human Spirit
pk’s Turing Test
The Invasion of the Mind Snatchers
What’s Happened to the Human Soul?
It’s been around forty years since The Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out. I think it was Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter who found their neighbors turning into zombies. Giant seed pods were appearing in the closets, silently cloning mindless substitutes for the humans. It struck a nerve with lots of people.
Leslie Fiedler, the Renaissance man of American Literature, traces science fiction back to the Gothic novel where the English, having rid themselves of troublesome Rome as well as put an annoying king in his place, scared themselves witless with the specter of things Catholic and things aristocratic. (Why, after all, does Count Dracula wear a cape?) So: the gothic novel can be profitably seen as fear of the past. Fiedler then turns that on its head: science fiction is fear of the future.
Not only do we worry about our bodies, even our planet, being abducted, we use science fiction to worry about computers taking over our special place at the center of God’s Creation. The nascent science of AI (or artificial intelligence), has been forced to compete with theories of cosmology and evolution for the cellar floor on the stairs of infamy. Commando tactics are used against them all: systematic misrepresentation (not that the scientists haven’t done some misrepresentation of their own), choreographed misunderstanding, sabotage …
Blade Runner featured Harrison Ford as an exterminator whose specialty was sniffing out and destroying androids who found their way to earth. Ah, but even he has trouble ID’ing the new models. And once the audience gets a load of replicants as interpreted by Sean Young and Rutger Hauer, we have a nice ambivalence as to what we want done with them. (Ambivalence becomes a dilemma when we can’t decide whether we’d rather jump on their bones or worship them.)
Early on in information theory mathematician Alan Turing proposed a test for synthetic intelligence. A candidate AI and a human, concealed from the tester, may be addressed via some arbitrary label: the tester can ask A or B any question. The tester has to make his judgment of who is which based on their answers alone. Turing suggested that if, after some period of time, the tester was unable to correctly identify the AI, then the AI must be admitted to be “intelligent.” (Note: Turing here has trimmed away all considerations but output! That’s how he broke the German codes in WWII: he trimmed the mess to a section he could handle!)
I apply the Turing Test as a matter of habit: in conversation, while reading, at the movies, watching TV … My conclusion is that we’ve had it all wrong. We were wasting our time worrying about our bodies being snatched; it’s our minds which have been stolen! (Our souls?) And I fear the job is nearly complete. I can identify very few human beings among my fellows.
Bucky Fuller pointed out that if you draw a square, say one foot by one foot, you’ve enclosed not one but two areas: inside your lines is a square with four ninety degree angles having an area of one square foot; outside your lines you have another square of four equal angels. Only there the angles are each two hundred seventy degrees! There the area is all of planar space minus one square foot! You can never do just one thing. Always there is at least one complement, perhaps silent, perhaps invisible: but there. (Fuller also said that 99% of reality is invisible.) (No, he didn’t measure it: it’s a symbol—like “forty days and forty nights” or “a million dollars.”)
Even where someone does pass my test for being human, further testing casts doubt on my first impression. We’re told we live in a democracy. We aren’t like those awful Europeans: we don’t have rulers; we have representatives! I have something to say to my representative. I write a letter. I get an utterly irrelevant response.
In school I was taught that the first step in answering a test question is to carefully read the question and to understand it before answering. What was my representative taught at his school? My correspondence is just like a Turing Test. I can’t see him. I address him by a label: a name, a title, and an address. What I get back doesn’t even impress me so much as an AI who’s trying; just some aphasic automaton following a program which is a mockery of democracy: get something in the mail, put something in the mail. A pigeon could do it. (Tax, spend, tax again … No accountability as to what it was for? It’s certainly pigeons that have it done to them.) How can “my” representative represent me if he doesn’t understand what I’ve said even after I’ve gone out of my way to compose it?
I develop my doctoral thesis. I try to present it to the faculty of NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science. The chairman of the comparative literature department says Right on! But my own department? Niente. [pk’s Interrupted Doctoral Orals] Nada. I may was well have been speaking Mandarin.
Ivan Illich knocks my socks off. Now there’s a human being. Not just human: a genuine imitator of Jesus. He’s got our number and doesn’t pull any punches. He’s got solutions! Dazzlingly simple. Right on the money. A genius. His writing is so relevant to us, he puts mere literature in the shade. I write him, offering my aid. Go to it, he answers. I do. (Screw the morons at NYU.) 1970, I found FLEX. The public responds: a little; not at all financially. I write Illich’s New York Roman Catholic priest friends. They answer that they understand his proposals to be a metaphor. So do I. So what? Does the existence of a metaphor preclude other kinds of existence? Where they denying that there was any reality represented by the metaphor? A reality in need of big-time correction?
I write Illich what’s going on. Nothing. Finally, years later, I get a letter. He’s sorry. Less than a page sorry.
Gregory Bateson knocks my pants off as well as my socks. Not just a human: the greatest teacher of all time. A footnote in his book Communication inspires me to write my first novel. His daughter is executor of his papers. I write to tell her what I’m up to. Nothing. Not even a Don’t bother me. (Decades later, the 2000s, I hear from his other daughter! But I tell her what happened, she goes silent!)
In Heinlein’s Job, God keeps changing reality on the protagonist (very much like in my The Model: First Week.) Maybe I’m wrong about Jehovah. Maybe the invented God of the imaginary Creation of six thousand years ago (or some other demon) does have powers independent of his inventors’ hands and bombs. Or maybe it’s the aliens after all. They’ve snatched everyone’s mind but mine. And now they’re just tormenting me, writing great books, palming them off as written by human beings, luring me to bite, and then pulling the lure away while jeering at me. Maybe they snatched all of you just to mock me.
(See my parallel piece God’s Lure.)
I produce this site like the guy at the telegraph in On the Beach, hoping that there’s some one out there, at least one other human being left.
Nothing. I’m alone.
Or maybe it’s me who’s got it all backwards. It must be. Of course. What could I have been thinking? No human beings’ minds have been snatched; human beings don’t have any minds. Or have seldom had much more mind than a chimpanzee. Their talk is delusional: monkeys unable to tell whether the characters they randomly peck on the typewriter make Shakespeare or gibberish. What made me think human beings had ever had minds? Or souls? I knew better than to think that a cartoon was really talking with Mickey Mouse. What made me think that human speech was anything but demonic lip synching? I heard too much of the gibberish too early.
Then again, maybe human beings are whatever they are; and I’m not a human being. What am I then? A mutant? Merely insane? A species of one? Maybe there’s a dozen of me. Maybe a thousand. That’s still too few to find. Will I die before I find my Eve?
Or is solipsism the truth after all? No. I don’t think so. I think it’s me: and a whole bevy of demons: jeering.
(Revisiting 2014 09 23 to expand comments on Alan Turing I’ll also utter an opposite interpretation of experience: in a senseless universe sense-making is delusional. It’s an hysterical accident that Shakespeare or Newton seem to make sense.)
Notes, Scrapbook to follow.
2015 12 09 bk sends me this link: https://mail.google.com/mail/h/t1kq7g3lznsh/?&th=1518eadeed2b4d2e&v=c