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Sterile - Journal of Omnifarious

Jan. 18th, 2004

11:21 pm - Sterile

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I've been realizing just how sterile this journal is to most of the world. I put very little of my own thoughts and feelings about things in here. I need to change that. It's something I need to change about myself in general. I don't let many people see much of who I am.

I've been reading a lot recently. I tend to pay attention to one thing at a time in my life. And recently, I've felt like reading idea-laden Science Fiction.

I decided to read Frank Herbert. I read a Frank Herbert novel I hadn't read before, "Destination Void". I also read some that I had read, but quite some time ago. I got a lot more out of it this time. The two that I'd previously read are part of a series. The first is "Whipping Star, and the second is "The Dosadi Experiment".

Destination Void

This book isn't as good as the other two. It has two main themes. The first is "What is consciousness, and what is consciousnesses relationship to the nature of god?". The second is "In order to get people to do something extraordinary and difficult, you must place them in a situation in which they are under extreme pressure to do it.

The first is not fully answered, or answered in literary riddles. There is a lot of psuedo-science gobblygook as they actually try to design the conscious entity. This is woefully unsatisfying, especially as I've actually read books like "Society of Mind", "Consciousness Explained", and "The Meme Machine", all of which try to give a more-or-less coherent explanation of the phenomena of consciousness without resorting to the technical mumbo-jumbo that Herbert uses.

He does note one interesting thing though. Our consciousness appears to be pretty focused on just a little of what we actually do. The vast majority of our actions appear to take place with no conscious involvement. One theme explored is the idea of a being that is actually conscious of every thing it does, and whether or not such a being would approach being a god of some sort. Herbert seems to think so.

I think our apparent focus is an artifact of the things that our brain records about experience and actions, and not actually an indicator of what we're aware of. I may not be thinking of exactly where to place all of my fingers as I type, or which muscles to move. But, at some level, I'm aware of what's going on, or I couldn't do it. It's just that the pieces of my brain responsible for this don't have a way to record what they done in any way that can be easily accessed by my thought processes, so I don't have any memory of having done them, or any feeling of having directed the action. A system that was aware of all of those things would simply be one in which the ability to track all of that stuff occupied significantly more of the system than the stuff itself.

But, it's an interesting vision to contemplate none-the-less. And the dynamics Herbert sets up between the characters makes for intense mutual distrust and paranoia, which is supposed to push them even more towards achieving their goal. It's an interesting read.

The Whipping Star
This novel introduces Jorg X. McKie, Special Agent of the Bureau of Sabotage, class Saboteur Extraordinaire . The premise for the existence of this agency is that government has become too efficient, and it's the job of the agency to slow it down. The agency has very broad powers coupled with very tight controls. It's an interesting idea.</p>

The idea only plays a minor role in this novel though, which introduces yet more ideas about consciousness, the soul, and the nature of the universe. In typical Herbert fashion, the entity that actually has the knowledge of all of this can't speak in terms that people can understand.

Again, there is great pressure for the people involved to understand as the entity is of a race called the Calebans, and they have given the ConScentiency (the overall government) the gift of the jumpdoor. The entity (who chooses the name "Fanny-May") is in danger of being flogged (literally) out of existence, and her destruction will mean the end of the life of every being who has ever travelled through a jumpdoor.

An interesting novel that will leave you thinking. But, also ultimately unsatisfying as the answers it has for the questions it brings up are only hinted at, and never fully explained. Perhaps Herbert intended the novel as a Zen teaching koan.

The Dosadi Experiment

In this novel, the nature of government is explored at a very deep level. I feel very strongly that the governmental forms that have served us well are breaking down, and that we need new ones. I don't yet know what those new ones are, but this novel has a lot of things to think about in it.

The experiment itself is a horrific government project. 93 million people of two reaces (human and an amphibious race called the gowachin) crammed into a city the size of NYC. They live on a planet that is toxic to human or gowachin life, and the only non-toxic food is available through factories in the city. The experimenters make sure the factories only produce enough food to feed a certain number (93 million) of people. There is also a much larger population that lives on The Rim, outside the city. They tend not to live very long.

The people of Dosadi are kept at a low technology level, and they are prevented from leaving their planet by a Caleban contract that restricts jumpdoor usage to those not born on Dosadi, and erects an unbreachable barrier around the planet called "The God Wall" by the planet's inhabitants.

Dosadi is a place where people are constantly forced to make hard decisions quickly, without sentiment or mercy. To not do so means at best, servitude, and, much more likely, death. This creates a race of people the experimenters become very afraid of. The Dosadi are shown as communicating in a way filled with hidden meanings based on subtle emotional context. They reveal extremely little information about themselves, or their true motives because doing so means that their feelings can (and will) be used against them by others.

Dosadi exists for a reason that isn't disclosed until near the end of the novel. The overt reason, psychological experimentation, is not the true one. The real reason is even more horrific.

The novel culminates in a trial in a legal system most people would find extremely alien. It has a sort of beautiful logic to it though, and it based on the premise that too much law is even more harmful than too little, and that governments always do evil.

I got much more out of the two books I'd read than I'd gotten before. Particularly "The Dosadi Experiment". I have a much better context for understanding the subtleties of that novel than I did over a decade ago when I first read it.

I'm also reading "Quicksilver" by Neal Stephenson. It promises to be an interesting perspective on history from around 1650 until 1750. Around the time of Newton and Leibnitz. It is very much more of what one would expect if one had read "Cryptonomicon. A sort of intellectual tour-de-force, with character development that leaves something to be desired.

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