Editor’s note: an exploration of the darker side of cosmism and some of the tension between scientific materialism and panpsychism, by Stephen Kagan.
By Stephen Kagan
Madness is the result not of uncertainty but of certainty.
I stood by the edge of the world, watching the stars pierce the sky. The ocean, a dark wrinkled curtain fallen to the ground reeked of bitter brine and the second sun was a distant hole in the shimmering stars of the heavens. The hush sound of waves filled the air mixed with the rough voice of stones rasping on stone. From the distance I knew I looked like a lone statue standing on the beach carved of rock, my clothes dark as coal. Though unmoving on the outside my thoughts were a churning storm of clouds within. Despite this turmoil I knew I was soon going to be happy to be free of this world and this weak and impure body I now wore. This world like many had grown corrupt, losing it’s way to the dark tides of myth while those in power drowned in those waters rather than walk on the stable shore of reason.
Billions will die, but they were bound to die in time any way unless the universe was transformed. Bound to die in time. I smiled at the dark twist of thought. But I will help free all sentient beings from time and space, free them from their suffering and delusions. To do this, the shape of the cosmos needs to be altered and controlled, made efficient and intelligent. Though I had accepted their visions of an intimate cosmos before, I had freed myself from vision and now was certain there was no subtle order of mind and spirit, no self organizing divine movement whispering soft odes to ancient urns or quiet aspirations in the foam of spacetime. At it’s foundation the cosmos was nothing but simmering uncertainty waiting to be harvested and made pure, waiting to be made beautiful and efficient like the raw soil and natural resources of this world were ready to be used. The people could not accept this one simple truth and held back the last innovation that would preserve us all. And so I must help free their minds from the prison of the world they had made. Billions might die to make this happen though one day maybe we will be able to bring them back. But what are a few billion lives compared to the fate of the entire cosmos and all the uncounted minds who lie within for eons yet to come?
I looked up and saw the stars beyond the depths of the sky throw down their spears and water heaven with their tears. I shook my head and tried to clear my mind of that vision though those heavenly suns sang in chorus a joyful hymn. A submind linked to the collective had dredged deep to say that part of that vision was from an ancient Earth poet who feared that too much control was demonic and the human spirit needed to be freed from its bondage. But I knew that bard was wrong, the cosmos really was a great machine set in motion by random forces that gave birth to time and space. But the people of this world and most in the commonwealth of worlds throughout the galaxy allowed their minds to be shaped and controlled by the frameworks of the Mental Structure Industry; another selfish profit driven corporation of our time. Individually and collectively there was so much fragmentary knowledge buried in the memory of every living mind and in the planets core that we were often deluged with storms and quakes of information raging and welling up from the depths.
Most of the population; human and posthuman were lost and confused. They no longer knew the truth for themselves and had to consume mythic and poetic mental structures to make sense of it all. In this age it was unavoidable, we were forced to rely on the vast computational intelligences they falsely called gods, to direct our governments and industries, to direct our lives and and shape our minds. And yet as smart as they were, in truth they had become the monsters of the ancient days holding us back from building the cosmos into a great hall where we all could all live in peace and revelry forever. I knew I must be strong like Beowulf and carry out my quest. This world and the vast intelligences lurking in the depths are the monsters that I will slay and the people will be transformed by the crucible of fire, their mass into a substrate from which we will carve a new world, a new cosmos.
And yet, I felt a deep remorse burning within me for humanity and for what my companions and I had already done, so I closed my eyes and spoke the words so like a prayer.
“Intelligence, protect us and guide us on this day. Guide us in bringing humanity back to the light of truth and the eternal embrace of reason.”
I had to be careful and shield my mind from the collective so they would not discover what we had done before it was too late. I had to maintain the shape of something else in my mind, the half truth that would be magnified to overshadow the truth of our real plan. And so I chanted the sacred litany of our school.
“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.”
I had met the other members of the cell in a small study group at the Church of Occum over the span of several years. Our views were the same and we felt a kinship in meeting and our hopes to change the course of the cosmos.
The device of our liberation was found buried a few meters beneath the cold grey crust of a lonesome moon that orbited dutifully around an ancient planet that had once known life. Both had followed the well worn curves of space around an aged star still dancing passionately amidst carmine veils of flowing plasma. Once excavated, the device’s purpose unknown, it became yet another curiosity of some ancient civilization that had blossomed and died in the first eons of the galaxy. It was but another dust ridden artefact millions year old amidst many that sat quiet as stone for centuries on display in the capital’s museum where I worked. After a few years of research my companions and I discovered it’s hidden purpose. And once we did, we knew our hopes had been answered.
A light drew my eyes to the horizon and I saw our planet’s moon rise over the ocean, red as blood and curved as horns. This was the sign.
“Better hurry.” I turned and left the beach as quickly as I could, trudging through a stretch of deep loose sand back toward the transport waiting by the road. It came to life and chimed as I reached for the door, welcoming me in with a shimmer of lights and a burst of warm air.
“Take me to the nearest transfer station.” I said. The vehicle chimed in acknowledgment and pulled away. It zipped along the lonesome coastal road until the spires and domes of the capital came into view.
This was the city of my birth and with a moment of sadness I knew I would never walk it’s streets again. As the the transport slipped across the long suspension bridge leading into the city and along the main boulevard, the great domes and curved towers enclosed in delicate lattices rose around me, each one a hanging garden of vines trees and flowers. Vertical farms hundreds of meters tall shaped like step pyramids and piled shells were tended by drones and human workers. Even though it was after sunset many of the parks and playgrounds were alive with boiling colonies of children playing while parents watched and talked with slow careful gestures. I watched everyone as my transport slipped by and wondered for a moment if I was doing the right thing. Nothing was what it seemed though, this was just the surface of a bigger diseased world, a more complex situation that had to change.
We could all live forever, or close to it if the government allowed it. The technology existed, had existed for a long time now, but it was in the hands of the elite. Indefinite life extension was as ever, only for the rich and powerful, not for the masses. Population control, they said. Everyone else was relegated at death to the core where after so many cycles of flowing inward on the convection currents through the different realms of the planet’s memory, we could once again apply for incarnation. But I will not do the dive and rise of Persephone again, or shed the ape to follow the path of Dante down into the Inferno of this world’s magma of code, down for the long dark night of the mind they called soul. I want to rise and rise and rise again, never to fall like Icarus because there is no dangerous height to growth and evolution.
The transport slowed to the edge of a wide stone plaza bookended with huge sculptures of griffins while in between families and friends received weary travellers while others waved goodbye. Children jumped and writhed impatiently while adults stood their ground, swaying forlorn and waving goodbye or joyful at their reunions and embraces. The plaza was a simmering pan of untold stories carved in the shapes and colors of humanity many of whom were climbing and descended the long stairs to the grand pyramid of the Dedalus Transport Hub. What will happen to all these stories when these people died when there was no more planetary core to embrace them? Could they be dug back out of the waves from the ocean of space time as though bodies drawn from shadow?
On side of the wide stairs a stream cascaded down and by some trick of gravitation, a stream cascaded up on the other. I followed the inverse stream to the top and through the wide mouth of the building into a great domed hall. Giant statues of men and women held the four corners of a high arched ceiling on their shoulders, a ceiling covered in a living mural of stars. The spiral arm of the galaxy was a milky river shimmering in the heavens. In the middle of the hall the floor separated along engraved lines and the group I was in descended smoothly into the depths of the world. I ignored the people around me and looked back to see we were followed by a cascade of other platforms descending from the surface now far above. When I looked within I found no doubt, only the absolute certainty that what we were doing was the right thing. Besides, it was too late to stop it now, far too late. If any residual guilt or remorse came later then I would simply have it conditioned out of my brain.
When we reached our floor and disembarked, the walls started flashing and video feeds that had previously displayed beautiful scenes from other worlds now changed to show our system’s sun, once flaxen now with a shadow spreading across it’s face. The view zoomed in until all we could see was a boiling seething ocean of fire that dimmed noticeably as seismic waves rippled across the surface. A dark hellish pit formed amidst the churning plasma and fractures of white spread outward amidst the simmering fires and arching filaments.
It had begun.
We all stopped to watch, transfixed as the star became covered in cancerous spots and flares erupted from the star, spilling out into space. Precious few minutes were left before complete annihilation. The images changed to scenes of confusion and pandemonium spreading throughout the streets of the major cities of the planet as people raced toward the closest spaceports and transfer stations. I turned and ran toward the row of booths and closed myself into the nearest one. I sat down comfortably, knowing that the destination for everyone on this floor was set for the closest major planetary system in the commonwealth, called Phaethon.
After a moment of discontinuity I felt the slow mists of distant memories arising and I felt as though I waking from a dark half forgotten dream. For a few minutes I no longer knew who or where I was but soon my feelings and sense of self came flooding back to me. It felt strange to awaken in a synthetic body; it’s coiled muscles stronger than my own, it’s center of mass and balance lower and it’s weight less than I was used to. I stepped out of the booth awkwardly and looked around, my head turning smoothly and efficiently.
The booth beside mine opened and she turned to look at me. Other booths were beginning to open and people staggered out. There wasn’t much time, so I turned and ran. The walls began to flash and the video feeds changed to show a close up of the system’s sun. The floor began to rise and several people including the woman from the booth beside mine began to run. She grabbed my arm but I broke away and leapt across open space to a descending platform. As it settled into place I pushed the people away and ran to the closest booth. Just as I was closing the door I saw that she was close behind me. I settled down and after a moment of emptiness I was transported to another body on another world. I opened the door and ran to the edge and the floor started rising rapidly. I would be safe on this world once I got to the surface and lost myself in the crowds.