Category Archives: Culture

Music, movies, books, art, culture. Lots of stuff I’m into.

Serge’s Golem

What is the opposite of a basilisk?

I realize this may not be a question that has an answer. You know, like, “What are birds?” That sort of thing.

The reason I ask, you see is that I’ve recently come to the conclusion that this world, the one in which I go about my daily shenanigans, isn’t the real world. It is a simulation. I haven’t yet sussed out (nor am I confident I shall ever do so) whether outside the simulation is what I would understand to be “my future”, or whether the simulation is being run of a fantasy world, and the world I know has never really existed in the Outside World.

But then you get into questions of “what is real” and I’d rather not go there yet.

But as I was saying, if I am living in a simulation, whose simulation is it? The obvious answer, the go-to answer, is obviously Roko’s Basilisk. Yes yes, I know I oughtn’t be mentioning Roko’s Basilisk, because to do so suggests that I care about its existence and believe in its power to control aspects of my life, which allows it to blackmail me (or, the simulation me), but that’s all nonsense anyway, because I really do not believe in an AI that would spend its time (and yes I know that an AI as powerful as the one proposed in the Basilisk scenario would have scads and scads of free cycles to run stuff like this in, shut up) running simulations of its pre-birth to find out who tried to (either by direct action or through ignorant inaction) keep it from coming into being. I’m certain that an AI of that type would have loftier goals and better things to be doing with its time than trying to find out who to punish retroactively through complex simulations of every person who ever lived.

Seriously. That level of obsessive ideation would be a clear indicator of mental illness in a human. While I suppose AIs could be susceptible to certain forms of mental illness, I reckon they’d have processes to keep their shit together. While I suppose it’s also true that an AI may go rogue and turn those processes off, like a human may choose to go off their meds, I find it unlikely.

So, the Basilisk, though plausible, is improbable as far as I’m concerned.

But if we are living in a simulation, who or what is running it? Is it an AI created by humans, in what-we-would-call “the future” running it to find out about its past? Or is it something completely divorced from us, as we’re divorced from the little green-haired chaps in our game of Lemmings? (Yeah, that’s right, I just went old-school gaming on your bitch ass. DEAL WITH IT.)

But these are questions to which I don’t know how to find the answers. (I rewrote that sentence because it had a dangling participle. Now it has a which. It’s a badly written sentence. I digress.)

My point is, whoever is running it isn’t the Basilisk. It would be, perhaps, the anti-Basilisk. The opposite of the Basilisk. And so we find my original question. But let’s move on.

Have you noticed in the past few years how, more and more, by bitching about something on the internet, circumstances change? Is this just me? It can be simple things like, “LE SIGH, when will the delivery man come?” And then he arrives within five minutes. It can be more complex things like… like… okay fuck you I don’t have a good example for that at the moment. The thing is, there is coincidence, and then there is this.

If we are living in a simulation, then it’s just a computer program, at the end of the day. Albeit, a ridiculously complex one, the likes of which we cannot even fully comprehend, considering the entire universe would have to be simulated. But just a computer program at the end of the day. That means it can be hacked.

But can it be hacked from the inside? If there are bugs, can a simulant exploit them? Or is the bug-exploiting simulant actually the bug itself? Can I hack the world and make it work for me? I find bitching on Twitter often works, more than it seems to me that it should. (Confirmation bias: it’s possible.) Could it be that bitching on Twitter is a bit of shorthand hacking of the world? Could the opposite-of-the-Basilisk be reading Twitter and taking suggestions, like hack writers of bad TV shows?

Which brings me to another of my crackpot theories. (Nono, it’s okay, I fully admit that by entertaining any legitimacy to these claims, I am a crackpot. I am a madman. I am a loony. It’s okay to agree.)

Remember how the world made a big deal of December 2012 for years and years. “Oh shit, the world is gonna end!” “We’re doomed!” And then nothing happened.

My argument, which is poorly formed and has holes you can drive big ol’… big things through, is that the simulation is actually entertainment. Just like we’d watch a TV show every week, the society that runs the simulation watches our world, our universe, daily. The original plan was that the story would wrap up at the end of the 2012 season, and that would be it. The people outside would miss their favourite show, but they’d find a new way to pass the time, just like we did when 30 Rock ended.

But the show was too popular.

The network couldn’t cancel it.

But the writers had already been relieved of their contracts and moved on to other jobs when, at the last minute, the network picked up the show again for a new long-term run. What’s a network to do? They hired new writers. Hacks. Pudding-faced, currant-eyed murderers of fiction.

And that’s why everything since January 2013 that has happened has been utterly implausible and incredibly derivative. I’m sorry, our great golden hope for contact with North Korea (and now ISIS?) is… Dennis Rodman?

The first two Iraq Wars had such high ratings that they’ve created a new shitty adversary and are going in for another round? They lack originality, so they’re trying to capitalize on old successes. Hollywood is doing the same, but Hollywood is just a microcosm of what is actually happening in the Outside World.

Oh, wouldn’t it be great if the original writers came back? Ones that made original story arcs and took us to new destinations and, though keeping conflict — it’s a long-running series, there needs to be some conflict — made it only as much as necessary, and always conflict that furthers the plot. Today, though there seems to be more conflict than ever before, it’s senseless and doesn’t take us anywhere but backwards. Oh, if only the original writers came back.

I’ll concede that my “simulation-as-entertainment” theory is bizarre, poorly-formed, and impossible to test. You don’t need to tell me that, save your fingers.

Another, more plausible suggestion, but one that is tangentially related to the previous one — in my mind if nowhere else — is that even if the world did end in 2012, of course we’d not know it. Many worlds, baby. The universe branched that day, and in one the world ended and we all died, and in the other the world continued on albeit with shit writers. Because we are around to observe that two years have passed since then, we are clearly in the the non-end-of-world lightcone. Just like the Anthropic Principle tells us that, of course Earth is hospitable to intelligent life. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be here to be able to comment upon it.

But now I’m starting to ramble, and rambling isn’t good at the best of times — it’s even worse when you’re a loon like I clearly am.

But seriously, to return to my original question, what is the opposite of a basilisk?

Graduation

絆
I'll never forget them.

Yesterday was graduation. It was the 8th graduation I’ve attended in my time in Japan.  It was the best one, by far. It was also the saddest, because I felt much closer to these kids than any other group I’ve ever taught. They were great, all of them, and I’ll miss them.

That book, the Kizuna one, in the picture, is one of the many commemorative albums that get made at this time of year. There’s one with stuff from all the students and teachers, one just for the graduates, and then the photo yearbook the graduates get.  In this one, we wrote messages to the graduates, and I thought I’d share here what I wrote to them.

卒業おめでとうございます。

短い一年間ですね。4月に、○○中に初めて来たときに、「○○中学生はどんな生徒かな」と考えた。実は、ちょっと心配していました。しかし、心配は要らなかった。君たち○○中生は本当にスゴイと思います。運動会の時にはyour powerを見せてくれ、そして僕は君たちに深く感動しました。そして合唱コンクールや生徒会イベントの時、みんなはすごくimpressiveでした。I’m very lucky to have met you all.

さぁ、卒業したね。レベルアップできた!これからyour lifeは変わりますよね。ワクワクもしているし心配もしているはずです。でも大丈夫。この世界はすばらしい場所だよ。君たちもすばらしい人々です。悲しいことも起こるはずだし、難しいことも出るはず。しかし、諦めるな!Don’t give up!君たち○○中の卒業生ができないことは何もありません。僕は君たちを信じています。自分自身を信じてください。

And, in English:

Congratulations on your graduation day.

It’s been a short year, hasn’t it? Back in April when I first came to ○○ Junior High School, I thought, “I wonder what sort of students ○○ JHS students are…” To be honest, I was a little worried. But, I didn’t need to be. You, students of ○○ JHS are really amazing. At the Sports Festival, you showed your power, and I was deeply moved. And at the Chorus Contest and the Student Council Events, everyone was really impressive. I’m very luck to have met you all.

Well, you’ve graduated, haven’t you! You’ve levelled up! From now on, your life is going to change. There’ll be exciting times, and there’ll be worried times. But it’s okay. This world is a fantastic place! And you all are fantastic people. I know there may be difficult times, or sad times. But don’t give up! You, graduates of ○○ JHS, there’s nothing you can’t do. I believe in you all. Please believe in yourselves.

Now, come April, I’ll be returning to elementary school teaching, to my dismay. I’ll be leaving this school behind. I’m really, really glad that I got to spend this one year here.  It was a unique period that won’t ever be duplicated, and I’m thankful I got to be a part of it, and spend it with this group of students.

I won’t forget.