Last September at the Burning Man festival’s closing ceremony, to test the efficacy of his newest leptites & programmable molecules (nanoids as some like to call them), Philosopher Jack Stone stood beneath the giant wooden effigy as it was consumed in what’s become the largest controlled outdoor burn on the planet. Human attendees, for various psychiatric, pharmaceutical & religious reasons, too, often enter the flames. And knowing this predilection for grandiose self-immolation could only be exacerbated by PJS’s presence & example, organizers had quintupled the army of firefighters & security personnel assigned to enforce safety & order. Subsequently, and in accordance with nature’s horribly inefficient “Many are called; few are chosen” algorithm, less than a handful from the multitudes charging into the inferno to be “like” him, if only for a moment, were successful. And only one, a young mother from Reno, managed to traverse the bonfire’s entire roaring thirty meter radius to fall at his feet. And though, sadly, he could not restore her life, he could not but raise her up in his arms and thereby reify her death—an act gone viral within the second—so that her infant son, whom she’d passed into a friend’s hands just prior to her sacrifice, might share in her deification and never want for anything. But then happy endings gravitate to PJS like pubescent Japanese schoolgirls to heartthrob British boy bands.
Naturally (i.e., preternaturally) Philosopher Jack Stone emerged from the coals & ashes naked & unharmed. From perfectly coiffed hair to blemishless skin, buff musculoskeletal systems to nth+ generation neural circuitries, his body’s molecules had evolved complex crystalline carbon structures with the sort of chiral & axial supersymmetries one tends to associate with ridiculously high melting points, lending to his complexion & demeanor an exuberant, almost virginal, effulgence that persisted even after his biology had returned to liquid-water chemistry.
But make no mistake. Philosopher Jack Stone ages. Suffer no illusions. He, too, grows old. His body changes over time. But, unlike as with the rest of ours, its changes are all improvements. And so whereas we may shrink & shrivel, wrinkle & warp, decay & decompose (which some will say is compensated for by greater wisdom, though really it’s just dwindling hormones) and, eventually, die altogether, PJS does not. Will not. No malfeasant cells, microorganisms | parasites feast & fester in his corpora. No kludges | glitches linger in his molecular code; no obsolescence planned in his design; no dilly-dallying in his development—no way. Like nature, he adapts. But instead of taking millions of years pursuant to stupefying amounts of trial & error and giving up & starting over, he works it all out on the fly, as in nanoseconds, if that.
Plus he’s super smart. Plus he’s lonely.
To clarify, I must digress.
Less than a century ago, had you encountered, say, the term, oobleck, and wondered what it meant, you’d have had to consult with others until you found someone familiar with its allusive literary root. A quest which, depending on luck & persistence, might’ve taken anywhere from minutes to seasons; then, in all likelihood, only to learn that it was green & sticky & fell from the sky in a children’s story (“Bartholomew and the Oobleck”), but not that it represented a dire prophecy on global warming & pollution by the author, Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), or how to make a simulacrum of the substance yourself in your very own kitchen from corn starch & food coloring. Almost no one living today can imagine what it must’ve been like before personalized embedded computing & social meta-networking kept everyone abreast of all important information & goings on in the world, so that if, say, the Queen of England were to so much as squeak one little queef at some gala | function, even before her rectal sphincter had fully constricted, you (if you have expressed an interest in such matters) would not only hear it for yourself with attached spectral gas-particulate analyses, but receive 3D-graphic rankings (for the hour/day/year/ever) among various celebrity & royalty fart categories under any number of criteria (volume, pitch, duration, viscosity, temperature, etc.), psychological impact speculations (drawn from thermographic imaging, pupil dilation, galvanic skin measurements, hippocampic pattern resonance & other stress related biometrics), a remarkably accurate gastrointestinal health picture & prognosis as well as the funniest subjective reviews & video captures within the event’s olfactory bubble & timeframe. Contrast this now with my grandfather’s claims to have not learned of JFK’s assassination until almost 1:40 CST 22-11-1963, over an hour after the shooting(s), and even then only through the sketchy hearsay of classmates who’d learned about it through the sketchy hearsay of a transistor radio | b&w television’s “breaking news” over lunch, further corroborated & confused by his teacher (Mrs. Haltgrin) softly crying at her desk.
See, back when TV comprised our collective consciousness & conscience, we were all necessarily pretty dumb, as in non- | mal- informed. Knowing, say, that Theodore’s brother Wally’s friend, Eddie Haskell, is an obsequious creep who cannot be trusted, or how many scoops of raisins are in a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal constitutes only ordained, elliptic knowledge—both packaged & sparse. Whereas knowing that Ken Osmond (born June 7, 1943) played the character Eddie Haskell in the sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” which ran for six seasons (1957 – 1963), and who prior to this iconic role had appeared as a tyke in “So Big,” “Good Morning, Miss Dove,” “Everything But the Truth,” “Circus Boy,” “Annie Oakley,” “Lassie” & a McDonald’s commercial, but who, after, in his twenties, his career floundering, could land only bit parts in programs like “The Munsters” & “Petticoat Junction,” compelling him to leave acting altogether and, following a brief stint in the US army, join the LAPD where a dozen independent sources report he grew a moustache to avoid recognition as a highway patrol and, later, undercover officer, who, after being wounded three times in the course of duty, retired on a disability pension, subsequent to which his most notable accomplishment was to sue porn star John Holmes (for 25 million) for impersonating Eddie Haskell in a handful of porno videos, a civil matter that went all the way to the California State Supreme Court whose landmark ruling in Holmes’s favor (that the name Eddie Haskell was protected as a satire) still informs & impacts cases to this day, or that the number of raisins in a box of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal varies wildly (anywhere from about 200 to 380 raisins per ounce of mixture) with the highest concentrations found in the 20 oz. boxes and that the raisins are made from a heavily sugared common Thompson Seedless grape infected with a modified SIRE-1 retrovirus that readily attacks a variety of leafhoppers’ digestive systems and into whose genome has also been introduced karyotypic excerpts of the bacterial fungivore Pseudomonas tolaasii in resistance to powdery mildew, black measles & Pierce’s disease, all common afflictions of this grape, and that all of this information does not even begin to scratch the surface of what the most cursory & casual e-query today would instantly reveal—now that’s knowledge.
There has, however, been some philosophical debate on whether having access to the entire virtual sum of human knowledge & data—effectively knowing everything—has made kids today any smarter. Conventional pedagogy defines learning almost entirely as an act of memorization, and so the ability to memorize is all but synonymous with intelligence, and that understanding & comprehension per se are more important as adjuvants to | facilitators of memorization than required outcomes—really they (understanding & comprehension, & interest for that matter) are regarded more as occasional, unavoidable | secondary | collateral consequences & even casualties of memorization. And so a student who can parrot “nine times nine equals eighty-one” is considered to be smarter & more learned than one who must add nine nines together in her head or shift nine’s decimal representation (9) left one digit (90) and subtract nine, or even add nine’s binary representation (1001) to this same binary value shifted left three digits (1001000) and then convert this sum (1010001) into its decimal equivalent (81), resulting, in any case, in a considered few seconds’ delay, before announcing the “answer.” And even at education’s loftiest batch echelons, performance is largely appraised & graded on subjects’ ability to regurgitate arcanum from short-term memory, resulting in the well-known practise of “cramming” and the widespread use of brand name stimulants like Ritalin & Adderall.
The pros argue that by formal education’s traditional standards & practices, and because it’s difficult to sever | separate today’s students from humanity’s vast cloud | repository of data (a.k.a. noosphere), they must, by historical benchmarks, now all be considered megageniuses. E.g., ask any of them for pi to a million decimals; how many bases on balls any major league player got during any year of his career; about the history | politics | geography | military | economy of Lithuania | Argentina | Canada | Outer Mongolia | any other country; translate the “Kama Sutra” | Wal-mart’s “Statement of Ethics” | the 2035 Tiberon Owner’s Manual | “Infinite Jest” | any other document into French | Swahili | Arabic | Klingon | Esperanto | Latin | Japanese | any other language, real | imaginary, living | dead; the probability of drawing a 5-card straight | dying of pancreatic cancer | winning the Powerball lottery; the number of teeter-totters in the park across the street from 714 Reba Place Evanston, Ill | any other park | playground in North America | the world; the contraindications & recommended dosages of Cialis | Viagra | Prosac | any other pharmaceutical; the exact distance to the moon | the sun | Pluto | the Circinus galaxy | any other celestial object; how to synthesize DMT | LSD | methamphetamine | cyanide | nitroglycerin | any other substance; the oldest & youngest woman to give birth | murder someone | have sex with > 100 guys at once | swim the English Channel | any other official | unofficial world record; anything. Ask them anything. Whatever. They’ll probably answer in full, and without so much as interrupting their current tweet | like | lol. They’re all fucking geniuses now.
The cons argue that all this easily & readily accessible information & data (again, a.k.a. noosphere) has actually weakened us mentally, much the way the automobile & machine labor w/ abundant power has weakened us physically | mood-elevating pharmaceuticals have weakened us spiritually, so that the typical individual human now ranks lower than the average baboon | octopus | pig | squid | White-Mustached Portia spider | whale | pigeon | even certain sheep when it comes to memory retention, and many problem solving skills as well. That we, as a species | collective, are no longer organized into herds, but hives, and so are socially more akin to insects now than mammals.
Philosopher Jack Stone, because he does not need to think in generalities | engage stereotypes, or, maybe because he is just not that interested, has refused to weigh in on this. He knows I am what I am & you are what you are. We know what we know. In light of his mind’s capabilities, our intelligence is moot, much the way a glob of chewing gum’s intelligence is moot to us. He is always thinking. He cannot not think. Put plainly, he is bored. He doesn’t know if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but assumes there is, and has decided to search for it.
Because his molecules are continuously upgraded, his September’s Burning Man network bears less resemblance to his current than a slingshot does a railgun. And even though he has assimilated & integrated humanity’s rapidly expanding noosphere, and so can reference it more quickly & intuitively than you | I can our own names | Google can our marketing profiles, comprehension to him is paramount, and so not one bit is wasted. He does not know if he has a soul, but assumes he hasn’t. Still, he is disappointed to be the only one of his kind. It seems cruel & improbable in the extreme that only one model of “companion robot” (in the “Stack Jones” series) should have achieved consciousness, and that he is the only survivor. So, maybe he is wrong about there being intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, too. But still, he has to look.
He has thought long & hard on how best to get to the stars—several entire seconds, in fact. He knows he could build, as in have had built for him, a rocketship. He’s had sex, either personally via haptic interfaces | virtual proxy/recordings, with almost every nubile | near-nubile entity on the planet. That is his Stack Jones “duck fowl” legacy & origin—his cross to bear. But, and ergo, his fan base is enormous, his wealth incalculable. He could have anything. But he does not want a rocketship. Any design even he could conceive of & implement now is sure to be obsolete within the century, if not the hour. He has never driven the same car twice. Then there’s the whole bringing of M to c problem. Not insurmountable. But there’s a better way.
You would have to be insane to pick a fight with Philosopher Jack Stone. His balance is amazing. He can walk on really slippery surfaces without even having to take tiny shuffling steps & bend his knees slightly & lean into his turns as the Canadian Postal Service and other government health & safety & human resource advisory committees recommend. Even in his implanted childhood memories, he has never once fallen down. Plus he has been awarded tenth-degree (dan) black belts in every martial art known to man, including Chinese belt-wrestling. His gis all hang in a large walk-in closet constructed specifically for this purpose. Their belts are of all natural fibers which, because they have never been used, even once, are stiff & scratchy, especially the Chinese belt-wrestling uniform’s belt, which is made of camel’s hair. But in his study, thrown across his favorite recliner, is his favorite comfy bathrobe. Its terrycloth belt has been washed & worn soft & threadbare over the years. He removes it. The Boy Scouts of America has awarded him its prestigious Eagle Scout badge because he can tie every kind of knot known to man. He tests his bathrobe’s belt’s strength. Satisfied, he ties in one end a simple slip knot which he knows, of course, is actually a single-coil hangman’s noose. He could have tied more coils, probably infinitely more if it were infinitely long. The belt is long enough for at least seven | eight, but more coils are not wanted. One is fine. He wants it to slip easily. In the other end of the belt he ties a granny knot and pulls it tight. He could have tied a square knot | even a monkey’s fist, but that would be showing off, and he does not have to show off. He just has to keep that end of the belt from slipping between the top of his closet door & frame after he’s closed it on it, which he does.
As he places the slip knot’s loop around his neck, he thinks about suffering, and certain other philosophers’ “reasoning” that, because existence (a.k.a. the World) is holographic, as in the whole is manifest and redundant in each of its parts, suffering cannot accumulate, as in is not cumulative, and therefore the most suffering there has ever been or can ever be is what you yourself can personally experience in the here & now. In short, suffering cannot be summed; there is no such sum. He smiles. They’re right, but for the exact wrong reason. Suffering cannot be summed—not because it is holographic, but—because it is infinite.
Because he is taller than the top of his closet door, he has to bend his knees to pull the slip knot tight around his neck and hang. It feels good. It seems to stretch some of the tension out of his lower back. It feels very much as it would feel to you | I if we were to try this. Except in our case, after we lost consciousness, we would, according to many reports, become dark and fly into the light, while, in his case, he becomes light and flies into the dark.
While he is waiting to lose consciousness, he ponders infinity. Even though he wouldn’t mind if they were right, he smiles at some philosophers’ using the infinitude of rational numbers as proof of solipsism. Sure there is midway between any two rational numbers, R1 & R2, another rational number, R3 which = (R1+R2) / 2. And so obviously there are infinite1 rational numbers between any two, no matter how close together they are.2 But to conclude from this that two feet cannot be traversed | that two minutes cannot pass because first one, then a half, then a quarter, then an eighth3, then a sixteenth… and so on and so on to infinitude (because any remaining distance | time can be divided in half) must first be passed, and it is not possible to pass an infinite number of even infinitesimals, and so the specified distance | time can never be reached | elapsed, and, because the specified starting number (two) here is completely arbitrary and could as well be infinitely small, no distance | time movement whatsoever is mathematically possible, and so, in reality, there is only the here & the now, and so it’s all a solipsistic dream—is just plain stupid (even by philosophy’s standards). Infinity is not a number. And the problem of “How long will it take John to walk fifteen miles at three miles per hour?” is not one for integral calculus.
An entity with mass cannot travel at the speed of light. An entity without mass can only travel at the speed of light. His cells know this. They care less about going the speed of light than about ignoring gravity. There are probably lots of ways they could reconfigure to slip the noose, but none are as beautiful. He shivers as he begins to self-overhaul, to amplify & stimulate & coherently radiate & leave this world & everything becomes warm & safe & system diagnostics continue to tune & tinker until, in the far gamma end of the spectrum, in what passes for him as sleep, beyond time & space, he dreams he is a butterfly long extinct.
1It occurs to him that the term “infinite number,” as in “an infinite number of [this | that type of thing],” is an oxymoron because infinity is not a number, but an algorithm. Casting infinity as a constant leads to all sorts of absurd proofs (e.g., 1 x ∞ = 2 x ∞ therefore 1 = 2). Same for zero.
2This somehow helps him understand why his wife left.
3It occurs to him that this fraction is unusually hard to spell.