The Chamber of Sounds
I stand here, in my small closet, locked away from all other life.
For as long as I can remember I have been here, nutrient tubes running to my veins keeping me alive and filtering my wastes. I imagine there must be a ventilation shaft as well, to keep me supplied with air. I don’t know if there is – the multitude of sounds always drowns it out.
I believe I am in a space ship, for far away I can hear the thunder of the engines. Maybe this is a maintenance space of some kind, for surely it isn’t normal to hear so many sounds: the bubbling of water in pipes, the whirling wheels of maintenance robots, the constant clicking of communications relays. All this I hear but cannot see, the darkness of my closet enveloping me at all times.
And then there are the voices, the automated electronical voices spitting out status reports in binary. I cannot make out what they are saying, cannot grasp the inhuman tongue of the machines. There are many of them, and they all sound the same, their bizarre sound giving me a sense of peace, of order.
I believe it is a chasm I’m next to, from the way the sounds and voices echo. A deep, huge tunnel full of wires, full of pipes and full of voices. Surely it must go on near forever, lasting miles and miles and perhaps never end. Maybe it is lined with closets like mine, filled with people kept inside for eternities.
Who I am or why I am here, I do not know. At times I ponder these things, but those ponderings never lead me to any end – after all, this is the only world I’ve ever known of. The one of sounds and the one of machines, the one of peace but not of quiet.
As the stars burn and the ship’s engines burn I stay locked here, locked here for eternities as I always have. It is just me and the machines, and all is as it should be.
This work by Kaj Sotala is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
In addition to making a public comment, you may also send me anonymous feedback.
If you like my writing, you can also support me via GitTip.
A discussion suddenly made me realize the existence of this contradiction, which obviously someone else had thought of already, but I'm still proud of having been geeky enough to think of it on my own: "Why does an X-Wing have this name when there is no 'X' in the [Star Wars] alphabet?"
Why does an X-Wing have this name when there is no "X" in the Aurebesh alphabet?
For at least the last 12 years of my life, striving for maximum positive impact on the world has been one of my main goals in life. Unfortunately, while this has caused me to do some beneficial things, it has also led to things such as multiple burnouts, depression, and often neglecting long-term well-being in favor of impact. Even though I've tried to go for maximum impact, in all honesty I don't feel like I've made a very good use of my time and resources, and could probably have accomplished much more if I'd been able to prioritize my own well-being more.
Lately I've been trying to focus more on my own well-being, but even then there has been a strong big-impact focus lurking in the background. For instance, I've been looking more at finding a truly enjoyable job for myself, but the criteria hasn't been so much "find a job that I'd be motivated to do in the long term", but rather "find a big-impact job that I'd be motivated to do in the long term". But since my psychological health is still shaky, the inherent uncertainty of whether any of the potentially really big-impact jobs would actually have that big of an impact has been making it demotivating to do so.
Today I had a radical idea: what if I actually made the conscious decision to focus entirely on getting my head back together and e.g. finding a truly motivating job that made me financially secure, regardless of its impact, and focusing on this as the main priority for however long it took? Meaning that I might potentially spend something like 5+ years mainly just neglecting most of big-impact stuff, and not constantly thinking about how to get myself to do impactful things?
On a rational basis, this feels like it would be a very good idea: given what a struggle it has been to achieve things so far, I'm pretty sure that taking the time to actually get better in every respect would make a lot more effective in the long run. So spending several years just investing in fixing myself would probably pay itself back several times over.
Emotionally on the other hand, this possibility feels as terrifying as it feels exciting. So far I've been driven by a sense of urgency - originally because it felt like AI risk issues were looming and neglected, and later also by a constant knowledge of the fact that there are countless people (and animals) living terrible lives. It feels very emotionally challenging to accept that I'm just going to spend several years not doing anything much to help others, when those years could be spent more usefully.
I just have to come to terms with that.
> ACCORDING to Mesopotamian beliefs, the Tigris has its model in the star Anunit and the Euphrates in the star of the Swallow. [...] For the Ural-Altaic peoples the mountains, in the same way, have an ideal prototype in the sky. In Egypt, places and nomes were named after the celestial "fields": first the celestial fields were known, then they were identified in terrestrial geography.
> In Iranian cosmology of the Zarvanitic tradition, "every terrestrial phenomenon, whether abstract or concrete, corresponds to a celestial, transcendent invisible term, to an 'idea' in the Platonic sense. Each thing, each notion presents itself under a double aspect: that of menok and that of getik. There is a visible sky: hence there is also a menok sky which is invisible (Bundahisn, Ch. I). Our earth corresponds to a celestial earth. Each virtue practiced here below, in the getah, has a celestial counterpart which represents true reality" [...]
[list of similar examples from other cultures]
> The world that surrounds us, then, the world in which the presence and the work of man are felt - the mountains that he climbs, populated and cultivated regions, navigable rivers, cities, sanctuaries - all these have an extraterrestrial archetype, be it conceived as a plan, as a form, or purely and simply as a "double" existing on a higher cosmic level. But everything in the world that surrounds us does not have a prototype of this kind. For example, desert regions inhabited by monsters, uncultivated lands, unknown seas on which no navigator has dared to venture, do not share [...] the privilege of a differentiated prototype. They correspond to a mythical model, but of another nature: all these wild, uncultivated regions and the like are assimilated to chaos; they still participate in the undifferentiated, formless modality of pre-Creation. This is why, when possession is taken of a territory - that is, when its exploitation begins - rites are performed that symbolically repeat the act of Creation: the uncultivated zone is first "cosmicized," then inhabited. We shall presently return to the meaning of this ceremonial taking possession of newly discovered countries. For the moment, what we wish to emphasize is the fact that the world which surrounds us, civilized by the hand of man, is accorded no validity beyond that which is due to the extraterrestrial prototype that served as its model. Man constructs according to an archetype. Not only do his city or his temple have celestial models; the same is true of the entire region that he inhabits, with the rivers that water it, the fields that give him his food, etc. The map of Babylon shows the city at the center of a vast circular territory bordered by a river, precisely as the Sumerians envisioned Paradise. This participation by urban cultures in an archetypal model is what gives them their reality and their validity.
> Settlement in a new, unknown, uncultivated country is equivalent to an act of Creation. When the Scandinavian colonists took possession of Iceland, Landnama, and began to cultivate it, they regarded this act neither as an original undertaking nor as human and profane work. Their enterprise was for them only the repetition of a primordial act: the transformation of chaos into cosmos by the divine act of Creation. By cultivating the desert soil, they in fact repeated the act of the gods, who organized chaos by giving it forms and norms. Better still, a territorial conquest does not become real until after - more precisely, through - the ritual of taking possession, which is only a copy of the primordial act of the Creation of the World. In Vedic India the erection of an altar dedicated to Agni constituted legal taking possession of a territory. "One settles (avasyati) when he builds the garhapatya, and whoever are builders of fire-altars are 'settled' (avasitah)" says the Satapatha Brahmana (VII, 1 , 1, 1-4). But the erection of an altar dedicated to Agni is merely the microcosmic imitation of the Creation. Furthermore, any sacrifice is, in turn, the repetition of the act of Creation, as Indian texts explicitly state. It was in the name of Jesus Christ that the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores took possession of the islands and continents that they had discovered and conquered. The setting up of the Cross was equivalent to a justification and to the consecration of the new country, to a "new birth" thus repeating baptism (act of Creation). In their turn the English navigators took possession of conquered countries in the name of the king of England, new Cosmocrator.
> The importance of the Vedic, Scandinavian, or Roman ceremonials will appear more clearly when we devote a separate examination to the meaning of the repetition of the Creation, the pre-eminently divine act. For the moment, let us keep one fact in view: every territory occupied for the purpose of being inhabited or utilized as Lebensraum is first of all transformed from chaos into cosmos; that is, through the effect of ritual it is given a "form" which makes it become real. Evidently, for the archaic mentality, reality manifests itself as force, effectiveness, and duration. Hence the outstanding reality is the sacred; for only the sacred is in an absolute fashion, acts effectively, creates things and makes them endure. The innumerable gestures of consecration of tracts and territories, of objects, of men, etc. reveal the primitive's obsession with the real, his thirst for being.
-- Mircea Eliade: Cosmos and History - The Myth of the Eternal Return
> If we observe the general behavior of archaic man, we are struck by the following fact: neither the objects of the external world nor human acts, properly speaking, have any autonomous intrinsic value. Objects or acts acquire a value, and in so doing become real, because they participate, after one fashion or another, in a reality that transcends them. [...]
> ... let us turn to human acts - those, of course, which do not arise from pure automatism. Their meaning, their value, are not connected with their crude physical datum but with their property of reproducing a primordial act, of repeating a mythical example. Nutrition is not a simple physiological operation; it renews a communion. Marriage and the collective orgy echo mythical prototypes; they are repeated because they were consecrated in the beginning ("in those days," in illo tempore, ab origine) by gods, ancestors, or heroes.
> In the particulars of his conscious behavior, the "primitive," the archaic man, acknowledges no act which has not been previously posited and lived by someone else, some other being who was not a man. What he does has been done before. His life is the ceaseless repetition of gestures initiated by others.
> This conscious repetition of given paradigmatic gestures reveals an original ontology. The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality. The gesture acquires meaning, reality, solely to the extent to which it repeats a primordial act.
> Various groups of facts, drawn here and there from different cultures, will help us to identify the structure of this archaic ontology. We have first sought out examples likely to show, as clearly as possible, the mechanism of traditional thought; in other words, facts which help us to understand how and why, for the man of the premodern societies, certain things become real. [...]
> We have distributed our collection of facts under several principal headings:
> 1. Facts which show us that, for archaic man, reality is a function of the imitation of a celestial archetype.
> 2. Facts which show us how reality is conferred through participation in the "symbolism of the Center": cities, temples, houses become real by the fact of being assimilated to the "center of the world."
> 3. Finally, rituals and significant profane gestures which acquire the meaning attributed to them, and materialize that meaning, only because they deliberately repeat such and such acts posited ab origine by gods, heroes, or ancestors.
-- Mircea Eliade: Cosmos and History - The Myth of the Eternal Return
Huh. Also interesting comments from other people in response:
> Relevant to the recent discussion of weird childhood memories, does anyone else have sudden-onset childhood amnesia?
> I don’t mean just not being able to remember things that happened when you were very young, which seems to be the standard usage of “childhood amnesia”. I remember a clear dividing line before which there is nothing, and then the lights come on all at once.
> The demarcation point was in the middle of a dream I was having aged 3. I remember waking up and thinking something like “huh, I can’t remember anything ever, maybe I should tell an adult – eh, they probably wouldn’t believe me, whatever”, and not wanting to go to preschool because I wouldn’t know anyone there. I still had language and could recognise my parents, though.
> Does anybody else have a similar amnesia-event memory from childhood, or know what might be behind it? It doesn’t seem to be a common experience looking at Google, so I’m worried I might have had a mini-stroke or something.
Open Thread 56.25