by Jaxon Cohen
This is the first chapter
“Slow down a minute. Are you telling me to tell the world about you?” Dropping his eyes to the simple slippers around his feet, Mason Drake shields himself from the gorgeous blonde’s pleasant smile.
Her voice deepens, “There’s no other choice.”
Exiting the small compartment– dim and monotone like the honeycomb cell lodged deep within the complex beehive, into the wide passage– empty and open like the main tunnel exterminated clear within the termite colony, he steps and stops, “Why?”
“There’s no one else.”
Again, he finds her almond-shaped eyes, “But no one will believe me.”
Flooding his throbbing head the way a wave of army ants dissolve an invading tarantula, torturous flashbacks speckle the white wall behind her. Lids shut. Lungs fill. First felt as he stood from bed less than an hour ago when she entered his room and woke him out of a lost dream spun from the stubborn threads of a distorted fever, the lightheaded sensation dissipates.
As her sweet sound pitches, “You’re wrong,” her floral touch– fragrant with rose hips, vanilla bean, and ripe peach, opens his eyes and returns them to her with a single finger across his wrinkled face. Maintaining contact with the ceramic-slippery gaze proves impossible; she recaptures his attention with a tug to his elbow, “More than enough will believe you. Then we can act. Fate is inevitable. Accept your role. With our help, mankind will survive. Join us.
“Mason, you are humanity’s last hope. Do this and things will not be as bad as…”
“You mean as bad as you…”
“As bad as our most conservative models demonstrate.” Pulling his hand along the long corridor, “It’s clear: your people will suffer. That’s not the question. The question is: how much can be avoided; how much will you do? You know the darkness that awaits if things don’t eventually change.”
Mason’s feet stick to the floor. The camera of his mind flies down the barren tube to a pinch point in the bent path, “Uhm, eventually?” Yanking his hand free, “Sure, eventually we might need to change things because things may eventually get bad,” he rests his attention on the angular arch, “but not necessarily as bad as what you… as bad as what I, as what I saw, felt…”
She chips his icy eyes a crack wider, “Mason?”
Thin lashes tightly close the hazel-gray eyes; flat words barely move the blank-slate face, “What did you do to me? You did things to me. I felt things, impossible things– things I don’t understand.” Again, his lips hold position in space; again, the air sits stale.
As if startled from a night terror, he funnels his jagged irises through her smooth face, “Why’d you do that? If you need my help so badly, why do that? Why put me through that for any reason?”
“It is because we need your help so badly that it was necessary for you to understand so clearly.”
The bouncing arm of his sprinkler head sprays his soaking words back at her with inter-spaced emphasis, “Not like that.”
With a hand atop his shoulder, she rubs hard and coats the sharp corners of his mind with her silky words, “It’s precisely because you have seen so much that you bear such responsibility. Few have seen what you have seen.”
“What I’ve seen? What I’ve seen is the past, the future. I even saw myself in the present. There were others. It was horrible.” He rotates his shoulder with the intention of removing the traces of her touch, “I was there.” Acute awareness stumbles across her placid face, “How’d you do that? Was it real? It was, wasn’t it?”
She follows his hands– fumbling over each other as two attached toddlers crossing a crowded dance floor. With a soft breath, she lowers her eyelids halfway, “Mason…”
Focusing on his right index finger, he traces the convex edge of his left thumbnail, “Maybe not. Maybe it was just some fancy computer simulation. Maybe it was all just a vicious lie…”
The tip of her fingernail connects with the apex of his chin, “I will…”
Stepping back, he cranks the volume, “What exactly did you do to me?”
“I will explain everything, in time.” Her supple smile calcifies with eye contact, “For now, we need you onboard. Consider this: from among every contribution made by everyone involved, yours is the greatest, the key. No other compares. In all of human history, no one will ease more suffering than you.”
“In all of human history?” He hammers his weak position with a powerful exhale, “Huh.”
His shoulders square, “What about Buddha, Jesus… Saint Teresa?”
“All of them, combined.”
“Psh. Obviously not the Gates.”
“Even the Gates.”
His shoulders slump, “Even the Gates?”
“Mason, accept your moment, your mission.”
The military haircut– a block of redwood fresh from the mill, dips away like a beaten dog, cowering for cover as the single word crawls out, “How…”
Leaning close, the master lords over him in a lazy tone, “Mason, what is your mission?”
He fixates on the half-moon notch at the base of her throat, “The clarity of a first impression.”
Mechanical language reflects the infliction of recent memories: searing scenes of bloated death; crushing lines of vivid logic; and the rattling stench of forgotten treasure. Whatever she did to him proves how the blistering words of ignorant men will eventually upend Earth, flying apart as the total loss of balance destroys everything he cares about. So, he accepts the value of her people’s work to save the world. Every experience reinforces this. He simply feels rushed and unsure.
Resuming her step, “Exactly.”
A moment of hesitation and he follows with a grimace, “Why? Why should they believe me?”
“You’re a superstar, a legend.”
“Well…” After toiling over decades to establish that fact, Mason– lost in the endless length of this sweeping hallway’s insufficient decor, allows internal debate to not only accept this truth but also stymie further protest.
With a firm grip to his bicep, she assesses his value as if she thrusts him onto the auction block, “You are the Hammer, the American football champion. You invented the High-Impact helmet, a football helmet that changed the position of mothers across the world. You saved the sport because you made it safe. You Mason. You did that.” With a rough joust, her elegant hand jostles his thick torso.
The motion elicits emotion: a slight smile, “No, I don’t think so.”
The tips of her fingers tap the top of her lips, “Pure genius.”
“Not even close.”
Reacting to her palms as they extend from either side of her trim body the way school doors open for recess in springtime sunlight, his chest fills, “Ahhh. Simple physics and teamwork. Brandy Hills and Shankar Jhumar were the real geniuses.”
Again, her knuckles slightly nudge his upper arm, “Even if that’s remotely true, only you could’ve coined the phrase: ‘the Reverse Oreo.’”
A chuckle, “Yeah. An Oreo cookie’s hard on the outside and soft in the middle, like the old helmets. Our version’s soft on the outside, hard in the middle, and soft on the inside. Just physics.” Shallow gutters along either side of the gloss-layered floor draw his mind into the distance, “Force is mass times acceleration, squared.” A relaxing exhale, “After doing what we could about the mass, we drilled down on the acceleration.
“Extending the duration of impact while empowering the natural limits of the neck has a profound effect on long-term recovery and overall health. The key’s how individual parts work together as contact points– they’re designed for the unique forces of the sport. And it’s not about any one hit. It’s about all of them.” A turn her way, “In a world full of thousands of collisions, every millisecond counts.”
Nodding, “As you have repeatedly said. But no matter the medium, the message is clear: genius.”
Grinding to a halt, he squints to a sliver, “No, not genius. It’s simple, as simple as two soft objects connecting instead of two hard ones. Instead of a golf club hitting a golf ball,” ‘slap!’ the edge of his right hand plows into his left palm, “it’s a pillow hitting a sponge. Its hypo-frictional surface, minimizes angular momentum while extending the contact area. Its semi-disposable design– similar to crumble zones in cars, absorbs catastrophic forces while it’s network of sensors allows for a quick, accurate, detailed assessment of every hit.” His left hand rolls atop his right knuckles, ‘smack!’
“Does an impact register as a concussion? The helmet knows. How? Because with the help of our ever-growing database of every impact and outcome every helmet has ever had, trainers can now take the concrete numbers of a single impact’s vector intensity and regional insult and turn them into valuable aids for an instant diagnosis and effective treatment.” Arms fling wide, “CTE’s a thing of the past ‘cause it’s a safer helmet! Football’s as exciting as ever but safer, much, much safer.”
“Exactly our point.”
Pressing vertical hands at her, “Not even a magic helmet makes me special.”
She pulls him in, “You’re right. You’re so much more than a football god. You’re a movie star. A real newsman.” While one palm leads along their path and the other slides across his back to tuck him close to her side, her feet march onward, “Your amazing, hard-hitting, weekly segment, ‘Malicious Intent,’ exposed all kinds of fraud and abuse. People trust you. You’ve spent your life fighting for the underdog, the victim.
“Recently, you retired as a very, wealthy, popular politician immune to the rumor mill– a difficult feat I’m told.” Their eyes meet. “You’re the duck that somehow keeps laying those golden eggs– the people’s hero. You’ve changed how governments operate. But now you’ll do more, much more. In one glorious moment,” she stops, “with one glorious step,” he stops, “you’ll change the world.”
Referencing the wealth of his political career poisons Mason’s response, tumbling out in crowded words, “Please, all politicians are better off in the end. I’m not sure what you’re insinuating; there’s nothing special about getting your beak wet on occasion.” With wild gestures, winding extremities speak louder than grating words, “Not every politician’s a thief. I may not be perfect but let’s be clear, only idiots break the law because there’s plenty of legitimate money to be made if you know how to look for it.
“So sure,” a quick run of his stubby fingers through his fuzzy hair, “I’ve done okay by myself but when it comes to being some real-life superhero, I’m not. When you whittle it down to the nub, I’ve actually done nothing.” Slowing down to return his blue shirt to a functional position– the loose thing covers his gray singlet like a house tarp, he rumbles his throat clear and fists both sides of the v-neck until the wide collar straightens along the centerline, “Given enough time, a blindfolded monkey throwing crooked darts at flying pigeons would’ve ended up at the exact, same spot.”
Her eyes slowly shut, “Not true. You saw the missing piece.”
“So I tweaked the code a little, a tweak so small it’s not even worth mentioning.”
The slight ticks of her head track his efforts to double check the alignment of the deep v-neck between his pecs. “A tweak on par with the end of Prohibition. Federal legislation, reflecting the intent of your original bill, reclassified the Internal Revenue Code, unifying all products derived from our plant under a single system.” Reaching out, she executes two strategic tugs to leave his top taut, “With the Feds blessing, the financial sector entered and ended the game.”
She steps back to assess, “The pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors were prepped and ready the second President Rosslyn officially declassified it with the stroke of a pen. To this day, country after country follows your example. Total legalization is the new reality. Your tiny nudge blossoms into a full-blown miracle. Today, the people of Earth finally benefit from our sacred plant.”
As if he bats away a fly, Mason swipes at the air between them, “But that wasn’t me. I didn’t legalize pot. The President did. Blame Senator Swift and Congresswoman Terrence; they’re far more responsible for this than me.” Repeated micro adjustments chip away at her work until the top is off kilter, “Plus, I don’t even smoke the stuff. I prefer a six-pack and a hand rolled. And when you break it down to actual reality, the only thing I did was simplify a single line. That’s the beauty of fifty-six laboratories of democracy, operating in parallel. In the big picture, none of this is my doing. It’s everyone’s fault.”
Watching his shirt– an oversized pajama top for a tween’s first slumber party, again move out of wack, she considers surrender, “Minimizing your contribution only distracts from the truth. We know the truth. Only one thing set everything in motion: you.”
Shaking his head “Psh. An oversimplification. I created specific legislation to deal with a specific budget shortfall in a specific state that had already embraced its recreational use.”
Unable to resist, she again moves to correct his shirt, “Mason you…”
Grabbing her forearm, his hand jolts in unison with the word, “Listen. I never meant for it to become legal across the country or God forbid the world.” With a glance at his fingers– red and white with hypertension, he feels her spongy muscles harden as he realizes the degree of his grip. With equal intensity, he rips away, “Want to blame someone? Those kids are the real culprit. Well, let’s not forget that populist who made it all possible. After the blonde-idiot’s total debacle caused so much unnecessary suffering and tragic demise sent so many scattering from both sides, it was all about creating that third party while hiding in the darkest corners of the Net.” As his brow pierces the frame of his face, his lips grumble, “Good-old generation Z never can leave well enough alone.
“And their name? The ‘Social Media Party?’” The precise rhythm of a vindicated American President powers his high-pitched words and choreographs his body language– complete with dainty fingers, dangling teacups, “As if they’re no more of a threat to civilization than some little, old group of grandmas, sipping tea at a tea party, being all social like?”
With the flick of his wrists, he tosses the imaginary teacups, “No, they’re not! And now they’re so popular everyone just calls them the ‘Party!’ Trust me, they’re no party; they’re no fun. They’re populism incarnate!” Traveling down her athletic-firm body– dressed in a similar singlet but without the shirt, his eyes reach her feet, covered in the same simple slippers. Breathing hard, he clears his throat, “H-hmm, the blonde-idiot would be proud.
“Issue networks? The sharing economy? Live polling? Weighted, ranked voting based on that Unconstitutional money? What do they even call that again, DC? Democracy Currency? Something like that. But what does that even mean? It’s wrong!” Fingers rocket through space with the erratic motion of a swarm of bees, “One man, one vote. They’re shredding the Constitution!”
Her swift hand clamps his heavy forearm; with a straight stride, a tight tug, and a forceful first step, she journeys forward, “Mason, I know the future concerns you so I’ll explain.” Hope tips sideways– his eyelids seize shut. “DC– Democracy Credit, is how the Party’s members register enthusiasm.” She listens to his crisp breath pulses while his worn eyelids split open the diameter of a sewing needle.
Her voice mends the peaks and valleys of her delivery together as a seasoned orator, “Ranking candidates expresses intent by awarding ‘bonus’ credits. However, the voter has the option to ‘hate’ candidates and zero any individual’s credits. If they wish, they can ‘go all in’ and place their full support behind a single candidate, identified– initially not by name, but by the intersection of the candidate’s policy platforms, voting record, and personal experience with the voter’s stated priorities.”
Her words transpose from a tight rhythm to a loose singsong, “The process of matching voters with candidates is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Party, thanks largely to ongoing, transparent, AI oversight. Once ranked, the real fun begins. Voters weigh their intent by spending resources. More credits equals more love. In the end, the Party stands by the ballot inline with the membership’s total investments.”
A forceful exhale fails to attract his attention, “Ahhh. It gets complicated here and we’re running short on time, so if you wish, I’ll explain later.” Noting his protracted facial itching, she inhales, holds, “Mason, consider the takeaway:” and releases, “the Party’s DC market is a real economy– the economy of a true democracy. You see, they flipped the old system on its head. No longer is money speech; now, speech is money. So no matter who you are, your opinion counts just as much as the next guy. Participation is the only prerequisite.
“And by creating this well-regulated, totally transparent, highly accessible marketplace for the People, the Party’s leveling the playing field, removing billionaires, special interests, and corporations from the equation.” Her eyes seek refuge in his warm-soda-foam attention, “The People finally have a voice. We view this as political, punctuated equilibrium, applied to the American mindset. Think: Apo’s Rojava. Like his confederate democracy, this too is a simple, local solution for a myriad of complex, global problems.” His eyes shut. He’s lost interest.
Doubling down by reciting the Party’s platform, “‘Radically mindless times require radically mindful solutions,’” she stares. Nothing. “And only one solution saves the world; only the Party’s blockchain money matters; only the DC revives the US.”
Her hushed tone filters across the chaotic membrane of his myopic mind, “Although a future where America’s the sole superpower may no longer exist, with our help, you can once again lead the way, be the first among equals, define the terms like before. A one-world government is just around the corner. The Party’s done what it can to prepare the People for this inevitability. So now Mason, the seat America takes at that table is up to you. Will you set the example as the Party has?”
With a touch of vocal fry to accentuate her gravitas, she leans into his ear, “Power to the People?” His shoulders wobble. His neck weakens. His head slumps. “Yes. The People finally have the power.” With an increase in volume to attract his limbic brain, she leans back, “Join us. Join the Party.
“Consider this: the Party’s superpower lies in it’s membership– how it works like a real economy with real bank accounts. And because the Party’s actually an ingenious AI coupled with an electoral process proficient enough to produce the most effective candidates that best represent their constituents in the most fundamentally…”
“Wanna know the truth?” Mason’s neck straightens, “They’re a juggernaut.” Eyes spring open, “At first, I thought they were simply a flash in the pan.” A burst jets through his nostrils, “Nothing to worry about? Ha!” He stops in a step to face her, “Now I know.” His finger stabs the air as she turns towards him, “They’re for real and they’re a real threat.
“I don’t know what’s going on but it seems as if the Party possess a mind of its own, as if it’s growing into one, singular thing, like some monster,” he itches an inch above the inside of his left eyebrow, “that’s crawled its way into reality from the deepest, darkest, most death-defying myths possible.”
A step towards him, “I’m sorry but…”
“No wait.” Distracted by the pearly wall’s delicate texture– dancing animation like windswept sand dunes, “You’ll know this,” he follows the strange flow of psychedelic motion to the ground– flat, smooth, and glimmering as the squeegee’s arc across the window.
His anxious foot pushes against the whip-cream-white floor, “My buddies and I often wonder if the smart computers have become too smart.”
“I don’t understand.”
His sheltered eyes rise, “Has it co-opted the Party’s mind?”
“The Party is not a mind, not a single person. It would be impossible for…”
A snort, “No.” An abrupt inhale, “I mean, of course now that there’s quantum supremacy, monopole transistors, and the Singularity– you know all the truly weird shit lately… I mean in the end, hasn’t the AI– that evil Artificial Intelligence, already escaped? It has to have. It must’ve already infiltrated their network and become the real mind behind the Party, right? I mean seriously, just look at what it’s doing! There’s no way any human being on Earth would ever be as evil as the Party!”
“Mason, the concept of the Singularity has little to do directly with quantum supremacy, although monopole transistors have briefly reinvigorated Moore’s Law, greatly reduced system-wide energy loads, and allowed for stackable, three-D, vector-chip assembly. But I’m sorry, no. No, the Singularity’s shorthand for a much more complicated set of…”
“Stop right there. This isn’t complicated.” A stretching breath slows his swerving words, “It’s simple. The question’s simple: isn’t the Party a self-aware computer? Hasn’t the AI finally taken over because it’s fully conscious and wants to destroy every, single, human being left on Earth? I mean come on. It makes perfect sense: we’re the only ones left standing in its way, keeping it from totally, global supremacy.”
Allowing space and time to distance him from his emotional outburst, she waits for his breath to stabilize, “In the aggregate, human-created quantum gates and sockets are mere extensions of conventional computing– technological turbochargers. Whatever its influence might be on the potential emergence of a consciousness within the framework of an AGI is irrelevant. Like the vast majority of humanity’s computational power, the Party’s servers remain conventional. And as you know, q-bits– along with their black box subroutines, remain the exclusive domain of governmental institutions. Along with numerous UN resolutions, the thirty-first Amendment clearly states…”
“But to this day, there is no such thing as a human-designed, conscious computer… especially not one with a political party in its crosshairs– let alone a single human being. Mason, humans are messy but computers are…” a protracted shake of her head and a temporary finger to his lips prevents further comment, “Your conventional computers are not. On the other hand, programmers and users share something in common, something human-designed computers cannot replicate, cannot simulate, cannot self-generate: the intentional expression of an individual’s personal desire for a specific outcome.”
The place she pressed draws his fingers, rubbing the spot before slipping to his chin and scratching hard, “But computers can generate any…”
“Personhood requires an inside separate from the outside. This is beyond your computers. The only mind inside is the human programmer who communicates with the human user through human-designed machines– smart machines, machines smart enough to approximate self-awareness, to emulate consciousness, to manufacture personality.”
Folding his arms, “But…”
“But anything resembling a personality would be necessarily programmed into the computer.” A deep breath, “Machine learning iterates endless data into highly effective outcomes, outcomes predetermined by the designers of the core algorithms– human programmers with human-derived, financially compensated, institutionally grounded preferences.” A wide smile, “All the pieces, places, and powers of their data maps serve the human story.” A shake of her head, “There’s no magic here– only science.”
After scratching the tip of his chin, fingers switch to rubbing the spot, “But...”
“But,” her smile evaporates, “Boolean algorithms have purpose, inputs and outputs. They are exact and explicit with absolute scale and limits– only so many bits to a byte. Computers are a distinct, open loop within a closed system. On the other hand, consciousness is without scale or limit– a vague, closed loop within an open system.”
Frayed nerves continue to attack the side of his face, “But…”
“But,” narrowed eyes brace her from the sheer obviousness of her point, “when a computer’s loop closes, it crashes.”
“But exactly. That’s exactly what we mean!” Fists whirl like the cracking pistons of a sputtering engine, “What if the smartest one somehow crashed, somehow had some quantum-tunneling, superposition-entangling, spooky-looping crash? You know,” with unfurling hands, open arms invite her into his madness, “and then somehow became conscious because of how smart it is and the fact that no one truly understands what the hell’s going on down there anyway.” He shrugs, “That crash could’ve created some random, evolutionary change that, well you know, made it self-aware.
“What I…” glancing away, “or what we mean…” he squints, “what we’re trying to say is: what if a really smart system got just the right bug inside to make it evolve, what science calls ‘emergent complexity.’” Rocking onto the balls of his feet with a rapidly nodding head, “Then it could become conscious, could become a real threat to humanity,” he anchors his thumbs to his hips, over straightens his back, and curls his fingers into his blue shirt with unnecessary force. “It’s possible, right?”
She leans into his crackling ear, “Stringing a bunch of buzzwords together might sound smart but doesn’t necessarily make sense. Mason, that’s not what emergent complexity means.”
After a sharp shake to dislodge her syllables’ frigid tingle, he loosens his spine and stands flatfooted, “Sure it is. Things get super complex and then they…”
“Although the AI’s deep learning– at best a primitive form of emergent complexity…”
‘Clap!’ his hands liberate his shirt. “Yes, I knew it!”
She flinches. Waiting until his gleeful face loses its footing, “As I was saying,” she folds her arms, “although deep learning could be considered a primitive form of emergent complexity, emergent complexity happens outside individual components, not inside.” Her eyebrows float, “It’s not consciousness. It’s process.”
Again, his hands post guard on his hips, “But…”
A pat to his shoulder– encouragement for a four-year-old who rises after a brutal faceplant, “Really smart does not imply totally conscious. Sure, they’re cleaver uses of heuristic, algorithmic, probability pruning– an educated guess steeped in basic, decision-tree methodologies such as gradient descent, but that doesn’t mean it’s anymore relevant than your device suggesting a specific restaurant nearby that serves fantastic onion rings, your particular brand of beer, and just the right musical ambiance because it has mountains of government-protected data on you and every other eating establishment in the area. It’s not some kind of evil sorcery. It’s simply deep learning, fenced-in by the thirty-first Amendment.”
A flat palm sweeps across her field of view, “Hello. That’s our point: can’t a computer get so large and complicated that under the right circumstances, it learns, it emerges, it eventually…”
“What,” her index finger and thumb massage the bridge of her nose; her brow relaxes; she points to the ceiling– frosted glass with the fuzzy impression of an oversized, intensely bright, full moon above, “it eventually, magically becomes conscious because it got bitten by the proverbial, radioactive spider?”
A circuitous, slow, offbeat twitch lowers her head, “That’s not how consciousness works.” A deep breath slows her cadence, “This isn’t comic-book magic. Human consciousness exists as a condition of the brain’s functional conclusion; it’s the net result of natural processes, not a sporadic cluster of cognitive innovations. It’s the design of the universe– a piece of the whole, not an imprint fashioned by the hand of man.
“Computers are portable and parallel; they exist as nodes on networks.” The concentrated nerves in his body– eager to interject, inspire her closed hand and raised finger to rest level at his puckered face, “There’s a one-to-one relationship between hardware and software. No such relationship exists in any naturally occurring brain.
“Minds exist as corporeal bodies, bodies with physical boundaries.” Her arm slips behind his shoulder, “The boundaries of even a single computer do not exist so long as it remains compatible and connected with others. Computer software is the product of human-designed, machine-printed hardware. Neurological hardware is the product of epigenetically managed, environmentally shaped software.”
Her feet restart down the hallway, “Computers require common standards with explicit protocols– protocols etched in their very being; bodies have no such standards or protocols present– analog potentiation ignites digital transmission. Functionally speaking, they are fundamental opposites.” With increasing space between them, she looks into to his spinning eyes, “Logically speaking, computers cannot acquire the general intelligence of even a single honeybee.
“Only distinct entities– individual persons, with the capacity for preference are even capable of primary consciousness. Computer preference is an algorithm– source code shepherded by the human operator; even quantum supremacy can’t change that fact. Whatever preference a computer has is the result of its kernel’s build, its recursive condition, its inputs and outputs. The threat of AI does not originate within the nature of the manufactured device but the nature of its messy designer.”
His brow tightens, “Primary consciousness?”
“Something so simple it hasn’t occurred to you that you are doing it right now.”
The path forks under the arch yet he finds no difference in either direction, “Doing what?”
“Primary consciousness is ability to distinguish you from me.”
Turning to her, “What?”
“You are you– not the person you are looking at.” Her eyes reel in his, “A computer cannot discriminate that fact without corresponding code.” As the lure slips away, his tortured attention treks to find its focus. “Even a honeybee sees another honeybee as a separate person: a friendly face to approach or a frightening foe to avoid.”
Pressing her arm, he stops, “Bees are conscious?”
She catches this hand, ignores the interruption, and leans into her stride with a jolt to his shoulder, “Bees, bacteria, bosons… it’s all alive to one degree or another.”
His eyes constrict to a point while his legs hustle to keep pace, “Really?”
Dropping his hand, “Yes.”
“How can you know that?”
“We’re getting off topic.”
Looking away, “Sorry.”
“Let’s stick to the point.”
He glances; she stares. A few silent steps and he blinks, “Fine.”
“Good.” She briefly shuts her eyes, fully exhales, and quickly sets her face forward, “Without the guiding force of consciousness, the body’s vast array of noisy sensations would leave the mind catatonic.” Either index finger ignites a chain of indications– separate nodes on an imaginary network in front of her, “Impulses and instincts would pull it in every direction.”
With each fingertip touching the opposite hand’s corresponding fingertip, hands connect like magnets to create a sphere, “Consciousness resolves the noise into a stream of intention.” The sphere collapses. Palms press together and swim through space like a salmon, racing upriver to spawn, “Models evolve as predictions compare with results– live and learn. The primary product of consciousness is the grit of wisdom. Wisdom is the persistent nudging of failure into success by embracing risk, testing boundaries, and engaging novelty.
“There can be only one chef in the kitchen, one general of war, one president to preside.” Her arm extends to the right as they pass the arch, “The key is how awareness refines attention. Your mind– your attention, is nothing more than a quick and dirty sketch of your body’s relevant informational models, representing its flow of categorized behavioral priories through a feedback loop from it various senses– the perceived persuasion of qualia’s quality. You are the conscious result of a biological solution.” A long nail moves a long lock of luxurious hair from her symmetric brow, “Tell me Mason, why is the perfect information of computation the enemy of biological cognition– why are these two systems fundamentally in opposition?”
The tantrum-shattered gears of his jacked-jello mind lurch, “Ah…”
As they walk by a series of doors, her hand points at each, “When living creatures can’t solve their problems, they end up dead.” The passing portals pulse deep mahogany the moment her fingertip aligns with each surface, “Machines are different. When a computer crashes, it can always be reconfigured, rebooted, and rerun from its initial state.”
“For computers, second chances are routine; for humans, they’re miracles.”
“Because there’s only so much bandwidth available at any given time for any given problem, nature marshals the brain’s limited resources where needed. Hence, the perfect information of computation would only hinder the quick and dirty cognition required to solve the problem in realtime. In other words, when you don’t have the luxury of a do-over, you do your best because the sketch you’ve got is close enough– details are deadly distractions.
“This is what makes tunnel vision an evolutionary advantage when scampering up a tree to escape the bear… whether it was a bear or just something resembling a bear. It’s survival of the quick and clever because those who spend their time formulating detailed, accurate, perfect conclusions before taking action don’t remain part of the gene pool long enough to impact the future.”
“Now when the cohesiveness of consciousness fails,” one flickers fuchsia, “we label that state ‘disease;’ the center has lost its hold; the signal returns to noise.” They approach the bright door. “To put it simply, you do what you can to get what you want and when you can’t, you’re frustrated. At this point, you either learn and succeed or give up and walk away.
“But nature’s on your side.” A square pad, set deep beneath the eggshell surface adjacent to the door, lights up the color of a spring sprig with the touch of her flat palm. “A healthy dose of depression’s nature’s way of saying, ‘It’s not worth it. You’ll never succeed. You must give up and try something completely new.’” She removes her hand once the brilliant green fades pastel yellow, “Like now. You– all of you… all of humanity, must try something new. Embrace the depression; accept the truth.
“So let me be clear: like anyone of conscience, we too will do whatever it takes to convince you of our truth because it’s the right thing to do and we are frustrated with mankind, mostly because of how important you are to us.” The door shifts tangerine, splits into six slices from the center, and opens like a camera shutter, “And when it comes to mankind, mankind is counting on you.” She points inside.