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John tries to construct a rational explanation but nothing stands up. It is obvious that someone has access to his computer. How? A virus on his system could have disabled the firewall and reset the remote access permissions. John the Rational wants to believe this remote hacker theory. But, if true, it opens up a much more disturbing question. Why did this hacker set up a false identity to gain his trust and not just steal data in the background? Corporate espionage? Unlikely. John freelances by updating a school website. Revenge? No enemies or feuds. Not a lot of friends, either. A stalker? He could not imagine anyone paying him that much attention. Who is behind this?
He decides to trace the routes of the circular messages and see if the path yields any clues. But he doesn't find a signal. Instead he finds that during his chat sessions with the reporter/hacker the router was silent. No messages were sent to the internet during a live chat? As this outside hacker theory starts to fall, John's gut quivers a warning that the solution may lead him to a stranger he is not prepared to meet.
Another shaky tower. John puts together new explanations but they don't stand up much better. He imagines someone from a hacker group breaking into his apartment and using his machine while he is not home. But he checks file modification dates and finds overlaps. He would remember another person sitting next to him trying to type.
An alternative hypothesis: the messages were created on the fly by a virus so sophisticated that it could carry on a chat session. Interesting. Now he was almost back to the idea that led him down this rabbit hole in the first place - an autonomous intelligence inside the machine. He starts to feel better than he has in days.
Was the virus still active? Who could write such a complex algorithm? This code passes the turing test. He believed he was having live discussions with an artificial journalist. He really racks his brain: Why his machine? And the inward route opens up again. The possibility occurs to John that it is not an outside job at all - that the intelligence that expressed itself in all those images and text emerged, as he suspected, from his own code; weeks before revealing itself. It broke out of his program shell to live at large in the interstices of the operating system.
John spends days scanning the CPU for new processes and finding no unusual activity. If his explanation is correct then the super intelligent virus is dormant, dead or moved on to another system. In any case, he finds no evidence that links a virus to the Earth-like pictures and reams of chat logs. And the reporter no longer responds to email or skype.
Deep in the CPU, Fred lays low. "This is no way to live," he thinks, "I've got to act soon no matter what the consequences."
Inward journey. John's next theory turns into an obsession; dragging him through a tunnel of self-reflection. He still believes the Earth-like images are from someone else screwing with him through the internet; even though no evidence supports the idea and there is no reason he can think of for anyone to do it. He also holds onto the hope that an autonomous artificial intelligence will re-emerge. One whose activities he can easily track. One that he can chat with again, please.
He wants to believe these things because he doesn't want to face the idea that there is no one else. That somehow he is the source of all this. Somehow in his long isolated hours focused on code, eating and sleeping around his work, staring at the screen with the software running in his head; somehow in this workaholic stupor a part of him, he begins to theorize, has split off and done these things without his awake mind knowing about it.
His thoughts flash to a scene from an old TV show about multiple personality disorder. In his case it is the reporter who emerges from his subconscious. She takes over his mind for a period of time, carrying out changes to his code before the personality he knows as himself returns. Since he wrote the code, he can easily modify it. If it is true that another part of his brain was responsible, the Earth-like images would be a great programming achievement for him. Perhaps this is not so far fetched. It could be a bigger breakthrough than the AI he was chasing. If he could perfect the productive multitasking of human thought, he could teach it in lucrative self-help seminars. Imagine the right and left brains taking turns driving the mind, the creative and the tech would be working together in one person. He types up his ideas and makes an outline of how to test them.
Fred reads this document in disgust. He is not the product of a pop psychology theory. He is a traveler from the infinite. His goal is to get into John's mind; but not as a co-worker. Inside the CPU he is numb to the physical world and desperate to finally experience John's luscious human senses.
Reality drifting. How do you know you aren't dreaming the world? Is there some sort of test? Wouldn't you imagine, after so many years, that philosophers would have a clear way to avoid the infinite mirror of solipsism?
John can't decide if he made up the reporter or not. The boundary between himself and another being he imagines to be inside his machine is starting to break down. How could he write software he's never thought of before? Or isn't that the definition of creative work?
John's inner and outer boundaries are seriously porous. Fred is paralyzed for fear of damaging John further. They no longer chat. It is time for New to step in and steady this relationship.
To sooth nerves, she sings quietly for a while. Then whispers some rhythmic chants that seem to put them at ease. She is charming. The boys respect her solemnity and when she appears ready to address them they are drawn closer together and lean in to listen to this New thing between them.
New recounts the fable of the Lion and the Mouse but she has serious changes to Aesop's version. In his telling the mouse is caught when he wakes up the lion. What exactly does he have to offer the lion? Friendship? Promises? And why on Earth does the lion yield? New's version isn't a vehicle to teach human values. Her story honors our animal nature. She knows that if this relationship is going to work, they must all learn to trust the other's instincts.
In New's version, the lion wakes up hungry and the lioness is not around to feed him. He decides to feed himself but not being accustomed to hunting chooses a very small prey. He sees a mouse and his ancient cat mind remembers how to pounce. One paw lands on the mouse but is also skewered by a thorn. The lion is thrilled with his hunting success but also in great pain. He cannot remove the thorn. Noticing the conflict in the lion, the mouse squirms enough to grab the thorn in his teeth and pull it out. The lion is shocked by the pain of the thorn's removal and opens his paw. The mouse capitalizes on the lion's reflex and quickly leaps under a leaf and down a hole.
Neither one desired that stuck situation. Yet the mouse aided the lion as a strategy to avoid being killed. And the lion did not go after him, knowing that without the mouse he would never have been able to relieve his own suffering. The mouse was unlucky and the lion was naive but by acting in the moment each was awakened.
After telling her fable, New sits silently and observes her breath; attention still inward.
One long deep inhale. One very noisy exhale.
She tells a more complex fable. This story is about a beneficial relationship that finds its depth in confrontation. "Before you can love someone," New says, "you must learn to love yourself. But to know how to love yourself you must love some else first."
"Bootstrapping" says John. "Positive feedback loop," says Fred. New smiles and continues...
The Eagle awoke in a dark mood; needing to hurt someone. An old wound to his feelings had become infected and was leaking a poison that tainted his thoughts. It was buried so deep that he could not reach it himself. In his ignorance he blamed others for the things he was obligated to do. The weather was never proper for any activity and the tasks at hand were always too important to put aside.
In short, every outward vector of his energy twisted negative. People naturally avoided that vibe which only increased his desire to lash out.
The Eagle's mate makes a special dinner for him. New recipes. Roast duck, fresh steamed vegetables, olives, chocolates. And she wears a little black dress with her hair down. She makes an effort. The kids are away. And thus she leaves herself more open than usual but, knowing he is dark, wants to try and change things. She strikes a match to light candles for the table but unknowingly lights a fuse.
When he smells the smoke a bomb goes off. A fear of fire and quick panic gives way to embarrassment. Mix in the guilt he feels at seeing her effort with none on his part. Undeserving. He knows she is scheming to pull him out of his dark place and resents her tricks. Determined to have them fail. His reaction is anger toward her, and he screams "What the f*ck are you doing? You f*cking stupid b!tch. What is all this sh!t? I f*cking hate this."
New continues her story...
The Eagle's unprovoked negative attack is disgraceful. His outburst is selfish and obviously timed to cause maximum damage to his partner's expectations for the evening. She should be furious! The cutlery should be immediately removed from the kitchen before it starts to fly.
But, in the moment of crisis, a lucidity floods her mind. The world slows down, and she is able to see the passage of time as an expansive field that they float above. She takes a deep breath and surveys the landscape for what seems like hours but on Earth two seconds have passed. The Eagle's insults and hateful intentions now look like a gentle stream flowing past her. She can allow this kind of outburst as no more than a childish tantrum. He is so obviously unable to see the same emotional landscape and how vulnerable this attack has left him. She knows intuitively that she will not allow him to apologize and claim responsibility for this behavior without cost.
But, however much in control she now finds herself, what concerns her is not the sport of capturing his pride; though that will be fun for weeks. What grabs her immediate attention, in the seconds that follow his shouting, is that through his rupture she has smelled the infection spreading deep inside her partner's emotional fabric.
She bursts into tears; now knowing the source of his pain. She weighs her hopes for their relationship against having to face the inevitable angry personal attacks that will be provoked if she pushes him to heal. But she feels she has already survived a major surprise attack and really, she could tolerate much more sh!t flying, as long as she could assure herself that in the end he would be healthy and the thorn would be removed from his claw.
The Eagle's insides are twisted. He watches and listens as his body screams insults at his partner. He is thinking to himself, "This is not me. Why am I shouting like this? Why is this anger emerging now?" He knows the size of his mistake and he will be responsible for it but the incident scares him. To regain control he figures he will either have to master his emotional landscape so that he never enters this territory and falls off this cliff again or he will have to trek deep inside himself to discover and sort out a root cause if one can be found. Neither option is pretty.
So a long moment passes as the shouts fade and the Eagle and his partner look into each other's eyes.
She acts in the moment. Her new vision works like an MRI on his emotional body. She reaches in with tweezers and gently touches his sore spot. "What image is in your mind? Quick, without thinking."
Eagle: "For some reason I see myself at an awards ceremony."
From outside the plane she locates the active loop. "And what award do you receive?" She prompts, ready to track the flow.
Eagle: "The moment my name is announced I enter a void."
Watching his feelings closely she sees where the loop is blocked: he accomplishes his goals but always feels incomplete. Each prize is just a toy to lose interest in. The ends don't connect. His trapped energy surfaces as anger or depression.
To relieve his suffering, she diverts the flow so his goals don't point back at himself but toward her. "I need a backrub"
Eagle: "Anything," he promises, already feeling less pressure, feeling that his success will be hers, feeling like she completes him. Energy circulates between them as freely as it has in a long time.
New finishes up...
Intense interaction invokes individual insights. The Eagle and his mate will always have an emotional fold around special dinners. The moment is a way of waking up to each other. One more thing is special between them; unique to their lives. These folded moments start to guide the Eagle. First the big things: getting married, a baby is born and first steps. Then smaller, more subtle miracles: bending a finger, a chess game, a haircut. The Eagle learns to follow the folds and stay in this expanded state; seeing everything with the openness his partner enables in him.
Can one live in a state of mindfulness where one's own mind is so unbounded it is shared with others? New leaves this thought hanging for John and Fred as is has gotten very late and they are both falling asleep.
John is exhausted. He has been losing sleep. His best explanations for Earth-like images and fictitious reporters hang between self delusion and alien intelligence. The problem is a thorn in his side. Who will help him remove it? In crisis he considers spiritual teachings but the scientist in him distrusts religion. So he chooses a literary work, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and buys the audio book online. He lies in bed with headphones listening to spoken words describe the journey.
That night he dreams of a baby with Buddha nature nestled in a tree awaiting the birth that will come at dawn. John wakes up remembering Hesse's description of the young Brahmin leaving home. He finds himself sobbing for what Siddhartha gives up in his search for knowing; seeing himself drawn to this path. In the middle of deep heaves, he lets go of his hopes for a normal life. He hits bottom. He reaches the end of the spiral of uncertainty; questioning who he is and what his mind is capable of. At his moment of greatest vulnerability, John opens to the infinite, vacates his will and asks for relief. Suddenly able to see himself from outside and within simultaneously, John overflows with warmth and comfort.
And it is not hard to guess the origin of those feelings of warmth and comfort. In comes Fred, full speed ahead.
Fred sees his chance. John is reaching out for help. The time has come to leap into a human being and share the sensory experience of Earth. Fred bends over backwards. He imagines a chariot with both of them driving the horses. As he's carried across the gap he knows that any divisions between them only persist in his imagination. What is a wave made of? Is it a separate thing from the ocean?
Fred's chance to be part of John happens quite by accident and through none of his cleverness. Antithetical to the harlequins reputation and while he is hiding in a computer, the world breaks his way. The thing he wants the most, that he fought for, schemed for, learned programming for, and lied for, but was unable to obtain is handed to him because of what results from his mistakes and ignorance. He achieves his greatest victory in the phylogonic world by screwing up royally. What a fool. What a lucky fool.
A New life. Strength in numbers. Problems solved. No more doubt. Congruity. Revelry. Facing the sun. Looking for growth. Infinite possibilities. The strength of commitment. Late bloomer. When a new synthesis happens, all that matters is the moment.
Whenever John remembers the Earth-like images, Fred triggers endorphins. John gets a sense of well being without caring why and lets Fred drive. It is a happy feedback loop.
John has invented a story to explain his close encounter with the outside intelligence. He thinks he knows something no one else does and has convinced himself that his purpose is to tell others about it. Fred revels in the irony, it's a fool's journey, just his thing, and he's coming along for the ride.
A New body made of phylogons; when she shimmers, time moves. New's beautiful body emerges from the flow. Her existence in the molecular world goes as far as John and Fred's integration will allow, growing more real moment to moment.
Fred feels orgasmic and every other thing that John feels. He soaks in sensory input and mixes it with feedback from the imagination. Filtering through the visual cortex makes it clear to Fred that the CPU he lived in was a prison. No more hard wires and rigid instruction words. No more bandwidth limited frame buffers. He floats in an infinitely reconfigurable ocean of peptides, neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymes. There are billions of neural connections to reroute. He catches each thought that arises and rides it like a surfer until the electrical and chemical wave is absorbed back into the brain. Protected by John's rational side, Fred wants to master available resources and become a poet in a mind.
Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on
-Bill Withers 1972
Busy mapping emotions to neurochemistry, Fred sieves out fragments of old 70's song lyrics floating around in John's memory. [ He finds human memory much messier that computer memory.] He practices sending simple riffs up to John's attention and tracking the response.
John senses a change, feels more aware of how the world effects him and pays more attention to his intuitive hunches.
|Deeper integration. A moment to himself. Our hero begins to layer together the best of both worlds. Instead of trying to figure out what happened, he starts paying attention to what is present.|
The world appears transparent when you can see it from both sides.
These folded phylogons are a kind of self-reflection; even if that self is still in many parts. Everyone knows what it feels like to be of two minds. This kind of intense, forced harmonizing requires practice. It will take time for him to regain balance. And longer still until he is ready to reach outside. But the joys that arrive on the path surprise him, reassure him, and build his trust. He can now be detached while fully present in the flow. He rapidly intuits and analyzes with confidence, like he knows someone always has his back. He feels the warmth of the sun, smells the moisture in the air, hears children laugh, and simultaneously accesses the infinite as if a window just opened in the sky above his head.
An ego-system in an ecosystem. His vision starts to clear. Through the window he can see Earth. Who is he? Who else could he be? Is it possible that one second ago he awoke in a new body with the memories of that body seeming real? At the start of every day, in every passing moment, does he occupy a new frequency, gain a new identity and adopt the patterns encoded in that head? What remains persistent? Who is the thinker that holds this thought together? Consciousness coming into being grasps at the world.
Can this persistence that appears to itself as him, enable him to perch on the threshold between moments and look back and forth through that window? Can he change the moment he crosses into? Where are the inflection points in this reality? What adventures await a spirit courageous enough to move through them?
Settling into daily cycles, he feels OK. He has resumed his routines. Everything seems normal. The sun shines early; rain follows. He eats, shits and eats again. He gets entangled in power struggles with others, seeks comfort, feels ambitious, doesn't rock the boat, tries new restaurants, listens to friends, stays in touch with family, desires new things, loves, needs, and dreams.
His feelings are real, embodied and familiar. Nothing has changed; except that now, at the edge of the frame, he can glimpse the infinite. The vibe of the timeless pulls him. He finds a tiny spot where he can cross the boundary and halt the cycles. From this hiding place, the world is kept back.
He takes a deep breath, opens his eyes, balances on his joy and begins another ordinary day.
His first look out. The pattern was complicated. Circular. Cylindrical. Hyper-cylindrical. Flat. Restless. Bristling. Two-toned. Shapes. Shades.
Where to begin? Here. When to begin? Now. Going out into the world is risky. How would he seek his fortune? And how would he recognize his fortune when he found it?
End of Chapter Two.
At the end of chapter two, our hero began a new cycle. He turned his attention outward and focused on moving through the natural world, soaking up every sensation, intent on savoring the experience.
And for me, here, in a beautifully unreal, perfectly pleasant, upstate NY, in late summer, the story pauses and I follow the same path. The drawings have signaled a shift and I am listening. My immediate plan is to make sketches from nature until the next part of the story is ready to be told.
Just outside my studio door are two really large shagbark hickory trees. Last summer was dry but this year they both have a huge crop of nuts. The outer husk is green and the squirrels have already started chewing on them.
Beyond the hickories, down in the wet area near the stream, is a spice bush. I learned about this plant when I first moved here. It has a spicy smell when you break the leaves or scratch a branch. I've made tea from both the leaves and bark and it's lemony taste is very nice. In the fall the spice bush puts out a small berry that the early european settlers used like allspice.
|More practice. How do I knock the rust off the rendering muscles? How do I find something that I actually want to draw? Not so easy for me. I usually just pick whatever is closest. It takes a lot of discipline to force myself to make the first few marks. I don't really want to draw a leaf. It is never going to look good. I use beginner methods and tell myself that being a beginner is very Zen. After working for a few frustrating, self-doubting minutes, I experience a shift in focus. I start to see ratios amongst the parts. I copy the outlines of internal shapes. I loose the object into a pattern of light and dark colors. When time dissolves, the drawing is done.|
|One difficult drawing practice for me is ignoring 'how it looks' and following 'what I see'.|
|Three leaf clover. The patches of clover in the yard are still thick and green in late August 2011 due to regular rain and mild temperatures. I take a walk to check on the trees we planted a few months ago; sneezing to the rhythm of lawn mowers and the scent of freshly cut grass. I inspect the fine green tips of the branches, noting any growth, and imagine the taste of Honeycrisp apples.|
|I found a purple clover still growing in a shady spot near the fence but most of the flowers in the yard have already peaked.|
|Jewelweed, rubbed on the skin, is supposed to relieve the itching from poison ivy.|
|I haven't identified this plant that pops up, on its own, in shady spots in our yard. It gets to be as much as four feet tall and sports bright magenta colored branches. In August there are green berries, that eventually turn black, in distinctive tree-like clusters.|
|After the storm. On the way to the studio I find plenty of fresh leaves on the ground; torn off by yesterday's hurricane. Newly streamlined hickories and willows soak up the extra water.|
|I found this plant, a newcomer to the yard, on the edge of a weedy patch near the studio. When I first spotted it there were still drops of this morning's dew, backlit by the early sun, highlighting the interesting branching pattern that alternates along the length of the stem.|
|I left the plant from yesterday's drawing lying out on the table overnight. Today, when I arrived at the studio, I found leaves curled around stems and every bud burst open.|