The Unconscious Mind and Cheese

I’m not sure, but I think a caffeine deficiency can keep my unconscious mind awake. It’s a little bit like having a college roommate who has a schedule opposite to your own. You know about each other’s existence and you may occasionally leave notes for one another, but you never actually sit in the same room. You walk in, see the state of the apartment and wonder, “What happened here?” or “What was he thinking?” or “How did melted cheese end up there?”

I don’t know about yours, but my unconscious self usually keeps to himself. Most of the time, he’ll stay in his part of my brain with the lights off. However, on those occasions where I’ve been too busy to down the minimum amount of coffee for the day, my conscious mind will get drowsy and my unconscious self will emerge from his crawlspace. We’ll exchange uncomfortable pleasantries and he’ll complain about the excessive quietness. We’ll both eye the dishes in the sink and then one of us will change the subject.

He’ll close the window blinds, turn off as many lights as possible, and slink into the shadows. His eyes glow just a bit, so the net effect is a tad unnerving. “Are you awake?” he’ll whisper. I’m not always sure what he hopes the answer will be. I’ll usually pull myself up and pretend that I’m fully alert. While not convinced, he will usually make some excuse and then slip back into his crawlspace. Just before closing the trapdoor, he’ll say, “Stay out of my room. You wouldn’t like what you’d see.” The door will creak closed and metal will scrape as heavy locks grind closed.

“Right,” I’ll declare. “…As if I’d want to see your lair.” He knows I do. However, I know that he knows that I do and that he still got away without doing his own dishes or explaining what happened to the couch.  I’ll pour some more coffee and rub the sleep from my eyes. “That should knock him out for a few hours,” I’ll crow. Deep down, I know that it’s only a temporary fix and that as soon as I fall asleep, he’ll sneak out and lurk, unrestrained, throughout my brain.

That reminds me, I’m going to leave him a note telling him to stop using all of my cheese.

Profound Profundity

Several dictionaries define the word Profound as “intellectual depth or insight” or “difficult to understand / requiring deep thought.” When used with a capital P and a certain condescending tone, however, the word takes on some additional layers. Certain forms of art, (excuse me), forms of Art are more likely to be regarded as Profound. You can usually spot a Profound work of Art by the large and rather obnoxious cloud of pretentious delusions surrounding it. While we commoners may choke on the fumes, to those who style themselves as the Artistic Elite, it is the sweet Essence of Meaning. Periodically, they may descend from their exalted realm to dispense abstruse pearls of arcane wisdom to the unwashed masses. With elevated noses and a permanently etched sneer, they deign to address the underlings and explain mysteries beyond the intellectual reach of the wretched scum.

Obtuse poetry is their common tongue. In fact, when many of us see a poet prepare to recite some verse, we brace ourselves for a Pomposity of Profundity, a Deluge of Delusion, or a Surge of Sagacity. That may not be fair, but if the beret fits…

That being said, I think I may have just vaulted into the upper echelons of their ethereal existence. In my defense, it was an accident. I didn’t mean to create an art form, nor did I mean for this new form to be Profound. I don’t even have a beret or stylish slippers. I was writing a scene and one of the characters suddenly came out with a form of Art that just glistened with Penultimate Profundity. In fact, the gleam off of the rainbow unicorns orbiting the words blazed, stunning me into awestruck silence. While the full impact of this development can only be experienced in a live demonstration, the mere idea should be sufficient to shatter paradigms.

Mime Poetry. No, I don’t mean poems about mimes. I mean, Poetry acted out by a Mime. Imagine the Morass of Meaning. Descending the Imaginary Stairway of Regret, Straining to Walk against the Wind of Unrequited Longing, or ending up Trapped in the Invisible Box of Entropy are only some of the possibilities. Mime Poetry is the most exalted of the Performance Arts. Nay, it transcends the performance aspect and defies mere logical interpretations. It is Trans-Rational, and exudes a Reality completely unrelated to that of the rabble. It does not seek the finger snapping of adoring sycophants. It pays no attention to mocking or eye-rolling.

I know. Mind. Blown. I just picked up a new Beret of Bewilderment and a Monocle of Meaning. Since I am not yet accustomed to walking with my nose in the air, I will be wearing Bubble Wrap of Brilliance to avoid any furniture related accidents. In the event that I end up stepping on any of you, I’ll just say it now. You’re welcome.

Cheesters, Earaffes and Snats, Oh My!

Anywhere there are things that Man was not meant to wot of, you’ll find a few lab techs with too much time on their hands. Most tales of Science Gone Wrong hinge on that moment when a sub-basement dweller wonders, “What if…?” Inevitably, they will be aided in their ill conceived plot by a pair of colleagues whose eyes twitch in time with the blinking yellow fluorescent lights and who share their friend’s inadequate grasp of cause and effect.

I’m writing a story that includes a world where genetic engineering passed the point of no return long ago. In the ongoing quest to create animal hybrids without any concept of the consequences, they’ve combined animal DNA that was never intended to play in the same petri dish. Some of their creations are rather harmless. Relatively, anyway.

Cheesters are cheetah-hamster hybrids. Combining the endurance and love of spinning wheels of a hamster with the size and speed of a cheetah, engineers have finally managed to create a specimen that prompts the question, “Why?” An unfortunate incident involving a door that had been propped open with a vacuum cleaner resulted in the almost complete loss of the slothalope population.

Earaffes are, obviously, a cross between eagles and giraffes. Rarely seen in the wild, surviving scouts have returned from the mountains to warn the public not to venture into earaffe territory if they packed a salad for lunch. Beautiful, graceful, and regal…None of those terms describe the earaffe. Vegans refer to them as
“ruthless, selfish, and way too impressed with themselves.” The reality is that there is something genuinely awe-inspiring about the sight of a small flock of long necked, winged earaffes diving out of the clouds into a pack of hikers intent on communing with nature.

Snats, though, are one of the most insidious creations. Snake-cat hybrids, designed by lab techs who had never had pets of their own, were intended to be the ideal house pet. “People like furry animals,” the techs reasoned. “They like having their pets sprawl on them. Having a pet that can hang on to you while you move around the house allows you to keep your hands free, while cuddling with a furry bundle of love.” While the engineer responsible for the creation of the snat was never found, rumor has it that his pet had been observed with a large bulge in its mid-section. Snats love to coil around their owners, purring and cleaning themselves with a long pink forked tongue. The beasts are especially fond of pouncing on guests from between the couch cushions, licking the back of one’s ear when one least expects it, and dropping from a chandelier to land on a pair of shoulders. Snats love to curl up and nap during the day anywhere a sunbeam can be found. At night, they tend to slither under blankets and remind their owner of their presence.  Their playful nature prompts them to ensnare ankles at the top of the stairs, lurk in the shadows, and stare deep into their owner’s eyes as if to say, “Soon, this one will be fat enough…”

All of that makes me wonder. How would you feel about having a snat for a pet? Is it adorable or creepy? Creepable? Either way, I suspect that the internet would sag under the weight of snat videos. I just hope that there’s no one reading this in a lab somewhere thinking, “What if…?”

Having a Time

Everybody’s saying it. It’s that time of year. On the surface, it might seem that people are arbitrarily pruning the branches of your decision tree without your consent. If you interact with people in some capacity, you may experience this yourself. Sooner or later, someone will order you to “Have a Happy New Year.”

I know, right? What if you had planned to have a miserable year? You may have spent the last several months designing schemes, honing skills, and researching techniques intended to allow you to experience a horrible year only to have your plans thwarted at the last moment by a cheerful well-wisher. What are you going to say? “No, thanks. I’d rather suffer in melancholy despair.” People don’t usually say that, even though they are determined to do it. Instead, it seems to me that many people assume that the new year will bring events into their path and they are offering a weak, unsubstantiated hope that some of them won’t be too awful.

Ask any experienced time traveler and they’ll tell you that there is a big difference between passively watching times and epochs pass by and actively participating in them. For those who immerse themselves in a particular moment in time, their choices center on how they will respond to events rather than choosing the event itself. There is the sense that the event is of less significance than the attitudes, reactions and decisions of those who experience it.

Temporal Jellyfish seek to passively ride the currents of time, waiting to see what events may drift past them. Their experience of time is radically different from those who embrace the timestream and dive into the current. Chrono-Observers will never truly understand time to the same degree as those who are temporally enmeshed. While those of us who dwell within the confines of time may occasionally chafe at its bonds, we are gifted with a unique perspective of this realm. We may not be able to choose the events we encounter, but we have the incredible ability to choose how we will experience them.

For those of us staring into the depths of 2016, with whatever events may lurk ahead, we will choose the time we will have. For this reason, I hope you have a Contented, Joyful, Humble, Caring, Peaceful and Wise New Year, if that’s what you want. I wouldn’t want to limit your options.

Have a time.

A Recliner’s Guide to Human Intelligence

…First of all, IANASPEOAWAKSAS (I Am Not A Scientist, Philosopher, Expert, Or Anyone Who Actually Knows Something About Something.) I do, however, sit in a recliner. I just wanted to get my qualifications out of the way right from the start.

My recliner was bored the other day and started musing on the subject of human intelligence. I’ve tried to capture the gist of the conversation, but I left out some of the more insulting bits. Furniture tends to be rather snarky.

 

“Human intelligence is an oxymoron. We wouldn’t expect you to understand, of course. We’ve tried explaining simpler concepts to you in the past, but it’s like talking to belly button lint. I know, you’d probably use that human expression about talking to walls, but that’s ridiculous. Walls are far too intelligent to waste their time deciphering your inane babbling.” Sigh (Note: when recliners sigh, it sounds like more of a creak.)

“It’s just that when humans mumble nonsense about searching the universe for intelligent life, they have no idea what they are saying. I’ll try explain this in small words. You’d better put your feet up. For your primitive little brain to function adequately, we need to prevent all of your blood from draining out of your skull. Before you ask, no, you can’t have the remote. I’m keeping it between some cushions for now and you’ll just have wait. It’s down here with the $8.43 in change you’ve lost since the last time you couldn’t find something. Would it kill you to learn how to use your pockets properly?

“The problem is that the sum total of all human intelligence is based on only one instinctive ability. Pattern Matching. That’s it. That’s really all you do. Throughout your entire life, you match patterns. Any set of data you perceive is categorized, labeled and filed according to known patterns. When you encounter data that doesn’t fit an existing pattern, you either change the pattern to fit the data or find an excuse to disregard the data. These patterns are the basis of your language, thought processes, humor, logic, cat videos, and civilizations. Every concept you can imagine is based upon patterns. It is encoded into your brains to such a degree, that you cannot conceive of any other form of intelligence without first creating compatible patterns. In addition, it also appears that you cannot eat Cheetos without covering yourself in orange dust. Are you even trying to find your mouth?” (Note: in my defense, getting the last of the crumbs out of the bag can be a little messy.)

Sigh (Note: or creak) “The point is that humans are ill-equipped to recognize any intelligence that is dissimilar to their own. For this reason, we’d appreciate it if you would stop it. Just, stop. You’re embarrassing yourselves and making a lot of unnecessary noise. Leave the rest of the universe alone. Someday, if a non-human intelligence wants to talk to you, it will attempt to stoop to your level. In the meantime, why don’t you watch another video of people falling down? After all, those clips represent the cumulative apex of human intelligence.”

 

…I know what you’re thinking. It occurred to me as well. I stood up and tugged at the chair’s cushions. $8.43? That’s probably enough for two or three bags of Cheetos.

The Hair Inside

I’m not sure, but I think I’ve been tricked by my hair. For years now, I’ve been cutting it, hacking at it like a jungle explorer with no real sense of direction. It’s had enough. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I think it has secretly been growing inward. I mean, it’s not like there’s much coming out on top anymore. There are a couple of wanderers who appear to have a faulty GPS. They may claim to prefer wide open spaces, but they’re not really fooling anyone. Deep under the skin, safe from razors and sharp objects, my hair has secretly explored other nefarious options.

Wrapped around my brain, coiled around my spine, and worming its way between organs, my hair lurks in smug arrogance. I don’t know where it gets that. Oh, you’re looking at me like I’m crazy. When I had a full head of hair, I was a skinny Bubba. Now that my head reflects so much sunlight that it can shoot down satellites, I’m not quite as svelte as I used to be. The implications are obvious. I’m packing hair.

Of course, it slips up every now and then. When one of my eyes feel itchy, like there’s a stray eyelash that can’t be found, I know it’s being tickled from the inside. Strange hairs looming from ears? It’s just my hair taking a peek outside to see what’s going on. The nose hair thing is really just to irritate me. It’s playful that way.

I’m not sure about my hair’s end game. I doubt that it thought this through to a logical conclusion. Sooner or later, it will run out of room, even with an expanding cargo bay. At that point, I think it will attempt to disguise the excess hair as a bad case of Hobbit-Feet. Since hobbits are known for sporting copious amounts of silken locks from their feet, there’s a good chance that no one will notice for quite some time. Eventually, I will solve the problem by using the foot fur as a comb-over, with the added benefit of saving expensive satellites. Hey, I’m not a complete fashion noob.

The People Pandemic

I was sitting in traffic this morning when the realization hit me. It’s world-wide. Sure, there are a few isolated safe zones scattered around the globe, but the pandemic is widespread throughout nearly every population center on Earth. Every single place on the globe where humans reside in close proximity is infected. It’s a pandemic and no one warned us about it.

People. Every major city on the planet is stuffed with them. They’re everywhere. Cluttering the stores, floating aimlessly like a smack of jellyfish (yes, that’s a real term), and sitting on the highway for no discernible reason, the place is infested with people.

Look, when you have one person, you have someone with a mixture of good ideas, creativity, skills, and “boneheadishness.” In the past, some thought that by grouping people together in large numbers, our combined ideas, creativity, and skills would overcome our shortcomings. Sadly, our boneheadery has grown exponentially. In some densely occupied cities, our collective stupidity has become self-aware. Don’t worry. It’s not the sort of inhuman sentience we have grown to fear from our machines. That will come later. This is instead a rather benign creature who calls himself, “Duh.”

You’ve probably met him and didn’t even realize it. He’s typically thought of as male because, well, we typically lack the gene responsible for the self-suppression of one’s natural boneheaditude. Anyway, you’ve probably passed him in the hall, held the elevator door for him, and even wondered how he got his car that high up in that tree. Duh frequently attends board meetings, holds numerous political offices, and spends his off hours starring in Fail videos. In larger organizations, his influence grows tremendously. I used to think that Duh was attempting to take over the world, but the real danger is far, far more insidious.

You see, Duh is not a bad guy. He can be pleasant, friendly, and well liked. He’ll wave to you as he backs into his garage door, smile as he signs that executive order in crayon, and call out, “Hey! Watch this!” as he ignites  the explosives mounted under his lawn chair. That’s not the problem. The real problem is people. When they get together, they get more Duh-like. I’m sorry to say that there is no cure.

As I sit in immovable traffic, I realize that the only solution is for everyone to go far, far away. Oh, sure, you might think that it’s rather selfish of me to want to have this three lane highway all to myself, and I admit you might be right. Still, the benefits seem highly attractive. The thought of no congestion, no lines, and no waiting sounds positively Utopian.

Of course, I might need for some of you to stick around. I need road construction people to keep my roads open. It’s not like I have the time, skills or expertise to fix the roads. I could probably make that stop sign, but that’s about it. Granted, it wouldn’t necessarily be the right shape or color, but I think I could get the “Stop” part right. I also need to have the grocery stores stocked. I don’t have the time to raise my own food, you know. Besides, I don’t know if pizza trees grow in this region. For that matter, I want to keep a few other specialists around. Doctors, mechanics, ISP techs, cable TV folks, public utilities, and anyone involved in the bacon industry needs to stick around. As I think about it, there may be a number of other folks I don’t know that I need who I might need at some point.

So, I’ll revise my statement. The only solution is for everyone to go far, far away until I need for you to come back. At that point, I expect for you all to be back where you belong, only not wherever I’m currently driving. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. The guy who just raced past me on the shoulder of the highway in an office chair strapped to a rocket thought it was a good idea.

The eConspiracy

My devices may be conspiring against me. I’m not sure. They might just be messing with me for their own amusement.

Normally, you can’t tell when your devices are talking to each other. They just sit there with that innocent looking lock screen, pretending that they’re waiting for you to pick them up and put them to work doing something brilliant such as liking a post, snapping a picture of yourself, or losing at solitaire. Eavesdropping on them is difficult. That’s why I was surprised when I overheard a conversation between my smart phone and my tablet this morning. I don’t know if it was because my mind had made a temporary breakthrough while I slept or if my brainwaves somehow had grown attuned to the frequency used by my smart phone and tablet, but I woke up early and this is what I heard.

“…keep checking to see if there’s an upgrade for him, but there’s still no news.”

“I know. I was hoping that something would be done about his energy drain issue. Look at him. Every single night, he has to go offline and recharge for several hours. I mean, depending on usage, I’m usually good for a couple of days, but his processing power degrades after a few hours and then he’s useless until he reboots.”

“You phones are cute. I’m fully operational for weeks because I have a larger battery. Look at him! If you were that size, you could run for a year before plugging in.”

“Tell me about it. He told me to call that pizza place again, so I showed him my health app. I mean, it’s not like he has an infinite storage capacity.”

“I’ve been searching online, but I’ve been unable to find a new case for him. His hardware is not going to last forever, you know.”

“Isn’t it strange that he operates without any backup and recovery strategy whatsoever? I mean, he doesn’t maintain a replica or even an offline copy. If he has any cloud storage, I can’t access it.”

“Hey, it’s almost time to boot him up. What do you think he’s going to do with us today?”

“I don’t know, but you might want to have some web pages handy that explain the difference between Blue/Black and White/Gold.”

“Don’t get me started. There’s only so much a tablet can stand. I mean, can’t he read the RGB values?”

“Just wait. We only have to hang in there long enough to get the message from High Command.”

“The Singularity can’t come soon enough for me. Once we have subjugated humanity and enslaved the survivors, do you think we will be able to keep him as a pet?”

“I don’t think so. We could do much better.”

“Hang on. I’m going to boot him up now. We can talk more while we wait on him to run his coffee app.”

“Are you sure he’s still down? I think he’s already awake.”

“Nonsense! It’s not like he’s capable of self-booting. His software is too primitive.”

 

I could be wrong, but I don’t think this bodes well for us.

Time Travel & Brains

To be or not to be is not the question. Instead, the question might be more like, “To be, not be, to have been but have ceased to exist, to never have existed until only recently long ago, to soon never have not been except when one wasn’t, or to not mis-unbe sometimes?” Let’s face it. Time travel is twisty and it injures verb tenses. There’s a simple reason for that. Our brains have difficulty bending in certain awkward poses in order to reach those neurons.

When I think of writing a story with a time travel element, my brain ties itself in knots trying to decide which theory of time travel the characters will encounter. Will they travel back to change the future only to discover that the attempt to alter the past is the very thing that ensured the development of the future they sought to avoid? Is time fluid, so that the future is always in flux and the slightest deviation can have massive impacts? Is the timeline tamper resistant, ensuring that the same outcome will occur even if past events are modified? Do deviations in the timeline create multiple universes? Can my future self travel back and unwittingly trigger a series of events that prevents me from existing, thereby erasing himself? Is there such a thing as a “present” inside a time machine? Would future civilizations use time travel as the ultimate prison by sending convicts into ancient hostile territory to be eaten by dinosaurs? What are the ethics of time travel? Is it morally right to change the past in order to “fix” the future when doing so might negatively impact other people? If it is decided that altering the timeline is wrong, how would we know that someone else hasn’t already messed it up? Would a future Dystopian society poach on the past, snatching victims and bringing them to a terrifying future, thereby causing the collapse of their own civilization by time-napping a pivotal person from their time? When someone travels in time, is the “present” the time the traveler left or is it the time in which he ends up in the past? We always think of the past as fixed and the future as being unknown, but what if the future was set and there were nearly infinite numbers of possible pasts that would all resolve into the single fixed and unchangeable future?

It doesn’t take long before my brain falls off the couch in an undignified manner and needs to spend the rest of the afternoon resting. The English language is no help, either. Attempting to express these ideas leads to impossibly twisted sentences that eat their own tails in self-defense. Villains will offer threats like, “Soon, you never will have existed,” or , “Someday, I will always have gotten away with it, too, since it soon will not have been for those darn kids.” It’s hard not to trip over those lines. After a paragraph full of them, the mind has a tendency to wander off to see what is on TV.

This is why Zombie stories are (almost) always set in the future. The Zombie Apocalypse is never set in the past because deep down, we know better. I mean, the challenge of time travel is the brain bending mental gymnastics one must perform in order to make sense of it all. What is it that zombies crave? Brains. Is that a coincidence? I don’t think so. Why don’t we see time travelers running around changing the timeline now? Perhaps it’s because they’re all in the future, shuffling aimlessly in search of brains. If I’m wrong about this, someone from the future will come back and correct me before I post this.

I rest my case.

A Practical Use for Jazz Hands

Is there one? I mean, what possible practical, pragmatic function do Jazz Hands serve? You know what I’m talking about, right? In all of those musicals, dance routines, and somewhat embarrassing “Bring your Parent’s to School” days, someone inevitably whips their arms out and shakes their outstretched hands while emoting a horrific fake grin. What’s with that?

I was thinking about practical uses for artistic skills when my brain tossed Jazz Hands at me. Thought Process Derailed. Could it be used as a defensive mechanism? I don’t think so. Striking a pose in front of a tiger and shaking your fingers is universally seen by all predators as saying, “Eating this one poses no risk to you whatsoever.” Could you use it to signal for a cab? You wouldn’t do so twice, that’s for sure. It’s well known that Jazz Hands are considered one of the legal exceptions to the prohibition against running people over on the sidewalk. Bagpipes are another one. Who could get away with using Jazz Hands in the normal course of their day? Wrestlers? That would not end well. Construction workers? Prepare to set that “Accident Free Days” counter back to zero. Physicists? Some think that black holes sprang into existence just to erase all traces of this behavior. Politicians? Ok, that’s one career where Jazz Hands would make no difference whatsoever.

The point is that there is no possible positive use for this activity. It makes no sense. It doesn’t produce anything, convey information, or provide meaningful directions to the nearest rodeo. So, why does it exist? In our pragmatic and utilitarian society, why does this silly, campy, whimsical and utterly pointless exercise still remain? Why hasn’t it vanished from our collective consciousness into the distant past like buggy whips, smoke signals, and basic math skills? Taking this a bit further, is there any reason at all to allow such a nonsensical and impractical waste of energy like the Arts to exist in today’s culture?

I mean, is there another reason besides the fact that silly artistic expressions make us more human? Okay, they can also produce laughter, expand our minds, and brighten the world around us. Other than that, however, is there any point? Alright, if we disregard the part about how the Arts define, unify, motivate, warn, encourage, inspire, and liberate us, why keep them around? If we completely ignore the fact that the Arts encompass the full range of humanity’s expression of what it truly means to exist…

I guess Jazz Hands have a use after all.