Excerpts from Blindsight


Pack animals always tear apart the weaklings in their midst. Every child knows that much instinctively.


Watching the world from a distance, it occurred to me at last: I knew exactly what Chelsea had meant, with her Luddite ramblings about desaturated Humanity and the colorless interactions of virtual space. I'd known all along. I'd just never been able to see how it was any different from real life.


"I think I'll call you Cygnus," Chelsea said. "The swan?" I said. A bit precious, but it could have been worse. She shook her head. "Black hole. Cygnus X-1." I furrowed my brow at her, but I knew exactly what she meant: a dark, dense object that sucks up the light and destroys everything in its path.


I brought her flowers one dusky Tuesday evening when the light was perfect. I pointed out the irony of that romantic old tradition— the severed genitalia of another species, offered as a precopulatory bribe—and then I recited my story just as we were about to fuck. To this day, I still don't know what went wrong.


Nobody gets past Jupiter without becoming part vampire.


I believed it. They would never have shipped us out fully-assembled if there'd been a cheaper alternative.


The will to resist is no less mechanical than the urge to breathe. Both can be subverted with the right neurochemical keys.


We have such need of intellects greater than our own.


Maybe the Singularity happened years ago. We just don't want to admit we were left behind.


See you at heat death.


No meat wasted on tasks that machinery orders of mag smaller could perform orders of mag better.


"Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them."


Language and intelligence aren't all that strongly correlated even on Earth.


Surely, said the Optimists, space travel implies enlightenment, for it requires the control of great destructive energies. Any race which can't rise above its own brutal instincts will wipe itself out long before it learns to bridge the interstellar gulf.


What is Human history, if not an ongoing succession of greater technologies grinding lesser ones beneath their boots? But the subject wasn't merely Human history, or the unfair advantage that tools gave to any given side; the oppressed snatch up advanced weaponry as readily as the oppressor, given half a chance. No, the real issue was how those tools got there in the first place. The real issue was what tools are for.

To the Historians, tools existed for only one reason: to force the universe into unnatural shapes. They treated nature as an enemy, they were by definition a rebellion against the way things were. Technology is a stunted thing in benign environments, it never thrived in any culture gripped by belief in natural harmony. Why invent fusion reactors if your climate is comfortable, if your food is abundant? Why build fortresses if you have no enemies? Why force change upon a world which poses no threat?

The threats contained in those environments would not be simple ones. Harsh weather and natural disasters either kill you or they don't, and once conquered—or adapted to— they lose their relevance. No, the only environmental factors that continued to matter were those that fought back, that countered new strategies with newer ones, that forced their enemies to scale ever-greater heights just to stay alive. Ultimately, the only enemy that mattered was an intelligent one.


And if the best toys do end up in the hands of those who've never forgotten that life itself is an act of war against intelligent opponents, what does that say about a race whose machines travel between the stars?


"You've got the interface. Just patch a camera into your parietal lobe instead of your visual cortex."


And God smiled, for Its commandment had put Sperm and Egg at war with each other, even unto the day they made themselves obsolete.


People simply can't accept that patterns carry their own intelligence, quite apart from the semantic content that clings to their surfaces


"The system understands. The whole Room, with all its parts. The guy who does the scribbling is just one component. You wouldn't expect a single neuron in your head to understand English, would you?"


"Outmatched, for sure. Hopelessly, never."


Humans didn't really fight over skin tone or ideology; those were just handy cues for kin-selection purposes. Ultimately it always came down to bloodlines and limited resources.


Maybe they're just biomechanical machines." "That's what life is, Keeton. That's what you are."


"So when they tore that scrambler apart—" "Not civil war. Data dump. Passing information about us, most likely."


I really wanted to talk to her. I just couldn't find an algorithm that fit.


Do you want to know what consciousness is for? Do you want to know the only real purpose it serves? Training wheels. You can't see both aspects of the Necker Cube at once, so it lets you focus on one and dismiss the other. That's a pretty half-assed way to parse reality. You're always better off looking at more than one side of anything. Go on, try. Defocus. It's the next logical step. Oh, but you can't. There's something in the way. And it's fighting back.


"Oh, it might not be perfect. It might be a bit redundant, or resort to the occasional expository infodump. But even real people do that, don't they?" "And eventually, there aren't any real people left. Just robots pretending to give a shit."


The only explanation is that something has coded nonsense in a way that poses as a useful message; only after wasting time and effort does the deception becomes apparent. The signal functions to consume the resources of a recipient for zero payoff and reduced fitness. The signal is a virus. Viruses do not arise from kin, symbionts, or other allies. The signal is an attack. And it's coming from right about there.


There was nothing polite about war, no honorable code beyond the chain of command and the circling of wagons. Deal with indiscretions if you must; punish the guilty if you have to, for appearance if nothing else. But for God's sake close the doors first. Never give your enemy the satisfaction of seeing discord in the ranks, show them nothing but unity and flinty-eyed resolve. There may be murderers and rapists in our midst, but by God they're our murderers and rapists.


"My genes done gone and tricked my brain By making fucking feel so great That's how the little creeps attain Their plan to fuckin' replicate But brain's got tricks itself, you see To get the bang but not the bite I got this here vasectomy My genes can fuck themselves tonight."


Chelsea regarded it as love in its purest form. I came to think of it as hand-to-hand combat.


We're not thinking machines, we're—we're feeling machines that happen to think.


This is how you communicate with a fellow intelligence: you hurt it, and keep on hurting it, until you can distinguish the speech from the screams.


Rorschach does nothing to you that you don't already do to yourselves.


Brains are survival engines, not truth detectors.


When you're undead, the emphasis is on the second syllable.


You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?

Maybe you think it gives you free will. Maybe you've forgotten that sleepwalkers converse, drive vehicles, commit crimes and clean up afterwards, unconscious the whole time. Maybe nobody's told you that even waking souls are only slaves in denial.

You are all sleepwalkers.


Evolution has no foresight. Complex machinery develops its own agendas. Brains—cheat. Feedback loops evolve to promote stable heartbeats and then stumble upon the temptation of rhythm and music. The rush evoked by fractal imagery, the algorithms used for habitat selection, metastasize into art. Thrills that once had to be earned in increments of fitness can now be had from pointless introspection. Aesthetics rise unbidden from a trillion dopamine receptors, and the system moves beyond modeling the organism. It begins to model the very process of modeling. It consumes ever-more computational resources, bogs itself down with endless recursion and irrelevant simulations. Like the parasitic DNA that accretes in every natural genome, it persists and proliferates and produces nothing but itself. Metaprocesses bloom like cancer, and awaken, and call themselves I.


This is what intelligence can do, unhampered by self-awareness.


For Amanda Bates to say "I do not exist" would be nonsense; but when the processes beneath say the same thing, they are merely reporting that the parasites have died.


Natural selection doesn't care about motives. If impersonating something increases fitness, then nature will select good impersonators over bad ones. Keep it up long enough and no conscious being would be able to pick your zombie out of a crowd.

Besides, when you get powerful enough, you don't need to act like other people. Other people start acting like you.


Imagine you're a scrambler.


Because if Sarasti was right, scramblers were the norm: evolution across the universe was nothing but the endless proliferation of automatic, organized complexity, a vast arid Turing machine full of self-replicating machinery forever unaware of its own existence. And we—we were the flukes and the fossils. We were the flightless birds lauding our own mastery over some remote island while serpents and carnivores washed up on our shores.


You rationalize, Keeton. You defend. You reject unpalatable truths, and if you can't reject them outright you trivialize them. Incremental evidence is never enough for you. You hear rumors of Holocaust; you dismiss them. You see evidence of genocide; you insist it can't be so bad. Temperatures rise, glaciers melt—species die—and you blame sunspots and volcanoes. Everyone is like this, but you most of all. You and your Chinese Room. You turn incomprehension into mathematics, you reject the truth without even knowing what it is.


And vampires—" he paused—"have poor communications skills.


So much power my father must have had, to be able to authorize such a broadcast and yet waste so much of it on feelings. Oh God, how I treasure it. I treasure every word.


In some sick surrealistic way I had more in common with Sarasti than I did with any human.


You'll just have to imagine you're Siri Keeton.


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