Category: The Dark Space

The thought of living in a simulated reality is, in my opinion, both intensely intriguing and frighteningly possible.  Of course this possibility that everything around us is an encoded virtual representation would peak any science fiction fans interest whether it was created by some all knowing architect or a random ancient system floating through the ether, I often find myself staring at an object and, embarrassingly enough, trying to picture its code or make it dissolve. Luckily I haven't gone as far as attempting to stop a bullet, but one can dream.  

	While I admit the world of video games are pretty foreign to me, the level of artistic and technological accomplishment has never ceased to amaze me.  I enjoyed Chrono Trigger as much as the next person but nowadays my lack of time, and even more impressive lack of funds prevent me from partaking.  However, the other day I was watching one of my good friends play one of the more recent Grand Theft Auto games and while I was observing in awe the sheer vastness and beauty of this digital world, a few things started striking me in a way which I have, and will, ponder over for some time.  While I was blown away by what I was witnessing and probably annoying my friend with a million questions about the game it started to occur to me that this incredible feat of human ingenuity was gradually making my opinion on the likelihood of our world being a simulated reality shift from possible, to probable.

	It all started when my friend whom i’ll refer to as Tony, boarded a helicopter.  Again, from the moment I started watching I was overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of this computer programmed world, but once he started climbing in elevation I started piecing together similarities between the two worlds in front of me.  I saw an area which I assumed to be downtown.  As Tony veered to the right, the downtown area, as in real life, started veering off to the left until it was behind him.  Eventually when he came back around, there it was again, and I realized this vast virtual world followed certain programmed rules of spatial relationships and no matter what Tony does this seems to hold true.  Just as in real life I can look at a building, walk around the block and it will be there when I return.  So I started realizing this huge virtual world was in fact just digital code or data that follows different algorithms or rules.  I then realized when Tony started lowering his elevation, the ground or streets started gaining more and more detail, again such as in real life, the closer he was to an object, these algorithms produced more, or different data revealing finer details which were not there before.  It all comes back to these real world conundrums such as “if there is nobody present to hear a tree fall” and “does the inside of the tree exist before you cut it open?” as proposed by one of my favorite simulated universe theorists Jim Elvidge.

	When he eventually landed and disembarked from the helicopter I noticed all the digital representations of people who were reacting to his presence and what was happening in front of them.  Again this struck me as data, which was programmed to react to certain things such as Tony himself, or environmental obstacles, or different actions such as a car intersecting or a grenade thrown their way.  Once I started viewing these digital people as such, I started wondering; were they still going about their business in the same fashion when he was in the helicopter and he couldn't see them?    Did the downtown exist when it was not in view?  Part of me thought yes because of the rules of spatial relations in this digital world, but then I thought it would probably be way more efficient for things to, in fact, not exist until the player’s line of sight called for it.  I wondered, do these encoded “people” who seemingly were going about their encoded “lives” know they are just codes programmed to jump out of Tony’s way when he drives toward them?  It also struck me that, upon confrontation, some were encoded to fight back and others to run away.  Does this translate to personality traits?  Imagine my shock when one pulled out their phone to take a picture of Tony and another called the police, who were in fact notified and eventually arrived.  It all hurt my non-tech brain.  

	Finally my skepticism returned and I started reminding myself, if Tony traverses this world in a straight line indefinitely, no matter how vast the digital world it will eventually end.  Very promptly I realized the solution to that problem was to make your world spherical.  Furthermore if he increased his elevation until he left that sphere he could enter a different set of spacial data with different algorithms such as a vacuum with no gravity.  To make it even better lets make that vacuum a giant void where the closest object is so far away it would be unrealistic for anything to travel there.  It seemed pretty convenient to me.  

	Then I started thinking about what comes next.   The obvious progression would be size of space, visual detail, and intricacy of algorithms, all of which are continuously being developed and improved upon.  Given the whole exponential growth of technology argument, it seems that a digital world indistinguishable from our own will definitely exist within our lifetime.  This logic sounded strange to me.  It felt highly unlikely that given the vastness of space and specifically time, if it is in fact vast, we would presently be on the cusp of such a creation.  In fact, it is much more likely we would have achieved such a thing before.  Maybe once, or perhaps millions of times over.  The likelihood of a digital cage within a digital cage creating a cycle of technological evolution is more and more prevalent to me and in fact makes me question the nature of our reality constantly.

	Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom argues civilization either A) never reaches this level of technology B) does in fact reach a technological level in which we are capable but for whatever reason do not create an indistinguishable simulation (ie. civilization ends or chooses not to) or C) it has in fact been developed and we are almost certainly living inside a simulation currently.  I would argue we are presently on the cusp so A is highly unlikely.  I doubt we would create the technology and decide not to use it given the history of scientific progression.  We could definitely be erased from this equation entirely but to argue whether or not this will happen is trivial.  So I am left with either we die, or were already ensnared in a vast illusion of data. 
	While I'm sure there are many people shaking their heads in disgust at my lack of knowledge involving codes and algorithms the fundamental ideas hold true.  What I was witnessing in this “game” was indeed a prophetic glimpse into a man-made world in which a digital sunset is just as breathtaking as our own.  A world where interactions have identical consequences and digital people decide what course of action best suits their interests.  When a digital person runs for cover amidst a violent firefight is it not for their own survival?  Even if one was programmed to do so would that encoded being know?  Where does our deep down “natural” instinct of self preservation truly originate?  Perhaps we truly are on the precipice of creating a virtual prison, in which case we are in a damn special time. However with our understanding of the reality in which we live, or lack there of, it is not so far fetched to believe in the possibility of a world consisting of simply data and algorithms, especially when such a thing can be purchased in any moment we choose for a mere $69.99.

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Throughout history there have been many instances in which an author has used their literary voice to shout the atrocities of the world. One I think we can all relate to is the amazing George Orwell and his commentary on the constant need of an enemy and the positive effects of war on a country’s inhabitants, creating purpose both economically and personally and a sense of togetherness amongst a nation.

In his novel 1984 he writes, “The primary aim of modern warfare is to up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.” Over 65 years later, Orwell’s writings still hold relevance, if not more than ever.

As a musician nothing has spoken to me more than the terrifying, and seemingly prophetic methods of manipulation used by the beautifully crafted antagonist Ellsworth Toohey in Ayn Rands master of a novel The Fountainhead. Now before cringing and running from you computer let us remember literature can be construed many different ways and for me personally one of the biggest tragedies in literature is the assimilation of Rands work for the Republican Tea Party. As an artist, The Fountainhead is one of the most inspiring eulogies of individuality and dedication to ones work in existence.

Toward the end of the book Ellsworth Toohey monologues his intent to destroy art from the inside out. His meticulous methods of promoting mediocrity in order to drown out anything beautifully crafted or original scream volumes to me today.

“Don’t set out to raze all shrines-you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity-and the shrines are razed.”

“Kill a man’s sense of values. Kill his capacity to recognize greatness or to achieve it. Great men can’t be ruled. We don’t want any great men. Don’t deny conception of greatness. Destroy it from within.”

Here we see a complete outline of the press’ power over popular opinion and their ability to manipulate it to their advantage. The act of berating one’s work seems aggressive, even malicious therefore creating a negative outlook on the action itself and eventually reflecting the same onto the aggressor. However if one whose opinion is respected were to promote blatant mediocrity they in turn would alter the popular opinion of greatness itself. To alter the very concept of greatness gives the mainstream press power over not only an entire media, but the future development of values within an entire population.

In an age where many of the top selling singles and albums are written by the same team of producers and ran through a gauntlet of focus groups one can see how the power of the media can in fact manipulate the values of a society therefore moulding the popular opinion of an entire media of art. The world is impressionable and it seems that certain entities may have learned how to delicately take advantage of the soft minds of the masses.

While I know any production requires meticulous planning and execution, I cant help but feel like the popular opinion of music, or any other main stream media of art have become, for lack of a better word, diluted. Chopin gives way to Bieber, Goethe gives way to Palahniuk and so on and so forth. It seems there is a lack of effort from a consumers perspective and perhaps it can be traced back to this promotion of surface level productions meant to produce a level of, dare I say, shock value.

Orwell also wrote, “Great books…are those that tell you what you already know.” So are we that powerless against such artistic deflation?

While coming to these conclusions I do realize that there is a whole world of art not elevated by the media to what is considered mainstream. I have been a part of this my whole life. But there in lies the scariest part of my conclusions. For one to support a life of art it is a sad fact that the artist is chained to the opinions of a population, and it seems a landslide has taken place where originality is shunned and will not, in fact, can not get the exposure it usually deserves. While I find it hard to believe that the opinions of the few will ever contend with the well oiled machine that is the main stream media, I do at least see hope. There is no denying the collection of people, artist and consumer, that refuse to lower their standards. Such is the romantic nature of art, the indefinite struggle to create, and it seems there is no better way to exercise strength and passion than to fight against that which is unbeatable.

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The feeling of immunity from the powers that control this country are not only natural but a small part of the veil of youth we must all shed at some point. Such confidence in one’s ability to see through the fog of manipulation, and the denial of the efficiency of the American advertising machine seems to be a common delusion in any intelligent young person. Sooner or later, while it does not entail submission, one must realize the effectiveness of the methods used by this juggernaut of a nation to bend human will. The following is my personal experience with subliminal advertising and its proverbial backhand of a statement that, in fact, I am not immune.

In early 2011 I lived in San Francisco. I was intent on making my presence known in the music scene and worked tirelessly day and night towards my goal. My decision to move to the city was very much fuelled by my desire to be surrounded by similar, strong minded individuals. I say strong minded because, being in my mid twenties, I brandished that said feeling of immunity like most of my peers. I was prematurely confident in my mental capacity and my ability to “see through the bullshit”. Like so many people around me I considered myself well read and was quick to dismiss any attempts at manipulation, be it personal or on a more grand of scale. I was constantly reading about the American machine and all of its methods of control. Today I shudder at the late night discussions my friends and I would conduct concerning this, what we considered, awful and detrimental capitalist society. While I now pride my younger self with being more attuned to such misgivings than your average 25 year old, I also now realize my naivety.

Life as a young musician when you are not financially backed is a constant juggling act. I always felt pressure to be creative but at the same time had a wide range of bills to pay. It was perfectly normal to spend long stressful months finding a day job, quitting or getting fired to go on a month long tour, only to come home and begin the search all over again. Any job that would let me leave and not force me into unemployment was welcomed no matter the pay or quality of work. My lack of a vehicle while living in a city 7 miles by 7 miles naturally drove me to become a bicycle courier. I quickly learned every ally and side street and excelled rapidly.

Around this time the world was preparing itself for the premiere of the television series Game of Thrones. I at the time had no interest in television and, in fact, did not own one. I had never heard nor cared to educate myself on the Game of Thrones series, nor was I a fan of fantasy literature so consequently, I was completely ignorant of its existence. I traversed the city everyday for work none the wiser of the billboards and posters inundating my sub conscience.

I was in the midsts of writing a demo for a new punk band my friends and I had started and was contemplating all the aesthetics of the band. Being the singer, this was one of my main responsibilities. I wanted it to be dark and unsettling as most of my projects have been throughout my life. One day while I was home writing lyrics, I experienced an unexpected wave of artistic clarity and felt it was all coming together

perfectly. Words were flowing out of me and after much deliberation I had arrived at a title. It all seemed so natural and it fit the music flawlessly. I was so excited and confident that everyone would love it and I wanted to share it with everyone at the same time, so I refrained from telling anyone until later that night at band practice. As always I was the last to arrive and when I did everyone could tell I was bursting with confidence.

“Alright guys I got it. I figured out the title and you’re all going to love it. Winter Is Coming!”

Instantly two of my bandmates started laughing and the third just frowned in astonishment.

“Dude, thats the Game of Thrones slogan.” My drummer Josh informed me quite unamused.

“What’s Game of Thrones?”

He then grabbed me by the arm and walked me outside of our practice space which was located downtown, and pointed upward. There, literally on the corner of Turk and Taylor st. was a giant billboard with a depiction of a wolf and in block style font that must have been 5’ tall it said “Winter is Coming”.

The range of emotions that instantly followed hit me like a rogue wave. I felt appalled and angry because it was back to the drawing board, but most of all, I felt violated. Here I was so confident in my stout mental foundation when in one instant it was cracked with the realization that I am as susceptible as your average television watching American.

There was one more emotion that would develop in my mind, and while it was more gradual than the others it was no less prevalent. It was a feeling of understanding, even appreciation. I started realizing that while it was definitely a chink in my mental armor, it was more the effectiveness of this powerful method of advertising. I realized in that moment that the thought implanted in my subconscious was the result of many years of trial and error. It was hard for me to not appreciate the level of success this awful and scary practice of subliminal advertising had reached. I also came to terms with the fact that if it works on me now, it had probably worked before and definitely works on a very large scale.

While this all may seem insignificant, it is a telling tale of the efficiency of this on going invasion of our subconscious. As I mature I understand more and more how this practice has been implemented, and the more I learn the easier it is to see through. I am not as naive as I once was and I understand that the implantation of thoughts in my mind are inevitable. These days, however, I am more attuned to recognizing them, and recognition is the first step to elimination. While I understand there is no way for one man to bring down this age old propaganda machine, I also understand that if more individuals practice recognizing these offensive attempts at invasive advertising, the firm hold may start to lose its grip. The appreciation still remains, but I am convinced that this appreciation if harnessed properly may be the beginning of the long path of defiance.

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