Writing a cybernetic novel

The Island Survival Guide and narrative reflexivity

The Island Survival Guide and narrative reflexivity

I would like to define a cybernetic novel as one that writes itself, or one where the reader is also the narrator. A novel that possesses self-reflexivity. I made the sketch (see above)  some time ago while thinking about my novel “The Island Survival Guide“. When I say “I thought about my novel” I mean as a reader, not as a writer. In fact, cybernetic writing blurs the distinction between writer and reader, and finally break it down completely: the writer is the reader who is the writer, and so on. As it does so it also undermines and destroys a more significant dichotomy, the difference between the narrative (object) and the narrator/reader (subject). The two become one, one reflecting into the other. This is of course a logical paradox. Cybernetic writing is a logical paradox based on reflexivity.

The paradox of narrative reflexivity that defines a cybernetic novel is what makes it what it is; it is a paradox that creates an escape hatch, or a quantum wormhole, connecting two different universes that exist in different dimensions. The mind is free to travel between these two narrative universes. As it travels it transfers experiences and knowledge between the two universes. Thus, the paradox of narrative reflexivity becomes the act of creation. The novel is created as a dialogue between the 3-dimensional (+time) universe of the narrator/reader/writer (the terms cease to have distinct meaning in a reflexive narrative context) and the multi-dimensional universe of the novel.


M C Escher’s rendering of reflexivity in narrative: cybernetic writing

As old meaning breaks down because of continuous feedback between the narrator and the narrative, new meaning is created.

The Island Survival Guide was my second experiment in writing a cybernetic novel (my first being The Secrets of the Lands Without).

Notes on “Turing”

What made Alan Turing decide to commit suicide? This no-one knows. Although the official verdict is that he killed himself, there are too many gaps in the story. He was not depressed. The hormone therapy he was ordered to undertake had finished a year before. He had circle of good friends and a new research interest in morphogenesis.

In trying to imagine the sequence of events that led to his death I’ve made three basic assumptions, based on my research. The first is that his homosexuality not only remained a target for state persecution but it became more of an issue. As Cold War tensions heightened the era of paranoia descended both upon the US and Britain. It seems that he was certainly followed by the intelligence services, and perhaps harassed as well.

The following is a very rare video of an old documentary on Turing. I have based much of the plot on what is being said here, by people who knew him.

Secondly, Turing had picked up an interest in Jungian psychoanalysis. Without access to detail, and on the basis of my understanding of his life and interests, I am led to the conclusion that Turing saw psychoanalysis as a method to observe his mind from outside his mind.

Thirdly, and strongly associated with the second, is his life’s quest to understand the limits of reason. His seminal paper on computable numbers has showed that logic is limited. A computing machine can go on forever trying to solve an improvable problem, without ever halting. Yet, Turing with his other paper, the one explaining the “imitation game” (later called “Turing Test”) explicitly took the view that logical machines could be programmed to behave like humans; and when they do so humans must accept them as equally intelligent.

Although Turing never bought into the “hard problem of consciousness” he seemed to have had doubts how to reconcile those two ideas of his: logical machines with limits which could be as intelligent as humans. If these two ideas were both true, then how comes he, a human, was able to see that a logical machine would not halt? What made him, a human, decide to switch off the machine? Evidently it was something called “free will”. But could free will be programmed? He has suggested throwing random wheels in an logical machine (an idea called an “oracle machine”), in order to introduce randomness in the logical process. Would that suffice as “free will”? Is “free will” something like a Russian roulette?

In the play I take the view that his suicide was, in many odd ways, an exploration of the limits of free will. Maybe he did not exactly intend to commit suicide, but wanted to test the mechanism of free will: which part of the mechanism was mental, a result of logic, preparing the poison, injecting it in the apple, and so on – and how much was random, affected by external factors. State persecution may have acted then as a catalyst: society preferred lies from truth, imitation from honesty. Societal perception of his homosexuality as an abomination and a threat to national security unraveled the very imitation game that Turing proposed in order to distinguish humans from machines. In the play these ideas climax in the last scene with Christopher’s ghost. Turing explains what he is about to do, and asks for Christopher’s opinion.

The Secrets of the Lands Without: concept notes

The Secrets of the Lands Without is a novel about Religion meeting Science, a literary exploration into the latest theories of physics, biology and cosmology, as well as their relation to the World’s religious and esoteric beliefs.

Around twenty billion years there was the beginning of Time, when the Word of God -according to the Judeo-Christian tradition -, or Brahma (according to the Hindus), created our Universe. And there will be an end, the “Second Coming”, the Apocalypse. The Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelation signify the beginning and the end of the Biblical concept of time and space, corresponding respectively to the Big Bang and the Big Crunch of modern cosmology. Within that enormous span of time Intelligence appears. It constructs civilisations, searching for answers, contemplating the meaning of its very existence. Is there a reason for all this? For life on Earth? For Intelligence? Or is it all a coincidental and unimportant quark of Fate, totally brief and sadly insignificant within the vastness of a dark, lifeless and unfriendly Universe? Should we be concerned for our future as a species? Is there a future?

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, a theory developed in the 1980s by scientists Barrow and Tippler, answers                   

emphatically yes. They claim that the Universe was created in order to bring forth intelligence, a claim also proposed by the Jesuit mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (see photo). It is as if Intelligence was built-in the various physical constants and forces which define the way our Universe functions. Most scientists would agree to that notion. It is a indisputable fact that if the physical constants were but a small fraction different Life would be impossible. But why? Why should there be Life? Tippler says because in the very distant future, when planet Earth would have long evaporated, our very distant grandchildren, in the form of intelligent self-reproducing spacecrafts, will colonise the Universe to such a degree that they will be able to control its evolution. They will, in fact, stop it from ever getting too cold, by thus becoming Universe’s self-defence mechanism against its own self-destruction. And at the time of absolute end, at theOmega Point (a term coined by de Chardin from the famous Christian saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega”), the infinite energy – abundant within that future singularity – will enable an infinite-states computer containing information about every being that ever lived, resurrect us all. In fact, it will upload us onto a higher plane of digital existence. And this will truly be the Judgement Day!
The Secrets of the Lands Without take their main lead from this cosmological theory. It    
blends with the mathematics of chaos and genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, the evolution of society in the next century, time travel and its philosophical consequences, as well as world-wide religious archetypes of the eternal battle between Good and Evil. It travels into the world of esoteric wisdom, of the ancient sciences of alchemy, astrology and numerology, of the Gnostic path of true knowledge inherent to secret societies throughout history. The novel thus spans through the tradition of every culture on Earth, of all races and creeds. The Secrets of the Lands Without was written as a truly world book. After all, it is the totality of this planet that is contributing to world civilisation; when we begin to stretch our wings out of the solar system and into the stars, it will be that world civilisation which will fly out into distant space…