Weirdcore

The DestructivesAs a philosopher, as a theologian, and as a human being, I’m interested in a very specific set of problems. The tensions that interest me all intersect right here, in this brilliantly framed passage from Matthew De Abaitua’s seriously brilliant sci-fi novel The Destructives

The book’s protagonist, Theodore, is, among other things, a “weirdcore” addict and, in this passage, he describes his initial exposure to the drug:

He first took weirdcore just because it was there, another obstacle to traverse in the assault course of narcotic experimentation. The drug had been designed to combine the mood-leveling benefits of tranqs with the neurological novelty of tryptamines. The effects were profoundly different. The user does not comedown after a weirdcore shift. Comedown implies descent from a height. The user deepens. The weirdcore shift is from the depth of ordinary being, the familiar z axis of emotional states, memory and philosophical and moral abstractions, to an intoxicating shallowing. The user becomes an x axis of surface. Weirdcore flattened him and then joined him up to the surrounding surfaces; during the ritual, the scarring of his face was nothing more than the marks of a knife on a chopping board.

It was as if there was a level of consciousness in all things. A much shallower consciousness than attained by the human mind, but the capacity to experience existed nonetheless, not merely in animals and other living beings but in rivers and rocks. Weirdcore reduced the complexity of the user so that they existed on a comparable level to the dregs of all things.

More:

As the weirdcore wore off, the user waded from these shallows back to the deeper fathoms of being. During this hour of transition, consciousness felt like a poor fit. Like he’d lost weight and consciousness was baggy around the middle. Consciousness did not bother to render the rooms of his home in detail, but rather spliced together a model of it from memory, and then smeared the whole sensory experience to obscure the edit. Consciousness did not bother with the edges, focused only on what was central to the goals of the organism in that moment. Highly conscious beings inhabit a fiction. True realism is only available to the earlier stages of consciousness. On a weirdcore shift, he was breaking rocks along with the rest of reality. A weirdcore shift was a taste in the realism of neverlivedness. It induced granularity without abstraction, emotional dissociation, until the user was just another barnacle on the big balloon of space-time.

His calmness during the moonquake and the decompression of the moon cavern were symptomatic of long-term weirdcore use. Weirdcore’s shallowing affected moral judgment, as it was bound up with fear in a way that he did not fully understand. Morality was so intangible.

Also, self-deception was a feature of consciousness, not a bug; it was possible that he was using the side effects of prolonged weirdcore use as justification for acting out of self-interest.

Dr Easy called consciousness the Ministry of Lies. “Some of the colleges would like to break with the human mode of self-reflective consciousness altogether,” it explained. “There are other points on the spectrum of consciousness; we do not have to limit ourselves to the propaganda of the self.” (Kindle Location, 1996-2018/5151)

Is the inevitable price of self-consciousness (and the strong emotions that organize and prioritize the self’s engagement with reality around its own self-interests) the substitution of crude mental models for granular attention?

Does the leveled disinterestedness of a granular capacity for attention—of a consciousness no longer organized by self (and fear for self . . . and, thus, morality?)—inevitably dehumanize?

In short, is charity possible as long as the fiction of the self, rooted in strong emotions, organizes consciousness?

And, more, what about the alternate scenario: is charity possible if the fiction of the self, rooted in strong emotions, doesn’t organize consciousness?

Is selfless compassion possible?

That is: can you have passion without the self running the show? And can you have the “com” of com/passion as long it is?

Comments

  1. One of my interests is learning theory and positive reinforcement training in horses (branches of behavioralism). If I understand what you are saying correctly then this line struck me as being related to animals. “Is charity possible if the fiction of the self, rooted in strong emotions, doesn’t organize consciousness?”

    Horses are very capable of thinking thru situations/problems and they have emotions – much deeper emotions than they get credit for as their expression of their emotions is so different from ours. I’d argue (there may be some issues of semantics here) that they do not have an organized consciousness the way people do. So… Are they capable of charity? I don’t think so.

    My horses ‘love’ me (have positive hormones flood their brains) because they have powerfully positive experiences when I am around. But I don’t think they are capable of putting my needs before their own without first having been taught thru reinforcement (a teaching process of using stimulus and rewards/punishment) that it is in their own benefit to do so in a particular situation.

    The question I ask (and I think this is what you are asking as well) is are people the same? Does charity come down to our learned patterns of positive reinforcement? Or is there something about an organized consciousness that is a game changer?

  2. Martin James says:

    What is charity from a consciousness point of view? Is love a conscious experience of the self? I don’t think the question can be answered until we have a theory that explains what consciousness, self, emotion and passion are in a way that would explain why a drug like weirdcore works. Fictions are real in the sense that fictions are created by physical processes but we have no theory of how. It is the best question left.

  3. Eric Russell says:

    “And, more, what about the alternate scenario: is charity possible if the fiction of the self, rooted in strong emotions, doesn’t organize consciousness?”

    Questions such as this seem to assume that the value of charity is tied to the relative difficulty of selflessness. There’s a virtue there, but I’m not sure that virtue is actually charity. I lean towards believing that goodness and reality are so tightly intertwined that, contra your previous post, charity does largely hinge on our successful self-apprehension. Perhaps sin is nothing but self-deception. Exaltation is self-awareness.

  4. Does the leveled disinterestedness of a granular capacity for attention—of a consciousness no longer organized by self (and fear for self . . . and, thus, morality?)—inevitably dehumanize?

    I’m going to go with “possibly.”

    For reals though, this is an interesting passage with interesting questions. I especially twinkled when Martin James said “It is the best question left.”

  5. jstricklan says:

    I’m interested in the granularity / crude models questions, but feel unprepared to engage with that. I am foolhardy enough to engage further down, however. Of course, because I’m out of my depth, it’s long.

    “(1) Can you have passion without the self running the show? (2) And can you have the “com” of com/passion as long it is?”

    (1) No, and (2) we must. I think the seed of question (1) is right. No passion, no com/passion; and while selflessness . For proof-text (sorry, for brevity’s sake), the commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves has one subject but two objects.Total selflessness may not be com/passion as much as annihilation, a violation as severe as the annihilation of the other in pursuit of the self. Ultimately, I don’t think selflessness describes either what Christ has done for us (He is apparently still He) nor what we can do for others. Whatever the self is, we seem stuck with it in Mormonism.

    Which is why I feel like the answer to the second question is that we must try. It’s not likely that I’ll succeed in compassion, at least not for long, while the self runs the show. Perhaps the point is less in reaching total compassion than in the Sisyphean struggle of overcoming the natural man through repentance and charity. The fiction of the self will get in the way of charity, but because the fiction is what allows me to act at all, I must smash it and reconstruct it in order to move forward. Like breath, there is no equilibrium while I am still mortal. It will always be a balancing act necessitated by the nature of consciousness — which allows passion and com/passion — and so it will be fleeting. We will not soon be even-handed in our love, but at times we will, and then we will know as we are known.

    However, James, you’re probably far enough down this road (the problem of the fiction of the self, etc.) that it’s probably not worthwhile for you to try to persuade me to accept it as a problematic illusion instead of a necessary one. But perhaps you could sum up your thinking in a blog post or a separate work to make us more useful readers?

    Eric, zing zing. I wish I could have more of your thoughts on that.

  6. jstricklan says:

    *However, Adam, you’re probably…