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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: DEATH OF DESCRIPTION

February 20th, 2022

I’ve seen this before. A very long time ago. And the change was so immense, so total that I can’t even recall very well what it was like to think and be before this time. Socrates warned of this. No one believed him but he could see it as it happened, he could feel it, and it’s why he railed against the practice of writing. So many centuries later, now, here I am scrawling on the medium he cursed for the same reason. With these neuralsyncs getting plugged into people’s brains, it just seems like an oddity that no one with a sync writes. None of them. The assumption is that thoughts are transcribed and saved in a cloud, or perhaps in a hard drive, but that’s not what’s going on. That’s just how people are perceiving it, by saying: oh you could do this. But the fact of the matter is that no one with a sync is preserving anything in a kind of written form, digital or physical. They are saving experience in a wholly new way because information now has an additional medium. It’s not the expression of information that is critical, it’s the available mediums. The nature of expression changes irrevocably when a new medium is added - especially one that creates a new capacity for memory. This is what people are failing to realize. Before the written word, only the most basic logic was possible. It wasn’t until the invention of writing that our powers of logic expanded enormously, but of course no one realizes that because there is no record of what thought was like before the invention of writing. The invention of a new medium of information amputates past avenues of expression. It is not precisely additive. No one who knows how to write and read has the ability to experience what thought is like in a culture and a world that does not have these things. It’s a bit like the state of one’s mind after a realization. In the case of the individual it’s commonplace for someone to think back to their experience and perception of the world before such a realization and often this feels quaint and cute. But imagine being born with that particular realization: would it be possible to imagine one’s perception of the world without that realization? Something might come to mind, but the experience is simply unavailable: realizations cannot be unrealized.

 

This scrawling of mine, here and now represents a unique moment, a unique avenue which will soon be paved over. A piece of writing occurs uniquely at a given timecard place, but also within the constraints of its medium - that of words, and the editing capability of looking back upon each and every sentence that came before. The ancient poems had their dependable rhythms, their tricks of memory that are completely irrelevant to a world of writing. Words on a page never rhyme for reasons of memory but for reasons of joy - a joy sparked by so many millennia spent playing with words unwritten, bound as they were to the feeble memories of minds without the seen symbols of sound.

 

The idea that we simply expand by adding a medium is a delusion wrought of the notion that we always have the option to attempt some feat of memory and expression without the medium we have. But it’s a fantasy - a hypothetical never tested, and one that can never be verified because once across the chasm of innovation, there is no turning back. An illiterate society certainly has memory, and it can be long, and wide, but its limitations are bound by the medium of the human brain. Beyond illiteracy, our memory capacity is functionally infinite, but still bound. And I smile thinking about a bounded infinity. But that’s exactly why I write right now - to frantically explore this infinity before the portal to this realm is sealed off forever. Does not every infinity include every other infinity? Maybe. But maybe not. If we had continued to live into perpetuity without the invention of writing, would Shakespeare have happened? Perhaps. With infinite time, each of his plays might have evolved, storable as they are in the memories of actors. But what about the plans and designs that we have achieved that are beyond the memories bounded by our skulls? Would we have ever ascended to the stars? How can a navigation computer exist without the former invention of writing? We cannot remember our way to the stars - it requires allowing pars of ourselves to exist beyond what we are. As I do now with these words. They will echo for eternity, but unlike the lost songs of ancient times which echo through me after countless refractions, mutations, misinterpretations, these words here and now can perpetuate as they are, and there will remain a trail of recorded meaning to enable even the most distant child of future eons to trace back the thread to find and understand what I meant.

 

It will likely seem cute, like the time and perspective before a personal realization. But this is why I write so frantically now. Because like a time coming to a close, like the end of a day lost to sloth, having done nothing and left only with a sense of wondering what could have been accomplished - something never to be known once sleep sews shut the eyes - I think and write desperately to make the time unlost. To exist as deeply as possible before I become altered in a way that will forever seal off this chance.

 

What do we lose by gaining? We lose only a boundary, a constriction and constraint: the lifeblood of any creative endeavor. And surely there will be new constraints, perhaps ineffable in my medium now, allowing for new creativity. So strange to think how an addition is not merely additive but actually a unique combination that walls off the potential afforded by having less.

 

The date is set: when I will learn to think anew. When I will join the hive mind growing within humanity, and the ineffable pleasure of thinking with others will be mine, and the smile and smirk will be mine too, and I will turn to the doubters and say also: you have to try it to understand, I can’t describe it.

 

Of course it can’t be described. This is what people don’t realize: this new technology is the death of description.


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