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The Tinkered Mind
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August 21st, 2022
An enormous belch rumbled up, rattling Lucilius’s gullet, filling his thick, ballooning cheeks before exploding from his greasy face. His eyes rolled in strange directions under the heat of the sun, and for all the discomfort caused by the limp satisfaction of his gargantuan appetite, he could not hear the soft splicket of water rolling up the beach in thin, gentle waves. His nebulous sense of consciousness, barely capable at that level of intoxication was attentive only to a degree that he could command a flabby arm to swing out and swipe another frozen margarita from a passing tray. His arm and head had to bend together in unison to bring the cold syrupy drink to his face over the bloated paunch that had become his body. His reaching, wavering lips could barely grasp the twisty straw, and he began slurping the beverage in huge heaves, like breaths taken by someone nearly drowned. As the sweating cup drained, Lucilius’ titanic body began to rumble as though a seizure emanating from his gut was shaking the core of his being. But there was no register in his numb eyes. HIs face continued to undulate, hoovering the cold sludge into his body. The quivering tremors radiating all across his body reached a harmonic pitch, and his body split open, exploding in a spew that plastered the entire beach.
He opened his bleary eyes, and immediately shielded himself from the bright lights. A young smiling attendant in a lab coat watched as Lucilius slowly came to his senses.
“Well Lucilius, it seems you’re not quite there yet. Based on average training times, you still have one or two more spin-ups to go through.”
Lucilius moaned, as though he were just remembering - the sensation, so real, like a dream that could not be unforgotten. The feeling of his body under so much pressure, the difficulty to breath, the slippery thoughts, hard to catch, like sentences with too much time and space between the words.
“Two more spin-ups? Are you kidding?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“I don’t want to, that can’t be right.”
“Apologies, but you signed the disclaimer, I’m obligated to remind you. You’ve placed your development in the hands of our program and there is technically no physical pain.”
Lucilius laughed bitterly. “Feels real enough.”
The attendant wagged his head gently from side to side as a gesture of thoughtful consideration. “The mind makes it real, I suppose.”
“So there’s no difference.”
The attendant sighed. “Well, we can try to make the process shorter by turning neocortex expression down to nearly absolute zero and giving your limbic system almost unlimited control. However, I have to warn you, it will ultimately be more uncomfortable, but this far into the process it will not cause any damage since you’re progress is almost complete.”
Lucilius waved a hand forward, as though beckoning the experience forward.
“Do it. Bring it. I’m sick of this, let’s just get it over with.”
The attendant wore a flat and uninspired expression. “This will require combining all of the hedonic simulations into one single experience in order to have the appropriate effect on the limbic system.”
Lucilius rubbed his own forehead, dreading what the might mean exactly. “Barbarians…” he muttered.
“Sorry?” The attendant said.
Lucilius looked at him. “In the future, we’ll probably look back on this procedure as barbaric.”
The attendant nodded in a knowing, confident way that annoyed Lucilius. “Unfortunately this is the best we have right now for what we are trying to achieve.”
Lucilius sighed. “I suppose the mystics were right.”
The attendant smiled knowingly again. “But luckily now we don’t have to wait for the many lives that may not even exist. Now we can progress spiritually at a rate that no other religion or belief or practice has ever been able to come close to.”
Lucilius rolled his eyes, well aware of this fanaticism. Hedonic Exhaustion Therapy had been developed almost on the eve of simulation technology. Pleasure and fun was the first commercial use-case for simulation tech, and that use case burnt itself out of a business model almost as fast since people were able to condense time within simulations. The pioneers of such hedonic experience began compressing hundreds of decades of excess into weeks and months, and unexpectedly some began emerging from their simulations with a totally reformed sense of self, as though they had finally found an end to the infinite treadmill of hedonism. It was these first reformed pioneers who developed Hedonic Exhaustion Therapy, designing a program to help normal people permanently displace the distraction of their own hedonic desires by exhausting it in the limit.
Lucilius had been skeptical of this whole program since the beginning. These reformers and their HET programs seemed to Lucilius to be a new kind of extremism. Hedonism seemed merely replaced by a new unreached limit, and while graduates of the therapy were achieving unfathomable results in terms of productivity and discipline, Lucilius had his doubts. Lucilius was not necessarily an enemy of extremes on principle but the simply swap of one for another seemed nothing more than a bait and switch, and he questioned how much good there was in such a thing, so naturally, he had to try it for himself and find out.
“How long will this one last?"
The attendant smiled, almost deviously. “This final simulation has no set end. It’s length is based on real time data from your brain, so the simulation ends as soon as Limbic and Neocortical activity reaches a particular harmonic balance given the asymmetric influence.”
Lucilius was curious. “What sort of balance exactly is that?"
“We’ve determined a particular brain state that signals when the therapy has had its full effect - a state that is optimal given the promises of our therapy.”
“What’s the average time for this particular simulation?”
“Oh, most people can’t stand more than a few years. People break pretty quick when everything is combined.”
“And what’s the record?”
The attendant laughed. “I promise you. There’s no need to try and set a record here.”
“Would not that kind of ego-exercise be useful, if not ideal for this kind of therapy.”
The attendant looked skeptical. “Our focus isn’t the ego so much as it is low-level hedonism.”
Lucilius looked equally skeptical. “Alright let’s just get to it and get this hedonic sutra on the books.”
The attendant chuckled. “Hedonic sutras.. I haven’t heard that one yet!”
Lucilius mumbled to himself as he relaxed and closed his eyes, waiting for the simulation to begin. “Moderation in everything, including moderation.”
Several hours later the attendant was bent over a the simulation monitor, his eyes wide as he anxiously chewed at the skin around his fingernails. The door opened and the program’s director walked in.
“What’s the status of the patient?”
The attendant looked at his superior with desperation and spoke with a tense accuracy. “He’s just crossed 11,000 years.”
The program director showed no change in his expression. He simply leaned in and looked at the simulation monitor and he remained incredulous. “That’s not possible. How long since the simulation actually started.”
The attendant shook his head, checking his watch. “Nearly two hours now.”
The program director spun around and looked at Lucilius, unconscious, lying in the simulation cradle.
“Impossible,” the program director said. “What’s his limbic-neocortical balance?”
“That’s the thing,” the attendant said, nearly pleading. “His balance keeps edging toward ideal parameters but then retreats. He’d been teetering on the verge nearly the entire time.”
“We’ve never seen negative approach, let alone vacillation.”
“I know, it doesn’t make sense. The model has been maxed out for a full ninety minutes, and I’ve been worried about our hardware. With each passing year in the simulation, compute power required to generate a higher degree of hedonic experience expands geometrically."
“He could burn out our entire program…” the director muttered.
Then without warning the simulation screen went black. Health monitors all around the simulation cradle went dark. The attendant yelped pathetically, and the director’s eyes widened.
Lucilius yawned and sat up, stretching his arms. He disconnected himself from all the wires and leads and stood up from the cradle, smiling a bit smugly at the attendant and the director. He casually waltzed toward the door and before he left, he turned to them.
“I’ve had better.”