Being Patient with Challenging Reading

by faun, again

Since deindustrialisation, life has been good. Nothing particularly bad ever happens. The world is getting better, if slowly, but what’s really important is that we are sure that the world is not getting worse. Space above is waiting patiently. As long as we don’t do anything too hasty and mess it all up, a great future is assured to our descendants, so we focus on not doing anything too hasty.

Nothing dangerous is growing. We have found ways of pacifying the super-volcanoes. The only warrior force that still exists is locked onto the sole mission of preventing any others from forming. The climate is stabilised through a combination of emissions control and carbon capture. No Chicxulub-sized asteroid could ever pass our defence systems. Population health is monitored with an eagle eye and new diseases are generally brought to a halt at the site of inception.

You know that each of these systems can fail under very unlikely conditions, and you know that their probability of failing is such a small number that you cannot have feelings about it. It might as well be zero, as far as your feelings are concerned.

There is nothing to worry about. There is no need for anyone to rush.

We have agreed to move forward in peace.

You live at one of the monastaries of growth. They are places where new research happens. You have made many contributions to the monastic corpus that will aid humanity forever, and never be forgotten. You are married. You have had your two children, and they are learning well. Although you meet many surprises in the monastary’s dialogues, you always feel that you know what needs to be done. Everyone mostly agrees. Things are steadily getting better.

You enjoy your work a lot. You are under no pressure to produce anything in particular. You look in corners of reality that nobody has looked before, and you register your findings with the shared knowledgebase. You know that all of your reports will be useful to someone, some day.

Your monastary studies questions like “how to remember beauty”, and “guaranteeing, even more than before, that Force never goes off task”. Your monastary’s curriculum is always improving. You take great joy in watching it grow.

According to your monastary’s current estimates, humanity is only 1156 years away from figuring out how to bring about human immortality, and only 1269 years away from figuring out how to implement immortality without producing any negative risks.
It will be good when death is finally defeated, but it will be such a radical change in how our societies and institutions function, we mustn’t move too quickly. We do not know what 300 year old humans will be like, with vast banks of wisdom, undamaged by any mental aging. Could you imagine it? You know that you couldn’t imagine it. It’s hard enough for a 30 year old to imagine the psyche of a 50 year old, even after meeting many of them. You know that you’ve never met a 300 year old. You’ve certainly never been one. They would be beyond reckoning. They might find some way to resurrect the dangerous patterns of intense concentration of social capital that so characterised the terrible past. Such beings might be able to find ways of doing it that our social capital regulants either couldn’t detect or couldn’t untangle. As always, it is best to wait until we understand the place we are going, before setting off. There is little reason to rush. Everyone has agreed to walk together at a safe pace, hand in hand.

When your youngest child learned about how long the timelines are on the immortality project, and how many years are marked to pass between discovery and deployment, they were sad, angry, and confused. They railed against the consensus. You were intensely proud of them. They managed to engage with cold vehemency for an entire year before finally accepting the well measured nuance of the corpus and coming to agree that the reality is complicated and that further investigation is required before a conclusion can be drawn.

This child is quickly growing into an expert in the Good Immortality project. They have already made 9 contributions to the corpus. You celebrated every one.

The morning fog has passed, and you have eaten a large breakfast. You sit next to the stream in the bigger courtyard. Your two closest peers are here, but they understand that you must not be disturbed now, for you are about to read the Hink corpus. The Hink corpus is only at clarity level minus two. Your intention is to learn it, then bring it up to clarity level three, so that it can be taught with greater efficiency to more people.

The Hink corpus describes ways to make artificial minds that are more cognisant of the moral weight of their own thoughts. As an example, imagine that a mind is trying to help a person who is experiencing unwanted anguish. The mind must first understand the mental processes of the anguish. To do that, it must build some kind of reflection of the anguish inside itself. That reflection, that model, has its own existence. By imagining the anguished person in high detail, the mind is essentially creating another anguished person, of a sort. This is troublesome. Some conceptualisations of sound agency will not weigh the costs of a thought at all, before going ahead and thinking it. There is a risk that, when these new agents’ synthetic flesh is finally allowed to grow out over their intricate silicon skeletons, our new protectors might occasionally commit little mental atrocities without meaning to.

The Hink corpus offers solutions to this.

You look through the corpus, trying to understand and internalise summaries of its conclusions. It has made many surprising claims, some of which you might describe as “shocking”. You will need to understand how it arrives at them. It’s a lot to think about. You feel great difficulty, proceeding. A younger adept, in your place, might now have an impulse to procrastinate, to turn to distractions, to do easier work, but you know that there is nothing for you on the easy road. No, nothing at all.

But the hard road is too hard for you to walk any further. You are tired, and the day is warm.

Your peers, beside you, understand. They will make sure that no one disturbs you, when you nap. They are very dear. You know that napping is the way it will go, even if you don’t feel it coming on yet.

Your curiosity draws your attention over one of the Hink corpus’s proofs, but the proof is dense. It keeps naming new variables. You find that you have to keep starting again. You are not sure which proofs you should learn first. No good starting point or argument structure seems to have been provided. It all feels very fragmented and strange. Each symbol in each formula is hitting your brain like a very soft truncheon, irresistibly taking down your eyelids and nodding your head.

You inhale, and stretch.

You make another attempt. You mentally narrate the text as if it were being proclaimed to you by your first professor of logic who boomed with excitement as if he were revealing some energising secret of the universe to you, and that was how it felt, but that feeling isn’t finding you now. You know just how much burdensomely more there is to the world, how much you have found peace with never knowing, how much you never cared to know.

The booming of the words joins in with the barrage of symbols, their meaning lost, their forbidding weight beating you into a healing unconsciousness. As you feel yourself drooping, the booming words blend with the babbling of the stream, you cannot separate them, and now they are peaceful as the stream, and now there is only the stream. It is so calm. It goes on and on.

You feel a healing sorting. A continuous resolution of tensions happening in places that consciousness cannot see very well, but consciousness knows what is going on. It rests in its comfiest seat, the crook of the tree in the bigger courtyard. In your mind’s eye and ear you see and hear the peace that you know to surround you. You are perfectly content to be there, as the warm, safe, softened sun shines down on you through the courtglass as the wind passes under it, riffling about the higher leaves of the willows.

Yes. You are quite certain. Partaking in this nap is the best thing you could be doing right now.

You rove and return and submit to roving again as your unseen parts sort and shift in preparation


Your thoughts begin to reemerge from these foggy places.

New answers and new routes of inquiry have revealed themselves. A space has been cleared in your mind that is shaped perfectly to catch the knowledge of Hink.

Your body, despite its age and heft, feels light. You feel as though you could easily hop up and jog to the canteen, but you are full of focused curiosity, eager to fill this new cleared space. Now that you’ve had your nap, there’s only one thing you’re interested in doing.

Before you delve into the corpus, you take measure of your surroundings. It has not been long. Both of your peers are still here, busy with their own work but available if you need them. The wind passing under the courtglass still tosses the willows back and forth. The words of Hink are still in front of you, and now, you are ready for them. Your mind is so slick and supple that you will glide through this article as if your work had already been done.

You are ready to proceed. The moment has come.