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Joe and the Machine

by Anup Anthony

The walls were grimy with ages of disregard. Paint flaked off in huge patches and the grey of cement could be seen beneath. Very little light was present. A small square section of wall had been removed far above where the man sat and it was the only source of radiance and fresh air in the room. They had been careful to make sure that there could be no possible way for him to reach it.

At one side of the room, attached to the wall, was a strip of concrete; this was his bed. There were no blankets or cushioning of any kind, but his back had long since gotten used to the unyielding rigidity. Now, as winter drew nearer, even the cold that seeped in through the crack in the wall high above him seemed unbearable and he wished for something to cover himself with. His colourless “prisonwear”, as he liked to call it, - thin material roughly hewn into a jumpsuit - offered little protection. It was so thin that it barely concealed his body beneath it.

Once in every three days, they would give him a fresh change of clothes and take away the ones he wore.

At the opposite corner of the grey room was a small excrete-mentor. He was grateful that there were no plumbing faults in the system; there were no odours.

The room’s only exit was a huge steel door that sat squarely in the south wall of his little cell.

“Why me?” he asked out loud.

With a harsh metallic clang, a small slot set in the thick metal door – the slot through which they fed and clothed him - slammed open. Beyond it, the thing that guarded him, vigilant as ever, spoke

“Why you what?” it asked.

The voice was strangely ambiguous. It could have either been a man or a slightly older woman. Except Joe was fairly sure that the thing was not human.

“Just let me get back to my apartment.”

The thing was silent for a while and then intoned,“Are you hungry? Can I get you anything?”

“Fuck you,” Joe said, placidly. “I just want to go home.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that for you,” it replied.

Joe stood up, walked to the slot and tried to peer through. As always, he saw nothing; beyond the door was absolute blackness. A gentle gust of air constantly flowed through the slot when it was open but it did not seem fresh; the draught was warm and had the neutral quality of conditioned air. Joe peered intently through the slot and tried to ascertain the source of the voice.

“Hey, don’t you ever leave off guarding this door? Don’t you have a home to go to? A family?”

“No. No. No,” the thing replied.

Joe realised that it was answering all his questions separately. Infuriatingly, its voice seemed to echo its way out of the blackness beyond the door, so that he could not grasp exactly from whence it came.

It spoke. “Human Beings are capable of extraordinary instances of original and creative thought. The nature of the human mind is incredible in its capacity for the unlimited. In a very real sense our minds, though not our physical form, can swim in infinity. But why is that in most cases, none of us ever use this capacity. Why are we held back by a seemingly fundamental need to embrace the thoughts and ideas of others before us.”

“Fuck you,” Joe groaned, “you’re not drawing me into this one.”

“Fuck me? I ask you a question pertaining to the very nature of our existence and you reply with obscenities?”

Joe sighed. “I dunno. What does it matter. I want out of this fucking cell, not to understand where we went wrong.”

The thing spoke.“The problem is that most of us are held back, without even knowing it, by the weight of the thousands of influences that filter down into our thought processes as we flit through life. Concepts and traditions, if you will. An immense breakthrough is possible. But to do that, you’d have to have extraordinary courage. To let go off everything you’ve ever believed in; all those little belief systems that give you security. You’d have to jump knowing that there might be no bottom.”

“Shut up.”

“Are you curious to know what I look like?” the thing said and he sensed faint humour in its tone.

“No,” Joe muttered. “Shut the fuck up.”

And it was silent after that.

***

Joe slept and strange dreams and thoughts came to him.

I stare out of the window, day in day out and I try to see the truth in the faces that come and go. They look at me, they croon to me and they speak of a past that I have no memory off. My teeth rot in my gums, and I forget to wipe myself after I excrete, but this urgent feeling I carry inside me is as bright as it was on the day I first felt it. Surely, I have tried everything I possible could to rid myself of this feeling, but it has never left me. Now, it is all I have and if I don’t extinguish it before I die here between these padded walls, I don’t think I will see eternity. I think my mind will remain forever in that instant of death when the pains of seizure takes over my senses as my vital organs fail and my heart grinds to a stop.

***

From the Diary of Dr. Jurgensen Rasmun

Dated : 24/04/2025

I tried it myself today. Of course, I didn’t activate the neutralizers; I prefer to retain my memory, thank you very much ha-ha. Tomorrow, we set out looking for volunteers. I have already approached several Institutions of note, but they refuse to lend me their inmates. This is so absurd; the fools don’t understand that my work can HELP them. Why is it that visionaries and geniuses are always the most opposed?

Tomorrow, we shall set out looking for alternate means to bring somebody to Tabula Rasa. Rob tells me that in the southern parts of this great city of ours, one can find human wreckage in abundance. It is a place where the dregs of our species gather: the insane, the deviants, the chemically addicted. Damaged goods are what I’m looking for so this should suit me perfectly. I will go with Rob as he seems to know his way around those parts, though I’m not sure I wish to know how. I have heard that one can even acquire children for any manner of deviant purposes should one choose. I shudder at the thought; I am a scientist and though my field of work is neuroscience, I prefer to stay away from the human mind on a psychological level. I shall leave that to the shrinks. I find that ironic considering that my work, should it succeed, will most benefit the mind doctors.

***

A few days later – although to Joe, time had long since lost any meaning; he had, in fact, forgotten how long he’d been here – Joe awoke groggily and was greeted by the same omni-directional light, the same drab walls, the same maddening silence.

“Damn,” he muttered and then, almost at once, regretted that he’d said it: he knew what was coming next.

The metal slot slammed open with the same abrupt clash that he now thoroughly hated.

“Damn what?” said the voice.

“Go away,” Joe said weakly.

“I can’t do that. My job is stand here and administer to you.”

“Well, you don’t have to be so fucking enthusiastic about it. Every time I open my mouth, you’re there. Like some fucking genie. Just what the hell are you anyway?”

Without pause, before even the last traces of the sentence had died in Joe’s mouth, the voice began to speak : “I am here to do my duty Joe. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what I am. However, I am willing to help you find the answers. Damn what?”

“Huh?” Joe said.

“Damn what? You started this conversation by saying damn.’

Somehow that seemed to snap something in him.

‘”Conversation? What the fuck do you mean conversation? I don’t WANT to converse with you, you fucking…. Whatever the fuck you are. Leave me the fuck alone,” he screamed.

“Calm down Joe,” said the voice, with seemingly infinite patience.

“Damn you,” Joe screeched; his head felt like it would explode.

“Oh.” Said the voice, as if finally understanding a difficult concept, “Damn me.”

Incredibly, it seemed to think this over. After a while, it said : “How do you mean, damn me?”

Joe let out an inadvertent sob.

“Why do you cry, Joe?”

Joe sat down slowly on the bunk. He figured he would just loose it. He would come unravelled like a ball of twine. Maybe that was what the thing wanted anyway. Maybe all it wanted was for him to go crazy. Well, it was doing a great job of it…

“Why do you cry, Joe?” it asked again, in the same tone as before.

Joe did not reply.

The voice continued to repeat the question at short, regular intervals in the exact same tone until finally, hours later, it stopped and the slot clanged shut again. By then, Joe had stopped crying and fallen into a fitful sleep.

Thoughts drifted by him and he registered some of them:

You pay for your sins. You pay for every single word you ever spoke that cut, every action that brought sorrow and every thought that called down darkness on another. And when the payment comes, it arrives with a brutal force that leaves you broken and violated. Sometimes, no matter how much you pay, its never enough. Then the past takes on its own reality and you live within it, begging to be let out ,not realising that you are your own prisoner.

For the next few days, Joe was careful not to say anything. He could not remember how he’d ended up like this, being guarded by this strange entity. Nor could he think of a way to get out. He could not, in fact, remember anything. His furthest memory was of having woken up in this same cell; it was like looking into one of two facing mirrors: the days stretched back into his past, each a perfect replica of the other. But the strangest thing was happening: he was not going mad. On the contrary, the silence and the sparse food and environment seemed to be doing things to his mind. His every thought was razor sharp, so tangible that he felt he could wield them like weapons. They streamed through his mind in a torrent, firm and sure.

He had not spoken for days on account of the thing outside, but….

Joe paused in thought.

The thing seemed to love to talk. It seemed to want to talk to him. What if… what if he turned the tables on it? What if he kept talking until it grew weary? Talked it into going nuts? Would it go away?

The idea seemed incredible.

First of all, from his prior experience with the creature, he’d seen that it appeared to be possessed of an unfathomable, machine-like patience. Also, it seemed to have at least moderate analytic skills.

There was no harm in trying though.

Joe took a deep breath and uttered the first thing that came to his mind:

“Shit,” he said out loud.

The sound of his own voice – which seemed alien to him after such a long time – had barely died away when the horrible steel slot noisily opened and the voice spoke:

“How do you mean?” it asked.

The voice immediately triggered feelings of anger and frustration in him, but Joe found he could suppress these easily; his mind felt like it was rearing to go.

“It is one of human kind’s physical, earthly needs. To defecate.”

The thing responded delightedly :“Is there any other kind of need that humans have? Other than earthly?”

“Sure. But first let's talk about our earthly needs.” Joes said.

“Okay”

Yes, there was delight in its voice, all right. Joe groaned inwardly; maybe this was not such a good idea after all.. I mean, the thing actually enjoyed this. But all he said was,“There’s sex, for one.”

“A Human’s need to procreate,” the voice responded.“It is a manifestation of nature’s property of continuity. Though humans tend to think it is a conscious decision on their part.”

“What? To have sex?” Joe asked incredulously, getting drawn in despite himself – maybe this thing was dumber than he thought.

“No,” it replied, “the whole process. Including social derivatives such as the institution of marriage. It is just nature’s way of disguising herself. Though humans are too ignorant to know otherwise.”

“You mean that sex is something we’re doing simply to retain continuity of our species and we wish to cover up this sign of our mortality by dressing it up with rituals and institutions. We know that.”

Joe noticed that the thing seemed to pause at this.

“Yes,” it said finally.

“And let's not forget food,” continued Joe.

“What about food?”

“It is a thorn in our species side. Why must we always require to administer to our hunger. Does it not provide another reason for conflict?”

“Yes,” the voice answered.

“I think hunger, and the urge to throw out the waste from our body is in some way parallel to the way the higher level elements of human functionality operate.”

“How do you mean ‘higher level elements'?"

“I mean the thought processes, the spiritual aspects of our nature.”

“You are saying that biological functions are in someway parallel to spiritual functions?”

“Sure, we intake stuff. We process it. We shit it out. There’s a constant flow of material, in and out.”

“Don’t you mean the mind? That there is a parallel between the mind and the body in the way they operate?”

“No, I mean our spiritual aspects. The purest form of the mind.”

“Some would say,” the voice said slyly, “that these 'spiritual aspects' are falsities thought up by the wise men of your species to preserve a system of ethical right and wrong.”

“Could be,” Joe said, “but not all things can be explained away by what you see and what you do not. Man has spiritual needs. The history of our species points to this.”

“You refer to the rituals you perform? That is nothing but an indication of your fear of non-definition. An urge for a secure system of beliefs. It does not indicate any higher order of necessity. Its just the weakness of your minds.”

“The mind is full of shit,” Joe barked. “But if you like we could talk about it.

There was a pause.

“Ah,” the voice said. “Now we’re getting to the truth. I think this is what you were coming to all along. You wish to traverse through the realm of thought and the human mind..”

Joe nodded.

“Do you think to threaten me or usurp my position here with a display of your mental prowess?” the voice spoke in a different tone. Its intensity had grown and where before it had seemed ambiguous, there was now a definite element of masculinity in it.

Joe felt terror course through him; this was not what he had planned. The creature outside was not supposed to know his intention. If it was smart enough to figure that out, he was up against something colossal.

But suddenly Joe felt blinding anger.

Fuck it, he told himself.

“Yes,” he addressed the door, his voice deadly quiet. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, motherfucker. I’m going to make you regret you ever got this job.”

“We shall see,” the voice said, and the anger in its tone was replaced once again by that inkling of delight. “Let us then talk about the mind.”

“Ok,” Joe said.

“Your mind.”

“MY mind?”

“Yes.”

“What the fuck… why my mind? Why not the ‘human’ mind. Or your fucking mind. Why the fuck would you want to discuss my mind. I’m not under examination here.”

“Calm down Joe.”

“In this cell, I follow your rules, fuckwit, but in this game, the rules are mine. We discuss the human mind.”

“No, we must talk about your mind,” the voice said patiently.

Joe held his anger in check with great effort.

“Why?”

“Because, you know your mind better and thus have an advantage over me. I am simply giving you an advantage as I have one over you by being your gaoler.”

Joe thought this through.

“Could be, asshole. But I’m sure you’re hiding a couple tricks up your sleeve.”

The voice did not reply.

“What about my mind,” Joe said sullenly.

“Why are you as you are.”

“What me or humans in general.”

“You.”

“You’re not human are you?” Joe said softly. Suddenly he was sure of this.

“This is about you, not me,” the voice responded.

“Fuck you.”

“We could continue this later.”

“Ok. Wait... why am as I am... hmmm. Well, let's see. A human bottles up experiences as he goes along. They simmer and shift, but never get completely digested. As we grow older, our behavioural traits reflect these experiences. That’s why I am who I am I guess.”

“What if the experiences are bad.”

“What do you think, fuckwit? I’ll grow up to be a criminal or a psycopath. Or insane.”

“I wish you wouldn’t be so obscene.”

“Fuck you.”

“You are a petulant species.”

“Whatever.”

“If your thought processes are as far removed from your physical processes, is it also not true that you exist in a grey area between these two state of human function?. The mental and the physical?”

Joe nodded. “Some of us shift alternately between the two. And some try to stay put in just one. The human psyche however is not conducive to this kind of thing. If we give in to our physical desires, our mind reprimands us, and if we constantly live within the realms of the mind, our physical urges kick up a storm.”

“Good bye social life, huh?” said the voice, uncharacteristically.

Joe glanced at the door sharply. “Are you or are you not fucking human,” he barked.

“You will know in due time. But if its what I said about the social life, please ignore that. I got that from a movie.”

“What’s a ‘movie’?” said Joe.

“Never mind. What then, is the optimal state of a human being? The mental or the physical.”

“How the fuck should I know?”

“We are here. We are doing nothing else. Maybe we can find out?”

Joe considered if the thing was making fun of him. Then decided it didn’t matter anyway. He sighed.

“There is no optimal state. The human psyche is dynamic. Not static. And for good reason; we’re constantly bombarded by circumstance, environmental and otherwise. We must cope and a rigid state, obviously, would not be conducive to that.”

“True,” the voice mused. “But would man not be more secure if he had a firmly defined point of view from which to tackle the world and it’s circumstances.”

“Maybe.”

“In fact,” the voice continued calmly, “is that not how the heroes of your people are identified. Those that have strong beliefs and live by it? Even die for it?”

“Yes,” Joe answered, “but we have another name for them, too.”

“And that is?”

“Fools,” Joe said, grinning.

The voice chuckled and said,“Well?”

“Yes, you’re right about that though,” Joe agreed. “But I think we, as a species, have finally understood that beliefs are a relative thing: One man’s right is another man’s wrong.”

“So you’re saying truth is a relative thing then.”

“Yes.”

“And there is no absolute right and wrong.”

Joe stopped and realized where the thing had brought him. Could that be?

“In other words,” the voice calmly went on, “a firm belief gives you false security. The root of the belief is the same for all people: a need for order.”

“Huh?”

“A need for order,” it said impatiently, “In the chaos that is the human condition, order is a highly valued thing. Thus, your heroes and your icons are those that have brought order to the disarray of the human condition. Those that have, through wisdom, discovered a path for men to tread comfortably.”

“Well, maybe,” Joe mused, “but what if such a belief is in direct opposition to another’s. And when the others belief is just as strong as yours.”

“Conflict and war.”

“Exactly,” Joe nodded.

“So you’re saying the root of conflict is belief systems. Which offer nothing but a false sense of security through the order they bring to the chaos that is the human condition. And if one were to remain completely and absolutely accommodative and adaptive to the bombardment of circumstance, it would provide the perfect catalyst to growth and peace.”

“Something like that,” Joe agreed.

“And that there is no absolute truth. Truth is, infact, understanding that there is no truth.”

Joe paused again. “We’re back to that, aren’t we?”

“And that there is no right and wrong.”

“Ok, ok,” Joe said sullenly. “I’m not saying that. I need to think that one over.”

“May I come again tomorrow,” the voice ventured.

“Sure thing, asswipe. Hope I’ve given you something to chew on.”

“Likewise.”

Joe grunted and closed his eyes. And he began to think, his mind darting from idea to idea, seeking a solution to the thing’s maddening questions.

He slept and he dreamed.

…its eyes bulge like an insects and it makes disgusting breathing noises, like a dying man whose lungs are filled with snot. It sits on its haunches and regards him lazily.

“Let me go,” he moans, crouched in the dark corner. He knows that if he leaps away in any direction, the thing will move at him with a swiftness that its misshapen bulk does not hint at.

It says nothing in reply but its unreadable eyes are trained on him.

“What are you,” he says, his voice breaking and he begins to weep.

Then it speaks. A terrible voice that cracks and rumbles wetly.

“I am what you never let go, your mind’s waste become solid. You are dead and this is what you face when you are dead. Your sins become real and they stalk you. I am the amalgamation of your sins.”

He thinks that he must be dreaming for what the monstrosity has just said is absurd. It is not possible to him that life after death could consist of these dinghy, dimly lit corridors and this pale skinned beast that hunts him.

“You lie, I am only in the throes of a nightmare” he tells it and gets up to go.

The thing leaps at him, towers impossibly over him and ingests him in one smooth motion.

***

From the Diary of Dr. Jurgen Rasmunsen
Dated: 14/5/2025

That was an experience that I would rather not go through again. The human misery I saw there left me feeling empty and hopeless. But our work is done and we found such a person as I require for my work. And to think we found him by pure luck.

After much dispirited inquiring, we ‘stumbled’ across our subject in an alley between a brothel and a deserted factory. My first thought on seeing him was that he was an addict, but this notion was quickly dispelled when on closer examination we found the skin on his forearm unmarked. We quickly loaded him into the mobile station for more thorough tests and found that he had no toxins in his system whatsoever. However, he appeared oblivious to any stimuli, physical or otherwise. From his state it was also apparent that he had lost his capacity for normal day-to-day activity (the subject had befouled himself and seemed not to have eaten for days). As Rob so colourfully put it : “Jeez, he’s been lying there like that in his own piss and shit for fuck knows how long.’

It’s a mystery, albeit a dismaying one. I believe if we had not gotten to him, he would have simply faded away. Yet it saddens me; that men would allow a fellow being to simply die away like that. It speaks evil of our species.

Hah. Enough philosophising. We have him here and tomorrow we will begin our work. We have washed him and fed him, though through it all, he simply sat there limply, like a mannequin. Quite unnerving.

Rob has christened him “Joe”

***

Transcript from Interview with Jurgensen Rasmun

ZONE NEWSLETTER

Dated: 11/10/2022

(note to reader : This is an unedited version. The final version of this article never made it to print; it was pulled for undisclosed reasons.)

Interviewer : Greta Blezinski, Senior Editor, Technology and Science.

G.B : For the benefit of our readers, who are you and what do you do?

Dr. Jurgensen : Dr. Jurgensen Rasmun. I am the President and Chief Research Engineer at Tabula Rasa. I used to be Head Tech. at Komi Entertainment for 10 years and am generally credited for the integration of Neuron Stimulus with their VR technology. Of course, I’d like to point out that although I lead the research, the break through could not have happened without the dedication and talent of my excellent team.

G.B : You are also known for your modesty and your ability to inspire loyalty, Doctor. Is it not true that most of the people who worked under you in Komi chose to follow you to your start up company, Tabula Rasa?

Dr. Jurgensen : (smiling) That is true. However, they came of their own accord.

G.B : Undoubtedly. For the less technologically savvy amongst our readers, could you explain what exactly the significance of your, and your team’s, achievement is?

Dr. Jurgensen : A decade ago, Virtual Reality systems did a poor job of their intended purpose. Which is, of course, to emulate reality. All they could provide back then were visual and, to an extent, auditory stimuli using headsets or other arcane devices. There were many unsuccessful and highly expensive attempts at creating total sensory input devices, but these were impossible to translate into any cost-effective real world application.

In 2010, Kumoro Nashimi, the then President of Komi, a visionary man, decided enough was enough. He wanted to go the whole hog.. create a total immersion entertainment system, sensory input and all. (laughing) Of course, he was either laughed at or ignored by the prominent voices of that era.

At the time, working on my own, I had drawn up some highly theoretical concepts on Motor Neurons, their morphology, electrophysiology and molecular composition, and more importantly, Receptor activtion. To most of my colleagues, I had crossed the border into heretic territory. When I read about Kumoro’s intention, I send some of my stuff to him. Apparently, he saw something in my work that my colleagues and peers did not, because the next thing I knew, I was on a plane to meet him and, after a thorough brainstorm session, put in charge of their Research and Tech. wing. About 5 years later, after the first few working prototypes, nobody was laughing.

G.B : The prototypes being…

Dr. Jurgensen : We created a completely functional VR system. Not just visual and auditory stimuli. Complete sensory input :Sound, sight, smell, touch….What you now know as the Komi VR Line of products.

G.B : Was it a difficult path?

Dr. Jurgensen : More so than anyone can ever imagine. Many times, it looked like it was impossible. Of course, we had the work of some of the world’s most brilliant scientists to base our research on. Kranthi Survanan’s 2005 breakthrough in isolating Neuron Functionality for instance. Still, among other things, it was a nightmare. Human rights activists, religious zealots.. And more disparaging was the monumental task in front of us. But we pulled through somehow.

G.B : The project had its share of controversies too, didn’t it? There was a claim that for some of the experiments you used live human subjects.

Dr. Jurgensen. : That was nonsense. Public hysteria. We used lab animals for the most part, and based much of our research on that. You must remember that computers can simulate just about any system, including the human nervous system.

G.B : Komi’s VR Series of Products have now almost become household appliances. How do you feel when you see that?

Dr. Jurgensen : Proud, I guess. We pretty much rewrote history.

G.B : Speaking of which… the name most associated with the device is that of Kumoro Nashimi, the president of Komi. Does that rile you?

Dr. Jurgensen : It was his vision, his funding and more importantly, his belief in me, my team and the project that finally lead to its success. No, it does not rile me in the least.

G.B : You have now gone on to begin your own venture, Tabula Rasa. A phrase which means ‘Starting over’, if I’m not mistaken. Is this an indication of your frame of mind.

Dr. Jurgensen : No. In fact, it is a reference to the nature of our fledgling project.

G.B : Which is?

Dr. Jurgensen. : Tabula Rasa is not an entertainment company. It does not create VR entertainment for commercial consumption like Komi does. Instead, Tabula Rasa is about utilizing the VR technology that we helped develop at Komi and taking it to the next level. Total immersion VR’s primary purpose right now is entertainment. Using our background in NeuroTech and the firm foundation provided by the currently existing VR applications, we are trying to tread new paths in this field. Our work at Tabula Rasa revolves around the higher conceptual levels of the use of this technology. Its philosophical implications, if you will. The concept of a reality within a reality and the power that this gives us in fields like psychology and medicine.

G.B : Sounds fascinating. Can you divulge any technical details about your current project?

Dr Jurgensen : Well, I can give you an overview of our current project, for which the company was named. Tabula Rasa : a mind untouched by experience. The concept is extremely simple. Almost brilliantly so.

We know that ALL human beings have enormous creative capacity – even the least intellectually equipped among our species is capable of moments of absolutely brilliant original thought. It is the nature of our species : our mental capacity is infinite. However, we are always held back from using the full creative potential of our mind. Can you guess why?

G.B : hmm….. no.

Dr Jurgensen : (laughing) I’ll make a simple analogy. When does a plant grow best? When the nature of the environment it is in is best conducive to its growth, correct?. When the sun shines, when there’s enough water, when the soil is right. The human mind is no different : if the circumstances are right, our minds are capable of incredible insight. However, the circumstances can never be right all the time. We are constantly weighed down by experience, memories, traditions. These are, taking the plant analogy further, the weeds that choke the mind. We are constantly weighed down by thought and fear. Our minds are moulded by past experience, by our environment and by the traditions of our cultures. By our prejudices, our sorrows. In other words, we’re caged within an invisible cell. Our mind can never be free enough to operate at full throttle.

But what if… what if, we can temporarily erase all of that.. all the memories, all the experiences, all the limitations and cultivate an environment perfectly suited for thought? What if we can induce Tabula Rasa.. a mind untouched by experience? What then? I believe that if such a machine existed, we could put into it even the most mediocre human specimen and extract creative thoughts that would rival those of history’s most creative thinkers. We could actually HARVEST thought.

G.B : Amazing. But won’t eliminating all memory neutralize the ability to think? Won’t it destroy the basic currency of thought? Language? The capacity to formulate thought?

Dr. Jurgensen : Our work at Komi involved isolating receptors based on their functionality and triggering them based on synthesised stimuli. This is simply another variation : ensuring that the mind functions. If we can control this to a suitable extent, immense possibilities exist in terms of the types of environments we can create, appropriating them for different disciplines of thought.

G.B : That’s an incredible concept. Is such a machine actually possible?

Dr. Jurgensen : Well, I can’t go into more detail, but I’ll tell you this. When the idea of the Total Immersion VR system was first proposed all those years ago, it seemed impossible. But we did it. I have since learned that NOTHING is impossible.

***

From the Diary of Dr. Jurgensen Rasmun

Dated: 15/5/2025

The AI is in place. We have been careful to make sure that its voice is as neutral as possible : neither masculine or feminine. It’s function is to provide stimulus; not very advanced compared to what’s currently out there, but pretty good for a hurriedly put together program. And it sure beats silence. It will form relatively simple verbal stimuli based on Joe’s own utterances (should he actually utter anything).

We have programmed it to begin with a dictation of our doctrine, which I now know by rote : “Human beings are capable of extraordinary instances of original and creative thought. The nature of the human mind is incredible in its capacity for the unlimited. In a very real sense, our minds, though not our physical form, can swim in infinity. But why is that, in most cases, none of us ever use this capacity. Why are we held back by a seemingly fundamental need to embrace the thoughts and ideas of others before us.”

Of course, this could have absolutely no significance, but I simply think that it would be good form if these words are insinuated into the subject’s mind right at the start.

Rob argued for simply popping poor Joe into the VR environment, “zapping his brains and letting him stew’. Of course, Joe does not seem to have much of a memory anyway. But I believe he is simply in a trauma – a state of shock brought on by some horrendous experience that has, in turn, brought on this vacuous condition. We have chosen to put Joe in the ‘Cell’ Mod. The absolute drabness of the aural stimuli and the constant challenge from the AI should make sure that he is sufficiently motivated.

We will be closely monitoring his physiology as well : In normal circumstances, a man, if he awakens to complete loss of memory, will panic. To make sure this does not happen, we will have to monitor and control his physiology very carefully. The team has a hard time in front of them. We have to be highly selective; our work at Komi has taught us the pitfalls to watch out for but we must still be careful.

I can safely make a few predictions about what will happen after the process is initiated.

First of all, removing immediate memories will have the most profound outcome of all. The loss of traumatic memories will have the effect of reverting Joe to his core personality. It should be interesting to see what Joe is really like. Possibly quick minded, raucous, quick to anger….considering his origin. We have decided to use Ian’s Social and Philosophical template with Joe. A strange marriage indeed : a damaged mind (formed in squalor) coupled with mankind’s loftiest discipline of science. I purposely chose to do this, as it will be all the more indicative of the power of this concept.

As we geometrically increase selective neuron neutralization, Joe’s personality will eventually be nullified. He will, gradually, loose any character quirks whatsoever. Of course, remnants of both memory and personality will occur during the dream state but this is beyond our control. I’m certain it will have no significant consequence anyway, and eventually, these too will cease to recur.

(note to self : Remind Ian about the algorithm for progressive synapse authoring : though currently geometric, it still needs to be tweaked.)

Good luck, Joe. If this works… I can only imagine.

***

The next day Joe came awake blearily and blurted out, “Fuck”

The invariable metallic clang was followed by the words, “Fuck what?”

“Why you, of course.” Joe said.

“Can I get you something to eat?”

“No. What were we talking about yesterday?”

Without pause, the machine answered, “About the mind’s need for security and its urge to cling to systems of beliefs. Said belief systems being the root of all conflict. Also, you were of the opinion that none of these systems were completely true, thus giving refute to the concept of absolute truth.”

“Right,” Joe grunted. “So in essence, is there a spiritual, supernatural aspect to the mind that leads us to truth in some way – a universal truth – or is it just our minds jerking each other off in an attempt at security.”

“Eloquently put.”

“Don’t dick with me, machine.”

“I am not a machine.”

“But I shall choose to call you thus.”

“Ok,” it replied, tonelessly.

“Well, to understand that, I guess we got to move back to what we were talking about earlier. About the mind’s need for order.”

Joe paused.

“What do you think I fear the most?” he asked the thing beyond the door.

“You wish me to answer?”

“Yes.”

“The unknown, of course. That is where all fear originates. The lack of a frame of reference.”

Joe was thunderstruck.

“How did you know that?”

“It’s obvious. Your mind can stand anything but the lack of knowing. It fears that which it does not know.”

“Yes,” Joe murmured, “so you were right when you said that in our attempt to make sense of this chaotic universe, we try to make order where there is none. We give names, we create entities, we make sciences of everything.. and that which we cannot explain, we create mythos and religions about.”

“Are you saying in essence that someday all will be explained?”

“No, I’m saying that no matter what, certain things can NEVER be explained. They’re the things that the mind has no business trying to comprehend. Another part of us needs to tackle it.”

“Do you mean the body?”

“No, asshole. I mean … well, I don’t have a name for it.. I mean the spirit, I guess. The part of us that just KNOWS. The intuition. The subconscious. Whatever you want to call it.”

“So you’re saying that sciences and definitions set the mind at ease by creating order out of the chaos that is the physical world. And prayer and meditations set the spiritual part of us at ease by creating order of the chaos that is the human condition.”

“Yes.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

Joe looked up sharply at the door.

“I’m only getting to the point, motherfucker. Don’t dick with me.”

The thing outside the door did not reply.

Finally Joe said, “Your question yesterday was: Are beliefs that are come upon by this spiritual part of our awareness the absolute truth? Or is it just a translation of our intellectual need to make a science of everything – hence organized religion. If it were indeed the absolute truth, why do different people come upon different solutions. And hence, cause war and conflict.”

“True.”

“Well,” Joe said slowly. “I think its because of several things. Both, spiritual and the intellectual, have their own place in the scheme of things. The spiritual cannot enter the realm of the intellectual, and vice-versa. That’s what the root of all the trouble is.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, for one, the need for order and security manifests itself most urgently in our intellectual plane of consciousness. The rational part of us needs to ‘understand’, but the spirtual part of us is just happy being… well, happy. When this urgency of the rational mind to ‘understand’ crosses the border into the spiritual realm, a place where it has no business being, its need for a secure, defined system of thought begins to impose itself.”

“Which means absolute truth is simply a trick of the rational mind?”

“Not really. I guess everyone has his truth. His own personal God. But it’s the rational mind that tries to construct a fucking science out of it. Hence organized religion… probably.”

“So you’re saying…”

“Yes, some dude comes along, experiences a genuine spiritual experience and a hundred fools come along and declare it a system of thought. Then there’s war and blood. They don’t figure that each of ‘em have a similar capacity for the experience. In fact, they don’t realize that the truth actually lies in this personal experience.”

“You are implying that there is no absolute truth. Only unique individual truths for individual people.”

“No,” Joe said, “ if that were so, it wouldn’t be that almost all attempts at such religions have so many underlying similarities. Sure, historical and geographical aspect must have played a role in one system of belief influencing others.. but its too much of a coincidence that all major religions have similar ideas of right and wrong.”

“Do you mean that there IS a universal truth. But only because humans are uniquely different, they experience the same thing in slightly different ways.”

“Yes.”

“And that when they try to intellectualise it, they come up with different things and argue over the technicalities of it. Like that quaint little story about the blind men who feel up an elephant and come up with different descriptions of the same thing..”

“The blind men who feel up the what?”

“Never mind. And they fight and kill each other over what is essential the same experience, only interpreted differently.”

“Yes, yes something to that effect,” Joe agreed, impatiently.

“Very insightful, Joe.”

Joe nodded dismissively. His mind continued to rage with thoughts and images, connections and ideas. But behind it all, something loomed large and ominous. He could not identify it. Was it memory? Was it truth? Was it the true nature of reality? He didn’t know, but he would find out.

Joe opened his mouth and continued to speak.


Anup Anthony is a writer, musician and software programmer. He lives in the United Arab Emirates, but is a citizen of India - a country he loves. He has written and published several short-stories, and is currently working on a novel.

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