A Quiet Panic
Oct 4, 2012
21 minute read

It’s not with pleasure that I’m starting to write this blog post. For all I know, it’s only doing me disservice, and I know that it won’t raise the spirits of its readers. So, I want to apologize in advance, for what I’m about to write. Please be aware that the real world might not be so grim, and that all this might just be the product of a latent depression.

Nevertheless, I am feeling a kind of quiet pressure, a silent urgency, to write down some of my thoughts as of late, so that perhaps I will be able to move on to other things. Everything is still confused, as I’ve been experiencing a severe drop in intellectual abilities for the past few years, but I’ll try to lay it out in a useful fashion.

Roots

Whenever we try to describe a situation, it is always a good idea to paint the boundaries, to situate it both in time and space. I was born in 1990, in Saint-Julien en Genevois, a city of Haute-Savoie (74), in France.

Newborn, I had no knowledge of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of president Gorbachev, or any of that. I was born in a house that cared less for the fate of the world and its politics, than that of the family itself. That was both a blessing and a curse, as I showed very little interest in History and Geography courses during primary school, which I now regret.

I do not remember much of my first fourteen years, but according to my parents, I was sick a lot. So, it is good to know that my peculiar sleeping schedule is nothing new. The difference being that back then, I had an actual, physical reason to be kept up: a deep, painful, resistant, high fever on and off for seven years.

Nowadays, physical illness is less of a concern, although I what is commonly called “regular nights” are still the exception. The sickness is more mental than it is physical. I have spent some time studying medical resources to find out if any particular mental illness applied to me, but - apart from the fact that self-diagnostic is a very bad idea - my conclusion was that either I was doing fine, or that everyone was insane. Which is the same, really.

From what I remember of my childhood, I was a terrible kid. I can’t recall a single adult whose words I have not argumented against, whose authority I have not questioned. This may come as a shocker, when you realize that my family was, at the time, rather conservative. Hence, well before my teens, it seemed like I did not belong here. The amount of hatred and sorrow that was generated because of my bravades to my parents, teachers, and preachers is hard to measure exactly - what I know is that they do remember me.

I used to be quite the creative. Only a few friends of mine equal my then production of music, drawings, writings, blogs, software, games. Not a week goes by that I am not remembered of an old project of mine that completely slipped off my mind. Looking back on it, it is certainly impressive - but for the most part, I’ve lost records of it, which means trying to make a comprehensive list would be vain - besides, who I am to deserve such attention?

Long before taking up programming, I had been experimenting, in different areas but with the same intent: building stuff. Building arguments against evolution in primary school, building robots and weird machines using legos and small electronic motors, trying to help people rebuild their couples, their lives. Building musical universes, characters, graphical ambiences. While seemingly diverse, all these activities revolve around the same obsession. I consumed a lot, but being passive was never really an option.

My theory as to the lack of memories from my childhood, is that I never actually had one. Not that I have been dropped on earth at 21, but it feels more like having lived several separate lifes in sequence. Apart from a few superficial character traits, I was just as adult as the 16-year old author of the blog ‘What True Love Is’ than I am now, at least in my head.

Writing about myself is a difficult exercise, because I am constantly pestered about considerations of self-worth: do I deserve to be a subject of study? The same goes about enriching my vocabulary. Who do I think I am? And the use of first-person pronouns. It is a painful effort to force myself to write these paragraphs, but I set out to do it.

That conscience - that perhaps humility is something I needed to learn - came very late. No trick in my youth, either from my teachers or parents, actually broke me. I never truly broke down before authority, admitting my faults and pledging to be humbler from then on. No. The realization happened much later, and had a significant impact.

I have written a lot about my previous romantic relationships, so I will not go into details here, but there are two worth nothing, because of how catastrophic they were. The first one marked the end of my ascension as a know-it-all, self-righteous, invincible tall rascal.

The first true love leaves an eternal mark - or so they say. Who can tell, now, if it was true love, or if I should use that other word conveniently manufactured for it: ‘codependency’? Fortunately, in these days there are words to denature almost anything. And by ‘denature’ I mean ‘get over’, of course.

Regardless, at the time I did believe it was true love. Just like I believed that the Bible was the word of an eternal, all-powerful, everloving, just, creator, commander of armies, forgiving but vengeful, father, spirit and son, God. It used to all fit together so nicely. Nevermind that my parents disapproved of our premarital sex - in my vision, marriage was nothing more than the union of two bodies and souls, as the Bible described. The rest was administrative shenanigans.

It lasted quite some time - and during that time, I have made myself a fool on more than one occasion. I have looked at suicide in the face, both in the person of my now ex-fiancée, and later, myself. That said, I was glad to go through all of that. A bloody bathtub is not exactly a happy scene, but when it is all you have, even a mental hospital’s bedroom can feel like home. I have learned to love blood, and to fear its power. I have learned patience and forgiveness, tolerance and open-mindedness.

But the bulk of the life lessons came after the break-up. Getting out of a weave of lies is not that easy. I was not ready to let go of it. I had expelled from my life almost all my old friends and family. I had refused to pursue any activity that did not fit in that perfect ideal of a couple. The end of it was simply inconceivable to me. It meant that all that we had been building towards simply wasn’t anymore. I did not exist outside of her, because my life had been a function of her - outside of this couple, it was simply undefined.

I did manage to put aside the option to kill myself then, for two reasons. The first one was that while being this self-righteous asshole, a few people had come to depend on me for counselling and support. After having vigorously advocated against suicide for a long time, I could not betray my legacy and bring them down with me. The second one is a bargain I made with a friend. “You are young, there’s so much left to live. Just try it for six months, we’ll talk then if you still want to.” And sure enough, a few months later I did find enough interest in life again that death seemed again only a distant prospect.

There was simply too much to learn, too much to do. As far as I can remember, I have never been satisfied with half-assed explanations, I always wanted to know exactly the how and the why. That curiosity brought me far enough to be able to play the instruments I like, to create the games I can imagine, to put together web services for the purposes I conceive. But recently, my curiosity has gotten the better of me.

Cycles

I did not stop learning, looking for information, always more. I think that all our fears related to the internet have come true already. It did bring out both the best and the worst of people - like any powerful tool. It did wield significant social and politic change. It did bring closer people, and it drew further apart other people. It is under attack from all the ancient industries so that they can regulate it and deform it for their own purpose rather than adapting their business to it.

But most importantly, the amount of information at our finger-tips has caught up to us, and today more than ever, the threat of decisional immobility is upon us. Most - no, all - lives are deeply rooted into diverse weaves of lies. Religions and politics are among the most popular and the best documented, but they are far from the only ones. Truth is, the world is much too much for a single human being. And for that very reason, parents continually try to hide, filter, reformat reality so that their children grow into functional beings.

To the question: can we ever have too much knowledge? I will answer: yes and no. No, because every child is originally thirsty for knowledge, and I believe that in a proper environment that encourages experimentation and learning, that thirst is never quite quenched, if only because the next oasis is systematically hinted at, in every lesson. Yes, because I’ve found “ignorance is bliss” to be particularly true, especially in 2012.

Lies are very easy to spot even in primary school. My favorite one when I was a teen, was that there were no numbers smaller than 0. Then, that there was no number between -2 and -3. Then, that there was no number such that, squared, it would give -1. And so on. Those are little lies, and relatively harmless, perhaps necessary to a proper, progressive instruction of algebra, but they shocked me as particularly blatant and admitted, and they set a precedent.

If a group of adults, responsible for our education, supposedly put in place by God - or at least, by the authorities (later, we will blame the “system”), were so readily willing to lie to us on these matters, what other large-scale lies could there be? However silly, it remains to me the archetypal lie on which I have based my further studies on the subject.

Of course, at this point, we need to define what actually a “lie” is. The Westminster catechism is of little help here, as western notions of truthood and falsehood rarely apply outside of boolean logic. No, in my mind, a lie is simply a boundary put in place to form an “education”. An education is something that limits, that bounds, your life. (As opposed to an “instruction”, which expands its scope).

So, by definition, a lie is anything that limits your thoughts or your actions. For example, if I could make you believe a lie stating that “France was always a republic”, then you would never even think of studying the history of Louis XIV. If I could make you believe a lie stating that France is still a republic, you would not even think of doubting and investigating the actions of big corporations in the country.

One might object that this definition of a lie is a bit silly, as it would make “believing that demons do not exist” or “believing that stars do not predict our behavior” lies themselves. Well, I am willing to take the fall for those - every silly superstition out there is actually an interesting subject of study, if only so that we can find evidence against it.

Even purely imaginary constructs are subjects of interest - they develop new ways of thinking, therefore expanding your intellectual abilities. For example, it’s your right to believe that complex numbers do not exist, but their utility have been proven time and again, for example when analyzing electronic circuits, which are very much real. It’s also your right to doubt the existence of God, but he has also been proven very useful in real life, to control immense crowds of people - or even just to calm down a single individual.

Our definition of “lie” leaves us embarassed when we have to come back to what “truth” means. If a truth was the opposite of a lie, then by definition a truth would be anything that expands your mind and life. But some truths are incompatible. If you accept the linearity of time, and principle of identity, something either is or isn’t - therefore, one of these statements: “X exists” and “X doesn’t exist” must be a truth, and the other one must be a lie.

That’s all good and fancy when only two truthlies are fighting. But what about a thousand truthlies, all subtly different and contradictory, all with significant followings? How do you distinguish between the true truths and the true lies then? That is the kind of conundrum we find ourselves into, in the Information era.

Of course, supporters of “the scientific method” will have jumped at my throat at least half a dozen times already. Truth is backed by facts - facts are found either by induction or deduction. Either by experiments, theorization, and verifications, or generated by a system of logic rules - themselves designed to generate more, complex rules.

The problem is that, with our (my) definition of a lie, the whole scientific method is a lie. In the case of induction, you start out with observations, then try to figure out a rule that explains what you see - again, the scientific method. Then you try to verify your theory by varying slightly the experiments, reproducing it under different conditions. Assuming your measure are accurate, you should be able to show (I’m reluctant to use the word ‘prove’) the validity of your model.

But the question yields: how comprehensive is your model? As far as we knew, Newtonian physics explained most of what we could observe up to a certain point. Then came more precise instruments of measures - vessels of truth, that exposed phenomenons that could no longer be explained by the current models. So, new models had to be devised, to attempt to explain the very big and the very tiny. But no matter how sophisticated, no model can take into account the progress of instruments of measure, no model can guarantee to explain all the discoveries still to be made. Hence, all models are lies - because they restrict one’s vision and thought system to a set of rules that were devised to explain and operate with a certain, limited set of observations. In the same way that my first break-up caused me to reconsider my model of romantic relationships, which simply did not include the eventuality of the end.

Deduction is even worse. It can only occur when you work from a set of axioms. Not even observations, just arbitrary statements that you’ve chosen as valid. So, the entirety of mathematics is a lie - even though some of it can be seen reflected in nature, it all still stems from a few axioms, and as such, they restrict our way of thinking - it is all constrained by our numbering system, our ways to study variations as functions of variables, to study differentials, and so on. Deduction is rotten to the core, because even though a fixed set of axioms can yield an infinite number of theorems, they are still limited by their roots.

And now you might begin to understand why I have been blogging about languages recently. Every language is inductive: we see things, phenomenons, and we want to be able to talk about it. Meta-language is how we describe the language (verbs, adjectives - all these words are part of the vocabulary of meta-language), but in a way, language itself is meta, it’s meta-observations, because it’s a way to describe something that is, essentially, unspoken. Like a sunset, or sadness. And thus, every language is a lie, because it severely restricts one’s ability - not only to express themselves, but also to think. The fact that I am writing this post in English is a pain, because of my lack of fluency in this language, but also because I would like to discuss things that English is poorly suited for.

Fortunately, language evolves in a much smoother way than science or religion does: open-minded people do not shy away from inventing new words or deforming existing ones to try and describe what they’ve been feeling or experimenting. Inventing new words is the inductive approach - but defining your new words requires a deductive approach, where you have to combine existing words to try and express what you are explaining.

A few steps back

This post is already getting long, and if you have been following me diligently, along with shaking your head regularly, you will realize just how deep this whole reflection goes. I think what I am trying to indirectly express by writing these few lines, is how incredibly sad I have become - and how my curiosity and thirst for knowledge is the root cause of my affliction.

I daresay that only a few people can share my burden of over-awareness, simply because of the reasons listed above: all lives are rooted into a weave of lies restricting their plane of existence. It even gets more instutionalized when you graduate from childhood: the simple fact that the word ‘expert’ exists signifies that we have been classifying people by worries. Some will worry about environmental consequences of our industrial habits. Some will worry about the proper political artifacts to be used for the ruling of our nations. And some will worry about preserving the litterature of the past centuries, so that we do not forget where we come from.

And the result, as sad as it is disastrous, is that almost everyone is blind. Because their vision has to be focused in order to function, they are willingly deprived from a global vision. Even on a small scale, like the design of a CPU. It is said of the Intel Pentium II that it was one of the first CPUs to be complex enough so that no single person could overview its whole assembly process. In order to build complex things, there has to be separation of concerns, simply because of the limitations of the human brain. Complex systems are built as a cooperation between smaller, simpler systems. And this has worked out pretty well for the last few centuries.

We often look back to great minds of the last centuries, and celebrate their production, often their writings. Yet, we are having a hard time identifying the great minds among us. The only example I could come up with is Elon Musk, and even his scope seems pretty limited (electric cars, space travel, payment processors). The truth is, in the 1800s, it was much easier to have a comprehensive grasp of the world, because it was less diverse - or rather, it was easier to have the impression that your understanding was comprehensive, because the amount of information that got to you was more limited. European savants hadn’t the first idea what was happening in arabic countries, yet they are remembered as almost omniscient gods.

But times have changed. Not only have many constructs been built - both physical, social, but also theoritical, but the means to spread information have become severl order of magnitudes more effective. Wikipedia is the go-to example of something the people in the 1800s would have killed for. It is, in my opinion, one of the many reasons why we can’t seem to produce omniscient geniuses anymore: the scope, the immensity of the task to undertake to understand the world is just so impressive that it is simply scary.

Another major reason is the shift in education (which - according to our earlier definitions, is the wrong word. In reality, it is a mix of education and instruction, of lies and truths). Even recently, what we call “critical thinking” and “creativity” was encouraged, rewarded even, instead of being punished. The demands of the job market today have drawn schools to become specialization nests, more employee factories than human being forges. Higher education (universities) defend themselves from that premise, but having spent the last few years there, I have only observed that they are following the trend just like the other stages of education/instruction.

For these two reasons (the frightening scope, and the upbringing) and man others, we don’t see generalists rising up anymore. And in my own, little way, in this post and others, I am trying to go against the flow. I am trying to open myself up to reflections of ridiculous scale, of thought experiments way over my head, writing posts that sound incredibly pretentious, just because I cannot seem to find anyone else doing is who is less of a lunatic than me.

Suicide - again

The whole motivation for this article stemmed from the idea that the current world lives on abuse and, on a large scale, collective and individual suicide. Suicide is not only the brutal outing you can read about in the newspapers, it is also the slow self-deprecation that society and invididuals, are undergoing.

It is not always the flamboyant departure by pills or gunshot or building jump. It is also the slow suicide by regular usage of drugs, by body abuse - using sports, work, and everything that allows to repel boundaries, by mind abuse - by excess consumption of information without the proper time to absorb it and reflect on it. It is a very global and conscious process that I think affects everyone.

Basing an analysis of the world on that premise is scary, but enlightening. You’ll unmistakbly find that a very large number of constructs are institutions put in place to regulate, or ‘manage’, ‘make bearable’, the constant abuse that human beings inflict on each other.

Instead of cooperating sanely in order to fairly exploit natural resources to our advantage (which would be another form of abuse - but at least not inter-human), humans have found it fitter to exploit one another, and have kept busy building constructs to manage and perhaps legitimize that exploitation.

Companies, both small and big, in their current forms, are not much more than legitimized and managed exploitation. Of course, the grandiloquent visions of totalitarism described in ouvrages such as Orwell’s 1984 have fallen into desuetude, because a ‘softer’ approach has proven much more efficient - an evolution well documented by Huxley in his essay “Brave New World Revisited”.

In the same way that most mainstream religions try to be ‘compatible’ with mainstream lifestyles, abuse systems try to be as lenient as possible (while retaining the advantages of exploiting other human beings) in order to limit the collateral damage of having to manage revolts.

The general sentiment in our upbringing is to “keep calm”, to respect institutions and to try and find our place in them. The only opposition you will find to this blind obedience is unfortunately led by short-sighted and unorganized monkeys, who fall into the inverse trap: systematically opposing to anything that is popular. In short, there is not much good to be found on either side.

We handle genius and mental illness the same way - it is d’ailleurs often said that they are related. By using drugs, by segregating different people and putting them into well-bounded subsystems, we are able to keep the greater machine running.

I am not fond of describing the errands this world is going through, because they seem self-evident. The economical suicide committed in the name of greed. The violations of the spirit of technological progress in order to squeeze in a few more profits. The social suicide committed by denying the existence of mental troubles typical of the information age - or, the equally harmful abusive labelling of any kind of behavior.

In layman terms, you could summarize this section as “I am under the impression that nobody knows what the fuck they are doing.” No matter how vast and intricate your own personal weave of lies is, if you go the trouble of expanding your thought system, you’ll find areas outside your regular plane of existence that will baffle you and leave you defenseless.

For most people, this happens in the face of death. Either their own, impending demise, or those of their close ones. When faced with death, one is forced to get out of their comfortable plane and consider, even for a short moment, the immensity of what our existence truly is. That is why I find death so fascinating. And that is what, I think, many adolescents are trying to express, even though most of them are too obstructed by lies to be able to formulate it clearly.

Epilogue

For the time being, I am still part of this earth and giving it a glacial stare, trying to understand more and more of what it is about, but I do not think that this time here will amount for much. I expect to die from a heart attack or something similar, and I fully acknowledge the fact that, whatever the age, I will not have found the time to correctly explain just exactly what was going on in my head.

But I will have tried - and this is just one of the many attempts.