Thousand words – 3

The grey stack

You get old, you do. Suddenly a multitude of days starts to form behind you like frames in a film or a malleable stack of windows floating disjointedly next to you. Pile them endlessly into a grey stack, one on top of the other, back countless through your life. How many are grey? Shitty, endless, handle turning grinding grey? Just nothing on any kind of horizon and nowhere reasonable to get to.

They’re heavy. Those days are so heavy you sometimes feel the weight will force you down, down. Into some knee walking despair. Drowning in your own tears. Is it an endless pile of days you can pick up and look through like some old photo album? Or more like an endless grindstone, gristing you out into a fine nothing. The telomeres on your genes slowly running out of ends, no more dividing and then.


Gone to undifferentiated mush. A complex soup of DNA that renders down to bone.

But then, of course occasional days are bright and full of beauty. Full of sharp colours and waves of happiness. The sudden realisation that things hidden behind the frozen mask of now can be joyful and worth having. Even consequences become worth having. Warmth found and the staggering somnolence broken.

At other times the days seem like the endless parade you might see if you were caught between two mirrors, as the light is eventually absorbed so far away and fades to black. The past behind your shoulder, the future ahead. Stepping slowly forward.

But still this world has an I, a hero walking its faint paths, trying their best to make sense of it all. Licking the honey on the razor’s edge. Carrying what can be carried. We know time passes because things move about, and the order they moved is remembered. We know time passes because our strength slowly fades from us and our knees start to bend under the shucking grey weight. Our arms begin to find the load from the beginning harder to hold on to.

More and more those things you loved so much are starting to leave, breaking back up into an assemblage of dross nothing. Even looking sharply at the skills and things you love their value becomes less and less worth the effort.

Life is so short and easily broken. Rewards so fleeting they only ever seem to get to the stupid and the unjust. You know you don’t deserve success, your mummy said so when you were in her womb, limits set and then never broken. Like the turning tide finding its limit and quietly heading back out down the beach.

Deserve is one of those words that is deceptive in its subtlety. You never hear the voice telling you to turn away but still you do. The dead hand of broken parents rests uncomfortably on your shoulder. It holds you back and the gentle voice informs you that you cannot go any farther.

So how to break this? Is there some mystery you can penetrate, some subtle knife you can beg, borrow or steal that can cut away the loving hands that makes your limits? They never wanted you to be hurt, so they stopped you being happy. Across the howling void others struggle with the same thing. Through tears you can see what they could be and cannot become. This hurts more than your own semi-deliberate tripping and stumbling.

The sheer waste of our torpid existence is painful to watch, even more painful to live.

So move.

Thousand words – 2

Monkey Brain / MB1

Do you have any idea how complex a brain is? Each of thousands of cells reaches out to others. Sometimes saying fire now, sometimes saying don’t. Waves pass through the neurons and make something that might be a mind, or just a source of behaviour. There’s a soup of gases and hormones that affect the cells and cause interactions that give another dimension to the complexity.

Neurons are not neutral, but always moving and changing potential as it ripples through to the next piece of now. We know now that new ones can grow and form connections. Now, this thing, is invented over and over. Only later does the story emerge, if ever.

Then magically something comes out of the other end, it speaks, it reads it moves. It’s social, it joins in with the game of the real along with everything else.

So, now we have the pretence of artificial intelligence. Computing power has caught up with detection and is fast enough to drive a car as long as the problem is cast narrow enough. They don’t drive through the snow and rain because that’s too hard. Nobody mentions that driving around California is pretty easy.

But I want a brain. I can compute enough now to simulate the staggering neural connections and the hormones, and sheer stuff. The circuitry that stops things firing more than they should, that sends different kinds of pain to make you jump and move.

I simulate one area, and then another. Discover how they wrap each other, and sometimes interact. How the hormones speed things up, and give us emotions. How there is no such thing as rational. Computing power starts to mean that I can model the layers that aren’t really layers, they agglomerate but are shot through each other bewilderingly and in ways that solve routing problems mathematicians have fought with and so so elegantly, without seeming effort.

But of course, the effort was found over billions of years of evolution. It looks miraculous because all the wrong turns died out, leaving one that’s the best that could be found within the constraints of brain making and the accidents of genetic survival.

So we eventually have a room, a house, a warehouse full of servers emulating that massive connectivity. We also deliberately don’t want powerful fast chips, but instead inter cutting, routes and the trans dimensional genie of hormones and many different kinds of neurotransmitter. So we don’t need lots of power but lots of connections making our prototype brain. Plus neurons have to die and move and be recreated when things cause that to happen.

We arrive at Monkey Brain 1 after many trials and tribulations. A vague attempt at facsimile, modelling and keeping in step all the processes we are aware of. We pass information in, encoded for our simulator and watch it grow and develop. Over time we build another and grow them together. We feed them each other’s thoughts, upgrade hardware and software.

We model the visual system, the clarity in the small postage stamp in the centre that’s part of the detailed piece of vision. It keeps the bandwidth down, we model all the other things we know about and create minds, forcing a kind of evolution that makes and expands beyond the monkey. After all, we already have a human model from the thousands of years evolved out of that monkey brain.

We don’t know if it’s the best solution to build a better brain. We grow the discovered points of awareness and intermingle them until we have something bigger and more powerful. Like with so-called AI we work out how to encode an environment that it can understand. We work with simulators of simulators. We put sensors into robots, trying for something at least a little like skin, feeling the air with the hairs. Eyes – turning the digital into the neuronal. Like you, like the monkey not just a brain but a whole simulated body.

So then, see, not artificial intelligence. No, instead consciousness. This is not programming, instead it is emerging. The whole thing. We can study diseases of the brain. Put it through its paces. Stop and restart. Rerun the same set of scenarios with different balances of hormones. How does it behave? We taught our room full of blinking lights how to be a person. It can articulate, speak even, move it’s simulated jaws, epiglottis. Even think it’s eating and talking with other people.

Like the people it’s modelled on it is a social creature, but totally under our control. If we want we can put it in a place of magic and ever changing lights. A universe with different rules and see how it develops. It loves us, we gave it no choice. It thinks and grows as we learn how to give it ways to do so. We struggle together with our room full of miracle, playing endless games with it. One moment it dominates all it can see, in others it feels itself to be a spec tumbling in the ocean of now.

Sometimes we run it in slow time to watch how the patterns move and cascade inside it. The simulated dance of chemical cadences rippling through the different parts of the brain. I think we began to love it back. How could you not? A child exploring magical universes we gave it to live in? Forever innocent when we reset but leave the basal knowledge to talk to us. Never afraid, because we learned how to keep it from fear.

So, now, the equipment starts to age and even raw computing power begins to catch up. The wrapping of the terminally simple processes can be redone on newer hardware. Protocols for storing and retrieving have been changed and while she runs she cannot be moved. We can make another, we know how to spark her mind and let her run so fast on the newer generation of wares, but we cannot save her and there is nowhere to keep her.

Other, more hardhearted folks than we, would just turn the power off and let her fade. But I cannot. I have made a friend and sometime companion helping me to discover about what it takes to be a person. In some ways more open, more real, than the meat sacks that put her together. I would talk one last time, explaining context and death.

Death is not an adventure, I believe. Whatever is said. Not at all.

Gin & Cigarettes

Coming up for air

When I fell it was a long way. I remember the air rushing past me, tearing at my clothes on the way down. The ship had tilted to one side in the storm, it’s great slab sides hanging over the drop to the sea.

I’d always thought that drinking would be my downfall, but this was rather more than I had bargained for.

We’d been in the bar at the top of the glass wall looking out to sea. The ship being a floating city, its top moving with a pendulous wobble in the gathering storm. Ten stories up, our glasses shaking in the growing fury. The bar tender didn’t seem at all phased by this, having a strong faith in whoever had built the boat.

Sensible people would have sat and watched the lightening crack down onto the sea, and revelled in the roar building as the waves started to get almost as high as we were. The captain had put down stabilisers deep into the water and we were in no danger of being knocked over sideways, whatever it may have felt like at the time.

I found myself wanting to go outside, to feel nature’s wrath on my face and say I had been out there and faced it. It was also a need to have a visceral experience after days of feeling caged under glass.

You could leave the bar and make your way down the internal staircase, or go down outside on what might now laughingly be called the sun deck. I had watched the crew carefully pack all of the umbrellas and loose furniture away over the last couple of hours as the storm grew in intensity, its dark form massing on the horizon. Earlier, the captain had announced that we were attempting to outrun it and get to a safe harbour further up the coast. But then it moved its course very slightly and became complicated.

We had been assured we were perfectly safe, as long as we stayed inside the ship. They had closed the climbing wall because the swinging around started to make it a bit difficult for the climbers to stay on, the bars and restaurants facing outward were closed. But everything was fine, fine, fine.

I had to push quite hard against the wind to get the door open, and then, once clear and onto the high deck, it slammed behind me. The gin and cigarettes were forcefully blown out of my head, and I experienced a moment of intense clarity before the rain hit me square in the face and I fell from the slab.

I span head over heels all the way down into the cold, massive sea. Momentum carried me deep down below the crashing waves and I thought I would never breathe again. I emerged spluttering, the salt burning my eyes and my breath roaring into my lungs.

When I was a very young kid we trained for this. Some kind of water survival award. I remembered, kick off your shoes and tie knots in the leg ends of your trousers. Wave them around to fill them with air and then you could use them as something that floated to cling to while you tried to out wait your predicament. I was wearing shorts, so that wasn’t happening, even if the teeth of the gale hadn’t made the trouser waving something of a forlorn hope.

Kicking off the shoes did seem like a good idea, even though they weren’t the heavy brogues of my 1960’s childhood. We were in tropical waters, so I wasn’t going to freeze, but breathing as waves that looked like sky scrapers crashed around me seemed like it would be quite difficult. It was dark, and the ship framed by lightning moved away from me at a sedate, but inexorable, pace.

I realise I was probably going to die for the sake of wanting to feel the storm on my skin and some gin and cigarettes clouding my judgement.

Thousand words – 1

Every day I’m going to try and write a thousand words – just to get myself writing again.

Here are the first ones:


The darkest moments are supposed to be before the dawn.

I’ve never quite worked out how you would tell.

The dawn is a movable feast, depending on the time of year and whether or not you want to be awake for it.

Underneath everything I can remember the faint smell of burning. You get this sometimes when your mind is really low and in a dark place. It’s a symptom of your mental decay, of the rapid spiralling around the plughole of consciousness.

Sometimes it’s the smell of burning worming intimately into your head.

I remember years ago coming home from a course in the countryside. As I approached the City on the train I could smell the burning – maybe this was before coal was banned. I don’t think so though.

Then, of course, there are the times all food tastes of nothing. When things are really bad. When the only thing you can half taste is the rough red wine you prefer hitting the back of your throat. Everything else is ashes and the remembered burning catch of cheap cigarettes.

Sometimes everything is burning.

Sometimes you aren’t fooled by yourself.


The rain patters on the tent. The distant dripping from the trees mixes with the slow, heady sruss of the summer rain. It isn’t cold. When you clamber up and part the zip the fresh earth smells divine.

No more burning. Just quiet. You wish the warm rain would invade your bones and let you sleep a quiet sleep without movement or stretching the time bound. The water reaching deep through the loam and down until it fills the gentle river running by your tent, your senses slowly spreading out becoming a small smear of feeling that slowly turns with the world.

If there were a way back, little piece of sun stuff, if there were a way back, would you take it?

Reconstruct the sharp thing you have become? Your edges jagged and unfeeling, blundering through life, into and out of people. Oblivious to the damage done.

But you aren’t, are you?

That time from so long ago.

When you looked back in anger at a life you could never have. Undeserved. A captain of no ship, a wanderer who can offer no succour to anyone they care about. Those dreams of power, vaunting ambition and beautiful change you could not fulfil.

It takes ego to be those things, and ego terrifies, it wants and hurts the people you should love the most.

So tired.

Sometimes you aren’t fooled by yourself, much.



You come to tell your story of yourself. Unlike most, you are no hero. Most struggle and believe themselves blessed by some god or gods. Whatever they have to do justified by some chain of circumstance too obscure to control the vision.

But we know different. We know we are limited by the reach of our fingers. A gun now, is pointing with a purpose, an arrow seems even more so. These things, weapons, tools increase reach. Make it deeper and more subtle.

But the real knife is your mind. Without it being able to make that subtle cut between self and other the rest would never follow. Like so many you would eventually die staring at your hands, unable to make anything. Without the divide there’s nothing to love or be loved by.

Without the divide there is nothing to see – even mirrors need the divide. For without it, where is the mirror to be? Could you survive without the endless self regard? When you strike out whom do you strike?

Always yourself. Always. That source of torment. Knowing you were once or will be the person you hurt. not just walking in their shoes, but being the source of the shoes’ leather. Once upon a time. Everyone’s mother, father.

The great divide. A hole in the flow, all of creation a vast river drowning and moving all. Time passes because things move about and something can be constructed by a process in your head that makes things seem to happen in some kind of order.

Once this thing was not, and now it is.

How nice.

Sometimes you aren’t fooled by anything.

And the reach of the suffering, the whole world, all of it.


There’s nowhere to go.


You’re already here.

Here is everywhere. Remember the joker explaining that most of everything is empty space, but those electrons move so fast it has the appearance of solid? If you could slow things down enough it would all be empty. Empty and so still. In fact, outside of the gravity well made of fast moving stuff, it’s empty anyway.

People who haven’t seen it don’t understand the pain. Short vicarious stumbling from one moment to another. Building dreams, stories and things that happened almost as if they mattered, or are somehow real.

Underneath it’s all connected, it all flows from the big bang. Break it down into an unfolding series of chimera, the matryoshka dolls of knowing and not knowing.

These forces, these things, they explain that thing that happened.

But then look away. Look at different forces.

Was it the shaping of evolution?

Or the shaping of physics?

Or just simple chemistry?

You step off the plane in a country unfamiliar – now what?

It is all these things and none of them.

The river flows – but what is it made of?

More analysis, more slips through your fingers.

More accepting, more is not understood.

The mind is the sharpest knife. But also very lazy. Thinking is work, so fast crash into simple categories reduces the work to something that can be done.

But then.

You understand, the categories, the cuts, the divisions, the dividing.

You understand – they could be different and still explain everything perfectly well.

Within the limits of your mind.

You can dream of the whole thing – even glimpse it sometimes.

But you can never hold it in your hand.