I’ve spent my life talking to people who don’t exist.
No, I don’t mean you, dear readers, who are (to me) digital abstractions of people that could be real, but that point bears touching upon. We spend a great deal of our time online, communicating with other people without knowing much about their personhood—what they look like, or where they live, or how they operate in the moment. These people are bite-sized samples of humans, picked up and tasted in 240 character minipaks or 30-second videos.
And yet, I think these fractional-exposure people are far more real than the people I have known in physical form over the course of my life.
You see, it’s the people I have known, in the older, pre-internet sense, that aren’t real. This is because they do not act like people.
What do they act like? Well… Echoes. They hear and repeat. I always thought one of the prime traits of humans is consciousness, that is, they think, reason, and act according to some internal process. But as near as I can tell, 90% of the “real” people I have met do not do this. NPC is a meme primarily because it points to the truth, uncomfortably so.
Oddly, it is the internet that has led me to this question: are these people? “People” continue on, posting their echoes, day after day, year after year, with no regard as to how similar their thoughts are to every person around them, and, most importantly, no consideration as to how conflicting all of their statements are over time. These “people” will happily say two opposing things within days or hours, all in concert.
After a while, you realize this isn’t human behavior. They fail the Turing test; it’s just taken a long time for them to fail.
So I have to stop and ask myself: who, or what, are these beings?
Did they physically exist, or did I just imagine them all along? Who was I talking to, or did I conjure up the conversations in some insane state, being a raving lunatic in an empty world… or a world that doesn’t even exist?
Were they complex machines to begin with, or were they turned into machines? Can I trust my own memories? Is a person I meet real, or have I just failed to detect an AI?
I have to consider that I’m insane, because what else can you call the delusion of things that aren’t real? What is insanity besides thought processes that are completely broken compared to the normal?
I stopped using Facebook when the reality of this world of programmed things started to become too depressing, a world of anxious robots echoing back and forth, forever, with only the occasional disruption of what (seems) to be a real person. It’s like all their mechanical processing power was being used up by some other background task, so all they can do is parse a statement and re-arrange it with a few word substitutions. Can’t anyone hold an opinion for more than a day? Children with Down Syndrome are capable of this, but apparently not intelligent adults.
So, either I’m insane because I talk to people who don’t exist, or I’m experiencing dissonance because of a faulty set of assumptions, with the stand-out being that humans have consciousness, or more accurately, that the consciousness of others is like my own. But if their consciousness is so different from my own, and I am so abnormal, does that not also make me insane?
If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (John 15:19)
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.” -Saint Anthony, the Great
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The “Echoes” comment was very thought provoking. I’ve always thought myself an independent thinker. But over the past 2 years especially, I’ve started to really question many thing I used to take for granted. Or rather, I feel that were programmed into me from my early millennial childhood. The conservatism I was taught it clearly flawed (eg. the conservative bugman mindset you have written on.). I have always been reasonably healthy, but a diet that works for me and keeps me healthy does not align with “accepted” norms. Leafy greens make me feel bad and red meat makes me feel energetic and healthy. I very recently feel like I’ve detached from the matrix, and see how much video games were doing nothing but harming me, not making me have fun (not saying they’re whole-sale bad, but YMMV). My wife and I have been on an older movie kick, it’s almost shocking how jarringly better many are than modern offerings. Some semblance of masculinity and femininity are on display. And character motivations are far less narcissistic. I feel like our movies, video games past sometime after 09, and so on are, like echoes, parroting the same things as before, but weaker, distorted, and fading.
Is buying a house actually important? Does retirement work for humans (I’ve watched older family retire to basically just die)? Is bitcoin actually worth investing in? I don’t have answers to everything, but I think about it. Ask 80% of people these questions and you’ll get the same answers like the answers are scientific, verifiable fact. It’s really weird. Sort of disconcerting when you bring it up. My college friends feel like they’ve gone full lefty NPC, my parent’s drink the fox news cool-aid. Feels like it’s the same cool-aid on both sides though.
If insanity is defined by what the majority defines as “normal”. Then I believe, you, I, and a remnant of others are insane. Thanks for wrapping this up with Scripture, it’s a good grounding rod.
Thanks for reading.
Posts like these make me wonder if at some point after Roe v Wade God suspended ensoulment in the majority of cases if only to limit the enormity of the bloodbath.
As I ponder that idea, I think of “psychologists” who have asserted that there is no such thing as consciousness – which is apparently something they have given a great deal of thought – and I wonder if that is not at least partly true.
Then I think of Calvin, and I wonder more.
Thank you for writing this. This is something I’ve struggled with putting into words for at least 10 years.
I first noticed this phenomenon at my first full-time office job when people were complaining about the weather of all things. It was a warm spell and a group was complaining about the heat, acting as if it had been unpleasantly hot for the entire summer, when it had only been about a week, and in fact summer came “late” to us that year with an unusually cool spring. I reminded them of that – politely, not trying to be a jerk or anything, more just trying to lighten the mood – and almost everyone immediately got defensive and told me I was remembering wrong. Don’t get me wrong, grousing about the weather like this has been a pastime for people forever, but what struck me and stuck with me was that weird reaction – as if things have always been as they are right at the moment, and I was a lunatic for suggesting that things had been nice just a few weeks prior. In other words, it wasn’t “we’re not talking about last week,” it was, “well I don’t remember THAT!” or “well it just seems like this whole summer has been miserable!”
It’s a trivial case for sure, but ever since I can’t help but notice it everywhere else. Even calling it “current year” is too generous, as it’s more like “current day.” The common thread seems to be a total lack of introspection or self-awareness. It’s as if programming comes in, a reaction is generated, and this remains constant until the next update. I’ve often wondered if I’m like that too, but just can’t see it. But then, doesn’t that mean I’m at least looking for faults in my own reasoning? Who knows, but seeing people bounce back and forth between opposite conclusions without any kind of acknowledgement makes me think that I am not actually the insane one.
If you’ve read my rambling comment, I appreciate it. I don’t have much of an outlet for this kind of thing, and sometimes it’s nice just to know there’s others out there that might see things like I do. You’d never know it from consuming any of our mass media.
I appreciate the comment. I’ve experienced near that exact thing, including the sudden defensive reactions, like disturbing the echo is some offense.
Sin is dehumanizing. Humanity, as God created it, is in His image, and therefore sin, a rejection of His image, will naturally destroy it in a self- perpetuating, self- reinforcing process. In our current society, sin is the order of the day. When God gives a society over to their sin as He speaks of in Romans, the people of that society become lesser at an ever- increasing rate, their virtue dead and their humanity only the faint glimmers God’s common grace permits.
The true tragedy of the whole affair isn’t that all these entities aren’t humans; it’s that they are. It’s that they are slowly becoming not.