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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