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Giordano Bruno Died for Your Sins

So, I've made it almost all the way through the first twenty-four hours of December without cramming an animatronic reindeer fashioned from plastic holly and strings of electric lights up anyone's ass, and I think I deserve a medal for that. I've been trying not to get snarky about Xmas, at least not until Xmas actually gets here, but people have been shoving it at me since a few days before Halloween. I can't hold out for frelling ever.

There's not much to say about today, I was too exhausted last night to get to "Tears Seven Times Salt," so we did that this morning. I wrote that story all the way back in 1995, and this morning was the first time I'd read it in many years. It used to be my favourite of all my stories (now, I think my favourite is probably "La Peau Verte"). Anyway, I sat there, reading this story aloud to Spooky, reading me as I wrote nine long years ago, and I was amazed at how much my style, my voice, my technique has evolved. A lot. I still like that earlier voice, but it is very distinct from what I'm doing now, I think. I'm very pleased that this particular story was chosen for Cemetery Dance's The Century's Best Horror, to represent 1996. Also, reading it today, I realised that Esme Chattox, the Fish Auger in Murder of Angels, is somehow actually Jenny Haniver, which was cool.

Mostly, though, I've been quietly seething about the fate of Giordano Bruno, a 16th-Century philosopher who was burned at the stake for proposing that the universe was filled with life, that, indeed, most or all of the stars in the night sky harboured planets populated by living things. In short, that man and Earth and our little yellow star are really nothing terribly special, just one more grain of sand in a sparkling cosmic sea. Mostly, that's what I've been thinking about. Giordano Bruno burning alive for heresy. And, last night, I scribbled in the day planner that I keep on my desk, "You are not special..."

Sometimes, it seems to me that so many of the ills of humanity could be dispensed with if only, finally, it could be pounded through the collective thick, myopic skull of Homo sapiens that it's just another species, one out of the many tens of billions that have evolved here on Earth in the last three point whatever billion years. Just one. Sure, you've done some neat shit, but so have whales and beavers and fire ants. We learned to walk, and talk, and turn redwoods into toothpicks, and kill each other by splitting atoms, and one day, one day soon by geological standards, we shall become extinct, which is what happens to all species. No god will intercede on our behalf. The average life span of a species on Earth is somewhere between one and five million years, whether we're talking trilobites, dinosaurs, or homonids (and I'd think that having recently developed the ability to wipe out most of our species in a single day means we're nearing the latter days of our run). A million years from now, which is a very short span in the life of a planet, there will likely be only a few, scant fossilized remains of humanity.

One species, one planet, on a limited, one-time-only engagement, and in our galaxy alone there are something like four-hundred billion other suns, most of which have planets of their own, and, as Giordano Bruno pointed out, quite a few of those almost certainly must sport biospheres. Life is not some freak occurance, but simply an inevitable chemical reaction, given the right conditions and enough time. In our galaxy alone, billions of civilizations have risen and crumbled and left behind no trace. Consider, then, that the universe may contain as many as 50,000 billion billion stars, and here's humanity, arrogantly struggling to keep itself at the dead center of things, killing people to salvage tattered illusions of specialness, of immortality, of god-ordained superiority. Here you are, killing each other just for colouring outside the narrow lines drawn by frightened, cowering men, men whose bodies evolution might have been brought down from the boughs of dark Paleocene forests, but whose minds are still huddled in terror of anything larger and grander than themselves. Here you are, in an almost unfathomably vast and indifferent universe. Here you are alone, a flicker in the night, and the most you can do, the least you can do, the one triumph against the void is to live with compassion and dignity and courage and some attempt at understanding.

The rest is shit. All your wars and hatreds, all your prejudices and conceits and horrors. All the beliefs for which you are willing to murder or die. All of it, a whisper in the night.

I don't like myself when I get like this.

But I can't stop thinking about all the Giordano Brunos who have died and are dying and will yet die for the preservation of one ignorance or another, all the Giordano Brunos on this planet and all those billions of billions of other planets.

Okay. That's enough. I'm shutting this brain off for a while...

Comments

( 14 comments — Have your say! )
hewet_ka_ptah
Dec. 2nd, 2004 04:21 am (UTC)
A friend of mine recently did a presentation at a symposium on "Transformation and Individuation in Giordano Bruno". Bruno was an amazing man. We all need to fight as hard as he did against arrogant stupidity.
jack_yoniga
Dec. 2nd, 2004 04:33 am (UTC)
Very, very well said.
oneirophrenia
Dec. 2nd, 2004 06:32 am (UTC)
I *just* started reading Justina Robson's new novel, _Natural History_ today, and surprisingly enough it fits *right* in with some of the points you were making concerning ignorance and its perpetuation. The premise of the novel is very intriguing, especially to a vicious transhumanist such as myself: in about a thousand years, humanity has split into two basic factions, the Unevolved (oldskool stick-up-their-ass moron "humans") and the Forged (highly--and I do mean HIGHLY--bioengineered/nanoengineered semi-artificial intelligences)...which uneasily coexist and are just beginning to venture out into the Cosmos At Large. Well, one of the first interstellar explorers (a Forged being) runs head-on into an old--and incredibly advanced--piece of alien hardware on the way to Barnard's Star...and that sets the tone for the novel, in which ALL humans, both the useless Unevolved *and* the insanely-progressive Forged have to confront the fact that We Are Not The First. And The First may not only be still around, but may be Watching Us....

It's pretty damn fascinating, and amazingly well-written...but you almost need a degree in theoretical physics to wrap your brain around some of the concepts. Nonetheless, the characters are all incredibly well-drawn and everyone of them, no matter how smug they are in their knowledge that the universe spins around them, has to confront the reality that, once again, humans are Nothing Special. Amazing, and sobering, reading.
sprachlos
Dec. 2nd, 2004 09:16 am (UTC)
..and this goes into my 'memories'.
asru
Dec. 2nd, 2004 01:21 pm (UTC)
Life is not some freak occurance, but simply an inevitable chemical reaction, given the right conditions and enough time.
This thought crosses my mind when I think about religion or the concept of afterlife. Realising this would be an importnat step forward for many people.
jacobluest
Dec. 2nd, 2004 03:01 pm (UTC)
Stellar entry.
I was pretty disturbed to see the Christmas preparations spilling over the (until now) sacred cut-off mark of Halloween. The last of the holidays guarding the rest of the year is slowly being conquered. Shouldn't, I don't know, spirits from the other side of the veil come over and take revenge on those putting up lights and candy canes? [thinks] Now there's a fight I'd like to see. I've got bets on the Wicker Man.

The fact that we're all going to die and it's inevitable is pretty sobering. As a matter of fact, only thing more sobering I can think of is the heat death of the universe.
Here's an interesting question though. Ray Kurzweil seriously believes his intelligence will live forever. That's because he thinks he'll be able to port his brain state to a computer before his natural hardware gives out. AI won't necessarily have to follow biological rules, right? So is it possible (if people get their heads out of their asses) that we could give birth to an intelligence or intelligences that can escape this inevitable death?

~Jacob
greygirlbeast
Dec. 2nd, 2004 03:17 pm (UTC)
That's because he thinks he'll be able to port his brain state to a computer before his natural hardware gives out. AI won't necessarily have to follow biological rules, right? So is it possible (if people get their heads out of their asses) that we could give birth to an intelligence or intelligences that can escape this inevitable death?

It's a nice thought, but even if we are eventually able to perform such a thing, it's only a delaying of the inevitable. So our minds are stored on machines, and the machines can build other machines to perpetuate the stored minds. Issues of hardware and software stability and data degradation aside, sooner or later the machines would have to leave Earth. It won't be here forever, another few billion years or so. The machines can even escape the death of our solar system, presumably, and, presumably, the death of our galaxy when it collides with the Andromeda galaxy (we're presuming a lot here), but there's still the eventual fate of this universe to contend with. It's hard to imagine that any species has ever truly escaped extinction forever (especially one so suicidal as ourt own).
jacobluest
Dec. 2nd, 2004 03:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah...emphasis on this inevitable death. The problem for the morbidly minded is that there are so many inevitable deaths to deal with! And waiting for us all, even as hopelessly evolved strangers from ourselves in digital or energetic form, is either the Slow Cooling Down, or the Hinduistic return to singularity. Stephen Baxter is a stunning writer of big picture SF like this, and has said it with much more talented prose than I. Not quite as succintly, however...

~Jacob
jacobluest
Dec. 2nd, 2004 03:44 pm (UTC)
Death terrifies me, especially the inescapability of it. My only shelter in the storm of big-picture musing is to say (and force myself to believe) that stories only have meaning through their endings. It's been a hard lesson to learn, but the bittersweetness after finishing a story has its own beauty, I suppose. I don't know what's more horrific...a world that must necessarily return to nothingness, or an immortal one.

~Jacob
mapultoid
Dec. 3rd, 2004 02:04 am (UTC)
I simply fear death. That is the long and the short of it. A few weeks ago, upon learning that I am atheist, a coworker of mine said, "That must be pretty scary." There was a time when I would have objected, I would have tried to make some argument about love and purpose, work and being immortal through my art, about making a lasting impact on the world and all that. But really, I am coming to accept that I am just scared. I find no consolation and more and more, I wonder: is there justice? As a vegan, a drug free vegan, a drug free vegan who tries his best to live a moral life, I find it more and more difficult to explain why I do these things. I find it more difficult everyday to live a life of restraint, to try to give a shit about this world or the creatures in it. I am a grand master of unanswered questions - doubt is my faith. And everyday I realize that I am terrified of the inevitable end, of a cessation of existence.

I can live with not knowing. Not knowing why existence exists, what created the creator (for me, the creator being even the laws of this reality), not feeling that there is any overriding purpose or greater sense of justice in this life - all of these things I can live with and function. But that death, that eternal nothing - that simply scares me everyday that I breathe. There is no consolation.
greygirlbeast
Dec. 3rd, 2004 03:29 pm (UTC)
I can live with not knowing. Not knowing why existence exists, what created the creator (for me, the creator being even the laws of this reality), not feeling that there is any overriding purpose or greater sense of justice in this life - all of these things I can live with and function. But that death, that eternal nothing - that simply scares me everyday that I breathe. There is no consolation.

This is what's been eating at me since I was a kid, and I first fully realized that everything dies. Realizing not merely as an obvious fact, but as the most obvious, personal, and inescapable fact. But here's a little trick. It's not much, and I wouldn't really call it consolation, but it helps me a little. Are you afraid of the time before you were born? Most likely, the state of your consciousness after death with be identical to the state of your consciousness before your birth. Life is bracketed by oblivion, but we don't feel dread for that first, past bracket, just the one we're approaching. They may as well be the same thing.
setsuled
Dec. 3rd, 2004 03:34 am (UTC)
It's a nice thought, but even if we are eventually able to perform such a thing, it's only a delaying of the inevitable.

This kind of reminds me of an Isaac Azimov story I read a long time ago, maybe you know that one I'm talking about . . . Something about people asking computers what the solution to entropy was and the question was passed down through generations of computers. I think it ended with the computers creating a new universe after this one's destroyed. So, there's always that.
mellawyrden
Dec. 3rd, 2004 08:41 pm (UTC)

Here you are, in an almost unfathomably vast and indifferent universe. Here you are alone, a flicker in the night, and the most you can do, the least you can do, the one triumph against the void is to live with compassion and dignity and courage and some attempt at understanding.


Much of what you're writing about in this entry is the same subject matter I'm doing my meditations on, based on Tibetan Buddhist traditions. Very beautifully said.
mellawyrden
Dec. 3rd, 2004 08:43 pm (UTC)
I was supposed to have made a quote of the first paragraph of the above entry. Computers are constantly taking the piss right out of me as soon as I think I understand even one tiny thing about them. But obviously this is from Caitlin's blog:

"Here you are, in an almost unfathomably vast and indifferent universe. Here you are alone, a flicker in the night, and the most you can do, the least you can do, the one triumph against the void is to live with compassion and dignity and courage and some attempt at understanding."



( 14 comments — Have your say! )