Thursday, April 29, 2010

[Mythos XV] Of Mice and Men, and Pigeons, and BRAAAAINS

With apologies to HP Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen King, and Charles Stross. Copyright 2010 Thomas James Hardman, Jr, all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. References to real places and things may be included but their usage is fictional in nature and intent. Any similarity to real persons or parties is coincidental and should be seen as fictional in nature and intent.

Perhaps you'd like to jump back to the previous chapter?

When you make the signal error of first opening a Schrödinger cat-box gate into incomprehensible alien dimensions, and then compound it by repeatedly exposing EPROMs to it, you're bound to wind up with your first ever sample of what will later be developed and marketed as FPGA, or field-programmable gate arrays, assuming that you hadn't already independently invented them or something like them. Yet even the FPGAs invented by humans in our history stream of timespace are not without security risks.

Comparably, even without having your mind exposed to the best evil efforts of implacable alien entities from beyond time and space, you can be batshit crazy all on your own.

Ask almost anyone, and they'll tell you that, sure, they've had that experience where they've thought they were all alone, and suddenly the hair stood up on the back of their neck, and they cautiously turned to see some predator stalking them, whether the predator stood on two legs or on four.

That's an ancient neural mechanism associated to the temporal lobe. Anatomically, it's right next to the so-called "God Spot" that seems to be activated by the "God Helmet".

It's better developed in animals which coordinate in pack hunting, whether they're orca or wolves. It's not actually telepathy, which doesn't seem to actually exist. Yet we frequently observe animals such as wolves hunting in packs with a degree of coordination which presupposes some form of communications of a complexity similar to military commands at the platoon stratum, yet much faster. With even the most powerful listening and recording devices, including microphones sensitive far into the ultrasonic and excellent real-time sonic signal analysis, we can't hear calls between wolves in a hunt, at least nothing that could convey instructions for the sort of behavior observed. The theory that they're cueing into their roles solely by observing the actions of the other hunting wolves is partially discredited by the fact that wolves far out of sight of the others (with a hill between them, for example) act in a role coordinated with the others in their pack. We can either assume that they have discussed this all beforehand, and have elaborated a set of contingencies for anything or that they have routes of communication via mechanisms we haven't identified.

Yet we have at last discovered that certain structures in the brains of pack-hunting carnivores, flocking birds, and even some large herbivores of the extremely gregarious types such as wildebeest, are developed to a degree not seen in more solitary hunters. And all of these show a heightened tendency to react to being observed, even by observers unseen.

Probably the evolutionary advantages of being able to detect hidden predators by directly communicating with them via minimal brain-to-brain signaling (or signals-detection) is of limited usefulness. For the homing-pigeon, and other migratory birds, it's clearly useful to have specialized nervous-system adapatations that can directly sense magnetic fields. Yet so far as we know, the advantages to the pigeons have yet to be exploited by other life forms developing the means to generate magnetic fields so as to lure pigeons to be dinner.

In human-created dataprocessing systems, buffer overflow attacks can smash the stack for fun and profit, and there are known attacks that cannot be protected against, at least not at the current state of the art.

Living neurological systems are nowhere near as fast as ultra-massive-scale integrated circuit electronics, but they are considerably more flexible, adaptable, at least when we're not discussing massively-parallel matrices of FPGAs. Yet look at it this way: machines generally don't care if they live or die, and don't have actual Darwinian concerns such as living long enough to reproduce their kind.

If you were a predator that hunts primarily by stalking, such as a cat, if your prey could receive communications that told it to sit still and not move as an attack was launched, you'd be eating well anytime you encountered such prey, and soon enough, a capacity to receive well enough to accept such a command would be bred out of the prey species. Yet, if a complete inability to receive such signals left the prey species unable to detect such commands at all, and thus easily caught by stealth, the evolutionary advantage would go to the prey that could detect transmission of commands, but not well enough to accept, interpret, and be subject to such commands.

Feeling the eyes of the tiger on your back is good, though it may not be enough to save you from the teeth and claws. Yet how much better off you are to have some warning than to have no warning at all! But when the tiger is thinking very hard at you, "do not see me," it's not going to help you at all if you obey. It will help you even less if you obey its command, given as it springs, "sit still while I kill you, prey". So, if you are lucky, you know that the tiger is thinking of you, but you don't know exactly what it thinks, and you can't perceive it well enough for it to paralyze you through pure loudness, but you can perceive it well enough to take warning.

Sometimes this mechanism is defective, in a variety of ways. Some people simply cannot sense another presence. Interestingly, this inability to detect predators is found in almost all cases among people who profess to be agnostic or atheist.

In some people, the mechanism gives continuous (or intermittent but acute) "false positive". Paranoia very commonly results from this feeling of impending doom, but even more frequently comes religion. Look at it this way, if you can make yourself believe that it's not a tiger, but a loving spirit or deity that is staring at you from some hiding place you cannot see, then you're rationalizing away a sensation of doom. In effect, you're deluding yourself into thinking that although you feel a sensation of doom and being endlessly stalked, it's a good kind of being stalked.

Some people, probably most, have an excellent ability to perceive when they are being observed from behind. Yet even these may know that something is behind them, and even have range and bearing sense, but not be able to tell all too well what exactly it is that's coming up behind them. As for me, I prefer to never be anyplace for long that doesn't have a nice solid wall at my back, or a mirror I can use to see if something's sneaking up behind me. I don't like open doorways, and I love a good lock on a well-closed door.

A lot of folks around here seem to have a combination of a good ability to feel real presences behind them, as well as some basic underlay of that constant sensation of being watched that so very much promotes susceptibility to the delusions of faith.

I suspect that these kind of folks have, probably not exactly consciously, that same sort of communication that wolves have, that enables wolves to coordinate their roles even when they cannot see each other, and are not vocalizing in order to not alert their prey. And, not quite consciously, when they cannot establish such linkages with others, tend to exclude them from the pack and thus relegate them to the role of the prey.

I suspect that however well-tuned is this sensitivity, the fact remains that they are highly sensitive. In the same way that the scream of a panther paralyzes before it deafens, with none more susceptible than the prey with the best hearing, when the alien deities from beyond time and space start whispering, these folks are already tuned in to that wavelength, with the volume knob cranked completely clockwise.

In the same way that the homing-pigeons have a built-in organic magnetometer, these guys have a built-in two-way radio talking between their unconscious minds, coordinating pack action. They are pretty much the dominant kind of humanity hereabouts. They make great military and paramilitary operatives, or workers in any field where seamless cooperation without much oversight is an advantage. They also are extremely effective as criminal gangs, and I often wonder if that wasn't their ancestry: roving groups of extremely effective killers who, like wolves, suddenly shift from minding their own business to devouring anything they can surround. Suddenly the signal is given, nothing anyone else can perceive, and, as suddenly, the killing begins.

They damn sure get possessed very easily, and make most excellent zombies.

The 2500 protestors who rose from their Salvia trance with their eyes glowing the lurid green of red-shifted Cherenkov radiation, they at least had some excuse, or perhaps personal blame. They had taken a mild overdose of one of the most potent psychedelic drugs known to man, Salvinorin A, a profound
entheogen drug
, used specifically to promote profound, if hallucinatory, religious experiences.

Such drugs work, in part, because they turn off the filters, which, so to speak, keep you from obediently obeying a tiger's commands to fail to notice it and to sit still while it kills you. Most people experience this as a feeling that there is another presence there, but an invisible one. It's as if you had an invisible tiger right in front of you; you'd feel the stare of predatory intent, but you could look all you want, you wouldn't see anything. Things which are felt, but not seen, are usually ascribed to the supernatural, perhaps to the divine. Yet what if you were taking such drugs, and a real tiger did in fact take up position behind you and start to stalk in and stare at you as it did?

Shamanistic faiths often have tales told down through the ages, of how a religious trance allowed the devotee to speak with a "spirit animal", usually a totemic animal such as a bear or a wolf. In almost all cases such legendary communing is with a sight-hunting gregarious predator of a species that adopts lone members into extant functional groups. Usually the tale tells of the hunted (the celebrant) becoming recognized as a brother, and being accepted into the pack. You've all got your radios tuned to the same wavelength, more or less, and established a common symbology, enough for some sort of two-way understanding.

When the alien software downloaded itself into the protestors, it was able to activate expression of genes which had created the original sensorium to receive it, or to perceive the intentions of stalking predators. Enzymes were flurried out of the cellular production machinery and they carved up red blood cells for the iron in the hemoglobin and for the oxygen the hemoglobin carried, and generated rather complex little structures out of magnetite in much the same way that magnetite is deposited in the trigeminal nerve of homing-pigeons. In the case of the celebrants, however, the magnetite was more associated with the neurology responsible for the auditory brainstem response.

Other structures were created as well.

Most weren't metallic or semi-metallic like the magnetite that continued to be bonded to neurons, worming its way from synapse to axon throughout the brain. Frequently the structures were just more of what had already been there. The alien software was, of course, constantly downloading more of itself, absorbing echoes of signal from the collapse of probability states encoded on the EPROM chips that had been exposed to alien realms. Enough of that software was present to have analyzed the DNA of the hosts, and -- so to speak -- the software had ordered the host physique rebuilt along slightly modified lines, more or less by activating introns and "junk DNA" as well as functional sequences usually not seen in adulthood. The former celebrants, the erstwhile protestors, experienced rapid cellular division in parts of their bodies, as muscle tissues expanded and calcium began to deposit into strategically placed sessamoid bones that would provide free floating anchor points, additional leverage and moment arms for increased strength. The alien software found the Opsin protein codings and went into overproduction.

All of this furious metabolism didn't occur without side effects. Aside from extreme pain, which the alien software quickly redirected, there was extreme hunger, which suited the alien software just fine.

The electromagnetic pulse that had destroyed most (but hardly all) of the infested EPROM chips had a variety of follow-on effects in the domain of tactics and strategy among the unaffected humans. The law-enforcement that had massed there was suddenly without radio or any other form of telecommunications and were effectively reduced to arm-waving, shouting, and blowing whistles. Further, even if astute parties and organizations outside of the affected area were to decide to take an interest (outside of the affected area, most of the planet's intelligence and military agencies suddenly had), the main roads to the general area were almost impassible due to disabled vehicles, and the streets surrounding the former defense-contractor facility site were fully jammed from curb to curb and in some cases, beyond the curbs. Nobody could call for help, and help could not get there, and would be a long time coming.

Starving as they stood there, changing as they moved, the zombies were hardly dead but were increasingly becoming life as we don't know it. Their victims, however, were mostly dying as fast as the jaws of the zombies could move.

Everyone knows what to do about zombies, they've all seen the movies. Those movies have been widely disseminated and made wildly popular due to good special effects, better writing, and even better promotion and excellent funding of both production values and distribution systems. We want people to recognize zombies instantly and to know how to deal with them as instantly, and people did instantly recognize the zombies, and the very well-trained police as instantly knew how to deal with them, and unlike almost everyone else there, they were well armed.. They fell back to their cordon of vehicles surrounding the place, and opened fire.

They even managed to get a most of the unaffected people behind the cordon as well, though the folks in the media circus didn't fare too well. It might be said that after the destruction of their equipment, they were without purpose, but while the zombies were piling up on top of them and eating them, they certainly provided a horrid form of entertainment.

These weren't your usual zombies; they were fast and getting faster, and as fast as they were wounded, they seemed as rapidly to heal. They also learned pretty quickly that they didn't much like getting shot, and that if shot in the head they could die (or just be incapacitated, which the alien software didn't want) and so they took their dead with them as they retreated to smash through the glass of the facility, and sought inside halls and protected positions to avoid the gunfire from outside, as they began to devour their own fallen.

A fresh egg contains no more nutrition than the chick into which it hatches, but it's a hell of a lot more digestible. In the same way, the fallen zombies provided a festering stew of alien-modified biology running at full metabolic load, and the more of their fallen they ate, the faster the zombies changed. Now shielded from the sunlight by the building, the opsins deposited and concentrated, the alien software expanded the orbits of the skull to get more surface with better granularity. The zombies were quickly transforming into something resembling giant drooling tarsiers with growing Smilodon fangs.