This text first appeared in Ian Cheng -- This Papaya Tastes Perfect, catalog, published by Formalist Sidewalk Poetry Club, Miami Beach, 2012.

A.E. BENENSON


I.

Here are the Germans in Arizona and New Mexico

Their skin turning the coral-red of the veined rocks, of the local jewelry, as if the color had begun to rub off on them in the heat, some kind of desert frottage but really a sunburn is the just the opposite, if you think about it.

But that is how things are when they are opposites: you can't tell them apart

Like the first time the group saw a Swastika on a native's cloth rug beady red inside a clutch of eagles, their wings eddying around it--one of them realized for the first time that the sign looked exactly like a miniature windmill (another learned later that in Navajo the symbol did almost mean that, in fact--"whirling log")

another German was embarrassed; but for the others, this sign was a sign and they telegraphed Goebbels immediately

It was like when Cortez had arrived in Mexico:

His men found that the natives there already worshipped a deity with long hair and fair skin, Quetzelcoatl, who had walked the earth before he ascended into the heavens. Ignoring any other possibility, Cortez understood this as the proof of the universality of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

The Germans didn't know it then, but that turned out to be the "breakthrough" of their reconnaissance mission. It was the best these code crackers would do: discover a symbol they already all wore on their uniforms. The rest of the Navajo language remained as much of a mystery as when it had first been captured coming across the Allied wireless. After they returned home, those Germans still thought of the Allied Code, but something changed. It made no more sense, but before, whereas they had invariably pictured the Code as sparks, or static, percolating from iron spigots, now it looked different.

Now it was something like a giant, vibrating quartz buried under the sand. Sometimes, sitting in their listening posts, they'd find themselves talking to it, instead of listening--to the image of the rock under the sand. There wasn't anything to figure out anymore they just talked to it because they didn't know what else to do. They bitched and moaned to it, They sang folk songs to it, and when they woke up in the morning, and if they could remember, they told it parts of what they had just dreamt. Their rational brain would never let their reptilian brain admit it out-loud, but they liked it better this way--as a giant hidden rock. They liked it better than even the possibility of figuring out what it meant.


II

By contrast, the Allies put their best closeted homosexual to work on the problem of decryption

Before it wraps the co-ordinates for a bombing, a code (an enigma; Enigma) is already violence, dumb and cracked. This was Alan Turing's breakthrough.

We can explain the technical details with a riddle:

Which is more accurate: a clock whose hands are frozen or one that is always five minutes late?

Answer: the broken one, because it is exactly right once a day.This is more or less what happened.

Germans sent coded test messages, crypto-dummy text filled with the same letter

kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

(just because it happened to be the last on a keyboard)

and so, sometimes, even though the Brits didn't know what they were looking at they could figure out what time the broken clock had stopped at for they knew, at least, that a letter could never be encoded as itself (this made a lot of sense to the closeted homosexual)

kkkkkkkkkkk…

it was also a message filled with "the sound of its own unmaking," the clack-clack of the metal code-wheels that unscrambled the message in German bunkers: their Enigma machine and also the sound of the decryption device Turing eventually built, aka the Bomb because it went ckt ckt ckt ckt ckt as it put the pieces together, like a timer on a bomb counting down.

That the "the Bomb" was actually violent like its namesake; again, this was Turing's breakthrough. You couldn't think out (out think) the problem, you had to use violence, too.

"the Bomb": no explosions, but a whole bunker wall-papered with wires and vacuum tubes, and then with a little magician's flourish of the hand, behold:

The World's First Brute-Force Computer

a machine that had more violent-dumb than anything anyone had ever considered possible

(By contrast the mechanism of "the Bomb" proper would turn out to be the stuff of a jewelry store: it was all impossible elegance and atomic clockwork. a bit of ultra-rare uranium pressed a million degrees hot into a mathematically perfect sphere.)

it just sat there trying out the millions of combinations of possible codes each and every day until it chanced on the right one. no big secret: it just played the lottery like a moron.

Like this, Turing didn't invent digital computing, he just discovered its first principles: it is exceedingly dumb and predicated on aggression.

Brute-Force: that about sums it up.




III

1972, a parody of technological paranoia:

Bobby Fischer demands all television cameras be removed from the hall and then he gets down on his hands and knees like a baby and crawls around listening for chess-brain-scrambling ions coming out of Boris Spassky's chair "umm, he says he wants to take apart all the furniture now". He didn't even show up for game two, holed in his bathroom, checking if his fillings still got weather reports.

Around the same time, there was a change in the way experts started thinking about chess. Up until then, they had always thought about it like the Germans thought about the play of their Enigma Machines: that the rules obliged it to be a game for smart people.

Did you know that there are many millions of times more chess moves than atoms in the universe?

That chess was a thinking-man's game (the thinking man’s game) was self-evident ("work smart, not hard") until it turned out it wasn't; the mathematician Claude Shannon wrote it all up the same year Turing killed himself.

You didn't have to be smart to be good at chess, you only had to be the right type of dumb.

Brute-Force dumb

Imagine if a computer could run through the outcomes of enough random moves, it could find the one that ended the best and then trace its steps back to the situation at hand. Trace a thing back through its own hole. It was like how an autistic kid would explain how he ties shoes…start with the most complicated form of the solution and work backwards to the first step.

Got any more brain busters?

Claude Shannon: I've got good news and I've got bad news.

Bobby Fischer: bad news first.

Claude Shannon: aw come on, bobby-- you know it's the same fucking news.

That is to say, no one ever invented artificial intelligence, there are just moments when we realize something has always been artificial intelligence, like good at chess just makes you look smart. Whether you are a computer or a person, you can be plenty dumb.

Relieved of the burden, people just set themselves to memorizing as many moves and outcomes as possible so by the 90s there were really only two types of chess players left: good computers and bad computers.

When Gary Kasparov lost to IBM's chess computer Deep Blue (1997) it was already long a battle of dimwits:

IBM playing Brute-Force stupid, Kasparov playing some other kind of custom rigged stupid where he purposely botched sequences to try and exasperate the computer (annotated "??" in the play-by-play). In game two-of-six, Deep Blue made a move whose irreverent stupidity seemed to mock Kasparov's plan.

Kasparov demanded to see inside the room where the computer was secreted away. He'd pull the curtain back with a flourish, booming: Look at your computer now, fools. And who, exactly did he think he was going to find crammed inside the blinking box? Someone smarter or someone dumber?

Truth was, he was out-unsmarted, plain and simple. Half a century after Turing, an obscene note of Aryan revenge hung in the chess hall: the blue-eyed computer over the red-faced Jew.




IV

The fashion was once to depict a thing inside itself. Here is the Stefaneschi Triptych (c. 1330) depicting nothing more than its master, Giotto, presenting a miniature of the same Triptych to his patron, Stefaneschi:

Giottos and Stefaneschis all the way down

It is rarely mentioned, but during the brief moment when the Real Giotto presented The Real Triptych to The Real Stefaneschi, everyone in the church was struck with a prickling sensation at the base of their skull, as if someone was staring at them from behind but which they intuitively recognized instead as the feeling of bearing witness to one's own birth.

We are told the proper term for this is Mise-en-Abyme, lit. put-in-the-center; Commonly misunderstood as Mis-en-Abime, lit. put-in-the-void which is commonly misunderstood as Mis-en-Abyme, lit. put-in-the-center which is commonly misunderstood as Mis-en-Abime, lit. put-in-the-void, etc.

That a thing has no content except for its form is often called Modernism, but the 20th century did not invent this, and even when Giotto painted it, he knew this meant he was already standing behind himself.

Take, for example, remembering that you just forgot something important. What is this a memory of? Or, remember a time when you begged yourself to make a lasting memory before a thing a slipped away. What is this of? a memory inside itself, a memory with "the sound of its own making":

We imagine there is something truer than these loops but really these are the only memories we can trust for they are the ones that admit that a memory is at mercy to its own form.

Like this, each piece of fiction has its own non-fiction epilogue, an autobiography with the same plot.

Philip K. Dick wrote a story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". It is short and stilted, but with an ingenious premise about Doug Quail, a boring clerk who pays to be put under and pumped full of false memories so that he will wake up convinced he had lived a comic-book life as a secret-agent on Mars. The twist is that the doctor discover his brain has no room for the false-memories because he really was a Martian secret-agent, and his boring clerk reality was the fake filler.

When the time came to make it into a movie, this was the elevator pitch (verbatim):

Ron Shusset (screenwriter): "We want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go To Mars."

The executive starts seeing it in his head, right there in the-fucking-elevator:

Arnie, biceps akimbo…churning, churning. And whenever he gets to see a working script, it's all this artsy shit about what does it all mean, man? And he only ever has one comment: for chrissakes, get rid of all this talking, guns out to here, ok?

And so finally the script stops trying to be about Doug Quail and just starts trying to be like him. The idea is: why not just junk this whole boring thing (so much talking) and swap in images of a Laser-Guided Conan the Barbarian. Who needs to find some fussy memory-zapping doctor when you'v got a whole goddamn soundstage full of Pyrotechnics.

cut the checks.

Now in Theaters: Total Recall, starring

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Get ready for the ride of your life

During filming, Arnie became something like a mentor: he taught everyone that just winning isn't enough, you have to go back and rub your boot in the guy's face. So make Total Recall: the shoot-em up video game and above all, make Total Recall: The Book. In the end there was this glossy raised-cover slab with Arnie leering and it's sitting right next to Philip K. Dick: The Collected Stories. And whither the thing? Sitting inside a representation of itself.




V

"As an experimenter, I soon found myself in a state verging on utter confusion. An increase in the length of a series led to no noticeable increase in the difficulty [of memorization] for S., and I simply had to admit that the capacity of his memory had no distinct limits… later sessions only further complicated my position as experimenter for it appeared that there was no limit either to the capacity of S.'s memory or the durability of the traces he retained. Experiments indicated that he had no difficult reproducing any lengthy series of words whatever, even though these had originally been presented to him a week, a month, a year, or even many years earlier. In fact some of these experiments designed to test his retention were performed fifteen or sixteen years after the session in which he had originally recall the words. Yet invariably they were successful…if one takes into account that S. had by then become a well-known mnenomist, who had to remember hundreds of thousands of series, the feat seems even more remarkable…Once we were convinced that the capacity of S.'s memory was virtually unlimited, we naturally lost interest in trying to 'measure' his memory capacity. Instead, we concentrated on precisely the reverse issue: Was it possible for him to forget?"

-The Mind of Mnemonist, A.R. Luria

"In 1989, Metrolight Studios attempted what was supposed to be the first use of optical motion capture in a feature film. The project was the futuristic epic Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The planned performance animation was for a skeleton sequence in which Arnold's character, the pursuing guards, and some extras, including a dog, would cross through an X-ray machine. It was similar to the shots that PDI did on Toys using their exoskeleton, where characters had to have an X-ray look. Metrolight hired an optical motion capture equipment manufacturer to capture and post-process the data. The motion capture session had to be on location in Mexico City, and the manufacturer agreed to take the system there for the shoot. The manufacturer also sent an operator to install and operate the system. “We attached reflective markers to Arnold Schwarznegger, about fifteen extras, and a dog." recalls George Merkert, who was the visual effects producer for the sequence, "then we photographed the action of all of these characters as they went through their performances.” Regarding the placement of the markers, Merkert recalls that the operator, "advised Tim McGovern, the visual effects supervisor, and me about where the markers should be on the different characters. We placed the markers according to his directions.”

- Understanding motion capture for computer animation and video games, Alberto Menache

"When S. read through a long series of words, each word would elicit a graphic image. And since the series was fairly long, he had to find some way of distributing these images of his in a mental row or sequence. Most often, he would 'distribute' them along some roadway or street he visualized in his mind...this technique of converting a series of words into a tries of graphic images explains why S. could so readily reproduce a series from start to finish or in reverse order…How was one to explain forgetting in a man whose memory seemed inexhaustible?…S. did not 'forget' words he'd been given; what happened was that he omitted these as he 'read off' the series. And in each case there was a simple explanation for the omissions. If S. had placed a particular image in a spot where it would be difficult for him to 'discern'--if he for example, had placed it in an area that was poorly lit or in a post where he would have trouble distinguishing the object from the background against which it had been set--he would omit this image when he 'read off' the series he had distributed along his mental route…These omissions clearly were not defects of memory but were, in fact defects of perception. They could not be explained in terms of established ideas on the neuro-dynamics of memory traces (retroactive and proactive inhibition, extinction of traces, etc.) but rather by certain factors that influence perception (clarity, contrast, the ability to isolate a figure from its backgrounds, the degree of lighting available, etc.)"

-Luria

"They captured Arnold's performances separately. The guards were captured two at a time, and the extras were captured in groups of up to ten at a time. Even by today's standards, capturing more than one performer in optical imaging is a difficult proposition; and more than three or four is almost impossible, depending on how they are moving. 'It seemed a little strange to me, I didn't see how we could capture that much data, but the operate guaranteed us that everything was going to be okay,' recalls Merkert. The motion capture shoot went smoothly as far as any body could tell, but nobody knew about the motion capture except for the operator sent by the manufacturer. Therefore, nobody would have been able to tell if anything went wrong. After the shoot, the operator packed up the system and went back to the company's headquarters in the United States to process the captured data, but no usable data was ever delivered to Metrolight. 'He [the operator] needed to do a step of computing prior to providing the data to us so that we could use it in our animation, and we never got beyond that step. He was never able to successfully process the information on even one shot. We got absolutely no usable data for any of our shots,' says Merkert. “They had excuses that it was shot incorrectly, which it may well have been.." The production even sent people to the motion capture manufacturer to see if anything could be done to salvage any data, but all of it was unusable. 'I think what happened is that their process just entirely melted down, didn't work. They couldn't process the data and they were unwilling to say so because they thought they would get sued. It wound up costing my company maybe three hundred thousand dollars extra,' notes Merkert. 'Regardless that the motion capture simply didn't work, we were still responsible to deliver to our client. The only way we could do that was by using the videotapes, which were extremely difficult to use for motion tracking. Unfortunately, because the motion capture company advised that we do it in this way, we had lit the motion capture photography in such a way that you could hardly see the characters to track them.'"

-Menache