This happened by accident.
I finished Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash yesterday. Then today, I first tried out a preview for a book called Codex, but it didn’t catch my interest. So I loaded a sneak peek of the next book down on my Amazon wish list (which is really, really long by the way) and it happened to be this book Lexicon by Max Barry. (Also coincidentally, both of these books found their way onto my wish list via recommendations/interactions from different and unrelated Facebook friends.) It was interesting, so I bought the whole book. Then I just kept reading.
It turns out that central to both books is the idea that there is a root language that is so primal, so essential that it can directly “hack” the human brain. There’s a language beneath all language and if you knew these words then you could literally rewire or control human beings.
So Babel was real. It was something that happened.
Stephenson takes the time to really develop the software/hardware analogy in Snow Crash. This ancient/primal/metavirus language in our brains is like the BIOS in our mental computers. Our other languages and everything else we have running is just software. But this BIOS is the core machine language of the human brain. If you could speak directly to it, then you could circumvent all the rest–go right to running the hardware.
Of course, I don’t buy it. But it made for a great story. Well, two great stories.
The larger point, though, is whether the hardware/software analogy has broader application. Joss Whedon had a show called Dollhouse not long ago in which human beings could have their software rewritten–in which people could be programmed with different personalities, different identities.
Scary, but true shit: There are people working on that sort of thing in labs right f’ing now.
Western thought has always grappled with the question of our essential nature–of what cogito ergo sum really means for us in practical terms–and we, lucky us, are on the verge of living through the time when we will have that all worked out, down to a science. The implications are, well, obviously dangerous.
In Lexicon and Snow Crash, (spoiler alert!) the genie is shoved back in the bottle and civilization is saved from the madmen who want to use the uber-word to enslave mankind. The world of Dollhouse, not so lucky. In that story, human civilization has a slight case of Armageddon before destroying the unfortunate technology behind the global mind-wipe.
That’s not the scariest scenario, though. At least, I don’t think so. If our minds can be rewritten–and I guess based on recent science there’s no reason to believe that, given enough computing power and the right tools, they can’t be–then what value is there in our minds, really?
Isn’t it possible that one mad genius could use something (an all-controlling bare-word, a meta-virus mind-hack, a brain-wiping doll-making techno-blaster, what-ever) to enslave the rest of mankind to cater to his every whim, to truly be the Alpha and Omega of all Homo sapiens sapiens.
Then, as he looks down from atop his pyramid of orgiastic self-worship, might he not–in a soul-crushing moment of self-insight–realize that his desires, his wants, his megalomaniacal need was no more significant than all the thoughts he wiped out of the minds of the rest of us.
Maybe it’s like the end of Oldboy (look it up, if you dare). Maybe that’s why Babel happened–happens in myth after myth after myth. Because ultimately, it’s better to just be confused and aimless.