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Entropy Gradient Reversals

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First, A Note On The Text...

This issue will certainly strike most readers as a total departure from everything EGR has published to date. Although there were intimations of impending autobiographical backfill in the previous issue, RageBoy® Tells All, that's not what is going on here. Neither does this seem to have anything to do with our usual beat: the computer industry. Do Not Be Deceived.

The following manuscript was produced in its entirety using artificial intelligence techniques developed over the last 15 years in the world's most advanced AI research centers and from specific work on machine translation, computational linguistics, case-based reasoning and automated narrative generation. In developing our system, BOMBAST II (after 16th Century arch-mage Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim), the common sense/world knowledge background was derived from Douglas Lenat's CYC system, first developed at MCC. The generative strategy involved encoding lexicalized tree adjoining grammars with a nonmonotonic inheritance hierarchy, and deployed higher-order logic programming for semantic interpretation of coordinate constructs.

It seems to us that BOMBAST II was only partially successful in creating a cogent narrative that might pass the Turing Test at a reasonable level of expectation. Of course, especially since the widespread popularization of the Internet, willing suspension of disbelief has become a fast-moving target. Experimental subjects are encouraged to read this text as if it were the output of an actual human being, and to report their reactions to the publisher.

Thank you.

The BOMBAST II Transcripts, Run 1:
I Was a Teenage Brain Surgeon

"...there's nothing, really nothing to turn off..."

bob dylan

You can tell Entropy Gradient Reversals is supposed to be funny. Take the name for instance. You could think of entropy as the outward and visible sign of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which is pretty hilarious stuff in its own right. In layman's terms, entropy means the house always wins, but place your bets anyway ladies and gentlemen; there's one born every minute. It means there's no free lunch and perpetual motion devices make exceedingly bad investments. It means the transitoriness of the composite. Because friction -- ay, there's the rub -- is always slowing things down, always taxing energy transactions til there's nothing left to tax. And there's nothing left because, when things slow down enough, they disappear. Ice Nine, if you've read Vonnegut, or listened to the Dead much: at absolute zero there's nothing doing. Entropy means that, once wound by the Big Bang, the cosmic watch is always running. Running. Running down.

The directional vector of this process is the gradient, the slippery slope on which we build our hopes and dreams, technologies, empires, civilizations. Steep grade ahead; test your brakes. Not much of a toehold really in the greater scheme of things. A Fool's Errand you might say. And yet, if all that's true, and things always move from a greater to a lesser degree of order and cohesion, then how is it that a point of no dimension whatsoever, one day, before there were any days to count, erupted with a violence so far beyond all measure that it's still red-shifting galaxies back to the beginning of what we lamely conceive as time? Or that a handful of hydrogen comes to look around itself, at the world, the stars, the blackest, deepest night and say: "Wow, what a gas!"

That's the reversal.

You may not believe this, but it's true: I was a teenage brain surgeon. It was my job for a while, though it's not what I was hired for. What I was hired for was to clean up monkey shit.

I had just dropped out of the University of Rochester and I needed work. As I'd had some lab experience, I figured I might try the teaching hospital at the college. In high school I designed an experiment that proposed to attenuate a certain strain of bacteria using gibberelin, a recently discovered plant growth hormone. I didn't know much about the biochemistry, but I figured that, bacteria being simple plants, hey, this stuff might do weird things to them. It sure grew big watermelons! Only problem was, I picked an organism called Pasturella Avicida. And the only problem with that was its common name: fowl cholera. If it got loose, it could easily waste the entire city. Thanks to the superior wisdom of the lab director, the city survived, but I never did get to find out what germs and watermelons might have in common. For a long time afterwards, I was sitting on five grams of pharmaceutically pure gibberelic acid. I guess I could have grown some killer tomatoes, but I finally lost the stuff somehow.

My first job interview went very badly. I could tell the guy thought I was a total fuckup loser. Finally, he asked me whether I'd taken any biology. I said it had always been my favorite subject and yes, I sorta took Bio 101. "What was your grade in that?" he asked. I looked at my shoes and mumbled, "I got a D." Unaccountably, the guy brightened for the first time. "Well, there is an opening in the Brain Research Center..." And that's how I got the gig.

As I said, the work was cleaning out monkey cages and doing other menial jobs around the lab. Sometimes they let me polish lenses. Boy, that was fun. But the guy I worked for, one John Bartlett, since deceased, started doing this weird thing. Once a week, he'd take me into the surgery and make me sit there while he implanted electrodes in some poor squirrel monkey's brain. The monkey was totally zonked on Nembutal and didn't seem to give much of a shit -- with one dramatic exception. Most of the wires, Bartlett stuck into visual centers like the optic nerve. Later, when the monkey had recovered, he'd record from the optic radiations, which are at the back of the head. But he'd also implant an electrode in the reticular formation. This is old reptile-brain stuff and has mysterious things to do with arousal: fight, flight and fucking. When he sent a couple of microvolts down that baby, the monkey -- this is under deep anaesthesia you understand -- would scream at the top of its lungs and shit all over the table. It wasn't pain. It was arousal. Think about that the next time you see a really hot number in some singles bar.

But I digress.

While working -- these operations took hours -- Bartlett would sometimes quote Shakespeare, generally long soliloquies on the death of kings. One time he got so carried away with this, he overshot the structure he was driving the electrode into and the monkey died. Instantly. John was grieved. It wasn't that he was embarrassed -- though that too; he knew he'd been showing off. He was genuinely remorseful. I didn't hear any Shakespeare after that.

One day he said to me, "I can understand you kids fooling around with LSD, but this thing I've got is completely beyond that." I didn't know what he meant, so I said, "What do you mean?" It turned out he'd picked up some weird virus from one of the monkeys in the lab. The squirrel monkeys were in the minority; most of our animals were great big badass Rhesus Macaques. One was named Romeo, and he'd been there forever. Romeo got loose one day and it took five guys to wrestle him down. By the way, the teeth on a Macaque make a German Shepherd look like a gerbil. He probably got it from a Rhesus.

The one you worried about was Virus B. Nobody knew what the fuck it was, except that it killed you pretty quick and there wasn't anything anybody could do for you if you got it. Not real contagious or anything, like Ebola, it just vitiated your personal career in big way. But this wasn't Virus B. Nobody could figure out what the hell Bartlett had, and it didn't kill him -- not right away. I went back to visit a few years later and was shocked to hear that he was dead. He was a pretty young guy, much younger than I am now.

So evidently, what this virus did to John Bartlett for a long time before it killed him was make him trip. Continuously. He said he'd never come down since he got it. His wife drove him to work because he couldn't operate a vehicle. There were tunnels under the University Quad, but he couldn't walk through them. If he did, they would begin to vortex and he couldn't get out. I guess someone had once had to rescue him from one of these episodes. He was tripping all the time, and he was dying. He was also doing serious brain research and, as I would discover much too late, trying to teach me everything he knew.

One night he called me at home and asked what I was doing. This was highly unusual, and it kind of freaked me out. I told him I was drinking beer. I was probably smoking a big Jamaican spliff, but we didn't tell anyone about shit like that in those days. Paranoia was part of The Code. "Whatever you're doing, stop doing it and go to bed," he said. "I want you in here at 7. You're doing the surgery tomorrow. Solo."

I totally lost it. "WHAT!!! I can't do that. I don't know how!" As I recall, I was literally sputtering. "Why do you think I've had you sit in on the surgeries every week for the past two months?" he asked, rhetorically I figured. "Weren't you paying attention?" I didn't know what to say. But he did. "You're on for tomorrow," he said. And hung up.

I did go in at 7, gowned, masked, scrubbed, gloved, and did the operation, which I finished just after 1 the next morning. Almost 18 hours sterile. If I needed to take a piss, I had to re-scrub and go through the whole gowning dance again. At the crucial moments, I'd turn out the lights so I could see the blips on the oscilloscope. While an atlas of a sectioned squirrel monkey brain was some help in general orientation, the distinctive waveform signature of the optic nerve was the only reliable sign you were really hitting it. The monkey's head was fixed in a stereotaxic frame, and I had a microfine drive to sink the electrode a fraction of a millimeter at a time. In the room alone, the animal dreaming of some lost forest in South America, I would watch the green phosphor trails track across the scope's face. Where the hell is it? Am I already too deep? No, there, what's that? Yeah, maybe. Yes, I think so. Coming up now, easy, easy...

John told me one day, much later, that I'd done both the worst and the best surgical preparations he'd ever worked from. His post-op work (the monkey was supposed to survive) involved paralyzing the animal, propping its eyes open, and recording from the optic radiations. Bartlett had headphones that he would plug in -- sometimes for as long as 10 hours at a stretch -- as he presented bars of light of different widths, lengths and colors, sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal. He was tripping on monkey virus in a totally pitch black lab, and listening to the neuronal music of a single cell, signaling, signaling...

It was around this time that I started doing psychedelics in a rather serious way. Some friends got hold of a bunch of Sandoz tabs, the world supply of which is gone forever kids -- not much chance of trying this one at home, even if you wanted to. Not at the dosages we did it anyway. Sandoz was the only pharmaceutical outfit ever to produce pure lysergic acid diethylamide-25, and they stopped production long ago. Except maybe for the Army or the CIA. Ergotamine is a precursor, as the chemists say; it comes from a fungal rust that grows on certain cereal grains. Weird that these things occur naturally, in the wild so to speak (as if which part isn't?), yet slot so perfectly into the complex serotonin metabolism of the primate cortex. Must be some sort of accident. Some random stochastic happenstance, some entropic slippage whereby you eat some ugly looking mushroom that tastes like cat piss and find yourself looking into the eyes of god.

Yeah, that must be it.

As you may have read, the more you take this stuff, the higher the probability that you will begin doing Really Strange Shit. And, as the year was 1966, a wave of such shit was just about to break across the social fabric of America the way a tsunami takes out a Japanese fishing village in the dead of night. The morning after my first trip, I remember feeling some nostalgia for the sleepy details of what had been up to then a fairly boring normal life. It was Winter. The sunlight on the snow was intense coming down. The sky had become much larger. And I finally understood colors.

By the way, the reason I'd dropped out of school, or the best excuse anyone will ever have at any rate, is that some redneck cocksucker had recently murdered my best friend. There were two of them that waylaid us outside the bar as we were leaving -- it had been too full to get in. Though I didn't remember it until days later, I had met them, once, a couple months previous, and had made the mistake, after the fifth beer, of telling them marijuana didn't give you a hangover. My friend had never laid eyes on either of these high school football heros, and they'd killed him before I could make the proper introductions.

In the Grand Jury hearing, some hausfrau asked me why I dressed and wore my hair "that way." Was I trying to start something? I basically told her to shove it. The kid who killed my friend testified at the trial that we were trying to sell them marijuana, which was odd, because when they jumped us from behind, we didn't have much of a chance to sell them anything. The killer got five years. And the judge then immediately suspended the sentence. After all, we were clearly dope dealers.

In fact, neither my friend nor I had ever sold dope to anyone, though we'd certainly smoked plenty of pot. Maybe it had been a mistake to tell that particular part of The Whole Truth to the jury. Now, though, I figured the lily-white City Fathers of Rochester, New York, were due a little payback. I privately vowed to turn on as many of their kids as I could get to. And in fulfilling this resolve, I was hugely successful. To start my new career in the role in which I'd been typecast by The Law, I scraped together whatever money I could by hustling nickel bags, and pretty soon worked my way up to Serious Weight. If you couldn't afford it, but looked like a jock, hell, I'd give you an ounce of decent weed just for the good feeling it gave me to imagine your folks finding you blowing up in the rec room.

In the storied Summer of '67, I lived in this house with a bunch of totally over-the-top acidheads. I put a sign on the front door that I'd ripped out from a local newspaper ad. It said, in five-inch high letters:


One time the cops came looking for me -- I was avoiding the subpoena for the trial described above. I slipped out the back window when I heard them introduce themselves to one of my compatriots. They later told my parents that "places like where your son is living can lead to drugs." I shit you not: five-inch type and they were looking right at it.

Oddly, I can't seem to remember how this happened, but I once got my hands on an entire pint of liquid LSD. This was the stuff that freaks in California were using to make blotter acid back then. But I had to be different. I decided to bottle the stuff. Of course, it did hit you a little harder that way...

By this time I had quit the Brain Research Center. Something about a girl, as I recall, but I got over it 20 years later. Anyway, near the Brain Lab was the Chem Building. Aren't Universities wonderful? They have everything a growing mind needs. What this particular mind needed was a 1000 milliliter burette and a couple hundred 5cc vials with bakelite caps. I sneaked down this basement hallway in Chemistry, and went over the chain link fence barring access by normally law-abiding students to the chemistry stores. Aha! Here's a nice big burette now, and lookee here! Little glass bottles! Back over the fence, I beat it back to an accomplice's apartment with my loot and jug of acid.

You're not expected to know what a "burette" is, but you need to for the story. As you can see in the accompanying drawing, it's a long glass tube about a half inch in diameter that has graduations up the side indicating how much liquid is in the thing: 50 milliliters, 100, 150, etc. It's also got a ground glass stopcock arrangement at the bottom so you can portion out small quantities of whatever you've got inside -- in this case, as Led Zeppelin would soon be jamming out, A Whole Lotta Love.

It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. But damn, it was painstaking work filling those hundreds of tiny bottles. Turn the stopcock just a little, drizzle one full, cap it, next. There did get to be a rhythm to it after a while. But nothing is perfect; there's that entropy again. Each time, a little bit would dribble down the side of the vial, and pretty soon my fingers were drenched. I couldn't wipe it off -- this stuff was precious -- so I just let it build up into a sticky goo, eventually all over my hands.

Skin is porous, did you know that? It actually breathes, which is why you will die if you paint yourself all over. I wasn't dying exactly, but my hands were starting to breathe. I don't mean like your skin is always doing that. I mean like, BREATHING. It was fascinating just watching them, but I knew I couldn't afford to get into this right then -- I had a hundred vials left to fill and I needed all my concentration. Without it, I knew there was a high probability I'd be counting the molecules in the tabletop inside of a couple minutes. But oh man, this was getting difficult. Little peripheral flashes at first, you know? Those darters you get? And then there was that optic nerve thing. I could always tell it was going to be good acid when I could close my eyes, sort of bear down on the muscles behind my forehead and an electric purple Major Fifth chord would arc across the inside of my skull. Right now, I wasn't attempting this, but it was happening anyway. Whoa, good count!

I got nearly all the bottles filled before I started floating out of my body. Almost. I always hated being half high. That's the place where you're taxiing, and the runway is going on forever and you're neither here nor there, so to speak. The tension is incredible. Like before a storm. Big thunderheads rolling in, the temperature is dropping and the wind comes up, turning the leaves over the way it does, rustling through your hair and clothes. Wildness coming on but not quite here yet. I couldn't stand it any longer. I licked my hands all over, drank what was left in the burette, then knocked back a couple vials just to make sure it kicked in good and solid.

With my wares in a shoulder bag, I headed out into the night just as an enormous lightning bolt struck no more than a hundred feet away; thunder spoke in tongues. Rain came slashing out of the sky and I was running though it, laughing, crying, crazy, sane. Illuminated as the night. Higher than God Herself.

Back at the University, I stashed my bag of tricks down that same dark underground hallway where I'd pinched the chemistry set. Nobody'll ever find it here, I thought. And I was nearly right.

The band was an animal clawing at the walls when I hit the club and it took me by the balls like a cocksure lover. Good. Rock with it. Hey man, wanna get as high as me? The guy takes one look at my eyes and says wow, how much? Cheap man, five bucks one vial. It's liquid. Liquid?! Weird, man. I never heard of acid coming like that...

But these qualms are quickly overcome and soon I have twenty orders. OK. Now all I gotta do is find my stash, and... Wait a second! I am back outside, not sure this is the same planet I entered through. I look back at the door. Yeah, same door... Slowly I realize I am simply a LOT higher than I thought possible, but also that basic geographic coordinates still hold. Moon overhead, a good sign -- not that the rain has stopped, but that gravitation is still in effect, so now I know which way UP is.

Finding my way back down that chemistry hallway was a little more challenging. It was a great stash because it was totally blacked-out dark, though that turned out to have its downside too. Like not being able to see, period. I edged my way deeper down the tunnel. Estimating distances in pitch blackness is not easy even under normal circumstances, which these definitely were not. I tried time. Let's see... isn't this about half as long as it took me to walk this when I was down here this morning? This morning!!! Wow. What did that mean?! No, the Temporal-Slicing approach clearly wasn't going to get me anywhere at all.

Somehow, I made it to the stash. After a few minutes, I found it wasn't really as dark as I'd thought at first. Must have been a dark adaptation kind of thing. But it was funny that when the light got better it was so many different colors and seemed to be coming from inside my head. Cool! I've got Super-Power Acid Night Vision, I was thinking -- among various and sundry other things. To some extent, this was a false ebullience, as in the background, between the pretty trails and streamers, there were, well... possibly certain other... things in there with me. Some still find Jimmy Hendrix' quintessential question a little odd. Not me. I was definitely Experienced at this. I knew far better than to concentrate too closely on the scales and teeth.

I must have made this trip about twenty times during the evening's revelry. No sooner would I get back with another dozen vials than they'd be gone and people would be saying like hey man you got any more of this righteous product? And I'd say you know I do, and go back to my cave. I was feeling a little like Golem, my precious, with my good things hid deeply in the dark. But the impulse to share was a strong thing in those days -- or at least to see just how many people you could get precisely how wrecked. The answer to both those questions was shooting for some kind of local record that night, and whatever straights might have been in the place had long ago vacated. There's something about seeing some guy screaming full-face into an overdriven guitar amp, so hard that his neck veins are standing out, that makes you want to take your date just about anywhere else. So the Greeks were gone. The jocks were gone. Which is not to say the chicks were gone. The bravest and most beautiful always stayed with us, which invariably drove the Normals to the brink. God, what women! So anyway, it was just us freaks and we were ripped and tripping as the night came down and the band, still cooking, slipped into an altogether different gear.

But for myself, I thought, you know, this is so... East Coast. What we really need is a strobe to get things moving. So I went back out again to get one, knowing just where to look: the Brain Research Center. We used them on anaesthetized monkeys to synch their psycho-optics to the oscilloscope. However, this was going to take some doing as I no longer worked at the place and therefore didn't have a key -- pretty much a necessity unless I planned on breaking through two feet of concrete; the place was a bunker. So I called up the campus Pinkerton office. They didn't know I didn't work there anymore.

"Hey, I wonder if you can help me. I just drove all the way over here from my home in ...mumble... and I seem to have forgotten my keys. I need to get into my lab to pick up some equipment for an offsite experiment we're running in the morning...

"And what is your name, sir?"

Oh fuck! I panic. Then just in time, I remember I have super-power acid night vision, so it stands to reason that I may have other unsuspected abilities, like cognitive invisibility to Pinkertons. To tell the truth, I did suspect this already, and pretty strongly, or I never would have called them. But then, I'd forgotten the part about why I'd called them. You know how it goes when you're that blasted. Better get it together in a hurry...

"Uh..." and I gave the guy my real name: Zaphod Beeblebrox.

"OK, Dr. Burblebrash, we'll send a car right over."

It wasn't a car I needed, of course. What I needed was An Official who could help me rip off a stroboscope from a locked University laboratory. When the prowl car showed up -- seemingly before I put the receiver down, but that could've just been me -- I remember thinking, I wonder if this doesn't look a little suspicious. I was wearing jeans with the knees ripped out, though the holes were nearly covered by a beautiful dark blue thigh-length frock with red piping across the bodice. I had an enormous full beard, hair down to my ass, and I was flipping through a deck of Tarot cards. "Thanks so much," I said, slipping into the shotgun seat. "Can't tell you how much I appreciate you saving me the extra trip!"

"No problem, Doctor. Where to?" Hooo! This was going to be a piece of cake.

I guess he figured the faculty was so goddam weird anyway that I didn't set off any of his onboard alarms. I'm playing it casual. Hmmm-de-dum-de-dum... I hold up Death to the car's dome light to get a better look. "Interesting...." I say to myself. Just your typical whacked out academic weirdo, he's thinking, being careful not to look at the card too long. But I know he's thinking, "Jeezus, Mary and Joseph what the hell IS that thing?!?!?"

We get to the lab and I go into All-Business mode. I head straight for Bartlett's back office and carefully tear down the strobe setup. But wait, this is vandalism! All of a sudden I feel guilty as hell. Just as suddenly, it passes. Acid is like that. I get the Pinkerton to help me carry the stuff to his car, and then -- the good part -- into the club wherein by now every single soul has passed beyond the orbit of the moon. The place is literally rocking, the windows threatening to give under the high-decibel barrage pouring off the stage. And here's this fully uniformed Rent-a-Cop shouting over the din, "You want I should set it down here, Doc?"

There's a sudden lull. In fact, the place pretty quickly falls into dead silence and everybody's looking at me like, "Maaaaaaan, I do not believe this, man..." Of course, I'm enjoying the hell out of this wave of telepathic kudos. And to celebrate appropriately, I drink off a few more vials, then thank the Pinkerton and see him out. At this point, everybody else decides -- we are of one mind in this -- that more is a thoroughly excellent idea. So I am forced to make one last trip down my stash tunnel. When I bring back what's left, it's gone almost instantly. I was supposed to be collecting money, but that's way beyond my current capabilities.

There is a kind of blur, a synesthesia of events and motion, sound and silence. The eye of the hurricane approaching. Then: white light.

Later. Radical scene-shift. I am sitting on the floor of somebody's apartment playing the strobe over the Major Arcana one by one. Everyone seems to have gone somewhere. The Lovers. The Fool. The Hanged Man. The Magician. They flicker in the light, they move through time, floating on the trust you either find or die. Walking out on the thinnest mirror-ice of memory reversed, I flash, for an instant, on my future. It is always the hour of the wolf; that room, this room. Writing it down tonight, thirty years later, our eyes meet. Some spark leaps the synaptic gap, some circuit closes, and the echo it makes lasts for a little while before it fades.

Funny, isn't it?

After the First Death
There Is No Other

dylan thomas

Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time


Nothing to disclaim at this time.


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                                     Entropy Gradient Reversals
                                     CopyLeft Christopher Locke


"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon

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