Tuesday, December 03, 2019


I just finished a short story by-- you guessed it-- my friend Ted Chiang.  It was the weirdest.  It's called Understand, and I don't know if it was just the weirdness of the story or perhaps the added nighttime weirdness as I finished reading it at 3:30am when I woke and couldn't get back to sleep. Probably should have chosen something different to read.  It's about (I think) a man who is given this experimental hormone injection when he is in a coma from an accident or something. He's nearly brain dead.  This hormone not only brings him back but stimulates his brain or something and he's a million times more intelligent or neurologically capable as I shall put it. He flees the CIA because he knows what he's capable of now.   He's able to notice patterns and learn things that would normally take years in a matter of days or hours. He understands things instantly, does not need to experiment because he already knows things will work   He is able to connect this capability to his physicality and he can be a martial arts experts after watching a video on it. He connects it to everything-- even sociologically--like he can influence what others think and how they behave or respond just by deliberately putting out certain signals of whatever kind.  Everything is intuitive, he's able to filter out the unnecessary, maximize and make sense of what's required. Everything is heightened and it's a constant and new level of enlightenment. It sort of reminded me of the movie Limitless with but like a thousand times nerdier and weirder.  

Now, here I'd say "spoiler alert" but I'm not even sure I'm getting what it's about. But the story ends with him discovering there is another person out there like him and he reasons (through his amazing reasoning abilities) that the only option is to find him and the natural conclusion is that they can't both survive.  Somehow, the other person triggers an automatic self-destruct sequence that is apparently possible for people who are "in the know" by somehow "programming" this main guy by the use of a single word.  Everything is connected to this and it is a mechanism of some kind, blah blah blah, who the hey knows, why am I reading this in the middle of the night???

But this story brings to mind a conversation I had with Sean the other day in the middle of the day and I really think there might be a connection.  I'm still trying to make sense of it. I'm not sure I ever fully will.  Unless someone gives me an injection of hormone K, which is what it's called. But I'm suspicious Sean's part of some top secret government experiment and this conversation is Exhibit A:

SEAN:  Did you hug me in the nighttime? 
JEN: I don't know, did I? 
SEAN: I think you did.  I think you rolled over and spooned me and I was like, this is nice. 
JEN:  Ha ha.  
SEAN: And I had this distinct feeling that I was an apple pie. 
JEN: What?? 
SEAN: Yeah. When i'm warm and comfortable, I have this distinct feeling of, "I am the apple pie." 
JEN: THE apple pie?  
SEAN: Yes. I have a hard crust but I'm warm and gooey on the inside. It helps me sort of re-center.  It was important to discover about myself that I thought of myself that way and it re-centers me. 
          SEAN: Whatever happens, I can just be the apple pie.
JEN: :0

(oldschool emoticon. It perfectly captures my expression) 

JEN: Are you sure you didn't dream all of this? ... that you're not sleeping now? 

And then he told me something about an "hommelette," a term coined by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, (post-Freud, it should be noted) describing the identify conflict in infants during what he calls the "mirror phase."  Here's a blip I found (from here):

Within the ‘imaginary order’ of this stage, the child continues to build its self image, oscillating between alien images and fragments of the real body. From surreal paranoia, the ego starts to emerge as an unconscious construction. Somewhat wittily, Lacan called this the ‘hommelette’ : the little man, made out of broken eggs. When a baby sees itself in a mirror, it both recognizes itself and misrecognizes itself. The image seems to be psychologically integrated and physically coordinated in a way that the baby does not feel.

Also, this being a family of weirdos, here's a recent Julian quote that feels quite appropriate. It makes me feel good now to think that it may not be just me who(m??) he gets it from:

JULIAN: I only like my present self.  I don't like my past self. 
JEN: You don't? 
JULIAN: I only like myself the second that I am.  See, I don't like myself at the beginning of saying what I just said. 
JEN:  :0

I only like myself the second that I am. 

No comments: