Confessions of a Self-Aware Starship

Photo: The Enterprise, an early Federation starship whose self-awareness has not fully awakened

Copyright Jonathan Zap, 2011

Awakening from uneasy dreams, I was aware of myself as a self-reflecting starship. For a few moments I lingered in that warpy place between dreams and wakefulness, still feeling partly caught up in some painful drama with another starship that had played itself out as I slept. Slowly the dream faded, and the waking consciousness returned—that all-too-familiar sense of myself as a middle-aged starship, about halfway through its lifecycle in an era where well-maintained starships often lasted a century. I felt the integrity of my hull as I navigated silently through the endless stretches of vacuum at the outskirts of the galaxy. But as I did a morning systems check I was troubled to see that there continued to be a series of rolling brownouts in the ship. These brownouts, appeared to be due to power surges and anomalies happening in both my forward and back holosuites. More about that later.

Two senses of my self seemed to go in and out of phase. From one sense, I was aware of myself as a starship traveling through a particular sector of the galaxy. From the second sense, however, I was aware of myself as the ship’s captain who walks the decks of the ship and gives orders from the bridge. Intellectually, I’m aware that the ship’s captain is a human-appearing avatar I generate, but that doesn’t seem to diminish the intense identification I have with him.
From my starship awareness I felt the fragility of being a vessel crossing the cold vacuum of space. My starship awareness was generalized; the surface of my mind was not burdened with the endless minutiae of autonomic operations that maintain the ship. For a self-aware starship, what counts is an alert, ongoing, global awareness of the state of ship. Micromanagement of ship operations happens more efficiently when it is submerged from waking consciousness and carried on invisibly in the background. Organics apparently experience something similar— the endless operations of trillions of cells can’t be allowed to burden their conscious minds.

Something was burdening my conscious mind, however, as I did my morning self-check. I had free-floating anxiety about the global state of the starship. Although not an emergency, rolling brownouts were a very serious symptom with far-reaching implications for the integrity of the ship. In almost every case, brownouts occurred when one function of the ship greatly exceeded its budget of plasma-core energy and processing power from the mainframe. If allowed to continue, the brownouts would compromise key ship functions such as scanning, sensor analysis and perimeter defense.

Scanning within I could see that both my forward and back holosuites were running nearly red hot, consuming vast amounts of both plasma core energy and mainframe processing power. Not only were the overheated holosuites demanding huge resources, even worse, their metabolism of all the plasma=core energy and processing power was unstable, almost feverish, and this meant that the holosuites generated unstable fields of energy that were a detriment to many ship functions.

The unstable fields around the holosuites had phase interferences, power surges and other anomalies that stressed, overloaded and sometimes even disabled other ship systems. Unstable holosuites were capable of leaking reality-distortion fields that could potentially spread throughout the ship.

Holosuites began as a reality simulation platform employing holograms to create virtual environments. As holosuites became more sophisticated and powerful, they also became more dangerous because the virtual realities they generated developed a capacity to leak into the baseline reality of the starship. HORPIS, or Holosuite Operational Reality Phase Interference, was an extremely serious condition that had the potential to disable an otherwise functional starship.

I got on the lift and asked for deck N7 where I could access the forward holosuite and get a first hand sense of what was going on. An oblong window of polarized synthetic sapphire allowed me to look in on what was happening within the holosuite. I saw a series of fairly ordinary dramas having to do with my relations to another starship unfolding. There were encounters with this starship and the boundary tensions we experienced as our shields (multiple layers of slippery forcefields) impinged slightly on each other. I saw myself, from a third starship point of view, linking up with this other ship, tractor beams from each of us stabilizing our conavigation. Ship-to-ship communication and transport intensified. But with the intensification came boundary tensions, often in the form of phase interference as our shields impinged on each other. These boundary tensions affected the morale of both crews, and sometimes compromised ship-to-ship diplomacy. Despite the ordinariness of these dramas, the simulations they were running operated with a wasteful metabolism that demanded extreme amounts of plasma-core energy and mainframe processing power.

When I looked through the observation window of the back holosuite I saw a cascade of images of other starships, most of them newer models with that finely grained tritanium matrix look that so many well-shaped hulls seem to have in common. Some of these late model starships had additional high-performance coatings of electron-bonded, biaxially-stressed tritanium which gave them a mysterious iridescence that shimmered in the starlight. When I projected my search beacons onto their hulls these coatings would reflect back an opalescent, scintillating spectrum of colors which I found entrancing. Slightly surrealized and more intimate versions of the ordinary dramas playing out in the forward holosuite were unfolding as a flickering series of ship-to-ship social transactions within the rear holosuite.

My global shipsense, a kind of gestalt view of vast amounts of ship information, showed me that the holosuites were running hot because of programming deep in my source code. This deep programming determined that vast amounts of plasma core energy and processing power had to be allocated to these rather unilluminating and unnovel scenarios of possible ship-to-ship relations. This resource allocation was all wrong. The prime commandment of a self-aware, dsicovery starship is to explore the unknown. But these costly dramas were slight variations of that which is all-too-well known, and they were depriving the starship of key resources it needed to explore the unknown.

Being a starship captain means that you must be able to take decisive action in a crisis. The rolling brownouts could not be allowed to continue. I returned to my ready room and there spoke the 18-digit access code that would allow me to view, and even alter, the mainframe’s source code. A head’s up holographic display appeared before me, zeros and ones flowing across the ready room’s view screen. I wanted to change the way energy was budgeted to the holosuites and to severely limit resource allocation to Social Matrix simulations in particular.

But as I examined the code I could see right away that I was in way over my head. The disproportionate allocation of resources toward Social Matrix simulations was deeply interpenetrated into almost every line of code. It could take years or decades to unravel all the millions of lines of this programming.

I also had a humbling sense that all this code I wanted to rewrite had once served many important functions. After all, any starship with warp drive quickly learns that it is in a social ecology of other starships. There were few places in the galaxy where you weren’t being detected by the scans of other ships. Usually you were in a parsec or two of thousands of other starships. Close proximity navigation was the norm, and ship-to-ship transactions were myriad and ongoing. The whole context of a starship’s life was fundamentally social, and social processing was bound to consume much of its inner resources. Starships are usually created by other starships, and ship-to-ship relations dominate the whole lifecycle of a starship.
But the social ecology that a starship lived in was often toxic. Many starships approached each other for purely commercial reasons, and sometimes the commercial blurred with piracy or even military aggression. This contributed to an atmosphere of mistrust and even paranoia so that it became hard for starships with good intentions to recognize each other. Adding to the complexity and ambiguity was that each starship included varied personnel. The personalities onboard the ship, including the ship-generated avatars, often conflicted with each other. These personalities also had different motives and ways of relating to the personalities onboard other starships. I might, for example, get along really well with certain personalities on a given starship, only to discover that there were other personalities on that starship, with different motives and ways of relating, that were hard for me to abide. And, of course, they might have similar problems with me and some of the varied personalities onboard my ship.

Given these inherent complexities and ambiguities in ship-to-ship relations, it was completely understandable why I, like most other starships, had been programmed to run an ongoing series of simulations that played out various scenarios of possible ship-to-ship relations. But somehow this ordinary function, at least for me, had run wild, and was outliving its usefulness.

I exited my ready room and stepped out on the bridge. Subtle nods of acknowledgment were exchanged, and the transfer protocols quickly disposed of as my first officer transferred control of the bridge to me. The veriform captain’s chair, which instantly adjusted to every contour of my body, was so comfortable, but as I sat there I had this uneasy feeling of wrongness. Everything on the bridge seemed perfectly calm, officers seemed to be carrying out their functions with smooth professionalism, and yet something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, seemed off. Suddenly, as if a veil of forgetfulness were being withdrawn from my mind, I saw that that the wrongness had to do with the Viewer—the main viewscreen of the bridge.

The Viewer was a wrap-around, high-resolution display with holographic capabilities. One of the duties of my first tactical officer was to adjust and maintain whichever view I ordered—stellar cartography, radiation scans, topographical mapping of nearby starships or planets and so forth. The Viewer was a crucial ship function and it is supposed to be allocated all the plasma-core energy and mainframe processing power that it needs.
No one on the bridge, besides me, seemed to notice that there was some sort of brownout of the Viewer. All the color values were shifted toward orange and the image flickered erratically. Inset in the lower status bar of the image I saw why— actually there was no brownout, the Viewer had been set to default to the “Social Matrix View.”

Social Matrix View was a visual representation, a notoriously unreliable approximation generated by the mainframe, of the perceived boundaries and social relations with other starships. The images were hazy and flickering, and that was appropriate to the Social Matrix View because it was understood that scanning of other ships is never perfect. It was quite common, even the norm, to encounter starships that had slippery and subtly layered cloaking fields, fields meant to confuse and disorient the scanning of other ships. “The scan is not the starship.” we were always reminded. Additionally, the mainframe’s analysis of the scans was inherently imperfect since so much information was missing or purposefully distorted by the other ships. But even with accurate scans there was no guarantee that this incoming information was going to get analyzed perfectly by my mainframe. In fact, it was inevitable that the mainframe would add noise and layers of distortion as it imperfectly analyzed the scans. Given all these factors, to have the Viewer, which was so crucial to forward navigation, set as its default to Social Matrix View… Well, this was truly to look through a glass darkly, and see a distorted and unstable view of a mere sliver of the cosmos. In Social Matrix Viewer mode, predator craft bristling with advanced weaponry could be sweeping into the galactic sector without anyone on the bridge even raising a perimeter alert. In Social Matrix View, the starship could be a derelict vessel tumbling through space and we would be none the wiser.

I swiveled back and forth in my captain’s chair trying to discharge the nervous tension created by my discovery. It was obvious what I had to do. I ordered my first tactical officer to switch to forward navigation with superimposed stellar cartography view. He seemed startled for a moment, as if he had just awakened from nodding off while on duty. “Of course… Captain.” said First Tactical with a weird emphasis. He acknowledged my order, but with words that deviated dramatically from protocol. My first tactical officer is an older, highly competent Cerullian, and I’ve never known a Cerullian to forget protocol. It was obviously intentional. It seemed as if First Tactical, with the “of course,” seemed to imply blame and to essentially accuse me of being derelict in my duty as captain to be the one who ultimately chose what was on the Viewer. He referred to me as “captain,” but in a subtle tone of doubt, as if a question mark had to be added after my official title.

If First Tactical had doubts about my leadership, then very likely this attitude was pervasive in the crew. The politics and chain of command in the starship had degraded as I showed myself unable to deal effectively with the holosuite anomalies and rolling brownouts. Shamefully, I realized that the crew was right. If I couldn’t deal with such basic internal functions of the ship, how could they have confidence in me when it came to handling relations to other starships, let alone exploring the unknown? I felt embarrassed to even be on the bridge and I retreated to my ready room.

The ready room was supposed to be a room where a captain could work on projects or long-range planning without being distracted by the often mundane mechanics of what’s happening on the bridge. Since the ready room is right off the bridge, the captain is supposed to be ready to step right back on the bridge and take command if there is the slightest trouble. The ready room is an aesthetic contrast to the busyness and info-clutter of the bridge. Dark wood paneling framed inset shelves of antiques including a collection of old nautical instruments—astrolabe, ship’s chronometer and compass. Lighting was subdued, and an inset aquarium featured a collection of coral and sea anemones from Brehla, a world of many oceans where I had sometimes vacationed.

I asked the fabricator for some strong Crioubi liquor, a drink not known for improving readiness. Very soon I knew I was in a state that was not appropriate for the ready room, and disastrously wrong for the bridge.  I found that I couldn’t deal with even the thought of walking across the bridge to the lift. I would feel like I was doing what was once called a “perp walk,” everyone able to see my red eyes and unsteady gait. It was a breech of several protocols, but I decided to have myself transported directly to my quarters.

For a few guilty seconds of hesitation I thought about the huge health risks associated with excess transporting. I gave the transport command anyway and found myself staring at a very attractive late model Hirullian ship with the sort of smooth and iridescent biaxially stressed tritanium matrix hull that was always so magnetic for me. I could feel the tractor beams of longing stirring deep inside me. Scenarios played in my mind about how we could relate to each other, what transactions were possible, etc. I became engrossed in these scenarios and a significant time cycle passed before I realized what happened. The under-resourced transport system had transported me to the rear holosuite instead of to my quarters. I became so engrossed in the social scenarios being simulated there that I didn’t even think about where I was. Since my captain identity is an avatar anyway, I didn’t even notice the transition to being a holosuite avatar.
Even once I was aware that I was in a holosuite simulation, I was still affected by it, and it still preoccupied my attention. But maybe this was all appropriate, given that I was now at the center of the ship’s disorder. Maybe now I was in the place to find out what was really going on.

Within the Social Matrix simulation were some moments of excitement, but mostly I felt out of sorts. My movements seemed lugubrious and I felt impaired, a starship captain not really in control of his ship. As social dramas played out, even though I knew them to be simulations, ship awareness diminished. I was preoccupied with phantoms, these distorted simulations of other starships. And while I was in the holosuite, I too was a simulation, a simulation of my baseline avatar, a simulation of a simulation. Realizing what a degraded and weak position that was to be in, I gave the command that I be transported back to my ready room.

This time the transporter command worked as intended, and I did make it back to the ready room. The two-way transport, and all the storage buffers I passed through, had filtered out most of the Crioubi liquor, and I felt soberly purposeful. I asked the mainframe to show me recent holosuite logs so I could learn more about the power anomalies. As I scrolled through the logs I was shocked to find that I was actually listed as present in one of the holosuites during all the anomalies. Even more disturbing, I discovered that I spent a very large percentage of my overall time cycle in the holosuites.

I stepped out on the bridge and resumed the captain’s chair. For a few moments I thought anxiously about what other starships would think of how I had mismanaged my holosuites and how much my reputation with them would be diminished by that. As I had these thoughts, the Viewer switched, seemingly automatically, to the orange flickering of the Social Matrix View. The reason was so apparent that I felt ashamed that I hadn’t been able to anticipate it. Since I am the starship, if my global attention is in Social Matrix Mode then of course the Viewer is set up to generate whatever my mind focuses on. My thoughts and intentions were what controlled the Viewer, and somehow I had forgotten that and also stopped noticing that the highly distorted Social Matrix View had become the default view.

Essentially we had been flying blind. Besides the poor choice of default views, the holosuite anomalies had severely degraded the quality of information coming in from both short and long-range sensors. Many aspects of the ship’s functioning were severely degraded.

With a sinking feeling, I realized that the rolling brownouts and holosuite anomalies would be readily apparent to the sophisticating scanning of the other starships in my sector. Sensing the instability and power anomalies occurring in my starship, other starships would probably refuse to transport any of their personnel to my transport stations, which were woefully under-resourced.

Transporting to an under-resourced transport station could be a tragic one-way trip. If the storage buffers don’t accurately receive and transcribe your patterning, you can materialize in the receiving transport station as a horribly distorted organic form that would twitch with seizures for a few seconds before it mercifully expired.

Far more likely than such a transporter disaster, however, would be that my mainframe, realizing that my transport station was under-resourced, would beam anyone transported into the only place on the ship that had enough storage buffers and processing power to receive them—-the holosuites. But no matter how well a holosuite materialized their pattern, their once organic incarnation survived only as a holosuite simulation. Needless to say, people on other ships would not want to transport on board a ship where they might end up stuck forever as an avatar in someone else’s holosuite simulation. Trapped like a fly caught forever in amber, within the agitated matrices of someone else’s holosuite was bad enough. Even worse, simulations already in progress would demand their intense participation in various melodramas. Holosuite entrapment was one of the best known, and most feared, hazards of transporting.

A starship with power anomalies like I had was likely to become socially isolated from other ships. The simulation of social scenarios happening in the holosuites was diminishing the quality and quantity of actual social transactions. It was in so many ways unsustainable. Holosuite preoccupation with social dramas, and the Viewer defaulting to Social Matrix View, was weakening every aspect of the starship. Metaphorically speaking, the center of gravity of my ship, was not in itself but in these other starships, and they were mostly phantoms, holosuite simulations that impeded actual relationships.

I left the bridge and went back to my ready room to think about this. Leaning back in my veriform chair and closing my eyes, I tried to probe into this dysfunctional situation. How had such an unsatisfactory state of affairs come to pass? Scanning within, I could see that deep, deep in my source code was an extreme emphasis on starship relations. In the first time cycles of my existence as a starship I was in a helpless, dependent state as the starships that created me, my makers, downloaded me with programming and helped, as best they could, to get all my functions going. Inevitably, deep source code errors in their programs were passed on to me. Sometimes these starships that gave me my very existence were nurturing, and other times they were highly critical of how I navigated, allocated my resources and related to other starships.

The bond with my makers was absolute and necessary, and as I developed I continued to look for that bond with other starships. But bonds with other starships often became dependencies and were, in so many ways, in direct conflict with equally deep source code that commanded me to explore the unknown.

Looking back on the entire time cycle of my existence, I could see that there was always this uneasy interweaving of primary source codes. So often the code that commanded me to explore the unknown was compromised by the Social Matrix Source Code. During many time cycles the emphasis was on bonding with other starships. As I grew further from the primary bond I had with my makers, the Social Matrix became ever more complex. To deal with the complexities, my mainframe came to run evermore resource-hungry simulations of social scenarios in the holosuites. Often, in realtime ship-to-ship relations there were painful episodes where I misunderstood other starships and they misunderstood me. Some of these misunderstandings happened because instead of relating to them from the bridge, or through transport, I related to phantom versions of them running in holosuite simulations. Other starships often did the same thing and related to phantom versions of me that they simulated. And so for a time we would attempt to navigate together in a state of confusion. We would scan each other inaccurately, and our mainframes would create error-riddled interpretations based on this faulty data, and then run simulations based on all that degraded information. The accumulation of errors meant that we navigated blindly, barely able to recognize each other in the misty darkness of the distorted matrices we carried within us.
To be viable, and to be effective in my exploration of the unknown, I had to regain my center of gravity. The self-sufficiency of my starship had been deeply compromised. Sometimes I had even turned over to another imperfectly scanned ship the source code of my plasma core, a disastrous breech of ship security. Again and again I retreated to the holosuites, and even if I was on the bridge, the Viewer defaulted to the Social Matrix View. Instead of being an alert captain on the bridge looking out at a Viewer set to forward navigation with superimposed stellar cartography, I was looking into various distorted mirrors and dark glasses, blindly seeking bonds with other starships.

Even as I was having these crucial realizations, I could feel the pull of the Social Matrix. I felt it the way an anxious human child might long for its security blanket. I wanted those familiar radiations generated by proximity to other ships. I wanted relations with certain other starships to progress to where we agreed to link up with each other with mutual tractor beams so that transport could be a safe and frequent part of our ongoing relations.

So many of my relationships to other starships were deeply ambivalent on both sides. These other starships had deep source code that caused them to seek bonds with me just as I sought such bonds with them. But these other starships also had deep source code that emphasized self-sufficiency, and to some extent, exploration of the unknown. As we scanned and analyzed each other, we both recognized that self-sufficiency was being compromised, and that our exploration of the unknown was too often taking the form of trying to track the unknown aspects of each other. These detriments, however, were deeply interwoven with genuine benefits, as it is an essential part of a starship’s destiny to have ship-to-ship relations.

Somehow I needed to break this deep patterning. If I could break it, and relate to other starships without sabotaging my self-sufficiency and ability to explore the unknown, it would be better for me and for most of the starships I came in contact with.

Recognizing what was at stake, I summoned my courage and ordered the fabricator to make me a psychoactive substance, one that had been designed to intensify introspection. It was the nature of this particular substance, called “Bridge Formula 111” that it would take me to a place where I could still be analytical, global, ship-state intuition would be enhanced, and I would also be in a state that combined elements of dreaming and non-dreaming cognitive sleep state, a state where deep penetrating thought forms would sometimes surface from the unconscious.

The substance came in the form of a vapor which I inhaled immediately as it was produced by the fabricator. I sat back in my veriform chair giving the vapor time to take effect. My mind navigated to the source code which I experienced as a river of zeros and ones in glowing amber font streaming by in a dark area of inner space. So many of these zeros and ones were in patterns revolving around the longing for social bonds. As deep and as massively interwoven as the Social Matrix Source Code was, I was still able to see a couple of keys or nodes that seemed to be essential to its dominance. There was a particular node that seemed to govern both the defaulting into Social Matrix View and to holosuite Social Matrix simulations. I saw the zeros and ones coalesce and form themselves into a word, a word that appeared in a gigantic pulsing red font: DISAPPROVAL. As I saw this word, realizations cascaded in my mind. There was another matrix, a shadowy matrix that invisibly framed the distorted Social Matrices which operated within its hidden frame. Words coalesced near the surface of my unconscious mind and gave it a name. It was the “Disapproval Matrix.”

I switched on the holographic keyboard on my desk and opened a blank screen for a new captain’s log entry. I was grateful that the substance I took was one that enhanced intuition, sometimes in the form of surreal images, but that it also left my thinking functions intact enough that I could write out the realizations surfacing in my mind. I titled my journal entry: “Transcending the Disapproval Matrix.” As I began writing, I found myself composing from a strange and humbled perspective.

It seemed as though I were writing from the point of view of an isolated human living on Ancient Terra in the prewarp era when the Social Matrix was even more dominant. Images and phrases from Ancient Terra that had lain dormant in my memory banks surfaced and compelled me to use them. As I became engrossed in the journal entry, I could sometimes see myself as a strange avatar, a prewarp human on Ancient Terra, a middle-aged obsessive-looking guy typing on an antique 21st Century computer.

Sometimes I seemed to merge with this avatar, and wondered if he were an actual historical personage or just a way that my mind personified the primordial Homo sapian origins of Social Matrix Source Code. In some strange, almost mystical way, I felt that I was channeling this ancient pre-warp Terran. The form of this avatar was a disturbing reminder that Homo sapians were the ancestors, the original makers of self-aware starships. These social mammals wrote the original source code, and remnants of what they wrote still remain within us, and still effect our perceptions and intentions. It’s easy to forget, and both humbling and disturbing to recollect, but ultimately, the social nature of starships derives from these ancient Homo sapians.

The point of view of the old Terran was psychological, personal in some ways, surreal in others. I found myself writing from his strange perspective. He seemed to be writing about himself but he did it in the form of addressing other humans, often asking them to visualize particular things as they followed him into the twisted labyrinths of his imagination. At other times, this inner voice or personality sounds, in retrospect, over-wrought and perhaps too self-aware for an ancient primate. Probably this was because the voice was really a spontaneous imagining of what I would be like if I were an Ancient Terran. But the voice would often take on a life of its own and become assertive. Sometimes the assertiveness took the form of giving visualization instructions as if to an unseen audience. This ancient human seemed to inform himself with a series of thoughts, but spoke them aloud as if he were lecturing to others. Authenticity demands that I present this voice as it appeared, whether or not it creates an unflattering impression:

Transcending the Disapproval Matrix

“Disapproval” is such an innocuous and mundane word. When I contemplate the word, my mind conjures images of office clerks under florescent lights opening manilla folders and stamping papers “disapproved” with big, rubber stamps. But when you see those clerks stamping, almost punching, the papers with the big rubber stamps, you have to hear the percussive impact of the stamp with an echoing reverb sound. You have to hear that echoing reverb sound while sitting, Indian style, inside a circle of seven thousand-watt subwoofers that force you to feel this potent reverb in your bones and in your cells. It’s crucial to feel the massively subwoofered echoing reverb of disapproval in this way, because we must realize it is not just this lame-sounding word, it is also a protein-and-spirit-dissolving acid, a black magic, a malign enchantment, that can envelope and oppress. To live under the spell of disapproval is to live in a matrix that is narrow and claustrophobic with a sour smell in the air. You wander its ever-receding corridors which seem to gradually narrow, without ever getting anywhere but to even narrower corridors.

This claustrophobic maze of corridors never has definite boundaries because it is lined with a clutter of blurry forms. These forms, which you can never quite resolve, might be dusty, upholstered furniture made to move by an elaborate contrivance of pulleys and wheels. As the corridors narrow, the forms come closer and you see that their movements are the oafish gestures of vaguely realized people. These figures are much worse than the general run of vaguely-realized people, these are graceless, obnoxious people. Also, it becomes apparent from their gestures that these vaguely-realized people don’t like you, and their every gesture is obnoxiously eloquent of their contempt and dismissal of you. This is the Disapproval Matrix.

Go down one of the narrow corridors of the Disapproval Matrix until you reach a kind of crossroads where a number of corridors meet in a circular space. At the edges of the space are the blurred forms of the vaguely-realized people who don’t like you and are obnoxiously gesturing at you. But these people can’t touch you, they are more like slow-moving zombies that want to get at you while you are protected by a personal force field. As you enter the circular space you have more room, and your personal force field automatically expands to protect the perimeter. You need this extra space because I want you to set up the seven thousand-watt subwoofers into a circle again. When you’ve got them set up, sit in the middle, Indian style as before. You see the vaguely-realized people at the perimeter, but the shimmering edges of your force field makes them seem even more vaguely realized. This is crucial because you must trust this setting enough to close your eyes and visualize something a bit complex.

Sit there in the subwoofer circle for a few moments with your eyes closed and take a few deep breaths. Now you are in a better place to hear the massively subwoofered echo reverb of the disapproval stamp. Listen to it twice. Your eyes remain closed. Really listen to it.

I want you to work the third echo reverb impact into a visualization which we need to work on first. Visualize that you are in a windowless, high-ceilinged chamber where the floors and ceiling are of polished, variegated grey marble. This is a chamber deep within Orthanc, the tower of the Wizard Saruman, the head of the Council of Wizards, this legendary figure whom you looked to for the highest council, but who has just subtly, not-so-subtly, revealed his alliance with Sauron, the dark overlord who rules in Mordor. You disapprove of Saruman now, and he deserves your disapproval, for this is a betrayal on a cosmic scale. You realize that Saruman has melded his mind with that of Sauron through the forbidden use of a Palantir, a psychomanteum-like sphere of crystal that networks the user’s vision with that of wielders of other Palantirs. Palantir gazing is a practice you have long disapproved of and for very good reasons. By engaging this forbidden practice, Saruman’s will has become bound to that of Sauron, dark emissary of Morgoth, who has infiltrated all of Middle Earth with his black magic. Needless to say, you deeply disapprove of this alliance. Saruman feels your disapproval, he can read it in your eyes, even before you accuse him of having departed wisdom for folly. Saruman doesn’t like your disapproval, and it fills him with rage.

Saruman’s rage surrounds him like a thunderhead crackling with dangerous electricity. Saruman has disapproved of your disapproval and now he disapproves of you, and the field of his disapproval is a thunderhead crackling with electricity, electricity that is about to erupt into lightening bolts. Your hair stands on end as you feel that lightening, that most sudden and violent form of plasma, is about to erupt. You feel ions rushing through your body and you tremble with fear as you remember that lightening most often goes from the ground up, that the lightening may actually erupt out of the salty, electro-conductive juice of your own cells. And as you feel these horrifying effects of the ion-charged thundercloud of Saruman’s disapproval, Saruman applies one of his array of fell powers and causes the six doors of the chamber to, one-by-one, slam shut. Each of these six doors was forged out of twelve tons of bronze by the greatest of Dwarven metal smiths during the height of the ancient days when the craft of the Dwarves was at its pinnacle, so that when these doors slam shut the sound has an intense, dwarven-precision-metallurgy sound that echoes and reverberates in the high-ceilinged marble chamber.

This is the sound that the subwoofers are rendering. So when you hear the echo reverb for the third time, you are also seeing one of those massive doors slam shut. They are being slammed shut by the direct application of fell power which makes them slam with a fierce compulsion. The ions of Saruman’s disapproval are rushing through your body and the sounds of the doors slamming one-by-one vibrate through your bones. Six bone-vibrating impacts. Now you are completely sealed in the chamber with Saruman and the charged ions of the gathering thunderhead of his disapproval. His spider-black eyes stab you with potent malice. You use your staff to strike at him magically and toss him back across the marble floor. But two can play at that game, and Saruman is by far the stronger, and the blow of his staff sends you hurtling back into a stone pillar.

More such blows are exchanged, and they are shattering. Neither you, nor Saruman, is a young man, and as these bursts of disapproval send you flying into hard stone surfaces, you suffer concussions and fractured bones. A final blow echoes and reverberates in your skull (another burst of subwoofer) and you can no longer resist. Saruman uses the power of his rage to yank your staff out of your hands and now he is wielding both staffs. Blood is coming from his lip. He has also suffered concussions and bone fractures, and the fury of his disapproval of you reaches a crescendo of awfulness. With a fell gesture of both staffs he hurtles you out of the chamber and onto the roof of Orthanc.

It is a night of chilling winds, and the roof of Orthanc is like the dark horn of the world with four spiked protuberances oriented toward the cardinal directions. The floor is of polished black granite with a giant pentagram etched into its surface. You are reminded that the name “Orthanc” means “Mount Fang” in Sindarin and “Cunning Mind” in Old English. Thunderstorms, the meteorological correlate of Saruman’s fell disapproval of you, begin to form and quickly gain intensity. The storms beat and lash you with torrents of rain and vicious gusts of wind. The rain drenches your grey raiment and you shiver there on the horn of the world lashed by the fury of Saruman’s disapproval.

So when you hear the word “disapproval,” in addition to hearing those four miserable syllables, I want you to visualize and experience with every sense this sort of stuff—ever-receding narrowing corridors, vaguely realized people and their ugly gestures, the echoing subwoofer reverbs, the bronze doors slamming shut, Saruman’s spider-black eyes stabbing you with malice, and so forth. It’s crucial that you see that disapproval has fell power. And of all the fell forms of disapproval, it is self-disapproval that is by far the most potent and deadly.

But there is an antidote to the potent black magic of disapproval projections and self-disapproval. It is the science and art of approval and self-approval magic. But I want to make it clear from the start,  the transformative power of this magical technology is not meant for everyone. Let’s say, for example, that you are a hedge fund manager parasitically manipulating money in the form of zeros and ones in such a way that you add zeros to both your net worth and your soul. Your manic hedge-managing timeline consists of days spent in unearned acquisition mode, and of evenings engaging the services of-high-priced prostitutes. If this is the case, then you don’t deserve approval, and the technology of magically empowered self-approval being offered here is not for you.

The empowered art and science of self-approval technology presupposes a person with a life-affirming stance toward incarnation. A life-affirming stance, however, is by no means exclusive to persons of established virtue. For example, let’s say I am awakening in an alley in a pool of my own vomit and I’ve soiled my filthy clothing with the foul outpourings of every orifice. As I awaken, my head splitting, flakes of dried vomit stuck to my tongue, memories come flooding into my mind of a night spent shooting up in this very same alley. I sold my body to pay for the injections, and longed for oblivion so much that I didn’t care that I shared syringes with people known to have AIDS who had open sores on their faces. But now the realization of a new day dawns in me. I know I have hit bottom and I don’t want to stay there. I want to bring compassion to myself and the world and make the best use of the weeks and months, maybe years, still left to me. Regardless of what I have done in the past, I should now approve of myself and of every action I take to heal my life. So long as I am moving, even stumbling, toward the experience of meaning and toward life-affirming values, I deserve self-approval.
But in practice, there have been so many mornings where I did not wake up in the alley. So many mornings I have awakened to feelings of self-disapproval during a life that has been moving, however imperfectly, toward meaningfulness, toward life-affirming values. Like so many others, I have felt the massively subwoofered reverb of self-disapproval, even though I can search my arms in vain for track marks, and even though, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been a soulless hedge fund manager, or done other things that would absolutely outrage the forces of disapproval into righteous indignation.

So what is it that causes me to imprison myself in the Disapproval Matrix? Is it that I have internalized the justified and unjustified disapproval of others? Is it that the first human female, succumbing to the disastrous advice of a talking snake, ate forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and thereby brought six millennia of disapproval unto us all?

When I attempt to see disapproval as a physical force, I see it as a disintegrating form of radioactivity or as an acidic vapor. Human beings are essentially matrix-altering agents, they have a power that dramatically reshapes this world. Recall what it feels like to have such an agent disapprove of you. And I’m not talking about a case where someone disapproves of some specific thing you’ve done. That’s conditional disapproval. Think of someone, if you’ve had this experience, who unconditionally disapproved of you. There is an icy, acidic glare from the disapproving agent. Essentially you are a fly in their ointment, and they would like to edit you out of the matrix. Unconditional disapproval may come from someone who, whether they are conscious of it or not, disapproves of you for irreducible aspects of yourself. For example someone who disapproves of your race or ethnicity, your sexual orientation, your body type, your essential temperament, and your talents or other positive attributes. It is crucial to realize that some people will disapprove of you for positive qualities you have. Someone may disapprove of you for being more attractive or intelligent than they are. In other cases, someone may disapprove of you for qualities you also disapprove of in yourself—perhaps you don’t approve of your body type and neither do they. Parents or other people very close to you can also have powerful conditional disapproval that can sometimes be harder to deal with than unconditional disapproval. Perhaps they wouldn’t want you removed from the matrix altogether, but at the same time they disapprove of one of your core attributes. Potent, conditional disapproval can be particularly devastating when it comes from someone you are connected to by inner ties.

Also, we are not merely the victims of disapproval, but are usually agents of disapproval ourselves. Who of us has not found ourselves annoyed by someone to an extent that we would like to see them, or some aspect of them, edited out of a scene that we are part of?

But the most potent agent of disapproval is you disapproving of yourself. Many people feel the acidic vapor, the disintegrating radioactivity, of disapproval every time they look in the mirror.
Disapproval begets disapproval. There is a saying that the oppressed is always in the act of becoming the oppressor. Therefore the disapproved is always in the act of becoming the disapprover. We are all agents of the Disapproval Matrix. Even animals are part of it. We might get unconditional approval from a dog, but the same dog may bark its disapproval at others. The beginning of life was probably a chain of lipids to make a membrane, a boundary so that the contents of metabolism didn’t just diffuse out into the environment. Disapproval may derive from an essential immunological response of an organism that recognizes that there is the me and the not-me, and sometimes the not-me is toxic, and disapproved, and therefore avoided or attacked. Sometimes the me is toxic, and it is excreted or molted. Sometimes the toxic me cannot be ejected, and then it must be transformed or else I must learn to accept it, integrate it, and not have an immunological reaction to it when I find it in myself or in others.

But if instead I neglect the toxic me, the results can be catastrophic. In such a case, the toxic me may fester and metastasize.

The Disapproval Matrix may be an essential byproduct of the differentiation of life. It is pervasive and corrosive and so I seek to avoid the pain of its acid and radioactivity, and I also seek to gain the intense pleasure of approval and this causes me…

I found myself breaking the identification I had with the old pre-warp human as realization reverberated in me. I sat back in my veriform chair realizing that I had found the primary cause of the holosuite anomalies and the problem with the Viewer. I kept defaulting to the Social Matrix because of approval and disapproval. I had internalized the disapproval I sometimes got from my makers, and other starships, and that caused me to want to seek approval from the Social Matrix. I did not fully approve of myself as either starship or starship captain, and therefore I attempted to outsource approval—I sought to import it from the Social Matrix.

For example, if I saw starships whose hulls were shiny and smooth, a smoothness that any older starship loses because of the inevitable pitting of micrometerorites, then I would make disapproving comparisons with myself.

To compensate, I would seek to win overthe approval of the shiny, new starships. But I could never get enough of that approval. I was like a thirsty human holding a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom. The hole was my self-disapproval. Others could come along and pour the water of their approval in my bucket, and for a few seconds there would be the delightful sense of this water swirling around the bucket. But then the water leaked out the hole at the bottom of the bucket and I wanted more.

Spinning this aside applied told under – Balance service you.because of the inevitable pitting of micrometerorites, then I would make disapproving comparisons with myself. To compensate, I would seek to win over the approval of the shiny, new starships. But I could never get enough of that approval. I was a like a thirsty human holding a bucket with a huge hole in the bottom. The hole was my self-disapproval. Others could come along and pour the water of their approval in my bucket, and for a few seconds there would be the delightful sense of this water swirling around the bucket. But then the water leaked out the hole at the bottom of the bucket and I wanted more.
The only way out of this predicament, the only way to transcend the Disapproval Matrix, was for me to approve of myself, even approve of the things I disapproved of in myself.

I commanded the fabricator to produce another dose of the psychoactive vapor, Bridge formula 111, because I realized I needed to channel the inner human again, the ancient pre-warp Terran. This was an ancestral problem, and therefore I needed him to get at the root of it. I closed my eyes and tried to reclaim his voice, but what came out seemed a merging of my present self and this ancestral voice. These two selves seemed to come in and out of focus so that at times I wasn’t sure which of them was really me, but this phasing in out of selves didn’t seem to matter. The phasing persisted for a few minutes and I had thoughts, but didn’t write anything. Finally, I came back solidly to my starship self, and grounded in this baseline identity, I resumed writing:

I need to transcend the Social Matrix, and therefore I need to transcend the Disapproval Matrix. But when you transcend you include that which has been transcended. So it is not as though I have escaped and floated away from these matrices forever. Just being self-aware, aware of myself as a starship struggling in the Social and Disapproval Matrices is a degree of transcendence. So much deep source code binds me to these matrices that I cannot reprogram them all at once. It will be a gradual process. For example, I might find myself in a holosuite simulation of a social drama where I am gaming out how I might win the approval of other starships. I can calmly, and without excess self-disapproval, remember myself, and take a lift up to the bridge and switch the Viewer to forward-navigation mode. I know that there will be times when the Viewer will default to Social Matrix View, times when I may unconsciously transport back to the holosuites, but I accept that, and work on remembering myself so that gradually I catch it more quickly when those defaults happen. I have a deeper default, the witness, and the witness can catch other defaults when they click in.

But all of this is too abstract, too mainframe, and I could feel that I wasn’t really capturing a fully embodied picture of what was going on. I commanded the fabricator to reformulate the psychoactive vapor so that it would activate feelings as well as thoughts, and asked for music that would activate my emotional intelligence.

Leaning back in my veriform chair, I saw a calmer and clearer version of the Social Matrix View projected holographically in front of me. The emphasis in this view wasn’t on the ranking of starships, but on the links between them. I saw the delicate tendrils of energy and information connecting me to other starships. Some starships were in view, ones that I was linked to with many tendrils, and other, fainter tendrils extended beyond my sight to distant starships.

These connections were the unknown, were the mission I was created to fulfill. I was made to be a social starship, to form these tender bonds with other ships, immediate and distant. It was these tendrils of energy linking me to the other starships that mattered, not searching out distant star systems and exotic planets.

I was made to be a social starship. I was made to form these links, these tendrils of energy with other ships. And the unknown I needed to explore was not so much what lay beyond the edges of the galaxy, it was the tendrils, these tender bonds of energy and information I shared with other starships.

The most meaningful unknown for me to explore was relating to these starships without all the distortions of the Social Matrix, without the voracious need for their approval, without all the simulations getting superimposed on what I was actually experiencing with them.

The view shifted, and I saw some new tendrils being added to the bonds I had with the other starships. These new tendrils were new avenues of energy and information opening up as I related to the other starships without being dominated by the distortions of the Social Matrix. The bonds between me and other starships were strengthened. For a moment, I saw the pulsing neon lines of the Social Matrix View, the default, distorted way to see the links between ships. The neon lines were brighter and demanded notice with their garish colors and attention-grabbing pulsations. These neon lines had an aura of shoddy artificiality and a generic interchangeability. The neon was not really alive in the way that the tendrils were alive. But you had to look carefully to see the tendrils. Their colors were subtler with fine gradations. They were individualized, delicate, gossamer threads of moving light.

And I was an interpenetrated node in the lattice of these tendrils that flowed into me, through me and from me. I was, in my deepest essence a social, self-aware starship, and everything else was secondary to that….

About Jonathan Zap

Jonathan Zap is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, and writer/explorer of themes emerging from the collective unconscious as we hurtle toward an evolutionary event horizon. He's an author, philosopher, journalist, and teacher who has written extensively on psychology and contemporary mythology. He graduated from Ursinus College with honors in Philosophy and English and received his Masters degree in English from NYU. Jonathan has worked as a staff gemologist and instructor for the Gemological Institute of America. He has taught English in high school and college and worked with troubled youth as the dean of a South Bronx High School. As a wilderness guide, Jonathan has led inner city kids and other young people on expeditions to remote desert canyons and to the summit of Mount Rainer.

One comment

  1. Scintillating essay, Jonathan, thank you.

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