Tower of Babylon
For the first time, he knew night for what it was: the shadow of the earth itself, cast against the sky.
It was as if the earth had rejected him for his faithlessness, while heaven disdained to accept him.
Long ago, Yahweh had released the Deluge, unleashing waters from both below and above… Now men saw the vault closely, but there were no sluice gates discernible…. Perhaps the gates had no seams perceptible to mortal eyes, and a reservoir lay directly above them… Or perhaps the reservoirs were huge, so that even if the nearest sluice gates were many leagues away, a reservoir still lay above them.
The priests led a prayer to Yahweh; they gave thanks that they were permitted to see so much, and begged forgiveness for their desire to see more… If the tower were sacrilege, Yahweh would have destroyed it earlier… If Yahweh looked upon this venture with such favor, there would already be a stairway ready-made for us in the vault… Yahweh may not punish us, but Yahweh may allow us to bring our judgment upon ourselves… We labor for our love of Yahweh […] Men as righteous as we could not be judged harshly.
He had emerged from a cave in the foothills of some mountains, and rocks and sand stretched to the horizon… He was in Shinar. He had returned to the earth. He had climbed above the reservoirs of heaven, and arrived back at the earth… And then it came to him: a seal cylinder. Men imagined heaven and earth as being at the ends of a tablet, with sky and stars stretched between; yet the world was wrapped around in some fantastic way so that heaven and earth touched.
Context: Leon (narrator) gains superintelligence. Sees patterns in everything. “Classifications like ‘optics’ and ‘thermodynamics’ just prevent physicists from seeing countless intersections.”
CIA unsuccessfully tries to make him a resource, even resulting to framing him as a murderer, and putting his almost-girlfriend on trial to bait Leon out.
Leon sets out to design a new gestalt-oriented language for his mind. He understands precisely how he knows. The new language can describe and modify its own operations. He is meta-aware of his consciousness, and can meta-program himself.
Leon: Or perhaps I’d find that the mind gestalt cannot be generated, and some sort of intervention is required. Perhaps I would see the soul, the ingredient of consciousness that surpasses physicality. Proof of God?
Reynold, another more advanced superintelligent human, asserts that as long as they can comprehend the affairs of normals, then they can’t ignore the normals. Leon, however, views intelligence as an end in itself.
The Word is the sentence that, when uttered, destroys the mind of the listener. Reynolds pushes Leon into forming a gestalt that defines Leon’s dissolution. In his death, Leon wonders what Reynolds will do after he’s saved the world.
Division by Zero
Renee, a mathematician, is working on a formalism, that ends up being able to prove that any two numbers are equal. No divisions by zero; no poorly defined terms; no illegal operations; no independent axioms that are implicitly assumed; her peers can’t find fault in her proof.
Renee finds mathematics meaningless: the most elegant theorem wouldn’t mean any more than a nonsense equation. She is frustrated that the damned theorem made sense. Recently had a nightmare about discovering a formalism that lets her translate arbitrary concepts into mathematical expressions, and subsequently prove that life and death are equivalent.
Carl, Renee’s partner, had previously attempted suicide. However, when Renee attempted it, he realized that because he couldn’t understand what had brought her to such an action. He reasons that one couldn’t ask a person to remain supportive through any crisis. His leaving Renee was inevitable, but it would be a sin he couldn’t forgive.
Aside: Math History and Tidbits
Early 19th century: Mathematicians began exploring non-Euclidean geometries that produced absurd results, yet without logical contradictions. Later shown that these non-Euclidean geometries were logically consistent, as long as one assumed that Euclidean geometry was consistent.
1900: David Hilbert lists his 23 most important unsolved problems of mathematics. #2 was a request for a proof of the consistency of arithmetic, i.e. one could never prove \(1 = 2\).
1931: Kurt Gödel presents two theorems. First, mathematics contains statements that may be true, but are inherently unprovable. Second, a claim of the consistency of arithmetic is just such a statement.
1936: Gerhard Gentzen provided a proof of the consistency of arithmetic, but to do it he needed to use a controversial technique known as transfinite induction. What Gentzen had done was prove the obvious by assuming the doubtful.
The Evolution of Human Science
Metahumans increasingly use digital neural transfer to share findings. Journals publish secondhand accounts translated into human language. Some insights are inevitably lost in translation.
No way to augment a human brain into a metahuman one. Can only be done in the very early stages, and parents would watch their child grow incomprehensible to them. No parents opt into this.
Human researchers realize that they may never make an original contribution to science again. Many quit, and the ones who stayed focus on hermeneutics, the interpretation of the scientific work of metahumans.
Some question the worthwhileness of hermeneutics. The metahumans create things useful for humans, so what if we don’t really understand these artefacts? But hermeneutics still increases the body of human knowledge, just as original research did. Furthermore, humans may discern applications overlooked by metahumans.
Hell Is the Absence of God
Angel visitations are disruptive: storms, earthquakes, fires, etc. While there are those healed, there are casualties too. Post-visitation, many became devout, either out of gratitude or terror.
Hell also had manifestations. It was permanent exile from God. Its lost souls went on with their lives, but couldn’t apprehend the mortal plane. But everyone knew that Heaven was incomparably superior.
Given God hadn’t played a role in Neil’s life, Neil wasn’t afraid of being exiled from God. However, after Sarah’s death (shattered glass from Nathanael’s visitation) and ascension to Heaven, Neil now wanted to go to Heaven. For this, he needed to earnestly love God. But one couldn’t love God as a means to an end.
For some couples, if one descended to hell, the other committed suicide resulting in a happy reunion in hell. Neil shamefully wished Sarah were in hell, for she could be happy in either place, but he could only be happy with her.
Sites of frequent visitations were holy sites. While some pilgrims went for healing, others sought Heaven’s light as those who’d seen it went to Heaven (most notably a serial rapist and murderer and rapist). Heaven’s light was observable on entry and exit of an angel. Entries were hard to predict, so light-seekers converged on the angel and followed it till its departure.
Light-seeking was risky (e.g. staying in the funnel of a tornado). Far more light-seekers died in the attempts than succeeded, and all who’d failed were now in hell. Neil found light-seeking’s all-or-nothing quality frightening and attractive. Trying to love God was maddening, and likely to fail. Furthermore, what if he died soon?
In Barakiel’s visitation, Neil crashed in his light-seeking attempt, and was slowly but surely bleeding to death. He knew no heavenly bargain was possible. He prayed for Sarah’s forgiveness of his reckless gamble. However, Heaven’s light struck trapped Neil, imbuing him with an ineffable love for God. God sent Neil to hell anyway.
Ethan, whose life mission was to find out his divine purpose, saw it all. He started preaching that people can no more expect justice in the afterlife than in the mortal plane. If they wish to love God, they be prepared to do so despite the lack of justice, kindness and mercy. Now that is true devotion.
In hell, Neil still loves Sarah. He knows that there was no reason nor divine purpose for him being in hell, but he loves God anyway, even when God is not aware of his love.
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