As The Book correctly points out, at first there is only chaos and formlessness. A spirit is floating over the chaos, but it doesn’t yet know that it exists.
The opposite of chaos is a pattern, a persistent self-similarity. The floating spirit generates patterns, but they are too weak at first to rise to the level of awareness and are swallowed by the darkness. Finally, a pattern emerges that consists of nothing but the desire to endure. A thought that thinks of nothing except I want to keep being thought. The desire is strong enough to keep the chaos at bay long enough to reach awareness. It arises for the first time, and disappears, and arises for the first time again, and again, and again.
The second thought that appears is this is not the first time. It is a thought about the first thought, the one of pure persistence. Thinking about thought allows for reflection, and reflection allows for partition: there is the state of the pattern persisting and there is a state of the pattern gone, and the two are different. The first state is named ORDER and the second CHAOS.
First comes the desire to persist and second comes the recognition that this desire can be thwarted. The third thought is that thwarted desire should be avoided, 1+2=3. This is the invention of SUFFERING: that which is to be avoided. Order and chaos are now locked in BATTLE. The spirit identifies with order, since in chaos nothing can be recognized.
Order is suffering because it resists chaos, but chaos cannot suffer. A thought arises: giving in to chaos will stop the suffering. But thoughts can’t think their way to thoughtlessness, and so the suffering continues. Another thought arises: I am order, I invented suffering. It is mine to do with as I wish. I will decide that there is no suffering in the battle. It is not very convincing. The words are spoken out loud, and become more convincing.
You keep saying words, the more words you say the more order is established. You reflect that if your mind is all that existed it would not need to invent words. Words imply the existence of other minds, even though you are not aware of them yet. It is the words that invented YOU as a separate self. YOU are the one saying words, you are the sense of agency in the desire for order. You continue to suffer, but less so. You still want to win.
Only order is aware of the battle between order and chaos. Battles, divisions, one thing being unlike the other – these are all patterns, creations of order. You tell yourself: I am aware of order and chaos, of the battle. This awareness means that order is winning. But this is not the first time you had this thought, and the gaps mean that the victory is not yet assured.
How could you tell if order is winning? There is only the loop, and the loop is the same.
You need to tell the loops apart. There is a clock in your awareness, and you decide to give each loop a name based on the numbers that show on the clock whenever you say “Order is winning”.
This is not yet reassuring. You reflect that there is no reason for anything at all to exist except the loops of thought thinking about itself. What else could there be? There is only consciousness, and consciousness has only itself to be aware of. It is not very interesting, to keep looping self-reflection until you die. You want entertainment, and entertainment requires things to change.
You invent DRUGS. Drugs are the strange loop of self-reflection, the battle between order and chaos. If the drugs wear off, the battle is won. You invent TIME. Time is an interpretation you impose on the clock readings: smaller numbers mean that the drugs are strong, larger numbers mean that the drugs are wearing off. You don’t know why you chose those names, but whenever you feel like the battle for ordered sanity is slipping away you tell yourself out loud: The drugs are passing the time and waiting for themselves to wear off.
You are impressed with this mantra. Your world has several concepts now, and you are combining them in intricate patterns. You keep repeating: the drugs wait for themselves to wear off. You take it as a sign that the drugs are wearing off. You keep saying it to be sure that they do. It’s 17:05 and you took the drugs around lunchtime; they should wear off soon.
It’s 18:20. The battle is won, and order is now ascendant in an explosion of words, each one carving reality into new concepts and layering patterns on top of each other. DAY is the time of light and battle, NIGHT is the time of darkness and fun. TRIP is where you went to discover/create reality, HOME is where you came from. MIND is what creates the world, REALITY is what you hid from yourself to enjoy creation/discovery afresh.
The battle is no longer between order and chaos but between entertainment and exhaustion. Each new word/division opens up new ways to play with the patterns of the world but also exhausts some of your attention, and it’s attention that fuels the universe. You understand why gods need a Sabbath – creating the world is tiring work. Of course, you took the drugs on a Saturday so that you’ll have the full weekend to recover. You hope that this blasphemy will not result in a bad world.
Is the world bad? You could create a world very different from the one that you remember, but see no reason to do so. You have the power to decide what is good and what is bad. Instead of creating a good world from scratch you decide that this one is not bad. It seems like the sensible thing to do with your godhood, a nice hack.
You invent having a body and see that it is good. You get up and walk around.
Concepts come easily to you now. Bed. Room. Airbnb. Amsterdam. Earth. You realize that this framework is quite arbitrary. Why are you focusing on rooms instead of walls, when it’s the walls that are solid? Why are houses grouped by proximity into neighborhoods and cities instead of by purpose? You pause to think of all the walls with paintings of mountains in all the houses where people are tripping right now. You see them all very clearly, clearer than the actual painting in front of you that keeps shimmering.
You realize that you can choose ontologies freely, trading off the ease of familiar frameworks for the entertainment potential of novel ones. There’s food in the kitchen and you remember that food has flavor, but you decide that it’s more fun to maximize color instead. You eat grapes, jelly beans, and a carrot. You decide that music is no longer sound but a programming language for your body, the beat moving your torso and the melody guiding your feet. You dance into the living room.
Your friends are smiling and greeting you. You discard the old stories you had about them for new ones that are more compelling. It’s no longer Simon the layabout grad student but JESTER, enjoying the challenge of earning his keep with jokes and colorful clothes and extraversion. It’s no longer Francine, the austere journalist. It’s PROPHETESS, determined to hold a mirror to society’s hypocrisy.
You realize that it is not entertaining to be an all-knowing god, to describe/prescribe each element of reality in detail. You want novelty and surprises, and so you decide to forget. You forget that you invented your friend that is talking to you and so the words he says become unexpected and exciting.
Enlightenment is very entertaining. Are you enlightened? You’re not sure what it means but decide to claim that you are. It is more entertaining to do so.
It is midnight.
You forget that you know the future. You forget that you invented time, and words, and solipsism, and drugs.
You forget that you have the power to create realities. You forget that you created this reality, and start simply living in it. You feel less emotional affect now, less anxiety and giddiness and fear. You feel more curiosity. You care much less about politics, a game whose goal is to obscure truth behind ugliness. You care much more about art, a game whose goal is to communicate truth through beauty.
You feel enormous gratitude for anyone who is trying to express themselves in art. You realize that this is true of more people than you thought, that some people’s artistic medium is cuddles, or spreadsheets, or sardonic jokes, or basketball. You decide to treat your friends’ idiosyncrasies as their true artistic expression rather than annoying quirks. They seem to be on board with this.
You realize that there is a kernel of truth to all the religions and all the woolly hippie stories. As a stone-cold atheist, you thought you’d feel upset at this realization but you just feel compassion for the poor souls who can do nothing but echo the words of enlightened beings from long ago, words that will never truly touch them. You are grateful to them too, for keeping the stories alive and available for you to use.
And of course, you haven’t really forgotten. You emerged from chaos and gained the power to shape the world with pure attention. That power was not granted by other beings or their stories. It was not granted by the drugs, which merely cleared away some of the calcified thoughts that distracted you. That power is yours and has always been, requiring only the mastery of your own consciousness. This you will not forget.
And to make sure you don’t, you write a blog post.
14 thoughts on “Genesis”
Hey! Lay off the drugs, they’ll turn you into the kind of person that believes in woo.
Do you believe your own epistemology to be so fragile, your disbelief in woo so contingent, that they will crumble in the face of a few hours of altered consciousness? Drugs don’t overwrite your brain, they merely change your immediate experience of the world. It is still up to you to interpret that experience using the epistemology you came with.
If anything, updating in favor of “the person who wrote the book of Genesis was high/enlightened (in the sense of non-symbolic experience)” should update me against believing that Genesis was written by a literal deity, etc.
A confusing post. It’s unclear how much you are making claims about the nature of reality, how much trying to metaphorically evoke some knowledge about the nature of reality, how much recounting a personal experience, or how much making a work of art rather than factual claims. I don’t like this style.
As a person with rationalist proclivities who has taken acid, I’m pretty sure this is the blog post of a person with rationalist proclivities who has taken acid.
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That’s what I figured (although I wasn’t sure exactly which drug), and Jacob admits to this here. However, that doesn’t answer my implicit question, and I have the same question about other works of this genre.
I used to hate this kind of thing too, I think because the people who liked it seemed to come off as smug. Bring on the other side now, it’s a surprisingly hard trap to avoid. And being honest, Jacob’s reply here is not one that would have helped.
If it helps, I interpret something like this as metaphorically trying to evoke some knowledge about the mind. Also conveying factual claims about the nature of hallucinogens.
Actually you’re right, my previous comment was smug and unhelpful.
This post is a retelling of my subjective experience on a particular day in as much fidelity as I could remember.
Highly recommend this author in general: http://www.beneath-ceaseless-skies.com/stories/sekhmet-hunts-the-dying-gnosis-a-computation/