Letter from the Editor: Turtles All the Way Down
By Rob Carroll
First Published in Issue 003 of Dark Matter Magazine, May-June 2021
Issue 003 of Dark Matter Magazine leans heavily on the theme of recursion. Eternal return is central to the plots of “Death in the Afternoon,” “Stand and Deliver,” “The House of Shapes,” “Nanogod,”and “Check, please.”—and it’s a visual motif of artist, Tais Teng, whose work is featured on this month’s cover, and it’s also seen in the art of Cat Dirty, whose work is highlighted in one of this issue’s art features.
The other stories in the issue—“Recycle of Violence,” “Hounds of Thule,” “Drop Shipment Standard Procedure,” and “You Had to Be an Asshole on Planet E 11-18”—don’t use recursion as a plot device, but they do comment on the way language, identity, and storytelling are self-referencing, with “Hounds of Thule” and “You Had to Be an Asshole on Planet E 11-18” even weaving this concept into their story structures through the creative use of second-person narration.
There’s no wondering why recursion is so often used in storytelling. Storytelling is, itself, recursion, in all its self-referencing, self-aggrandizing, and self-obsessive glory. And let’s not forget that sentences are really just fractal equations that are processed and then extrapolated to infinity and beyond by the very same uncanny force that creates them: the human mind.
Some theorize that reality itself is a hologram, analogous to the shadows in Plato’s Cave, but built from complex packets of data that are shared across an invisible array of what we call consciousness, delivered in a similar way to how we deliver the internet to every computer and wireless device across the global network, and that the physical universe that we know and rely on is entirely dependent on the observation of we who know it, for it is the human observer that acts as the web browser in this analogy, transforming in real time the complex source code of physical and metaphysical reality into experiential stimuli and response. All matter sent this way is a wave, both realized and unrealized until acted upon. We are the divinely ordained ones, responsible for collapsing the wave of infinite possibility into a single determinant point of truth.
Which brings us to The Death of the Author.
The Death of the Author is a famous concept in literary criticism that was first coined by French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes, in his 1967 essay by the same name (French: La mort de l’auteur). Barthes’s central conceit is that an author’s intentions hold no special weight in determining an interpretation of their writing, or put more frankly, any given reader’s interpretation of a written work is just as valid—if not more so—than the author’s.
I will not only agree with the conclusion of Barthes here, I will go one step further and argue that his thesis is more than just theoretically valid; it’s mathematically correct.
Once an author’s written work is released into the world, the sentences the author wrote are no longer blooming fractals in their own mind, alive with context-specific intent. In new hands and beneath the gaze of fresh eyes, the sentences are once again just semiotic equations that tease promise and infinite possibility, and nothing more. And even though an author can quite possibly slave for years to craft what they deem to be perfect sentences, those sentences will never in fact be slaves. The sentences, like our fractal reality itself, exist merely as mathematical probabilities until they are brought to life by the only thing that can accomplish the feat: a conscious observer. And since every conscious observer is unique, but also uniquely qualified, every consciously-unlocked pattern created by these observers is both undeniably different and unequivocally true.
And yet, with infinite promise comes finite realities. The universe is not defined by its possibilities, after all, but by its parameters, hence why in a shared reality like this one, we choose not to abdicate our authority for the greater good (when necessary), but instead vie for continuous increases in our own tenuous power (even when unnecessary).
So how do we reconcile this as human beings?
We continue to co-create the universe together, even within the many recursive iterations we create. We continue to dream better, even if reality is not yet ready to improve. We dream brighter, even if we first have to confront our nightmares.
The stories we tell, the sentences we write, the melodies we compose, the brush strokes we paint, the ideas we think up, the small acts of kindness we do for one another are information-dense packets of intellectual and emotional wonder that rival even the Friedmann Equations for their power to distill majesty down to its very essence.
We are the loving proprietors of the worlds we collectively create, and we are the grief-stricken mourners of the worlds we collectively destroy. But between birth and death, there is life, and it is during this life that we rise to the challenge and become the good shepherds we are all meant to be. We do our best to cultivate that world, to expand that fractal equation into infinite and endless wonder, and in doing so, create a place, if even for a moment, that’s good enough, capable enough, and willing enough to create yet one more world in its stead. And in that new world, the cycle begins again.
© 2021, Rob Carroll