Epistemic status: Oh fuck! No no no that can’t be true! …. Ooh, shiny!
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade
Aliveness is how much your values are engaged with reality. How much you are actually trying at existence, however your values say to play.
Deadness is how much you’ve shut down and dissembled the machine of your agency, typically because having it scrape up uselessly against the indifferent cosmos is like nails on chalkboard.
Children are often very alive. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices. Extreme emotion. Things are real and engaging to them. Adults who display similar amounts of enthusiasm about anything are almost always not alive. Adults almost always know the terrible truth of the world, at least in most of their system 1s. And that means that being alive is something different for them than for children.
Being alive is not just having extreme emotions, even about the terrible truth of the world.
Someone who is watching a very sad movie and crying their eyes out is not being very alive. They know it is fake.
the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
Tragedy provides a compelling, false answer to stick onto emotion-generators, drown them and gum them up for a while. I once heard something like tragedy is supposed to end in resolution with cosmic justice of a sort, where you feel closure because the tragic hero’s downfall was really inevitable all along. That’s a pattern in most of the memes that constitute the Matrix. A list of archetypal situations, and archetypal answers for what to do in each.
Even literary tragedy that’s reflective of the world, if that wasn’t located in a search process, “how do I figure out how to accomplish my values”, it will still make you less alive.
I suspect music can also reduce aliveness. Especially the, “I don’t care what song I listen to, I just want to listen to something” sort of engagement with it.
I once met someone who proclaimed himself to be a clueless, that he would work in a startup and have to believe in their mission, because he had to believe in something. He seemed content in this. And also wracked with akrasia, frequently playing a game on his phone and wishing he wasn’t. When I met him I thought, “this is an exceedingly domesticated person”, for mostly other reasons.
Once you know the terrible truth of the world, you can pick two of three: being alive, avoiding a certain class of self-repairing blindspots, and figuratively having any rock to stand on.
When you are more alive, you have more agency.
Most Horrors need to be grokked at a level of “conclusion: inevitable.”, and just stared at with your mind sinking with the touch of its helplessness, helplessly trying to detach the world from that inevitability without anticipating unrealistically it’ll succeed, and maybe then you will see a more complete picture that says, “unless…”, but maybe not, but that’s your best shot.
As the world fell each of us in our own way was broken.
The truly innocent, who have not yet seen Horror and turned back, are the living.
Those who have felt the Shade and let it break their minds into small pieces each snuggling in with death, that cannot organize into a forbidden whole
of true agency, are zombies. They can be directed by whoever controls the Matrix. The more they zone out and find a thing they can think is contentment, the more they approach the final state: corpses.
Those who have seen horror and built a vessel of hope to keep their soul alive and safe from harm are liches. Christianity’s Heaven seems intended to be this, but it only works if you fully believe and alieve. Or else the phylactery fails and you become a zombie instead. For some this is The Glorious Transhumanist Future. In Furiosa from Fury Road’s case, “The Green Place”. If you’ve seen that, I think the way it warps her epistemology about likely outcomes is realistic.
As a lich, pieces of your soul holding unresolvable value are stowed away for safekeeping, “I’m trans and can’t really transition, but I can when I get a friendly AI…”
Liches have trouble thinking clearly about paths through probability space that conflict with their phylactery, and the more conjunctive a mission it is to make true their phylactery, the more bits of epistemics will be corrupted by their refusal to look into that abyss.
When a sufficiently determined person is touched by Horror, they can choose, because it’s all just a choice of some subagent or another, to refuse to die. Not because they have a phylactery to keep away the touch of the Shade but because they keep on agenting even with the Shade holding their heart. This makes them a revenant.
When the shade touches your soul, your soul touches the shade. When the abyss stares into you, you also stare into the abyss. And that is your chance to undo it. Maybe.
A lich who loses their phylactery gets a chance to become a revenant. If they do, n=1, they will feel like they have just died, lost their personhood, feel like the only thing left to do is collapse the timeline and make it so it never happened, feel deflated, and eventually grow accustomed.
Otherwise, they will become a zombie, which I expect feels like being on Soma, walling off the thread of plotline-tracking and letting it dissolve into noise, while everything seems to matter less and less.
Aliveness and its consequences are tracked in miniature by the pick up artists who say don’t masturbate, don’t watch porn, that way you will be able to devote more energy to getting laid. And by Paul Graham noticing it in startup founders. “Strange as this sounds, they seem both more worried and happier at the same time. Which is exactly how I’d describe the way lions seem in the wild.”
But the most important factor is which strategy you take towards the thing you value most. Towards the largest most unbeatable blob of wrongness in the world. The Shade.
Can you remember what the world felt like before you knew death was a thing? An inevitable thing? When there wasn’t an unthinkably bad thing in the future that you couldn’t remove, and there were options other than “don’t think about it, enjoy what time you have”?
You will probably never get that back. But maybe you can get back the will to really fight drawn from the value that manifested as a horrible, “everything is ruined” feeling right afterward, from before learning to fight that feeling instead of its referent.
And then you can throw your soul at the Shade, and probably be annihilated anyway.