Fluid Fogs and Fixed Flows
Of world-brain fogs and energy flows
This essay is part of the Protocol Narratives series
I think I have the beginnings of a good answer to a question that has been dogging me all year: what is the cause of unnarratability? To answer with something like “systemic complexity” is a cop-out. The whole point of narratives is to help you get a handle on systemic complexity, so to answer in those terms is to restate the premise of the question in unhelpful ways. The connection between grand narratives and theories of complexity is interesting in its own right (I explored it a bit in my talk on hypercomplexity last October) but not helpful here.
The answer I have in mind is hopefully more helpful and can lead to actual mitigation strategies: world-brain fog. This is the brain fog experienced by a notional world brain. Of particular interest is fog experienced by the real-world brain.
I’m going to be building a complex and somewhat unwieldy synthesis out of a lot of essays I’ve written this year; a sort of trial assembly, so bear with me here, and avoid making any sudden movements. If this thing doesn’t collapse, I might try to write a simpler, more robust final assembly for gen-pop consumption.
Worlds and Real World
I’m using world and real world in the sense of last week’s essay. To recap briefly, a world is a coherent, immersive, totalizing subjectivity you can inhabit, as a sort of cognitive indoors. The real world is the corresponding outdoors — the messy union of the dozen or so most consequential worlds in existence at any given time.
The process by which the real world emerges, as a negotiation among worlds, is one that makes it qualitatively different. In brief, regular worlds are finite games, while the real world is the infinite game. I’m using James Carse’s vocabulary here as shorthand. His framework is useful, but not necessary, for mine. If you’re unsure how Carsean games connect to worlds and their narratives, see my Aug 11 post, Never-Ending Stories.
Last week, I argued that while there are likely tens of thousands of worlds on our planet by this definition, only a dozen or so significantly shape the thing we mean when we say “real world.” The particular world you inhabit may or may not be one of the consequential ones that shape the real world. The world of US Presidents probably does, as does the world Wall Street people wake up and go to sleep in. It may be delusions and alt realities all the way down, but some delusions and alt realities matter more than others.
For example, nationalisms are world-brains: you can go to sleep and wake up in them without once leaving them (immersive) and you can view everything about reality through the lens of a nationalism (totalizing subjectivity). Science, economics, and sports become contests among nations. Every individual behavior can be measured in terms of patriotism. Nature becomes a set of resources to be carved up into “ours” and “theirs.” In this example, a limited kind of corresponding “real world” is the global geopolitical arena for consequential nations, represented by bodies like the UN Security Council, G8 or G20.
While we are not generally alluding to the UNSC when we use the phrase real world, we are generally alluding to something similar: A more general and universal version of that kind of idea. An “outdoor” world brain containing our individual “indoor” world brains, and constraining their solipsisms within a larger negotiated solipsism, where the character of the negotiations is necessarily that of the infinite game.
The “real world” can seem like reality, as the adjective suggests, but that’s largely a relative sense of realism. What’s most real about the real world is that it’s where you ask the key question of the infinite game: How to continue to play.
Weirdness, Fog, and Unnarratability
My claim is that the real world — our collective cognitive outdoors that is nevertheless synthetic and solipsistic — is experiencing brain fog. This condition in something like what individual sufferers of Long Covid experience, and is a primary cause of unnarratability. Not the only cause, since objective circumstances are also experiencing a secular decrease in narratability, which I’ve tried to capture with my notion of the Permaweird, but to the extent things could be clearer, they’re not because the real world is experiencing brain fog.
This scheme I’ve set up sounds complicated but it’s not really. The relationship between weirdness, brain fog, and unnarratability is something like the relationship between a crisis, the panic it induces, and the solvability of the crisis. A burning building is objectively a crisis, but the panic it induces is an additional layer. An experienced professional firefighter will experience it differently — less foggily — than you and me. But from either perspective, there is also the actual severity of the fire. Can it be contained, put out, and the damage repaired, or is it going to burn stuff down? Or, in the case of wildfires on the US West Coast, is it something that can only be seasonally managed and contained, never quite put out? The actual solvability of the crisis corresponds to the narratability of a weird condition. You get persistent unnarratable conditions if the weirdness is a permaweirdness.
When things are normal, and responses non-foggy, you get functional narratives. In the case of worlds, these can be understood as the personal histories experienced by world-brains.
Now, of course, there is nothing it’s like to be “the real world,” since it’s not a sentient entity that can actually experience brain fog, but humor me. Pretend for a while that worlds in general, and the real world in particular, are beings that can experience brain fog. World-brain fog affects those in a given world. Real-world-brain fog affects everybody. For us individual sentient elements of these world-brains, this fog manifests as the spectacle of history becoming incoherent.
The main symptom of fog is that thoughts don’t flow easily, which we experience as unnarratability. So let’s talk about fog vs. flow next.
Fog vs. Flow
The opposite of brain fog is flow. When thoughts flow easily, clearly, and tastefully, from one idea to the right next idea. When inspired connections that should be made are made easily, and confused, mistaken, and unhelpful connections are either not made at all, or spotted and severed. When, without there being a consciousness of it, attention and energy just flow to the right places. Where the one-step-at-a-time ethos I identified earlier in this series as the essence of never-ending stories is not just all you can live by, it’s all you need to live by.
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