Tag Archives: drugs

The Man Who Dissected Time

Another off-the-cuff idea for something that could go further… or not.

 

I’m a lanky, bristle-haired daeman from New Africa, and I made a career of dissecting time. It started, as did many things of this nature, with drugs.

In the early days of the Second Enlightenment (the world had perilously skimmed a Second Dark Age, like a nosediving plane pulling up from the sea at the last second, its wings dripping with dumbfuckery), as the leading powers shifted gradually into technocracies (New Africa among them), the political ballast of drug repression thinned, and science began to take as much of as an interest in psychedelic brain expanders as they had in the hippie culture of the 1960s, and then doubly and triply so.

Scientists took inspiration from the hallucinogenic and dissassociative drugs of old, and went into overdrive creating new, synthetic ones. After 83,721 (at least, those were the ones listed publicly) synthetic creations of mind-altering substances, they finally reached a zenith. It was called LDX43iv, although was quickly referred to by all and sundry as ‘Slug’. The adopted name was an in-joke; far from making one’s mind slow, it rocketed it up to unprecedented speeds. To be ‘slugged out’ might hold some truth physically, but it meant the exact opposite mentally. Creative and extremely left-field and out-of-box thinking was enhanced beyond what were initially perceived to be rational levels, at the expense of more straightforward tasks like figuring out how to eat.

I remember the first time I tried Slug. The new textures, new colours, new wavelengths. The giraffes made from felt, in the shape of that old-fashioned written style of the number four. The terrible genius of it all. My mind had raced so goddamn fast I thought I was going to be sick from the sheer mental strain. It was like drinking too much, lolling back in the chair and feeling that void pulling you down, willing you to unconsciousness; but you resist, because it’s scary, and because you know, you just know, that you’ll start vomiting uncontrollably.

It was like that, but with the mind.

The great thing about Slug – once you’d locked it down, and adapted to its speed – was how much your mind opened. For the first time I – and countless others – had viewed their own mind, that is, understood it on a quasi-physical level, an actual perceived dimension. Three dimensions, to be exact. Your thoughts existed not in 2D but across a space stretched without horizon in three absolute directions. The Z axis in particular boggled the inexperienced mind by allowing you, with eyes closed, to go backwards through your own head. The mind-expanse existed where my head was, but without barriers; you simply kept on going, as though your inner eye was also legs and you could walk it or fly it at undefinable speeds.

An increasing number of scientists involved in this field began to take Slug, at first using it to inform their own work, and better understand their experiments on others, but eventually because, for the inquiring mind, there was no way back. Slug opened up scientific possibilities previously thought only theoretical, and delivered new theoretical ideas where previously nothing existed, bar perhaps mad ravings. Scientists also took Slug to understand other scientists whose otherwise unintelligible, yet ground-breaking work had been scribbled whilst on Slug.

As the field continued to expand its sphere of influence, scientists took more and more Slug, for wilder and wilder results. It was still by-and-large in-house at this stage, not technically available to the public (although it was starting to make a dent in the black market). Health consultants were brought in by concerned overseers, and they determined – shocked by the state of some of the scientists, who had been living on high doses of Slug non-stop for months and appeared to be in advanced stages of delirium – that regular ‘complete breaks’ from the drug were now mandatory.

This did not go well. At first, in a case of classic incompetence of bureaucracy, the first scientists were forced to quit cold-turkey. When the last vestiges of the drug wore off, they slipped quietly into something resembling, though not actually, comas.

After that, the weaning-off approach was tried, steadily lowering the dosage until it was negligible. This worked better, although that wasn’t saying much. At best, the scientists became profoundly bored, listless and depressed, showing no motivation or interest towards anything, especially anything based in mundane reality. Their minds, though operating at the same speed as pre-Slug, now felt to them interminably slow and dull beyond belief.

At worst, the scientists lost so much motivation and spark that they had to be cared for 24/7. They had to be helped to eat, bathe, go to the toilet, and so forth. They displayed zero energy or affection for anything around them, existing in a total stupor. They could not even summon the mental will to kill themselves, as was briefly a concern. It wasn’t anything physical, you understand, rather it was a sort of extreme psychological deprivation. The awesome majesty of the universe they had come to understand, and the near-divine sensation of their own minds working, creating, inventing, sorting, imagining at a pace once unimaginable – I’m talking at least several fantastic ideas a second, every second – was now robbed from them, leaving them with a comparable wasteland of sensation in return.

At some point, some of the scientists got together and wrote to be reinstated with the drug permanently, and the new ruling to be stricken. The mental effort to create this petition-of-sorts must have been immense for them, and no doubt they had help from concerned colleagues who either never touched the stuff or only took it sparingly, so as to stay ‘in the loop’ with the cutting edges of scientific theory.

Thankfully, it worked, and the mandatory breaks were removed, it being finally accepted by medical professionals that being off the drugs was more harmful than being on them. If not actually physically harmful, the drug’s absence nonetheless made complete wastes of space of great thinkers. Whether they were on or off the drug, they were no longer fit for regular human society, so society might as well at least let them trip, was the general consensus (although probably not phrased as such).

There was a new ruling, or should I say guideline, that from now on no more academics were to take significant quantities of Slug, for fear of its pressing psychological demands. However, nobody ever bothered to define ‘significant quantities’ (one wonders if those drafting this ruling were partaking in Slug themselves), and so the ruling was at first lax, and then essentially forgotten.

After all, by this point it was hopeless to restrict access to the drug; Slug had now blossomed out of the black market and made its way into the wider public sphere, where it caused as much joy and innovation as it did chaos. Thankfully, the consistently high price of the drug stopped too much regular-use apart from by the rich (who were layabouts anyway and hardly necessary to the common production required to turn society’s gears), and after a troubling splurge, where there were many heavy-handed but ultimately meaningless talks about ‘what to do’, things settled down, and while it remained the psychedelic drug of choice, it dipped far below worldly levels of alcohol and caffeine consumption among the working class.

It also helped that a lot of people just simply couldn’t take it. Or didn’t want to. It boosted the imagination, you see, boosted it beyond the recognisable. Those with little to no imagination saw little interest in the drug; it merely confused the shit out of them. They were much happier with a beer.

Where am I going with this? you ask. How does Slug apply to me? Well, eventually, thanks to many months-long explorations of the deepest mindscape, and new spatial conceptions of reality, we finally unlocked the secrets of the fourth dimension: time. Those taking the highest doses began to break its esoteric workings apart; they passed the secrets to progressively lower-dosed levels of others, until it could go no further without sinking into total non-comprehension. Even now, so many years after those initial manic discoveries (which first took root in New Africa, I’m proud to say), few people in this world understand the mechanics. Even I, whose very job it is to dissect time, barely understands it, and I can hardly be expected to explain it to a thoroughly sober individual like yourself.

So, yes. The discoveries became actionable, and the brightest – and most fucked up – minds of our generation learnt (through concepts once laughably insane, and then theoretical bizzaros, and then veritable eurekas) how to literally make time, how to divide it, how to mathematically add and subtract it, shorten it or lengthen it, alter its intrinsic properties, shape it, cast it in a bubble, grind it into pieces and feed it to things.

Naturally time became a commodity, in the very real sense. You could buy and sell it. And people did, in droves. And it wasn’t cheap.

For single-use it usually comes in capsules; some you press a button to activate, some you break in the middle like glowsticks, some you just throw at something. A bubble forms – a bubble of time. Things can slow down or speed up within this bubble.

It was an oddity at first, something exciting and silly and novel. Little things, at first. Slow down the rate at which your pizza cools (at the expense of it taking longer to reach your mouth), or get more sleep (it was arguable if you actually were getting more, of it was just psychological), or play a trick on someone: a popular, cheap and harmless early one was to cast it on a flicked-on kettle, so the old adage of a watched pot never boils became true.

Then there was “speeding up” ordinary tasks (i.e. making them take less time), like vacuuming the house, although then again we already had robots for that kind of thing and it wasn’t worth the price to attach a time-tube to free labour.

Of course, small bubbles soon weren’t enough. I blame business folk for that. The bubbles became bigger (speed limits had to be redefined after people started attaching time-tubes to their car so they could beat – or outright ignore – the traffic), they took on different shapes, you could have them run only on one or two axis, you could make time go sideways (don’t ask), you could change clocks with them (everybody’s time-tubed and synchronised up to the national Timegrid, except for when it was hacked, which caused a full day of problems), you could manipulate the production of goods, shorten essential tasks, you could use them on robots, on people. . .

It was when people started straying perilously close to paradoxes (such as Amazon, eager for best-delivery-service-in-the-world-status, began delivering parcels before they had technically been ordered), that governments were forced to take some control. This is why the international governmental watchdog and action force TimeGuard exist. To stop people doing dumb shit just because they can.

They could have tried to stamp out Time Co. entirely, but the operative word there is tried, for they’d have failed pretty spectacularly if they had. Time made up more of our respective economies now than it ever had before it had been bottled up and merchandised. Just about every powerful hand was greased by Time Co. and its bought-out partner Slug4U, and the benefits from both of these things were just too great, both in personal fortunes and the general advancement of humanity (working class excepted, naturally).

Time Co. recently bought out TimeGuard, anyway, so that’s that.

Some of the world’s lesser powers and single-states I think were doing okay without it, or with minimal use; they’d observed its effects on us first, and so had strapped in a bunch of new, hard-and-fast laws ready to receive it. The big guns, however, especially New Africa, were in too deep to pull out.

I don’t want them to rub that shit out, anyway. Not yet, at least. Not before all is broken and irreparable. My job depends on it. I’m rare, like a precious bird the world can’t do without. I’m the one who cuts the lines of time. I’m the product man. But I’m more than that, I’m more than just a glorified dealer. I take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. I cut them open and I take my peek.

I might not know exactly how time works, but I know more about what’s inside it every day. In a way, I’m a scientist myself.

 

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The Hallucinogenic Power of Words

I have a very visual approach to writing. No, not just a visual, a sensory approach to writing. Something, or more likely many, many things, appear in my head, and I must capture them. I am always trying to not just paint a picture, but to paint sound, movement, and atmosphere.

This, to my eternal frustration, is impossible. A picture paints a thousand words, but a thousand words do not make a picture. No matter how much I – or any other in my place – try, I will not be able to accurately communicate what I see in my head.

This could be well seen as a criticism against my writing, perhaps even a fault of my character as a writer. Not that I fail in this regard (for it is impossible), but that I am so focused on trying. I am, perhaps, more interested in these efforts at communication, than I am in the stories themselves. My approach is often cinematic in intent, and when I’m trying to illustrate sounds, sights, movements and cinematic atmosphere in words I feel like I’m trying to draw blood from a collapsed vein.

Not that writing doesn’t have atmosphere of its own. The atmosphere of the cinema is the sensory atmosphere, while the atmosphere of the book is a cerebral atmosphere, crafted, received and understood in an entirely different way.

You may ask, if I am trying so hard to replicate a movie, why I do not go into making movies, or if I am so interested in painting a particular picture, why I am not a painter. Partly because I (think I) know how to write, and am better at it than I am at anything else. I do not know how to make movies, or paint pictures – and both these talents require quite a lot more expenditure and set-up than just putting pen to paper/fingers to keys. Another reason is that I have simply more interest in writing than these other fields; I can imagine myself as a writer, but not really as the others, nor am I much inclined to try.

There is one more reason, a reason why, if I was to turn to these fields and, against all odds, excel at them, why I would still be in eternal frustration. The pictures, sounds, feelings, atmospheres, textures and all other ideas in my head are transient, flickering and completely elusive; they last less than a second. They are never concrete, not in the slightest, but merely vague concepts and shadows. I’ll understand them, sometime a little, sometimes completely – but I could never define them, I could never capture them, not to canvas nor film. Apart from anything else, there is simply not enough time – like trying to catch the fastest and smartest of butterflies in a broken net.

These are not the only reasons. For all us authors’ failures to replicate the magic, pathos, dynamics, drama, and sensory thrill of movies, our writing has its own strengths that movies cannot replicate.

Movies are the kings of crafting experiences born of the senses, of the outside world, but they are slaves to these things. For what about the inner world? Bar using narration – likely stolen from the book-before-the-film – what can a film tell us of what’s going on inside someone’s heads, of their actionless intentions, their dreams, their thoughts? How are these characters perceiving the world, perceiving conversations, perceiving the people they interact with?

It is this where the written word reigns king. Novels are the inside world. They are the behind-the-scenes of the movies (or, conversely, movies are the eyes and ears of novels). And it is this, this inner voice that has its way with everything, with every spoken word, every person, every animal, every rock, tree, blade of glass, every knife and drop of blood – it is this that I can control, that I can send out like a dog to war.

A movie can show you what a tree looks like, but it can never tell you how to perceive it. It cannot tell you that this tree looks like a cluster of crooked fingers, stabbing the sky. That the tree looks angry, and broken, old not in time but in weariness. That the tree is sick, not by disease but by bitterness. It cannot tell you that the few green leaves of the coming spring are its last plaintive calls of hope.

This is where I come to the title of this essay/speech/post/observation/whatever.  For, you see, cinema has always failed at attempting to replicate the experience of hallucinogenics. It will, perhaps, show you a new, absurd land, of melting walls, snakes in the carpet, talking lizards, giant purple mushrooms, pink elephants, cavorting spirals and dodecahedrons, and everything quite madcap, like a fairytale, a fantastical nightmare, or a Dali painting.  Out of all these, perhaps only the melting and the abstract geometry (fractals is the key word) have much of a truth to them. You can watch as many things attempting to describe the hallucinogenic experience to you, and you will never understand, because the key component, your brain, has stayed the same.

For, as I have said, movies show you things. They deliver their goods unto your eyes and ears, and they can give these goods in whatever package they desire. But they cannot give you anything direct to your brain; your brain will remain entirely yours, always rational (assuming you are already rational), and never screwed with.

Hallucinogenics, on the other hand, leave your eyes and ears alone. You will still see the same lamp, the same desk, the same ceiling and walls, and the very same people around you. Your eyes and ears are fine; they do the job as they have always done, and they give their reports to the brain, and then they get the fuck out of there, washing their hands and saying ‘what happens next is none of my business’.

Yes, your senses are still working perfectly, and that lamp will never change to a demon, that ceiling will never drip tentacles, and that desk will never start talking to you.

However.

What is happening is inside you. Your perspective is what changes. The changing perspectives of the mind is something movies cannot meddle with; it is quite impossible, no matter what tricks they have up their sleeve to make you think they are succeeding.

But words! All those abstract passages, sentences, and mere standalone metaphors and similies that you have no doubt read many of, to greater or lesser degrees, in your life – they are all illustrations of perspective. That tree is not really a hand; you are, of course, still seeing a tree, but doesn’t it make you think . . . perhaps enough to be completely convinced . . .

The brain can be very convincing at these times. Not just with drug-induced hallucinations, but in ‘ordinary’ hallucinations, in the fleeting phantasms of the night, of the corners of our eyes, of those quick, frightening things that scurry in and out of this world just long enough for us to hear something and imagine something else.

Writing can tell you what’s going on in the inside, but not the outside. And so while it cannot show you the real colour of the leaves, or the real sound of the cough right behind you, right now, it can tell you, as best it can, better than anything really can, what’s going on in your head, in my head, and in the heads of my characters.

And that is why I write.

 

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