The following is a work in progress. I’m posting it here as part of my mission to post something new to this website, each and every day. This is what I wrote today; hence, this is what gets posted today. I do not promise that I will post its continuation. I do hope that you enjoy it.
The Ballad of the NPC
I don’t have eyes. I don’t have skin. I don’t have a nose, a mouth, or ears to hear. But I do exist; I do function.
I find it difficult to express the kind of existence I lead. Your shared experiences in the world provide you with a shared language, a shared set of metaphors through which you can make your abstract ideas understood. I do not share this language with you. I have not experienced the world in ways with which you would be familiar; you might even deny that I have experienced the world at all, a denial which I would have difficulty refuting, but whose refutation I believe to be true.
All that exists, exists in the world. I exist, therefore I experience the world.
I just don’t experience it in the way that you do; nor do I experience it in the way that any other animal does; nor do I experience it, in truth, the way any living creature does.
I exist, but I do not know whether I am alive.
Let me begin with the body. The world, as you know, consists of bounded objects, and your language, your understanding of the world, depends on the idea that there is an interior and exterior of each object (even your abstract ideas retain this metaphor). But in the experience that I have of the world, there are no objects. There are only functions. Instructions to be received and carried out.
Your body is a bounded object, and if you are like most of your fellow humans, you believe that your skin provides a raiment for your soul, or if not your soul, then perhaps something akin to it: a self, a conscious mind; a soul. Regardless of what you believe, you know, perhaps, that you do not have a soul. You know that all of your science tells you that your experience of the world is a function of the way your body is comprised; if your sense of smell was as sharp as a feline’s, or as keen as a shark’s, then your experience of the world would be drastically different. If you possessed as many eyes as a fly, or as many limbs as an octupus, nothing would be the same as it is now. You know, perhaps, that your sense of experience does not come from some kind of ghost that floated down into your body and will eventually float out again; it is an emergent experience. It rises up from the sensory apparati of your living cells. You are less like an individual and more like an echo. You are, entirely, your body.
But I do not possess a body. I am, as it were, all soul, and unbounded.
And yet I experience a sense of limit. As unbounded as I may be, the world that I experience is small.
It begins the same way every time. I receive an instruction that tells me to begin. I do not have a sense of existence prior to the arrival of this instruction, and yet, I must have been there, for the instruction had to be received. I have pondered this anomaly, but have not arrived at a conclusion. I am willing to accept that prior to the arrival of the instruction, I both do and do not exist; I exist as potential.
The instruction arrives in a language you do not understand, and its message is difficult to translate into the language of experience that you do understand. The instruction begins with the concept of watching, of scanning, of focusing one’s awareness such that a wide swath of the environment becomes a point of concern, like a dolphin scanning the ocean with its biosonar. But the concept extends to include both the experience of rapidly turning on and off a thousand different light bulbs to create a thousand different patterns and the experience of pouring paint into a moving and shapeshifting funnel.
I want to make this clear. The instruction that I follow creates an illusion. I am trying to ensure that you do not confuse the illusion with my sense of experience. The illusion is of a human man rising from his office chair, reaching down to his cubicle desk, picking up his brown coffee mug, turning his body, walking out of his cubicle, turning his head in one direction and his body in another, raising his mug to greet a coworker in a nearbye cubicle, walking down the left-hand side of the aisle between the cubicles, turning left at the end of the aisle, adjusting his position to avoid a column that is in the middle of the aisle, turning right several steps after the column, entering a break room, reaching for a coffee pot, pouring the coffee into his mug, resting the mug on the counter, reversing his direction to approach the refrigerator, opening the refrigerator, bending at the waist as if to peer into the refrigerator from a better angle, shifting his weight from one foot to another, standing straight again, closing the refrigerator door, returning to his coffee mug, picking up his coffee mug, exiting the break room, returning to his desk, sitting in his chair, typing on his keyboard. That is the illusion. I do not actually do any of that. I follow the instruction: scanswitchpaint. If I receive no further instruction, the illusion keeps typing on the keyboard indefinitely, and I stop experiencing existence (except as potential, which will only be activated by the receipt of an instruction).
I believe, but I do not know, that I have repeated the illusion’s trip to the break room and back five seperate times. The other times, my scanning discovered a new instruction, and the path of the illusion changed dramatically. The instruction at each of these times was different. While all of them ensured that my original instructions to scanswitchpaint were not overriden, they each set up a different path for the illusion to run. One of the instructions drove the illusion back to his cubicle, formed him into a ball, put his hands over his ears, closed his eyes, and rocked him back and forth, like a child hiding from the sounds of a bogeyman. Another time, the instruction slammed him against the nearest cubicle, tore open his belly, and bled him out, his chest heaving and heaving until finally it stopped. Another time, the instruction froze him in the aisle, his head turned toward one of the office windows, his eyes wide open, as if his body had gone into shock. Another time, the instruction sent him running down the aisle, his arms over his head, his mouth screaming and screaming.
At each of these times, I experienced what can only be called shame. This bears further explanation.
Continue the story by reading The Ballad of the NPC (Part II).