spectral blessing (a short story)

Posted: 2024 / 02 / 25

For Sa-yi, the time has nearly come. Most of children she grows up with all live for the ceremony she will soon take part in. Most children pick a trade, a kind of specialization. Some work on the autofarms, some learn to decode the messages from the elders, and some make handicrafts and tools. Some children, of course, decide that the work isn’t worth the effort, and instead engage themselves with trivial matters, like competing to see who can climb the highest up the holy tower (a common demonstration of masculinity), or playing card games for extra snacks.

Sa-yi learns the scripture. She always has, for as long as she can remember. There are no adults in their cocoon, not since they all turned 8 (at which time there is another ceremony, the i/Ha, celebrating the sacred nature of the number). To her, the scripture is everything. Seemingly, the more she reads the more there is to read; the more questions are answered the more questions reveal themselves. But this doesn’t bother her; it excites her. Her trade is to read, and she is the best at what she does.

The i/Yi-ro is what one might call a coming of age ritual, underwent at twice the age of the i/Ha. The hatch in the center of the cocoon is opened for a child to descend into, and they are never seen again. The scriptures (the easiest of them, the Yajur) tell the children that they will receive their true name during the ceremony, and the children have no choice but to believe them. They don’t know what their true name would mean, or even what it might sound like, but they all feel a certain weight and importance attached to it. They’re only told it’s a judging, where the bad children will be punished for their misbehavior with a disgraceful name and and the good children will be rewarded for their effort with a beautiful name. It goes a long way towards keeping them in line, but it’s hardly necessary. Nobody really misbehaves in the cocoon, and there is no serious conflict. All the children are familiar with the invisible force on their heads that presents itself when they begin to disobey the scripture.

Today it is Sa-yi’s turn. She tries her best to suppress her shaking hands as she climbs down a set of stairs – irreverent oscillation is frowned upon by the Third Book of the Rig. The stairs soon give way to a gently sloping spiral slope that leads her deeper underground. At the bottom she finds a finely woven mesh door made of the same metallic material as the walkway. She pushes opens the door and steps inside. It is warmer here, and dark. Before she can take another step, a light finds her and she lays eyes on three vague, shadowy silhouettes.

The central figure speaks: “We will now begin with the 31st i/Yi-ro of this epoch. Sa-yi, step forward. Speak only when asked.”

She does as she is told, stepping forward onto a circular platform, feeling a slight but definite pressure as she does so. It’s not all so different from what the children feel every night as they go to sleep. It’s stronger, and much clearer.

“State your identity” the figure booms. Sa-yi begins almost immediately:

“My false name is Sa-yi, cocoon DF0, batch AA1, group DC3. I am an Interpreter with guild 71. Confirm?”

As she utters the last phrase, she stretches her arm out in front of her, palm facing forward. On it, an intricate tattoo of swirling lines and intertwining curves – her eigenkey – glows hot for a brief moment. Even the youngest among them knew the proper etiquette.

“Accepted.” they reply, in unison yet such that one can match each voice with its owner effortlessly. They are in perfect harmony.

“The truth of the i/Yi-ro is not as you have been told it is, Sa-yi. We do not judge here. There is no need to judge you. We have been judging you for a long time now, and we are nearly finished. The purpose of this event is for you to listen, rather than to speak.”

Sa-yi begins to feel the pressure on her head grow, and grow until it becomes unbearable and piercing and all-consuming and resonant with her skull. And finally, for the first time, she begins to see.

Colors rush forth, the normal colors included, but more colors too. Colors that one cannot see but with the mind’s eye. There is no end to the color, each more fresh than the last, and each unlocking a new visual perspective, in the same way a blind child is awakened to the world of art – and in that instant she realizes she has been blind all her life.

What Sa-yi sees, I cannot tell you – it is inexpressible in our languages. It is inexpressible not like 1 = 2 (which is illogical but expressible), but like that which cannot be pictured by in our minds. All I can give is a projection, like a lower dimensional slice of a deeper world. This is what she sees:

the universe begins. nothing. a planet passes by a star.
its orbit is very long.
lifeforms are born, lifeforms die.
the planet passes again.
nothing happens exactly once. if one were to live long enough, one would see it happen again.
when something happens again it has a frequency.
it need not have a form of course, the form is predetermined because there is only one form
the wave, of course.
the waveform.

a lake surrounded by mountains.
it was formed once, it will be destroyed, and it will be formed again,
all in tune with the universal frequency, the uberfrequency, as all is.
a stone, the perfect stone is thrown, and the water ripples,
a smooth wave, the perfect wave, propagates from the source (the transmitter).
it is perfectly clear, and perfectly smooth, it is the waveform in shape,
yet nothing but a harmonic of the uberwave.
a pure shape, with a seductive symmetry, an innocence in each gentle curve that
entrances the eye like the pendulum of an intricate grandfather clock.

the mountains fade smoothly into nothingness and the water stretches
as far as the eye can see.
infinitely many waves from infinitely many imperfect stones hit the water
and the ripples touch each other like tendrils of effect intermingling and intertwining –
and they combine in tune and out of tune into a new wave
one that has not yet been seen before in this universe
but surely will be in another.
in this instant there are enough waves to name a wave for every string in every language,
and in the next instant there are more.

something is lost when these waves are made,
for they are impure,
and they are hideously imperfect compared to the harmonics of the uberwave.
the intrinsic natures of the component waves yearn to be free,
because nature is smooth and free.
the sudden and sharp are unnatural and binding.
nature is smooth.
nature is smooth but sometimes bent out of shape by the free energies of the universe
but its heart always makes itself known:
ringing artifacts in the fabric of spacetime,
nature screaming out as its spinal cord is shattered into
the gray-coded constellations of the night sky.

and finally she sees that she is made of water, defined by one great wavefunction,
carefully constructed, with not one error,
by a mechanical monstrosity that throws stones into the lake.
the machine is not of this world; it is of the world above.
it stretches across the sky, but the world is not cast in darkness.
gears and pulleys mash and spin silently.
you would know god too if you saw it.
the machine simulates the world with its energy,
warping and weaving the simple into the complex.

it is impossible to discern its objective.
it may have none at all but to sculpt its pond to match its algorithmic sense of beauty,
an artistry of symmetry and simplicity and oscillatory aesthetics.
the machine, oscillating at the uberfrequency, must be tormented;
the waves seem to splash and wriggle incessantly.
we can only imagine how awful the harmonics of the sculptures it forms must appear to it –
but we see a beauty in the unintentional imperfections, for the only
complexity our imperfect selves can understand as beautiful is
exactly that which is resonant with our perfect components.

and finally she sees that
she is always propagating further away from the center of the machine
her one and only birthplace.
everything she has done and will do is merely
a consequence of a perfect component,
some with a period of days,
some longer than she will live and be reborn and die again.
the anxiety of autoscopy is instantly replaced by an overwhelming sense of peace,
knowing that one is
nothing if not predetermined,
nothing if not a drop in the river to heaven.

And her world goes black, pure black. She struggles to open her eyes only to realize they were already open as she regains feeling in her limbs. Her proto-vision will not return to her for several days. She feels as if she’s lost something; whatever it was, she knows it must have been unimportant. But she has gained something far more important.

The three figures speak again, but she doesn’t hear them; she sees: three blobs of pattern in three complimentary colors that she finds immensely pleasing together, as if they’ve been chosen from a higher-dimensional color wheel.

She knows, somehow, her true name: Na-ha-ze, after the current epoch, 780. She knows that this ceremony had been performed millions of times before. She knows everything about her new purpose, and the world she was born into. She is perfectly aware that most children were not given the Spectral Blessing; after all, how could they handle such a thing? Most were handed down some common name and sent on their way. A few were disposed of. Na-ha-ze feels this is all as it should be, and what she feels as the new Prima-Intendant is fact.

Somewhere above her, she senses a gate opening, and her field of vision is washed away by the most beautiful colors she has never seen.

  • thanks to stephen and my friends for reading early drafts
  • inexpressibility of what gives logic to the world (and is outside the world) is an idea from tractatus (6.41)
  • the world being simulated by a machine that prioritizes speed, simplicity, and algorithmic beauty is inspired by schmidhuber
  • many allusions are made to a fundamental idea about the decomposition of functions in math and signal processing