08 June 2010

Tuesday Poem: Good Solid Work

Good Solid Work

We'll laugh at this world one day.
It was all a simulation, we'll say -
nodding our virtual heads
smiling our virtual smiles -
why didn't we spot it before?
Nature could never
have come up with the emu
and the hammerhead shark was clearly a clue.

We talk without moving our lips, mind to mind.
Quantum theory's the clincher.
Don't sweat the small stuff, so those in charge
left the edges fuzzy
let the smallest particles
roam where they may.

Still, they did some things well -
the roots that riddled the ground
the rush of wind in the pines
the pressure of our children's hands.
Good work, we'll say, good solid work
nodding our virtual heads
smiling our virtual smiles
turning our eager faces to the soft electron rain.

Tim says:

This poem, included in my second poetry collection All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens, was republished in Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, edited by Mark Pirie and Tim Jones (Interactive Press, 2009).

It refers to the philosophical proposition, advanced by Professor Nick Bostrom, that we may be living in a computer simulation. You can find more about this on The Simulation Argument, which abstracts his argument as follows:

ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

The idea that everything we do happens in a computer simulation run by a more advanced civilisation is not one that appeals to me - but that doesn't mean it isn't true. One wonders how the characters in video games feel about the world they inhabit.

Voyagers cover

You can buy Voyagers from Amazon.com as a paperback or Kindle e-book, or from New Zealand Books Abroad, or Fishpond.

You can also find out more about Voyagers, and buy it directly from the publisher, at the Voyagers mini-site.

Find lots more Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem blog.

24 comments:

Kay McKenzie Cooke said...

I love this poem! I think the last stanza is brilliant - esp. like 'the pressure of our children's hands' and how it acts like a jolt.

Helen Lowe said...

I like the quirkiness of this poem mixed with a more serious thread--and the overtones to the Matrix, appropriate for a "Voyagers" poem. :-)

Catherine said...

I'm rather fond of the second stanza - "Quantum theory's the clincher". The philosphical argument, I may come back to and figure out when I haven't just spent the day wrestling with a particularly hairy set of accounts. (Not mine, a client's!)

Tim Jones said...

Thank you, Kay, Helen, and Catherine, for these comments - I'm glad you liked the poem.

The article abstract does present the author's argument in a particularly knotty form. I thought of trying to reword it, but decided I was likely to end up getting something wrong - and I don't want to risk being deleted if this is all a simulation. I, for one, welcome our new coach potato overlords!

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

I always like your poems Tim - reminds me of Craig Raine and "A Martian sends a Postcard Home"

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Maggie! "A Martian Sends A Postcard Home" is a wonderful poem, and even though I don't think "Good Solid Work" really measures up to it, I do appreciate your making the comparison!

Given just-announced plans by NZ Post to cut their delivery services, Mr Raine should probably retitle his poem "A Martian Sends A Postcard Home Every Second Day", or maybe "A Martian Updates Its Facebook Status".

S.L. Corsua said...

I'm grinning at the hammerhead shark line. ;) Reading your note after the poem, I am reminded of the 1999 sci-fi film "The Thirteenth Floor" about virtual worlds we could enter at our pleasure, via a VR system. That is, assuming we weren't in one such world in the first place.

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Oh, the Martian would be fascinated by the Melbourne City Library, where every single computer (free access) is open on a facebook page - it sure is a sight. What did we all do before facebook - shop and go to the art galleries perhaps - anyway, it has proved a lovely way for me to spend less and to miss home.

Harvey Molloy said...

I find this brilliant poem more than a little creepy, Tim. It reminds me that I'm feel firmly connected to my body (which has an annoying cough at present.) I've had discussions with friends over exactly the issue raised by your poem. Even if I was resurrected or uploaded into a sort of virtual avatar existence, with all my memories of my embodied life intact, this virtual me would not be me. I don't want to come back as a programme!

Tim Jones said...

Thanks for these further comments, S. L., Maggie, and Harvey.

S. L., I haven't seen that film, but I will keep an eye out for it - thank you!

Maggie, I have very mixed feelings about Facebook (as distinct, of course, from my unabashed love affair with Twitter), but there is no denying its ubiquity.

I agree, Harvey - it is a little creepy, though not as creepy as this one. I do have a certain attraction to the macabre, even though I've only ever written a couple of out-and-out horror stories.

And I think this video has valuable lessons for us all on life as (or with) an avatar.

Mary McCallum said...

Hey Tim - I really like the lovely things that are 'done well' here esp. the pressure of children's hands... and the way that line chimes with the 'soft electron rain'. Great.

Mary McCallum said...

Oops Tim - I realise I forgot to mention your poem in the release to Bookman Beattie on what was up on TP this week... we are getting so big! I promise to put yours up first next time.

Helen Rickerby said...

I really like this poem, but, like Harvey, I also find it creepy. I hope it's premise is wrong, but then I guess I probably won't ever know!

AJ Ponder said...

loved the "fuzzy edges" to explain quantum theory etc.

(although as a biologist the emu and the hammerhead shark make perfect sense - now humans... :)

very sweet. Very clever. Loved the way you worked with the concept -- although I'm not sure why you started of with rhyme and then seemed to abandon it? am I missing something?

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Mary and Helen.

Mary, no problem re Bookman Beattie - you can't mention everything! Though I do admire your efforts to comment on so many of the poems each week. I try to read them all, but for many, even those I like the most, I can't think of a good comment. You always seem to come up with something to say!

Helen, I probably wouldn't have said myself that the poem is creepy, until Harvey pointed it out. But I do find the idea creepy - especially that prospect that our lives might be no more than a diversion for some post-human videogamer:

- "Would you turn that bloody thing off and come and have your dinner?"
- "OK, OK, just let me get to the end of the level".

LentenStuffe said...

Tim,

A very fine poem --

The Deimurge as Webmaster ... An Apropos and shifting correlative.

Tim Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Jones said...

Slight cock-up on the Blogger front there ...

John and Alicia, thanks for your comments (wow, I am rather stunned by how many comments this poem has generated!)

Re the "starting with rhyme", Alicia - it's not uncommon for me to rhyme a couple of lines in a poem, especially towards the end as a way of signalling closure, but I agree it's unusual to start with rhyming lines and then move away from this. I hadn't previously thought that this would set up an expectation of a fully rhymed poem (though it seems obvious in retrospect) - thanks for pointing this out!

AJ Ponder said...

Oh good.
Phew
(I spent most poetry analysis "lessons" sticking my fingers in my ears and going lalalalalalala because that always ruined it for me)
And no - it wasn't that it set up rhyme - there's enough breathing space between - it was more a subliminal niggle - which was possibly quite effective...

cheers :)

T. Clear said...

What I love about this poem is its accessibility, and its non-traditional subject matter. You get away with the 'small stuff' cliche -- difficult to do in a poem, IMHO. Good solid work! (--as you say!)

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Alicia and T.

T., thanks for your point about "non-traditional subject matter" - I think of poems like this as SF poems, but it's nice (and accurate) to se them described in this way.

Grace Dalley said...

Descartes famously imagined an evil demon, "a personification who is "as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me." The evil daemon presents a complete illusion of an external world, including other people, to Descartes' senses, where in fact there is no such external world in existence. The evil genius also presents to Descartes' senses a complete illusion of his own body, including all bodily sensations, where in fact Descartes has no body." [from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_daemon ]

I find it fascinating that we go on updating the details (to include robots, aliens, etc), but the basic idea is still just as engaging, and just as scary, as it was in Descartes' time.

Tim Jones said...

Thanks for this precedent, Grace. I guess the "Simulation Argument" takes Descartes one step further: Descartes' hypothesis appears to imply that something called "Descartes" still exists, whose senses can be deceived, whereas it seems to me that, under the Simulation Argument, we who think of ourselves as having an independent being are denied even that.

Of course, some people are in favour of a simulated existence: the Posthumanists, or at least their most radical wing. It's not a concept that appeals to me, but that doesn't prove them wrong.

Grace Dalley said...

Yes: I feel the Posthumanist idea is interesting but perhaps not all that useful!

Regarding Descartes: his motivation in questioning all his beliefs, including belief in his perceptions of the external world, was to find out what could not be doubted. This is what brought him to "I think, therefore I am": the only thing he could not doubt was that there was some being (himself) which was doing the doubting.

Descartes basis for doubting his senses is that sometimes his senses mislead him (for example he has dreamed that he awoke from a dream), and therefore can't be trusted. Some would say that expecting the senses to be infallible is unreasonable, and the occasional failure needn't call the whole perceptual system into question.

Interestingly, neuroscience is increasingly finding that we construct our impressions of the external world very actively through our brains and senses, rather than the senses merely receiving the external world passively. I'm sure I can find some links on this subject if anyone's interested, Im aware that this is a digression from the original topic :-)

And by the way, I really like "the soft electron rain". :-)