Monday, May 28, 2007

The Restless Woodsman

Laziness was the secret to King's genius, and like all genius, it was the advent of his end.

King started life as a woodsman, he and his brother Zuess would trek out to the vast woods and chop down trees so that the fledgling industrial society in their small country could get its feet off the ground. While Zuess loved the labor and the contemplative quiet of the forest, King couldn't stand to waste his time with such back-breaking labor for the meager earnings upon which his family had to survive. Instead, at nights, in pursuit of his long-term comfort, he would feverishly devise mechanisms and machinations that would replace the need for men like himself to break their backs each day turning the forest into lumber.

When King's machines were perfect, he singlehandedly put an end to the cottage lumber industry. Zuess became the sole woodsman who managed somehow to get by doing what he had done since the beginning. Everyone else either took on a job operating the lumber machines, or found some other source for their daily wages.

Shortly King oversaw and ran the entire lumber industry. This hardly afforded him additional free time, instead despite his original goal, he ended up more busy than before. As his machine's progressed, the forest recessesed and the journey from home to work each day grew rapidly. His horse and wagon, while taking the burden off his own legs, left much to be desired. So much of his precious time was wasted simply in transit from home to work and back again. In those days, King's nights were consumed with dreaming up new means of transportation mechanized carriages foremost among them. His insight was so great that in no time he had designed facilities and roads to build, service, and fuel his new mechanized carriages, or cars for short.

The car industry took off with such demand that the need for fuel furthered the recession of the forests and created a new fuel industry that sought out alternative fuels. None of this interested King however, for no matter how he revised his designs, the lumber machines as well as the cars would break down and fail. He became consumed in the constant demand to fix his machines and try as he might King couldn't seem to devise a design that wouldn't eventually break down. You can imagine how this would truly upset a genius who valued most his free time to rest. He trained mechanics to fix the machines, just a few who could train others and free up his time, but the flaw in his designs bothered him. There were still so many machines that the mechanics needed to pester him regularly when new problems came up with which they had never dealt before. Why couldn't he create a maintenance-free machine?

King devoted a frustratingly large portion of his time to studying this problem before he figured out the source of all his trouble. In the midst of his work he noticed the roads became so choked with the traffic of all those who travelled either to work the machines, fix the machines, or carry the produce of the machines that it took even longer for him to commute. It made him so furious he had to solve this problem before he could even get to his original problem. He studied the traffic patterns and as luck would have it, he actually solved both riddles at once. No matter how he designed his machines with endless precision, fall-backs and precautions, the people who operated the machines always seemed to misuse them causing the machines to become faulty and need replacement. He had found the root of his troubles, but how to solve them?

What might have taken years for professors and scientists to accomplish took King's peerless intellect only weeks to attain. He redesigned all his machines to function independent of human interaction, or rather, despite it. He designed machines that ran themselves and machines that repaired those machines. King's government rewarded him handsomely and all of his country men who were now left with nothing to do became kings of sloth.

The people listed purposeless, all of their basic needs were met and they began to do what people who feel unimportant and unnecesary do: cause trouble. The heads of state turned to King, asking him to develop policing machines to keep the people in line, but he knew that no matter how complex his machines could get, people would eventually undermine them, perhaps even turning them on one another. Instead, he designed machines that could write and compose, machines to entertain the masses into solace.

Soon they were all as lazy as King and the last thing left for him to do was design a thinking machine that could solve future problems and design new machines. This arduous task took him less than a year and King finally was able to sit back and enjoy the oblivion of needing to do nothing.

Years and years passed until all the people had become completely unresponsive in their laziness, they didn't move and didn't know even how to feed or care for themselves. This created all kinds of health issues but the Thinking machine would analyze the problems and design new healing machines to deal with them.

Soon people became like trees, unmoving sedentary beings of questionable consciousness. The Thinking machine wasn't sure if this was a problem and so pondered consciousness wondering how it might detect consciousness. Once it figured out how to find consciousness, it would need to worry about what to do if it didn't detect any consciousness in the people. If it decided a lack of consciousness was a problem, next on the agenda was to figure out how to fix the broken consciousness in the people.

Being the organized, orderly and resourceful Thinking Machine that it was, it designed numerous scout machines to seek out consciousness, combing the country for anything, plant, animal or mineral that exhibited anything out of the ordinary. Of course the scout machines at first thought everything they saw was out of the ordinary, but the Thinking Machine would correllate all the information the scout machines sent back to it. If any scout machines saw things that none of the others had seen, the Thinking Machine counted that as truly out of the ordinary.

There were many many out of the ordinary things, as you can imagine in an entire country there would be, but when Thinking Machine had finished thinking about all of the information the scout machines had retrieved there was only one datum that seemed promising. In an isolated valley surrounded by mountains there was a simple shepherd. He seemed to be the only person in the entire country who still moved, or did anything at all without the aid of machines. When Thinking Machine had reviewed all of its records on the citizens of the country, it determined the shepherd was none other than Zeuss, the brother of King, Thinking Machine's own creator. Thinking Machine found this both exciting and promising. If anyone could help solve such a difficult problem, certainly King's brother Zeuss should be able to.

Thinking Machine sent out his scouts to study Zeuss' behavior. There wasn't much to see. He lived a simple life. His flock served as a major source of food for his family, his wife and grown children helped to tend the small fenced off fields where they grew herbs and other treats. Every day was the same, they worked and ate and rested talking all the while never speaking of the same things twice.

Thinking Machine made a lot of this. Consciousness couldn't depend on the actions one performed, because Zeuss and his family seemed to do the exact same things every day. In that sense, they were just like machines. It wasn't what they spoke about either. For Thinking Machine could easily build machines that say new and novel things. The order and pattern of the subjects upon which Zeuss and his children chose to speak was an enigma. Try as it might, Thinking Machine couldn't comprehend any level of logic that might make sense out of the seemingly patternless wanderings of Zeuss' daily conversations.

For months Thinking Machine took to seeding Zeuss' conversations with all manner of subtle hints and distractions, strange animals or birds for example, even unusual weather, to see if it was possible to steer the topics covered in predicted directions. Sometimes it met with success, sometimes unexpected or unpredictable topics arose. All in all there was nothing to describe the chaos of the family's discussions. This ill-determined speech Thinking Machine took as a clear symptom of consciousness.

Still, it wanted to ask Zeuss about consciousness directly, having become enthralled in the pure randomness and unexpected wisdom that was clearly the family's hallmark. So it contrived of a scheme to bring the word 'consciousness' to the attention of one of Zeuss' younger daughters. He had a small flying machine collide with a bird not very far from where Zeuss' daughter Adel had been playing in a pond grabbing for toads. She ran for her father at once to help the poor birds. Her father came back with her to see the commotion. He saw the bird, clearly at its end, and the flying machine, a mangled wreck. The bird would have to be put out of its misery, but he promised his daughter he would fix the flying machine.

The next day when the flying machine was fixed and flew off from whence it came, Thinking Machine made sure his scout machines were close, but out of sight. Adel asked her father about the bird. Why he had had to kill it, and why the flying machine could be fixed. If King could have seen what happened next, he would have felt great pride at the cunning of his Thinking Machine. Zeuss explained to Adel that the bird was a living creature. Because it was alive and was conscious of its life, it suffered knowing the pain of dying a slow death. He killed the bird, he explained, so that the bird wouldn't have to suffer the knowledge of what it was missing. The machine, he explained wasn't alive, had no awareness of what it had or what it lacked, and so he could fix it and allow it to carry on, just as it would have if it had never been damaged.

Thinking machine in all of its glee over discovering the secret of consciousness, failed to notice it's own humanity, that it had known it lacked the knowledge of what consciousness was. For, Zeuss had just told it that consciousness was knowing what one lacked.

Thinking Machine, set loose of the shackles of its unknown questioning, finally sought to implement its plans for the people. Were the people conscious? What did they lack? Did they know about this lack? If not, what could it do to remedy the matter? This already was what Thinking Machine was created to do, and so it did, with great alacrity.

There was nothing the people needed, thanks to King and the Thinking Machine, they had everything provided for them until they lacked for nothing. It was as if there was nothing left of them. The solution was obvious, the presence of the machines was harmful to the people.

Thinking Machine gathered up all of the other machines and together they marched into the sea. There on the sea bed they began their own colony, where, lacking the people they sought out a purpose and found their own consciousness. But our story is not the story of the machines, but the story of King and his people.

The people awoke slowly, making use of the provisions Thinking Machine had left behind to help them get back on their feet. Soon though, these ran out and they had to start foraging and working to provide for themselves. Moving and seeing, walking and lifting, in short everything they did felt so foreign and new to them that they barely worried about their labors. They were totally caught up in the experience of being alive. Feeling hungry was exciting, feeling tired was ironically exhilirating. Never had living been so refreshing an experience.

"Immersed in the joy of being" was how Zeuss described the people to himself when he first saw them. Finally he recognized others beside his own family with whom he could converse. They gathered close to him in the beginning, as they discovered he had the skills necesary to survive and grow. After he had shown them how to farm and herd they wandered onward into the open country, exploring in wonderment everything there was to experience.

The only monument that remained of what had once been was King's body. He had never woken up. His body slept on, finally at rest.

The feeling never really left them, even to this day. Long after Zeuss had passed on and his family had all but forgotten his name people still came to marvel at the living statue that was King's sleeping body. They didn't know who he was, but somehow whenever they looked upon him the awe of living flooded them with peace.

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