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Talking to Sylvia

September 27th, 2023

As you may know, my wife Sylvia died of cancer in January 8, 2023. I’m still grieving, and I miss her very much. Over the last eight months, I’ve returned many times to the question of what it might mean to say Sylvia’s soul is still with me. In this post, I’ll outline some of my ever-changing thoughts.

The least comforting viewpoint is that when you die, you die. Like a light being turned off. Like a decades-long movie hitting a jump-cut…with nothing on the other side. Maybe it’s like going under total anesthesia and never waking up.

Some of you will have had anesthesia. When you rise out of the black in the post-op room, it’s as if no time elapsed. Unlike after sleep, you don’t seem to have had any intervening dreams. Jump-cut. But, as I say, if you’re dying, it could well be that there’s nothing on the other side.

It’s certainly reasonable to entertain the lights-out view of death. In our time we tend to think of consciousness as an epiphenomenon. Something that flickers within a living body like flames within a campfire. A computation being carried out by the brain and the physical body. If the body’s gone, there’s no more computation. No more epiphenomenon. No more you. Dead is dead.

I don’t like thinking that. No point trying to be all tough and hardcore. You’re gonna die away. So why not believe something that makes you happy?

You can find info about the paintings in this post on my Paintings page.

I’m writing this part of the post on my laptop as I sit on a bench in the Los Gatos town park. It’s Sunday. Around me is the weekly Farmer’s Market. Hundreds of people, scores of booths, music, sun and shadow. Tonight the park will be empty. This week’s market event will be dead.

Or will it? A very weak way past the dead-is-dead stance is to espouse a spacetime view of the world, then nothing is really gone. It’s just a little farther back along the time axis. The universe is a static block of spacetime, and time is not in fact passing. The passage of time is a persistent illusion that we humans have at each and every cross-section of spacetime. We’re always there, and we’re always wrong about thinking the past is gone.

I once had the chance to ask Kurt Gödel, “What causes the illusion of the passage of time?” Along with friend Albert Einstein, Gödel was one of the deepest thinkers of the 20th century. His answer: “The illusion results from confusing the given with the real.”

So, sure, maybe, but that’s pretty abstract. If you’re grieving over a dead person or, for that matter, dreading your own death, the spacetime viewpoint is thin gruel indeed.

Cue corny anecdote. My preacher father liked to tell the story of a little boy who’s frightened by a night thunderstorm, and he runs to his parents’ room and gets into their bed. “Can’t you just pray to God?” says the father. “He’s always with you.”

“If there’s a storm,” said the boy, “I need someone with skin on.”

Switching topics for a minute, I finished writing the “Big Germs” story I’ve been working on all year. I ran for the endzone and got it done in 4,500 words. I’ve dreamed of this story for so long, and now it’s over. And I don’t think it’s too short. The quick hit feels right. The idea is that two young women conjure up some ethereal jelly-bag critters evolved from human blood cells—these are the big germs of the title. The big germs have minds, and they reproduce, and you can talk with them. They zap all the guns and weapons in the world and turn them all into dust. End of problem.

So good to have that story done after thinking about it for so long. It was wonderful to regain my writing mojo and once again to revel in my craft. I mailed it off. Hope my tale’s extreme anti-gun stance doesn’t make it too hard to publish! Well, I always find a way.

No idea what I might write next, and not gonna fret over it yet.

About two weeks ago I drove up to SF to have dinner with John Shirley, Paul Mavrides, Hal Robbin, and some of the other cyberpunk/SubGenius types. Cozy. John’s wife Mickey was very emotional about how much she loved Sylvia, and how she now misses her. I told her Sylvia is alive in my head, and for a about a minute we got into this thing where Mickey was talking directly to Sylvia through my glassy, wide-open eyes. We were doing a routine.

Mickey goes “Hi Sylvia.” And I raise my voice and say, “Hi Mickey,” and it feels real…but then it’s too creepy to keep going.

Coincidentally, the next day my grief and loneliness were at a peak—it comes and goes, maybe like a sneaker wave that douses me on a beach. Sylvia, Sylvia, Sylvia. She’s gone for good.

This is a painting of our family members being one inch tall and we’re in a little boat going past big frogs and lurking squid.  (Just the OG family, no grandkids, but I threw in our departed dog Arf, and Isabel’s lost dog Rivers.) Life in a nutshell?

Last week when I was visiting SF, Rudy Jr and I went and got treats with his three kids at the nearly empty St. Francis Fountain shop on 24th St in the Mission. The shop isn’t a Disney-park reconstruction, but simply a 1940s soda shop that happens to remain. Stabs of “time pain”. Like “heimweh” in German, “home pain,” that is, homesickness. “Time pain” is my try at temporal equivalent of that. Better word?  Oh, hell, just say nostalgia. The simple pleasure of the kids, young with their whole lives ahead of them, and not even knowing that or even thinking about it.

[This spherical sculpture is by my friend Dick Termes.]

I’d prefer not to be a grieving parent who continually discusses his loss with the kids and grandkids. Maybe I’ll get there. So far they don’t seem to mind or resent my bringing it up. It’s still present in their minds as well. I hope in a year or two it’ll damp down, at least somewhat.

The next week I had a big insight. As I may already have mentioned in these posts, I have a very good model of Sylvia in my head. A human brain is of course the best possible “computer” for simulating a human. And I have an immense data base on Sylvia. As an SF writer and a computer maven, I’ve been saying to myself that I can run a simulation of Sylvia. What I call a “lifebox” in my nonfiction tome The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. And my most recent novel Juicy Ghosts is about a big company renting out lifebox slots in their cloud silo.  Rent-A-Soul. But this idea doesn’t go far enough.

I got the new insight when I had Bob Hearn for lunch…he’s a computer programmer, also into mysticism and Buddhism, goes to Burning Man, and gets ecstatic satori by running ultramarathons—when I saw him he was preparing for a trip to Greece to run 150 miles from Athens to Sparta in 30 hours.

I told Bob my notion that Sylvia exists as a lifebox simulation in my brain, and he said, why think of it as a simulation? Why not say it’s real? Or why can’t it be both things at once? Reality is, after all, a completely fluid and arbitrary and in-the-eye-of-the-beholder thing. If all the Sylvia processes are in place, why not say it’s an actual Sylvia.

And now I’m fooling with this insight, opening up to it, and it makes me feel much better than I did a few days ago.

The Sylvia who lives within me isn’t just a model that I can contemplate. It’s a living being who I can talk to and, more importantly, this alternate Sylvia can respond.

Why this is good? First of all it’s more fun. And a big side benefit is that I can talk to Sylvia and beg forgiveness for mean things I did.  These days, I often get into a remorse loop of wanting to apologize to Sylvia for the times I was cold during those hard last two years. For instance, I have a heart-breaking memory of her sitting on the couch across the room, dejected, and saying, “Why are you always mad at me?”

And me knowing that what she said was true, not always, but certainly at that moment. The times were hard. And I still feel guilty and horrible about it, and I long to apologize. And if Sylvia is in some sense alive, I can actually say “I’m sorry” to her, and she’s likely to accept my apology, as she was kind and generous, and also she knows how rough things were.  And once she forgives me I’m finally okay.

Here’s a photo of Sylvia and me, in the form of those two logs. We’d lie together like that in the mornings, close as close can be, hugging, desperate, terrified.

I discussed the “she’s really alive” notion at my grief counselling session on Zoom, and I told the therapist about my new take on things. And he said, yes, of course that’s true. We’re not just alive on this level. You might even say that we have a higher body—the subtle body, or astral body, or causal body—why not just call it the soul. And given that Sylvia was so tightly bound to me during her life, then of course her soul is with me.

One more touch. I’m in a grief group, and I was talking to the others about my new notion of being able to talk to a living Sylvia, and a woman said, “Well, of course. My husband will always be alive in my heart.”

That’s nicer than saying Sylvia’s soul is a process in my brain. Being an SF writer and CS professor, I tend to have this fixation on brains as opposed to the whole body. But, yes, saying heart is a fuller expression of what it’s all about.

So alright! And  hello, Sylvia.

Light beamed from madman’s stark, staring eyes, as if he were a jack-o’-lantern with a flare within.

No, no, just kidding with that last line, this isn’t meant to be creepy SF. Much cozier than that. Sitting outside on the side porch, late afternoon, nice sun, quietly chatting aloud with Sylvia. Getting caught up on what’s happened around here. Talking feels good.

Here’s a lovely little poem by Sylvia. I think I may have shared it before. I found in a tiny spiral notebook in her car.

I’ll always love you, dear.

How to Write, Interview with Skinner Darkly

July 29th, 2023

I got an emailed question about my novel Spacetime Donuts from a fan of mine, who prefers to be known as Skinner Darkly. I said, hell, let’s make it an online interview, haven’t done one of those for a couple of months.  So here you are.  I’m publishing it here, and on Medium. This time around, all but two of the illos are recent paintings by me. Most of them are for sale. See info about them on my Paintings Page

The overall theme?  Well, seems like in a lot of the answers I’m bitching about the woes of an aging writer’s life.  Oh god, am I turning into that guy? Well there’s some stories and jokes too, also those nice paintings.

Q1. You’re very open about using real people as springboards for your characters, are the characters in Juicy Ghosts inspired by anyone, or were they created whole cloth for the occasion?

A1. My friends and family got tired of me writing about them, so In recent years I’ve gotten better at inventing characters, or at collaging them together from pieces of the people I know. Another move to lighten the load on my family and friends is to base characters on people I don’t actually know very well. I might just pick up something about their appearance or their way of talking. Like sketching from life. But of course the Ross Treadle character in Juicy Ghosts is strongly based on Donald Trump. Keep in mind that I wrote and published this novel shortly before the 2020 Presidential election, and I was hoping that my work might help, in some small way, to turn the tide. Ross Treadle actually gets killed three times in the novel: flesh, clone, and software emulation. Feels so good that once isn’t enough.

Q2. In Juicy Ghosts, as well as Mathematicians In Love, you use music as a kind of bridge to explain/solve complex problems for the characters. Does this reflect your own feelings about music and its place in the world?

A2. That’s an interesting question. Being a mathematician and a computer scientist, I often want to bring highly abstract ideas into my stories. Like if, for instance, I’m talking about an algorithm that creates a self-perpetuating model of someone’s mind—or I’m talking about a tech design for actual telepathy. And here music and art can come in.

Music is indeed an alternate language system that we’re all familiar with. Music often seems to be saying things that we can’t concisely put into words. And music digs into the emotions more easily than words. The insistent force of music is striking.

At times I turn to visual art rather than to music. In Mathematicians in Love, I described a Berkeley grad student’s doctoral thesis in terms of illustrations lifted from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. Those images have some of the same mad playfulness that you find in higher math.

Q3. Still on the topic of music, despite having a brief stint as the front man of a punk band, I’ve seen very little discussion about your specific tastes. Who are some of the musicians you return to most often, for fun or focus?

A3. Front man of a punk band? Yes, that would be The Dead Pigs, an integral part of my farewell to employment at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. You can see two videos of us here, along with the background story.

[The old man nods off in euphoric recollection.]

Snort—what? Taste in music, yes. First let me make clear that I never listen to music while I write. Silence is best. I like to hear the rhythms of the words in my head. Writing prose isn’t so far from poetry.

But who I like? Certainly the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa, the Ramones, Lou Reed, Blondie, Hole, L7, the Breeders, Nirvana, the Pixies, the Clash, Dylan, Neil Young, Little Feat, Muddy Waters, Robber Johnson, Charles Mingus, Oasis, Elvis, Flatt & Scruggs, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Mozart’s Magic Flute, Rancid, NOFX, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Iggy, the Stooges, Green Day, Velvet Underground, Weezer, The Police, Talking Heads, Jefferson Airplane, Beach Boys, Bo Diddley, Beck, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Dead Kennedys, Patti Smith, Junior Murvin, Jimmy Cliff, and Washer Drop.

I could tell you stories about listening to songs by every one of these artists—had we but world enough and time. For instance: Paul Simon’s “Graceland” was one of Sylvia’s very favorite songs. And the kids and I played it for her one last time, right after she died.

Q4. Going back to your first novel, Spacetime Donuts, you don’t often talk about it in a creative context. With an entire careers worth of hindsight, what do you feel its place is in the Rudy Rucker Canon?

A4. Spacetime Donuts was the one that helped me get going. I had no idea how to write a novel, but I did have an electric typewriter. I started writing a story, and kept going with it, putting in chapter breaks to catch my breath. As is still my habit, I didn’t really plan the story, I made it up as I went along. Like talking aloud. And, there were a couple of particular ideas I wanted to get to.

One was the notion of circular scale, that is, the idea that if you shrink long enough you’ll get to a level that looks very much like our own. This is a fairly common idea. I think I first encountered it in the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, which I saw with a bunch of my friends on my twelfth birthday—to lasting effect. My twist on this trope was that the seemingly familiar level way down there would in fact be very same size level you started from.

Another idea inspiring the novel was the proto-cyberpunk notion that there could be a society-spanning computer system that was running things and making life more boring.

Q5. You lived in Llynchburg, Virginia, for a while, yes? I’m not to far from there now. Do you have any musings on your time in the area?

A5. Yes indeed, Lynchburg from 1980 to 1986. Home town of the evangelist Jerry Falwell, oddly enough. And this very hamlet was fated to be a cradle of cyberpunk.

I worked as a math professor at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College for two years, and then they fired me—no special reason, they just didn’t like my attitude. Of course not! And then I became a freelance writer for four years. Tough row to hoe. I rented a room in an abandoned, tumbledown house that had been the offices of some friends. The Design Group.

Our family had a nice big house, and I think it was a happy period in our three kids lives. We had a good social life—that’s a thing about living in a really small town. Sylvia found a sign-painting job, and then a teaching job. But she wasn’t all that glad to be in a small, Southern town.

Was I happy? Yes and no. On the down side, I’d lost my job, and I was worried about how much I drank and got high. Sometimes I was behaving badly, and I felt guilty about that. And we were poor.

On the upside, as far as the writing went, I was living the dream. Dark fun with black flames flickering over everything. It was the most productive period my life. I wrote and sold six books in four years. I was out of control.

I look at someone like Vincent van Gogh or David Foster Wallace, and I wonder how you could kill yourself at the very peak of your career. But when I remember Lynchburg, I understand.

If you’re out on the creative edge day after day for years, you push yourself too far. You’re never satisfied. Every finish line sets up a new start. I was loving it, and proud of my writing, but I was ready to snap.

And then a miracle job came through. I morphed into a professor of computer science at San Jose State in Silicon Valley. A salary, insurance, and a new crowd of friends. And a chance to learn computer science on the fly. Yeah, baby. They know how to treat cyberpunks in California!

Sylvia became a professor of English as a Second Language out here. She was an extremely good teacher. Eventually she had a higher salary than me.

Q6. You’ve written several queer main characters in your career, including an entire SF romance novel, Turing & Burroughs. Do you have a different approach to writing queer romances vs. Straight ones? What about having real people underlying the characters of Turing & Burroughs, as opposed to using the invented characters Liv and Molly in Juicy Ghosts?

A6. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1950s. and I was heir to a certain amount of homophobia. I barely even know what queers were, but I knew I didn’t want to be one. I was scared of them. But when I was about fifteen, I got hold of the Beat author William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. I loved his contempt for all social norms. He made being a queer junkie seem cool—and funny. Funny from the inside, you understand. Not like the squares, frowning from the outside.

Alan Turing was another famous gay man that I latched on to. He was amazingly out. If he met a man that interested him, he’d ask the man for sex straight up. Describing this, he said something like, “Either I’ll be thrown out, or I’ll have an interesting evening.”

When I started work on my gay romance novel, I wasn’t sure I could write it. I worried I wouldn’t be able to totally put myself into the mindset of being queer. But I read the massive Andy Warhol Diarys, and that was big help.

Just like other people, as they say. Except you’re an outsider. Burroughs’s writing was a great model, as was Turing’s personality. Sure I could write gay. In your face, squares!

My agent sent the manuscript for Turing & Burroughs to a number of people, and they all said, “This is well written, but we don’t want it.” In my sad enthusiasm, I’d dreamed that it might come out as a mainstream bestseller, rather than SF. And in the end, I had to fucking self-publish my masterpiece in 2012. But in 2019 Night Shade books picked it up.

I still don’t understand why the regular publishers didn’t jump at my book. Was it too outrageous? Lesser authors write things that middlebrow reviewers contentedly call outrageous. But when Rucker goes there, it’s always too far!

Another thought here is that sometimes a book about homosexual romance takes on a lugubrious tone. As if you’re writing about unfortunate souls who have cancer. This tone might even be viewed as the expected thing. But my Burroughs and Turing were having a good time. Too good, I suppose. Maybe their merriment annoyed the publishers.

As for Liv and Molly in Juicy Ghosts, I’m not fully confident that I got their romance right. Yes, as I already said, it’s just a matter of writing about a love affair, which I know how to do. And I certainly know how it feels to be an outsider. But here I didn’t have the inspiring Burroughs and Turing personas to work with. So I hope Liv and Molly worked.

Q7. Earlier this year, you said Juicy Ghosts is probably your last book, as your primary output has shifted to painting. Do you have any reflections on your experience with the publishing industry?

A7. There’s a certain arc to most writers’ careers. When you’re starting out, and if you’re a good writer, the publishers are interested in your books. Your novels are like lottery tickets for them. Possible best-sellers. And then the numbers game sets in.

Depending how your books sell over the years, it gets harder or easier to place them. An author does what they can, altering their themes, and looking for new outlets. There’s nothing more valuable than a sympathetic editor—and at any given time you only need one of them, but it’s much safer to have two or three.

For me, those magical benefactors were David Hartwell, John Oakes, Jeremy Lassen, and Cory Allyn. But then, sadly, Hartwell died, Oakes got into a different branch of publishing, and Lassen and Allyn lost their jobs. And now my books are close to being commercially unpublishable. Even though my recent novels have been as good or better any I wrote before.

I don’t like to dwell on this—I don’t want to be that guy, the old man who’s totally lost it and can’t sell a book. I mean there are workarounds. I know how to do Kickstarter, design my own books, and self-pub them for distribution in print and ebook via Amazon and the other online booksellers—all like that.

Well, what about publicity? All you’ve got is the social networks. I’ve gotten skilled at those short messages formerly known as tweets. Clever ideas, snarky griping, haiku-like apercus, crystalline photos, images from the gone world. I enjoy creating them. It’s a form of art.

What else? Well I’ve put most of my books online to read for free as web pages. The main thing is to keep the stuff bouncing. Build the brand. Sell merch.

Am I glad my writing is still out there and being read? Of course. Am I bitter about having to distribute so much of it myself? What do you think!

Faint gleams of light. Now and then a real publisher picks up one of my self-pub books and reissues it. And there’s always that tyro dream of posthumous fame. I don’t go for that dream like I used to. Having known a lot of people who died, the posthumous thing doesn’t work for me anymore.

Hey, it’s enough that you’re reading me right now. Even though I’m not getting paid. It’s enough that my mind viruses are infecting you in realtime. And thereby making this a better world.

Q8. In the late 90’s to early 2000’s you talked a lot about how wider availability would make the internet a truly democratic place. Twenty years later and now most of what we see is controlled by a mega corporations and their complex algorithms, do you think that there’s still hope for a truly democratic cyberspace?

A8. The loss of control is an illusion. Believing it’s happened is just a way of being passive and lazy or even cowardly. The free, democratic cyberspace is still there. It never went away. You have free rein.

Sure, you can’t always post whatever you want in some commercial walled garden like Facebook. But you don’t have to spend all your time there. Also, most commercial sites really don’t give a fuck what someone like you or me would post. The only censorship I’ve encountered in all these years was when Apple asked me to paint a bikini onto the cover-image alien of my political SF novel The Sex Sphere.

And remember, it’s quite easy to create your own website. Get a webpage on an independent webhost, register a domain name for your page, and post whatever the hell you want. You have free rein. There are absolutely no barriers to setting up a webpage and posting whatever you want.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The freedom of the web is one of the great blessings of modern times. The web got loose before the Pig had a chance to lock it down. And they’ll never ever take control of it. Even if they tried, they wouldn’t be able to. Because we’re everywhere.

Q9. Lastly, different creative outputs often scratch different itches; what drew you to, and what do you enjoy about the medium of painting? Do you find a different kind of fulfillment compared to writing?

A9. (For this final answer, I’m going to draw on an interview Robert Penner did with me for his excellent ezine Big Echo, now sadly extinct.)

There is a certain commonality between my writing and painting. I think it’s the attitude that’s the important thing. The specific ideas—well, I always just think about the same few things, whatever I’m doing. Sex, gnarl, color, sounds, and the Now. I’m here in this rich, amazing reality and—I can’t believe it!

My family teases me. “Be quiet, Rudy. You always say that. You can’t believe anything.”

So, okay, I have no mind. It’s my attitude that’s the key. What kind of attitude is needed in order to write, or paint, or take photos?

Be loose. Spontaneous bop prosody. Forget yourself. As I say, Keep it bouncing. Ruin it, fix it, ruin it again. Make it fun. Revise, revise, revise. God is in the details.

Painting has made some of these practices clearer to me. Like the whole concept of painting over an awkward patch—yeah. And the importance of popping the colors and working the chiaroscuro.

If I’m painting to match a sketch, it’s a drag, and it doesn’t really work. It’s better when I’m mindlessly dabbling, just following the shapes and the colors, and letting my brush loose. Ditto for writing. I don’t worry too much about outlines. I prefer surprise. If the action takes over, and the characters are talking, and I’m dreaming while I’m awake, and transcribing what I see—that’s when it’s good. I’m in it so deep that I’m gone.

I feel like I’m morphing into a painter. I took up painting in 1999 while writing my historical novel As Above, So Below about the Flemish master Peter Bruegel the Elder. I wanted to see how painting felt, and I quickly came to love it.

I enjoy the exploratory and non-digital nature of painting, and the luscious mixing of the colors. Sometimes I have a specific scenario in mind. Other times I don’t think very much about what I’m doing. I just paint and see what comes out. Working on a painting has a mindless quality that I like. The words go away, and my head is empty. And I can finish a painting in less than a week.

I’ve done about 260 paintings by now, and I’m steadily getting better. I like making them, and I’m doing okay with selling them online, in fact these days I make more money from my paintings than I do from my new writing.

And now, in closing, here’s Feminen Mistique, a work by my interviewer, Skinner Darkly. Thanks, friend. Fun interview!

Podcast #114. “Who Do You Love”

May 19th, 2023

May 19, 2023. This story relates to the death of my wife Sylvia. I read it an SF in SF event in January, 2023, and it was recorded by Rusty Hodge for SomaFM. The story appeared as online text in Nature Futures on Feb 15, 2023. Press the arrow below to play Rusty’s recording of  “Who Do You Love”.


And, if you like, Subscribe to Rudy Rucker Podcasts.

Shirley Interview: AI, ChatGPT, and Consciousness

May 12th, 2023

Most of the material in this blog post is drawn from an email interview of me by my old pal John Shirley, for the terrific new ezine Instant Future , run by Brock Hinzmann and John.

As is my usual fashion, for my blog-post version I added some images that may seem to have no connection with the interview material. But always remember the fundamental principle of Surrealism: everything goes with everything.

John: Rudy, has anything you predicted, in your science-fiction or in non-fiction, come true?

Rudy: I’ve always wanted someone to ask me about my predictions coming true. I’ll mention two big ones.

A first prediction of mine is that the only way to produce really powerful AI programs to use evolution. Because it’s literally impossible to write them from the ground up. I got this insight from the incomparable Kurt Gödel himself. The formal impossibility of writing the code for a human-equivalent mind is a result that drops out of Gödel’s celebrated Incompleteness Theorem of 1931. It turns out that creating a mind isn’t really about logic at all. It’s about tangles.

I worked out the details of robot evolution while I was on a mathematics research grant at the University of Heidelberg in 1979. My method of research? I wrote my proto-cyberpunk novel Software. You might call it a thought experiment gone rogue. I had a race of robots living on the Moon and reproducing by building new robots and copying variants of their software onto the newborns. The eventual software tangles are impossible to analyze. But they stoke a glow of consciousness. Like the neuron tangles in our skulls.

By 1993, when I wrote The Hacker and the Ants, I understood that robot evolution should be run at very high speeds, using simulated bots in virtual world. And I tweaked the evolutionary process so that the fitness tests are co-evolving with the sims; that is, the tests get harder and harder. What were the tests? Increasingly vicious suburban homes inhabited by nasty sims called Perky Pat and Ken Doll.

My second big prediction is what I call a lifebox. This also appears in Software, and it’s a main theme in my nonfiction book, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. The idea is that we ought to be able to make a fairly convincing emulation version of a person. The key is to have a very large data base on the person. If the person is a writer, or if they post a lot of messages and email, you have a good leg up on amassing the data. And in our new age of all-pervasive surveillance, it’ll be easy to access untold hours of a non-writing person’s conversation for the lifebox data.

Once you have a rich data base, creating a convincing lifebox isn’t especially difficult, and we’re almost there. On the back end you have a the data, thoroughly linked and indexed. On the front end you have a chatbot that assembles its answers from searches run on the data. And you want to have some custom AI that gives the answers a seamless quality, and which remembers the previous conversations that the user has had with the lifebox. This is pretty much what ChatGPT is starting to do.

By now the lifebox is such a staple of SF films and novels that people think the notion of a lifebox has always been around. It wasn’t. Someone had to dream it up. And that was me, with Software. It wasn’t at all easy to come up with the idea. It looks simple and obvious now, but in the Seventies it wasn’t.

One of the killer lifebox apps will be to help the bereaved to talk with their dead relatives, as described in my Saucer Wisdom.

As a crude experiment I myself set up an online Rudy’s Lifebox that you can converse with…in the weak sense of getting Rudy-text responses to whatever you type in. The Rudy’s Lifebox simply does a search on my rather large website…but I haven’t done any of the ChatGPT-style work needed for a chatbot front end.

I keep hoping that Stephen Wolfram will do that part for me, but I doubt if he will…at least not before he implements the Stephen’s Lifebox.

I know Hallmark Cards is researching this app, and a couple of years ago, Microsoft took the trouble of patenting my lifebox notion. Somehow they forgot to offer me a senior consultant job.

John: Any highlights in your mind for what might be coming in the next fifty years? Perhaps a big, defining trend you expect?

Rudy: I’d like to see some new physics. We’ve only been doing what we call “real science” for two centuries. Obviously there’s still a lot to learn. I can’t help thinking that some heavy SF-made-real moves might still resolve the terrible energy vs. climate problem. And maybe the horrible gun problem as well. I actually have some ideas for SF stories about this. I’m thinking about UFO-like “smart magnets” that sweep across the skies, sucking up the weapons like a real electromagnet above a car crusher place.

In terms of new wonders, I’m very fond of the subdimensions, that is, the scales below the Planck length. I’s like to get rid of the stingy size-scale limitations prescribed by quantum mechanics. And on another front, it would be great to bring Cantor’s transfinite cardinals into physics; I wrote about this in the latest intro to my nonfiction classic, Infinity and the Mind.

Recognizing the ubiquity of consciousness is yet another trend I see as important. Not just in a dreamy way, but in a lurid, literal sense. Stephen Wolfram has pretty well established that natural phenomena have the same computational complexity as human minds. Now we just need to learn how to talk to rocks. I wrote a novel about this, called Hylozoic.

By the way, “Hylozoism” is an actual dictionary word meaning “the doctrine that all matter is alive.” You don’t even need to make this stuff up. It’s all out there, ready for the taking.

John: Do you believe “the technological singularity” will come true, this century? Or has it crept up on us already?

Rudy: That’s a complicated question. Some say the singularity happened when we got the web working. Others say it’s more like daybreak—not a sudden flash, but a gradual dawning of the light. Or, yet again, if you see the Cosmos as having a mind, then a maximal, singular intelligence has been in place since the dawn of time. No big deal. It’s what is.

The SF writer and computer scientist Vernor Vinge brought the technological singularity into discussion in the early 1990s. His idea was tidy: as our AI programs get smarter, they’ll design still smarter AIs, and we’ll get an exponential explosion of simulated minds. A self-building tower of Babel. But it probably won’t happen like that. If our new AIs are smart, they might not want to design better AIs. After all, there’s more to life than intelligence.

Around 2000, Ray Kurzweil wrote a few books popularizing the singularity, and I was envious of his success. I wrote my novel Postsingular as a kind of rebuke—a reaction to the rampant singularity buzz.

The singularity isn’t the end SF. I say let it come down, and then write about what happens next. Charles Stross and I both take this approach. We’ll still be humans, living our lives, and we’ll still be as venal and lusty as the characters in Peter Bruegel paintings. Laughing and crying and eating and having sex—and artificial intelligence isn’t going to change any of that.

John: Is fear of the new AI revolution misplaced or valid?

Rudy: Fear of what? That there will be hoaxes and scams on the web? Hello? Fear that bots will start doing people’s jobs? Tricky. If a bot can do part of your job, then let the bot do that, and that’s probably the part of the job that you don’t enjoy. You’ll do the other part. What’s the other part? Talking to people. Relating. Being human. The clerk gets paid for hanging around the with the customers. Gets paid for being a host.

I’m indeed fascinated by the rapid progress of the ChatGPT-type wares. In his analysis of ChatGPT Stephen Wolfram breaks it all down for us. And, being Wolfram, he has the genius to run his flow of ideas on for about five times as long as a normal person would be able to. He seems to suggest that “intelligent thought” might be a very common process which complex systems naturally do.

As an example of such a process, think about Zhabotinsky scrolls, which are moving patterns generated, for instance, by cellular automata, by reaction-diffusion chemical reactions, and by fluid dynamics. When you swirl milk into coffee, the paired vortices are Zhabotinsky scrolls. Mushroom caps and smoke rings are Zhabotinsky scrolls. Fetuses and germinating seeds are Zhabotinsky scrolls.

There are particular kinds of shapes and processes that nature likes to create—some are familiar, and some not. We’re talking about forms that recur over and over again, in all sorts of contexts. Ellipsoids, ferns, puddles, clouds, scrolls, and … minds? It could well be that mind-like behavior emerges very widely and naturally, with no effort at all—like whirlpools in a flowing stream.

AI workers used to imagine that the mind is like some big-ass flow-chart Boolean-valued logic-gate construct. But that’s just completely off base. The mind is smeared, analog, wet, jiggly, tangled. And no Lego block model is ever going to come close to the delicious is-ness of being alive.

It’s the illogical, incalculable, unanalyzable nature of the artificially-evolved neural-net tangles of ChatGPT-style Ais that gives them a chance. Harking back to Kurt Gödel again: When it comes to AI, if you can understand it, it’s wrong.

John: If AI’s do a lot of the creative work for us, will it be genuinely creative?

Rudy: Right now writers and artists are sweating it. Most intelligent and creative people suffer from imposter syndrome. Like, I have no talent. I’ve been faking it for my whole life. I can’t write and I can’t paint. They’re going wise up to me any day. A cheap-ass program in the cloud can do whatever I do. But meanwhile, what the hell, I might as well keep going. Maybe I can sell my stuff if I tell people that a bot made it.

But for now it seems like the prose and art by ChatGPT is obvious, cheesy, and even lamentable. Generally you wouldn’t mistake these results for real writing and real art. Especially if you’re a writer or an artist. But the big question still looms. How soon will ChatGPT-style programs outstrip us?

Maybe I’m foolish and vain, but I think it’ll be a long time. We underestimate ourselves. You’re an analog computation updated at max flop rates for decades. And boosted by being embedded in human society. A node in a millennia-old planet-spanning hive-mind.

Can bot fiction be as good as mine? Not happening soon.

John: Can an AI be conscious?

Rudy: Yes. Here’s how to emulate a simple version of consciousness, using a technique originally described by neurologist Antonio Damasio in the 1990s.

The AI constructs an ongoing mental movie that includes an iconic image of itself plus images of some objects in the world. It notes its interactions with the objects, and it rates these interactions. These ratings are feelings. And now suppose the AI has a second-order image of itself having these feelings. This is consciousness—the process of watching yourself have feelings about the world around you.

Some researchers feel that AIs need to have bodies in order to achieve true consciousness. Theological analogy: God can’t understand humanity until manifesting self as a human avatar. Sounds familiar…

I delved into the issue of bodies for AIs in my recent novel Juicy Ghosts. In my novel, people achieve software immortality by having emulations of them stored in the cloud. As I mentioned before, I call these emulations lifeboxes.

And the idea now is, as I say, that a lifebox should be linked to a physical meat body. Your personality comes not only from your software, but from your full body: the sense organs, the emotional flows, the lusts and hungers and fears. And from whatever mysterious quantum-computational processes are found in a meat body. You might use a pre-grown clone of your dead self, or you might parasitize or possess another person or even an animal. Main thing is that you need the analog, quantum-jiggling meat. Once you’ve got that, you’re not just a ghost—you’re a juicy ghost.

John: Can you fold in a happy memory of our early cyberpunk days together, Rudy?

Rudy: My favorite is when John and I went to a 1985 SF con in Austin. We stayed at Bruce Sterling’s apartment, maybe with Charles Platt and Lew Shiner. We were in town for a panel, as described in the “Cyberpunk” chpater of my autobio Nested Scrolls. The panel also included Pat Cadigan and Greg Bear. William Gibson couldn’t make it. Bruce joked that Bill was in Switzerland with Keith Richards getting his blood changed. I’d somehow rented a Lincoln—Hunter Thompson style—and one evening we were slow-rolling along an Austin main drag and John was sitting shotgun, and he leaned out of the window and repeatedly scream-drawled this phrase at the local burghers: “Y’all ever ate any liiive brains?” The good old days. Did they really happen?

John: They did. Juicy Ghosts is the most recent book I’ve read by you. What are you working on now?

Rudy: I’m not writing much these days. I’m in a strange state of mind. My dear wife Sylvia died four months ago. It might be okay to end my career with Juicy Ghosts, , one the very best books I ever wrote. It has amazing near-future tech, great characters, a wiggly plot, and some heavy revolutionary content. And I fucking had to self-publish it. If you’re curious about the process, you can a browse my Juicy Ghosts writing notes. Another brick in the great wall of Rudy’s Lifebox.

I feel like I’m morphing into a painter. I took up painting in 1999 while writing my historical novel As Above, So Below about the Flemish master Peter Bruegel the Elder. I wanted to see how painting felt, and I quickly came to love it.

I enjoy the exploratory and non-digital nature of painting, and the luscious mixing of the colors. Sometimes I have a specific scenario in mind. Other times I don’t think very much about what I’m doing. I just paint and see what comes out. Working on a painting has a mindless quality that I like. The words go away, and my head is empty. And I can finish a painting in less than a week.

I’ve done about 250 paintings by now, and I’m steadily getting better. I like making them, and I’m doing okay with selling them through Rudy Rucker Paintings.

Who knows, maybe that’s my new career.

John: You’re a direct descendant of the philosopher Georg Hegel. Do you have an overall philosophy? I have a sense from many of your writings that you do, especially the later books of the Ware Tetralogy.

Rudy: I see the universe as being a single, living being. All is One. Gnarly and synchronistic, with everything connected. Like a giant dream that dreams itself. Or like the ultimate novel, except that it wrote itself, or is writing itself, hither and yon, from past to future, all times at once. This production’s got the budget, baby.

The meaning? Life, beauty and love.

For details, check out the last section of my tome, The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul.

As I said, most of the material in this blog post is drawn from John Shirley’s email interview with me for Brock Hinzmann’s new ezine Instant Future . Check it out.

And thanks for the interview, John. These were good questions.

Y’all ever ate any liiive brains?

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