Click covers for info. Copyright (C) Rudy Rucker 2021.

Invading Aliens? No, They’re Exchange Students. (With Input from Stephen Wolfram)

April 5th, 2024

Alien invasions and interspecies war are played-out tropes. In my Sqinks novel, sqink aliens are arriving. And I was going to have it be an alien invasion. But then I thought to ask Stephen Wolfram for a better idea.

Me: What do the invading aliens want from us?

Stephen Anthropology? Understand an alien mind to understand yours better? [And leverage someone else’s irreducible computation.] At least, that’s what I would want.

Me: That’s a bit cryptic. Her’s a follow-up question. If we regard minds as computations, these are “irreducible” computations, that is, processes whose outcomes cannot be readily predicted. The only way to predict the outcome of a thought process is simply to emulate it all the way through. This restriction applies to everyone, even to aliens. So how would looking at human thought processes give an alien some “leverage” on predicting their own thought processes?

Stephen: If I’m so curious about how a whale thinks about the world, and believe I might “expand myself in rulial space” / “expand my paradigms” by knowing … perhaps the aliens will be curious too. I don’t think it’s so much leveraging a single human mind as the whole consistent(?) structure of knowledge/language/culture that we’ve built up. Though of course I’m projecting 🙂

Me. And here I am mulling this over…

Wolfram’s not talking about the irreducible nature of the evolution of an individual mind, but about the evolution of a social group. And that goes back to “anthropology.”

In Sqinks I might say that each sqink is here to partner up with an individual human to get to know their social mind and social mode of thought. Like people buying dogs…or dogs seeking masters…or kinky lovers seeking alien mates.

Or like an overseas exchange student lodging with a family. Let’s go with that. A sqink lodges with a human family. And later, dig this twist, the human host lodges with a sqink family!

Perfect! Multichapter scenario! My hero and heroine lodging with the sqinks. Almost breaks up their romance—but love conquers all.

Think of a “farmers market” scenario where some people are taking sqinks home with them, encouraging the sqinks with gifts. But not every human shopper is selected for a partnership. Maybe the quality of your gift to a given sqink has something to do with whether they move in with you. Or your vibe.

Also note that if the sqinks are telepathic, the partnership doesn’t absolutely have to involve “moving in together” right away. Maybe once in a while they don’t move in immediately, but they find you later on. Like a back-alley sex-worker or drug-dealer comes to your house. Like, they’re waitin’ for you at home.

“Eek, sqink!”

“Don’t worry, I’m your new assistant.”

This is a nice gloss on acquiring a (possibly uninvited) AI assistant. Like the “Copilot” that shows up on my Windows toolbar now. Or the “AI Overview” that Google pops up after a search. Perfect. The copilot or overview is mining my data, but helping be with its hive-mind record of its compatriots mining the other humans.

That’s a good transreal hook. The sqinks “are” AI assistants. Student exchange? How would it feel to turn the tables and go be a lodger in the cyberspace land of AIs?

But of course it’s much more interesting to think of the Sqinkland that I have in my novel, where the organizing principle of cause-and-effect is replaced by universal synchronicity. More interesting, put I’m having to put in a lot of work to figure it out! As the old SF writer’s motto goes: Pile on the Bullshit and Keep a Straight Face!

Going back to having a sqink lodger, if a sqink lives with you, they’re certainly going to give you good (probably good, unless your sqink has nasty ulterior motives, and eventually it will) advice about what to do. Just like how Microsoft Copilot or Google AI Overview knows stuff from the web.

To be continued…in my novel Sqinks. And that photo’s not me. It’s a sqink I’ve been hanging around with; he uses the name Bart Nagel.

In Memory of Terry Bisson

March 30th, 2024

On March 30, 2024, I spoke at an event sponsored by City Lights books, in honor of Terry Bisson.  Here’s my three-frame pan of the crowd in front of me.

And here’s a version of what I said.

Terry Bisson 1942-2024
Memorial event at the Lost Church in SF

I met Terry in 1984.  We felt an immediate rapport. We’re beatnik science fiction writers from Kentucky. We grew up wanting to be Beat authors, and to some extent we did that.

I’m from Louisville, Terry from Owensboro, which is the third largest city in Kentucky, as Terry would testily remind me, annoyed that I was unsure.  Louisville was, after all, the  big city.

Terry retained his Kentucky accent. His rasp and drawl gave our chats a pleasant, down-home tang. I always felt safe and comfortable with him. He was like a brother.

Re. growing up in the provinces, Terry has a wonderful, telling passage in his marvellous autobiographical novel, Any Day Now. His character has walked out past the end of a street in his small town..

“He kept his eyes on the ground until he was far out in the field. Then he looked up. There was the Universe. It was all stars. He lit a Kent and watched the smoke drift up into the Universe. Nobody in Owensboro even knew it was there.”

Terry is  perhaps better known for his stories than for his novels. He once made in interesting comparison. “Writing a story is like fixing a car. You work on it for a couple of week and you’re done. Writing a novel is like being a farmer. You’re out in the field for  years.”

My favorite of Terry’s SF novels is Pirates of the Universe. A work of genius, with the furthest-out SF I’ve ever seen. And it has a transreal quality, that is, it’s SF is grounded in the details of the author’s life; the hero is from somewhere like Kentucky

I started seeing more of Terry after 2002, when he moved to the Oakland hills with his partner  Judy Jensen who is, among other things, an extreme quilter. At some point my Sylvia got into the craft, and that made another thing the four of us had in common.

We  relished our get-togethers. Most years Terry would organize an Oscar-watching party, as befitted his self-anointed status as the world’s greatest film critic.

Terry was a man of letters. He edited scores of short books in the PM Press Outspoken Authors series, each including an incisive interview by him. And he was the convivial emcee of the monthly SF in SF readings organized by Rina and Jacob Weisman.

Terry was at all times knowledgeable, worldly, witty, good-humored, and radical. His wide-ranging autobio, Any Day Now, reflects his and Judy’s life in a commune. And his revelatory alternate-history novel Fire on the Mountain is about a world where, the Blacks of the US stage a successful revolution and secession.

SF writing can be a collaborative affair, and I had the pleasure of writing a fun story with Terry, “Where the Lost Things Are.” It’s about about two old men and their wives. It’s inspired by the following phenomenon: when you drop a pill on a tiled bathroom floor, the pill instantly disappears forever.

As another joint effort, I published Terry’s Billy’s Book under the aegis of my very small press Transreal Books. In today’s benighted marketplace nobody else would print it—although later another edition appeared.

The Billy stories are parody children’s stories, like some wag might have published in the 1950s New Yorker. They’re  deep, simple, caustic, and punctuated by Terry’s stylistic trick of fastening on some phrase and repeating it multiple times in his narrative. Like riffs or beats. Good times.

I visited Terry and Judy a couple of weeks before he died. Though ailing, he was his same wise and congenial self. He was toying with a tool chest of wrenches, rearranging them.

His last words to me?

“See you on the other side.”


The man was a hero.

The Reality of the Fourth Dimension

March 12th, 2024

Over the years I’ve written two non-fiction books on the fourth dimension, edited a book of C. H. Hinton’s writings on the fourth dimension, published a novel set in the fourth dimension, and worked the concept into a number of my other novels and short stories.

Shortly before Christmas, 2023, Jeff Carreira interviewed me about my thoughts on 4D for his ezine The Artist of Possibility, where it appeared in March, 2024, with the title “The Reality of the Fourth Dimension.” At one point Jeff contemplated a subtitle of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.”

So here’s the interview, along with some related illos. Two of the illos, from Spaceland, are by Taral Wayne.

JEFF: Can you give us an introductory explanation of what the fourth dimension is and then tell us why you have devoted so much of your time to exploring and elucidating the idea?

RUDY: I first heard about “the fourth dimension” in science fiction stories, and I thought it sounded cool. I remember an anthology that had a 1929 story by Miles J. Breuer called “The Captured Cross-Section.” A four dimensional being’s body intersects with our 3D space, and the people in the story see a shifting, flailing ball of meat, with maybe a tooth or a claw on it…and they drive a long crowbar through the meat, and anchor the ends in concrete and supposedly that keeps the 4D creature from getting away, although why would you want it to stick around?

Right away I knew the fourth dimension was cool, and I wanted to know a lot about it.  By the way, as a boy, the other big mathematical topic I wanted to know about was infinity. And somehow my life worked out so that I published books about the fourth dimension and about infinity. I’ve been lucky; my dreams came true.

So what is the fourth dimension? The first thing to understand is that “fourth dimension” can be used in various ways. People often say that time is the fourth dimension and leave it at that.

But I want to talk about a mathematical, geometric fourth dimension. A point is 0D, a line is 1D, a flat square is 2D, a cube is 3D. So what about aa 4D hypercube?  Well, it’s sort of like two cubes connected at the corners—maybe you’ve seen an image like that, and it’s often called a tesseract. But the slanting lines between the corners shouldn’t really be in our space. How do we imagine a direction that’s not in our space?

The traditional method is to reason by analogy. You think about a 2D being who lives in a plane, and wonder how this being could imagine the third dimension. We get this approach from Edwin Abbott Abbottt, who wrote a wonderful 1884 tale called Flatland, featuring a character called A Square.

(Just in passing, isn’t it great that Abbott has the same middle and last name?  And two T’s in each of those. Like the two cubes we’re trying to connect to make a hypercube. And note that his publication date’s digits are kind of like that too. Two 8’s and 8 is two times 4. Mathematicians notice things like this. Numbers speak to us..)

A Square slides around in Flatland, and he can’t imagine the third dimension because it’s a direction completely different from any direction he can point to or move in. And that’s we’re at relative to the fourth dimension. We can’t move in that direction, but even so it exists.

I’m not going to give a full recap of Flatland here, but you ought to read it.

JEFF: Tell us about your own books on the fourth dimension.

RUDY: The first book I ever wrote was Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension, in 1976. I was  a long-haired thirty-year-old math prof at a small college in upstate New York, bascially a hippie with a wife and three kids, and about to get fired for not being square.

Dover Books paid me a thousand dollars for the book, and I think by now they’ve sold three hundred thousand copies. They’re a little embarrassed about it, but not embarrassed enough to pay me more money. I love them anyway. They gave me my start.

Oddly enough, this first effort of mine was the most successful book I ever wrote, with about forty more books to come—science books and science fiction novels. And I wrote another 4D science book, The Fourth Dimension.

If you’re curious, you can can read all of my science books for free online. The links for the books are here:

Why would I post my books for free online instead of making people buy them?  Two reasons. Primarily, I think the information in these books is important, even life-changing, and I want people to read it. I want to infect their minds. Secondly, if I give books away, it builds my brand. Name recognition is an author’s lifeblood.

JEFF: And how about the fourth dimension in physics?

RUDY: In the special theory of relativity we speak of time as a fourth dimension. In general relativity, we explain gravity by saying that 4D spacetime is curved in still higher dimensions.  Cosmologists suggest that the space of our universe as might be curved into a 4D hypersphere. Or that possibly it’s “negatively curved” like a saddle, and it’s infinite.

The popular notion of a multiverse speaks of alternate parallel universes stacked in a higher dimension. Particle physicists suggest that our space might have a slight 4D hyperthickness. And string theorists talk about using ten or eleven dimensions—although they pretty much waste all those nice dimensions by curling them into tiny loops. Vermin dimensions, as my SF friend Bruce Sterling calls them.

As a mathematician, I have limited sympathy with the speculations of physicists. I almost want to say that they’re bullshitters who make it up as they go along.

But, oops, that’s what science-fiction writers do! Pile on the bullshit and keep a straight face. But we don’t claim that what we say is really true!

Re. modern physics, it’s less than two centuries old. And compared the the universe, we’re like tiny protozoa in a puddle. How likely is it that   our physicists have the final answers?

My sense is that you’re  more likely to find the truth if you look into your own mind. You don’t need any special equipment for that. Ultimate reality is right there in your head. But for some reason we tend not to pay attention.

JEFF:  I find the fourth dimension a valuable way to understand my spiritual experience. Can you talk about that?

RUDY: Yes, higher reality has higher dimensional aspects.

We can go all the way back to Plato’s allegory of the cave. He speaks of a group of people in cave, watching shadows move on the cave’s rear wall, and never realizing that the true reality is the world of objects behind them.  The great P. D. Ouspensky wrote about this.

Sadly, Plato’s cave people resemble what we’re turning into, all of us staring at our phones, even as we walk around outside. Portable caves!

Despite what I said in the last answer, I do in fact admire physics. It’s very useful to imagine the world as a 4D spacetime pattern. Philosophers of science call this the “block universe” model.  The past isn’t gone, it’s “underneath” us. And this is a weak form of immortality.

“We’ll always have Paris.”

My beloved wife Sylvia died in January, 2023, and immortality is much on my mind. And it is indeed soothing to look back on the shape and the particulars of the life we had together. Not only does she live on in my heart and in my mind—she lives on in spacetime.

But I’m lonely, and I want something more than a pattern in spacetime. Among nineteenth century spiritualists it was common to say that ghosts live in the fourth dimension.  It’s convenient.  They can hover just above you, up in the fourth dimension, and suddenly dip down into your zone. I wrote a section about the history of this idea in my book The Fourth Dimension.

I like going to the bluffs in Santa Cruz, and watching pelicans fish. They glide along over the wrinkled surface of the sea and then, spotting something, they rise up, and then plummet down, beak first, grabbing a fish. For a fish in the sea, the surface looks like a mirror.  What a shock to have a pterodactyl-like beak come spearing in.

Not always such a good thing to have a ghost pop into the room! This brings us back to Miles Breuer’s “Captured Cross-Section” a little bit.

JEFF: Do you think our physical bodies might have a 4D hyperthickness?

RUDY: In Flatland, the hero A Square travels up out of his 2D Flatland, and he moves around in 3D space.

In 2002 I wrote a 4D version of Abbott’s story: a  novel called Spaceland. My book is about a Silicon Valley middle manager who travels into the fourth dimension and meets the beings there. At the end he finds a way to create wireless antennas that project out into 4D space so that their signals aren’t hampered by buildings. (Kind of a  joke ending.)

A point I get into in Spaceland is that if you were in fact able to go up into 4D space, your body would need to have a hyperthickness to it, and some hyperskin, otherwise your guts would fall out on the open sides.

Note also that our universe would divide hyperspace in half, like a plane bisection 3D space. You can go all traditional and say “heaven” is on one side and “hell” on the other.

I had fun writing this book; things really came together, and I did some good thought experiments. It was especially challenging to imagine what a 4D eye would see.

Not that I seriously think Spaceland is true. I don’t see there being a bunch of 4D ghosts or guardian angels or evil spirits  hovering around our space. This is of course a popular convention in horror stories, but I feel reality isn’t so heavy handed and obvious. Horror is corny. Nature is subtle, graceful, and warm.

But if we don’t have 4D ghosts, is there any hope of immortality? How about this: the ghost of a lost loved one is literally living in your heart and mind. And this isn’t meant as a platitude. The ghost is a living pattern that’s in your system. It’s like a thought, or a memory, or a dream, or an emulation—and it’s not under your control. An autonomous entity who, if you’re lucky, loves you. And if you’re unlucky, they don’t.

And here we face the old dichotomy of guardian angel vs. mean devil.  Human traditions tell us that you want to be on good terms with your ghosts. Your ancestors, your lovers, your friends. All those who live within you. Honor them. Make offerings to them. And if you’re hosting a demon, boot it out. Or starve it with lack of attention.

JEFF: Can you talk about how this relates to spirituality and mystical states?

RUDY: So many possibilities. I’m intoxicated by my word hoard. Having fun. Thanks for asking all these good questions!

For me, the key spiritual or mystical thing is to view the world as a cosmic unity, and to be in touch with this. Looked at in a certain way, each part of the world is alive and conscious, and we join in a beautiful dance, parts of the cosmic One.

Not that, of course, it has to be called the One. It can just as well call it  the Many. Two sides of the same coin. You know the saying: a great truth’s opposite is also a great truth.

In either case, One or Many, I want to move beyond my weary frame, discarding my fears and my remorse—and finding peace.

I sometimes think of the universal mind as a higher-dimensional mollusc that pokes out little tendrils, like a snail’s horns. The horns are the people. And each horn has an eye, looking at the others.

“Hi, it’s me.”

God seeing god.

JEFF: What would it mean for us to expand our thinking to higher dimensions?

RUDY: When I want to go fully ape with higher dimensions, I talk about Hilbert space, a mathematical construct invented by David Hilbert. Hilbert space has infinitely many dimensions.

It’s a little like the inside of your mind. You don’t really think in terms of a mere three or four dimensions. You see layers, patches, and blobs—blending and differentiating like paints on a palette.

Recently I was thinking a lot about the Hilbert-space mind model, trying to bring it to life for some scenes in my novel, Juicy Ghosts. As always when I’m writing one of my SF novels, I know it’s a surreal fantasy, invented almost at random.  But while I’m writing it, I pretend that it’s true—and see what happens. I put myself into a world and I see what happens. It’s a type of thought experiment. Or, as the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger put it, “ein philosophie des als ob” that is, “a philosophy of as if.”

Certainly our minds are more like Hilbert space fractals than they are like feeds from surveillance cameras. And, while in iconoclastic mode, let me point out that we don’t really really think logically. We don’t actually sit around deducing things.

Thought is all about feelings. A process of free association. A stream of consciousness. “What does this remind me of?”

The latest AI flavor-of-the-month is ChatGPT, a type of “large language model.” It’s a way of emulating our process of free association, and it does this so well that the outputs seem almost human.

Bringing the topic of dimensions back in, these large language models have billions or even trillions of parameters. And, if you like, you can think of each parameter as an axis in a multidimensional space.

With so many axes, you’re more or less in Hilbert space. So looking for a good set of parameters is a bit like roaming around in Hilbert space, looking for a sweet spot. A nice hilltop for a picnic.

Changing gears, the weirdest, most incomprehensible theory of the world is quantum mechanics. And a full quantum mechanical model is a shifting pattern in—where else but Hilbert space?

4D is for lightweights, dude. Hilbert space is where it’s at. Glowing brain goo.

Are you high yet?  That’s what a rap like this is for.

In this context, I might as well mention that I’ve been clean and sober since age fifty. That’s twenty-seven years.

We don’t have to get high. We are high.  All you have to do is notice.

We’re patterns in Hilbert space, and nothing matters.

JEFF: Okay, that sounds nice, and I’m enjoying the flow,  but can I be so bold as to say I don’t know what you’re talking about? What exactly do you mean by saying my mind is a pattern in Hilbert space?

RUDY: Thanks for asking. That helps me. As I keep hinting, I’m making this up as I go along. I don’t know where it comes from, and I don’t know where it’s going. But this is how I work. This is how I get my ideas. I write or say something, and then think about the new rap for a few days, pushing it further. And maybe then something falls into place.

So ever since yesterday, when I wrote that last answer, I’ve been focusing on my stream of consciousness and trying to see what it is.

I see something like a mass of macaroni with a central region lit up. Or a hollowed-out zone with a bunch of passages leading off of it, and maybe I’m looking into a number of the passages at once. Shining my attention into them, and each passage leads to as-yet-unformed further branches.

Right now I’m writing this, and each word and phrase sets off associational thoughts. Maybe it’s not really like branching paths after all. Maybe it’s more like being in a crowd with companions pressing up against me and accompanying me for a little while..

The forks, or the temporary companions, or the “next thoughts”—they’re like the phrases produced by a Rudy-tuned large-language-model ChatGPT process. Outputs of Rudy’s Lifebox, draw up from my memory hoard, selected on the basis of closeness to where I’m momentarily at.

Many of them are dim and cringing, like uninvited guests, unsure if they’re welcome, and not fully brought into the light. But even so they’re present, at least in my peripheral vision, and I love them them, as they’re part of my life and mind, but even so I wat to get on with the coherent stream I’m hoping to craft.  Hoping to wind up this phenomenological investigation that I’m laying down.

And, um, you asked how this relates to Hilbert space?

Okay, got it.

Each possible line of thought is a alternative direction for the flow of my stream of consciousness. And it’s convenient to say that taking a different direction is like moving along a different dimension. Going off o a fresh tangent.

And there are so many possible dimensions of thought that we might informally speak of them as infinite various. And this means we’re in Hilbert space, baby.

So here I am, in the lambent laptop glow of my thoughts, relaxing into my performance space.

And maybe it’s not so much that I’m going anywhere. Maybe I’m not worming through the macaroni, or pushing my forward. It’s more like I’m a gentle mosh pit, and the endless shades are dancing with me.

JEFF: This is getting pretty trippy. I’m intrigued by the title of one your novels, The Big Aha. What’s that one about?

RUDY: When I wrote this one I was thinking about the Sixties, and about Tim Leary in Millbrook and William J. Craddock in San Jose. These guys were taking acid nearly every day. And I was was wondering, “What if there was some SF way to make this work?”

Note that I’m not an acidhead. I really only took it once. But I saw the White Light, and that was enough. I remember it very well. The White Light talked to me. It said, “I love you, Rudy. I’ll always be here.”

In The Big Aha I didn’t want to use garden-variety psychedelics, as that carries so much baggage with it. I mean, face it, psychedelics didn’t really work out as well as the pioneers had hoped! Certainly there were lots of good trips—but we’ve also seen sadness, strife, and greed.

Mystical illumination is still the dream. So I wanted my characters to get high on…something that wasn’t a familiar a drug.. I came up with some telepathy-inducing quantum wetware. Philosophie als ob! And the book was pretty cool.

But, in the end, I felt like people maybe dismissed it as a drug book anyway. Some critics tend to be suspicious of me. Like I’m trying to get away with something. I’m not square enough.

I guess the problem is that mystics tend to sound like stoners.  Even when we’re not.

JEFF: In addition to being a writer, you had a career as a professor of mathematics and computer science and have written about what you call gnarl. What is gnarl and what did your exposure to it teach you about life?

RUDY: Surfers say a wave is gnarly if it’s very richly patterned and intense. Foods or situations can also be gnarly. “Gnarly, dude.”

Originally a gnarl is the part of a redwood or an oak tree at the base or at a knot, where the wood is all warped and twisted around, and if you polish a piece of that, you see these really intricate curves and folds.

In 1974 I got my Ph.D. in the mathematics of infinity, and that was pretty gnarly for sure. The proofs were insanely complex. I wrote about what that’s like in my novel Mathematicians in Love. The best analogy I could find for math proofs was Dr. Seuss drawings.

When my family and I moved out to San Jose in 1986, I switched from teaching math to teaching computer science at SJSU. All my life I needed a day job as a professor. Sylvia had a good teaching job, but I never made enough money from my books to pay my share with that.

I really liked doing computer science. I liked the experimental aspect of it. Thought experiments! My thing was generating gnarly graphics from relatively simple mathematical formulae. Fractals are a well-known example of this, particularly the celebrated Mandelbrot Set. And I discovered a multi-dimensional Mandelbrot Set that I looked at a lot. I called it the Rudy Set. If you Google it you can find it.

Seek the Gnarl.

As it happens, that personal slogan of mine is engraved with my name on the granite headstone that stands by Sylvia’s grave. Sylvia’s name above, my name below. I’ll join her in a few years. Her slogan is Carpe Diem. Means “Seize the Day,”

Chaotic processes are another source of mathematical gnarl. You take what seems to be some simple rules for how a dot on the screen will move, and they get into never-repeating oscillations and layers of intricate patterns. Flocking algorithms and cellular automata are rich sources of computer gnarl as well.

But never mind the computers. Over time I’ve learned to see gnarl all around me. Right there in nature. Particularly in clouds, the wobbling of leaves in a breeze, and above all the ocean.

If you don’t pay attention, the ocean might always seem to look the same. But, no, it’s a gnarly chaotic process. The details are always different. You could watch waves hitting a rock for a hundred thousand years, and it would never be exactly the same.

Before fractals and chaos theory, people didn’t used to grasp that gnarl is good. It’s not a flaw, or an error, or a defect. It’s what there is. Chaos is health. Life is gnarl.

JEFF: You write fiction in a style you call transrealism. What do you mean by this, and how do you see your fiction as a vehicle for expanding consciousness into four dimensional thinking?

RUDY: I feel that SF needs to have realistic human chracters to be fully engaging. So I very often base my characters on myself, my family, my friends, or even people that I know only casually. That’s a thing that the Beat authors used to to.

If you want to bring dimensions into it, you might say that my transreal stories are an overlay on reality, slightly displaced into the fourth dimension.

But there’s  more to it then that. In a deeper sense, transreal writing can mean more that connecting characters to actual people. My transreal practice applies also to a story’s themes, scenes, actions, phrases, and even words. That is, I’m writing with my full attention, then every part of my tale connects to essential parts of my life.

A raygun might look like a water pistol I had. An ambush might be a reworking of a trick someone played on me. A spoken phrase might come from something I heard on the street, or in a conversation. A made-up futuristic word might be a combination of several words or phrases that are significant to me.

Many writers do things like this, but I’m putting a special emphasis to the practice by calling it transrealism. We’re talking writing that is utterly original, and is taken from your experience. No second-hand dreams wanted.

Nonfiction can be transreal as well. Indeed my answers to the questions in this interview are transreal in that, by writing this material, I’m trying to find out who I am, and what I think, and what I might think next. My method is to throw more and more of my experience into the brew.

JEFF: You’ve lived a fascinating life exploring some of the most progressive edges of thought, can you tell us about some of the people who have most influenced your own thinking?

RUDY: Try Kurt Gödel, Martin Gardner, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Sheckley, Dennis Poague, Ivan Stang, Bruce Sterrling, William Gibson,  Benoit Mandelbrot, John Walker, Stephen Wolfram, Ken Goffman, Diana Vaughan, Eileen Gunn, Faustin Bray, Sylvia Rucker, Terence McKenna, and Tim Leary.

But I don’t have time to excavate the details. You can read about some of these characeers in my Collected Essays. And others in The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul. And still others in my autobiography Nested Scrolls.

Or try the online search-engine model of me that I call Rudy’s Lifebox. See

Seek and ye shall find.

Thanks for interviewing me, Jeff!

And stay high.

ChatGPT Writing. “Skinks in Rubber Flight.”

January 27th, 2024

This describes an experiment with with ChatGPT that I made on Jan 17, 2024. I mention “skinks” a lot, so just below, you’ll see a painting of with a bunch of skinks; they’re the guys in the center. I’m writing about a couple named Oliver and Carol, and about their adventures with two skinks named Jenna and Kanka. The skinks who have unexpectedly appeared in San Francisco just a few years from now.

Skink painting entitled “Farmer’s Market.” 

Anyway, I’ve been getting curious about ChatGPT, so I finally went online and gave ChaGPT 4.0 a try. I was urged on by two of my fellow Computer Science professors from my years at San Jose State: Jon Pearce and Michael Beeson. I took about five hundred words of my novel in progress, and fed the chunk to ChatGPT.

Dr. Pearce advises Dr. Rucker in the Red Room, of Santa Cruz.

A ChatGPT “prompt” can in fact be quite long. So you really can use a chunk of your writing. The passage, which I show, below describes a scene where my characters Oliver and Carol are running away from the SFMOMA museum after these skink friends of theirs have eaten a whole bunch of Andy Warhol paintings.

With painter friend Paul Mavrides, admiring the Warhols.

I’m not yet sure what the title of the novel will be, or if I’ll even finish it. After the the end of my experiment with ChatGPT today, I asked it what the title should be, and based on the passages the app had seen, it made a few suggestions, including: “Skinkland Odyssey,” “Warhol’s Whimsy,” “Skinks in the Canvas,” “Pop Realms,” “Artmover’s Dilemma,” and “Surreal Serendipity,”

Chinese edition coming out!

Not bad, although none of them is perfect, and as the novel grows, I’ll need a broader title. I wondered if I could feed in all six thousand words of the novel that I have, but ChatGPT doesn’t really like a prompt that’s more than five hundred words. When I tried feeding in all six thousand words, the app crashed, but it did display pretty cool phrase as a label for the crashed conversation. The phrase was “Skinks in Rubber Flight.” Now to me that is a good title, and it’s cool that it comes from a crash, which gives the title a meta and transreal significance.

Frankly I’d been thinking the hype over ChatGPT is a bunch of bullshit. But after this test, I’m staggered and flabbergasted by how well ChatGPT works. As Beeson put it, the method of “choose the next word based on the odds” seems, on the face of it, like a pedestrian and uninteresting approach. . But now—presumably thanks to the size of the vast neural net large language model that is in use—it’s undergone a phase transition.

And by large language model, or LLM, I mean an immense simulated neural net that was evolved by Earth’s mightiest computers. The net consists of a zillion nodes with numerical weights along the lines connecting the nodes. Nobody understands, or can understand, the meaning of the individual weights. As Kurt Gödel proved back around 1930, understanding these weights is, even in principle, impossible. But our tech titans calculated the weights by a somewhat opaque process of simulated evolution.

As a proud writer, I assumed ChatGPT could never write anything colorful or interesting. That it could only churn out bland pap akin to political speeches. But, no, the writing isn’t bad, and it’s got originality, and a bit of verve. Although still, I would say, not much humor.

For me, the crushing thing is that, when I went ahead and ran ChatGPT twice in a row, feeding it the same segment of my novel each time…it wrote two utterly distinct continuations. It could go on writing new continuations all day long.

Somehow this is very deflating. It makes the ground shift beneath my feet.

But I don’t think I’ll often use ChatGPT to help with my fiction! Too much like having a know-it-all full-of-ideas roommate who won’t shut up.

I may yet find a way to get the better of ChatGPT. Some meta parodistic SF trope. Wait till the new novel’s done. Not that, as I say, I’ll use ChatGPT to write it. For now, for sanity’s sake, I’ll return to scorning it from afar. Bitter mockery from the soon-to-be-laid-off craftsman.

You’ll find me alone with my word processor in the coffee shop or my home office or my living room couch or the town library, same as usual. What else can I do?

Daughter Isabel’s jewelry saw

Rudy’s Prompt

Extend this passage in the style of Rudy Rucker. (Note that the following is the most recent a part of the novel I’m writing, and that I pasted this right into the prompt.)

The hall is glass on one side, with a patio out there. We’ve reached a side door. Our skinks snout the doors open. It’s a nook with no exit, a dead end, but whoops we’re rising into the rainy city sky.


“Hard to hold on,” I wail and, as if understanding me, Kanka enlarges himself and tightens the gaps between his segments, forming a rubbery arc. Like a tyke’s bouncy caterpillar toy and, yes, Jenna has done the same for Carol.

We’re low above the city, not much higher than the buildings, rain pattering into our faces. We’ll need new clothes again. Assuming we make it back to the Box Farm instead of being whisked off to Skinkland or some such. No emergency helicopters in sight as yet. A plus.

The skinks are happy and fooling around, flying circles around each other, comfortably full of chewed Warhol masterpieces. What would Andy think? He wouldn’t like it. What artist would?

We’re flying side by side, slower than before, away from the buildings, right down near the water of the bay. Essentially invisible. Not especially feeling any good luck. I can see the Box Farm.

“Wait!” exclaims Carol. I’m noticing that she says that a lot. She hammers on the side of Jenna’s rubbery bod. “Stop flying. I want to talk to you two.”

“Give us nice dry clothes,” I tell the skinks. “Just switch them out. With waterproof yellow rain gear and waterproof hats.”

“Not yellow,” says Carol. “Gray. Secret mission. We’re going back to the museum.”

My clothes shift and crawl. I’m dry. And not quite cozy yet, by getting there. The rain patters on my impermeable yellow oilskins. I feel my head. The top hat is still in place. Glad for that. My personal logo. Like the villain in a superhero comic.

Carol’s got the gray gear, in a fashionable cut, and a big-brimmed waterproof high-fashion beach hat.

“Topper and Lady Gray,” I say.

“What?” goes Carol. “Never mind. The plan, Oll, the plan. We go back and replace the Warhols. The skinks can grow new ones. The old ones they ate—those are like Flybuzz prompts.”

“Hello Infinity”. I drew this while studying higher infinities for Math Ph.D. in grad school at Rutgers, around 1970.

The skinks chirp and twitter, digging on this idea. Somehow Carol understands them. I don’t. Face it, I’m full-on deaf and senile. No use even taking to me, most of the time.

“What?” I say.

ChatGPT Continuation Run One

[So now, the rest of this post is completely fiction written by frikkin’ ChatGPT. Can hardly believe this.]

“Oll, you’re hopeless,” Carol mutters, rolling her eyes at my perpetual state of confusion. “Never mind. The skinks are on board with the plan. We’ll get those Warhols back where they belong.”

The Carol character is to some extent modeled on my Sylvia.

Our skinks, now wearing their own waterproof gear, emit a series of enthusiastic chirps, indicating their readiness for this peculiar mission. As we descend towards the Box Farm, I can’t help but marvel at the rain-soaked city below, its shimmering lights diffused through the falling droplets. The landscape is a canvas of reflections, a Rudy Rucker dreamscape.

Back at the Box Farm, we find ourselves in the familiar workshop, surrounded by the comforting hum of machinery. The skinks, with a strange kind of precision, begin regurgitating Warhol-inspired artworks. It’s an odd blend of the avant-garde and reptilian creativity, a surreal manifestation of collaborative artistry.

“Now, Carol,” I say, trying to focus on the task at hand, “how do we get them back to the museum?”

She holds up a device resembling a cross between a walkie-talkie and a psychedelic kaleidoscope. “This is the Artmover 3000,” she declares. “It creates a temporal fold, allowing us to transport these artworks back to their rightful place without anyone noticing.”

I nod, pretending to understand the intricacies of temporal folds. Carol activates the device, and a shimmering portal appears before us. The skinks, now wearing tiny time-traveler goggles, gleefully carry the Warhols through the portal.

“Follow me, Oll,” Carol says, leading the way into the temporal fold. As we step through, the familiar sensation of being stretched and compressed envelops us. We emerge on the quiet outskirts of the museum, unseen and unnoticed.

Carol takes a deep breath, her eyes gleaming with a mischievous spark. “Let’s hang these Warhols back where they belong and leave the art world none the wiser.”

And so, with skinks in tow, we embark on our surreptitious art restoration mission, a quirky adventure in the rain-soaked city of dreams.

The museum, now shrouded in the quiet hum of the temporal fold, is eerily tranquil. Carol, Jenna, Kanka, and I sneak through the shadows, blending into the backdrop of exhibits. The skinks, their time-traveler goggles gleaming in the low light, carry the regurgitated Warhols with an air of reptilian pride.

“Quietly now,” Carol whispers, gesturing towards the wall adorned with the vacant frames that once held the iconic artworks. We approach the blank spaces, and with the stealth of conspirators in a cosmic caper, we hang the Warhols back in their designated spots. The skinks chirp in what seems like approval.

As we step back to admire our handiwork, a sudden flicker in the air catches my attention. The temporal fold reappears, pulsating with energy. Out steps a trio of beings that can only be described as futuristic art curators—floating entities adorned in chromatic robes, their faces obscured by holographic masks.

“We are the Aesthernauts,” one of them declares in a melodious voice that resonates with echoes of the far future. “We’ve detected a temporal disturbance in the art continuum. What manner of beings are you, meddling with the fabric of creative expression?”

Carol, undeterred, steps forward confidently. “We’re just ensuring that these Warhols find their way home. No harm done.”

The Aesthernauts exchange glances, their holographic masks displaying intricate patterns of abstract art. After a moment of silent contemplation, they nod in unison.

“Very well, art dwellers. Your intentions seem pure. We shall allow this temporal anomaly to close, but be warned—tampering with the art continuum has consequences.”

As the Aesthernauts step back into the temporal fold, it collapses behind them, leaving us in the quiet embrace of the museum. Carol turns to me, a mischievous grin on her face.

“We did it, Oll. The Warhols are back, and the Aesthernauts have granted us their surreal blessing. Another triumph for Topper and Lady Gray.”

And so, in the enigmatic halls of the museum, amidst the echoes of the temporal fold, our unlikely quartet celebrates a victory that blurs the boundaries between reality and Rudy Rucker’s whimsical imagination.

As we revel in our victorious return of the Warhols, a new twist unfolds within the museum’s surreal corridors. The Aesthernauts’ presence has left an indelible mark on the space-time fabric, causing the artwork to come alive with pulsating energy. The once-static Warhols now exhibit dynamic, animated scenes—Warholian visions that stretch the boundaries of reality.

Jenna, always the inquisitive skink, nudges one of the artworks with her snout, and to our amazement, the scene within the frame spills out into the room. We find ourselves amidst a lively, abstract dance of colors and shapes, a living manifestation of Warhol’s pop art philosophy.

“What have we stumbled upon?” I marvel, as Jenna and Kanka join the animated dance, their rubbery bodies undulating in harmony with the vibrant artwork.

Carol, with her newfound ability to understand the skinks, interprets their joyful chirps. “The Aesthernauts have bestowed upon these Warhols a touch of the fourth dimension. They are now windows into alternate realities, portals to worlds only hinted at in the mind of Andy Warhol.”

Excitement courses through us as we explore these dynamic canvases, stepping into one artwork after another. Each frame leads us to a different surreal dimension—a pixelated dreamscape, a neon-lit cyberpunk city, a psychedelic wonderland reminiscent of a cosmic carnival.

However, the Aesthernauts’ warning echoes in the air. Our meddling with the art continuum has consequences, and the boundaries between the real and the surreal begin to blur even further. Time itself becomes fluid within the animated frames, and we find ourselves navigating through Warhol-inspired realms where past, present, and future intertwine.

As we venture deeper into this kaleidoscopic adventure, the line between observer and artwork becomes increasingly blurred. The Aesthernauts’ enigmatic presence lingers, hinting at the possibility of more unpredictable encounters and mind-bending twists in our quest to navigate the ever-shifting tapestry of art and reality.

[And by the way here’s another painting with skinks, I kind of painted them by accident in I think December, 2023, and that’s how all this started. By the way, ChatGPT has the mistaken impression that my skinks are reptiles although, granted, real world skinks are a kind of lizard.]

ChatGPT Continuation Run Two

(So, okay, this is ChatGPT’s second go at extending my story. And this go is completely different!  ChatGPT doen’t bother repeating itself. It uses a fresh round of ranom choices and comes up with that’s totally different yet always internally consisten. Like I said, I’m flabbergasted. I heard the hype and I didn’t believe it.  But, my dears, it’s true.)

As we soared through the rain-soaked air on our skink steeds, the city lights blurred into a kaleidoscope below us. Carol, clad in her fashionable gray gear, clung to Jenna with a mix of fear and exhilaration. I, in my yellow oilskins, gripped Kanka tightly, my top hat somehow staying put despite the gusting winds.

“Look, Oll!” Carol shouted over the rush of the wind and rain, her voice tinged with a blend of dread and wonder. “The city… it’s like a circuit board, and we’re the rogue electrons!”

I couldn’t help but laugh, the absurdity of the situation mixing with the adrenaline pumping through my veins. The skinks, seeming to sense our mood, accelerated, zipping through the air with a playful agility. Below us, the city was a twinkling grid, indifferent to the bizarre spectacle above.

The two Rudys.

As we neared the Box Farm, our destination seemingly chosen by some unspoken agreement, Kanka and Jenna began to circle, descending in a tight spiral. The Box Farm, a cluster of container homes and artistic studios, looked like a geometric puzzle from above, its residents blissfully unaware of the aerial oddity above them.

Landing softly on a flat rooftop, the skinks unfurled their bodies, allowing us to dismount. Carol and I exchanged glances, a silent understanding passing between us. We were partners in this surreal escapade, bonded by the bizarre.

“The Warhols,” I said, breaking the silence. “We need to recreate them. But how?”

Carol looked thoughtful, her eyes reflecting the neon glow of the city. “The skinks ate them, right? So maybe, just maybe, they can… reproduce them?”

It was a wild idea, yet in a night filled with flying lizards and art-eating escapades, it seemed almost plausible. We turned to the skinks, who chirruped in response, their bodies shimmering with an otherworldly glow.

My photographer nephew, Embry Rucker III.

Jenna and Kanka began to contort, their bodies undulating in a mesmerizing dance. Slowly, images started to form on their scales – vibrant, pulsating recreations of the Warhol portraits they had consumed. Each portrait was a perfect replica, yet imbued with a strange, living essence.

Unknown random baby playing in a grill

“We need to get these back to the museum,” Carol said, awe in her voice. “But how do we explain this? How do we even begin to return them without causing a bigger scene?”

I pondered for a moment, then an idea struck me. “We don’t explain. We just replace them, silently, like art ninjas. Let the world wonder.”

Grinning, Carol nodded. “Art ninjas. I like that.”

As we began to plan our covert operation, the rain ceased, leaving the city bathed in a serene, misty glow. The skinks, now our unlikely allies in this artistic heist, seemed ready for the next phase of our adventure.

In a world where reality bent and twisted like a Salvador Dali painting, we were about to add our own surreal brushstrokes. Tonight, we weren’t just observers of art; we were its creators, its saviors, its silent guardians. And as the first light of dawn began to creep over the horizon, we set off to restore the Warhols, our hearts racing with the thrill of the unknown.

As we embarked on our mission, the city still slumbered, unaware of the peculiar drama unfolding in its midst. The skinks, with their newly adorned Warhol skins, slithered beside us, a surreal parade marching through the deserted streets. Our footsteps echoed in the empty urban canyons, each step taking us closer to our destination.

[RIP Terry Bisson 1942-2024]

The air was still thick with the aftermath of the rain, a misty haze that seemed to warp the edges of reality. Streetlights flickered, casting long, dancing shadows that played tricks on our eyes. Every sound seemed amplified, from the distant bark of a dog to the soft hiss of the skinks moving alongside us.

“Feels like we’re in a cyberpunk fairy tale,” Carol whispered, her voice barely audible over the sound of our footsteps.

I nodded, feeling the weight of the moment. We were doing more than just returning stolen art; we were stitching the fabric of reality back together, repairing a tear in the mundane world caused by our extraordinary night.

As we approached the museum, the first challenge presented itself: getting inside without alerting anyone. The building loomed before us, a fortress of culture and history. But with Jenna and Kanka, we had more than just brute force on our side; we had the magic of the absurd.

Paintings by Sylvia and by me.

Jenna fluttered up to a second-story window, her body glowing softly in the pre-dawn light. With a gentle nudge, the window swung open, as if welcoming us back. We climbed through, the skinks following silently, their bodies contracting and expanding in an eerie, rhythmic dance.

Inside, the museum was a labyrinth of shadows and echoes. Our footsteps sounded sacrilegious in the hallowed halls, but we pressed on, guided by the faint memory of where the Warhols had once hung.

Reaching the gallery, we set to work. The skinks, understanding our intent, began to shed their Warhol scales, each one a perfect replica of the stolen art. We hung them with care, replacing the lost masterpieces with these bizarre, living replicas. The task was meticulous, demanding our full concentration, but as each portrait found its place, a sense of accomplishment filled the air.

Finally, as the first rays of the sun began to filter through the windows, we stepped back to admire our work. The gallery was restored, the Warhols back in their rightful place, albeit with a secret only we knew.

“Art ninjas indeed,” Carol said, a smile playing on her lips.

We slipped out of the museum as quietly as we had entered, leaving no trace of our presence. The city was waking up, oblivious to the night’s surreal events. As we walked away, the skinks beside us, I couldn’t help but feel that we had touched something beyond the ordinary, a hidden layer of the world where art and magic intertwined.

And as the city came to life around us, I knew that this adventure would forever color our perception of the world. In the ordinary, we had found the extraordinary, and in the mundane, the magical. The skinks, now part of our strange journey, slithered away, disappearing into the waking city, leaving us with memories of a night where reality was not just bent, but joyously broken and beautifully remade.

That’s all, folks!

Rudy's Blog is powered by WordPress