If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

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Miles Invictus
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If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Miles Invictus » Sun Feb 17, 2008 7:24 am UTC

I like stories that speculate whether our brains have, for lack of a better term, security vulnerabilities.

The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution, Christopher Cherniak.
This was the first story I'd ever read that examined this issue, and got me interested in the general idea. The premise is that a riddle exists -- more of a logical proposition, I suppose -- that would cause a person's brain to crash upon being solved.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson.
I need to get a copy of this, as I haven't read it in years. Lots of interesting things, from the actual "snow crash" the book is about, to its discussion of language and memetics.

So...does anyone else like stories that explore these topics? What are some other good ones?

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby apricity » Sun Feb 17, 2008 1:04 pm UTC

I don't know if this is exactly what you mean, but there's this book by Stephen King called Cell, where there's a signal sent out on all cell phones that basically deprograms people's brains to the most basic, primitive motives. Everyone who was on a cell phone when it was sent out starts attacking each other like animals. It's pretty creepy.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Izawwlgood » Sun Feb 17, 2008 1:14 pm UTC

Theres a few great Authority story arcs (Warren Ellis's) where a word/sentence gets transmitted from another world that makes people share it with someone else then commit suicide.
Two characters from an alternate dimention confront their counter parts, a couple, in the home dimention to help stop the spread of this idea/virus, and after stopping the virus, they tell the couple that in their dimention, they've broken up, then leave. It leaves a seed of doubt for the original couple, and the last line is "You can't kill an idea" :shock:
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Sun Feb 17, 2008 3:37 pm UTC

There's a Monty Python skit along the same lines.

If you go onto the comic discussion for the Basilisk comic, someone posted a story about an image that caused death.

In Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, someone is given too much truth drug, and learns the whole "truth" which drives him either completely insane or completely sane (who can tell, it's HHGTTG) and he dies not long afterwards.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Gravitas Shortfall » Sun Feb 17, 2008 4:09 pm UTC

In The Cassini Division by Ken Macleod, the god-lost posthumans that inhabit jupiter can transmit "mind viruses" via radio signal, making traditional forms of communication, as well as all electronic computing, impractical.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Pathway » Sun Feb 17, 2008 6:02 pm UTC

Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby ducknerd » Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:13 am UTC

This idea is always interesting. China Mieville wrote a short story about this as an encyclopedia entry about some word which compelled people to say it over and over, driving them insane, and thus propagated through humanity. And then he printed the word.

Also, Snow Crash is a good book, but it just can't be taken seriously. I appreciated how the author was trying to bring together a bunch of disciplines, but it never really came together. The tremendous logical hole Stephenson leaves is how someone, pre-language, could figure out the idea of memetics and create a precise audio equivalent of the mind's language. Seems a little silly that neurolinguistic programming could even exist, much less on the level of a programming language.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby JayDee » Mon Feb 18, 2008 8:26 am UTC

The interactive fiction game Slouching Towards Bedlam touches on the idea (play online.)
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby phlip » Mon Feb 18, 2008 11:44 am UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:If you go onto the comic discussion for the Basilisk comic, someone posted a story about an image that caused death.

For convenience:
explodingbat wrote:comp.basilisk FAQ

Someone also posted the image (spoilered for brain-destroying-ness):
Spoiler:
Image

Code: Select all

enum ಠ_ಠ {°□°╰=1, °Д°╰, ಠ益ಠ╰};
void ┻━┻︵​╰(ಠ_ಠ ⚠) {exit((int)⚠);}
[he/him/his]

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby zombie_monkey » Mon Feb 18, 2008 2:21 pm UTC

Виктор Пелевин - Бубен нижнего мира.

ducknerd wrote:Also, Snow Crash is a good book, but it just can't be taken seriously. I appreciated how the author was trying to bring together a bunch of disciplines, but it never really came together. The tremendous logical hole Stephenson leaves is how someone, pre-language, could figure out the idea of memetics and create a precise audio equivalent of the mind's language. Seems a little silly that neurolinguistic programming could even exist, much less on the level of a programming language.

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http://zompist.com/snow.html

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:42 pm UTC

Pathway wrote:Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.


That was an amazing story. Props.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Nyarlathotep » Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:48 pm UTC

phlip wrote:Someone also posted the image (spoilered for brain-destroying-ness):
Spoiler:
Image


Great, lovely, I looked at it. Is my brain going to kill itself in a few weeks?
'Gehȳrst þū, sǣlida, hwæt þis folc segeð?
hī willað ēow tō gafole gāras syllan,
ǣttrynne ord and ealde swurd,
þā heregeatu þe ēow æt hilde ne dēah.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Memo » Mon Feb 18, 2008 9:56 pm UTC

Pathway wrote:Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.

Yay, someone else knows about Ted Chiang.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby George Orr » Mon Feb 18, 2008 10:18 pm UTC

Pathway wrote:Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.

Damn, you totally beat me to it. The moment I read the first post I thought of this story.

Seriously, if you haven't read Chiang, go out and buy Stories of Your Life and Others. It has pretty much every story he's written so far, and almost every single one is brilliant. A few of them even have similar mind/reality themes, or at least sub-themes.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby btilly » Tue Feb 19, 2008 3:56 am UTC

The movie Pi is an example of what you want.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby nevskey1 » Tue Feb 19, 2008 5:59 am UTC

I think that Philip K Dick fits nicely into this thread. Particularly VALIS, whose praises I've sang in the appropriate place. Today I read his story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (off of which Total Recall was based) and I think that is also a nice example of this sort of thing. Much of his later stuff really fit's the bill here.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby no-genius » Tue Feb 19, 2008 10:26 am UTC

Also, in the book 'Red Dwarf', there is a drug so powerful that you get addicted just by looking at it. Which makes police raids difficult. Not quite the same thing.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Felstaff » Tue Feb 19, 2008 4:25 pm UTC

Pathway wrote:Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.


You have totally fulfilled your promise. On a scale of 1 to Worth It, that was at least a 42.

Also,
btilly wrote:The movie Pi is an example of what you want.

I concur. (You concur?) I concur.

Watch this space ---->.............................................................<----- for later edits on some stories I have read, but can't yet recall, re: similar mindfucks.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby no-genius » Tue Feb 19, 2008 5:02 pm UTC

Oh, has a scanner darkly been mentioned?

I guess that's more about drugs, but ...
Spoiler:
the two hemispheres of his brain get disconnected
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby ducknerd » Tue Feb 19, 2008 8:18 pm UTC

Regarding your image: I'm a little amused that I automatically clicked the spoiler tag just as I read what it was spoilered for. In a fit of paranoia, I instantly clicked the tag back up, so the picture just flashed at me. All I saw was an eye and a lot of blue. I wonder if my brain will self-destruct now? I'll keep you guys posted.

Also, that was a goddamned amazing story.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Jorpho » Wed Feb 20, 2008 3:05 am UTC

David Brin once wrote a short story entitled "Shhhh..." in which alien contact with humanity requires the expulsion from all records of something that the aliens found offensive, and no one can quite recall what it is. Not a particularly notable story, actually, but the fact that I'm remembering it at all must count for something.

I've never read the trilogy (though I'd like to), but isn't the idea of "Fnord" in the Illumninati books something along these lines?

I am also reminded of a snippet in Pratchett's "Sourcery":
Spoiler:
There the men in taverns drink coffee laced with desert orakh. This drink (made from cacti sap and scorpion venom) is one of the most virulent alcoholic beverages in the universe. But the nomads do not drink it for its intoxicating powers, but to mitigate the effect of Klatchian coffee. It made you knurd.

The state of knurdness is not like sobriety, as an opposite to drunkenness. Knurdness strips away all illusion, all the comforting pink fog in which people spend their lives, and lets them see and think clearly for the first time ever. One can imagine that, after a bit of screaming, the subject will make sure never to get knurd again, ever.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Miles Invictus » Thu Feb 21, 2008 3:42 pm UTC

phlip wrote:For convenience:
explodingbat wrote:comp.basilisk FAQ

Someone also posted the image (spoilered for brain-destroying-ness):
Spoiler:
Image


I'm going to leave that in one of the printers at work. Hilarity will ensue.

When I read Cherniak's story, it was in a book called "The Mind's I." Basically, a bunch of stories about the mind, enclosed in a kind of philosophical framework. I remember a number of mildly interesting stories, but "Riddle of the Universe" has always struck me as the best chapter in the book.

Interestingly enough, Cherniak actually is a neuroscientist. For reference, his university website.

I believe Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story about a melody that had the same effect, though it only functioned on the musically literate.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Stereo » Fri Feb 22, 2008 3:57 am UTC

Miles Invictus wrote:I believe Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story about a melody that had the same effect, though it only functioned on the musically literate.

Oddly enough, it is called "The Ultimate Melody", it is based upon the idea that if there are so-called 'earworms' (songs that get stuck in your head), there must be one most effective tune (spoiler). which jams up the brain entirely


I wonder if there's some minimum resolution for that image or if your avatar is sufficient to send the entire forum raving mad.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Fri Feb 22, 2008 4:06 am UTC

Stereo wrote:
Miles Invictus wrote:I believe Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story about a melody that had the same effect, though it only functioned on the musically literate.

Oddly enough, it is called "The Ultimate Melody", it is based upon the idea that if there are so-called 'earworms' (songs that get stuck in your head), there must be one most effective tune (spoiler). which jams up the brain entirely


I wonder if there's some minimum resolution for that image or if your avatar is sufficient to send the entire forum raving mad.


xkcd readers are probably desensitized. Calculating, rational people (ie, nerds) learn to separate thought processes from emotions, and thus can process the image without harm. Besides, this is the internet, if we could be killed by disturbing images, we wouldn't be here.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby no-genius » Fri Feb 22, 2008 12:37 pm UTC

Sir_Elderberry wrote:Besides, this is the internet, if we could be killed by disturbing images, we wouldn't be here.

OH, snap! *dies*
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Belial » Fri Feb 22, 2008 6:24 pm UTC

Stereo wrote:Oddly enough, it is called "The Ultimate Melody", it is based upon the idea that if there are so-called 'earworms' (songs that get stuck in your head), there must be one most effective tune (spoiler). which jams up the brain entirely


It was in "Tales from the White Hart" wasn't it?
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby rrwoods » Fri Feb 22, 2008 7:46 pm UTC

There's apparently a movie coming out called "The Signal". I can't tell from the previews whether it's based on this concept, but it looks mighty interesting. People hear something through their TV or phone, and they randomly attack the nearest person with intent to kill. Looks like it might be based on the previously mentioned "Cell".
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby notzeb » Fri Feb 22, 2008 8:07 pm UTC

DON'T WATCH IT!!!
Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­Zµ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«VµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«VµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«ZµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­Z

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Stereo » Fri Feb 22, 2008 9:11 pm UTC

Belial wrote:It was in "Tales from the White Hart" wasn't it?

First printed in If, 1957. Collected in Tales from the White Hart indeed, as well as The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, which is what I have.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby jobriath » Fri Feb 22, 2008 9:27 pm UTC

I half remember a short story in a cyberpunkish book (Jeff Noon?) about a ritual which lasted fifteen minutes or so consisting of a script of words and motions. Either sequence could be said/performed safely in isolation, but the combination would activate a small gland which would release a subtle poison. I recall it being referred to as the "sacred wound", since it was taken by some as proof that God installed an off button.

The story is first person, and the final lines are something like:

Someone, somewhere wrote:...and bring together the forefinger and thumb to form a circle, saying the word "circumference".
Thus.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby nevskey1 » Mon Feb 25, 2008 2:19 am UTC

@Pathway: One more round of thanks coming at you. That story was incredible and totally unminimizable (or un-different-tab-able, as the case may be). The bit about languages reminded me of a similar part in Borges's Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

And, thinking of Borges, I remembered his story The Aleph, which I think is also along the lines of what this thread is talking about.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby jobriath » Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:48 pm UTC

There's a much gentler version of this that I've recently been falling prey to.

Imagine associating the game with The Parrot.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Sir_Elderberry » Tue Feb 26, 2008 12:54 am UTC

jobriath wrote:There's a much gentler version of this that I've recently been falling prey to.

Imagine associating the game with The Parrot.


God damn it, the game is already weaving its way into far too much. The concept of certain memories triggering others? Yeah, that currently triggers a loss.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby notzeb » Tue Feb 26, 2008 1:20 am UTC

Pathway wrote:Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.

Man, that was pretty good. Would have been funny if it ended like this though:
Spoiler:
Immediately my mind is working faster than ever before. Against my will, a lethal realization is suggesting itself to me. I'm trying to halt the associations, but -

Ooh, shiny!
Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­Zµ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«VµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«VµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«ZµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­Z

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Jorpho » Sun Sep 07, 2008 3:10 am UTC

Pathway wrote:Ted Chiang's Understand, which I will link to in just a moment (well, really, I already copied the link down there but this text will appear above it so from your perspective it's like I'm just about to link to it), is a GREAT story that fits in perfectly with this thread's topic.

The guy isn't very prolific but he's brilliant. And I'll leave it to you to see how brilliant he is: Ladies and gentlemen, the complete story, online for your reading pleasure now!

There is little excuse for not reading it right now. I promise promise promise it's worth it.


Ever open something in a browser tab that you mean to look at later, and you end up reloading it over and over again, but somehow you never get around to looking at it? You shouldn't let that happen with this story.

(In fact, I ought to buy Mr. Chiang's book now. "Story of Your Life" was pretty darn good too, after all. Actually, it reads a lot like this one.)

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby Check With Requisitions » Sun Sep 07, 2008 8:10 pm UTC

nevskey1 wrote:@Pathway: One more round of thanks coming at you. That story was incredible and totally unminimizable (or un-different-tab-able, as the case may be). The bit about languages reminded me of a similar part in Borges's Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

And, thinking of Borges, I remembered his story The Aleph, which I think is also along the lines of what this thread is talking about.


Speaking of Borges, "The Zahir" is an even better example ( of what we're talking about. It's about a random object (it could be anywhere) that slowly occupies the mind of whoever looks at it until it's the only thing they can think about. It's narrated by a guy who sees it.

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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby pollywog » Mon Sep 08, 2008 12:21 am UTC

I have a SF story somewhere about an object that, when rubbed with the thumb, slowly hypnotises the rubber, making them incredibly relaxed. I'll try to find it.

And Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby is about a nursery rhyme that kills whoever hears it. Good book.
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Re: If I don't understand it, it can't destroy my brain!

Postby eternal luna » Mon Sep 08, 2008 9:12 am UTC

I read that one a while back, but one of the only things that has stuck in my mind is the creepiness of the police officer talking about sex with dead bodies as the best he's ever had.
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