Log:Things Dreamt of in Your Philosophy
Briar talks about Danny sometimes, an incarnation they were particularly fond of. This morning, they come out of their room dressed in tight jeans and an old AC/DC t-shirt, unshaven, with their long hair loose. "Do you want to meet Danny?" they ask. "Just you and me? No dumb boys? We can go to the Anywhere Room in 1989, and I'll be him. I mean, I'll still be me, but I'll also be him. We don't have to go to the Eager Beaver Lodge. We can go to Eugene, Portland, anywhere you want, really. We could hang out at the commune or the arcade under the U of O student union. Your choice."
Flick beams from where she was eating breakfast in her sun dress with the red and blue card backs. "Sure! That sounds awesome. I haven't been to the lodge. Or Eugene." Pause. "Wait, doesn't Portland have some kind of huge bookstore? I remember something about a giant bookstore."
"Yeah, Powell's," Briar says. "And they got a little pizza place right across the street. You wanna go to Powell's? The downside is you can't really bring anything back, but you can read what you find while you're there. The lodge was pretty cool, though. Nice scenery, a lake. The lakehouse was cool. Honestly, if you take away all the murder and death, it was really nice."
Flick laughs. "Hmm, well, true, but from what someone else was saying, any book I found there, I could find on the bookshelves here. It just means I should browse to know what books to look for here, right?" She considers. "Murder and death is kind of a lot to take away, but nice scenery and a lake sounds great, too."
Briar leads the way to the Anywhere Room door and says, "Before the killing, the lake was great is all I'm saying. That first day, it was some of the most fun I've ever had. The next night, we threw a concert, and Chance decked me." Something Briar sounds fond of. It's all water under the bridge now.
The door opens onto a busy street in Portland, Oregon, and they find themselves standing in front of Powell's, a bookstore that takes up a whole city block. "Little known fact, Danny was actually a reader," Briar says. Only it's not quite Briar. The person standing there looks a lot like Briar, but he's just a little more masculine, a little more tan, and he carries himself a lot more laid back. "Philosophy, in particular. He was big into existentialism."
Flick laughs. "Was that the one where you were on coke? Or he was on coke?" She sounds a little unsure. "Huh. Existentialism? Interesting. I'm often surprised by who is and isn't a reader." And then she bounces into the store, looking around. "Okay, I think I love this place." She grabs one of the maps. "Look! They have maps! It's a bookstore that needs maps! Okay! Which sections should we be sure to hit? I want to check in on Science Fiction and Fantasy. And Mathematics."
"He was coked up," Briar, or 'Danny,' says. "I was stoned, but I was always stoned." He tentatively reaches into a pocket, then produced a joint. "Yep. I knew it." He puts the joint back and follows Flick into the store with an easy stride. He glances at the map. "Hey, look at that. Why don't I hit Philosophy while you hit Mathematics? I'm not really a numbers guy. We could meet up for Fiction and Fantasy."
Flick grins. "Sure. That works." She considers. "Wait... we're in my past. I'll just come with you to philosophy. Math will all be old things. You can show me some of your favorites." She frowns a little. "Time is now confusing."
"You should have Chance bring you back in 2018," Briar says. "If it's still here then, all the math will be new." He makes his way toward the Philosophy section. "The good thing about Philosophy is dead white guys don't tend to say new stuff." He smiles crookedly. "I'm kidding, mostly. There are some great feminist philosophers in more modern times. I'm curious if 2018 has any more. Do you like any particular school of philosophy? I'm all about the existentialists and consequentialists."
Flick shakes her head. "Not really. I mostly ended up reading formal logic stuff which is sort of the borderlands between math and philosophy." She grins, "He took Dare and I to an amusement park for roller coasters and to meet his sister. And he showed me his phone... which was... I had no idea where to start. I barely had an idea how to turn it on. Also, as cool as it was, it was distracting from the roller coasters. So yeah, I'll try to get him to bring me back here for an afternoon. Maybe I can spend a little more time with the phone, too."
"Those phones are cool. I've never really had one, though. I've either been from before their time or when they were ancient and no one used them anymore. I figured out how to take pictures on one, though." Once they're faced with a wall of philosophy texts, he says, "I read a lot of formal logic my freshman year. It's pretty cool, where philosophy meets science and math. I just really got into the thought experiments and, like, the nature of humanity. I mean, not necessarily why we're here, but what are we doing here? Ethics, and stuff."
He trails his fingertips over a book about Kant. "There's deontology, which says we are obligated to one another, and our actions should be based on whether or not an action is inherently good or bad. Kant said if something is wrong some of the time, it's wrong all of the time. Like lying is always wrong, even when it spares someone's feelings, because lying is wrong, period." He indicates another book and says, "But Jeremy Bentham, the inventor of modern utilitarianism, says the greatest good to the greatest number of people is what determines if something is good or bad. So if, say, stealing a loaf of bread feeds a family at very little loss to the loaf's owner, stealing is okay."
Flick blinks at the discussion of the phones. "Wait, they take pictures, too? Huh." then she grins and listens to the philosophical discussion. "I... think ethics are important, but I must admit I'm probably closer to utilitarianism on that front. Though, of course, part of the problem is determining what will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And, for that matter, what counts as doing good for someone. Because good for one person can be bad for another. Also, if the good is diluted across enough people that it negligible... even if it's arguably more total good, is that really better than a more measurable good for a still large, but smaller number of people. I guess, part of the problem is I like things being quantifiable, but I know there are a lot of things which aren't."
Briar grins at Flick. "You're bringing up the totally legit criticisms of utilitarianism. One thought experiment says let's say you've got five patients who are dying, but they can be saved with an organ transplant. According to utilitarianism, the ethical thing to do would be to kill one healthy person and distribute their organs to the five sick ones. Five people live versus one dying. But no ethical medical professional would even suggest such a thing, you know?" He beams. Then he says, "Then there's virtue ethics that says there are certain virtues, and if you just embody those virtues, your actions will be good because they spring from your inherent goodness."
Briar selects a book by Sarte. "Then there are the existentialists who kind of say the opposite. What we do is what makes us who we are, not the other way around. A human being is an individual first, with choices and responsibilities. We determine our own codes, our own meaning. That's what I like about existentialism. It says we define ourselves, not through what we think or say, but by what we do."
Flick scrunches her nose. "Yeah, there is a point at which the harm to one offsets the good to the rest. Though, also, part of the problem is that the rejection rates on implanted organs make that far from a case in which all the people who need the transplants would be fine." She trails her fingers along the books. "I... hmm. Well, other than I think speach is an action of sorts. The words you say can help or harm."
She shrugs. "I think context is important. Intentions are important, not as important as effects, but... I... hmm. It's complicated." Pause. "Which is, I suppose, why so many people ahve written so many books on the subject."
"For the sake of the thought exercise," Briar says, "we're assuming they'll all be okay. It's still not acceptable to murder one person to save five, even if the success rate would be 100%." They consider Flick thoughtfully. "Sure, speaking is an action. I meant more like, you can say you're a hero, but if you don't follow that up with heroic action, you're not really defining yourself. Not authentically. Of course, you can't really talk about existentialism without talking about the absurdity of existence. The universe is meaningless, having only the meaning we give it. Which is why I don't get too worked up about the nature of the Facility or the lives we lead." He shrugs. "It makes no sense, but nothing does. What we have is each other, and the moment we're in. That's how I try to live."
Flick grins. "I... would agree we only really have each other. And... no, saying you are something and being that thing definitely aren't the same." She considers. "I'm not sure everything is meaningless, though. But... we don't necessarily know the meaning, so... yeah, okay, it has the meaning we give it." Flick scrunches her nose again. "I tend to live a little bit in the future, I think. Not just the now, but the what will be or what could be. But... like a range of things which could be and how likely they are. With less certainty the further out from the now." She laughs. "Okay, that sounds way too pretentious."
"I don't think meaninglessness is a bad thing," Briar says. "There's freedom in being able to give things meaning, and a certain authenticity. If I decide to be your friend, it's because I want that, I want that to be my reality. I'm not just acting out of some external force compelling me. Whatever we have between us, and whatever it is we owe to each other, we chose that. We entered into it because that's what we wanted. I dunno. I like that."
Flick beams. "Fair. And we can certainly still critique what others choose to do and the meaning they choose to make. I think... People who only do things because they are compelled to by outside forces... those aren't really... If you're only 'good' because someone is watching - I'm not sure you're really good. You're not necessarily bad, but... I was always a little concerned about the people who could only be good if they thought they'd be punished for not being so. And... they often ended up with weird ideas about what constituted good. Because they needed some external morality imposed on them, but then didn't know how to decide if it was really moral. They had to take it all or none." She shudders a little.
"Then you have people who twist their external compulsions to match what they happen to want to do, like discriminate or oppress." Briar shakes their head. "Bastards will find ways to be bastards. Though, I mean, I know existentialism lends itself to atheism pretty easily, but I was a pretty devout Jew when I was studying all this. In every lifetime I've lived, I've believed in a higher power. But, like, even then, all we have is what other people have told us, and in the end, we're still responsible for what we believe and how much faith we put in the words of other people. We make that meaning."
Flick hmms. "Well. Yeah. People can be weird. I'm not particularly religious. Mostly I just haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it. There was always other stuff to focus on. And my parents certainly weren't about to spend time at church." She shrugs again. "I guess I'm agnostic. If I'm anything. At least for now."
"There's a thought that we're in Purgatory," Briar says, "and that we're going through different lifetimes to improve ourselves, and that maybe when we come back and someone's door is blank, it's because they learned what they had to learn and moved on. Then again, there's a thought that we're part of some alient experiment in the far future, which I guess would be our present. I don't know what I believe, but I think about what I want to be. I want to be your friend, because I like you. I want to be kind, because the world could use kindness."
Flick beams. "Well, I'm glad you want to be my friend, because I like you, too. And... yeah, the world can pretty much always use more kindness. I may not always manage kind, but I try to at least not hurt people when I can avoid it." She sighs. "Yeah, there's also that we're all part of a virtual reality simulation, just some kind of AIs set up with different parameters to see how they interact with each other."
Briar grins. "I dunno, it makes about as much sense as anything else." They look at their hands, fingertips calloused from playing guitar. "We could just be 1s and 0s, and we think we feel. But isn't that just as good as feeling it? We're sentient. We can question our own existence. Maybe we're not real to whoever is doing this, but we're real to each other."
Flick nods. "Oh, well, at that point, I'm back on firmer ground. Even if they keep redefining the parameters for what constitutes sentience in AIs. Moving goalposts are always fun. But particularly if we're way in the future from where either of us started, then they almost certainly have things much closer to things we would absolutely not be able to tell from human intelligences." She shrugs. "Plus it would be almost impossible to prove or disprove from the inside."
"It seems like it's out of our hands, regardless, doesn't it?" Briar says with a simple, unbothered air. It's the Danniness of it all; he just doesn't get all that excited about stuff. "It does make sense, though, that this is a simulation. How else could I be Danny in 1985 in Powell's with someone who was never even at the lodge? Felicity would've been a child, but you're here, and you're Flick. Physically, making all this would be, like, impossible. But if it's all 1s and 0s, no wonder we can make anything we can imagine."
Flick nods. "It's compelling, yeah. The other real options being magic or far enough future technology that it's indistinguishable from magic to most of us. I mean, if you can figure out teleporters and replicators, then this could all be done. Which leaves the question of whether we were some kind of psychic impressions or memory readings from real people."
"I wonder sometimes," Briar says. "My first incarnation, Martin, had no conceptualization of being genderfluid, but when I woke up in the Facility, and I looked in my closet, I had both mens and womens clothing, and I knew I wanted to wear this lovely kimono robe I found hanging there. I knew it felt right. It was a core part of me, but the only life I had any knowledge of was that of a man who hadn't considered a woman's robe a remote possibility. Whatever life I live, I return to that core identity, even though I'm mostly a bisexual man in my lifetimes. Except that one time I was a het trans woman."
Flick hmmms. "Yeah. I certainly didn't have any revelations like that. I mean... I'm not quite her, but we're... pretty close." She shrugs again. "Dare said something similar about his first life having been very homosexual and then having an identity crisis when he realized he was attracted to women as well in the facility." She frowns a little. "I am kind of worried about what my next life will be like. From... everyone else seems to have had lives which are hard on them. It's making me nervous."
Briar slings an arm around Flick's shoulders. "You're going to have a rough life," he says. "Everyone does. It's going to suck, and then you're going to wake up, and it's going to be over. That's the takeaway from all this: no matter how bad it gets, it won't last. No matter the torture, it ends."
Flick laughs and leans her head on Briar's shoulder. "Yeah, but we don't know that at the time. Still, true. I know, from here, that I will probably come back. And then I don't have to be that person again if I don't want to." She considers. "Okay... fiction or pizza?"
Briar gives Flick's shoulders a companionable squeeze. "Pizza. My brain has been fed, but my belly is empty. Man, this lifetime was good, but I've got the munchies, like, all the time. Definitely have Chance bring you here in 2018 and look up some new math titles. Won't that be cool? To learn new math? I mean if you like learning math."
Flick laughs and hangs her head. "I do like learning math. I am a sad, sad geek. I'll do that." Then she grins. "Okay. Pizza it is. There's all kinds of fun math to do with pizza. Round food divided into wedges is good for math. Plus, you can make pi jokes. So, lead on towards munchies!"