Lovecraft In The Time Of Corona

On a Reddit psychonaut thread of all places began an intense study of research that eventually resulted in one of the most cited papers of both the Neuroscience and Psychology journals of CE 2078, titled very accessibly Contraspatial Cingulate Cortex Perception, or SSSR in short, after a day-long Reddit discussion about what to name the paper ended up awarding the most points to a short comment by user Stay@theJungMCA about a similar phenomenon last seen in geographically confused cold-war era citizens of the Soviet Union, written as CCCP in Cyrillic, transliterated as SSSR in Latin, and translated as USSR. The original thread has now been removed from Reddit, after experienced members expressed concerns about increased scrutiny upon other popular threads on the forum, like the right conditions for methyl displacements across the family of tryptophan stereoisomers that they referred to variously as Quantized truth (Q capitalized but not T, even psychonauts refrain from beliefs in absolute truth), Hegelian Protein Synthesis and, for reasons unknown, Pomegranate. Normal people will of course know these organic compounds by their more common epithet, drugs.

In the 2050s, New Bell Labs Inc. sank close to a billion VC dollars into teleportation research. With most of the resources earmarked for progress in fundamental physics, less than 5% was spent on the small room with a wooden board that said ‘Psychology Department’ that was outsourced to Erik Kleiner, an ex-Harvard professor who’d quit his tenured position to become a science fiction writer and then had a change of heart when he found that his fictional concepts found more mentions as hypotheses in published papers than any of his actual work. He focused his research at New Bell Labs on behavioral insights from users of top end virtual reality headsets, concluding across a series of memoranda to the oversight board that the human brain was perfectly capable of adjusting its spatio-visual fields of perception to rapidly changing geolocation stimuli. He did however hypothesize a set of negative effects at the margins of any given population, elaborating risk factors for outliers across psychological markers and setting potential saturation points for long-term accumulation of stimuli.

After the recent requisition for a new computer though, the psychology department was severely overdrawn on its budget, and the board of directors, balancing delicately the equally virtuous functions of stakeholder profitability, over-cautious reputation custodianship, and 8-figure personal bonuses for a successful on-time launch, were perfectly reasonable in taking a leaf out the previously received memorandum on ‘Mutually Fruitful Internal Negotiation, Edition 3’ from the funding-rich Human resources department that had discovered a small typo in the previously printed 10,000 copies and ordered a reprint. A French word was written with an aigu accent instead of the grave, a section of the company was appalled at the insensitivity towards the French employees, and when it was discovered there were none there was further outrage at the HR department for its obvious bias against hiring French people with a partisan group calling out the locus standi of the outraged group provoking one of them to investigate, discover and reveal his 1.5% French genetic heritage. Taking a leaf out of the same memorandum, one without a typo, it was agreed that the HR team would reprint the memorandum after hiring a French employee to spell-check every memorandum in the future. 1.5% Naveen Deshpande, who insisted people pronounce his surname ‘Deschamps’, did not get the job, and further quit in a huff when it was pointed out that the French did not pronounce ‘Deschamps’ the way he did. It might have been fine had it not been the new French employee who pointed it out.

The leaf sagely pointed out the importance, especially among upper management, to incorporate but not execute any ideas that employees come up with, to reward their initiative, signal a willingness to listen, while doing minimum damage to the efficient operations of the company. The board summoned the legal advisory team, a well-funded rotating pool of suits whose personal motto was to convert deep personal conversations into the new small-talk. Depending on your personal bias of either cynicism or admiration for the legal community, it was left to your interpretation whether this motto stood as a giant middle finger to the institution of small-talk or of deep personal conversations. They shook hands with Erik, leaving the top hand on his for the few seconds longer that it took to ask questions like ‘I read your recent paper on Neurotransmitter fluid mechanics, incredibly fascinating!’ and ‘Last time we met was at the Annual conference, you and your wife looked so deeply in love, it made me want to really appreciate my own husband that much more!’, but not long enough for him to respond that he wasn’t hearing any questions per se, that he had since been divorced, and that his tweet about having published a paper on Neurotransmitter fluid mechanics was intended as a joke.

The board stressed on the legal team the importance of Erik’s hypotheses, so it was agreed that while no research would be done on said hypotheses, they were of crucial importance to the company, the scientific community and the public at large, and deserved no less than a full mention in the disclaimer policy. To drive home the fact that his ideas were being taken seriously and to engender a sense of ownership that true leaders possess in taking an idea through from conceptualization to completion, Erik was unanimously chosen to drive the process that resulted in the correct inclusion of said hypotheses into said disclaimer. Armed with a new computer, the psychology department exchanged a total of 175 emails with the legal advisory, over 2 weeks that included 7 days where either a member of the legal advisory team or the psychology department had taken a sick leave and it was considered bad form for the others to proceed on an email chain where all the copied members hadn’t had a proper chance to internalize the contents of strategic communication. The 176th mail was a triumphant final typo-free immaculately punctuated version of the disclaimer line elucidating the potential psychological hazards of commercial teleportation use and the acceptance of said hazards before being given a permit license. This was inserted between point 56c (In case of earthquakes registering above a Richter scale of 6.1, the user accepts the risk of being teleported underground and transformed instantly into proto-petroleum) and 57a (Consumption of alcohol after the 3rd green light will result in catastrophic explosion of the reconstituted bile duct), and generally ignored along with points 1 through 78f. Point 79 mentioned that points 1 through 78f had been thoroughly read and understood. This point was read and understood because it required a check-mark and people were generally conscientious enough to read the thing they were being made to sign, this separated the literate from those easily manipulated masses who had signed away their organs to the ghoulish owner of the world’s largest repository of music streamed for free.

The technology was rolled out in CE 2061 after a rigorous 2 year regulatory period with the Global Technocratic Alliance that declared its public risk assessment at Blue 7. In 2020, the Covid-19 Pandemic event caused a general pro-business anti-government uprising that resulted in a radical new body, the Global Regulatory Council. The first order of business for this revolutionary new body was to ratify an official change of name to The Global Regulatory Council For Regulatory Councils Globally, after an independent body raised a public interest litigation at the United Judiciary Authority based on an international market research group’s study that found that 95% of a randomly selected group of individuals misunderstood the Global Regulatory Council’s function to be one of developing, modifying, and enforcing regulations against product and service providers in order to maximize consumer protection. In reality, the council served the exact opposite function. Its actual role was to regulate the scope, scale, and method of regulations that regulatory bodies had previously been endowed with by those archaic institutions known as ‘governments’. While the credibility of the case was put in question by a sting operation that revealed that the Global Regulations Union was behind the commissioning of the study and the Regulatory Committee Globale was behind the now hopelessly dependent body that raised the PIL, the case was not dismissed after establishing that these two regulatory bodies were so incompetent that they neither knew of each other’s involvement nor took any steps to mask their shadow involvement beyond using the acronyms GRU and RCG instead of their full names. Promising to regulate the ability of regulatory councils to raise PIL’s against their regulating body, the defendant GRCRCG accepted the plaintiffs’ demands and formally passed the name-change resolution with sarcastic comments about how they couldn’t care less what they were called and how this was a perfect example of the pathetic bureaucracy that mandated their creation.

When reached for comment, GRU and RCG sheepishly admitted that they themselves had misunderstood the function of the GRCRCG believing that it was a rival regulatory body that might be stealing market share, and intending the PIL as a cease and desist of their entire operations. A week later, they had merged to form a new collaborative entity, GCURCG, which had nothing to do with regulations. It stood for Global Constitution United Research Control Group, a market intelligence and jurisprudence think tank that had discovered its competitive advantage in conducting randomized trial researches and using the results to make compelling legal cases in a vertically integrated organization that shared similar values.

Meanwhile, the GRCRCG set about minimizing the economic inefficiency of deadweight loss caused by regulatory authorities across the globe. Staffed entirely by scientists trained over years of word-association tests to react to the word regulatory with responses chosen only amongst the discrete set {apocalypse, danger, arbitrage, capture, sludge-molasses, committee-council-authority}, it took what used to be a thin libertarian tightrope of free-will versus compassion and turned it into a large flat platform atop a cliff, the kind that supported solidly the belief that mankind’s capacity for self determination remained paramount, and slyly shoved off the edge towards an admittedly exhilarating death the belief that people who made bad choices freely in the presence of complete information were degenerate junkie losers. Johannes Gustafsson, the lead scientist, suffered a personal tragedy when his son, with all paperwork duly signed, died in a BASE jumping accident off Pulpit Rock in Stavanger, Norway. In a show of heroic moral leadership, Johannes championed and then executed the subsequent bill that not only legalized the sport of BASE jumping, but also made Pulpit Rock the venue of its official annual convention. BASE jumpers quickly unionized into self-regulating bodies like the Global Jumpers Group Council. Stories started to trickle out about the positive impact of these associations, like the BJC’s collection of membership fees to rehabilitate the shattered confidence of traumatized eagles in their usual jumping area, or the very amicable settlement of the family whose picnic was utterly ruined by a spray of body parts when a BASE jumper collided into the rock face above them (the jumpers’ brother, co-signee, and companion at the time of the accident, agreed to teach the family’s 8-year old boy how to BASE jump. It was later revealed that the family held significant leverage, a finger and a portion of a kneecap that had dropped into their soup, that they refused to surrender for the funeral. ‘It’s not like I was asking for an arm and a leg’, the brother would later grumble about the unpleasant nature of the case). The stories helped the GRCRCG gather more support. No longer overly weighed down by the specter of political approval, the Council turned to more important matters, first among which was a public interest litigation filed for the right to be referred to simply as ‘the Council’. The successful result of this PIL was never in doubt, as the research conducted among randomized groups showing that 95% of test subjects were able to point in the general direction of the GRCRCG when asked what ‘the Council’ might refer to, as well as the actual case filed with the United Judicial Authority, were both carried out by the GCURCG, the Global Codification Union of Regulation Council Groups. This organization came from a merger of global regulation councils in the wake of the formation of ‘the Council’ rendering their original mandates untenable. To their substantial collective qualifications, they added to their board of directors the entire sitting bench of the United Judicial Authority. When challenged in court by the original GCURCG, the Global Constitution United Research Control Group, over acronym copyright infringement, they were able to use their judges not only to throw the case out summarily, but to reverse-sue the original GCURCG over acronym copyright infringement and tortious interference. Despite a very strong defense that included market surveys indicating that over 95% of respondents neither knew nor cared what GCURCG did or what it stood for or whether it was an ancient demonic curse, the defendant was found guilty and had to disband the organization. Their research wing was duly absorbed into the new, and now one and only, GCURCG.

The Council began to establish a number of new metrics for risk assessment. They quantified the probability of harm to an individual from indulging in a certain activity, returning a logarithmic number. For instance, 7 meant a 1 in 10⁷ chance of harm. Then they set up a relative ordinal scale for measuring the severity of harm, ranging from 0 to 10. This took a frustratingly long time to get a consensus on. It was assumed that it simply took a small meeting to start with defining the worst possible harm, 10, and then counting down in steps towards 0, no harm at all, establishing a skeleton that other ideas for harm would eventually be stapled onto in subsequent sessions. It was going quite well too, with many appreciative nods given to the bright-eyed sap who suggested death was a 10. The cynics and romantics reluctantly joined hands to claim death was no harm at all, a 5 at most, and that it was a tortured life that was a 10. They quickly parted hands though, during a fallout over whether death shared its vaulted 5th position with other harms like the first ever broken heart (team romantics) or the realization that civilization was a sham and humanity tragically doomed to existential hopelessness (it is not clear at this point if they would continue calling their faction ‘the cynics’, given they all seemed quite sincere about their stated position). A week of brainstorming finally yielded their first good idea, to check if the medical fraternity already had some simple lateral insights that even simple medical doctors might have, ones that might then be tailored with inspirational scientific genius to create the more nuanced and perfected scale. Two subsequent weeks were spent in a resentful grump when they realized that the medical fraternity had, for many decades, used a variety of highly sophisticated scales measuring harm, disease, and injury. A few weeks were then spent poking every possible hole in every existing medical scale, index, and formula. No nit was too insignificant. Perfection demanded pedants. Anything else was anarchy, and Karl Gustafsson would have died for nothing.

They found special comfort in resorting in exactly the sort of annoyingly inane arguments they had themselves too often been recipients of in their scientific careers, the ones that mistook abstraction for generalization and sagely argued for the irreducible individuality of the human species that made everyone a unique snowflake and generalized principles fundamentally fascist. With a sadistic glee that was far more powerful than any properties of judicious restraint that the irony of the situation might have contributed, they shook their heads at the various scales and said that pain was both the most real as well as the most personal aspect of the human experience. Its unique position made it straddle the pinnacle of the realm of subjectivity. Pain was as undeniable as it was unknowable. All these arguments were studiously collected in an impressive report that traced the history of the philosophy of pain from Telemachus, Timaeus and Hippocrates to Bentham, De Sade, and Dawkins. 200 pages of this treatise were duly completed over the course of a single week with ruthless efficiency. As they were about to submit the report, though, they hit a snag that delayed the final report by another month. This month was spent debating the relative merits and philosophical underpinnings that separated the camp that suggested they should end it ‘Sum Ergo Cruciato’ from the camp that insisted strongly on ‘Cruciato Ergo Sum’, with each camp feeling certain that the wrong choice would entirely change the meaning of the 200 previous pages and render them a combination of unintelligible and directly contradictory.

The Global Technocratic Alliance was called in to arbitrate on the matter and, if need be, regulate the operations, scope, and scale of the Council. Taking a leaf out of the memorandum recently issued by their well-funded HR department, they decided to allow the Council to fracture into their constituent camps so the dispute could be solved by the natural experiment of downstream stakeholders using their freedom of choice to pick sides. The HR department was often confused with the Human Resources department, when instead it stood for Humanist Res publica, an internationally mandated department in every single technocratic alliance member. The HR department was in charge of reclaiming the idealistic kernel of the erstwhile anarchism movement that had met with such a dismal end, turning the popular imagination instead towards the lofty utopian values of humanism, paramount status of the individual, and personal freedom. The department motto was mandated as ‘Agree to disagree’, as they regarded forced conformance as most antithetical to their philosophy. As far as mandates go, they were quite flexible about the motto, always first seeking the beautiful emergent syncretism over conservative principles. Thus were developed a huge number of innovative variants over a rich creative period across the fertile generative soil of various Technocratic Alliance member HR departments and the hundreds of branding, graphics, and media agencies they in turn employed to celebrate the embodied individualism of the department that celebrated embodied individualism. Scarcely recognizable offshoots began to appear, from ‘Disagree? Agreed!’ to ‘Agree ó Disagree’ to one particularly interesting motto by the HR of ARG (Agency Regulation Group). This was a series of squiggles that was never used anywhere without its accompanying 2-page write-up that explained it was a Sumerian cuneiform version of Hammurabi’s landmark judgment in a case involving two scribes fervently disagreeing about the number of wives Sargon of Akkad had. Given that no one knew how to read Sumerian, it was widely accepted that the pictograph merely indicated the current market price of a bale of wheat. The HR department in this case put out a statement to the controversy. It simply contained the pictograph, implying that they would agree to disagree about its contents and meaning. When a keenly observant reader pointed out that the pictograph they had used was slightly different, perhaps taken from a different cuneiform tablet where the market price had changed a little, the HR team raised a furious petition with the Global Technocratic Alliance lead HR department to mandate that all mottos adhere strictly to a single set of guidelines. The parent HR team agreed to disagree, fracturing all HR teams into two polarized ideological camps, with one camp believing that the motto needed to be ‘Agree to disagree’ exactly, and the other that believed it could be any creative variant of the motto.

The Councils A and B therefore each published their respective reports. Recognizing the import of the change in the last line, the Council B changed the title from ‘The History Of The Philosophy Of Pain’ to ‘The Philosophy Of The History Of Pain’, rejecting a teleological approach of Council A that led to a problematic conclusion that our experience of pain has been unchanged across centuries and that our knowledge of it and about it has never been higher than it is now. With a supporter base that was more intellectual and less political, they

Finding instead that the critical analysis of history interested them more than the regulating of regulations, Council B quit en masse to create a think-tank after publicly decrying the mindless machinery that animated the anarcho-capitalist Frankenstein that society had silently been mutated into by Big Business. The think-tank was funded by a non-profit special interest group committed to rediscovering human values apart from libertarianism that had continually elevated mankind across cultures in history. Over a couple of frenetic cocaine-fuelled years, the Council B, as they named their new think-tank, came up with a radical new hypothesis based on the linguistic analysis of ancient texts and tested the hypothesis with outstanding results, not only creating a successful sociological model in various environments but also identifying the precise neuropsychological circuit that mediated the physiological response. During the party to celebrate their groundbreaking find, it was revealed that their non-profit funding agency was a full subsidiary of the pharmaceutical giant DRU (Diagnostics and Research Unit, the result of an expensive re-branding campaign when the executive board of Drugs R Us decided to hire MBAs instead of doctors), who promptly appropriated the finding to market a pain pill that became the market leader in under a month. The Council B insisted that the DRU market a graded variety of these pain pills titrated in different percentages according to a rigorously defined pain scale. While the executive board had no intention to acquiesce to such requests, they handled the situation with reason and class, having recently received a memorandum from the HR department (With a motto ‘Just Say No’, the ‘Humane Rejections’ department was a well-funded team of smooth talking lovable extroverts trained immaculately in the art of saying no to people. They reported to the executive board, and handled all tasks related to firing, organizational streamlining and the unbearable number of petitions requesting better living conditions for the rat-human hybrid test subjects). They instructed the Council B to come up with the pain scale and then work with the manufacturing department to regularize the process of differential titration. Overjoyed, the Council B retired to a week-long off-site getaway to brainstorm ideas for the pain scale. A new member of the team had the best idea of the week, to call in a management consultant. The management consultants spent three months familiarizing themselves with the business model, the organizational culture, and the specific process flow diagrams and key factor analyses of the meaning of life. Presenting to the Council B their finding and fee, not in that order, they ended with a dramatically animated slide that had a single recommendation that promised to solve all their problems in one action. To ask the Council A for the answer. Due to the conflict of interest were a corporate body to work in any way with the agency in charge of regulating said corporate body, the Council B unanimously quit DRU and rejoined the Council A, at which point there was much rejoicing and a party to celebrate the fact that after a fractious interim period, the Councils A and B would now once again be a single entity, The United Council, which eventually just became ‘The Council’ when they were sued by The United Consul, a bureaucratic foreign relations agency that was an independent consultant to the Global Technocratic Alliance.

By this time, the erstwhile Council A, now simply ‘some members’ of The Council, had formalized their pain scale methodology. Some fundamental assumptions had been laid down in the Pain Constitution, and were not to be questioned. Most were uncontroversial. All human life had value. In so far as money was the abstraction of the concept of value into the realm of forms, all human life had a price tag. In fact the word pain itself came from the Greek word that meant a price that was paid. In 1974, after many years of economists insisting the monetary value of a human life could be quantified, to much moral outrage, the monetary value of a human life was finally quantified under the regulatory body trying to determine whether all trucks needed to be fitted with a Mansfield Bar, so named in honor of Jayne Mansfield, the actress who was killed in a collision with a truck, that might have been prevented by the presence of said bars. There was further outrage when it was determined that the monetary value of human lives saved by said bars was less than the cost of installing them. There was no outrage though when after many years of installing these bars it was determined that they in fact had very little impact on saving lives regardless of how low or high those lives were valued.

Some members suggested a geometric approach would bring this complex problem down to more intuitive representations, arguing that solving for areas under the graph would be far easier than an analytic algebraic solution to a polynomial whose order and variables they had no idea about. Knowing never to argue with the sort of people who were always too ready to rush to the invariably well-placed flip-chart or white-board with sharpies because they ‘accessed information visually’, the Council agreed. They charted the graph showing the profile of actual harm, returning a text string indicating the shape of the graph, and its associated key variables. For instance, a 5N1 meant the instances of harm followed a standard normal distribution with a mean of 5 and a standard deviation of 1. This gave all risk seeking clients an idea of the average harm as well as an idea of how extreme harm was distributed.

Unfortunately, while all of this was being painstakingly drawn with different colored sharpies on many white-boards, the sort of people who ‘accessed information analytically’ had been furiously scribbling down equations under the table. Just as the sharpie-gang started a drum-roll to announce they had drawn the most beautiful normal curve, complete with shaded regions of standard deviation bands, the dour algebraists quietly claimed that they had solved the entire problem. They named their solution Theodicy in honor of the Leibnizian calculus they used exclusively, sneering at anyone who dared mention the name Newton. Their idea was simple enough. While pain itself was far too variable and unknowable, its first order derivative, anxiety about future pain was a little easier to tabulate. Since their goal was not to map human experience but create a reliable and robust deterrent for risky behavior, they only needed to capture the anxiety about the negative consequences of this behavior. This also had the advantage of rendering any graphical computation irrelevant. They insisted their glee was on account of all the paper that would be saved, and fooled nobody.

It was at around this point that the GCURCG began prototyping a new form of market research that made extensive use of virtual reality, and they were most keen to continue milking their most profitable customer, the Council, a fact that they treated with equal parts dependent respect and a smug entitlement given it was the Council that had rendered circumstances such that the GCURCG had both gone extinct in its previous group of avatars as well as risen anew. Their research proposal was simple enough. Brain imaging on the limbic cortex measured activation of anxiety responses to a variety of risk-laden stimuli through a virtual reality console. These were aggregated across a diverse group of test subjects and an ordinal anxiety scale of 1–10 was abstracted, with some intense discussions about whether the outliers were to be discarded or to be considered as the main data set while the non-outliers were discarded. Some outliers caused minor changes in methodology, like the dementophobic woman who was so afraid of losing touch with reality that she refused to participate if the risky stimuli were merely virtual. Not an insignificant amount of research funds were spent on arranging for her to be thrown out of a plane, isolated in a haunted forest, and housed in a snake pit, after which it was suggested and later proved through some disturbing brain images that she was just an adrenaline junkie looking to con them into free yahoos. Others raised deeper philosophical implications about their Theodicy, like the phobophobic man who was afraid of having something to be afraid of and therefore had a limbic readout of maximum anxiety when being explained the procedure, higher than anything monitored afterwards.

People who valued money above all else were not materialistic low-minded reprobates, but the highest of intellects. This did not mean people who worshipped money above all else, they were indeed materialistic low-minded reprobates who wouldn’t know the value of a sunset unless they found it on an e-commerce website. It meant people who valued the abstract concept of value, and the suitability of the flawed manifestation in the concept of money in the absence of better alternatives. Money couldn’t buy a sunset, but the insight into the amount of money that would be accepted in order to miss a sunset only served the higher purpose of knowing oneself and his/her hierarchy of values while pursuing a rationally ordered life that maximized pleasure and minimized pain.

To this scale, Johannes Gustafsson insisted on adding a third dimension, one of negative externalities caused by the sufferer of harm, wisely announcing his opinion on his son’s memorial day during a fund raising event launching a support group for people who knew victims of extreme sports accidents. At this austere setting he received the reaction he needed, an overwhelming applause from the general audience, and exhausted resignation from the Council members who would have otherwise vigorously disagreed with this suggestion of more work. As a compromise, Johannes agreed that a special item be appended to the scale at a 7.4, the pain of spending years on a task and then be told it was not over during a dinner they had just spent planning their task-completion celebration party. It was placed between 7.3, pain of losing a loved one, and 7.5, pain of texting someone and seeing they had read it but not responded, which itself had been appended to the scale retrospectively though none of the members could understand it but because one of their daughters had committed suicide over such an incident. Since the parent in question had not committed suicide over the resulting grief, the inciting incident was proven to be a more deadly pain than losing a loved one.

To their pleasant surprise, the mapping of negative externalities did not take as long. They elaborated a probability distribution of the downstream effects of various risky behaviors and then applied their already available pain-scale to those effects. These were all potential liabilities that the risk-taker had to accept. One was welcome to consummate a dark sex magick ritual by sacrificing himself/herself to a virile bull, but then his/her assets might be used to pay up any claims that might arise as a result, for instance the kin of someone murdered by a bull which has now developed a taste for human flesh. One of the scientists asked Johannes if he might have considered suing his dead son for causing him much mental anguish. Either he had indeed considered it and was too guilty to be angry, or he genuinely saw its logical merits as an avenue of moral design, because he reacted with magnanimity and grace. A commission was set up to study the acceptable limits of liability claims by those most likely to suffer negative externalities, close friends and family.

The Libcons believed the institution of close friends and family would suffer if the legal system dangled this carrot of potential windfall from any psychological suffering. They began a smear campaign against anyone who dared to shift blame for their psychological maladies on those most vulnerable to blame-shifting, close friends and family, calling them whining losers. The Anarxists believed the institution of close friends and family was suffering already under oppressive obligations and that a legal system of taking responsibility for one’s actions would liberate the institution and unite the alienated soul of man with his social environment. They began a smear campaign against anyone who hid behind staid institutions to cause psychological suffering with great impunity on those most vulnerable to suffering-causal, close friends and family, calling them mind vampires.

They were about to take a leaf out of the recently received HR memorandum about having one’s cake and letting the peasants eat it too, when they saw another notice in the mail. It was a cease and desist order by the Psychocracy Union, which was feeling very threatened by the possibility that they would lose regardless of the decision taken by the committee. Their entire business model of psychotherapy revolved around exploring the impact of close friends and family on the psyche of their clients, albeit with great gentleness and rationality. Between the Libcons saying ‘grow up’ and the Anarxists saying ‘pay up’, they were stuck in a no-win situation with regards to the society of tomorrow. Calling the bluff of the PU, the commission went ahead with its efforts to quantify the two factions’ cases. The PU had never expected their cease and desist to be considered seriously, but needed some time while they dealt with an internal schism that had fractured them into two warring divisions.

The Psycharxists sided with the Anarxist proposal, recognizing that in the Global Technocratic Alliance, their position under such a cleanly monetized scheme would only be strengthened. They proposed an immediate retraining of their discipline to align its abilities with the legal profession in order to lobby regulation that ensured their monopoly as the panel of experts syndicated to verify any legal claim of harm. Having long argued against ever dealing with individuals, favoring instead the deep pockets and unending psychological trauma that came from being part of large corporate groups, this was a godsend for their imperial ambitions. The Theracons, conversely, waxed eloquent about their sacred duty and Hippocratic oath to better the consciousness of mankind and preserve the mental integrity of each individual in the long term, not seeking short term windfalls either as material gain or as attractive new business models, pointedly looking in the direction of the Psycharxists sneeringly. Unfortunately, their well placed barbs were too late as the Psycharxists had gone off to legally incorporate themselves as the PAX. Their legal consultants very helpfully added that their legal fees came with an additional 20% discount on any bundled services. When politely asked about the nature of these services, they mentioned, with great surprise at its serendipitous relevance, a cutting-edge research technique that would help the PAX define a standardized proprietary template to evaluate psychological harm. The agency in question, of course, was the GCURCG, and they licked their chops and rubbed their hands at landing their next whale of a client. They pulled in their top sales closers to deliver a knock out pitch at the PAX office, that promised to be so mind blowing that even the Theracons were too intrigued not to attend. They pretended they were there only for the free coffee, which no one quite believed since they still shared the same office with the PAX. The pitch was going swimmingly, until they reached the slide they believed to be the deal-sealer, an in-depth analysis of their most successful showpiece client, the Council.

The sales shark felt his palms clam up a little before he realized his body had picked up on reasons to be nervous that his brain, overdosing on confidence hormones the way failed loser salesmen from failed loser firms overdosed on methamphetamines. Members of their audience, who had been so far been in turns nodding appreciatively, taking notes copiously and placing a down-payment on their superyachts, now stared blankly, first at him, then at each other, then at their phones that had started beeping confirmation about the successful completion of non-refundable yacht deposits. His words slowed. He checked his teeth for spinach, his zipper for openness to experience, and his computer screen for accidental tab-switching to the video of an 18th century reenactment of a pig-farm gangbang he had opened for purely non-sexual confidence reasons before the pitch. Though all of those things were most bizarrely indeed true and on display, he was confusingly relieved and embarrassed to hear about the actual problem. If this case-study were indeed true, then the Council had already quantified harm, and rendered the Psychocracy Union extinct. The factions promptly merged and renamed themselves the Psychoserf Union, lobbying the GTA for fixed wage protection in the face of disruptive, oppressive, technological innovation. With the support of the GCURCG, which at this point was quite embarrassed about its role in the whole thing, they lobbied successfully and kept their yachts. Some of them retired instantly. Others were funneled into the only positions available to their profession from then on, tenured professors of Psychology, teaching the students who would replace them. It was the realization of this Ouroboric problem that caused one of them, Dr.Erik Kleiner, to quit and become a science fiction writer, which brings us back to 35 years later, to CE 2061.

The risk profile for teleportation was even better than air travel. Since the transport itself relied not on the world of atoms and electrons but on numbers and bits, there was a miniscule probability given to equipment failure and process catastrophe. 4096 bit cryptography also meant a miniscule chance of outside interference and criminal activity. There was no question of externalities, whether obnoxiously leaning back when people behind are trying to eat in peace, or starting a flash mob in the aisle for social media likes, or ripping off the emergency exit to use as a shield against the person in the middle seat whose head keeps lolling on yours. Once the technology itself was exhaustively vetted, a highly advantageous risk rating was assured, and duly delivered. There was a fatal flaw in the system. It didn’t measure meta-risk, the risk of increased risky behavior.

It could have been caught much earlier than it was, by a revenue assessment team who was called in to analyze a plateau and then gradual decline in a particularly strategic stream of cash flows, repeat customers. They spent a few months elaborately conducting focus groups among different groups of people in an attempt to improve their consumer experience. A huge breakthrough was achieved when a single person told them that the lack of noise made him slightly uncomfortable. They installed giant speakers with sampled tracks from gadgets taken from science fiction movies. Another grand insight was received when a frequent traveler mentioned jet lag as a major issue. The required circadian adjustment mechanism integration with the cryptography software entailed a huge capital expenditure. When a marketing maverick then came and told them to have attractive models serving free alcohol instead, they gleefully ran with it. No one on the assessment team, research team, senior leadership, Technocratic bureaucracy, marketing agency, and integrated police consultant team bothered to find out a far more fundamental insight. The decline came from customers who were all dead.

And so the deaths went unquestioned for many years. The Reddit Psychonaut thread started off the way it always did. A hypothetical thought about astral travel that masqueraded as deep spiritual insight on consciousness, reality, and the eternal soul, until it was quickly exposed as garbage. The user in question, Astralopithicus, reported on his experiments into what he termed silver surfing. It involved teleporting multiple times in rapid succession in an attempt to create an altered state of consciousness. It was not very successful, and given the expenditure, much more expensive than the millennia-old spiritually enlightened way to achieve such elevated states, drugs. But like all bad ideas that sound good at 3am on arcane internet forums, it caught on spectacularly.

The conjectures started flowing in. All of them assumed that the primary hypothesis was indeed true, and searched for mistakes in the experimental model. The variables were all tweaked, and the reports were aggregated day by day, as the experimenters multiplied. Number of jumps, time between jumps, distance of jumps, average distance versus cumulative. When the pure travel statistics began to dry up, they switched to geolocation, variations in latitude and longitude, timezone patterns, landmasses and oceanic basins, altitudes and weather conditions. Amazingly, the results were encouraging. Microdosers were more likely to report positive effects, being more sensitive to the subtler effects of low concentration alteration. A frivolous Psychonaut made the biggest discovery. He felt it was a waste to make so many expensive jumps without actually leaving the terminal and ticking off some travel items from his bucket list. The insight was ludicrously obvious in hindsight. All the jump terminals were made to look exactly the same, no one would be able to identify where they were purely by looking around the terminal. They had to leave the terminal as soon as possible, and then quickly re-enter and jump.

The thread picked up momentum and followers like a rolling stone picks up metaphors. There was an ethereal dream-like quality about the state of consciousness that some of the finely tuned silver surfing experiences could bring about, an almost total ego-dissolution. These were the good times. The range of experiences far outstripped any substance known to the community. This was lucid dreaming on a level no one had experienced before. But as always, some bonehead eventually showed up to ruin it for everybody. He’d always wanted to fly. His friend later posted an update on the forum, reporting that he, in fact, could not fly, and was dead.

It was a sobering cautionary tale, and was given the weight it deserved. A detailed document of guidelines was prepared. After all, junkies died all the time, don’t hate the game, hate the player. Some people just didn’t have the self-control to stay within their boundaries, and within the boundaries of the rooftops. In the interest of protecting their new finding, they pooled their resources and invested in a risk-assessment for silver surfing, that used other hallucinogens and altered states as reference data points. The authorities began to identify silver surfers, but were happy to incorporate the freely shared risk-assessment into their disclaimer as a special item for consideration. With that pesky legal liability out the way, they happily pocketed the cash from their most profitable segment yet, psychonauts.

These were the good times. There were rules and guidelines, not just for safety but for optimizing the trips. But as always, some bonehead eventually showed up to ruin it for everybody. He’d always wanted to write a collaborative scientific paper. So he asked a simple question. What if more people were dying from even simple teleportation because of mild shifts in their grasp of reality? He was taken seriously because he mentioned terms like ‘Cingulate Cortex’, and ‘Dissociative Personality’, and ‘What if’, hypotheticals being a favorite among this sub-culture. He postulated that a sudden change in physical stimulus confused the brain so much that there was a small chance that the entire experience would be assumed to be a lucid dream, which increased risk-taking behavior in a world of no consequences.

The thread picked up momentum and collaborators. They were refused customer data and public death records, but painstakingly pieced together a plausible picture of connected fatalities by cross-referencing obituaries with local mortuary records and IP activity. The paper was published, and then the resulting publicity led to numerous attempts to replicate the research, all of which showed enough of a correlation to lead to the creation of an investigative committee led by the Council. After many months, they were satisfied with their conclusion. The risk rating was raised slightly, and a new element of meta-risk was included in the model. Otherwise, life went on as usual, except that people looked at jumpers with a lot more suspicion, especially when they got onto elevators.

These were the good times. Most people enjoyed dreaming far more than reality. With the risks known and legitimized, it seemed irresponsible not to use jumping to get over risk-averse anxieties and neuroses. Happiness levels were all measured to be increasing. The effects were so stark that the Council downgraded the risk rating on account of its positive externalities to a harmonious, cheerful, and optimistic community. But as always, some bonehead eventually showed up to ruin it for everybody. The news horrified everybody. He was a respectable psycholinguist who researched deep structures of the brain. He’d always wanted to check if these deep structures penetrated into the parts of the subconscious that only lucid dreaming could tap into. He tried silver surfing. The victims were found the next day, their hands had been chopped off, and their chests had been peeled back to form a grotesque tulip. He made no attempt to escape. He made no attempt to deny his crime, or defend himself. He couldn’t, because he no longer spoke any language known to man. Guttural tones and impossible syllables flowed poetically as his eyes stared manically. Some of those words would be recognized on a different Reddit thread, but that is another tale altogether. Fhtagn R’lyeh Shoggoth Nyarlathotep. H’rrnai Cthulhu H’rrnai Cthulhu Nnh’gtep.

A novel insightful exercise to determine the pragmatic difference in intellectual payoff between a novel insight and an obvious fact mistaken for novel insight.