Necktop Jitterbug 

I.  Architect Lazlo Puthoff had situated the structure atop a knoll which overlooked a stretch of former grassland whose seeming sameness people known as ‘developers’ liked to take as nature’s own license for the predictable numbing uniformity of their developments.  It was clear to techno-journalist Jill Squadren, at least, that even the few redundant variations on the very verb they proudly clung to as emblematic of some sort of superior form of speeded-up evolution of a subtly unique landscape were these landsmen’s petards with which she wished to hoist them, this time upon the ‘massed’ massive masses of concrete and glass through which they had, a bit too proudly, bettered nature itself. 

Her inner brain-scape, while reveling in her own self-proclaimed discernment over that outward landscape’s disruption, was all the more troubled by what now had become clear: similar development had come to the human brain.

A growing low-grade throb of aches crawled through her head’s occupant as she drove up the medium-grade hill’s driveway; that very same sufferer, also in charge of her analysis of that suffering, presented no solution to either its — or her — discomfort. It seemed to her (captive as she was to her brain’s byproduct of both what ‘seems’ and its object of attention meant) that this indecisive ‘jewel’ in the human crown was confronting, as she now was, the greatest challenge.

NeckTech Corporation had hit the mother lode, its scientists having finally perfected to the point of implantation, what it proudly marketed as Necktop®, the next leap into the future of portable computation. “Ahead of Your Head” boasted the full page launch advert its creators had placed in her very own paper.

Transhumanists were ecstatic, a strange enough paradox, given their well-known distaste for things limbic.  This adamantly futuristic band of zealots — their zealotry being, again, ironically limbic — were by far the largest group of initial backers of the company and touted it endlessly as the ‘stairway to the heavens’ and a human destiny of universal colonization via Carbon 60 exoskeletons and rewired braininess.

The software programming had been developed in hermetic secrecy; so much so that the most sensational rumor had sprung from a tabloid banner linking it to alien technology, not so benignly bequeathed to humanity…at 2:53a.m. in a field not far from where the plant had ultimately been sited.  Of course, the marketing people seized upon this metaphorical mine, using the term ‘sighted’ deliberately in their promotional materials to an already credulous group of investors.

But now, only six months into its ‘inner journey’ — yes, the marketing creeps were using a mock Buddhist monk TV spokesperson — WithIn® was causing grave concern in the NeckTech boardroom. 

Spearman Karpolov, the very first implanted with the device, had been interviewed on an international webcast, not least about the Luddite backlash aimed at him and the device.  Signs reading “Gold-plated Guinea Pig” were brandished by protesters from a freakishly diverse spectrum including religionists to Hare Krishnas. 

“Let me put it this way, Mr. Amer, I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all any conscious entity can ever hope to do” was the surprising HAL-miming answer given to the first question put by the interviewer, Ms. Cashe, asking his name.  Trouble.

The webcast had been cut short, very short, owing to ‘technical difficulties’.  Difficulties inside Mr. Karpolov’s head.  The device was randomly accessing his memory, whatever, wherever that ‘was’, without any apparent reference to any kind of external stimuli, such as questions.  Moments later he disrobed and insisted that his host do likewise or he would have no choice but to terminate her life support systems.  The arrest required four officers, it seeming that his adrenal glands had also been involuntarily heightened by the device, now enjoying — he was said to have been smiling broadly — free reign inside his brain.

“Strange physicality, indeed, for one such as he” mused Dr. Pellington, ER chief where Karpalov had been rushed.  And he was right: for Spearman’s métier was chess, a very brainy affair.  The youngest international grand master ever at age 22; now, at 38 he was burning out, as they say in the arcane universe where one had to be at least 15 moves ahead in his/her strategizing.  He had needed an edge and his family friend from Minsk, a certain architect, had the right friends at NeckTech Corporation.  And, with his clout in chess circles at the very top there wasn’t much risk of loss of sanction, not since a computer had beaten a human for the first time ever.  Besides, they had rationalized, such a stunt was a matter of sheer brute force versus the still superior human factor involving its best quality, the exquisite distribution of analog as well as the computer’s sole asset, digital capabilities.  This would simply level the field, thereby quelling fears occasioned by sci-fi notions of a cyborg future for mankind.

Within® was entirely distinguishable from such crude constructs: it’s enhancements had to do with a post-verbal capacity beyond the now-old (at a million years+ or -) neocortex and its frontal lobes so effective at problem solving but, nevertheless, now reduced to slavery to language, with its ‘rear-view mirror’ and increasingly denuding simulacral quality, capable of manipulation by those who, in frightening neo-Carollian ways, increasingly Orwellized words to mean precisely what they chose for their meaning.  If time was indeed a co-equal dimension of being, then its greatest effect was change, something which a linguistic world could never keep apace with; what, after all, were these ‘words’, but symbols, of yesterday’s phenomena, rooted, in the case of English, deeply in the antique soils of Greece and Rome.  And other tongues were no different.  No, linguistic stock was ever devaluing, even crashing, symptomatic of the languor felt by most who thought about it: something was absent from postmodern life, it seemed to be an echo of its former full-bodied sensuality. 

The scientists at NeckTop knew this; drawing upon the visual arts, particularly motion pictures, they knew they had the cure for the experiential ennui of the mass of men.  The eye, that unlikely viscous jellied orb which portrayed the world topsy-turvy, was the one faculty which had enabled mankind to survive during its most daunting challenges; wired in such a way that its fully dimensioned depictions, rendered at the speed of light, gave its host the light of speed in averting the pervasive danger to life and limb.  Wasn’t this the message entombed in the labyrinths of such safe haven, on their sturdy rock walls: not some code for sacrosanct animistic spirits, but kinetic renderings of their vitality and its beneficiaries’ lively drawings.  And the charcoaled handprints, shouting across eons ‘I am!’ 

That same preverbal quintessence of aliveness, moment by immeasurable moment, had, they trusted, been inbuilt into WithIn®.  Games were to be the great emporium for its wondrous limbic power, bypassing at long last the rigid argot of the conscious brain and mining the muses of the boundless super conscious, as they newly named it. 

And, so, Spearman was the ideal candidate, his picturings of gridlike motion negotiated by universally silent tokens of subdivided power in a world driven by pursuit of that ineffable force for which death and destruction were always its affordable toll.  Perhaps that accounted for the peculiar Russian penchant for this embodiment of its acquisition, or maintenance.  He had been the son of a painter of some note, whose habit it was to leave his painterly offerings unnamed, unsigned save for a stylized miniature handprint, after the fashion of his unknowable thirty generationed forbears.  Likewise for his mother, whose insistence on the silent film form well after spoken sound’s engrafting had made her rightly famous.  “I merely have put my husband’s images in motion; they speak the language of the eye”, her keynote, was there in Bartlett’s. 

An entire marketing campaign had been built around that quote: ‘The eyes have It…….life as you’ve never lived it, WithIn®’.  They pointed out in their promotional scriptless videos—-print was eschewed as much as possible—that various studies of the pineal gland, the anciently named ‘third eye’, established the soundness of their science, complete with taciturn Eastern clerical guides to this vivid inner path.

Jill Squadren sat in the waiting area of the hospital, waiting to interview Spearman; she had persuaded the brass at NeckTech that a palliative story was needed to fill the voyeuristic void left by the cancelled webcast.  She was both surprised and impressed with the looping promotional video situated so as to garner the attention of anyone sitting or passing by.  One image stood apart:



That naked eye, showing no signs of surgical entry, seemed aglow with insight; in fact, that was the name of the film, just one word appearing in and on it, save for the credits.

What he did say to Jill gave voice to a palsied poetry which resounded in her ears from a placeless realm: “Theta waves washed upon the shore of consciousness beneath a blood red sky…”


II.         Its tellings were antique appellations neither primitive nor recondite: within each skull dwells the vestigial gland, but vestige of just what?  Small, reddish, conical in shape, connected at the dorsal section of the brain of the vertebrate, its function obscure.  But, not to some, according to scientific lore.  The archives of brain research were filled with anomalies so dramatic that any rule’s fashioning having to do with the neat division of its assigned labor became just that—fashion, and a resounding flop at that.  The Renaissance’s first works had been produced by, in one case, the smallest brain ever recorded…the greatest thinker science had seen did his thinking via imagery he called pictorial thought experiments.  There had to be something else, unknown, even magical in its technical workings which had escaped understanding.  Science at its heights embodied both the best and worst mental gymnastics: even its most accomplished stood themselves upon the shoulders of giants, each and all’s tenuous stance fundamentally weakened by Achillean braininess—how could the brain, even assuming another fantasy, objectivity, be trusted to study itself?

There was another way to go.  Early in their work, that tiny storied gland was the prime suspect of these forensic investigators. Project Parsifal met every week around the table to download its findings.  To their credit, their first task was to test their objectivity by inviting guest presenters from all existing schools of thought to establish a lodestar.  Of all these, one had contributed more than they had expected.  A Jungian psychiatrist, Dr. Gloria (use name of St. Helen of Alexandria) had shown them the pathway.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the brain is a slave, and you, we are not necessarily its master” she had, with that assertion, gone for the Moon like a certain dead President. 

“Five senses, all but one of which are pretty slow and retarded…even the best of them apprehends the world upside down.  We’ve been looking in the wrong place, under the hood.  Fourier had it right: the brain’s just a bunch of transducers doing the best it can to transform or coalesce a fuzzy, wavy quantum reality on its own terms.  Mind is where the action is, our little undivided piece of the universal rock, and what I believe makes that holistic connection is this little rascal” and she held up a large mockup of that gland the rest of research had been avoiding, thanks to some pretty primitive, and automatic, parts of the slave in question’s quarters in each member of the team.

[Picture of gland here]

What followed was a measured mambo of multidisciplinary meanderings that cut in twain Kipling’s provincial little ditty about East v. West, the final installment of them having to do with the seventh chakra of the central nervous system, the ultimate point of communion with the eternal, and a certain glandular appendage.

That was the part the marketing people seized upon—who hadn’t at least heard of yoga and, at least with the real target market, the wealthy, had an acquaintance who raved about its benefits, even if they consisted mainly in hanging out with other self-absorbed cretins.  It played right into the advertising schema; on their conference room wall was a prominently mounted poster of their mainstream physicist guru sounding dramatically ‘meta’ when it came to the physical universe he studied.
“All these multiverse ideas lead to a remarkable synthesis between cosmology and physics...But they also lead to the extraordinary consequence that we may not be the deepest reality, we may be a simulation. The possibility that we are creations of some supreme, or super-being, blurs the boundary between physics and idealist philosophy, between the natural and the supernatural, and between the relation of mind and multiverse and the possibility that we're in the matrix rather than the physics itself. “ Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Great Britain/Prominent Theoretical Physicist


With that sort of imprimatur they had their course clearly set.  The strange little geometric artifact was, in fact, they argued, the medium facilitating such a nexus between simulator and simulated!  Not oblivious to popular science, they drew heavily from another English knight’s musings, best embodied—and rather post-verbally at that, as the screenplay gave short shrift to verbiage—in the monolithic computation machine instantly evocative of such simulative stimulation known worldwide as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. What was often missed by that mass audience was uppermost in their plan, i.e., the Homeric reference, complete with blind (devoid of untrustworthy sensory perception) unwritten poetry, absent the outmoded deception of symbolic print.  A final gesture to the métier in which their mass market dwelt was the hiring of the lead actors from the film ‘The Thirteenth Floor’ as spokespersons.

“The sky’s no longer the limit” head of the marketing team, Heather Spatz boasted at the launch press conference for the implant program.  “To paraphrase a vernacular focusing motto, it’s the Cosmos, unwise!”


The End