Author Archives: VN Alexander

Intro to my new novel on The Strange Recital podcast

Charlie Besso narrates the opening scenes from my new novel, “C0VID-1984, The Musical.”  It’s not a musical; it’s a novel that satirizes that genre.

The Strange Recital, is a literary podcast featuring fiction “that questions the nature of reality.” On Spotify, YouTube, and Instagram.

 

“Cheek to the cold floor, thick sole on my back, I began to sense my place in this moment in history. I had thought I was playing the hero, arriving just in time to save my mom, when I was put in a chokehold, thrown to the ground and tasered in the groin.”

A young Winston Smith faces a dramatic cultural shift: lockdowns, masks, surveillance, riots. “How did we get here?” he wonders, in a new satirical novel that looks back at the last four years. Can this story end more happily than Orwell’s?

2023 Was the Year of the ChatGPT-4 Scare. What’s Next?

2023 was the year that an artificial intelligence (AI) known as ChatGPT-4 spectacularly passed the Turing Test. For a hundred million users, interacting with the Chat bot was indistinguishable from interacting with a human being. The bot appeared to be able to understand questions and reason out competent answers.  Although its replies were sometimes vapid and sophomoric, that may have made them seem even more convincingly human.

ChatGPT is capable of processing text inputs (prompts and commands) and outputting text whose patterns have a high statistical probability of occurring after such prompts. Its apparent intelligence is a kind of magic trick insofar as the product seems similar to human reason, but it is really high-speed, brute force statistical pattern matching of words in specific contexts. (How human reason works differently will be the subject of a future essay.)  Nevertheless, the impressive performance stoked fears that AI is on the verge of becoming conscious, writing itself new and better code, and then replacing human beings as rulers of the Earth. Continue reading

My Off-Guardian article about Locus Amoenus & Co\/id-1984, The Musical goes viral

Just before the anniversary of 9/11 this year, I wrote and article for the Off-Guardian about how literary works can be useful for neutralizing the brainwashing effects of propaganda. Please click over to Off-Guardian to read it and come back when you’re done.

As most of my readers know, my 2015 novel, Locus Amoenus, which was nominated for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize (by the publisher, don’t get too excited), retells the story of Hamlet as a 9/11 conspiracy theorist.  It’s a high comedy, written to lure in the Atlantic Monthly subscriber, to trap the Vanity Fair reader with my erudite and clever prose. Once inside the story, I have them.  They cannot unsee the scenes I paint. Continue reading

Can the Cells in your Body Act Irrationally?

In The Journal of Physiology, special issue on The Physiology of Evolution, edited by Denis Noble

The Creativity of Cells: Aneural Irrational Cognition
V. N. Alexander

In “On Having no Head: Cognition throughout Biological Systems” (2016), František Baluška and Michael Levin review the literature on aneural cognition in single-celled organisms, plants, and animal tissue, all of which exhibit abilities for memory, learning, decision-making, and goal-direction. “Cognition,” they argue, need not involve neurons per se.  Cells of all kinds appear to be capable of intelligent behavior that emerges from dynamical networks that propagate signals and alter connections in response to the environment—very like neuronal activity. In fact, as Baluška and Levin conclude, neural tissue seems to have merely improved upon ancient mechanisms used by all living systems generally.

This paper extends the exploration of the mechanisms of cognition by considering whether or not aneural cells may be capable of irrational cognition, making associations based on coincidental similarities and circumstantial factors.If aneural cells do harness such semiosic qualities, as with higher-level creativity, this might be how they are able to overcome old algorithms and invent tools for new situations. Continue reading

C0VlD-1984, THE MUSICAL, a dark comedy about conspiracy theories


My new novel, COVlD-1984 The Musical, is a dark comedy about the 2020 lockdown and the 2021 vaccine roll out. As the title suggests, I have tried to rewrite Orwell’s story of totalitarian oppression so that it ends happily.  Nineteen-Eighty-Four, starts low and descends even lower, with the hero Winston giving in to Doublethink. Orwell didn’t have any faith in the “proles”. I do.

My first inspiration to write this story came from the Danser Encore protests in the Paris train stations, where people took off their masks, forgot about social distancing rules, and starting singing and dancing. That defiantly joyful display presented a stark contrast to dance videos of the medical professionals that were so popular then, showing those automatons doing their absurd clockwork dances, so symbolic of the mass formation psychosis erupting around the globe.

Although the plot follows the lead of Orwell’s novel, the tone of C0VlD-1984, The Musical is inspired by the gallows humor of Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.  Readers of E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime will hear echoes of his descriptions of J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford in my descriptions of our modern day equivalents.

This novel is a sequel to my last novel, Locus Amoenus, which retells the story of Hamlet as a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Ben Jorgensen narrated the audiobook. He was suicided by the lockdowns. C0VlD-1984, The Musical is dedicated to him.

I’m talking to a really good publisher.

A short synopsis (contains spoilers) Continue reading

Technosemiotics

What Can Technosemiotics Do?
May 8 @ 18:00 – 19:30 EEST
The second seminar in the Technosemiotics discussion series will explore the conceptual apparatus offered by biosemiotics and its cybernetics-inspired analytical models.

Relying on a recently published joint paper,* Victoria Alexander, Josh Bacigalupi and Òscar Castro discuss the qualitative or interpretive aspects of biological semiosis. The slime mold as a minimal cognitive organism is compared to the quantitative deep learning algorithms and their generations. The paper in question also proposes a concept of Turing systems as better artificial models for biological processes.

* Alexander, V.N., J. Augustus Bacigalupi, and Òscar Castro Garcia. 2021. “Living Systems Are Smarter Bots: Slime Mold Semiosis versus AI Symbol Manipulation.” Biosystems 206 (August): 104430. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biosystems.2021.104430.

https://technosemiotics.net/event/intelligence-contest-generative-ai-vs-slime-mold-semiosis/

The Perils of Coding Humans: A Response to Transhumanism


15 week live online course
Mondays at 12PM EST starting Jan 9, 2023
$180
Instructor: Dr. V. N. Alexander
IPAK-EDU

The September 12, 2022 White House Executive Order* pledges R&D funds to the biotech industry to enable it “to write circuitry for cells and predictably program biology in the same way [emphasis added] in which we write software and program computers.” We may be glad of this implied admission that the biotech industry currently cannot “predictably program biology” nor effectively “write circuitry for cells,” as demonstrated by the failure of the COVlD-19 synthetic mRNA injections. But we may also be concerned that technocrats—who believe that such advances will be possible once they “unlock the power of biological data, including through computing tools and artificial intelligence”—will continue to use us as lab monkeys as they pursue impossible goals.

Some see the issue as a battle between the ideologies of pure mechanism and spiritualism. As long as we see the problem this way, it might remain irreconcilable. In this course, we will use lessons learned from science—complex systems science, the philosophy of creativity, and Continue reading

Message without a Sender

Once again, the masters of The Strange Recital podcast, Brent Robison and Tom Newton have brought my short stories to life.  In this episode I read two, “The Narrative” and “Signs and Symbols,” from a collection that I’ve been working on called Chance that Mimics choice. Like the other stories in this collection, these are about the art of making/finding meaning.

Why do writers write? Why do readers love to read?  If you’ve ever wondered why people might enjoy fiction so much that they spend the better part of their waking hours engaged in it, listen to this podcast and the interview that follows.  There is no greater pleasure for this writer than being able to sit and chat with other writers, like Brent and Tom, about writing. It’s the only kind of reward I need.

Listen to find out what a “message without a sender” might be.

You can also listen on Spotify.  Just search “The Strange Recital.”

 

Is counting things always more “objective”?

Social science researchers employ so-called qualitative methods, such as case studies, interviews, documentary evidence, participant observation, and the quasi-quantitative method of survey research. Physical science researchers employ quantitative methods; they take measurements, collect and count data points, and formulate equations that model how systems change. The difference in methods is said to make the social sciences more subjective compared to the hard sciences. Interdisciplinary studies departments worldwide now offer courses combining quantitative and qualitative methods as a compromise intended to resist the privileging of one method over the other. In this talk, I will argue that we’ve been coming up with answers to the wrong question. Continue reading