Hidden Layers: Spell Maps, Illusions, and Neural Networks

Anyone who’s ever watched Serial Experiments: Lain remembers the scene when Lain goes to greet her friends at school, but instead a doppelganger detaches from her and goes in her place–it’s the perfect expression of alienation, and evokes the idea that someone else is living your life. It also brings up questions about reality and identity: can we trust our senses to tell us what’s there or not? How many other things lie beyond sensory perception? Could someone fabricate reality? Are we who we think we are?

I like the idea of doppelgangers, but I like the idea of creating illusions even more. In Ursula LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea series, illusions are the easiest thing in the world, but when I sat down to figure out how to create illusions using my own system’s logic, I realized there were all kinds of difficulties: how do you trick all five senses? What sustains the illusion? What happens when you need to create something new, something that has never existed? The goal I had in mind was to create an illusory doppelganger, a kind of puppet that could be controlled by an unseen mage nearby.

Part of the process of creating an illusory person could be accomplished with an AutoCAD-like process–sculpting a person like a 3D model in isolation, adding details and textures like a video game character. But from there you run into the same problems video game characters do: how does the doppelganger ‘model’ interact with it’s environment realistically? How do you simulate the flapping of clothing when running, or when it’s windy out? How do you correctly recreate the sounds of footsteps on tile floors vs. cobblestones?How does the model deal with gravity and changes of elevation in terrain, let alone clipping through things like doors or tables? The model would need to be meticulously crafted to keep it from coming across as a glitchy mess.

The other issue is how to make it move, walk, and talk at all. One solution is to have its controller act out the movements verbatim in real-time with the situation, but that leads to all kinds of problems–if the controller is hidden somewhere, observing the situation, they need to react perfectly in time with outside actions, meaning that if there’s any disruption in line of sight, the whole facade is ruined. The biggest problem is when people or objects try to interact with the illusion model–if someone throws an apple at the doppelganger, the apple will pass through the illusion. Even if a controller were able to weave more illusions on the fly to correct this, by say, making an illusion that the model had caught the apple, the real apple would still make a sound as it hit the floor. The latency issues would be rough.

So there are a lot of issues here, and ones I didn’t really know how to solve practically. Luckily, Google came to the rescue.

One of the big recent announcements from Google’s I/O conference was that developers had created a method called AutoML, which is a system that guides artificial neural networks in creating other neural networks for a specific purpose, like speech or image recognition. Some of the networks created using AutoML actually surpassed the ones created by humans–meaning that an artificially intelligent system had beaten humans at creating systems similar to itself. What really caught my attention, though, was the structure of neural networks:

Image result for neural network structure

The nodes and interconnecting lines reminded me of summoning circles and occult diagrams, like the Tree of Sephiroth:

Here’s the thing about neural networks: they’re incredibly difficult and time-consuming to create and alter. The amazing thing about AutoML is that using a neural network to create other neural networks means that human programmers can delegate the heavy lifting to the AI, which is very adept at trawling through millions of nodes and collecting/changing basic information. With that kind of automation, all the programmers need to do is give it feedback on whether the networks it’s creating are doing a good job.

Here’s an example of what an AutoML-created daughter neural network looks like (right), compared to a human-designed neural network (left) meant to solve the same problem):

With this in mind, I started thinking about how a mage might use the structure of a neural network (and the techniques of AutoML) to create a doppleganger that is not only realistic and responsive, but is (for the most part) autonomous.

Now, just like a real neural network, this magical, semi-autonomous doppelganger would be a dumb automaton–maybe Turing complete, but not capable of doing anything it wasn’t instructed to do. This, however, is where deep learning comes in–the ability for neural networks to independently develop more complex layers to deal with problems. Given enough data and power and a competent neural network, there can be an element of emergence–the arising of a large phenomenon from smaller interactions.

It’s important to realize that neural networks are based off the structure of the human brain, and that when you create a new one, you’re essentially creating the possibility of a new brain to develop, one that can learn, make decisions, and change itself based on inputs. The problem, however, is allowing the system to change itself–as XKCD brings up, you could make a fully functional computer with rocks and enough space, but it would be extremely slow. So how could a neural network-like spell develop and change itself?

What I imagine is a mage who turns their body into a living canvas, with their skin becoming the hardware and the spells becoming the software. After laying down the basic structure of the neural network and employing the techniques similar to AutoML, the spell would begin to spit out output spells, which the mage would then look at and give feedback on. In this case, magic would be the stand-in for electricity, and the human body would take the place of a terminal or OS. Once the networks became complex and developed enough, the mage would essentially be walking around with a second brain on their body, operating in real time and generating a doppelganger like a projector. Creating illusions is just one use–reprogrammed, this same structure could be used for all kinds of magical purposes, including creating new custom spells.

Of course, the process of training the magical neural network and doing backpropagation would still take time, effort, and expertise, but the great thing about the AutoML system is that it can conceivably be used by non-experts to create an intermediary network that can do the more complicated tasks of creating and altering new, purpose-crafted networks. It essentially offers a shortcut to more complex creations.

In the end, it all comes back to Lain and Ghost in the Shell–can we create a facsimile of a person with the emergent property of consciousness? At what point does the illusion become indistinguishable from reality? When do we give up on our senses to tell us who is real and who isn’t? Who slips into my robot body and whispers to my ghost?

Hidden Layers: Spell Maps, Illusions, and Neural Networks

Writing Hypertext Fiction: The Dream-Eater

Since college, I’ve wanted to write a story using hypertext, partly because of Serial Experiments: Lain. The show weaves together a bunch of different references to conspiracy theories and cyberpunk elements, including references to Xanadu, the life-long work of Ted Nelson. Xanadu was one the first hypertext projects, and was meant to lay the groundwork for “a global community united by perfect information.” There’s a great article in Wired about it, which includes a profile and interview of Nelson. Here’s the clip from Lain:

Fittingly, there’s another fantastic article in Wired about why hypertext fiction is a defunct format. In short, it’s generally considered too difficult to write and too hard to read, all without bringing substantial advantages over traditional, linear fiction. Print versions of hypertext literature, like House of Leaves or Choose Your Own Adventure, are either messes or lacking in depth.

As I’ve said before, any kind of ergodic literature should be intuitive and feature a narrative that matches the format. That’s what I’m shooting for in this new story, which is about time and dopplegangers.

The story has a working title of “Dream-Eater.” It takes place in an underground city that’s divided into two caverns, which have opposite day and night schedules. The story begins with a narcomancer, a dream-mage, waking up and realizing that his sleep schedule has been broken and he’s been sleeping for the past 24 hours. To compound that, he can’t remember what parts of the previous day were real, and which parts were just his dreams. In that 24-hour period, though, someone that looks like him has been carrying on his routine: cleaning clothes, talking to his friends, etc. The story is about him trying to reconstruct what happened before he went to sleep and what his doppleganger did while he was sleeping. It’s also about his slipping grip on reality.

To chart out the flow of the story and divide it into nodes, I started writing notes:

IMG_1883 IMG_1884

The arrows on the left represent links to other nodes, which in this story lead to memories (which are fragmented and need to be pieced together), dreams, thoughts, or texts, like books or sheet music that don’t need to be included in the main text. The idea is to have the surface level of the story in the main nodes, but the deeper layers that reveal the truth, like thoughts and memories, hidden in a series of lower nodes that branch off the main narrative at strategic points. This way, the mystery isn’t just exploring the world and reality, it’s exploring the inner space of the protagonist.

Writing Hypertext Fiction: The Dream-Eater

The Grinning Man: Necromancer Helmet Concept Art

When I think of necromancers, I imagine a cross between a Zen Buddhist monk, an amateur surgeon, and a hardcore survivalist preparing for the end of the world. It’s not about raising an army of the dead and taking a kingdom, it’s about being the last man standing when the Sun falls out of the sky. It’s about living forever. This is someone with the apocalypse constantly on their mind, thinking of contingencies. That obsession with survival made me think of an astronaut’s space helmet, a kind of sealed, self-contained piece of headwear that could protect the skull and seal out dust, fire, and the vacuum of space.

I started to wonder what a survivalist necromancer’s helmet would like, so I drew on some of my favorite helmet designs from across all kinds of media, from Neon Genesis Evangelion and Elfen Lied to Daft Punk and TES III: Morrowind. The final product was appropriately macabre, frightening, and functional for someone bent on eating souls and living forever.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind: The Native Chuzei Bonemold Helm

chuzei native bonemold helmet morrowind

(If you haven’t read my long-ass post about how Morrowind should be the gold standard for fantasy worldbuilding, read it here)

Morrowind’s Bonemold armor is so damn cool: crafted from bonemeal, the individual pieces of armor are molded in hard, light shapes, like the lacquered wooden armor of samurai. Each Dunmer House has its own style of armor, with their own custom helmets and shields, each reflecting their own unique character. House Redoran’s helmet had a shawl to keep out the dust and House Telvanni had some kind of insane squid helmet because they’re weird-ass wizards who live in mushrooms. But the single coolest helmet in the history of fantasy gaming is the Native Chuzei Bonemold Helm.

The swept-back design with the swooping crest on the back and lack of conventional eyeholes in favor of dual slits made it look intimidating, alien, and sort of like a grinning, demonic face. I loved this helmet, and I wanted to steal its design for any kind of helmet I made in the future.

Daft Punk: Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s helmet

I have an obsession with Daft Punk, especially their helmets. There’s something about the anonymity of masks that makes the wearer larger than life. My favorite version of Guy-Manuel’s helmet is still the one used in ELECTROMA.

When I was still in high school, I actually attempted to make Guy’s gold and black helmet from a skateboard helmet, a motorcycle visor, and a paintball mask:

daft punk plans japanese cosplaydaft punk helmet plans

I loved the helmet design so much that I wanted to incorporate in my stories, which is where Guy Manuel’s helmet merged with the Chuzei helm to create the helmets that the Elves in my stories wear:

cagnazzo orpheus helmet photo chris mahon occult

Elves in my stories are the end-products of generations of the pursuit of immortality: humans warped and altered into a completely different species. Their helmets, like my initial astronaut helmet idea, allowed them to survive the vacuum of space, like the starfish-headed Old Ones in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. And like other human necromancers, survival was the ultimate priority.

The skull-hugging shape, smooth lines and lack of conventional eyeholes stuck with me in particular. But that changed when I saw…

Neon Genesis Evangelion: EVA Unit-01’s helmet

By fora on Deviant Art

Evangelion is my favorite piece of media, hands-down. Between the Kabbalah occultism, the Phillip K. Dick-inspired apocalyptica, the complex mathematics and existentialist philosophers snuck into the show, it is the Space Odyssey: 2001 of mindfucks. And they had some really cool robots.

There’s a rumor that Hideaki Anno, the creator of NGE, wanted the EVA units to be extremely complicated so that the famously aggressive Japanese toy industry wouldn’t be able to create action figures of them. In the end, we still got Evangelion canned bread.

The most beloved EVA unit, and my favorite, too, is Unit 01. It’s got a kind of kabuto helmet, and its giant, toothed jaws are both really cool and absolutely horrifying once it starts screaming and eating other EVA units.


Yeah, the EVAs are nightmarish homonculi made of human flesh and bone grafted onto mechanical parts, animated by trapped human souls with the capability for madness and rage. The reveal that EVA Unit 01’s helmet covers something approximating a metallic skull is one of the images from NGE that stuck with me. The teeth and jaw especially appealed to me.

Elfen Lied: Lucy’s helmet

elfen lied manga helmet

Elfen Lied is the most violent, gory, and traumatic romantic comedy anime ever (only half-joking here). From the opening minutes of the first episode, a naked pre-pubescent girl sealed in a helmet from The Man in the Iron Mask starts vivisecting, decapitating, and ripping the literal hearts out of a team of security personnel in a juxtaposition of eroticism, innocence, and relentless, brutal gore.

elfen lied gore violenceAnd damn is that helmet cool.


Lucy’s helmet is relatively simple, both in its design and concept: round head and jaw piece sealed onto the skull to restrain a prisoner in a test facility. It looks suitably clinical, the kind of medical appliance you’d imagine would be in use in a telekinesis research facility. In Lucy’s case, wearing this helmet isn’t a choice–it’s forced onto her, as a means of control, as if they were trying to seal her skull in a container, like an airtight jar.

The Necromancer Helmet: THE GRINNING MAN

Building off the idea of “the crownless king,” the title I made for a necromancer who could survive decapitation, I wanted to create a helmet for a character who would keep their head sealed in a helmet like a safe. This would be Oroboro, the same necromancer mentioned in the Ergodica posts. From there, this character could actually substitute other people’s heads for their own, as a sort of voodoo: with possession of another person’s head, they could gain all of that person’s knowledge, speak in their voice, and communicate with their ghost. The idea emerged of a necromantic collector, someone who collects trophies from their dead enemies and binds their ghosts to his helmet by stealing their heads.

I imagined an eyeless helmet with a hinge on the front, so the entire thing could open like a pear of anguish, and a removable jaw.

Culaith helmet draft Chris 3 Culaith mask draft Chris 1 Culaith mask draft Chris 2 Culaith mask draft 4 Chris

I decided to describe the helmet to a friend of mine, Joel, who has done a lot of fantasy concept art in the past. This is what I told him:

“When you consume someone’s ghost or soul, you gain all of their memories, identity, and knowledge…he keeps the heads of people he values in his helmet, or their teeth embedded in it. The teeth are like quick-keys to call up the ghosts of those he wants to channel, and the head in the helmet is possessed. He’s supposed to be an abomination. The helmet and everything connected to it breaks every rule I could think of when it comes to magical morality…I’m not sure how I want the jaw mechanism to work–I was hoping you could help me figure that out. The goal of it is to be able to unhinge the jaw, so he can take abnormally large objects into himself, like a snake. As for the material, I was thinking of either iron or heavily pitted and varnished wood.”

After some back and forth about the lore behind the helmet, the magic and mechanisms, Joel produced this rough sketch, meant to depict an iron helmet:

Culaith helmet sketch Joel

Joel described his sketch like this: “I really liked the worked metal aspect around the teeth, like it’s been scratched or welded into shape to hold the teeth, so I ran with that. Tried to give it more of the welded look, it makes it look almost flesh while the rest of the helmet is obviously metal. I thought the concave shape around the teeth gave it a more unnatural look and gave the impression that you almost had to dig out some of the mask to find the teeth underneath.”

I loved Joel’s sketch, especially the teeth–they evoke the ravenous, all-consuming potential of the eyeless Langoliers from Stephen King’s story The Langoliers, as well as David Hine’s graphic novel, “The Man Who Laughs,” published by Self Made Hero, which was the inspiration for Batman’s Joker. I decided to dub this helmet “The Grinning Man.”

With Joel’s rough sketch showing how it all would fit together, I decided to do a sketch of my own based off Joel’s art, showing the complete helmet:

chris oroboro culaith helmet necromancy


Necromancers can be a lot more than guys summoning skeletons. These are the people who are plumbing the depths of life and death, the decay of the body and the action of time, searching for the line between man and god, mortal and immortal. They can be horrifying in their own right, and they don’t even need zombies to get the job done. And they can look absolutely terrifying while doing it.



ERGODICA, Part 2: Interdimensional Necromantic Blues

Be sure to read Part 1 of ERGODICA here.

Last post, I brought up the idea of a “corpse book,” a piece of ergodic literature that uses the human body as the blueprint for its narrative structure. Before I start unpacking the insanity behind this idea and the ensuing project (which will involve philosophy, mathematics, occultism, and the nature of reality) it’s helpful to know what the hell “ergodic” means. According to the internet, “ergodic” means:

“relating to or denoting systems or processes with the property that, given sufficient time, they include or impinge on all points in a given space and can be represented statistically by a reasonably large selection of points”

Ergodic literature, however, is defined as the following:

“In ergodic literature, nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. If ergodic literature is to make sense as a concept, there must also be nonergodic literature, where the effort to traverse the text is trivial, with no extranoematic responsibilities placed on the reader except (for example) eye movement and the periodic or arbitrary turning of pages.”

The corpse book, as I imagine it, makes sense in both of these definitons–mathematical and literary. So sit back and open your mind here–we’re going to take a journey into the wondrous world of imagination, starting with the oh-so-fun topic of death and Kierkegaard.

There is a famous work written by Soren Kierkegaard, under the name Anti-Climacus, titled “The Sickness Unto Death.” The title comes from the Bible, in the Gospel of John–in that Gospel, Jesus comes across a dying man named Lazarus, and utters the words “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” ‘This sickness’ refers to his dying condition, and the meaning of Jesus’ statement can be read as “This man’s death isn’t for nothing–it is part of God’s plan.”

Death is the focus of a lot of different philosophies, but especially existentialism and Zen Buddhism: death represents the annihilation of the self, including our memories, our personalities, and everything that forms our identity. Death, in a lot of ways, is the crux of all philosophy, which led Albert Camus (who I hate) to say that the only true philosophical question worth pondering is suicide.

For Kierkegaard, the truly frightening thing is the sickness unto death, the death that is for nothing and no one, the death that means nothing. Kierkegaard imagines the human soul as trapped between the infinite and finite, always being pulled in both directions at once: on the one hand, we are divine creatures with immortal souls, but on the other we are bound to our bodies, senses, and everything that entails. The pursuit to reconcile these two is the heart of Kierkegaard’s existentialism, and offers a meaning to life. But to reject that quest, to say IMG_0955“fuck the infinite and the finite!”, is to choose despair. To choose despair, and to keep living, is to choose the sickness unto death.

In my stories and my world, the question of the sickness unto death is the chief philosophical concern. Death comes about from one thing: decay. So necromancy has risen up to deal with the practical concerns: how to keep the body intact and repaired ad infinitum, how to move a soul out of a decaying flesh body into a vessel like a phylactery or an artificial body, etc. Some kinds of necromancy, even more complicated and rare, aim to alter the body’s place in time, allowing people to slice minutes or seconds as thin as hairs, stretching out the moments. In all of these cases, the body is the central concern. Without a body, you have no tie to earthly existence, to the finite. So the body is the chief concern of necromancers.

This is the central feature of the “corpse book” I’m imagining: to tell a story about a necromancer, the story itself would have to take on the form of a body…or a corpse.

Part 2: Kabbalah, Evangelion, and the Oneness of Things

In Kabbalah, the Sephiroth is a map of all god’s creation, laid out symbolically. It’s made of twelve different parts, called sephira, each one representing a different aspect of the universe, God, and a step on the path to ultimate enlightenment. As you climb up the Tree, from the lower to the higher 6271sephira, more is revealed by the different interconnections between them: the relationships between the sephira mean as much as the sephira themselves, creating layers and nets of meaning.

One of the many ways to understand the relation of the different sephira is to see them as parts of a giant body, with the feet (malkuth, the lowest sephira, representing the material world) touching earthly existence and the head (Kether, the highest sephira, representing God’s consciousness) touching the heavens. With this symbolism, the human body itself becomes a map of the universe and the path to enlightenment.

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons Evangelion pisses me off so much, making me say “God DAMN it, that’s clever.”

The Tree of Sephiroth shows up as a consistent motif across the Evangelion series, all the way to End of Evangelion, where the Mass Production EVAs enact a ritual that lifts the crucified EVA-01 into the sky, rising in a formation with an overlaid Sephiroth pattern, each EVA representing a different sephira. Below, from the clouds, rises a giant white body, which is the unity of Lilith (the female aspect of creation) and Adam (the male aspect of creation). The giant Lilith-Adam becomes the catalyst for Instrumentality, tumblr_inline_o091y7adxv1tryobx_540subsuming Shinji and all human souls into itself in order to either destroy humanity or cause its rebirth. So what we’re given here is a literal reenactment of the Sephiroth, the map to the totality of God’s creation, as a giant human body initiating the destruction and creation of the world. The giant has its feet on the surface of the Earth, and it’s head is in fucking space, staring at Shinji so he can have a liaison with Kether by being literally sucked into Rei’s forehead.

So there you have it: a narrative, visual synthesis of Kabbalah, a protagonist’s literal apotheosis, and the culmination of a story about understanding the human condition through one person’s journey into themselves. It’s perfect. Damn it.

The relationship of the Sephiroth to the human body speaks to an interesting phenomenon in mysticism and philosophy: the multiple meanings of things, and the conflation of different meanings. The Tree of Sephiroth can represent the human body just as it represents the map of creation, just as it represents a map of the path to enlightenment, just as it represents God. Thus, the body is the universe is God is enlightenment. This is why mystics keep talking about the “oneness” of things, that we are all “one.” To their eyes, the eyes of the enlightened, everything is everything else. The smallest insect is an expression of the ultimate truth of being, just as the rhizomantic nature of a flock of birds points to the order within the seeming chaos of being. The world is filled with hidden symmetries and patterns that all form the tip of a single iceberg.

It all sounds like some real mystical bullshit until you become aware of the existence of fractals.

Part 3: Fractals, Infinity, and Triangular Gaskets

So the human body, the vessel of the soul and the central feature of necromancy in my world, has a lot of meaning attached to it. Most of these meanings transcend the flesh and blood of human anatomy, but some are very literally embedded in it. Fractals are “a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” Fractals have a metapattern that nests within itself, with the smallest complete part of the pattern being a miniature reflection of the whole pattern.
Fractals show up in snowflakes, wave patterns in the ocean, crystl-systemresults2als, and plants, among other places. When electricity is injected into certain mediums, the resulting branching pattern has fractal qualities. But the most immediate example is human veins, which resemble patterns called L-Systems. L-systems are also found in tree limbs and wheat stalks, and appears in mathematical models of population growth for simple kinds of life, like algae. In pure mathematics they show up in Pascal’s Triangle and infinite recursion, among dozens of other places. In each of these cases, the fractals form patterns that nest inside themselves and expand outside of themselves forever–in their purest forms, fractal patterns are infinite.


So let’s break this down. There is a type of pattern that is found in both nature and in pure mathematics that affirms the idea that no matter how large or complicated the pattern, the smallest piece of something can reflect its whole. This pattern has within its very nature the potential to be infinite, but is also found in finite forms: veins within human bodies, branches on trees, etc. Fractals seem to be, in a lot of really fascinating ways, a bridge to understanding the way to reconcile the impossible poles of the finite and infinite, the micro-scale and the macro-scale. Contained within fractal patterns, then, is potentially an expression of the path to enlightenment.

But then there’s the Hausdorff dimension.

I am not a mathematician. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again. But the relationship between fractals and their Hausdorff dimension, to me, is one that seems to evoke sheer madness.

When you measure the sides of a square, you get a solid number. 10 centimeters. 18.465 centimeters. But when you try to measure a fractal shapes’ dimensions, the answer depends on how big your magnifying glass is. Since true fractals repeat in smaller and smaller iterations forever, measuring a true fractal would be impossible, since every time you tried to measure a part of it, you would discover an even smaller part contained within it which needed measuring, and an even smaller part within that one. Think of cutting the corners off of a table, turning a square into an octagon. Then cut the corners off the octagon. So on. This is something akin to the famous Zeno’s Paradox, mentioned in my previous post about Mr. Powell.

The Hausdorff dimension tries to measure the dimension of objects, whether one dimensional or three dimensional. Usually the Hausdorff dimension can be expressed as a whole integer, like 2 or 3. But fractals, which tinker with infinity, have bizarre Hausdorff dimensions, ones that defy logic or reality. They’re anomalous, impossible, but like the arrow in Zeno’s Paradox, it’s hard to draw the line between being mathematically impossible and physically impossible–especially when fractals seem to form some of the underlying patterns across nature and math.

My favorite is still the previously mentioned Pascal’s Triangle, which was part of the inspiration for “Chris Mahon’s Occult Triangle Lab.” The patterns within the triangle, when drawn out, create a well-known fractal pattern, the Sierpinski Gasket.


Part 4: Fractal Immortality, Interdimensional Necromancy, and You

I mentioned a couple ways that necromancy deals with staving off death from the physical body. I mentioned the alteration of the body through repair or the use of a vessel, like a phylactery. I also mentioned the manipulation of time.

Imagine you’re a particularly clever necromancer, one who explores the soul’s connection between the infinite and the finite, those two binary positions. If the finite is expressed as 1, then the infinite could be expressed as 0. These are mathematical limits, and the human soul exists between them somewhere. But what if you explored mathematics in addition to necromancy? Things like Zeno’s Paradox and the nature of fractals. You would find that between two limits, even 0 and 1, there is an infinity of points curling in on themselves, nested upon one another to eternity. If the human Hausdorff dimension exists somewhere between 0 and 1, is there a bizarre decimal value, a little valley where you could live inside the limits but outside of existence? Is it possible for mathematics to come across a piece of math that takes it outside of anything math can explain?

It’s absolutely possible. In fact, it’s impossible to prove it’s not.

There’s a theory called Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. From Wikipedia:

“The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an “effective procedure” (i.e., any sort of algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the relations of the natural numbers (arithmetic). For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that such a system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.”

What this boils down to is that there is no way to definitively prove that any given system, like mathematics, is consistent when you use that system to test itself. So imagine you want to escape the finite and the infinite from within that system of 0 and 1. It’s not impossible. In fact, there are already things within that boundary that show that there’s whole worlds within the bounds of 0 and 1, where everything breaks down and the rules become meaningless: fractals.

IMG_0855Imagine escaping three dimensions for 1.38 dimensions. Death has no meaning there. Your body has no meaning there. It’s a kind of infinity, just a smaller type, a stranger type within a bigger infinity. Your soul, your self, that’s infinite, too. You could live forever. But it’s the crossing over that would be difficult–transcending or descending from this dimension.

And this is where everything goes wrong for our necromantic protagonist.

He doesn’t make it from this dimension into the fractal dimension. He makes a mistake, somewhere deep in his arcane mathematics. And now his soul, his self, is trapped between the finite, the infinite, and another, fractal infinity. As you can probably imagine, this non-Euclidean, neo-Lovecraftian experience can drive a person insane.

The effect of this cross-dimensional interpollation, in my conception, would be the decay of the soul instead of the body: instead of hanging in stasis between finite and infinite, the closed system would become unstable, with the soul getting ripped apart and slowly sucked into the fractal dimension like water going down a drain. This would be a gradual annihilation of the soul over a period of time that couldn’t be measured in reality, but rather by its own, internal clock.

This would be the plot of the corpse book.

Part 5: Ergodic Literature, Ciphers, and Counting Down to Annihilation

Fractals form the heart of the structure and narrative of this book, linking together time, death, immortality, the decay of the body, the infinite, finite, and wide-eyed madness, and the way to read about it all necessitates a special way to navigate the story.
The story told in this corpse book is one told across several limbs, or tertiary books, all of which are interconnected in the same manner of the Tree of Sephiroth. All of the books combined represent the symbolic body of the protagonist, divided into respective facets of his self.

In my current plan, each of these limb books are to contain approximately 10,500 words. This is because the average person reads at roughly 175 words per minute. With five limb books (head, feet, arms) and a central “torso” book of 63,00 words, that adds up to roughly 12 hours of reading time. This is the “internal clock” I was talking about: as you’re reading each word, minutes pass in both your world and the world of the narrative, meaning that the protagonist’s soul is gradually dissolving in real time.

These are the last 12 hours of his life, and the individual pieces of his self are disappearing one by one, infinity eating him alive. The name of the book would be OROBORO.

occult triangle lab oroboro

Imagine trying to navigate a mind like that. Instead of a clean, perfectly symmetrical path across his Sephiroth, the path would be jumbled, fragmented, insane. This would be more like piecing together a falling building than reading the linear chronology of an adventure. So I imagine that each limb book would be fragmented, asking you to return to the central torso book a couple times to help unravel its individual story, with the narrative crossing the boundaries between the books and the reader decoding the path forward as they go along.

My initial idea is to have a word or a name become a cipher, something with significance. Using a process similar to my last post about encoding true names into hexadecimal or binary, certain phrases would be ciphers to figure out the path of the narrative, whether that was a page number, a certain passage, or one of the other limb books though I’d probably keep the torso book as the main “reference” book for each limb book to keep things simpler. The torso book would be like a dictionary or an astrology chart peppered with hidden pieces of the story, unintelligible until you saw the rest of the puzzle.

Tied into this idea of moving between a cipher guiding a reader’s path through the torso book and the constant decay of the protagonist’s soul in real time, I thought it would be appropriate to use a system that involved modular arithmetic, the same system that clocks use.

410129712_origThe modulo would begin at twelve, the number of hours until the final dissolution of the protagonist’s soul, and with each passing limb book (which take 2 hours to read), the modulo would decrease by 2. The advantage is that the modulo system is a relatively easy kind of mental arithmetic, something readers could do in their heads or on the back of a Post-It. Another possibility would be to use a Sierpinski gasket as the main mechanic, using the numbers and patterns contained in it as an easy cipher.

If everything is done right, the process of figuring out the cipher will force the reader to inhabit the same mindset as the protagonist himself, immersing them in the same world of arcane mathematics and hidden patterns that brought him to where he is now. This is a world of fantasy, after all: a world of wizards and necromancers who bury themselves in old, dusty, esoteric tomes to find forbidden knowledge that takes them deep into an unseen world.

It reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness, in some ways. Once the heroes penetrate the city of the Old Ones and begin exploring its depths, they begin to find walls of pictograms that show their history, from their arrival on earth to the rebellion of the Shoggoths. There’s dozens of pages recounting this history as the protagonist unravels it, and instead of feeling like it’s an information dump, it begins to illuminate everything else about the city.


The way I see it, the whole cipher-puzzle system asks readers to learn something new as they read, picking up the skills and mindset naturally as they follow the narrative, until they find themselves applying it to advance the story. The story would ask you not just to absorb it, but navigate it, and that navigation would bring you closer to understanding the central character and the esoteric, frightening, and entrancing arts of interdimensional immortality, and what drove him to seek it out.

Part 6: V FOR VENDETTA, Ideas, and the Outro

So what we have is Kierkegaard’s existentialism, Buddhism, immortality, Kabbalah, fractals, and Godel’s Incompleteness theorem woven into a piece of experimental literature about an interdimensional necromancer trapped between two infinities. That’s the basic layout of this project I’m working on, the elevator pitch. It’s fun to weave all these ideas together, to play around with them and find weird, interesting parallels and symmetries. When I read V FOR VENDETTA, one of the things I wondered was if Alan Moore and his co-writer started getting freaked out when they put together all of the striking connections between Guy Fawkes, the letter V, and the number 5, the symbol for anarchy, quotes from Faust, and the story they were weaving. It seemed like it all fit together too well, as if these patterns were all there from the beginning, waiting to be discovered. Of course, when you’re a writer you try to force everything to fit together into a perfect thematic pattern, but maybe there comes a point, like in Foucault’s Pendulum, when yov-for-vendettau begin to feel like you are part of the pattern, not the one creating it. Terrifyingly enough, that sentiment, too, is part of V FOR VENDETTA:

“I had to see it. There wasn’t much left. But when I was there it was strange. I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected. It’s like I could see the whole thing, one long chain of events that stretched all the way back before Larkhill. I felt like I could see everything that happened, and everything that is going to happen. It was like a perfect pattern, laid out in front of me. And I realised we’re all part of it, and all trapped by it.”

There’s a lot more to writing a story that piecing together a lot of really cool ideas. I said that before about Neal Stephenson. But a famous writer once said that writers end up writing the kind of thing that they want to read. This is the kind of thing I want to read, because it’s exciting, bizarre, and fascinating. I bet if I looked, I could find other people who think the same thing. It’s inspiring to test the bounds of imagination and creativity and storytelling. I think that’s one of the things that makes writing fiction so unique.

occult triangle lab sketches

ERGODICA, Part 2: Interdimensional Necromantic Blues