Thomas hadn't left his apartment in two weeks. This was a bad relapse. He wasn’t completely off the rails – He could just return to normal tomorrow if he chose to. He could return to normal today. It wasn’t that bad. But it was bad. It was the closest he’d been to full relapse. Worst until now had been a couple of days at most, then a quick jog around town would set his mind straight. Getting his blood pumping.
Thomas’ blood was already pumping, that was the issue. He was nauseous all the time from the coffee and nicotine. But he needed it to do the Math. He needed to be at the peak of uppers to be able to “see” it. A connection. A shape. A logic. To recreate it. To map it, to draw it, to represent it.
It had started innocently enough. He saw an article on the internet. He didn’t click it, but just, something about it grabbed his attention. It was like any other clickbait, he’d seen a million times. Probably computer generated, he thought as a little joke to himself. How would you be able to tell the difference? There’s a lot of junk data, he assumed. Then he began to wonder – a little game. “I wonder if I could somehow find out how many people were online, at any given time”. Just, a rough estimate. He wasn’t crazy. It was just a fun thing to think about. A fun thought experiment.
Once he started thinking about it, though, he realised that he’d been noticing it for a while now. Months. Maybe years. He didn't know if it had been a gradual change, or if it was always like this, and he was gradually discovering it. The former seemed like a paranoid fantasy. The latter seemed like a schizophrenic one. There was only one cure for his madness: He had to represent it, map it out, draw it. He had to explain it, exactly what he was seeing. That way he could look at the whole picture, and recognize it as being crazy, and then discard it. It would be a way of getting over it. It would be a way of leaving it behind.
Two weeks ago Thomas found that he could no longer rest. The Shape that he had been noticing in glimpses, was now ever-present in all the little things he would normally do to take his mind off things.
He barely slept at all and when he woke up his lower back hurt, and he woke up still dreaming about numbers. It felt like much of it came together in his dreams, and he would reach conclusions and solve sub-problems in his sub-conscious. He would get up and go directly to his computer to write down what he had dreamt. The Problem was always on his mind.
Thomas had not been a particularly “smart” kid growing up. He didn’t have a gift for mathematics, and he even hated doing it. He’d never really felt this notion of platonic ideals, he’d never seen it as anything other than a practical use for small scale problems. He didn’t think of himself as a particularly logical guy. The tools were unwieldy in his hands and he handled them clumsily. He didn’t know how to “correctly” set up a formula, for example. He didn’t know how you’re supposed to structure it, he didn’t know what all the Greek letters meant. Only that they were Greek letters and representative of constants and variables.
First he tried to do it right, using the Greek letters and making it look nice. He would learn piecemeal what kind of letter he needed for every little bit of the process. Dotting one thing down, then having to learn more maths to be able to dot down the next thing, but for every new thing he learned what he’d just written down seemed wrong somehow. When he realised he’d have to learn all of it, and then start over from scratch, to do it right, he thought about killing himself.
Thomas wasn’t particularly suicidal, but just sort of lived without thinking too much about things. Life was stable, things evened out. Not particularly unhappy. But when he saw in his mind’s eye the possibility of this failure, of failing to represent the Shape, some wild madness screamed out in the back of his mind, and imagining living the rest of his life in that state – that madness, that lacking, that hole in his head, pushed life down from this sombre, grey indifference of eating and sleeping and occasionally having sex every other year, into being absolutely insufferable. To do all these things and live his little life, without knowing about the Shape, would have been easy. You could do that forever. But he had seen it, and he couldn’t put it out of his head. And to live like this – in this madness, in this state of uncertainty, would turn all his small pleasures into torture. It already had.
He had to articulate it, represent it, take it from inside him and put it outside him. He had to exorcise it from his mind, expel it like a sneeze, so that he could once again have his little pleasures – so he could once again rest. So he could once again breathe.
Having failed at maths, and the failure only increasing the pressure looming over him, Thomas began to write it out in sentences instead. Everything that can be expressed in a mathematical formula can be expressed in language, he thought, the formulae is just shorthand, to say something very specific in only a few words. But for mathematics to be valid, a formula would have to be perfectly equivalent with it’s explanation, he figured, and either would be equally precise, equally true, an equally representative picture of what was expressed.
Soon he discovered a new problem. Rather than not knowing the shortest way to express the next piece of the puzzle, he found that he had trouble finishing the very first part, and never actually to the part that had troubled him before. Rather than a single letter, he now wrote paragraph after paragraph, page after page, and found himself getting lost in the explanation of the simplest premise. Every time he thought he had it, he would remember some other little relevant thing, or some little thought, some little thing. It appeared as though every little piece of the equation, so to speak, was interrelated with every other little piece of it.
Every singular thing had relation to every other singular thing. To represent it in it’s totality was to create a new thing, which would create a new set of relations, to everything, and to every thing, which he now found to be two distinct different things. Soon he found himself unable to finish a sentence, except arbitrarily.
Maybe, Thomas thought, things are defined not by the totality of the set of their relations, but by their non-relations. That is, things are defined not by what they are, but what they are not. It is not about the totality of expression – the clear picture he sought to create of the Shape was not a way to express it “fully”, as he began to realise, that to express it fully would be equivalent with Being It – and either impossible, or it would transform him from a human being into the Shape. He realised that the Greek letters he had previously assumed to be the totality of expression of specific constants and variables were in fact the ultimately arbitrary expression of them; not the greatest, but the Least.
This seemed, at least, more practically workable. He began to end his long run-on sentences arbitrarily.
That night he dreamt of a Great Peacock the size of a thousand suns, fighting a great Snake across the vast void of space, and he woke up with a great fear in him.
Finally it began to come together. He was certain that no one would ever be able to read his explanation – but this no longer mattered. It was no longer a desire for communication, to express an idea for another to understand, it was no longer a transfer of information. What he sought now was the destruction of information - the image, the representation. Expelling it from his mind so he never had to think about it again - he realized this would be an act of destruction.
Thomas began to consider that his attempt to deconstruct the entire system of media-technology using nothing but his own mind, in a closed room, might have more to do with his dreams than he had first thought.
What if, he thought, it’s not that I’m obsessed with it and keep thinking about it in my sleep – what if it’s the other way around. Like the mistake I made about Algebra as being representative of complex language expressions – what If I had it the wrong way around?
He remembered a common trick used in film. He’d seen it so many times he didn’t remember where he saw it first – in fact he couldn’t remember any particular instance of it – but it was used in scenes where someone had a drug experience. The camera would zoom from the eye of the character, out, out, out, beyond the planet, sun and stars and galaxies, and keep zooming “out”, until it’s revealed as a loop, and it zooms back out of the eye the shot started in. It was like a roller-coaster ride, and made you nauseous.
Like a slap in the face, he could suddenly see the contour – the borders of the image. He realized – there’s a camera. It’s an effect, not an expression. it’s not an expression of a human experience, it’s an expression of human limitation; it’s not an expression of the world, it’s an expression of the inability to represent what the world really is; it’s not the case that the world is a loop from eyeball to itself, this idea, this shot, this meme, is not an expression of an idea – nothing like the Shape – it’s an expression of limitation. It is not profound – it’s a trick, they trick you by making you nauseous.
Taking a small break from writing, Thomas turned to twitter and scrolled for a bit, until he saw a link to an article called “dead internet theory”. He clicked it, and could instantly tell that a human being had written it. He breathed a huge sigh of relief.
“Oh. Well I guess it’s like 50 people or something then. WHEW. Load of my mind. Man what a relief”.