Archive for August 4th, 2010
Sometimes you read a book and it changes the way you think about your environment. I had such an experience Sunday when, sitting on the shore of Rangeley Lake as the kids swam, I read Luann Yetter’s Remembering Franklin County – Stories from the Sandy River Valley. The book provides glimpses into life in Farmington, Maine and nearby communities over the last 235 years. I came away from that short read (I read it in one sitting – only 128 pages) with a new appreciation for the community in which I live, and a better sense of its history.
Really, you might ask? A 128 page beach read did that?! Histories of Farmington have been written (and were cited by Yetter), and I’m sure if I took the time I’d find them fascinating. As a journalist, however, Yetter has the instinct to “find the story” and paint an image succinctly yet effectively. My mind could see early log cabins, the first frame houses, the paths, roads, and people. Driving through town my mind thinks about how things once looked, and seeing names like “Knowlton Corner road” I wonder if its the same Knowlton who did not want a unified Farmington in 1794.
I could envision the people, the buildings, and the sense of excitement and apprehension in leaving the civilized coast to venture into Maine’s forest. She describes the early settlers — like the Titcombs and the Belchers — and what it meant to move into the wilderness. With it now so easy to hop on highway 27 to head down to Augusta, it’s hard to fathom the idea that the Kennebec river was so far a way that you had to be a subsistence farmer to survive out here, and that early on travel was rare and often impossible in winter.
I also found the people fascinating. Though they worked immensely hard, the core New England values of pragmatism, community and education could be seen. These weren’t rogue settlers who couldn’t make it in elsewhere, but educated and civilized New Englanders realizing if a new community were to take off, they’d be in the center of the action, profiting.
A few stories stuck out. Farmington became a town in 1794 by act of the Massachusetts legislature (Maine was part of Massachusetts then). They wanted to have the right to raise taxes to build an infrastructure so the town could grow and profit. I was a bit surprised by the fact they still used British Pounds as currency. Supply Belcher, the man who would represent Farmington at the legislature also managed to publish music he’d been writing — apparently he was a very good composer, though his work to create a new town kept him from writing much music after that. He was also opposed by people living in what is now Chesterville and Farmington Falls, who had seen the balance of power shift to the east side of the Sandy River, a few miles down. Belcher won; if not, where I live now wouldn’t officially be in Farmington!
I also never knew about the contested election of 1879 when Governor Garcelon tried to essentially steal the election for the Democrats from the Republicans. He discounted results in many locations, and in Farmington that shifted the election to the Democrat, Louis Voter. Voter, however, decided integrity was more important than partisan victory and refused to go to Augusta, helping derail the plans. I also thought the old tradition about the winning candidate buying a barrel of rum for a raucous victory celebration was cool — perhaps that could be brought back (are you reading this, Lance?)
I was moved by the story of the Croswell store in Farmington Falls. In part, it helped show just how the region developed. It started catering to subsistence farmers, dealing in things they couldn’t produce themselves, often less in currency than arranging trades to Hallowell (the nearest trading center, including what is now Augusta). Then it grew, expanded to carriages, changed with the times, weathered panics and depressions, but finally had to close in 1958. That, and the profiles Yetter gives of interesting personalities such as Julia Eastman showed that even though we may now be living in a time for transformation, every generation has seen their world change.
My favorite story connects with where I work – the University of Maine Farmington. It traces its lineage back to the Farmington Academy, begun in 1807. At that time they bought a bell from a Boston Silversmith named Paul Revere. Revere (not yet immortalized in poetry) would complain about non-payment as an economic crisis hit and the Academy lacked funds. He ultimately got paid, and the Academy went through a few incarnations and name changes before becoming the University of Maine Farmington.
Yetter’s description of the change from the virtually inaccessible harsh early days on the Sandy River to the growth of the town and connection via roads and trade to the outside world illustrates dramatic development. I’d been told when we bought our house that where we live — now forested — had once been farm land. You can see it from the trees, which are clearly young despite their height. Farms ultimately became unprofitable, with the ‘big boom’ after World War II bringing modernism and change to this region.
Yet now I see things in this town I didn’t before. It’s not just a pretty New England town I got lucky enough to find a job in, it’s alive with history and personalities, I feel a bit more connected. I also understand why I’ll always be “from away.” Those here grew up with the town and are connected to it. Yet the original settlers also came from away, and there is a commonality. The Ingalls who settled in South Dakota and endured hardship were of the same kind of stock as the Titcombs and Belchers. The notion of leaving comfort and security to set out to build a new life is a common American story.
Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides Now” has a line that came to mind as I thought about this: “Something’s lost but something’s gained by living every day.” We’ve gained a lot since then. We have all the modern conveniences, ranging from grocery stores to easy delivery of mail and goods purchased on line. We’re wireless, connected and prosperous beyond imagination. Even the poor amongst us have it pretty good when compared to most of the rest of human history. Yet we’ve also lost something, we’ve become dependent on conveniences, and few would undertake the risk the Titcombs took bringing children and a young baby into the barely explored forest to start a new life with no guarantee of success (to be sure, even their families at the time thought it a bit foolhardy).
We don’t have that option. Life is organized, controlled, under surveillance, and kept safe. Risk has become something to be avoided at all costs, due to both government regulations and the fear of law suits. In my modern persona I would not want to live back then — I wouldn’t know how to navigate what it would take to survive, let alone thrive. I’ve been spoiled by modernity. Yet part of me wishes I could have had that chance.
(More posts on the Quantum Life handbook: Click here).
As noted on August 3rd, I have come to possess a very strange booklet, a supposed “user’s guide” for a game called “Quantum Life.” It’s written in English, which is posited as a “Quantum Life language.” Here’s more from that book:
How Quantum Life works
The idea originally belonged to Sunitolp, who wondered what it would be like if we could experience existence without the knowledge of our essential unity and sense of purpose. While others focused on advancing connections between entities and enhancing the satisfaction of how we experience our world, Sunitolp explored the dark side — what if we lacked knowledge of reality, what if we were disconnected from each other, what if we lived without the certainty of purpose and meaning?
This led at first to some theoretical work, wherein Sunitolp posited the concept of fear. If entities did not understand the unity and purpose of existence, rather than experiencing the world with joy and contentment they would be anxious about what would happen to them, and whether their existence was even worth while. Though that can be understood in theory, Sunitolp wanted to find a way to actually experience that kind of existence. This started a twenty year* process of creating what would become both a game and an exploration of the self, Quantum Life.
* Year is a time unit used in the game. Since this manual has been written using a Quantum Life language, concepts involving process have to be converted to what is known of as “time” in the game. Many concepts are translated in ways that do not capture their true essence, given that the language being used here is limited to the space-time constraints of the game.
How it Works
Sunitolp hired some of the best engineers to develop an artificial reality that can “write itself” and provide almost infinite variations on how one experiences this reality. Since this guide is written in English, one of the quantum languages, the ability to express the complexity of this artificial reality is difficult. Essentially it starts with one event (the creation of this reality, also known as “space-time”) which contains within it many possible permeations. As those possibilities are explored, new ones emerge. This process is known as space-time expansion.
Space reflects the notion of a three dimensional reality within which an entity can live, move, and experience sensation. Time reflects a progression of probabilities as reality becomes more complex. In order to experience this reality, each player is conditioned to experience space-time as their own reality as a progression forward.
Once initial probabilities are set, the “program” of this artificial reality mostly writes itself. Every “event” that is possible carries with it probable consequences. Since this reality operates in terms of time only moving forward, the player experiences consequences to choices to act and thus actualize a particular probable reality. The program for Quantum Life contains every possible permeation and situation within this reality. That may not seem that impressive here, but even the concept of having infinite different alternate realities for every quantum possibility will seem mind boggling to those within this reality (and in some epochs players start to figure out the nature of their world).
Every possible choice, outcome, and situation is already in the program. Players actualize a particular form of reality by making choices and experiencing different realities. No reality is absolute, though as players choose they actualize one reality and push aside others. All possible situations and outcomes exist within the program, individuals use choice and interaction with others to experience a particular expression of Quantum Life. All actualizations of reality involve choices of others as well as the self, meaning that the community aspect of the game (to be described later) is very important.
When a person replays the game, they can choose a very different existence, they can replay from the same “birth” hoping that experiences retained in their core or “soul” will help them make better choices the next time around, or they might become someone who was an adversary of theirs in the last round. (How identities are formed and how much comes from the ‘core’ and from the game programming will be developed further later in this guide). Time seems like a progression inside the game, but all “time” exists simultaneously as probable realities within the program.
Entering the Game: To enter Quantum Life you must choose a starting point, or a ‘birth.’ There are literally billions of options in different epochs and situations. Most people start with what one might call a primitive existence, where the emphasis is on experiencing basic sensations — sensations we’ve long overcome. These include pain, pleasure, taste (a sense of pleasure during nourishment), sight (required to navigate in this world), hearing (important for communication and a broader sense of ones’ circumstances) and touch (ability to experience the world fully, as well as to interact with others). It is impossible to explain the intensity of these sensations without experiencing them. Others choose to enter the game at different stages and epochs; players sit down with a game adviser to talk about what kind of existence is best for what you wish to experience. There are limited entry points in every epoch, but the range of possible ways to start the game is extensive.
Ignorance: The game only works if players think the reality they are entering is the only reality. Thus we have to induce ignorance of the real world and any understanding thereof. However, this ignorance is partial. Sensations would have no meaning and the game would make no sense if the core of the player was completely repressed. This “core” (known in the game as ones’ soul or spirit — though within the game the existence of this core is only a speculation) means players retain their identity within the game. The program does not create you or your choices, they come from your “core.” Players lose knowledge of the meaning of reality, the certainty and goodness of existence, and all the efforts we make to try to expand our knowledge. Instead, players are convinced that Quantum Life is reality. This is done through suppression of various mental functions in order to limit the capacity to access knowledge and abilities while playing the game. There is no long term damage from this process. When your game ends (death), you will slowly be brought out of the state of ignorance. If you choose to quit the game, you will be fully restored, with a complete memory of the game experience. If you wish to play again, the state of ignorance will continue, though you will have a brief discussion with an adviser on how to return. Sometimes there is no choice (if you have ended the game voluntarily through self-induced death or suicide, you’ll have to replay that existence from the same starting point), and the rules of Karma limit your possibilities. Important: If you choose to continue playing you will not achieve full knowledge of reality in between rounds. Only when you quit the game is full knowledge restored. It is impossible to sustain multiple sessions of Quantum Life without damage if you are brought completely out of the state of ignorance.
But, you might ask, why play? Why immerse oneself in the dark side of emotions and experiences, isn’t that a tad perverse?
OK, that’s enough for today. I’m convinced, though, that this “user’s guide” is not of this world. It sometimes seems to flicker out of existence, and reading it almost feels like my brain is experiencing the words. Weird. I’ll post more from it soon — assuming it doesn’t just flicker out of existence forever!