Ephemeral Eternity

By Eric Le Roy

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Content 18+  Imagine two winged thing-a-me’s shaped sort of like boomerangs, with each coming to a sharp point on its end. They are flying toward each other through the nothingness of space. Maybe they look something like this:   >     <;   then  >  <; then ><.   Here, according to Wikipedia, is what a ‘vector’ looks like: image.png except that, as you can see, my ‘vectors’ are on a collision course. Ok OK, maybe this is bad science, so maybe it would be more like two arrows directly facing each other and near the point of contact, like this: image.png I think by now you get the point. So why am I fucking your brain like this?

Well, imagine that one point is you, materializing out of utter nothingness, a nothingness beyond imagining – and then suddenly – at precisely the moment of collision –materializing into a brain, a wakeful membrane: YOU. And the other arrow instantly becomes, say, a great painting, a portrait of some woman (I’m a guy)  from centuries ago whose sudden eyes drink you in, creating in your instant brain-sponge a fabulous sense of wonder, nostalgia, sensuality, and grief. Who is she, you wonder, and how do I find her? And she looks at you, dead oil springing to life, regarding you with the faint amusement of one who knows they will elude you forever.

In the bleak…nihility…around you, you understand that in this passing instant you have achieved what you would have fancied impossible: instant recognition: A nanosecond of contact  between You and the Image of Someone Else Who May Have Existed. 

Truth. You think….

Then it all dissolves, and you find yourself sitting in a chair somewhere in Camden, or Swindon, or Varna (where I am), trying desperately to recall that moment of ‘recognition’ and wonder if it was ‘authentic’. 

But, as with most dreams, you can’t quite do it. Or was it, like dreams in general, the imagination working overtime, trying to compensate for bad nerves or just laboring to finish the stories that never occurred to you in daylight hours. Like the reappearance of some skinny girl with glasses who was in your homeroom in the 7th grade and you never took notice of. And now, 50 years later, here you are in a dream, wildly and shameless ravishing her. Why?

My Parisian friend Bernard (long removed from his native Poland), with whom I talk on Skype twice per week to keep his English sharp, is an affable and articulate man who enjoys treating me to acid showers  and piranha baths of ‘logic’ designed to de-flesh whatever staggering  romance toward the human race that I still have left. Which isn’t much.

According to my friend, and his party list is growing, we sapiens are nothing more than perambulating chemistry sets for whom free will, freedom of choice, love, and compassion do not exist outside of the atom and molecule compounds they are formed of. Everything is based on a trigger, a hormonal rhapsody, a molecular aerobics drill. I, fighting hard, for the inviolable substance of soul and spirit (which for me are not part of a constricted ‘religious’ vocabulary but rather of a pagan’s drunken lyrics around a Maypole or under a harvest moon) – find myself reluctantly drifting towards agreement with him. Although I don’t say so.

Probably my gradual, hapless meltdown into self-imposed ex-communication from all I ever was or imagined myself to be comes from two areas: (1) the incredible changes that have occurred in the short time between my childhood and now; and (2) the seemingly inevitable march of humans toward machines and machines toward humans, which some naysayers (I was one of them) declare to be madness and others (I am joining the club) see as nothing more than the process of evolution happening before our eyes.

There was a time when the world a man or woman was born into was pretty much the same world he took a last look at just before he/she died. Oh, sure, there might be some ‘revolutionary’ farm equipment or a bunch of newfangled stuff once the world found itself lit up by electricity. But, even then, years went by before the washer and dryer replaced the clothes line in the backyard. And before modern anesthesia replaced chloroform in the operating room. Life seemed as though it was all of a piece.

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That’s not true anymore. In my span of a mere 74 years, I have seen the world I grew up in and long took for granted simply disintegrate before my eyes. When I first arrived in Moscow in 2007 (already 58 years old), computers were few, fitness centers fewer, laptops and smartphones non-existent. Not everything was done by automation. Artificial Intelligence was, for the average person, nothing more than a film called “Matrix”. Video games such as exist now were in their infancy. And this was Moscow. (Of course, if you drove far enough in any direction you would soon enter the 14th century, but that’s another story.) Now Moscow is a gadget-fest, and if you removed the smartphone from any random human head you passed it wouldn’t look like a head anymore.

The changes are so vast and fast that one starts to question one’s place in the universe. Am I really a ‘person’ or does it just seem that way? Do I really have an identity? And what about all those other people? Or are they just phantoms blowing along racks of bones, guided by an electronic squidgy without a handle, and ruled by a dictatorship of hormones?  

What is worse, OMG far worse, is that I am starting to see some Artificial Intelligence Women on the internet that look pretty good. (Did I just say that?) And, as the years go by like bullets out of an assault rifle, where is evolution taking us? If AI can produce a female duplicate of a real woman who can do all the things, say all the things, and make me believe all the things a real woman can – and if we really do live in a universe without souls – then what is the difference? Whatever ‘wrinkles’ might need to be ironed out (or inserted, for realism's sake) will soon be put right by the meticulous prods of exacting technology. So, like the little checkpoint the internet apps use now (“Are you a robot?”-- with a tiny box to say “No!”) future hook-ups will go something like this: (New Guy. “Hey there Natasha, you’re pretty hot. So tell me, are you a biological woman or an AI woman?” Natasha: “That’s for me to know and you to find out, big boy!” New Guy: Well, answer me one question, dear. If there is a tree that falls in a forest, and the man ventures an opinion, and there is no woman there to correct him, is the man still wrong?” Natasha: “Of course he is wrong, because you men are always wrong, but THAT is why you are sooooo SEXY.” New Guy: Ahhhh my Lovely Little Algorithm, let’s go somewhere and get naked !”  And away they amble into the sunset.

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And does it matter if I am but a series of combustible reactions, one triggered by another and then another? Does it matter if all the “I love you’s” in the world are simply the punch lines of jokes to tell a Robot Comedy Club? That when I talk it is only vibrations that others possessed of auditory equipment hear, and not my voice, a voice that in fact I do not have?

Bernard tells me that I  am free to believe what I want, but his implication is that I am tricking myself. It is nothing more than a magician’s trick. You are free to bask in the magic that is nothing magical at all. The rabbit in the hat was there all along. This is the message.

Moreover, as I watch the robots and the humans join forces in the real world, as I understand that electronic intelligence really is overtaking biological intelligence – and as age robs me of my will, drop by drop, atom by atom, to fight against it–  in short as I feel more detached and less connected every day, I find that I am able to objectify myself more and more. It is a case of some apparatus named Eric Le Roy calmly watching the malingering life and yawning death of another machine named…Eric Le Roy. Where is the L-I-F-E in this? 

Or is it nothing but mechanical make-believe, and was so all along ? If that is the case, then my loneliness in the face of it is nothing but a trick also. I believe myself to be lonely just as I believed myself to be in love. But underlying it all was a veritable beehive of hormonal and molecular chain reactions. A pinball machine, not a person

By now, in the event that you are still reading, you may be wondering about the other arrow, or vector, or whatever it is, coming from the opposite abyss toward the instant of impact. Let me tell you. On that point is – not a person or even an AI person-impersonator – but a woman’s face. I have mentioned in my blogs many times ’Mona Lisa’ and “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”, but now let me go to old Pompeii shortly before its destruction, followed by a brief stopover in  Firenze (Florence). Here is the authentic image of a young Pompeiian woman, probably a prostitute, preparing for her day. image.png

    Underneath is a close-up of the star of the show in Sandra Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”. This winsome young lady, whose name was Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci , was a noblewoman. Simonetta was a legend in her own time, although she died young, probaby of tuberculosis. The girl from Pompeii would have been forgotten thousands of years ago had she not made the pin-up section of a wall in her city as she prepped for her ‘suitors.’. 

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But who were they really? What would you like to ask them? And just as I have posed myself the question many times about Lisa de Gherardini and whoever the Girl With the Pearl Earring might have been, what were these women thinking about amid the moments that made them immortal? Were they thinking: This is the painting in which I shall live forever? Or were they mere models with other things on their mind? It will always drive men crazy when they understand that while they were singing lusty songs and writing sad verses,  the muses of their reckoning were merely feeding the cats or considering more important matters, or looking casually out the window at whatever century they saw through the transitory portals. 

 Indeed, it’s the very thing that keeps men falling in love: not knowing. Maybe the same is true for women. So if a woman from a different century approached you on the point of a vector or arrow, and, like a wonderful torch, walked out of her painting and into your life, your assumed life, what would you think of her? Would you find that you preferred the frozen image after all – or would you wonder what she had been doing in the days previous and would do on the days following? 

 Would you chase what you knew to be true, that, after all, in the dust-blown and wind-tossed scheme of days, she was just an ordinary woman after all? That, wearing jewels or shed of all ornaments, she woke and slept and aged the same as others,  her mind remaining her own property during your most intense longings? 

And would you cling to the smile in the painting, or would you, as you had sworn you would as you marched along the yellow brick road of fantasy, presume a destiny and force yourself into her life and follow her up to the hills of whatever her old city, to the certain fate of early death by some plague or one of those diseases that would be nothing today but killed everyone back then? Would you walk with her to your deathbed and yourself disappear into a swoon of sighs, hoping that you might cause her to remember you as she posed for the painting that still beguiles – or would you jump back into the time machine of your molecular, hormonal ‘emotions’ and fly back to your electronic world, crying “Enough! Enough already! –? 

Don’t you understand? She was just combing her hair? And whatever she cared about – the king or the hooligan down the alley – had nothing to do with you, child of the dull centuries that began with her death, crept from her death to sellers of snake oil?

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If that point on the two arrows lit up: you who do not really exist and she who does not really exist, how would you deal with this aching dream of having her? What words would you program into her ancient mouth? Would you wallow in her ordinary odor-swollen crevices and lose your mind, and be prepared to live with her changing face till the plague made both of you groan and scream, there along medieval Florentine streets, amid the catcalls and prejudices, and cruelties of the time – or would you blink and make it go away? 

And then look again at all the tumult of those dying days disintegrated. And want them – and her –  once more, the same ancient noblewomen or whore – or whatever version of the Virgin Mary she pretended to be – with her irresistible, coaxing, contemptuous glance?  

 But, as you know, the train to eternity is now gone. Would you want it back? Tell me, old boy, in grave plainsong, would you?  

I think you would. One more look and then goodbye again. Dead again, stoneless, airless, soundless…until again the vector cometh? And I think she would have no trouble saying goodbye to you too.  Because she would understand that you were not you, as you recognised that she was not she. Memories of molecules. Ephemeral eternity.

But now, as I close this piece of writing, my dogs call for their evening walk. A brief sojourn in the rustling woods, and then they will be hungry.

Dream about the day, my boy,  when you can purchase a life-size doll who is an exact replica of the Mona Lisa; buy her unwrap her, talk to her about ancient streets, and spread her on the bed. She will regale you with tales of Leonardi di Vinci while she disrobes. She will know the facts.

What will she really be thinking about – your perfect medieval Florentine woman, as your avid tongue chases her deepening shadows ? Nothing. She will be thinking of nothing at all.

Oh, feel free, my boy, to sneak her out behind your gloomy building and leave her somewhere among the scrap-iron bushes when you tire of her. She would have been tired at the first sight of you too had she but known how to say so. But the cyber mechanics of all existence trained her otherwise and have fixed it so you will never be charged with murder.

Ah, again the dogs call. I must go, my love,  into dark woods and toward the sound of distant barking. Incurable romantics, we hounds.

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