A Chinese Room Writes a Sequel to Blindsight

For anyone who has read Blindsight (by Peter Watts), you’ll know that the concept of a Chinese Room plays a major part in the premise. For the sake of irony, I trained an AI I’ve been playing with to write a passable sequel to Blindsight.

“I’ve tried,” Sarasti had replied after a moment–and yet he’d not said it aloud, had not been able to bring himself to pull it from his throat.

“You don’t know. You can’t possibly…”

I’d heard it a hundred times, whispered in the dark and agonizing echo of the hold. That was some degree of insight into the psychology of the mind, I thought. And I could see that, even from my own perspective.

“You don’t know what you-“

“It’s all in the head,” Sarasti said again.

“And I’m going blind. I mean, that’s a horrible thing.” And with that he staggered slowly back to the center of the drum. I followed.

Just as quickly as he’d taken his place there, the head vanished, and his body seemed to float somewhere beyond the drum. He was just another cog in the machine, another sensor array stacked high in the control center.

He moved without thinking. Like a puppet with strings pulled tight. I watched intently as Rorschach swung its arms like suspended spires; I watched as it ground them, the tendrils and spines and loops of its arms jerking slowly from side to side; I watched because I had an idea, because I knew I’d want to know whether Sarasti had any idea. The spines that ran along the center of the spine gave way only in quiet moments.

I thought as Sarasti fell back on old tricks and countermeasures: I pushed out an arm from the shuttle and watched it slacken, the tendrils trailing like the tail of a fish behind the rack. I heard him grunt.

The shuttle was aloft now. It swung quickly down the spine and disappeared. A low clatter to one side had the echo of a thousand arms flexing before my gaze. A second slipped by, almost imperceptible, like the heartbeat of a mosquito on a wire.

One of the arms flared and split open. Rorschach resisted my reflexive gaze; I had to keep my gaze fixed on my post-capture host in order to register Rorschach moving around the drum like some sort of living insect.

Not so fast. The insect was moving through the drum, and Rorschach was far ahead of us. A split-second sooner than I had been aware of.

“Captain?” Sarasti’s voice snapped me out of my reverie.

He stood—almost half-naked behind the HUD—looking at me.

“Siri,” he said. “Siri?”

“Captain?”

“Siri?” My brain tried to explain it with logic, to tell it what it had done, what had happened. But all it managed to muster was a guttural scream. And a split second later the whole drum went bright red.

A million tiny bits and pieces of what had been Rorschach blasted through the infra-red at blinding efficiency. And behind them the UFO had disappeared.

“What the fuck?” Siri cried.

“Captain?” Sarasti’s voice echoed still further away in the cockpit. But Rorschach was real, and standing there right in front of us, so clearly on our side, it sounded less like a question and more like a request.

“What the fuck?” Sarasti said again.

“Captain?”

Sarasti’s voice rose to meet Rorschach’s. “Captain?” Siri. “Captain?”

“Captain?”

Siri…

It had begun with Captain it had always started with: Yes. What’s that, you might be…

Siri?

Yes. Yes, it was. Yes, you are right. That was all.

But then, yes isn’t only right, but also wrong too.

Yes isn’t just right, not all the time.

And if it was only right for you to be afraid of me, then why hadn’t you been frightened of me before it all started?

Because you’re human.

Because the rest of Rorschach is human, and Rorschach doesn’t care.


“The idea that the brain doesn’t create information is an illusion. It’s like telling me that my eyes are not reflecting to my brain, and that’s not what it’s doing, which is to point out that there’s some subtle but significant difference between seeing and knowing.”

“You don’t think that’s exactly the kind of thing the brain determines, do you? Do you?” she said.

“I’m really going out on a limb here. The details come from the study of the behavior of the neurons, not from some fancy theoretical description of the brain.”

“How so?”

“Because when you watch what’s going on beneath the surface, the brain has to balance all of the sensory information, and when your eyes aren’t looking at the same thing over and over and over—well, that’s not so simple, is it?” She smiled at him. “It all looks very complicated to us, but what’s happening in the brain’s head is not that simple to the eyes. What’s interesting about the brain is that it doesn’t really know.”

“But it does.” Bates agreed. “The way you know is the way you do.”

“It’s not all of your brain, though.” She smiled gently. “Some things are more basic than logic, more instinctive than reason. When my husband and I were young, we were smart as a crossbow—we could check out an entire herd of elephants and predict where they’d go. When his eyes were on the road, he didn’t really have a brain. And those tricks didn’t seem to matter if he was in the tank.”

“It seems you were an armband armband,” Bates pointed out.

“Yes. It’s not the only thing I’ve learned with my husband.”

He held out his hand.

“You’re the one who taught the monkey to climb a tree. You were the one who taught him how to play the guitar.”

“I had to learn it myself, after all. And in theory. We gave up ourselves to learn the things that weren’t supposed to be taught.”

“But you taught it.”

“I taught it to your children, and they’ve been the most obedient of all them ever since.”

“That’s great,” Bates said. “You’ve taught me to be a better husband.”

“Oh yes. And by that I mean more reliable.”

“Not even your wife can do them two jobs at once.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry.” One of his eyes, as she spoke, was bright-green, and almost emerald. “How much longer can I keep playing pranks?”

“You’re not playing pranks anymore.”

“What?”

“You’re not playing pranks. You’re playing chess, and no, you’re not winning. I don’t think you’re the better player of the game.”

“Well, I’m the one playing chess!” Bates had been smiling when I had met her. She was not only a good actor, a master at pretending to care about Rorschach; she had also had a genius ear, a deep intuition, a gift for putting ideas together that the average person cannot hope to replicate. And she listened—and took it all in all at once.

And she was very glad that she had played the game.

So, too, was Sarasti.

Not that Sarasti believed the story. But he knew a lot more now than he had then. That was perhaps even more important than his own ability. He was aware that I was listening; at least of what he said, of what he really had to say, he knew that I was watching.

That made him very clever, and yet he could not possibly have known what I was thinking— not at the time; it was all on the spot, all over my head. Not to mention that even now, I was thinking everything to myself—

But I always knew and was aware, and knew something.

I knew what I was thinking. And I knew what I was saying.

He had known the answer to that question for several hours, and he had had it all figured out for the other eleven, if I was being honest. He had known my feelings at that moment; he had known the consequences if I was right; he had also known precisely how long I would have to play the game; and at this point the consequences were so plain that I didn’t even have to guess them.

I knew that this was all for nothing—that Sarasti would just find another victim.

I never had a chance, though. I was so close. I was so goddamn far away.

I was at the bottom of the mountain.

I was sitting in this chair

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2 Responses to A Chinese Room Writes a Sequel to Blindsight

    Doug Miller says:

    “You’re not playing pranks. You’re playing chess, and no, you’re not winning. I don’t think you’re the better player of the game.”

    “I was at the bottom of the mountain.
    I was sitting in this chair.”

    Seriously, some of this I would have been happy if I had written it. Armband armbands armband is armband.

  1. This is amazing. If I didn’t know it was computer-generated, I likely would’ve taken until the “arms” talk to figure it out.

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