Feb 9, 2014

Religion as Cultural Contamination

A world tree
I've been making plans for how to fit religious belief into the Exode Trilogy and slipping them into blog posts over the course of more than a year. When Parthney arrives at Lendhalen for training as an Interventionist agent he is quite familiar with religion as it exists on Hemmal, but what could possibly prepare him for what he will find on Earth?

On Hemmal, the Prelands are efficiently indoctrinated with a religious faith in the idea that Hemmal was created for the Prelands, the Prelands were crafted by the Creators and it is destined that the Prelands will ultimately transcend their material existence and merge with the Creators.

The Prelands all experience a type of technology-assisted telepathy which reinforces belief in the religious doctrine imposed by the pek. Parthney is raised by pek who don't force him to adopt the religious beliefs of the Prelands and he cannot experience the subconscious "connectedness" that is provided to Prelands while they participate in their religious rituals.

by Ernest Smith
Parthney never thinks much about religion until he reaches Demon Lodge and he is befriended by Yandrey. I imagine that Yandrey is familiar with Earth and anxious for Parthney to begin training for a mission to Earth. However, Yandrey is cautious and does not push Parthney too far too fast. Parthney is amused by Yandrey because he has never previously met anyone who is willing to talk about evolution and say that life on Earth arose naturally, without any involvement of the Creators.

When Parthney reaches Lendhalen he meets Gwyned who was born on Earth. Gwyned lived most of her life on Earth in Australia. The last few years on Earth were in the remote desert of the interior where she came to know some of the natives and learn their theories of the dreamtime.

by Charles Bartlett
As a physicist, Gwyned was concerned with the conversion of energy and matter and the distinction between extended and compact dimensions. She is amused by perceived parallels between her own scientific view of reality and the body/spirit duality that is present in Aboriginal beliefs about dreamtime.

Through his interaction with Gwyned (who is actually his half sister) Parthney begins to appreciate the fact that Lendhalen has been a refuge for many Earthlings.

The Hidden History of Earth
The pek had long sought to achieve a fundamental change in the structure and function of the primate brain. When the pek arrived at Earth, they found apes that could easily be domesticated, but their brains instinctively functioned to integrate each individual into larger whole that included a tribal group and all of nature.

The chief pek goal was to extract from Earth a thread of life that could be joined into the great tapestry of Genesaunt Civilization, ultimately connecting Earth to the sedronic domain of existence that had been discovered and developed by the Huaoshy.

Through long experience the pek knew how to guide the evolution of creatures such as Earth's primates, how to draw them as biological organisms into a strong thread that could successfully integrate with other such threads from other worlds and merge into the Huaoshy-controlled tapestry of Genesaunt Civilization.

However, the primate brain had an annoying tendency towards a kind of madness that the pek, though their vast experience with other worlds, were quite familiar with. The human behavior pattern was one that the pek feared, for it often led to the self-destruction of many life forms throughout the universe. While creating and developing the human primate lineage, the pek adjusted the mirror neuron system of the brain to promote social cohesion and increase the efficiency of social learning. This pulled the human mind out of its primordial unity with tribe and the integrated whole of nature and shifted human consciousness into the narrowly focused axis of "you and I", an axis that all too easily can become one of two dysfunctional poles: either "you" or "I".

While the pek were busy crafting the Prelands on distant worlds like Hemmal, a mutant strain of humans arose spontaneously on Earth. Spreading like a tumor, these "modern humans" displaced the the Denisovans and Neanderthals who the pek had so carefully crafted as the ancestors to the Prelands.

The pek did not panic because the pek were masters of both biological and cultural manipulation. To counter the biological pathology of the modern human brain, they installed on Earth a cultural antidote, a religious buffer against human insanity. This cultural containment program worked efficiently and would have given the pek the time needed to finish their great Preland project: the fixation of that antidote into patterns of human genes and instinctive behavioral constraints.

The long struggle between modern humans and Neanderthals had selected for -and strengthened- a particular biological function that the pek had often previously encountered and made use of to facilitate the crafting of "strong biological threads" that could be weaved into the vast Huaoshy tapestry. Strangely mutated mitochondria within the Neanderthal brain gave the Neanderthals a rudimentary form of telepathy. The pek took advantage of this tendency and crafted the Preland brain to work efficiently with a nanite symbiont that endowed the Prelands with an efficient type of technology-mediated telepathy.

This rapidly put the Preland brain on an evolutionary trajectory into the domain of artificial life forms which would ultimately let the future descendants of the Prelands transcend their physical nature and pass their cognitive essence into the sedronic domain of existence. In this way, Earth would become yet another life-rich planet "immunized" against biological intelligence and its unfortunate tendency to produce self-anhilating species. Earth would have become yet another pek success story, a world that efficiently and peacefully channeled biological intelligence into the sedronic domain.

The Neanderthals, with their unusually robust natural telepathy, were prized by the pek for their near perfection as a stem species for the Prelands. Distressed by the fact that modern humans were pushing the Neanderthals into extinction, the pek allowed Preland gene combinations to be inserted into the Neanderthal population. Of course, since the Neanderthals and modern humans were inter-fertile, Preland gene combinations also found their way into the modern humans of Earth. The Neanderthals were exterminated from Earth and Earth stood populated by a pathological primate, one with a brain that could interface with pek nanites. Rather than constrain modern human pathological behavior with only cultural (religious) means, the pek allowed themselves the luxury of using nanites to guide human behavior on Earth. Earth became a laboratory for exploring many religion-nanite combinations.

Then the universe threw an unprecedented twist into the history of Earth. The prized Neanderthals of Earth were allowed to develop a technological cultural at Observer Base on the Moon. At the same time, modern humans were extensively studied at Observer Base in an attempt to understand this example of a "naturally" arising species that could efficiently interact with pek behavioral control nanites. In this unusual environment, a small cadre of Neanderthal scientists developed the science of positronics. With help from the curious pek, advanced pek brain scanning technology was combined with positronic circuits to allow a Neanderthal brain pattern to be instantiated in positronic circuitry.

This bizarre course of events at Observer Base created the "perfect storm". The pek had long been fascinated by the powerful role of ancestor worship in the human religions. In retrospect this was an important clue pointing towards the ability of information to move through time via a sedronic conduit.

human cortex
However, that realization had to wait until R. Gohrlay used her powerful telepathic positronic circuits to expel the pek, first from Observer Base and then from Earth and ultimately from the entire galaxy.

Eventually, the Huaoshy realized what had happened and they developed their own time travel technology. With a technological advantage in nanites and sedronics, the Huaoshy were able to finally "defeat" Gohrlay, but not before being forced into a compromise. By the terms of the negotiated settlement,  the humans of Earth would be given a chance to reach the stars rather than simply be replaced by Prelands.

Parthney's Education
Parthney has an opportunity (while he is in training at Lendhalen) to learn how other Interventionist agents have modified the course of events on Earth. While those agents lived out their lives on Earth and could not provide first hand accounts of their actions on Earth to the residents of Lendhalen, they did sometimes teleport Earthlings to Klyz. Gwyned is the living example of how such an Earth woman could end up living at Lendhalen where she could share tales of Earth with Parthney.

Three other such "messengers from Earth" provide important information to Parthney about the history of religions on Earth: Rotharkin, Katherine and Jane Grey.

Brain Grease
The nanites that infect the brains of Earthlings are a kind of cultural lubricant. At several points in human history those nanites allowed stabilization of a new cultural pattern that was important for helping Earthlings achieve just the right level of technological advancement for dealing successfully with the arrival of a Buld spaceship at Earth during the 21st century.

Rathuf and Rotharkin
For example, Rotharkin was the perfect host for a nanite variant that could efficiently shift pagans from their "old hold" pattern of human behavior to the alternate "you and I" dynamo of cultural change. After trying to fight against the catalyst for change that Rotharkin represented, Rathuf extracted her nanites, replicated them, and spread them through the population of England.

Hundreds of years later, Katherine has a strong influence on Humget. Parthney learns how Humget, while an Interventionist agent on Earth, played an important role in the ultimate unification of England.

The third major lesson for Parthney comes from his study of Rechmain and his sister Annike. While on Earth, Rechmain allows a native to witness a teleportation event. This provides a well-documented example of cultural contamination with religious implications. Parthney is taught that a similar event in the far past is what led to the "world tree" legend that was still a dominant cultural myth among northern Europeans in the time Rotharkin. Humans have always struggled to understand their place in the universe and on those occasions when an Interventionist agent has explained the truth, a garbled version has often then persisted for thousands of years, usually becoming cloaked in religious mythological garb.

Dimensional structure of the universe
During the course of European history the Interventionists first make use of Christianity as a dyadic "you and I" cultural tool for stabilizing hierarchical social structures. Later, the interventionists must work to counter the centralized power of Rome. During Parthney's time on Earth there is a solid core of scientifically educated Earthlings who can understand and logically respond to "first contact" with visitors from another world. But who is better prepared for the truth of Earth's hidden history, the atheistic scientists or the religious believers who have taken it on faith that we Earthlings were created?

I'm trying to unite the themes of religion and telepathy in Exode.

A common theme in the science fiction stories of both Jack Vance and Isaac Asimov is telepathy. I recently speculated on the idea that Howard Treesong's genetic background (the product of some odd pattern of selective breeding) might make him well-suited for having a special symbiotic relationship with alien nanites. That symbiosis might explain his unusual multiple personality. In his Foundation saga, Asimov developed the idea that telepathic abilities could be inherited and facilitated by positronic circuits.

In discussing Araminta Station, I've previously suggested that Glawen was lucky. In fact, Vance went out of his way to depict the residents of Araminta Station as inbred. What are we to make of Glawen's apparent telepathic contacts with Lilo and Zaa?

In Ecce and Old Earth, Vance describes a mysterious "potion" that when given to young children alters their cognitive development, allowing them to have telepathic powers.

In the Exode Trilogy, I expand on Asimov's theme of positronic robot telepathy and give an account of the origin of positronic robots with telepathic powers. For Exode, I've decided that the brains of humans on Earth contain advanced devices that exist as symbiotic artificial life forms. In general, these hidden devices are used to provide the pek with an accurate understanding of events on Earth...this is the basis of the pek "Earth observation program". The residents at "Observer Base" on the Moon believe that they are the means by which cultural change on Earth is observed, however their rather bumbling and low-fidelity observations are only "cover" for their true purpose.

Sometimes the symbiotic artificial life forms inside Earthlings enter into unusual modes of operation that provide their host with some limited telepathic abilities. There is no means for the primitive technology of Earth to understand the basis for these rare and non-reproducible telepathic events. The religions of Earth are sprinkled with odd elements that stem from the "unseen history" of Earth and the presence of symbiotic artificial life forms within us. Sometimes Interventionist agents visit Earth and cultural contamination occurs. When Earthlings glimpse advance technology from beyond our world, religious beliefs can be altered and modified as part of human attempts to understand "alien technology".

I continue to explore roles for religious thinking in science fiction stories in my next blog post.

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