I'm standing on the balcony, looking down at the traffic, thirty-odd stories below me. From this height I see only the headlights, little fireflies moving slowly along lanes, turning corners, stopping, starting. Moving too slow, crawling. When I jump, I will accelerate at 9.8m per second, each second, until I'm falling at about 50m per second. At that speed the air's resistance, which I will feel as a solid wind, will stop me accelerating any faster. I will free-fall for a long hollow heartbeat before hitting those fireflies faster than a speeding train, at about 190km per hour.
I will feel nothing, my mind shut down, and the impact destroying my nervous system - along with my skeletal structure, my organs, my brain, everything except my skin and hair - before the signal of impact has time to move more than a millimeter through the nerves in my skin. Reality is always a big chunk of a second delayed, our minds creating the illusion of real-time by gluing what we sense onto a stretchy mental fabric woven from memory and rumor. Smashing into concrete at terminal velocity exposes that lie for what it is: there is no reality - it is literally an invention of our minds.
I turn and go back inside to rejoin the party. Pain and fear are also lies, the cattle-prods of nature, the goons of our Genetic Imperative, the shock-troops inside our heads. I can't touch them or speak to them, but they exert a control over me that is a thousand times stronger than my wish to end it all. I take another champagne from a passing tray. If they won't let me do it the quick and painless way, I'll drug them into obedient silence and do it the old fashioned way. Alcohol is the only socially-accepted route to suicide left since the seatbelt killed the "wrap the car around the old oak tree" swan song favored by our elders.
Genetic imperative. Hah! I snort into my glass, blowing champagne over my face. What an arrogance. A few strands of protein have set themselves up as rulers of our world. It's not really a fair deal, or even a deal at all. The DNA has the only word on the matter, and we can't complain if we don't like our lives. We're not really there at all, you see - we only think we are. It makes us better vehicles for the DNA's plan. Which is what, you might ask. What indeed? The DNA only has one plan, and it is a mediocre one, thought up in the boom days of the Earth's formation, when life was young and stupid and thought that living in sub-oceanic volcanic vents was a really neat idea. This plan consists of just one thing, really, and that is "MORE OF ME!" I'm sure there have been attempts in the DNA community to promote plans like "WORLD PEACE" and "FREE BEER" but these just can't compete with the MoM lobby. Almost by definition, you could say. Oh yes, the DNA MoMers have it all worked out. 3 point bloody 5 billion years of MoM domination. Long enough, I say.
So where does this leave us, we sensitive, creative, conscious beings? Where do we fit into the plan? Don't ask the DNA. The only answer you will get from the twisted sadists is: "BREED! NOW! MORE OF ME!" Somehow, I don't think the little emperors really care sincerely about the mega-chunks of protein that carry them around from breeding cycle to breeding cycle.
What keeps us going every day? Fear of failure, happiness when things are fine, love, hate, beauty, horror. These are just buttons. Mind pushing buttons on mind. Whatever it takes to make sure I'm a good boy who looks after my DNA until I'm tired and broken and scrap ready to be recycled in the organic melting pot. Well. Truth to admit, I've been somewhat of a bad boy lately.
Perhaps I should tell you something about myself. Since you are - like me - one of DNA's dupes, that will interest you more than if I tell you that my GTTCAGATCGA strings are a quite unique heritage that lets me do amazing things with glycolic acids. Curiously, if you would give me a single hair, a scraping from inside your cheek, or a drop of semen, I'd be more interested in that than in you. Call me antisocial… but it's nothing personal. I do DNA. Literally. It's my job.
I won't go into technical detail. My work is private, a well-funded hobby, if you will. I've been exploring the little construction we call our "minds". Navigating the DNA maps that put neuron against neuron in a delicate framework that spans the galaxies and eons inside our heads. Researching, above all, the ways that our minds produce emotions.
Did you know that there are two kinds of emotions? Yes, emotions are things, and can be classified like objects. The first kind are social emotions. When you scare a baby, it cries. It's fun, you should try it sometime. When you punch a man on the nose, he gets very angry, face white, lips pressed tightly closed, fists clenched. If he's larger than you, he advances, arm raised to strike. If he's smaller, he either runs, or carefully removes his glasses, folds and places them in pocket, then grabs you by jacket and pulls hard. We call this a 'heidbutt' in Glasgow. Where, incidentally, we also have this habit of sewing razors into the back of our lapels in case some loony should decide to give it to us.
Social emotions tell other people what we feel so that they know we're serious. We can't fake social emotions. We can almost fake them. The best actors can learn to control hundreds of individual muscles and can make incredibly good imitations of fear, joy, surprise. Other actors try to find the emotion within themselves, punching their own schnozzels, so to speak, and if they can feel the emotion, their face does the work for them.
We humans have nice expressive faces because we need these to display our social emotions. And we need those because it's part of what makes our society tick. I've decided that social emotions are pretty harmless. Perhaps interesting, if you like people, which I don't, particularly.
The second kind of emotion is much older and definitely falls into my definition of "evil", although I suspect my definition is slightly different from yours. When you peer over the edge of the ledge, and there's no-one watching, your face stops jerking around. But your mind swirls with emotions. Fear. Panic. Anger. Anxiety. Who are these emotions supposed to be for? The unpleasant truth is that these internal emotions are guard dogs, keeping us in check. Try to step too far over the limits and Panic takes a hard bite at your heels. Try to end it all, and Hope finds one more lie. Attempt to sneak into the pantry, and Fear and Guilt are there, beating you back with their sticks to the Safe Place. And there in the Safe Place sits Joy, a fat concierge of a mother, comforting you. We only feel happy when we're in the center of our mental spaces, the average of our lives, not too hot, not too cold… and it's as much a lie as the rest.
I call this class of emotions the Goons. I hate them. They have ruled my life since I was in the womb, and I will never escape them, not until I die. Even in my sleep they chase me. The only temporary relief is to drug the Goons unconscious, to knock them out with alcohol, weed, whatever. Didn't some archaeologist propose that alcohol was older than bread, that mankind has been boozing itself sane for longer than we have had fire? Makes sense to me. A drunken driver is more confident of his abilities than a sober one. Bye bye Goons, give me that steering wheel! Waiter, another champagne!
The Goons, me, of course it's all an illusion created by the little guys in charge. I think, therefore I am. Nice circularity. Not exactly solid, though.
But think for a second. Our emotions are produced by our brains. Yet there is no 'emotion center'. Enough people have been poked, stabbed, shot, and smashed in the head for psychologists to have a pretty good idea of what happens where in the brain using the simple approach of "let's remove it and see what stops working". Emotions don't work like sight or words. But there are people born without social emotions. We call them scientists. OK, a joke, but only a small joke. Scientists express as much fear and anger as the next guy when you approach them with a gun and ask for their money. Been there, tried that, all in the name of knowledge and a few dollars.
Being born completely without social emotions leaves you in one of two camps. If you are just emotionally mute, you learn early how to fake a semblance of normal behavior, but you never, ever feel part of the human race. Welcome to the club of one. If you are emotionally deaf, you never learn how to read emotions, and you become autistic: people become arbitrary objects just like tables and chairs. Ironically the autistic children have the more accurate vision. Social emotions are part of the Hoax of Self, and blind to this, they see other people for what we are: looming disjointed shapes with holes in strange places, making bizarre noises. Back to the puzzle, pretty colors.
How about people born without the Goons? Well, it never happens. This part of the DNA, and I've watched it work, is so old and so well protected that it never, ever fails. Not once in the last billion years, as far as we can tell.
Until now that is. Hehe. It's quite funny. It's the same sequence in every life form more complex than a protopod. When the ant moves away from your finger, it feels exactly - and I mean that literally - the same as you do when I tell you that there is a fifty-ton lorry hurtling towards the room where you are sitting. Our vaunted human conscience is built from bits and pieces of which more than 98% are present in a sewer rat. And you thought you were special! I keep trying to tell you - the only important beings in our world are the small strands of protein we call DNA.
Well, no more. What god's hand has done, man's hand will undo. When DNA tried taking the intelligence road, it made a serious mistake. The DNA sequence for internal fear and anxiety is robust in all normal circumstances. It produces a little protein, six amino acids joined together just-so that carry the internal emotions around the brain. Turns out, there is a small molecule that will break it down into its component amino acids. Oops. Sorry! Oh well. This molecule is artificial but I've built a small machine that will produce it. The machine is a virus. Well, a common wind-borne flu virus, in fact. I'm happy to say that I'm using DNA's own tricks. They do work extremely well, you see. The virus spreads through human populations rapidly. You're probably infected already – my predictions were for global coverage in about two months. Along with that itchy nose and runny eyes, you're losing your sense of fear, literally.
What follows is freedom, enlightenment beyond anything achieved by the Buddha. It will be enjoyable, but brief. Look over the edge again, and you won't feel a thing except curiosity. Why are those fireflies moving so slowly… maybe you can touch them, if you reach.
The mass deaths should start in a few days. Any minute now. Bye bye MORE OF ME. This is one species you lose.
I'm just a little annoyed at the one flaw in my plan. Every flu virus has an vaccine, and of course I injected myself with that first. It is, really, so hard to overcome our genetic imperatives.