Updated: Nov 3
Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/r0KP1Ua9-A4) 01.10.2023.
Two moons break upon the horizon: One for me and one for the living dead. Condemned to the fields of Asphodel for eternity; and what is their crime? It is no crime, for to be a criminal, one must first be a human; and evidence shows that this, they are not. Did they reject the chance to be human, or were they born incapable? Now this is a most important question, one which all the world’s present scholars are working on.
But this begs the question: By what act did they forgo their humanity? This has an answer, and it is quite simple: They failed to maintain their diary.
For the chief concern of society today is introspection, and he who plunges deepest into his own self is given the scepter of the world.
Tracing out the history of this global madness—yes, I call it madness! —is a long and arduous task. But the rule of the diary is undoubtedly the culmination of it all. You see, today, we have but one law—one law only. It states that every citizen of the world must maintain a diary. (And you can imagine that when the entirety of a society’s morality has been condensed into just one sentence, this sentence acquires a gargantuan dimension; every word, each syllable, seems to warrant a library of literature for itself.)
And the diary itself is to contain every thought which races across your mind; every experience which impinges upon the undulating stream of your sensuality; every single aspect of your life, bar none, no matter how painful it is, no matter how handicapped you may be, everything, down to the very atoms of the universe which come together to build that which you call your sentience, must be detailed, must be written out into your diary: This singular inexpressibly deep introspective act is your lifelong duty, is what you owe to this world by virtue of being born into it.
Most of my hours go in writing. The moment I wake up, I jump to the table and start, by the pen, expressing my dreams. Dreams are one of the more difficult aspects of it all, for they tend to slip away before you catch them; often, I have found myself grabbing onto what subsequently turned out to be nothing but smoke in the air.
(Actually, even before the dreams, I write about my last moments on the previous night before sleep overtakes me—for I can only write about this after I wake up on the next morning.)
Once I finish with the dreams, I start describing the events which followed immediately after I woke up; soon, I would reach the stage wherein I would be writing in my diary about my own self writing in my diary in the morning. After that, it is just a matter of catching up.
Once the first session of my regimen is done, I am free to leave the table. But I must take care to only indulge in those many activities about which I can, upon their completion, finish writing about in my diary by a reasonable hour.
I should add that the written word holds no tyranny over any other mode of expression. The point is only to introspect, and to externalize that which was introspected. Most people try to use their vocal facilities, setting automated machines to work transcribing what they speak into their devices.
Admittedly, that is a bit of a gamble. Its primary attraction is the briskness with which one can do what has to be done—even with the swiftest hand, writing takes far longer than a spoken account of the same. At the same time, this act of speeding up the process leads to some most grievous lapses in thought for many otherwise upstanding citizens. I personally became the more cautious sort of individual after they had raised the bar by inventing a bunch of new languages. I stick to writing it down, slowing down the process, and making sure I don’t err.
The creation of a new host of languages was inevitable, given the intensity and the type of this endeavor that everyone was engaged in. The first and the most powerful one was the work of someone who is now more mythical legend than man; so great was the force of his mindfulness that not only was He coronated as leader of us all, but His whole lineage inherited the same privilege up to seven generations; after which, finally, the world was able snap out of His hypnotism and put an end to the unintended nepotism.
All disciplines, after reaching a certain age of maturation, break away from the parent language and start creating a new, personalized one for themselves, wherein all subsequent discourse concerning them may take place. This activity is most evident in the split of mathematical language from natural language. At the same time, they never fully engulf the animator; there is no language of mathematics, except in the metaphorical sense. It needs more time; the discipline is not potent enough.
This was not the case with introspection. The genius of the first Creator, combined with the intrinsic power of discipline, completely overwhelmed the rotting substrata of everyday language; one fine day, He found himself writing in a manner entirely incomprehensible to anyone else. It was neither a derivative nor a bastardization of natural language; every stroke of its hitherto unseen letters overflowed with an original strength, and every phrase had as referent, not an object, the way our languages do, but a world.
This was the first and most decisive step mankind took towards bridging the gap between words, which so cruelly divorce and tear apart man from his world and our stream of consciousness. All of this amounted to improved introspective abilities; he who lived using the First Language could know himself far better than a plebian such as myself. (Naturally, it is these people who can usually afford the luxury of quicker modes of introspection and externalization.)
Improvements followed soon enough; it was as if He enabled man to realize— “Oh! This is also something I am capable of?”—and a whole family of languages soon burst forth; each one more inscrutable, esoteric, mystical and vague than the previous to the uninitiated; but also each one more refined, honest, natural and sharp, albeit only to members of that species of genius who are merely at an arm’s length from them, who can reach out and appropriate one at will.
Every full moon, anonymous men in colorless uniforms would collect diaries of citizens all over the world, taking a census, as it were. The ones who failed to submit anything were taken immediately. The frauds and the insincere were identified in no more than a week by strange officials in geographically impossible locations. All these government employees would invariably be people of higher cognitive ability, people who lived in the midst of the Higher Languages, for it was only them who could do this necessary job without breaking the law.
The most difficult part is to be honest. Typically, the tendency to hide and distort does not come from feeling embarrassed that someone else may see these innermost thoughts of yours. Rather, it happens due to a feeling of shame about one’s own self-experiences upon seeing these thoughts of the self. I have come to believe that if a man is merely as honest as he can be to his diary, his road to linguistic ascension and transcendence is already a guarantee.
Any given citizen always gets some leeway with regards to this matter, depending on their inner propensities and nature; certainly, no man and his diary can be perfect in achieving the introspective ideal: all these judgements had been meted out by the government.
I have myself, until now, refrained from detailing just one of the various streams of my thoughts. Certainly, it is this singular sin which must be preventing me from rising in my life and in my society. Either that, or it is this singular sin which has kept me alive so far. I suppose I will be finding out soon.
Criminals of the older kind (murderers, thieves, bullies) are exceedingly rare today. This is not because of some sort of Catch-22, wherein they are taken away if they confess to their diary, and taken away if they don’t because of their dishonesty; they are, in fact, only disconnected from society in the second case.
Otherwise, they are allowed to exist perfectly freely with everyone else; indeed, I live next door to the perpetrator of a well-known cannibalistic crime. The fact is just that, for some reason, such men—or rather, such needs, the drive to commit such acts—are ceasing to exist in this societal structure, one which eliminates the insincere. (Men of unsound mind are typically unable to keep up with their introspection, and so end up getting swallowed anyway before they can exhibit their antisocial tendencies quite well.)
The seed of doubt was planted in my mind on the day I turned 20.
One had to be particularly careful on birthdays. There was great scope for an overflow of excitement, and if I let things get out of hand, I would end up spending the next straight 12 hours or so articulating a narrative into my journal.
I was taught that in times of antiquity, before the psychological revolution, man was busy solving a maximum problem: How to maximize novelty of experience; how to fit as many things as possible into one day of perception; how best to broaden one’s phenomenal boundaries. Unwittingly, man also ended up solving quite another minimum problem: How to minimize one’s knowledge about oneself, and how one became what one is.
Today, the system has been turned over on its head: The aim is to include in perception the minimum possible of significances, and to find the maximum possible depth in this minimum of perception. To slow the flow of the river of life, let the dirt settle down and the muddiness of these waters settle, thereby revealing their depth.
Such were the ideals I learnt as I grew up; but at the age of 20, my tranquil belief in them was thrown into disarray and replaced entirely by a new, hitherto unknown fear: fear of the vulgarities they may be based on.
The complete shattering of a man’s ideals and idols, followed by an endless, poised moment of nihilism, and the subsequent regeneration of life within, is a naturally occurring process which every individual of any depth goes through (often more than once, at varying levels): a proto-enlightenment; an anthropomorphized model of the real process, if you will.
I have been stuck in the limbo of the second stage ever since I was 20, and I intend to break the shackles today—and find out what is the form of the regeneration which awaits me.
I had stepped out and allowed myself the excitement of consuming some junk food. This was partly because I had a knack for quickly and concisely articulating sensations of the tongue; my indulgence would not cost me too much extra time with the journal. But on my way back, something altogether unwelcome happened: I bumped into someone who recognized me from my school days.
Part of me was happy to see him, for we used to be quite good friends (as a matter of fact, I was the only friend he had); at the same time, I dreaded the price I knew I would have to pay in time—at least an additional couple of hours—for even a few minutes of conversation with him. Already, upon a glance of his familiar face—comforting because of its psychological associations with childhood—memories from my early life were flooding into my stream of consciousness. And I was bound to write about all of it!
Well, at least I could suppress the bursting of this dam to some extent if I managed to slip past him. Attacks of involuntary memory were by far one of the most taxing experiences a man like me could have in today’s age and time: without any warning whatsoever, a whole world was revealed to you in an instant. It was almost more knowledge than one could take.
But I had already been spotted by him.
As he greeted me, I was struck by how confident he was in doing so many things; how confident he was that he really understood everything he was doing, and that he was capable of articulating the inner significances behind everything he was doing. A smile curving his lips, a tip of the hat, a frolic in the step, a cigarette in the mouth, and a sharp twinkle in his blue eyes (did he know and understand their twinkling, too?): really, he must be a master of the Socratic injunction.
(—standing in the canteen queue, the laughter and the vulgarity in the milieu of any high school—)
He told me he was delighted to see me. I smiled and nodded—but I must have done so a bit too stiffly, for I saw in a minute shift of his dispositional attitude an instant recognition of the fact that I was one of those lesser-endowed creatures in relation to him; that the introspective powers which came freely and naturally to him, which were a part of his mode of existence, a habit, had only a very fragile existence for me.
(—and the bittersweet emotions associated with the last day of classes, the freedom of the endless summers spent together—)
The twinkle in his eyes faltered in an instant of uncertainty. His body stood poised on the balance of knife-edge, with a certain tension building up within it. For the time to make a decision was approaching fast: either continue on his way and minimize my discomfort, or—?
And then he pulled me by the shoulder and embraced me warmly. He had decided to take a few liberties with me after all, then. Should I pull away and rush off? Surely, he would understand. My cognition was yet to advance to his level. He was too far up the social hierarchy for me.
But then he started talking, and I was powerless to escape the moment his honey-sweet, knife-sharp voice floated into my earlobes. It hadn’t changed one bit.
He asked me what I was up to these days. I said not much, which was the truth; I translated books (which was my job) and maintained my journal, and rarely had the time left for much else. There was a moment of silence after that, with him presumably waiting expectantly for me to ask him the same. I could have still ended the encounter at this stage and saved myself from further pains, but so desperate had I become to hear more of his voice after that first taste of it that in spite of myself, I asked him what he was engaged in of late.
It was evident to me that he was studying me closely, trying to make sense of the fact that someone he once knew better than his own self should be so pitiful an artist of introspection that he could scarcely afford of an unexpected meeting or two.
“Oh, the same old”, said he (although I had no idea what he meant by that). “I have, however, developed what I think is more than just a passing interest in politics and history.”
There was a pause which was really perfectly natural from a conversational point of view, but completely shocking and upsetting from another. So divine was that voice that every time it animated itself, one would forget oneself and be swept under the belief that it would never cease. And had his voice not had such an utterly disarming effect on me, I would have certainly been able to detect the note of insincerity and deception, the deliberate obfuscation, buried in its tempo—for certainly, someone of his caliber must be engaged in important work.
We started walking.
“Politics and history! Well, there’s two things we learn very little about in our traditional schooling”, said I.
“Indeed, and isn’t that rather interesting? Have you ever wondered why we felt the need to mock these disciplines? After all, they’re not inherently any less respectable than the other subjects we had.”
“Uh…I never thought it was quite so much of a mystery. Our world is designed to force us to know more about ourselves. I thought it makes complete sense for our interest in any intersubjective matters (which is what politics and history seem to be, in essence) to diminish…it has to accommodate—rebalance, I suppose? —for the concentration of focus on subjective matters.”
“Ah, this was the first theory I also came up with. But—be honest with yourself, now—don’t you think it’s rather weak? I’ll go ahead and ask you something even stronger: don’t you think you’ve always felt that it was rather weak, but went ahead and settled for it?”
He continued: “Well, I personally did feel that way… that’s really why I took them up now, you see. Come now, must not the intersubjective mode of existence be indispensable to understanding the subject?”
“How did we ever think otherwise? What made us think otherwise? Who knows what a child thinks!”
At this point, I chuckled weakly and interrupted him: “Well, I never really stopped thinking that. I suppose I never really stopped to wonder why I think that way.”
At this, a wide grin slowly conquered my old friend’s face. He said something to me, but I can’t remember what it was anymore. I think he told me that we thought that way because some people wanted us to think that way.
Actually, I don’t remember anything that happened on that day after that meeting. It was that meeting which marked the real breakdown of my introspective abilities, which turned me from a slow learner into a stagnant pond.
Of course, he’d known exactly what to say to me in order to tease out my most insidious beliefs.
You see, we’re never told what happens to our diary once the employees collect it in their rounds. When a person is arrested, he’s never told where he failed to uphold the Law. The government just swoops down upon you one day. The only thing preventing me—and everybody I know—from collapsing into a state of anxious neurosis over the prospect of arrest is habit; doing the same thing every day and inferring that if it worked out last time, it should work out this time, too.
I have never met any active member of the State. The official explanation to this would be the gap of language between us, entailing that once I reached their level, I would naturally gain the powers to interact with their ‘kind’ (for as I said, I was taught that only men of the highest introspective caliber were employed by the State).
The figure of the first Creator looms large over us all perennially. By having watched His own self so closely, He watches us also forevermore. Any arrest is done in subliminal consultation with His undying genius, which in turn lives on universally in the First Language, made by him.
All I (we?) knew about the State was that it had this one Law only, and that it would pass judgement regarding our adherence to it imperiously, under the eye of the Creator, in a manner beyond our current comprehension.
Questioning the State, I was told, was beyond my current cognitive capacity. I would have to become better at introspection, would have to learn a higher language. All intersubjective affairs—politics, history—were reserved for men of greater powers, for how could I indulge in these if I couldn’t understand and sort out my own subjective affairs first? I knew nothing of the inception of the State. I knew nothing about the world before it. I was to understand that it was beyond my current intelligence capabilities to learn these things.
I would have to become better at introspection. And only the State has the capability to ascertain what counts as ‘better’.
I think I have made my point sufficiently evident. I fear I live in a totalitarian state which wields complete power over its subjects and enjoys an absolute opaqueness with regards to its functioning. I fear its Law is merely a guise under which it may eliminate dissidents and skeptics and freethinkers. I fear the Creator is Big Brother.
If I am right, I fear I have doomed myself already. By penning these thoughts down and submitting them to the State, I will have revealed myself as a man of too many uncomfortable thoughts. I will be taken away and wiped off the face of the world. And all anyone will ever be told that I failed to introspect well enough.
This was the terrible doubt, the killing uncertainty, which I never allowed to rise up to the surface; the little bit of dishonesty I engaged in. Now that it is free, it remains to be seen whether it is my salvation or my executioner.
My friend recognized my apprehension and prodded it enough for it to move up to my stream of consciousness. He wanted me to spit it out, to make my soul a little less marred by introspective dishonesty. Why would he want me to perish? Does that not mean that this act will finally lift me up as I would like to believe? And then would I not, perhaps, experience the divine regeneration that only a man of shattered ideals can experience, with new avenues of being opening up to me?
I close my journal for today. Tomorrow, I find out whether my world is a utopia or a dystopia.
31st December, 2020 – 29th January, 2021
About the Author: Aditya Dwarkesh is a student pursuing an integrated BS-MS degree in mathematics and physics at a top university in India (IISER Kolkata) and is an editor at scientific magazine Cogito137. Next to writing fiction, he explores Western philosophy: his essay ‘Wilderness contra Civilisation’ was published in the Dutch/Belgian Journal of Philosophy in March 2022.
A ‘weird fiction’ story about the murder of a mysterious mathematician has appeared in the 2023 anthology ‘Black Wings VII’ as published by PS Publishing, run by well-known American Lovecraft specialist S.T. Joshi. This story is in another genre than ‘A Confession’: it is rather in the Edgar-Alan-Poe-tradition.
In 2019, while still in pre-university college, he wrote an essay in the field of philosophy of science on FQXi (Foundational Questions Institute), which is an MIT extension, collaborating with the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation; they invite papers from research scientists all over the world. They have on board, nobel laureates and world class scientists. Aditya’s research has been subsequently published in a volume published by Springer and won a special student prize.