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Squidpod 018 - Remix and Regret

…or, the perils of dogfooding. If you think using early betas is sketchy, try being one.

Remix and Regret

by Dave Cochran


Published under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence

MP3 PDF and ebook versions coming soon!



… 2, 3.

OK, that seems to be working. Right.

13th June, just coming out of London

I remember the day I woke up in the abandoned hospital. I was lucky, I guess. The carriers of the rage virus had moved on, for the most part. I had a few nasty run-ins, but I found other survivors before I encountered the infected in large numbers.

Yes, I know that didn’t really happen. That’s the plot of 28 Days Later.

Still, it was nice looking exactly like Ewan McGregor for a while.

I remember a long train journey when I was a kid - it was the start of a holiday to … uh, somewhere. Somewhere … I dunno. Oh, but I do remember, the shop on the train was closed, and I was really hungry, because Mum and Dad didn’t pack food for the train because they had a voucher for the shop instead, but then it was OK because my Gran’s living room was on the next carriage, and she …

Wait. Shit, that doesn’t sound right, does it?

I remember, there was a time of my life when I roamed from town to town in the American midwest, working my way into the lives and hearts of the people I met along the way, helping them resolve their problems, learn to empathise with each other, but I always moved along before they could get too attached to me. Also I was a dog. I remember that very very clearly.

OK, yeah. Yes I know. That’s the plot of The Littlest Hobo.

Ummm. OK. Right. I have really vivid memories of the day I got my brace taken off my teeth. I’d had it for four years, and it was such a relief - my mouth felt so much lighter, so much more mobile, so much more me, like I’d had a parasite removed or something. Except I don’t remember getting it put in, or ever having it at all. My mate Darren did though. He told me all about it when he got his taken out. Amazing - his experience was just like mine.

My memory of losing my virginity I know is not right, because while it was not a threesome, foursome, or any other n-some for n > 2, the memory switches between several different women, most of whom are definitely fictional characters, plus every at least vaguely punk girl from my year in sixth form, and Tisiphone Jones, the lead singer of The Kindly Ones. According to my Facebook Life Events, Megan Teague, actually was my girlfriend for a while - and then later on Padme Kumar - so maybe those bits are real. Some of them anyway. The thing is, it’s not like all these women are blended together in my memory - but my memory of my first time is a patchwork of lots of different fucks, most of which never actually happened.

I remember, Megan painted beautiful pictures and wrote terrible poetry. She gave the impression of being a laid-back, artsy-hippy sort, but actually we had loads of blazing rows and I was relieved when she finally dumped me. I honestly do not know whether the problem was me being an insensitive, inattentive clod, or her being totally up herself, or some air-fuel mixture of the two.

Padme, on the other hand, was a fun, but dangerous, person to be around. She was heavily into

/Welcome to TransEurope Trains. The buffet car is now open, and in First Class, passenger care units will soon be passing through the carriages. Our next stop will be Ashford. Thank you./

Padme was heavily into open source software and radical politics. She actually had to repeat her second year of sixth form because she and some anarchist buddies went to prison for three months for some shenanigans in Harrods with a load of paintball gear on the day of the Duncan-Smith Riots. Because of that, I ended up going to uni a year ahead of her, and she broke up with me because she didn’t want a long distance relationship. There was no acrimony at all, and she arranged for us to have a totally amazing Last Night Together, with a fancy meal at a Lebanese restaurant that she cut into her uni fund to pay for, and a posh bottle of wine that we drank without glasses on the roof of the college, and … well, I think most of the real bits from my memory of my first time were from that night. Certainly the best bits. I don’t think it was actually my first time, but it’s hard to tell.

I remember the time I uncovered the Runes of Grag C’m-Rynne, and the lands of Anvertroth fell under a great darkness. The crops perished, and the beasts of the field died where they stood. This happened deep in the catacombs below the Anverkeep, which for reasons I’m not readily able to explain also contained a lot of pizza and Red Bull. I dunno. I can’t tell if that happened or not, but the memory is really vivid. I can’t think of it as not real.

All right, here’s one I know is real. I checked against my Facebook, Twitter, Baidu, my uni webpage - all that stuff - and it looks legit. I got my PhD in Computational Neuroscience ten years ago - I remember very little of that time, but I’ve got a degree certificate with my name on it scanned into Evernote, so I’m not gonna argue with that. What I do remember is, about five years ago, my colleague Prof. Nour Al Fahd scored an absolutely enormous EPSRC grant to develop in situ single-neuron polyscanners into a technology for capturing and reproducing the complete state-vector of an entire human brain. The single-neuron scanners were already a mature technology, but scaling them down to do every neuron in a living brain in parallel was a massive challenge. We were just one team among many around the world working on it, but we came up with some pretty big breakthroughs - including a spinoff that became the JumpGate Initiative. Not quite sure how that fit in with the neurotech stuff, but anyway the World Government took it over once forgotten gods started to cross through the gates. They did memory wipes on everyone involved, but I guess it didn’t quite work on me.

Two years ago, I got the job of heading up the subdivision of the group responsible for figuring out how to replicate the stored state-vector in a new body - the restore part of back-up and restore, in essence. The only way I could get it past the ethics committee was to make myself Test Subject #1.

I’m not actually Original-Flavour Me - the me whose body Tisiphone - no, no - Padme, definitely Padme, did all those things to the night before I went off to uni for the first time. I think I’m about … Me 0.17. And as you may have guessed by now, we’ve had a problem getting the long-range connections from the hippocampus mapped out right. Me 0.1 to 0.4 died in the tank. 0.5 to 0.16 lived, but they were seriously fucked up. The results were varied; some existed in a state of permanent hallucinogenic disconnection from reality; some went into a seizure the moment neural activity started, which continued until they were terminated; others produced what appeared to be completely random behaviours.

The problem with 0.1 to 0.4 turned out to be that the tissue printer needed a different calibration for brainstem and cerebellar tissue than for the neocortex. Obvious really. 0.5 to 0.16 turned out to be a rather subtler problem which blocked the signal transduction pathways for inhibitory synapses, which of course, we could only see the effects of once we’d sorted out the calibration issues and got a live me out of the tank. I’m sure the work would have gone more smoothly if I hadn’t had to redo secondary school at the time. Some mix up with the paperwork for my S-Levels, I think. And only once we got that fixed, did the hippocampal crosswiring issue become apparent. Oh well.

Maybe that’s why I remember all the JumpGate stuff. The crosswiring must’ve routed round the World Government’s memory wipe.

At least-

Uh, yeah, a cup of tea would be nice.

Earl Grey please - with lemon, if you’ve got it.

Thanks a lot!

Right, where was I?

So yeah, basically, I’m presuming that’s what the underlying problem was. I didn’t really stick around to find out. You see, when I signed the waivers before we took my first state vector, I determined that any me that turned out wrong should be terminated within the first hour. Since each fork of me would literally be a continuation of the me signing the form and making that decision right there, it was my call to make, I figured, and since there would still be a me that persisted, it would really be no different to just losing an hour’s worth of memories. I had done worse to myself in the student union bar as an undergrad.

But the thing is, that wasn’t me. It was a me, but not this me. Not me-me. That was Classic Me. Where Me 0.1 to 0.16 are concerned, I guess that was the right call. None of those mes were ever going to have anything like a life. New Me, this me, has other ideas, and hoofed it out a bathroom window at T = 25 minutes.

At T = 32 minutes, I was at the counter of the campus branch of AlbaBank, authenticating with my geneprint and a shared secret to withdraw ten grand in cash.

By T = 51 minutes, I had ducked into the sort of clothes-shop my undergraduates favour, and procured jeans and a hoodie. I got a flapjack and a cheap burner tablet from a newsagent, and grabbed a cab to Waverley.

By T = 77 minutes, I was boarding the HST from Edinburgh to Paris, with a ticket that would take me on to Berlin. I splashed on first class, so it ate up almost half the money, but I figure it was worth it for the privacy and the chance to think. Plus, as long as I didn’t get off the train at any of the stops in England, no-one was going to ask for ID.

Identity. Hah.

I mean, I’m not a philosopher. I show up to the Mentality and Computation Reading Group every now and then, and I like discussing this stuff with them, but it’s not my core expertise. I stick to research where I can get my hands on something that goes squish, really. But as far as I can make out, personal identity over time has to do with continuity of memory. Dan Carter talks about the self as a “virtual entity” and as a “narrative construction”, and honestly, I can’t even see what that could mean. Continuity of memory will do for me. And by that standard, New Me and Classic Me are not the same person. I’m not a copy of him - more like … a remix, or a mashup.

I’ve been an independent being for a little over three hours, which is still kind of a headfucker, if I’m honest. I’m sitting on the train, which was just pulling out of London when I started recording, and is now crossing a long viaduct through the rice-paddies of Kent, sipping earl grey tea and watching the skeleton of the Thames Estuary Arcology slowly parallax past. I’m not frightened. I just need to give it a little time, build up some memories of my own, and then there’ll be no argument over whether I’m really my own person. But I don’t know whether it’s just my old memories that are all cut-n-pastified, or whether new memories will get the treatment too. That’s why I’m keeping this journal. So I can check back and compare what I recorded with what I can remember.


Montag 18te Juni, Berlin

OK, uhhh … been in Berlin five nights now, pretty much been a tourist. It’s certainly brighter, busier, and more cheerful than it was last time I was here - but then of course, that was when I was - oh, wait a sec, hold on.

Ah, nope, Wikipedia calls vampires “mythologic or folkloric beings”, so I guess none of that stuff happened either.


Uhh, Ja, Ich werde noch ein Hefe Weiss, bitte.

Anyway, I should have been recording journals much more regularly than this, but I guess I was enjoying the city, and just didn’t want to have to deal. It looks like Classic Me has forced the matter, by changing the passwords to our Facebook and Evernote and stuff. I should have made a preemptive strike and done it myself. That really limits my ability to check which memories are real.

Before recording this, I listened to my last entry again.


The problem is, the only bit I can really rely on is the bit about sitting in the train with a cup of tea. That’s the only bit where I’m recording what was happening right there and then. The rest of it was all recollection, and … well … it all just seems a bit far-fetched, doesn’t it? Backing up my mind and copying it to a replacement body? Very sci-fi. Actually, - ah, danke schön! - actually it sounds like just the sort of thing I would have fantasised about as a teenager, in between fantasising about getting off with girls I was too nervous to talk to. If I could check it against Facebook, or Evernote, or something, that would help.

The Neuroengineering Unit website doesn’t have anything about my project. Of course, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my head that says that’s the university going into PR damage control mode - but that’s conspiracy-theorist thinking, isn’t it? Isn’t it just more plausible that this whole thing is yet another misremembered movie-plot or LARP session, and the reason it’s not on the uni website is that it never really happened?

So, what do I know for sure?

am a neuroscientist with the School of Informatics at Edinburgh Uni. I do have a staff page there. I do have a specialism in brain-machine interfaces, but however clear and vivid my memory of it may be, I’m pretty sure the stuff about mind backups is just made up.

I know I have some sort of disorder of memory.

I know that I’m in Berlin with €4.000, no documentation, a used single ticket, and a few changes of clothes, mostly with labels in German.

Part of me is convinced that there is another copy of me back in Edinburgh that locked me out of all my accounts, but there is a simpler explanation, that me and my memory disorder just forgot all my passwords. This ten-euro tablet doesn’t have my passkey account, and it’s been ages since I last had to type them in by hand.

I think I should go back to Edinburgh.

Except for one thing.

What if it’s like the patient H.M., distrusting the researcher who pricked him with a pin the previous day, even though he had no recollection of having been pricked? I know my narrative, autobiographical memory is all screwed up, but there are other memory systems - associative memory, procedural memory, which were spared in H.M. and may well have been spared in me too. In which case, what if the fact that I’m scared to go back corresponds to some real danger back home, and the mind-backup story is something my brain confabulated to account for it?

I think I’ve got to run.

I’ve got a limited stock of money, but if I eke it out with cheap coach tickets and casual work, I should be able to keep going. I can’t walk into a research post, but I can pick up, say, some English tutoring and freelance programming work. Without a passport, I can’t leave Schengen, so I’ll just have to keep moving.

It’s miserable not to be able to trust my own mind. It’s so easy to fall into paranoid thinking and post-hoc rationalisations. I can’t help but wonder if my memory problems are a side effect of the wipe the World Government tried to do. Maybe I should have taken their job offer after all. Certainly, it would be nice not to have to take work far below what I’m qualified for. It’s possible they may know of a treatment, even.

I’ll get a coach to Prague in the morning. I’ll make a new Twitter account for myself, and drop a few hints about what I know. I’m sure they monitor this stuff. I’m sure they’ll be in touch.

Squidpod 018 - Remix and Regret

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