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That which does not kill us makes us stronger
November 6, 2011 3:07 PM   Subscribe

> comp.basilisk - Frequently Asked Questions :: Is it just an urban legend that the first basilisk destroyed its creator?
Almost everything about the incident at the Cambridge IV supercomputer facility where Berryman conducted his last experiments has been suppressed and classified as highly undesirable knowledge. It's generally believed that Berryman and most of the facility staff died. Subsequently, copies of basilisk B-1 leaked out. This image is famously known as the Parrot for its shape when blurred enough to allow safe viewing. B-1 remains the favorite choice of urban terrorists who use aerosols and stencils to spray basilisk images on walls by night. But others were at work on Berryman's speculations...

(The quoted FAQ section was too pithy a summary to pass up, but it did constrain the order I could put the links in. So if you don't have time to read everything, I'll just note that the last and second-to-last links are IMHO the best content in the post, in that order.)

Also: Boo!
posted by Rhaomi (88 comments total) 165 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aha! *thud*
posted by FormlessOne at 3:14 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every few years or so, I remember that "BLIT" exists, and go back and reread it. It's like the story itself has infected me, taking on long dormant periods and then popping up now and again.

also OH GOD THAT LAST PICTURE
posted by kagredon at 3:18 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Previously about the motif of harmful sensation.
Previously about BLIT.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:22 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Previously about the motif of harmful sensation.

It's exciting.
posted by curious nu at 3:26 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


They even have to redact changelogs.
posted by bleary at 3:27 PM on November 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


I put a Gödelian spoiler on the back of my car, and now I can't find where I parked it.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:34 PM on November 6, 2011 [13 favorites]


It's parrots all the way down.
posted by bicyclefish at 3:46 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


there are certain combinations of white letterforms that, when presented on a blue background, can completely disable a reader into an hours long stupor.
posted by The Whelk at 3:56 PM on November 6, 2011 [59 favorites]


Wow, this is great. Thanks for sharing it!
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:57 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hopefully the SCP Foundation is on the case.
posted by lucidium at 4:07 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]



Mrs. French's cat is missing.

The signs are posted all over town.

"Have you seen Honey?"

We've all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat.

posted by Artw at 4:07 PM on November 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


Just watched Pontypool the other night Artw, have to say I was quite pleasantly surprised.
posted by SomaSoda at 4:17 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah Pontypool is amazingly good. I really liked that last story as I hadn't seen it before, and it seems like a reasonable way to deal with BLITs.
posted by Peztopiary at 4:31 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


c.f. the "medusa mode" from the Hugo-winning short story The Concrete Jungle by Metafilter's own Charles Stross.
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:33 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I distinctly remember loving the hell out of "A Different Kind of Darkness" when it came out.

Or course, then it was on darker font on paper - if I tried to read it the way that web page renders on my monitor it would probably drive me mad.....Hey! Wait a minute....
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:34 PM on November 6, 2011


Kid Charlemagne: "if I tried to read it the way that web page renders on my monitor it would probably drive me mad.....Hey! Wait a minute...."

The layout on that one does stink, but I linked it using a Readability wrapper -- you can just hit the link at the top of the page and get a version rendered with margins and a more readable font with options in the sidebar for different text sizes, colors, etc.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:39 PM on November 6, 2011


Fnord I fnord don't fnord believe fnord in fnord any fnord of fnord this fnord crap fnord.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:41 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


<img src="smile.jpg" alt="Ring-derived creepypasta">
posted by benzenedream at 4:57 PM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, I read BLIT quite a while back, but didn't know about 'a different kind of darkness' until now. Thanks! Great stuff.
posted by knapah at 5:00 PM on November 6, 2011


Pics or it didn't happen.
posted by finite at 5:07 PM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


Medusa Weapons (atomic rockets)
posted by Nyrath at 5:17 PM on November 6, 2011


This seems really cool!! But... What is all of this? I would totally Google it but I don't really know what "it" is.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 5:23 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very interesting.
posted by kafziel at 5:56 PM on November 6, 2011


It's worth noting along the way that the author of these stories is David Langford, the man behind Ansible, which must be SF's most lauded and longest running fanzine. He's also an editor of the online edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (previously).

And apparently--holy shit!--the older brother of The Mekons' Jon Langford.

That is to say, a notable chap.
posted by Idler King at 6:00 PM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm so drawn to this trope it's almost not funny. I was almost obsessed with Kate Bush's Experiment IV. The scariest thing about Lovecraft was always that reading about the Elder Gods was an infective experience.

If I ever try and write anything, I drift quickly towards "Harmful Sensation".

Anyway - it seems weird that the trope seems to start with the Greeks, and is now usually associated with science fiction that usually has a totalitarian / dystopian theme. (Or, in the case of Monty Python - war) It's almost as if it started with Democracy and doesn't reappear until people start worrying that democracy is dying.

"Like the only thing to kill the idea of democracy is an idea that can literally kill. " As a theory, that's a stretch, and probably won't stand up to any examination. But I do like it. It feels kinda apocalyptic.
posted by seanyboy at 6:00 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is one of those things that I don't understand in the slightest at first glance, but I suddenly want to read/watch/listen to anything I can to get it.
posted by mykescipark at 6:02 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's the first stage.
posted by Artw at 6:04 PM on November 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


there are certain combinations of white letterforms that, when presented on a blue background, can completely disable a reader into an hours long stupor.

I prefer the professional white background.
posted by empath at 6:04 PM on November 6, 2011


This seems really cool!! But... What is all of this? I would totally Google it but I don't really know what "it" is.

Just a collection of short stories by David Langford on the theme of KILLER FRACTALS OMG.

there are certain combinations of white letterforms that, when presented on a blue background, can completely disable a reader into an hours long stupor.

Hah, reminds me of one of my very first comments here (inspired by similar creepypasta).
posted by Rhaomi at 6:10 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


>> there are certain combinations of white letterforms that, when presented on a blue background, can completely disable a reader into an hours long stupor.

AKA BSoD.
posted by Lon Mem at 6:15 PM on November 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


More Scotch...or less. Laiphroiagh or just another wee thimble full of Dewar's?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:33 PM on November 6, 2011


Hide it in a QR code.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:34 PM on November 6, 2011


I think the closest to a real-life equivalent of these fractals would be the camouflage patterns on military outfits. The newer ones are actual fractals, and they're selected for visual patterns that don't appear in nature, which means that if you try to find where the clothes end and the desert begins, your visual cortex will most likely reach its maximum stack depth and give up.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:54 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't the mind crash more often? It does crash in certain situations : extreme panic, extreme fear , certain mental illnesses. But it is amazing that it doesn't crash more often or with more disastrous effect, isn't it?
posted by Poet_Lariat at 7:57 PM on November 6, 2011


Ah, the pictographic, high-cthonic equivalent of Babel-17, then. Excellent. Good post.

Now in code form!
posted by Minus215Cee at 8:18 PM on November 6, 2011


It depends on your particular mental health status.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:20 PM on November 6, 2011


Jeff Noon did a re-working of this in his short story Cloudwalkers in Pixel Juice

If we're talking about 'what the eye cannot see', have you heard of pink battleships or their older relatives the razzle-dazzles?

The reason the mind doesn't crash more often is usually held to be a combination of 'selective attention' and cognitive bias / disequilibrium / dissonance - the subject just doesn't see what they cannot comprehend or refuses to process the new information. This is often why those looking for truth who seek out the desert of the real end up in a state of Knurd, and run screaming from the horrors they've seen.

Of course, there are modern versions of this, which interestingly shows that it is the red / blue switching that triggers the fits (perhaps why... oh, that'd be silly. No-one would choose opposing colours of political parties to cause society wide fits to preclude them seeing that both sides were owned by the same people... would they?)
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 8:22 PM on November 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


But it is amazing that it doesn't crash more often or with more disastrous effect, isn't it?

Cult/religious brainwashing is probably as close as it gets in the real world.
posted by benzenedream at 8:33 PM on November 6, 2011


Awesome! Thanks, Rhaomi.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 8:45 PM on November 6, 2011


After reading this thread, I just watched Pontypool.

Holy shit.

I can't recommend it enough.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:26 PM on November 6, 2011


Also, make sure you watch it all the way through the credits. They've implemented a clever little mind-virus.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2011


Why doesn't the mind crash more often?

There are some cognitive deficits that are kind of like a crashy mind— attention getting 'stuck' in certain states— but the mind seems to be organized more as a collection of interacting processes, cf Minsky, that mostly have the ability to kick each other out of some stuck state.

I'd think that any mental states that can't be escaped from would be really, really strongly selected against, evolutionarily. Eventually some plant or animal would stumble on using a BLIT as protective coloration, and everything susceptible would die off and then the selection for the coloration would disappear and so would the selection for immunity until a retreating glacier releases some ancient butterfly pupae call my agent, Langford-Crichton-Stross!
posted by hattifattener at 9:30 PM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]


thsmchnekllsfascists: "After reading this thread, I just watched Pontypool.

Holy shit.

I can't recommend it enough.
"

The video links are dead, but you might like the post I did on it earlier this year. It was also a radio play and a novel, plus there's a possible sequel in the works!
posted by Rhaomi at 9:32 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cheradine Zakalwe: "The reason the mind doesn't crash more often is usually held to be a combination of 'selective attention ' and cognitive bias / disequilibrium / dissonance - the subject just doesn't see what they cannot comprehend or refuses to process the new information. "

Like that little negotiation chair you made in Use of Weapons, for instance.
posted by vanar sena at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2011 [8 favorites]


So THAT'S what happened to the img tag.
posted by BlueJae at 9:39 PM on November 6, 2011 [17 favorites]


This is a news.announce.newusers question, but keeps cropping up here. In brief: you can't, without a rarely granted government licence. Using anything other than plain ASCII/ANSI text on websites or in e-mail is a guaranteed way of terminating your net account. We're all nostalgic about the old, colourful web, and about television, but today's risks are simply too great.

Sent shivers down my spine. Pitch perfect.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:43 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read "Blit" in Interzone magazine when it came out. It blew my tiny little mind.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:29 PM on November 6, 2011


Poet_Lariat: "Why doesn't the mind crash more often? It does crash in certain situations : extreme panic, extreme fear , certain mental illnesses. But it is amazing that it doesn't crash more often or with more disastrous effect, isn't it?"

Smoke salvia if you want to experience a crash first hand.
posted by Splunge at 10:50 PM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


Great post. A similar plot device was used in the STNG episode "I Borg".
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:11 PM on November 6, 2011


My take on the mind not crashing is that the human brain is a robust system with many sub-systems, which individually can and do crash or produce nonsense results. Somehow, the whole system keeps on muddling through, more or less, in the usual case, though the failure modes are various and well known. The failures mostly tend to happen over time with sustained bad inputs.

Now, I am not a neurologist and can't justify this. It's just my feeling that human brains are too messy and redundant to be brought down by single harmful input (of course, not counting things that do actual physical damage or are related to some specific medical conditions). Furthermore, perhaps the human capability for boredom has evolved to avoid brains getting stuck in infite loops, for example contemplating bring and shiny things. Not to mention sleeping, which is clearly important to avoid the brain crashing.

I really enjoy these stories and the whole idea, though I do feel in reality the vision and brain would not work that way and such images would not be possible. It's all well done and thought-provoking.
posted by tykky at 12:03 AM on November 7, 2011


I own a copy of the poster on the left of this image.
That red spiral on that particular shade of blue doesn't crash my brain, but it sure hurts a surprising amount.
I'm convinced a dedicated neuroscientist could use it to find an exploit to gain root on my brain.
posted by HFSH at 12:31 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn it. I had wanted to see Pontypool ages ago, and just noticed because of this that it was on Netflix now, and... now, goodbye, sleeping.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:28 AM on November 7, 2011


The human brain eats Strange Loops for breakfast.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:18 AM on November 7, 2011


Eventually some plant or animal would stumble on using a BLIT as protective coloration, and everything susceptible would die off

It would be so strange to look at - like a color from outer space.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:37 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting stories, and I think it actually added to the experience that they are distributed around and in differing formats and so on.
posted by Harald74 at 4:45 AM on November 7, 2011


Turns out BLITs exist (although somewhat unintentionally - or why everything that doesn't kill you actually ends up killing you anyway)

As an interesting aside, this means a subset of the camouflage side of prey models is a way of inducing stress, and therefore death, on your opponent; while some predators are 'aware' of the issue and so reduce stress by feigning being benign, it could be that this is not purely a hunting / preventative detection mechanism, but actually a way of not unduly destroying your food source.

This can be extrapolated into human terms where the current 'cultural theories' on sociopaths range from 8-10% of business leaders over an average of 4% population, to extended 'self-help / expression' blogs of actual or pseudo-attracted bloggers. Whilst some would argue that society has always been lead by sociopaths, there's mounting evidence that the general populace in the crucibles of 'hard capitalism' are mimicking sociopathic behaviour as a normative standard.

This leaves the empathic side of humanity somewhat at a quandary - although it has been noted for some time that only 2% of humans are able to kill 'naturally and without compunction' (which means at least 50% of sociopaths aren't able to murder on a whim), there is mounting evidence that within that 2% lies both psychopaths and their polar opposites, extreme empaths. The reasoning being that this 1% are so attached to their fellow soldiers that they are willing to kill to preserve their lives - whilst this sounds a corny rationalisation for the 'hero myth'... there's a lot of military expenditure on the issue.,

Could this mean that the 99% actually could do with this particular 1% in their battle against sociopathic squids on Wallstreet? Quite possibly so.

[[Warning: last two links go to military sites, and as such have embedded trackers - inadvisable to visit without prophylactic measures such as ghostery / NoScript]]


As for that chair...
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 4:46 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


A quick misreading of Zakalwe's comment left me wondering if soldiers' camouflage gear makes them psychologically lot easier to shoot at, because camouflaging hides their humanity compared to more normal clothing, and if that effect is stronger than the benefits they give for not being seen.
posted by Free word order! at 6:36 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the topic of the OP, basilisks, I was first introduced to idea in Douglas Hofstadter's anthology The Mind's I, which included Christopher Cherniak's The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution.

I find this short story particularly chilling because of the almost nonchalant way it completely annihilates the common layperson's interpretation of information. To the average joe, 'The Medium is the Message', but anyone with the suitable mathematical and philosophical background in information theory realises that information is independent of its representation. The story playfully takes this to an interesting conclusion!
posted by asymptotic at 7:17 AM on November 7, 2011


Why doesn't the mind crash more often?

I have the impression that several mental illnesses amount to crashes. The obsession in OCD is caused by a closed brain circuit in which worrying about something triggers the part of your brain that causes you to worry about something, which is pretty much like an out-of-control loop in a program. (I think there's even surgery to correct this, which is like adding a break to the loop?) The extreme highs in bipolar maybe are similar, a situation where being excited about something triggers excitement.

But I doubt that there's any instantaneous data input like a picture that can crash a human brain, especially in a way that has much to do with Godel, because the brain is statistical and random and parallel rather than deterministic. It's not like a Turing machine, where you can apply Godel's logic to show there are guaranteed to be problems it can't solve. It's more like a Turing machine that's constantly having random bits flipped and running all of its commands simultaneously, with some kind of clever feedback loop that tends towards useful mutations. If you found a parrot image that worked on one brain at any given moment, it would be surprising if it still worked on the same brain a moment later, let alone on someone else.

Now obviously with years of input you can reshape human brains to generate all kinds of unfortunate output -- we know this, we all have parents. But I'm betting it's going to have to be a long-term statistical training process, rather than an instant crash, unless you use chemicals or electricity or scalpels or lasers to reach in and physically reshape the circuits.
posted by Honorable John at 8:06 AM on November 7, 2011


Why doesn't the mind crash more often?

Individuals and species with (easily)-crashable minds get eaten very quickly, leaving the less-crash-prone to reproduce.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:14 AM on November 7, 2011


Case in point: vampires.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:00 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, there is the theory that religion is composed of non-lethal fragments of a memetic virus that arrived from space, and that in it's original form it would be a potent basilisk.
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Close enough
posted by seanyboy at 9:29 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why that looks like it's kdkdkdkdkdkdk *thud*
posted by Artw at 9:42 AM on November 7, 2011


Guys, you should really look at that picture seanyboy linked for a long time and be one with us, it's great! Don't worry about the itchy crawling sensation at the back of your mind, once you get past that something wonderful happens!
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't the mind crash more often?

BLIT's and their relatives strike me as the cyberpunk equivalent of warp drives and wormholes in space opera: a literary plot device that shouldn't be taken too seriously.

Brain-as-computer largely failed as a metaphor, and it has generally been replaced by a view in which the brain is a collection of functionally specialized meaty organs that slowly habituate over time. Most computer programs are vulnerable to crashing because they're dependent on a persistent system state. But in a largely functional system with minimal "side effects," the state is whatever those functions happen to be processing at the moment. Continuity of consciousness is largely an illusion of having a rolling working memory.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:01 AM on November 7, 2011


Well, there is the theory that religion is composed of non-lethal fragments of a memetic virus that arrived from space

It arrived from space in SC? Really, or are you just fucking with us? Because I don't remember that detail.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2011


Radio telescopes.
posted by Artw at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2011


But in a largely functional system with minimal "side effects," the state is whatever those functions happen to be processing at the moment.

...and that is, curiously enough, the state of the art in computer programming these days.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How Asherah got to ancient Sumeria would be a question though...
posted by Artw at 11:00 AM on November 7, 2011


This kind of thing always makes me think of the World's Funniest Joke sketch.
posted by NoraReed at 12:07 PM on November 7, 2011


Case in point: vampires.

It's interesting that you mention that, as I was recalling that in Peter Watts' novel Blindsight, the vampires have a visual processing glitch that makes them go into seizures if they see a cross:

a cross-wiring of normally-distinct receptor arrays in the visual cortex, resulting in grand mal-like feedback seizures whenever the arrays processing vertical and horizontal stimuli fired simultaneously across a sufficiently large arc of the visual field. Since intersecting right angles are virtually nonexistent in nature, natural selection did not weed out the Glitch until H. sapiens sapiens developed Euclidean architecture; by then, the trait had become fixed across H. sapiens vampiris via genetic drift, and – suddenly denied access to its prey – the entire subspecies went extinct shortly after the dawn of recorded history.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 12:08 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Indeed, read the Powerpoint.
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How Asherah got to ancient Sumeria would be a question though...

Okay, that's what I was thinking of. Now I have to read SC again for the bits about radio telescopes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2011


IIRC they pretty much just say that finding the code was the reason L. Bob Rife was funding a SETI like effort and that's all the explanation you ever get... possibly it's a Berserker or mangled HMV?
posted by Artw at 12:22 PM on November 7, 2011


Radiolab's episode on Loops covers a woman who has an episode of amnesia that sounds a lot like a "brain crash."
posted by morganw at 1:28 PM on November 7, 2011


SomaSoda and Peztopiary, I owe you both a beer. That was a GREAT movie.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:09 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's actually rather rare that I watch a movie not knowing what's going to happen next - Pontypool delivered that in buckets.
posted by Artw at 3:38 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a couple stories in Metafilter's own Jeff Vandermeer's (sorta) and Iain Rowan The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases that have the word/image/idea as virus mechanism?

One of my favorite variations comes from Watt's Rifters series which has a meme as survival mechanism component for a computer virus.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:22 PM on November 7, 2011


Gosh, a mention on David Langford's Home Page!
posted by titus-g at 4:26 PM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this list may be a basilisk of some kind.
posted by Artw at 4:31 PM on November 7, 2011


Now here's an idea: pop culture functioning as "helpful" bacteria that use up the resources so that the harmful ones can't invade. Sort of fermentation as preserving for the human brain.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:37 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think for all of its l337 mathemagical devilry, this memetic weapon will be powerless against the visual tone-deaf: that is, against colorblind people.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:08 PM on November 7, 2011


Ted Chiang's Understand features a duel fought with lethal sensory stimuli.
posted by benzenedream at 6:05 PM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]




From the smile.jpg article:

Mare E. was the sysop for a small Chicago-based Bulletin Board System in 1992 when she first encountered smile.jpg and her life changed forever. ... Mary was one of an estimated 400 people who saw the image when it was posted as a hyperlink on the BBS

There might be something to this whole "harmful sensation" thing: reading that made my head hurt.
posted by Kalthare at 8:37 PM on November 7, 2011


WAIT WHAT NO SNOW CRASH?
posted by Tom-B at 1:01 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have an unusually crashy mind, I think. There are shades of red and frequency of stripes I can't look at, and plenty of times I've found myself in a bad mental state and thought, you know, if I were a computer this would be a time to reboot. Unfortunately, it's a lot less easy to power cycle the mind. I think this is basically what meditation is for.
posted by troublesome at 6:20 PM on November 13, 2011


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