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The Yeastrix Has You

Warning: Willing suspension of disbelief is temporarily abrogated in this entry.

Cyberpunk sure is implausible sometimes, isn't it?

I'm not talking about Enoch Root in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon and Quicksilver or Van Eck phreaking as depicted in the first book. Root is just an enigma, and if he were the Tom Bombadil of the metaseries, I wouldn't care; hot-rodding tech tricks such as observing someone's display from indirect LCD or CRT radiation physically farfetched, but not entirely beyond the realm of possibility given near-future technology.

Rather, I'm talking about one thing I still find implausible about The Matrix: the explanation that humans were being used as a source of available power. Once the permanent cloud cover produced by wide-scale weapons use by humans had plunged the Earth into darkness, and presumably destroyed most ecosystems with photosynthetic plants, it stood to reason that mass extinctions would make most species inaccessible to the machines. But here are my objections, in decreasing order of salience:

  • Most everything about the Matrix setup as described takes inordinate energy investment. "Liquefying the dead" takes energy, as does cloning or breeding them instead of using mitosis. More important, the entire premise of the Matrix is that the imprisoning humans have to be kept happy in order to be kept in a state of perpetual unconsciousness. Why not use nonsentient life forms, then? I have a theory about this, which those of you who are julianmayfans or familiar with the hyperion_cantos will recognize...

  • Why not use an available organism with a simpler metabolism? Even supposing trees and cows and electric eels were completely gone, including frozen embryos (which is farfetched in and of itself), there would still have to be prokaryotic blood parasites, unicellular eukaryotes such as yeast, etc. Simpler metabolisms are, by and large, more efficient, unless the humans of the Matrix are genetically modified to generate a much more powerful higher electical field. Not only do I not think that is implausible, but as dashamus pointed out, yeast would probably be easier to modify for producing chemical energy. Recycling biomass would be easier, too.

  • Why not develop a sustainable model of energy production? The recycling of humans would eventually wind down, over several centuries or millenia. Why not use geothermal energy in the meantime? (Some collection system would be needed, as above, but it probablycould be made worth while.) Build an orbital tether-mounted set of solar collection panels? Develop a terraforming regime to reverse the damage?



Note: I understand the rationale behind willing suspension of disbelief, and that "The Yeastrix" might be technically interesting, but would not make for a good film, lacking as it does the dramatic conflict that the Matrix does. My objection to the human batteries is the sheer lack of necessity as presented in the first film.

Credit where credit is due: This short essay grew out of a discussion with darana and others on 31 Jan 2004.

--
Banazir

Comments

( 44 comments — Leave a comment )
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 03:15 am (UTC)
Matrix: Replication
This has a fanfiction potential: Neo and his mates discover that they are really a massive colony of yeast, which has through some weird quirk in evolution developed a collective intelligence. To keep the colony from dying out because of self-conscious-derived depression, the machines feed yeast with images from human past that they have kept in their libraries.
banazir
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:01 am (UTC)
Uhh, little bandwidth problem there
Well, you'll have a hard time feeding even a colony of yeast anything thought the limited interface.

Genetic transfer, you say?

I took the same issue with Herbert and his genetic memory.
RNA and DNA just don't have that kind of bandwidth.
We're talking a few hundred to the small thousands of megabases.

--
Banazir
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:06 am (UTC)
Re: Uhh, little bandwidth problem there
Very, very good compression algorithms :)
Chemical transfer? Some kind of very primitive neurotransmitters? If the yeast has collective intelligence, it must mean it got some kind of neural system. And you can feed it in multiple feeds at a time.
banazir
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:14 am (UTC)
Re: Uhh, little bandwidth problem there
Very, very good compression algorithms :)
Try me!
I have been going over the basics of information theory with zengeneral. Just about now he should be ready to tackle the Asymptotic Equipartition Property.

Chemical transfer? Some kind of very primitive neurotransmitters? If the yeast has collective intelligence, it must mean it got some kind of neural system. And you can feed it in multiple feeds at a time.
Uh-huh, and learning yeastrices can go back in time to kill John Connor... just slip a little dopamine into the nutrient bath...

--
Banazir
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:26 am (UTC)
Re: Uhh, little bandwidth problem there
Very, very good compression algorithms :)

Try me!

Who, me? I'm a humanist! I only provide the ideas :)


Chemical transfer? Some kind of very primitive neurotransmitters? If the yeast has collective intelligence, it must mean it got some kind of neural system. And you can feed it in multiple feeds at a time.

Uh-huh, and learning yeastrices can go back in time to kill John Connor... just slip a little dopamine into the nutrient bath...


Wooh, a Matrix/Terminator/Yeast crossover!
Except, there is no motivation for yeast to do that... destroying Skynet before it becomes Matrix results in there not being intelligent yeast, only silly humans. And in fact the yeast learns much more about life, civilization and culture this way than it would - normally, it would take it billions of years...
There is no incentive to fight. Neo and his constant fights for freedom is just a construct of the Matrix, providing change and entertainment and preventing boredom.
(Hint: what do you think the Zionists eat? Yeast porridge. It's a very clever pun on behalf of Matrix.)
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 03:23 am (UTC)
human batteries
It's substance driven by style. Of course it doesn't make sense. Thinking about it will only ruin things.

I find it's best to treat the story as live action anime; then, everything falls into place.
banazir
Oct. 1st, 2004 03:58 am (UTC)
Don't worry your hobbity little head about it
It's substance driven by style. Of course it doesn't make sense. Thinking about it will only ruin things.
See, see, I have never been able to swallow the "don't worry about it" part when it comes to viewing a good story.
To me, a well-designed story convinces you - by dint of intriguing premise, engaging plot, rousing special effects, etc. - into suspending disbelief.

I find it's best to treat the story as live action anime; then, everything falls into place.
The Matrix-internal material, surely.
hempknight just remarked that my finding the whole power source thing not plausible but being willing to "accept the flying and the concrete chomping with fists...." made me interesting.
But I fully suspend disbelief there because that's part of the virtual world parameters. There's nothing that's theoretically beyond humans' abilty to remold in the Matrix source itself.

--
Banazir
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:15 am (UTC)
Re: Don't worry your hobbity little head about it
I understand what you're aiming at here, but think of this:

If one were to accept that The Matrix Trilogy were simply an extrapolation of our own reality, then your objections would be entirely valid.

Do you believe that to be the case?
banazir
Oct. 1st, 2004 09:22 am (UTC)
Close enough for horseshoes and Oracles
If one were to accept that The Matrix Trilogy were simply an extrapolation of our own reality, then your objections would be entirely valid.
Do you believe that to be the case?

Well, I'm confabulating, but: yes, to an extent. How different do you postulate that it is?

--
Banazir
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 09:45 am (UTC)
Re: Close enough for horseshoes and Oracles
Because reality should then be adhered to as much as possible. And then you, Pradera and others who share you concerns are in the right.

But I feel this is Pulp.

digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 09:46 am (UTC)
Re: Close enough for horseshoes and Oracles
"share *your* concerns"
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:02 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
I find it's best to treat the story as live action anime; then, everything falls into place.

Meaning, anime doesn't have to be internally logical and coherent?
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:11 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
No.

But I have watched an awful lot of Dragonball Z.

A number of colleagues from a mailing list I participate in have similar objections to Banazir's. I felt rather impatient with them, and generalised therefore.

Not every good story need bear up to close, logical analysis: witness Mulholland Dr. Does that make better sense?
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:20 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Mulholland Drive is deliberately illogical and unexplained/-able. The Matrix Trilogy is supposed to be all there is. Unless there is more to the story - like, for example, that really it's just thoughts of collective yeast mind - Matrix doesn't get away that easily. They tried to explain stuff, and the explanation is silly. Furthermore, they try to explain stuff using 'science', which makes it even more silly, like Lucas's Midichlorians.
And Dragonball is a kiddie fantasy using lots of magic, it doesn't have to be any more logical than Harry Potter.
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 05:00 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Mulholland Drive is deliberately illogical and unexplained/-able.

No. I can easily search out one of a number of (mostly) correct analyses, if that would help?

Matrix: They tried to explain stuff, and the explanation is silly.

Yes. Not to worry.

And Dragonball is a kiddie fantasy using lots of magic, it doesn't have to be any more logical than Harry Potter.

Yes to the former, to the latter: heavens no. Potter is quite carefully planned.
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 05:06 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Mulholland Drive is deliberately illogical and unexplained/-able.

No. I can easily search out one of a number of (mostly) correct analyses, if that would help?


Eh...Quote: Not every good story need bear up to close, logical analysis: witness Mulholland Drive . You have given it as a proof first, now you denounce it?
Whatever the analysis, Mulholland Dr. takes place in a dream-like world. As in: not real. No sane analysis can assume that what we see in the movie is for real. It's an equivalent of Matrix's 'Matrix', in which we can easily accept beating off the bullets and flying to the air. That's not the point.

As for Harry Potter - I don't mean logics in plot, but in plot devices. Potter has 'magic' - it doesn't have to explain how magic wands work, and it doesn't try. If it did try to explain wands using scientific terms, I would deem it equally silly, and would have as much problem with it as with Human Batteries and Midichlorians.
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 05:17 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
[Re: Mulholland Dr]

You have given it as a proof first, now you denounce it?

No. Half of MDr *is* real; the trick is to work out how one part interrelates to the other. You will not achieve this using traditional logic. The jitterbugging is a bit of a giveaway, mind.

Potter has 'magic' - it doesn't have to explain how magic wands work, and it doesn't try.

The Matrix has its magic. It's magic of a different texture, yes, but magic nonetheless. Star Trek has its magic, no?

I asked Banazir a question. I'll try it on you:

"If one were to accept that The Matrix Trilogy were simply an extrapolation of our own reality, then your objections would be entirely valid. Do you believe that to be the case?"
hempknight
Oct. 1st, 2004 05:20 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Whatever the analysis, Mulholland Dr. takes place in a dream-like world. As in: not real.

As opposed to The Matrix which takes place in the real world and is totally real? ;)

--
Danger is my middle name
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 05:28 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
"If one were to accept that The Matrix Trilogy were simply an extrapolation of our own reality, then your objections would be entirely valid. Do you believe that to be the case?"

and

As opposed to The Matrix which takes place in the real world and is totally real? ;)

Isn't this what the authors of Matrix want us to assume? Why else all the complex mythology, why the Animatrix stories of 'downfall of humanity', starting from our own world onwards? Why using scientific or pseudo-scientific terms to explain the tale?
Is 'magic' what powers the Matrix machines? No, it's regular electricity drawn from human batteries. Are laws of physics in Matrix's 'real world' other than our regular laws of physics? I have no reason to assume so.
Try to defend midichlorians, and we'll talk.
hempknight
Oct. 1st, 2004 05:55 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Isn't this what the authors of Matrix want us to assume?

Allah forbid. I don't think Wachowskis ever wanted us to assume that you can actually fly and leap from buildings.

Why else all the complex mythology, why the Animatrix stories of 'downfall of humanity', starting from our own world onwards?</b>

Same goes for The Terminator. And I can name at least 150 other movies which use the same narrative and plot devices. That's all that it is, plot device. The filmmakers establish ground rules of that world and you as audience can choose to accept it, or not depending on how the filmmakers keep with those rules themselves. And having the device that is connected to the real world somehow has the audience relate better to the story, if done properly.

Why using scientific or pseudo-scientific terms to explain the tale?

Because it's called Science Fiction. You know, fiction of science. It could have also been simply A wizard did it plot device type, but that would not be as interesting if you ask me.


Try to defend midichlorians, and we'll talk.

Midichlorians are tiny leetle bugs inside one's bloodstream which bind one to the Force. And I have no reason not to believe that in the world of Star Wars such things are actually so. There's simply no alternative given and it's a (albeit demystifying) plot device to have the Jedi Council even consider Anakin for training as a Jedi. Plot device, is all.

--
Danger is my middle name
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:09 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
All this is losing the main point.
A wizard did it would not be a _silly_ plot device. This is a silly plot device, period. Plenty of alternatives could be thought of which make a lot more sense than 'human batteries' and don't make your teeth grind and howl in terror.
They want us to suspend our disbelief, but there's nothing to suspend that disbelief on. The whole idea is preposterous and stupid. The explanation 'this is just a plot device' does not deal with the accusation of it being a stupid plot device. And since its a basis for the whole story, it spoils said story.
Not to mention you seem to be missing the distinction between real and unreal in Matrix... Neo doesn't fly in the real world, he only flies in the Matrix. This is fine and understandable.

The filmmakers establish ground rules of that world and you as audience can choose to accept it, or not depending on how the filmmakers keep with those rules themselves

I suppose all this should make me accept that in the Matrix's 'real world' human brains make perfectly good, efficient batteries? This being the only real major difference in laws of physics between our world and Matrix world? Because it sure doesn't say anything like that in the script...
hempknight
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:23 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Plenty of alternatives could be thought of which make a lot more sense than 'human batteries' and don't make your teeth grind and howl in terror.

Sure, but consider this: Why didn't the eagles just fly Frodo to Mt. Doom?

And since its a basis for the whole story, it spoils said story.

See above.

Not to mention you seem to be missing the distinction between real and unreal in Matrix...

Both are equally fantastic/alternate compared to our own.

I suppose all this should make me accept that in the Matrix's 'real world' human brains make perfectly good, efficient batteries?

It's the basis of the entire story, as you said yourself. Would you rather have Neo the Brave Little Yeast Infection?


--
Danger is my middle name
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:35 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Plenty of alternatives could be thought of which make a lot more sense than 'human batteries' and don't make your teeth grind and howl in terror.

Sure, but consider this: Why didn't the eagles just fly Frodo to Mt. Doom?

And since its a basis for the whole story, it spoils said story.

See above.


The eagles issue is NOT the basic plot device for the story! It's a plot HOLE. Can't you see the difference?
hempknight
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:44 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
The eagles issue is NOT the basic plot device for the story! It's a plot HOLE. Can't you see the difference?

Lemme, rephrase so you can understand. If they used anything else than humans as batteries you wouldn't have a movie at all since the characters would have no motivation. Actually there would be no characters. Much in the same way like the eagles flying Frodo to Mt. Doom. If they did that, there would be no story to tell. Capiche?

--
Danger is my middle name
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:57 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Well, this is where we disagree, and which is why I wrote about 'many alternatives'. There could be a better motivational idea than 'we change the fundamental laws of physics and biology, so now suddenly human brains are efficient - and ONLY available - source of electric energy'.
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:19 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Why using scientific or pseudo-scientific terms to explain the tale?

Because it's called Science Fiction. You know, fiction of science. It could have also been simply A wizard did it plot device type, but that would not be as interesting if you ask me.


Well, it's not my definition of science-fiction. At least not of good science fiction. In good sf, you're supposed to use scientific facts or hypothesis as plot device. When you change laws of physics to suit your story, you enter the realm of techno-fantasy... or bad sci-fi.
hempknight
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:29 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Well, it's not my definition of science-fiction. At least not of good science fiction.

I suggest you walk it off a bit. Maybe it'll pass.

In good sf, you're supposed to use scientific facts or hypothesis as plot device.

What is Star Trek (TOS) then?

--
Danger is my middle name
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:31 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Bad technofantasy.

(did I mention I don't really like Star Trek?)
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:57 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Superman. Red giant. Yellow Sun. Can fly.

Spider-Man. Bit by a spider. Does whatever a spider can.

Doctor Who. Blue box. Bigger on inside. Dimensionally transcendental.

It's what's commonly termed 'Pulp SF'. It's been around a while. Complaining won't make it go away.

Not while a single kid believes a man can fly.

stirring music

"Look! Up there, in the sky!"

"Is it a bird?! Is it a plane?!"

"It's Superman!"
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 07:03 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Yes, well, I still have the right to complain about it...
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 07:20 am (UTC)
Moaning
What is life without a good complaint now and then?

Mobile phones: hateful. I want to destroy each and every one of them. I set myself against the rest of the human race in this regard.
banazir
Oct. 1st, 2004 09:33 am (UTC)
You have my... cell phone!
Still following, just too busy to chime in.

When a group of crusaders such as yourelves gets into this, as a friend just told me, "fur can fly"... and how!

Say, I'm suprised you posted with a Hellboy icon and didn't mention him as an example of said pulp SF. Or E.E. Doc Smith, etc. Lucas, for that matter.

--
Banazir
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 09:51 am (UTC)
Re: You have my... cell phone!
So am I. I chose those which most readily sprang to mind.* Which, unfortunately, didn't include the icon right in front of me.

Doc Smith: excellent example, but haven't read much. My late uncle left me his collection of such, so I suppose I should do better in this regard.

And personally? I rather enjoyed the debate. It's been fun.

*There is a new series of Doctor Who in the works, so that's why. Similar reasons for Spidey and Supes.
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 06:51 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Is 'magic' what powers the Matrix machines? No, it's regular electricity drawn from human batteries.

It is? I haven't seen enough Animatrix to know this for sure. I've found two appropriate references:

1] "The AI forms adapt by using humans as batteries (how the energy for the sustaining the illusion for the humans is obtained is left unanswered)."

2] "The Matrix is, in William Gibson's language, a consensual hallucination. It should exhibit the qualities felt most strongly by its participants. (This is also why there is The One: to allow humans to exercise their will on the Matrix. More on this momentarily.) But even on a purely physical level it's still the case. The Matrix is powered by human bio-electricity. What is that? It's thoughts and feelings, impulses and urges of the body. Therefore, everything in the Matrix is the result of human emotion, or more accurately the ebb and flow of the aggregate emotion of the entire human race."
borgseawolf
Oct. 1st, 2004 07:02 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Ah. Now that's a good argument and a good explanation. Where is it from? DVD edition?
From what I've seen in the cinema I assumed the machines were feeding on electric activity of the brain.
But if they're somehow tapping on the power of pure thought and emotion, it's a whole different story.
digby_tantrum
Oct. 1st, 2004 07:17 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
I lifted these off the web via the magic of Google. I don't know that they're official. Personally, I've always assumed brainwaves, or something similarly vague.
banazir
Oct. 13th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC)
Brainwaves
Well, that was what I was getting at, actually.
More to follow in hyperion_cantos.

--
Banazir
banazir
Oct. 1st, 2004 04:12 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
Meaning, anime doesn't have to be internally logical and coherent?
Any story has to be internally logical and coherent, to an extent. Anime usually has the luxury of starting from a peculiar type of fantastic premise. Even more than live-action SF (except for adaptations from graphic novels and the like), a deliberate departure from the physics, biology, and chemistry of reality is admissible.

--
Banazir
myng_rabbyt
Oct. 13th, 2004 09:23 am (UTC)
Re: human batteries
AMEN! When I start trying to make it make scientific or technical sense, the story won't hold, and isn't enjoyable.
banazir
Oct. 13th, 2004 09:28 am (UTC)
Suspension bridges
This is true. Trying to make sense of magic sometimes destroys it (witness the Highlander franchise). OTOH, sometimes advanced technology can be teased apart for fun: the Superman mythos, Stargate, and even Clarke's own 2001 canon spring to mind.

That said, I agree that the Matrix should be viewed with the copious suspension of disbelief that I set down at the beginning of this thread. I only nitpick because I have an idea that I think is more interesting... and could be the premise for a more intriguing universe, if not a more accessible one. The closest thing I've seen is Simmons's hyperion_cantos. Have you read that?

--
Banazir
myng_rabbyt
Oct. 14th, 2004 06:38 am (UTC)
Re: Suspension bridges
Trying to make sense of magic sometimes destroys it

But then, OTOH, if the writers/filmmakers want you to believe that what you're watching is "real" or, at least, viable, they have to fill in answers for questions. They can't assume that the audience will just swallow their sugar without question.

I only nitpick because I have an idea that I think is more interesting... and could be the premise for a more intriguing universe, if not a more accessible one.

And I think your ideas are valid. Again, if they want us to accept the viability of their universe, they have to answer the big questions.

I have never read Simmon's Hyperion Cantos, but perhaps the time has come to read it.
discoflamingo
Oct. 2nd, 2004 02:30 am (UTC)
I think a better use of the humans is as massively parallel computers to control the <morpheus>"a type of fusion"</morpheus> reactors the robots have invented. Taking the Red Pill actually has a great chapter on plugging the holes in the Matrix with some sensible ideas - of course, it really feels like "too little, too late".
myng_rabbyt
Oct. 13th, 2004 09:27 am (UTC)
Taking the Red Pill?

I found that "The Animatrix" made some of the movies make better sense, and I was glad I'd seen "The Animatrix" before I watched the movies.

Though, I drove the husband crazy asking questions anyway. ;)
banazir
Oct. 13th, 2004 11:20 am (UTC)
Taking the Red Pill
I think a better use of the humans is as massively parallel computers to control the "a type of fusion" reactors the robots have invented.
Yes, exactly; I'm told Bradley's Darkover mythos has some metapsychic-power-as-energy-source aspect to it. See also hyperion_cantos and May's The Many-Colored Land, for that matter, or one of the many SF works (Lackey's Vows and Honor, aka Oathbound and Oathbreakers; The Last Herald-Mage, the Mage Winds Trilogy, the Gryphon Trilogy) featuring mages' guilds.

Taking the Red Pill actually has a great chapter on plugging the holes in the Matrix with some sensible ideas - of course, it really feels like "too little, too late".
Thanks for the reference; I shall look it up.

--
Banazir
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