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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.
Re: Uhh, little bandwidth problem there - banazir - Oct. 1st, 2004 04:14 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Uhh, little bandwidth problem there - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 04:26 am (UTC) - Expand
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
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?
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 04:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 05:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 05:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 05:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - hempknight - Oct. 1st, 2004 05:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 05:28 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - hempknight - Oct. 1st, 2004 05:55 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - hempknight - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:35 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - hempknight - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:57 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - hempknight - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:57 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 07:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Moaning - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 07:20 am (UTC) - Expand
You have my... cell phone! - banazir - Oct. 1st, 2004 09:33 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: You have my... cell phone! - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 09:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 06:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - borgseawolf - Oct. 1st, 2004 07:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: human batteries - digby_tantrum - Oct. 1st, 2004 07:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Brainwaves - banazir - Oct. 13th, 2004 09:32 am (UTC) - Expand
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
Re: Suspension bridges - myng_rabbyt - Oct. 14th, 2004 06:38 am (UTC) - Expand
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
( 44 comments — Leave a comment )

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