The Liminalist # 166: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (with Gib Strange)

Two-part return conversation with Gib Strange, on the Uncanny Valley, transhumanism, when robots cease to be cute, on the other side of the valley, the space between robot and human, the robots’ agenda, fear of Skynet, Star Wars & Silent Running, C3P0 vs. R2D2, teddy bears, dolls, & clowns, hyper-realistic sex dolls, relics of irretrievable loss, where fantasy & reality meet, twerking sex dolls, perfecting the counterfeit & fudging the reality, the advent of the deep fake, revenge porn, voice Photoshop technology, how transhumanism uses existing templates to take hold, body modifications past, present & future, a counterfeit religion, since God died, the 20th century church of self, consumerism & spirituality, a techno-secular immortality, Descartes’ mechanical doll, Ray Kurtzweil’s dad, the dichotomy of body & soul, William Blake, getting the robot mind to outsmart the animal body, the mind-self and the body, Caitlyn Jenner & denying category uncertainty, Rachel Dolezal’s transracialism, Jenner’s idea of female power, a world of Onion headlines, talking about trans, the same old spell, turning away from P. T. Barnham’s Unreality Show, movie-watching, partaking in a collective dream, F.O.M.O. in the Global Village, fear of the Alt-Right, Lethem’s new novel, the awareness of trump-Brexit, sucked into our phones, the John McCain funeral media circus, bipartisan centrism, the rule we follow.

Gib’s site:

Songs: “Slouching Towards Bremen” by Geoff Berner; “Heaven is a Ghost Town” by Krestovsky; “If It’s All The Same To You” by Gib Strange.


22 thoughts on “The Liminalist # 166: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (with Gib Strange)”

  1. Uncanny Valley – the eyes have it. There’s a compilation of short manga-esque animations called The Animatrix. It’s excellent (and the soundtrack too) and all based in the matrix mythology.

    One episode is called Final Flight of the Osiris. In this, from the wiki ‘Captain Thadeus and Jue engage in a blindfolded sword fight in a virtual-reality dojo. With each slice of their swords, they remove another part of each other’s clothing. Immediately after cutting the other down to their underwear, they lift their blindfolds to peek at the other. As the two are about to kiss, they are interrupted by an alarm and the simulation ends.’

    This type of (very high fidelity) animation circumvents the usual suspension of disbelief channels found when watching cartoons, and operates more on a willful belief level. But the eyes… there’s something wrong, something at odds with the paradigm you’ve chosen to follow… the mind starts to back away from this discrepancy, there’s something zombie like that can’t be accepted. If the rest was more cartoon like, everything would be fine, but this was supposed to be real dammit, and those eyes… they break the contract, undermine the agreement, spoil the game. No mind wants to be punked.

    What was genius about this at the time is that they put blindfolds on the characters, the rest of the animations were superb, and when the blindfolds were lifted you could see the company had blown half their budget on those short sequences, just to get them right. Hats off time.

    But there’s a short sequence later that has non blind folded characters and you can really see and feel the difference. It’s like the mind can’t decide if it’s watching a cartoon or real life and has to reject both.

    I don’t think Silent Running has anything to do with this. Huey, Dewey, and Louie fulfilled their cartoonesque character roles and indeed were very moving. It may even be seen retrospectively as something uncanny, but it was long before the trajectory of increasingly perfect animation hit that brick wall of representation, when everything was just about perfect, cartoon had been transformed into reality, but those little details managed to unexpectedly turn everyone into zombies. Our minds said NO.

    What amuses me is that I have tried the latest prototype VR headsets, and it would seem that the race for pushing polygons and chasing visual fidelity wasn’t the only game in town. Turns out our perceptual apparatus doesn’t actually care about fidelity (we don’t disbelieve the view at night just because we don’t see very well) it cares about dynamics (and the eyes are so very), and with a VR headset on if the 3D works (and that is well understood and very very easy to do) then it is utterly believable.

    Even when you can see the digitization, the mind doesn’t care, it just goes Yup, 3D, I believe it. And if I stare into the empty distance (whilst sitting at work in the office) my body will relax as if I’m staring at a sunset.

    Uncanny valley will make its appearance in VR land too, but we will care less. You see in VR land the disappointing zombies will still be REAL.

    This contrast reminds me of my experience with the Turing test. It was supposed to be important, definitive or something. But I had a really good and amusing chat with an AI I’d downloaded, so I had no doubts as to it’s nature. This is when I realized that there are some things the mind just doesn’t care about. The Turing test is irrelevant.

    If the conversation is good enough I wont care what you are.

    • Is your point that you won’t care because you have been conditioned not to notice (ie, become less than human yourself) or because it won’t matter because you will have “transcended” the valley between real & artifice?

      The last statement seems either tautological or oxymoronic I can’t decide which. The Turing test has always been somewhat meaningless since it depends entirely on the discernment of the person evaluating the humanness of the machine, i.e., how in touch with their own souls they are. I think this is what Dick was exploring with Electric Sheep, that when and as humans become soul-less, machines pick up the slack and supplant them in empathy. It’s an allegory tho that reverses the meanings because story is metaphor and life is literal.

      For myself, the conversation is only good to the extent that i care what you are, and I can somewhat know what you are based on the quality of the conversation. Sentience can’t be faked but it takes sentience to recognize (and care about) sentience.

      Those who gauge good conversation wholly on how stimulating the words are rather than tuning into the soul-sentience that’s behind them will always accept the CGI counterfeit as real. And the counterfeit will get better and better – until “if it were possible the very elect will be fooled.” If it’were.

      • My point was that in 3d VR it’s not the fidelity of the objects that matters, but that of the space between them, and we can do that bit very well. So even if some-thing breaks your suspension of disbelief you are not ejected from that imaginary world at all, unlike in 2d where you just find yourself staring at a screen.

        I don’t know maybe UV will be worse, but like I said, it will won’t be worse for being less ‘real’. Quite the opposite.

        Your last paragraph is interesting – artificial simulated environments are all about stimulation. As they become more immersive I wonder if people will even remember the difference you allude to.

  2. Watched the Rachel Dolezal documentary after the mention in the discussion, couldn’t help thinking why would anyone make her a subject of one, just really an uninteresting, vacant person to me, depressing really, had to fast forward a lot!

    Great discussion, look foward to part duex…

    And when is Gib going to post another “episode” on his website?

    • I deeply apologize, glenn riis—I certainly was not recommending that film, just clumsily using the scene where a “transracial” person is torn apart to segue into my perverse desire to see Jenner confronted in a similar manner.

    • I don’t know if I’ll do another episode of Notes from the Uncanny Valley although at Jasun’s encouraging, I recently put up a new blog entry. Since I stopped recording last year, my obsessive brain has had me rewriting and adding to the original manuscript and I think it’s much better now. I’d still love for the book to be published, but I’ll probably have to do that all by myself. It would be a lot of fun to then do readings and a live audiobook! Oh the dizzying heights of my ambition! I must go lie down now . . .

      Thank you for listening!

  3. Although it’s not as grotesquely big-budget as the cover version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the Pan clip above, I recently used Gib’s cover version of Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation” for the final credits in the concluding episode of my video series, “ISOLATION: Or the Art of Being Imperially Alone.” Some readers here might want to have a listen. I think Gib really outdid himself with this one. I like pretty much every song he’s ever recorded, but this one might be my new favorite. You can find it at around the 44 minute mark if you want to skip ahead. Here’s the link:

    • At the beginning of Darren’s video Elias Merhige talks about the power of art and the creative process. Jasun and I were both raised in atheist households that worshipped at the church of art and culture. Thus my sense of self was borrowed from culture rather than community—which played very little role in shaping a role for me. When I was 17 my girlfriend said, “Hey The Talking Heads wrote a song about you” and gave me a tape of “Seen and Not Seen.” She could see what I was doing—stealing faces, gestures, and mannerism from pop culture. Mimicking the mimicry. And like the character in the song I did get halfway there and then change my mind.
      And like Jasun and Darren my distrust of culture continues to grow. Aside from sometimes connecting with the creative expressions of friends, everything else seems somehow suspicious (what isn’t part of the military industrial media intelligence complex? as Darren puts it). Jasun wrote in his latest piece, “When the counterfeit becomes more widely distributed than the genuine article, inflation occurs and currency loses value.” Perfecting the counterfeit and fudging the real. Realistic fantasy and fantastic realities. Thus we have a reality/culture feedback loop where Jim Carrey suffers from the Truman Show delusion and Celebrity Apprentice: White House Edition has viewers glued to the screen. My feeling is that Jasun is right—we’ve been punk’d. Plato’s cave-in. An avalanche burying us in the uncanny valley.
      Darren details the socioeconomic horror show so clearly in his video, while simultaneously proposing a withdrawal from the shit show. I guess the Alan Watts speech at the end of his video about isolating could be related to the desire (or need) Jasun and I discussed about unplugging from the unreality show in all it’s forms. Part of me instinctively feels that causing people to disengage and bury their heads in the sand is an intentional effect of the whole program. So I want to resist that. And then another part of me thinks well absolutely everything in life, including life itself, is a hoax except love. I sure could use some more of that. Who couldn’t?

    • Thanks for the nice compliments, Darren—although I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to writing and music. I do what I can.

      Was thinking earlier about the term “splendid isolation.” Warren Zevon referencing Britian’s foreign policy in the 19th century—avoiding alliances with European countries. Briefly imagined tech billionaires like Peter Thiel in some future libertarian dream city floating on the ocean to my cover.

  4. Jasun, do you remember the story you were going to tell at the 12 min mark re dolls/inscrutable loss?

    Also, did you ever hear back from Lethem?

    • I did, yes. I hope to talk to him once I have read his new book.

      The story, was via the Greek, “What do dolls, cannibals, and birthdays have in common?” The answer was that when ancient humans used to ritually sacrifice and consume their kids to appease “the gods”, dolls were made to bring home afterwards and give to the surviving children to help them adapt to the missing sibling. There’s a third part about cake and candle rituals that ties in b-days – but my point was how well this fitted with the line you quoted, “dolls are relics of irretrievable loss”


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