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racter


︎Artist, Literature, Technology, Collage, Article  
︎ Ventral Is Golden


“Stories, essays, dissertations, tales are in this book. There are also meat and tomatoes, contracts and agreements. This book is my consciousness, my awareness, my world-view.” - Racter



Can good thinking be formally defined? Is nature a kind of hardware, with living organisms the software on which the information of nature is processed? Is nature coded in such a particular manner that gives rise to three dimensional structures with the characteristics of life and usefulness?

Racter was an artificial intelligence simulator from 1984, developed by William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter. Similar to Eliza, the computer generated psychiatrist, Racter ‘speaks’ and writes by using means of ‘syntax directives’ and was originally programmed on an early Apple computer. The aim was to produce poetic prose, tongue-in-cheek surrealism, not necessarily for the advancement of linguistics, but to deconstruct the nature of communication by means of linguistic restrictions.
Much like the french poetical movement OULIPO, who were essentially a group of mathematicians who applied numerical restraints onto prewritten texts, often using N+ techniques (whereby every noun would be changed to the next noun in a dictionary to the chosen sequential numerical input), they would create para-syntactical compositions, or literary collages that probably told us more about the nature of language and the written word in relation to how we construct meaning and reality.
This technique may sound void of any stylistic persuit, but it was often used by writers of the Beat Generation as ‘para-taxis - a method of producing mental associations through juxtaposition and grammatical conflict, such as the Western Haikus of Kerouac and the hallucinogenic poems and breath mantras of Ginsberg. Although these methods were slightly different, the outcome had some similarities.




Thomas Etter referred to Racter as an “artificially insane” raconteur (racter being a contracted abbreviation of a person who tells anecdotes). Both author’s publicised the simulator as “an intense young program that haunted libraries, discussion halls and sleazy barrooms in a never-ending quest to achieve that most unreachable of dreams: to become a raconteur”.

Racter was the first computer program to write a book that was entitled ‘The Policeman’s Beard is Half Constructed’. It code was written so that Racter could conjugate both regular and irregular nouns, remember the gender of nouns, and assign variable status to randomly chosen ‘things’. These ‘things’ could be individual words, clauses or sentence forms, paragraph structures, indeed whole story forms. In this way, certain aspects of the rules of English were entered into the computer. This being the case, the programmer is removed to a very great extent from the specific form of the system's output. 


Machine intelligence has been a prominent topic of debate for the last forty years or so, often as an aspect of malevolent machines inflicting their superior intellect over humans. Increasingly, however, we see that society is already a complex system of mechanical intelligences and feedback loops that define and regulate the character of industrialised society through code. Much in the same way as the invention of the watch was used to describe the mechanical nature of the universe, so too are codes being used as an analogy to describe the internal workings of nature and biological processes.
This phenomena has been described as ‘the cult of information’, whereby certain unrecognised biases are encoded into our imaging of reality through technological metaphor.

When we have the kind of technology we want, we will have no technology at all. This sentiment gives credence to the notion that the technological presence is already deeply engrained within our world-view, and ultimately all consciouness is shaped by the invisibale environment that it creates.








Once the limits of our technological understanding are realised, however, they are no longer the limits of our understanding. Another question we could ask ourselves about the presence of the technological spectre, is how it will enfold us into its technological expression of the real? Are we to be blended into a mechanical soup to lubricate the cogs of the machine image of Moloch or Golem, or shall it be a kind of Gaian expression of unity which will embed itself into the matrix of our natural world without us even knowing about it?

Will the result of this over-reliance on autocratic, market-based, techno-industrial pleasure seeking inevitably crystallise the effects of spiritual enantiodromia, or will the polar reversal announce the sojourn of technology from the realm of the industrail complex and into a fully integrated ecology of luminous, pure and timeless awareness of the inner spiritual traditions?




“My father is the intrinsic awareness, my mother is the ultimate sphere of reality. I belong to the caste of non-duality in the sphere of awareness. My name is the Glorious Lotus-Born. I am from the unborn sphere of all phenomena. I consume concepts of duality as my diet.” Padmasambhāva





There are many views in the field of cognitive science that promote the idea of intelligence only as ‘information processing’. The fact that Racter represented the artificial insanity of a storyteller speaks more about how we make value judgements than it does about intelligence.

Rational thought and clear thinking are synonymous with how we distinguish sense from nonsense, but is this the essence of our humanness? Is perceiving nonsense as meaningless simply the mind’s inability to reflect?
One can argue that the view of consciousness as a computer system is a Cartesian model that disembodies the individual, and leaves out important factors such as debate, art, religion, myth-making, and essentially the enitre body and the senses - what Marshall Mcluhan called our sense-ratios (or ‘the body as a rational conflict’).

Although to some extent Racter was merely a parlour-trick to conjure surrealist prose, it also continues to raise questions about how the perceived functionality of individuals can deny the nuance of personality or devalue character as an essential essence of meaning itself. 

To what extent is Racter’s insantiy the very substance of its honesty? 

A man who sings is a pleasure to his friends
but a man who chants is not a pleasure
to his associates
- Racter.







Further Reading ︎
The Illustrator / Collage Artist: Joan Hall
UBU WEB, full text by Racter.


Mark