If we live in a simulation in Jorge Luis Borges’s world, an infinite series of Babylon Lottery determines each of our next move in the infinite Garden of Forking Paths, and each of our next expression drawn from the infinite Library of Babel.
How I imagine Jorge Luis Borges would write about Bitcoin:
In Bitcoin we find the idiosyncrasies of each of its forks to a greater or lesser degree. Every fork modifies our conception of the original Bitcoin, as it will modify the future. If the forks had never existed, we would not perceive the qualities in Bitcoin. In other words, Bitcoin would not exist. The fact is that the sum of all the forks creates Bitcoin. Bitcoin is faithful to its own forks.
In vernacular Chinese, the Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢) by Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹) is regarded as the supreme novel. In classical Chinese, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異) by Pu Songling (蒲松齡) has the equivalent status. Mao Zedong claimed to have read the Red Chamber five times. I say you need to read Strange Tales two times.
Read it in English the first time. I discover Pu Songling through Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. Experience how Kafka and Borges read Pu, and recognize their voice and practices in Pu’s work. The three together grasp the absurdity and weirdness of the civilized world and human conditions.
Read it in classical Chinese the second time. Appreciate Pu’s humour, playing and twisting with the classical text that he was obliged to memorize and digest as a member of the Chinese literati. This is at heart a revolutionary work.
The works of Pu, Kafka and Borges are dark and understated. Some advice from 19th century commentator Feng Zhenluan (馮鎮巒) on how to read Strange Tales would apply to all three authors: Read these tales properly, and they will make you strong and brave; read them in the wrong way, and they will possess you.
- Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. — Zhuangzi (莊子)
- Did he appear, because I fell asleep thinking of him? If only I’d known I was dreaming I’d never have wakened. — Ono no Komachi (小野小町)
- When you watch the scenery from the bridge, the sightseer watches you from the balcony. The bright moon adorns your window, while you adorn another’s dream. — Bian Zhilin (卞之琳)
- God moves the player, and he, the piece. Which god behind God begets the plot of dust and time and dream and agonies? — Jorge Louis Borges
- The original is unfaithful to the translation. — Jorge Louis Borges
- God is a product of the human imagination, but human imagination in turn is the product of biochemical algorithms. — Yuval Noah Harari
Staring into the dreamy Shanghai dusk, a few lines of verse cross my mind:
The candle died, the water-clock was exhausted,
I rose and sat, but could not be at peace.
Man’s affairs are like the flow of floodwater,
A life is just like floating in a dream.
A few years ago, an up-and-coming musician magically reenacted these poetic verses, when he was down and out in Shanghai. Many centuries ago, these lines were first uttered by the last emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty. He achieved greatness in his poems, not his reign.
Jorge Luis Borges said that the world is a book in which all men are being written. Is it true that we write the verses, or the verses write us? I believe the latter. For it could be said that a single, all-knowing master has written all the books in the world. Tonight, the emperor, the Shanghai musician and me are one.
Facebookers write for the next few minutes or hours. Newspapermen write for the next few days. Corporate entertainers (consultants, economists, and all sorts of “thought leaders”) write for the next few months or, more rarely, years. A minority of academics write for the next decade or beyond. Men of letters write for time and for memory.
Life is short. The shorter the half-life of the information, the lower the signal-to-noise ratio, the less time you should spend on it.