ALL IS CODE
Lately I’ve gotten bored with the typical murder mysteries on the streaming channels and have been watching CSI programs — Criminal Scientific Investigations — sometimes cold cases and sometimes cases that set people free. The puzzles are more ingenious.
For instance, last night I learned about the forensic evidence of a murder that had been committed by strangulation with the power cord of a “heat rock.” An expert knew about heat rocks: imitation rocks that are electrically heated for the comfort of pet reptiles, commonly snakes. The other trace they found was hairs from a black chow dog. Across the hall from the victim the apartment was inhabited by a man with a black chow dog and a boa constrictor. Gotcha!
Tonight I learned about grix, which are little white pellets in shotgun shells that are meant to keep the smooth shot pellets from getting roughed up. The clue was that the victim had no grix on her entry wound, which meant that the muzzle was against her and all the grix went into the wound or out the back. She had staged a suicide.
Also tonight I learned about an imitation Zodiac killer in NYC — not SF. He turned out to be an unemployed “incel” — an involuntary celibate — who lived with his mom and sister. He got caught when he shot the sister in the butt. He had been using zip guns to murder because they don’t mark rifling indentification on the bullets. But he didn’t know that tool marks on the zip guns would also allow matching. Cleverly, he was using a naval sea code of flags and pennants in his notes. A WWII Navy veteran code breaker could read it. Bam!
Religion is a code. DNA is a code. Studying the universe we see code across the sky. Culture is a code drawn from the ecosystem, which may be a manmade city or a natural terrain. Clues are everywhere, but how do we learn what they mean?
Partly we use stories which often layer codes: the real experience of the author, the code he/she draws from it, the code of the plot and characters, and the reader’s code. They all interweave into intriguing complex codes — three dimensional chess for people who don’t overturn the game table or eat the checkers.
Religion is a code that weaves together a myriad codes, not excluding the politics of the particular institution that has developed from the historical events and their interpretation as well as the moral code of the times and their symbol system. The best seminaries teach these codes.
A popular example is “His Dark Materials,” AKA “His Dark Matters.” It’s a quote from Dante, so it wasn’t written in English. I love the inclusion in the vid link below of the illustrations through the various books in this series, but it’s a TV series if you don’t read.
My own childhood series in this oeuvre was the much kinder and gentler work of George MacDonald, a Universalist clergyman at the rim of Scotland, who wrote what was represented as fairy tales. The first book is “The Princess and the Goblin” and continues a double story between a girl who lives in a privileged chateau at the top of a mountain riddled with tunnels dug by coal miners, just like much of Britain. She becomes a close friend of a boy who mines coal. The girl does not wear a crown, but owns a ring from her many-times-great grandmother that has a thread attached to lead her through events.
MacDonald was related to the Inklings group who wrote long sagas that are really explorations of the cultural times, very necessary when all is confused. I would love to read a comparison between “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones” in terms of how well they explore the times we are in. Which is more likely to capture the culture code, a TV show written by a team or a vision created by one historically informed man? Seems like both series have a lot to say about the last four years.
One major line of inquiry about the human brain is figuring out how the raw code of our sensory perceptions is carried through the neurons, presumably still as flickers in the axons, and comes out somehow to our consciousness as a “picture” with sound, smell, and taste. One clue seems to be in the six layers that wrap the cortex of the cerebrum, the bottom layers accepting the codes arriving and by the 5th and 6th layers being changed into the named entities that we perceive and can even dream up. “Lesser” mammals have only the lowest laminations. Even in humans not all senses go up through the layers. Smell, for instance.
Consciousness, which evidently rises from sensations, seems to reside in the prefrontal lobe along with planning, executive functions and things like morality. Are these all separate codes? Do the layers translate or transform or both? CSI presents in interviews people who have no consciousness of wrong or even their impact on other people. Are they missing layers of brain wrappings or something behind their foreheads?
Though this brain work is the source of both tragedy and story, it has no impact on the biggest code system of all, which is the physics of the universe and now the alternative interpretation we call quantum mechanics. The reverse is that this inconceivably immense system, much of it unseen and only vaguely perceived, has huge impacts on humans on this planet in terms of climate, geology, resources, planetary movement, gravity — on and on. We’ve discovered that at extreme temperatures, matter/materials act entirely differently, even losing out time.
Our best efforts to make stories and systems out of what we can see is moving and organized somehow and no matter our names and pictures, we can barely reach the moon. It’s incredible enough because of the intricacy and interdependence of the technical codes and teams of workers that achieved the steps in lunar dust and the planting of a flag in a place with no wind at all.
And yet, what does it all mean? Is religion with its claim to the supernatural just another map that says about the unknown, “Here be dragons”?