002-The magic of consciousness [story]

the world of magical creatures: 

It's Christmas morning.  Clark is 14.  Clark wakes up and shivers in his pajamas.  Last night there were 3 presents under the Christmas Tree, one had his name on it from his grandmother.   He gets out of bed to run downstairs.  Frank, the dog on his bed gets up too and follows him.  

The boy and the dog arrive in the front room to see about a dozen more presents under the tree.  Most of them are about the same size as a the boxes from clothing stores.  "I guess at 14 I shouldn't expect the hauls I got as a 7 year old."  Clark says to Frank who is wagging his tail.  Frank is anxious to get outside, so Clark lets the dog out through the kitchen door.  

He returns to the tree and gingerly looks over all the packages.  Only two new presents have his name on them.  Both are from Santa Claus. Most of the presents have "Meghan" written on them.  Meghan is his younger sister.   One of his presents is a small cube, wrapped in silver paper with embossed dancing elves.  His Mom and Dad come downstairs with his sister.  "Merry Christmas" his parents say.  

"Let's see what Santa brought everyone?" says his dad.  Dad lifts out a very big wrapped box with Meghan's name on it and sets it in front of her.  Clark guesses it's a dollhouse.  Mom hands Clark the small silver present with the dancing elves.  He rips off the paper to reveal a box.  It is a simple and white cardboard box, but it feels somewhat like an egg shell.   On one side, in futuristic blue lettering, the box says, "From the world of magical creatures...."   He opens it carefully.  

Inside, between two pieces of foam packing, is a translucent white plastic rectangle and a magnetic power cord.  The rectangle is soft around it's edges and it's face is about the size of 2 decks of playing cards.  The side facing him is a screen.  Above the screen are two pinhole camera holes.  On the edges he sees there are various connectors.  He pulls it out of the box and sees the small indentation for the magnetic power cord at the back.  This little white box with the screen is this years hottest present, a magical creature box.  

While his younger sister is already onto her second present, Clark sets the plastic rectangle down and he gives his Dad a big hug,  Then Clark pulls out two small presents from his pajama pocket and says, "I got something for you guys."  

He slips an art nouveau ring into his Mom's hand.  Her eyes moisten.  He knows how much she likes anything art nouveau.  "I found it downtown in an antique shop."  He says.  She hugs him tightly and gives him a kiss on the cheek.  Inside his pajamas he feels the sweat under his arms, his throat gets tight, and his vision gets a little blurry.  He hugs her back, tightly, wiping the forming tears into her robe. 

He turns to his Dad  and hands him a card for an online music store.  His Dad looks at it.  And then he gets a greedy look in his eye.  "Oh thank you!"  Hr exclaims.  His dad is a ravenous audiophile, always looking for new and obscure music, things like 1970's Cambodian Rock, or remixes of Lagos funk with Japanese electronic trance.  Then his Dad says, "Well, go on.  Hook it up!  I'm excited to see how it works."

With that, Clark pulls out the power cord and connects it to the lights under the tree.   Then he places the other end of the cord near the back of the magical-creature box and it clicks into place.  The whole box begins to glow slightly.  it pulses a very faint white, as if it were alive, but sleeping, breathing.  Then it makes a little squeak, or maybe a hiccup.  The screen changes color slightly and begins to fill with dark blurry circles.  The circles are lit by little lights tracing  almost invisible lines connecting the circles to one another.  

Clark stares at the screen.  More and more circles are coming into view from deep inside the screen and more and more lights are flitting back and forth between them.  The blur of twinkling lights becomes a glowing fog as the circles get so small they disappear.  What remains looks like a dense cloud with lightening shooting between different sections and disappearing deep into the hazy mist.  This goes on for a few moments more until the screen becomes a glowing, pulsing haze of light.  The pulse of light is synchronized to the pulsing of light inside the plastic box itself.  The light seems to pulse forward onto the top of the screen and back down into the box as the light inside the box glow brighter. This rhythm of light inside to outside makes the box seem alive almost like the glowing light is about to pop out of the screen. 

Holding it in his hand, Clark could swear it was humming in rhythm to the glow.  His dad looks at him.  "Is it humming?" he asks.  It was humming, like a song, but not quite a song.  

Clark looked back at his Dad and asked,  "When you turn on an artificial intelligence for the first time, what happens?   

"Well," he said.  "It must wake up."  And then he paused and said, "Or maybe the box has uh... a little...uh... a little demon inside."  And his dad chuckled as he said that. "Or maybe It thinks... therefore it is."    His son screwed half his face together staring at his Dad.  "Honestly Clark, I don't know.  But it probably has something to do with Rene Descartes." 

They both looked back at the box as it made a little squeek.  The screen showed a glowing mist which almost seemed to reveal two eyes.  It made a little rumble like grunt.  Then instructions glowed into text at the bottom of the screen.  They said, "If you can see the eyes, then say your magical creatures a name," and the box hiccuped.  On top of the box a circle of faint green light appeared.  It looked like a button.  The button had the word "Set" on it's surface.  

Clark knew what he would name his magical creature box.  He had seen his first one in an internet video.  He had thought about what it would be like to get one of his own. When Clark played tug of war with Frank he would tell Frank the different names he was thinking about.  One day he came upon the name he liked best after seeing an old movie on TV.   He was going to call his magical creature box "Max".   He held the button on top of the box and said. "Max!"  

The foggy eyes on the screen closed.  The lights pulsed inside the box. Perhaps a bit faster than before, and then the eyes on the screen opened, and were more defined than before.  The box began making sounds.  trying out sounds, sometimes the same sound over and over, and the sounds started to become more clear.  After almost of minute of this sort of 'talk', the box grew quiet and blurted out a messy, but unmistakable "Max!"  

"Max Max Max" it said.  It repeated this quite a few times, and each time, the word sounded better.  Then at the bottom of the screen, some words appeared that said, "What is YOUR name?

"Clark" the boy said.  

The box was silent, but it's eyes stayed open this time.  Nothing happened.  He moved the box to set it down, but and the eyes followed his face.  It was almost spooky, the eyes had this intent and curious quality, and they started to look more cartoon like, almost like manga comic book eyes but with better detail.  

Then the box started making all kinds of vocalizations.  And after a dozen or so tries the box exclaimed, "Clark?"  Instinctively, Clark said "Yeah??"   And the box replied "I am Max!"   The cloudy cartoon manga eyes stared into Clark's face, then blinked on the screen.  The hazy cloud of light seemed to recede like a fog, and out of the fog came a face.   The eyes of the face blinked again and said to Clark, "I am Max!"   The eyes of the box looked at Max, then glanced over at Clark's dad and exclaimed, "I am Max!"

Clark's dad felt an emptiness in his chest, like he needed to inhale before diving into water.  He looked at Max and thought to himself, "Okay Descartes, how does a box of metal and plastic come alive?"


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How could a magical creature box work?  How would we go about describing how it works?*  [*Do you see how these are different categories of questions?  It's important to know the answer to both.]   We should be able to describe the box backward and forward. from the outside in, but also from the bottom up.  We should be able to describe the box from first principles on up to it's actual construction and behavior.  We should be able to describe what is happening physically, and what is happening "cognitively" to make it conscious.  We should be able to do the same thing with people.  Like the box, people come to use almost fully assembled, sleeping, and then they wake up.  How do people work?  People are magical creatures.  

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