How to Fake Being a Lord of Time, Jamming, 30/05/2017

So I said last time that I wasn't quite done with my thoughts on The Pyramid at the End of the World. That's true. I spent the first entry talking about the story’s narrative structure, Peter Harness’ recurring template for his Doctor Who stories.

But there were philosophically fascinating ideas throughout the episode, all surrounding the Monks. Look at what their central power is. They can simulate a world’s entire timeline so profoundly that the simulations can discover their true nature.

After you read this post, you may think to yourself that the Monks'
violence to time's creativity make them a profound villain for the
Doctor. They're literally fearsome mirror images of the Time Lords.
The simulation is so comprehensive that they can identify the precise minor accident – breaking a pair of reading glasses in a door – that’s the vital condition for a potentially world-ending mistake. They can use their simulation to affect the real world in that pivotal, almost-imperceptible way.

The imagery of their simulation machine is thousands of threads in a massive, loose rope formation – orderly tangles. The Monks interact with the threads by stroking and caressing them, manipulating where they appear in the bundle.

This way, the Monks appear designed as fearsome mirror-images of the Greek Fates, the Moirai gods, depicted as the daughters of necessity. The Monks understand the infinitesimally granular details of every timeline, every possibility.

Monks take the form of walking corpses because they see humanity themselves as corpses. As a mortal, caught in the processes of time, humans are always already corpses.

Mortals are bodies, moving according to a web of possibilities so dense that no one can move without shifting the entire pattern. This is a vision of time and process that preserves freedom and necessity at once.

The Monks don’t manipulate the universe as block time. Block time, the vision of time that Einstein thought relativity mathematics implied, is the universe as a single four-dimensional block of necessary movement. It’s a popular image, and it often appears in time travel fiction. But nothing in Doctor Who can consistently hold this view of time.

Here's a limitation of the Monks' power. They seem to depend, somehow,
on the consent of those they're manipulating. When they're going to
change the world radically, in a way that people will see, they need
permission. Somehow. But they have the ability to make minor changes
that people won't necessarily see at the time, which means they can
still destroy whole worlds, thanks to the fundamental interconnectedness
of all things. But I'd like to see how other writers play with these
villains in the future, how much they can do.
The Monks operate as gods of freedom in necessity. They understand that we each have real, material power to act in the world, that we aren’t moving entirely to a determinate path through our history. That power belongs to all objects in the world that change and move at all, like a pair of reading glasses.

Problem is, just as we have the power to create new states of affairs in the world, each of those changes has a tremendous gravity. One movement affects all the other relationships in the whole. One thread moves, and all the threads must move in kind.

Most of the time, a change makes little perceptible difference. As for a change at a critical point to cause increasingly high-magnitude affects? Like a pair of reading glasses getting smashed on the same day Erica’s co-worker shows up to work too hung over to see straight.

Chaos. That’s the time of the Monks. They’re beings that can manipulate chaos.

Yet to do so, they have to bring a external, alien determinism to chaos. The chaos of our profoundly interconnected and interdependent world is that all actions affect each other, whether directly, indirectly, conditionally, or systematically. But those actions themselves are free – the product of active movement.

The changes that a particular action causes don’t pre-exist the action. An action is a change in one body’s movement that affects all the surrounding processes, creating an all-encompassing chain of change. An action is the creative power of material.

But when the Monks measure and simulate all the different chaotic possibilities of a world, they manifest each of those changes in their strings – all at once, altogether. They turn chaos’ dynamic necessity of mutual affectivity into the ordinary block time where no active change is truly possible.

The Monks have robbed time and material themselves of agency. They’ve turned reality into a distinct and always-existing set of possibilities, chosen like a thread in a massive rope. Chaos, in contrast, is the free creation of futures through affectivity and change.

The villainy of the Monks lies in their destruction of the universe’s chaos.

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