Blindsight is when someone is blind and cannot consciously see things, but their brain can still sense and respond to visual information without them realizing it. Even though they are blind in some areas, their brain can still detect and react to things shown in their blind spots, without the person being aware of seeing them. This shows that there are parts of the brain that can process visual information without the person consciously perceiving it.

I was an avid visitor to various image boards a long time ago. I loved skimming through multiple thematics. Some of my beloved ones were the /mu/ for music and /bo/ for book nerds. One of the things there was the advice lists: some literature was recommended for beginners of the genre, but most precarious and crooked minds recommended it. They usually included samples of the most complex literature humankind had ever written.

Imagine being a total newbie consuming entry-level literature that is straightforward and easy-digestible, and you get recommended a Gravity’s Rainbow or the Infinite Jest, or the Finnegans Wake, or, why the hell not, the Being and Time! It was the style of the place. One of the recommendations was Blindsight by Peter Watts, as the example of the best Sci-Fi across the timeline in this corner of the Universe.

This recommendation has stuck with me for ages, until recently. I had a spare vacation week somewhere in the South with the book before me, and the process began.

There are several diverted timelines in the book, with the main being the crew of augmented and quite neuro-divergent people sent to perform the first contact with presumably the alien race after the appearance of 60.000 unknown objects around the Earth.

Our protagonist is the conduit, a specialized analyst who observes systems around him. Due to his highly augmented nature and the lack of empathy and feelings from the removal of one of his brain hemispheres, he’s able to process and analyze systems beyond the baseline human comprehension but without total understanding of what he actually observes. He’s missioned to follow the team of savants and a real vampire (yeah, there are explanations for this) on their mission to establish communication and understand what the Other may want from us.

The premise may look simple, but there’s a lot going on and a stockpile of topics in biology, physics, psychology, religion, and many others. Perhaps the most evident and important for me was the nature of sentience and affective consciousness. With the author’s very nihilistic worldview, the main question was whether consciousness and the presence of the Self are required for evolution and whether it is a dead-end in general.

Reading the book felt like crawling through the swamp; it was crucially challenging for me as a non-native English speaker, even with quite a decent language level. The words the author chooses and the way he depicts what’s going on in action scenes are astonishingly and deliberately gruesome sometimes. I had to reread paragraphs of the text several times to get an idea of what was happening. I had, for the first time I remember, to look for images of characters and surroundings on the internet to help me imagine things. My vocabulary is now enriched with words like ebb, aft, and infinitesimal, and my understanding of the right way to write prose is now shuttered in pieces.

I was not satisfied with the ending, which, without spoilers, felt rushed and abrupt, inconclusive in what was presumed to be the whole intention of the book. Yet I had a very masochistic joy in reading this piece. I recommend it to someone searching for a piece that will make brain cogs rustle and who’s a fan of the Sci-Fi genre. It also will provide you with tons of things to google and to know about; the fountain of ideas (you’ve probably heard about before in K Dick’s novels, Lem’s books, and other cyberpunk literature).

Some quotes:

How do you say We come in peace when the very words are an act of war?

After four thousand years we can’t even prove that reality exists beyond the mind of the first-person dreamer. We have such need of intellects greater than our own. But we’re not very good at building them. The forced matings of minds and electrons succeed and fail with equal spectacle. Our hybrids become as brilliant as savants, and as autistic. We graft people to prosthetics, make their overloaded motor strips juggle meat and machinery, and shake our heads when their fingers twitch and their tongues stutter. Computers bootstrap their own offspring, grow so wise and incomprehensible that their communiqués assume the hallmarks of dementia: unfocused and irrelevant to the barely-intelligent creatures left behind.

It might seem almost too obvious a conclusion. What is Human history, if not an ongoing succession of greater technologies grinding lesser ones beneath their boots? But the subject wasn’t merely Human history, or the unfair advantage that tools gave to any given side; the oppressed snatch up advanced weaponry as readily as the oppressor, given half a chance. No, the real issue was how those tools got there in the first place. The real issue was what tools are for. To the Historians, tools existed for only one reason: to force the universe into unnatural shapes. They treated nature as an enemy, they were by definition a rebellion against the way things were. Technology is a stunted thing in benign environments, it never thrived in any culture gripped by belief in natural harmony.

This is how you communicate with a fellow intelligence: You hurt it, and keep on hurting it, until you can distinguish the speech from the screams.