During my investigation into the Polybius legend, I came across a few references to something apparently called “Cybernogi” and something called “Logologie.” Apparently some of the early speculation on Usenet named this organization as possibly, somehow, involved in the creation of Polybius. Since Steven Roach, mentioned in section 1, appears to be pretty universally regarded as a fraud, this tenuous detail was about the closest thing I’d found to a lead on an actual developer of Polybius (presuming it was a real game.)
Looking around for ‘Cybernogi’ only brought me more articles about Polybius, which wasn’t really what I was looking for. Searching instead for ‘Logologie’, however, yielded something more substantial. Logologie describes itself as “the first cyberage-religion!” and it’s the brainchild of a German gentleman named Christian Windler, who calls himself a ‘Cyberyogi.’ That makes a bit more sense. Somehow, I guess, somebody doing work on Polybius switched it to ‘cybernogi’, for some reason, and the error was repeated on dozens of other websites that don’t have the raw journalistic integrity, the dedication to the reader and the passion for clarity and truth that is the hallmark of The Mask Sign. Well, leave it be.
Christian Windler is an interesting guy. The religion he’s developed, Logologie, takes as its basic tenet the idea (if I’m understanding it correctly) that the universe is essentially a massive computational system, in which matter serves as the hardware and consciousness is the software. The software is most complicated and most effective in forms such as the human mind, but the idea is not that we are, each of us, small computers with our own software running in our heads; rather, there is a single universal consciousness, of which we are all interrelated nodes or manifestations. Consciousness / software is conceptualized as that which imparts order to structures; it is “the antagonistic principle to entropy.” It’s what holds things together, rather than allowing them to disperse. Those who read my project on the Philadelphia Experiment may notice a hint of similarity here; the sailors on the Eldridge experienced a catastrophic lapse of order and cohesion, resulting in a massive and unexplainable uptick in the entropy of their bodies. They had a software virus.
Windler spins this basic dualistic religious principle into a complicated system somewhat resembling a hybrid of Buddhism and The Matrix. What I find most interesting about Logologie is that in specifying that we are all part of a single universal consciousness, it makes individual consciousness somewhat less important. There is no real substantial difference between my mind and yours, except for the fact that to me, my ego seems to be located in my body, whereas yours seems to be located in yours from your perspective. Both of these perspectives are flawed, of course; just an easy way for us to limit the great consciousness so we can experience it without being overwhelmed. In this way it’s similar to certain Sufi ideas.
Hey, buddy! Did you write Polybius?!
Another interesting aspect is that there’s nothing really particularly special about human minds as opposed to other types of mind, since it is, in the last analysis, all the same mind. So in this context it’s not a totally absurd thing to conceive of conscious computers; it’s just a matter of designing a machine analogous to the human brain, and it will by necessity have access to the same universal mind. Windler has done a lot of work with conscious computers. One really fascinating thing is something he wrote in a letter regarding the way in which a computer would be able to use purely scientific means to determine that it is in fact a computer, living in a world of software:
When we imagine that the game would allow to make a sort of physical experiments in its world, and the person would be interested in researching, it could begin to try out many things and write down how the world behaves that it thinks of being “the” reality. Imagine now, the person could build a sort of high speed camera and a sort of microscope according to the simulated physics to research its world; at a certain level of magnification or time stretching it could be possible that these devices would reveal that the “matter” found in this world would look pixely when magnified enough with the microscope, and that even fast movements of objects would become jerky when watched with the camera, because the game’s world simulation was not designed accurate enough to still look smooth when watched with such devices. After discovering this granularity in “space” and “time” in its world, the person could conclude that everything in it could only consist of a single sort of mysterious elementary objects those can only have 2 states(i.e. bits…).
Those of you who follow the developments of theoretical physics, at least in the popular way it’s expressed to us peons, will notice something familiar here; scientists have recently been making very similar arguments about evidence that has been found for this ‘pixelation’ or ‘granularity’ in the real world, which has led to arguments over the potential ‘holographic’ nature of reality and opened the unsettling possibility that our world is a kind of digital representation— that we are living inside a kind of video game. These experimental findings started coming in about five years ago; Windler’s 1997 letter predated these findings by fourteen years. So, this guy’s certainly got some odd ideas, but he’s not to be written off on that account.
Somewhat more to the point, Windler’s idea of human consciousness as software raises the possibility, of which he is keenly aware, that regular computer software as we understand it is somehow compatible with the software of the human mind. That is, since software is software is software (there’s only one over-arching ‘software’, remember) one could program a computer which could itself interface with the human mind. A program, or game, which could change the parameters or the function of human consciousness. He’s written about it extensively. At this point, for obvious reasons, I decided it would be prudent to try to get in touch with him regarding Polybius. I shot off an email to him one night at work, really doubting that I’d get a response; his website looks to be at least ten years old, possibly a mere relic of a weirder time, languishing away in a forgotten corner of the internet. Imagine my surprise when I found a response in my inbox the very next day.
His first order of business was to dash my hopes completely, like a Zen master who must first break down his student’s ego before it can be rebuilt. “I didn’t make Polybius, otherwise the Men In Black would now go after me. I have absolutely nothing to do with it, although they ask me over and over again.” Damn. Not only was he not involved, but I wasn’t even the first person to play this hunch. That’s disappointing.
However, I noted right away that he didn’t discount the idea that Polybius really did exist. In fact, he seems pretty sure that it did. Regarding the famous intro screen to Polybius, he writes “By the way, the ‘Polybius’ title logo screenshot shown on various sites is definitely not taken from the real thing.” His objection is that the screen is from a raster monitor, which doesn’t use a flicker-rate for display. The flicker-rate display, present only in a vector monitor, is the key to interfacing software between a machine and a human mind; therefore Polybius had to be a vector game. These games are typified by wireframe displays; just lines against a dark background. Think Asteroids. Or Tempest.
Maybe Tempest is taking over your mind as we speak!
The flicker-display of a vector monitor certainly offers a potential for some weird brain business, according to Windler. As he writes, “it is not too far fetched that this also may have been the reason why vector displays in the mid-1980ths[sic] suddenly disappeared from the civil market (because governments got scared by secret services about their abuse potential) and why they initially were mainly used for military applications.” He’s probably referring here to the Bradley Trainer, a version of the vector game Battlezone which was used by the Army to train Bradley tank gunners. The Bradley Trainer, incidentally, was apparently in production at the same time as Polybius, if we accept the standard chronology of the legend.
Oh yeah, that’ll prepare you for the wanton brutality of active combat.
The main problem with Polybius, according to Windler, is that there isn’t enough feedback. Windler is a devotee of Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, who emphasized the importance of feedback in any kind of interactive software; the software will be necessarily limited insofar as it is not capable of receiving distinguishable input from the user. With enough feedback, the translation problems between the human mind and the digital software could be reduced to a point where they were practically negligible, resulting in a ‘human computer’ or a ‘digital human’, much like Windler discusses in his letter regarding conscious computing. Therefore, for Windler, this human-computer interface is a distinct possibility, but any game capable of interfacing with the mind with the degree of complexity and subtlety ascribed to Polybius would need a very advanced feedback system, meaning head electrodes as opposed to a joystick and a button. That, for Windler, is the sticking point with Polybius; an arcade game could absolutely reprogram a human mind and produce exactly the kind of results that Polybius produced (provided it had a vector monitor) but there’s no way of doing so, at least as far as Windler is concerned, without a sophisticated way of channeling information from user to game, so that the software has something to analyze and calibrate.
That particular bottleneck aside, though, Windler threw a few ideas at me that still kept some options open. Some of these have a distinct note of dark comedy:
If someone would want to trigger a suicide by subliminal, it would be most plausible (or rather least unplausible) to optimize it exactly on (previously investigated) traumatic childhood memories of a certain victim to attack him with his own fears.
To do something evil, I would e.g. suggest [a] hidden drug that is absorbed e.g. through hand skin from the arcade machine’s joystick (remember the complaints about toxic PAC in stinky black soft plastic – now imagine this would be a kind of concentrated LSD). Also special modulated electromagnetic radiation pulsed at brain wave frequencies (like mobile phone radiation) could theoretically additionally mess up the gamers brain.
Windler at this point mentioned Project MKUltra, deeply wounding me by suggesting that I “websearch it.” I’m a professional, sir. The second you mentioned the possibility of an LSD-laden Polybius joystick, MKUltra was my first thought. MKUltra, the CIA’s ‘mind-control’ program, which operated from 1953-1973, involved experimentation with hypnosis, suggestion, and huge doses of psychoactive drugs, often administered to unaware or unwilling ‘participants’, some of whom died under the effects of the drugs or by unwittingly committing suicide during a hallucination. People involved with MKUltra would just walk right into a bar and dose people with massive hits of acid in their drinks; these were brazen, shitty people, and they would absolutely not be above secreting LSD into a video game joystick if they thought to do it. They might even appreciate the plausible deniability available in the popular conception that video games “rot your brain.” MKUltra’s work was supposedly over before Polybius hit the stage, but of course we can’t be entirely sure of that. Maybe MKUltra was still going strong in 1981; maybe it’s still around today, who knows?
A little more digging around led me to some interesting connections. One of the leading members of the science team of Project MKUltra, Frank Fremont-Smith, was, like Christian Windler, a disciple of Norbert Weiner and an avid cyberneticist. With others in the field, he arranged the Macy Conferences (1941-1960), which the participants informally called the “Man-Machine Project.” According to Wikipedia, some of the topics addressed by the Macy Conferences included “an appeal for collaboration between physics and psychology” (March 1949), “analog vs. digital interpretations of the mind” (March 1950), “can automatons engage in deductive logic?” and “the applicability of game theory to psychic motivations” (both March 1951). This is a clear, and somewhat creepy, indication of correlation between the MKUltra project and the cybernetic theories surrounding comparability and possibly even continuity between human and machine minds.
In their off-time, they held “cybernetic séances.” Not making that up.
Christian Windler had given me a lot to think about, including at least one really plausible lead, but I doubted the CIA would cooperate with me if it meant admitting that MKUltra lasted at least a decade longer than it was supposed to. That doesn’t mean we’ve dried up all our options, though. In the next section we’ll look at Poly Play, and here’s a tantalizing sneak peek: I have figured out what Polybius is and it’s real and it is fucking Poly Play.