Ontological Neologisms

A modest proposal for a new word

OK, a few weeks ago I commented on wanting to write something about time-travel generated paradoxical information loops. So I figured I’d probably better follow through before the Hounds of Tindalos track me down (OK, I’ve been doing way too much Lovecraft recently 🙂

In Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency it becomes critical for the existance of humanity that the ‘second half’ of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kublah Khan is never written. To this end the characters travel back in time, and Dirk himself goes knocking on the door of Coleridge’s cottage just as he’s writing the poem (which he composed in a laudanum dream) down. Dirk keeps him talking for about half an hour, at the end of which he is unable to remember the rest of it.

(This is all based on fact – Coleridge was feverishly writing down the poem when someone – the infamous ‘Person from Porlock’ – came knocking on his door and distracted him, resulting in the poem remaining forever incomplete)

The important part of this for our purposes is Dirk’s description of his coversation with Coleridge…

“…I asked him at the end about the albatross and he said what albatross? So I said, oh it wasn’t important. The albtross did not signify. He said what albatross did not signify, and I said never mind the albatross, it didn’t matter. And he said it did matter – someone comes to his house in the middle of the night raving about albatrosses, he wanted to know why. I said blast the bloody albatross and he said he had a good mind to and he wasn’t certain that that didn’t give him an idea for a poem he was working on. Much better, he said, than being hit by an asteroid, which he thought was stretching credulity a bit…”

The albatross in question of course is from Coleridge’s other famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which it plays a major part.

Now, according to Adams’ story Dirk knows about the albatross because he’s familiar with the poem. However, Coleridge only put the albatross in the poem because Dirk told him about it. So where did the concept of the albatross come from? Because of the way the information loop is set up there is no actual origin for the albatross information – and yet it exists. Moreso you can point to a time when the information didn’t exist, and then to a moment when it did. But there’s no actual moment of creation. It’s an ontological paradox.

There are plenty of other examples from science fiction. The skynet chip in the Terminator series. The song Johny B. Goode in Back to the Future. Transparent Aluminium in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I could probably list them all day (but why bother when Wikipedia does such a good job?). But that’s not what I’m writing this for. I’m writing this to propose a name for such information. I suggest that a unit of information that (due to an ontological paradox) has no point of origin should be called a cjelli – pronounced “suh-jelly” (this of course comes from one of Dirk Gently’s several names Svlad Cjelli).

So, that’s my neologism for the week!

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