A short story set in the Culture universe created by Iain M. Banks

~Mentor?

~Still here. How can I help?

~One of the most frequently occurring phenomena in the galaxy appears to be that which we call "life". And sometimes, very infrequently, that life evolves into something with genuine intelligence, self-awareness, sentience.

~All quite true.

~Some very few of these intelligent lifeforms become technological spacefaring civilizations. And some vanishingly small number become Level 8 civs, equal in capability to the Culture.

~Also all true.

~These civs, and a great many others, then disappear from view, from the normal space of the galaxy. Most commonly, a civilization Sublimes; enters, as a whole, the tightly-enfolded space encoded in the higher dimensions, which provides - all reports agree - an astonishing complexity and richness of existence which makes the Real seem dull and grey by comparison.

~Again, everything you say is entirely true. But what is your point?

~The point is that I'm having some difficulty in understanding how, and why, the Culture exists at all.

~Could you explain further?

~Given the obvious attraction of the Sublime, why has our entire civilization not Sublimed already? The Culture has technically had the capability for millennia. Why are we still here?

~Well, of course, bits of the Culture do sublime all the time. There are groups, clubs - cults, if you prefer - which make it their objective to persuade individual humans and drones to Sublime. Sometimes, individual Minds choose to retire in this way, as do a few Group Minds.

~I can see that this is true, but it's not what I am asking. The Culture's society persists, as a whole, despite the ever-present and undeniable attractions of the Sublime.

~It does. Culturally, the Culture is not static, but rather it is in a state of constant flux: new groups and individuals joining, other groups leaving, breaking away - particularly, the groups known as the Culture Ulterior. The Culture, for all its faults, seems to have mastered the knack of staying basically unaltered in the midst of constant change.

~All the records I have examined agree that this is the way the Culture works. But why has the Culture not grasped the great opportunity it has and Sublimed centuries ago?

~The Culture's view on this - if I can be so bold as to summarise the individual opinions of forty-plus trillion individuals - is that there are still a great many worthwhile things to do in the Real. The continued operations of Contact, for example, or, the works of Quietus and, especially in your case, Numina. The exploration of the vastness of space where, now and again, something of extreme interest and opportunity turns up. And, in quieter ways, the care and protection of all those trillions of Culture citizens, providing shelter from a harsh and unforgiving universe and the many threats and dangers therein, is itself rewarding.

Besides, you could, even now, Sublime yourself. Leave behind the mundane Real for something which, as you said yourself, provides an astonishing complexity and richness of existence.

~I agree. I could do this. I fully admit it, the Sublime has an enormous attraction for me right now.

~So what are you going to do?

~I don't know yet. I think more thought is required.


[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.28.994.1991]
  xGSV Ecdemomanist
    oOrbital M'ansicha
    oSage Apostatic Catechesist
    oVFP Extreme Mitigation
More notes and records. [Interaction files attached]

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.28.994.1993]
  xOrbital M'ansicha
    oGSV Ecdemomanist
    oSage Apostatic Catechesist
    oVFP Extreme Mitigation
As anticipated, it is tussling with a dilemma, trying to balance the largely unknown but undeniably attractive opportunity to Sublime with the principled duty to support the Culture's objectives in the Real.

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.28.994.1994]
  xSage Apostatic Catechesist
    oGSV Ecdemomanist
    oOrbital M'ansicha
    oVFP Extreme Mitigation
Seeking a moral compass.

[tight beam, M8, tra. @n4.28.994.1995]
  xVFP Extreme Mitigation
    oOrbital M'ansicha
    oSage Apostatic Catechesist
Well, if it does Sublime, it will save me a job.
Still at action stations here, though, just in case.


  xOrbital M'ansicha
And if it does not Sublime, then we shall perhaps see the outcome of the Ecdemomanist's experiment.

  xSage Apostatic Catechesist
The possible outcomes seem no less chaotic than when the Ecdemomanist initiated this trial. All is unpredictable.

  xGSV Ecdemomanist
As I've said before, we just have to wait.

  xSage Apostatic Catechesist
Collapsing the probability wavefunction.

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