THE BABEL TRILOGY
What really happened at the Tower of Babel?
What happened is that the Architects came down to us. They were the source for all our myths and religions. They gave us the strange and powerful virus we call 'civilization.'
In a sense, they gave us our humanity.
They just lied about why.
BOOK THREE: INFINITY'S ILLUSION
"Why now?” people will ask.
(Especially the monotheists and the atheists—and that, in an advanced civilization’s dying moments, tends to be almost everyone.)
Why at this moment would multiple immaterial beings, vastly powerful and looking rather like us, come down from the skies and offer to take us up with them into the infinitely spacious, rent-free apartments of heaven?
Typically, only a few rare minds are flooded with the dark light of truth.
“Aha, yes,” someone like Iona Maclean will say.
“Yes. So that’s it. Now I understand.”
But by then it's too late.
“Loved the book.”
NOTES ON FACT AND FICTION
(A more comprehensive version of the notes that appear in the book)
Eighty billion individuals
It’s a persistent urban legend that more people are alive today than have existed in the rest of human history. Not even close. The world population is still between seven and eight billion, and probably ten to fifteen times that number have lived in the roughly two thousand centuries since our species first emerged. See Carl Haub’s 2011 update to the article “How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?” published by the Population Reference Bureau.
The “undiscovered country”
In his famous “To be, or not to be?” speech, Hamlet describes death as “the undiscovered country, from whose borne [or bourn] no traveller returns” (act 3, scene 1).
In a completely irrelevant aside, I can’t resist pointing out that a fardel, three lines earlier, is a bundle or burden, and that changing the line to “who would burdens bear …?” would not only increase by 99.7% the proportion of modern readers who can follow what Hamlet is rabbiting on about but, because of the alliteration, would improve the original line.
In fact, if Shakespeare had written “burdens,” critics would have spent the past 400 years going on and on about how the repeated “b” evokes the footsteps of someone carrying a heavy object. But please don’t tell anyone I said this, because some people find the idea that anything in Shakespeare could be improved for modern audiences quite disturbing enough; the idea that one might usefully ask how anything in Shakespeare could be improved tout court is considered both heretical and absurd.
Shakespeare would have considered this attitude absurd. (If you doubt it, read Love's Labor's Lost.) But you’re not supposed to say that either.
Time, experience, and the perhaps-not-illusory self
My real target here isn’t the gurus of “live in the moment,” but a too-fashionable philosophical theory that there really is only “the moment.” According to this ‘bundle’ theory, the underlying self—the thing that’s really you, and that binds experiences together across time by doing the experiencing—is an illusion.
Most people are aware of the bundle theory of the self from Buddhism; its influence in western thought seems to have got going in the eighteenth century, perhaps due to the great Scottish historian and philosopher David Hume becoming one of the first Europeans to be influenced by Buddhism. (For the fascinating story of how that might have happened, which was only recently unearthed by psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik, search online for the words Gopnik Hume Buddhism.)
Hume is one of my intellectual and personal heroes. He was a genuinely profound thinker, one of the true greats, and also a writer of superb clarity, grace, and wit. In addition, he seems to have had the rare knack of being happy, and his many friends rated him both one of the wisest and one of the most likeable human beings they’d ever met—though some people found it offensive that a skeptic about Christian doctrine was not terrified of going to hell. My own point of disagreement with Hume is a different one: I follow his near-contemporary Bishop Berkeley, and more recent philosophers such as E. J. Lowe, in not finding his bundle theory persuasive. To simplify a complicated issue: if our experiences are “only” a bundle, what’s doing the bundling? If you look closely at what Hume says, he seems to keep accidentally admitting that this is a weakness in the exotic theory he was attracted to.
“Preserving an exact record of what the Architects had done to them”
The idea that the I’iwa could maintain accurate historical records over huge spans of time may seem fantastical. But recent evidence suggests that something far more fantastic is true: even pre-literate cultures can sometimes preserve accurate records without change over similarly huge spans of time.
Between eighteen thousand and seven thousand years ago, retreating glacial ice caused the global sea level to rise more than one hundred meters. The rising water shrank all the world’s coastlines, drowned Doggerland (a large inhabited area between Britain and Scandinavia, now beneath the North Sea), and separated the continent of Sahul into the much-reduced islands of Australia and New Guinea. In 2016, geographer Patrick Nunn and linguist Nicholas Reid published a paper analyzing twenty-one traditional stories from around Australia’s coast. Passed down orally for as much as four hundred generations, they seem to preserve accurate eyewitness accounts of these changes. Spencer Gulf, near Adelaide, is recalled as a valley with a chain of lakes and good hunting; near Cairns, far to the north, stories refer to a river that entered the sea at a point near what is now Fitzroy Island. These are accurately preserved memories of landscapes that ceased to exist between ten thousand and almost thirteen thousand years ago.
Our prejudice that oral cultures must inevitably garble their history may be a case of post-literate people like us passing judgment on a set of cognitive skills we no longer have. As in Ghosts in the Machine, I refer you to Plato and the “curse of Thamus.” This is one of the earliest sources for the humbling idea that new technologies, such as writing, mainly have the effect of making us stupid.
“The individual stars don’t collide, but . . .”
Colliding galaxies are some of the most beautiful and magnificent sights in the universe. Do yourself a favor: skip that next cat video and search for Colliding Galaxies (Images). Hard-core nerds may want to check out the Java applet Galaxy Crash, put together by astronomers at Case Western Reserve. Yes, you really can waste a whole afternoon making your own galaxies and smashing them into each other!
Morag is no doubt just about to compare the Necker cube with a better example: the duck-rabbit, a drawing in which the eye and beak of a duck “flips” and looks more like the eye and ears of a rabbit.
In Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein uses the duck-rabbit to illustrate the distinction between “just seeing” (in this sense, when we look at the drawing, we just see dark marks on a pale background) and “seeing as” (in which we see the lines as a drawing of a duck, and then as a drawing of a rabbit). Generally speaking, his point is that we only see as. Right now, for example, I can sort of pretend to myself that all I see in front of me is a pattern of dark squares on a silvery background; in reality, however much I insist that these are just patterns of light, I can’t help but see them as my keyboard. And how could it be otherwise? A visual stimulus that I just see, without seeing as anything, is by definition an unintelligible visual experience: it’s not seeing any thing.
That this is how perception works may be an important clue to what language does: not just (or perhaps not even primarily) communicate How I believe X (objectively) is, but also communicate What experiencing X reminds me of, or feels like.
Quantum computing, cyber-warfare, and weirder stuff
What makes quantum computers so special—or how special they really are—is a matter of debate. But it’s possible they would be much faster than any “classical” (i.e., regular, nonquantum) computer at many tasks, and capable of certain kinds of calculation that are essentially impossible on a classical computer. As suggested by the story, and in the notes in Ghosts in the Machine, much of modern life depends on the security of Internet encryption protocols. Most of those protocols depend on the fact that it’s effectively impossible to compute the prime factors of very large numbers. But with a quantum computer, prime factorization would potentially be easy.
That’s what really does have the world’s governments in a tizzy. But Oxford physicist and quantum computation pioneer David Deutsch has drawn a much more startling conclusion from the same facts.
For a sufficiently large number, it appears that even a conventional computer as big as the universe would not be big enough to derive the prime factors in a reasonable amount of time: in fact, the universe itself, conceived of as a giant computer, doesn’t have enough information content to do the job. But something called Shor’s algorithm suggests that a quantum computer could do the calculation, and reasonably quickly. This raises the following question: Where—in what location in physical space—is this calculation happening? It not only can’t be happening inside the machine on the lab bench; it can’t be happening inside this universe. Deutsch says the only possible answer—the only possible physical explanation of why such quantum calculations work—must be that we and our quantum computer exist in one of a beyond-astronomical number of parallel universes. Many of these universes are almost (but not quite) identical to this one. And the quantum computer is like a computer with parallel processors—except that it’s using parallel universes (trillions and trillions of them) to run our calculation.
Note that many of these universes would include an identical copy of Earth, and you, and this very moment you’re experiencing right now. Indeed, there could be a universe that’s identical to this one you’re in now, in every feature of its entire history, except for the final word at the end of this sqaxit.
See David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality, chapter 9.
“Eyes . . . attuned to the fine distinctions between a million shades of twilight”
Certain disabilities can come with strange advantages. Check out Oliver Sacks’s riveting account of Pingelap’s night fishermen in The Island of the Colorblind.
Pizarro and Atahualpa
OK, so this is a bit misleading. It’s true that Pizarro had fewer than two hundred men, and Atahualpa had eighty thousand. And it seems likely that the invaders’ horses and guns made the Inca think they had supernatural powers. But the victory had more to do with Inca errors, and Spanish guile and ruthlessness, than with force of arms. The central fact of November 16, 1532—the misnamed “battle” of Cajamarca—was that Pizarro invited Atahualpa to a feast, Atahualpa arrived with several thousand of his most important leaders and counselors, all unarmed, and the Spanish surrounded and slaughtered them. The rest of Atahualpa’s army then fled without fighting.
Theseus in the labyrinth
According to legend, King Minos of Crete demanded from Athens a regular tribute of seven young men and seven young women. After they’d been shipped south, Minos sacrificed them by imprisoning them in the labyrinth under his palace, where they were killed and eaten by the Minotaur. One year, the hero Theseus arranged to be included in the group. The king’s daughter Ariadne fell in love with him, and gave him a ball of twine, which he used to escape the labyrinth after killing the Minotaur. This story gave Suzanne Collins the idea for The Hunger Games.
“Store-bought chocolate sauce . . . the work of Satan”
Undoubtedly. But you can join Daniel in beating back the forces of evil (while fundamentally changing your life for the better) by learning how to make your own excellent chocolate sauce, from scratch, in seconds. For 2 people, or one greedy person like me: measure 45g / 3 tbsp of milk into a small microwave-safe bowl. Roughly chop 40g / 4-6 squares of good bittersweet chocolate, add it to the milk, and heat for 10-15 seconds. Stir until the chocolate is melted and completely smooth. Be patient—don’t overheat it! If necessary, heat for another few seconds, and stir again until totally glossy and smooth. Thin with a teaspoon or two of milk if necessary; it should be the consistency of thick cream. Pour the result over good vanilla or coffee ice cream, lick the spoon, and promise yourself that you’ll never use the nasty bottled crud again.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was Roman emperor from 161 CE to 180 CE. He was that rarest of gems: a powerful ruler who was also intelligent, practical, emotionally insightful, kind, personally modest, and humane. The Meditations were written in Greek (because Roman intellectuals thought Greek was just way more sophisticated than their own language) and were intended as a private diary. A record of Marcus’s attempts to apply Stoic philosophy to his own life. They’re an easy read, a genuine help when life goes pear-shaped, and endlessly quotable. A few of my favorites:
“The best revenge? Not being like your enemy.”
“In this life there is only one thing of value: to live truly and justly, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.”
“The greater grief comes from the consequent anger and pain, rather than the original cause of the anger and pain.”
“What more do you want, from an act of kindness? Isn’t it enough that you’ve done something that’s consistent with your own nature—do you want also to put a price on it? As if the eye wanted to make a profit from seeing, or the feet from walking.”
Bird of paradise
There are 39 species of bird of paradise in New Guinea and Australia. New Guinea’s male superb bird of paradise, Lophorina superba, has a courtship dance in which it magically transforms itself from a small, dull-looking black bird into—well, I’m not going to spoil something you have to see. Check it out at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where there’s also a video introducing all 39 species.
Angkor . . . biggest city in the world
In 2012–2015, LIDAR surveys of the surrounding jungle revealed that the Khmer capital at Angkor in Cambodia was even bigger than previously suspected. At the height of its power, around 1200–1500 CE, this city of stone temples and paved boulevards may have spread over an area more than half as large as modern London, and could have been home to as many as a million people. At that time, London was a “city” of mud lanes, wooden houses, and perhaps fifty thousand people.
Angkor was abandoned in about 1431 CE. The actual reason may not have been the Architects but rather a series of increasingly successful attacks by the Ayutthaya dynasty from Siam (Thailand).
“The BBC was one of the worst offenders”
A BBC2 documentary in 2000, and a Discovery Channel documentary in 2002, were among programs promoting the Cumbre Vieja mega-tsunami theory. The Discovery Channel offering was specifically condemned by the Tsunami Society as baseless, scientifically ignorant fear-mongering . But the BBC was still at it in 2009 (“The World’s Worst Disasters”) and 2013 (“Could We Survive a Mega-Tsunami?”).
The Hindenburg Wall
The Hindenburg Wall has been described as one of the natural wonders of the world. In writing this scene, I took the liberty of shifting its location a bit—in reality it’s south of the central spine of the Highlands. See the gallery.
A bite from a six-inch yellow-and-black-striped centipede
Ethmostigmus rubripes, probably—one of the world’s largest and most unpleasant centipedes.
“Fretting the heavens with golden fire”
See Hamlet, act 2, scene 2.
“Lumps as small relative to an atom as an atom is to the solar system.”
That’s probably an understatement. The “big” solar system, measured out to its remote dwarf planets, is about 1013 meters in diameter. A hydrogen atom is 10-10 meters in diameter, which means the solar system is 23 orders of magnitude (x 100, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000) bigger. But a “seed” 23 orders of magnitude smaller than a hydrogen atom is still around a hundred times as big as the Planck length.
If this boggles your mind in a pleasant way, check out my little book You Are Here: A User’s Guide to the Universe. And buy copies for all your friends.
Slipher Space Telescope
See Ghosts in the Machine. The Slipher and its planetary survey are fictional. But I drafted this section just after reading a report on an early test of South Africa’s MeerKAT Radio Telescope’s. With MeerKAT working at only one-quarter power (16 of 64 dishes operational), they pointed it at a lonely patch of sky that had 70 observed galaxies. It found not 70 but 1,300 galaxies. Shortly afterward, astronomers published a revised estimate of the number of galaxies: not 100 billion, or 200 billion, but at least one to two trillion.
“Those convenient packages for delivering genes into the future known to the zoologists as offspring”
For the idea that we are merely vehicles built by our genes for their own purposes, read another Richard Dawkins classic, The Selfish Gene. It’s one of the best-written, most accessible, and most influential popular science books ever written.
Before their time comes, a visitor wouldn’t guess what’s in store for them
It seems unlikely that alien zoologists, dropping by with their clipboards to do a species-count 150,000 years ago, would have paid much attention to the small, vulnerable East African bipeds we’re descended from. Apparently the unprecedented stuff that happened to us, and made us “masters of the planet” (to quote the title of Ian Tattersall’s excellent book), was still in the future.
“It winds civilization up like a big old clock . . .”
This is nearly plagiarism. After writing it, I realized that I must have been thinking of Sylvia Plath’s wonderful line, “Love set you going like a fat gold watch.”
“Elysium, Aaru, Asgard . . .”
I may perhaps have invented one or two of these.
Einstein and “spooky action at a distance”
Einstein had realized by 1930 that there was a problem making quantum mechanics and relativity theory work together, because entanglement (a term coined later) was a quantum property that seemed to violate locality—the idea that no two regions of space could communicate faster than the speed of light. Einstein concluded—and the Einstein Podolsky Rosen paradox of 1935 argued—that quantum theory must be incomplete. Einstein was almost certainly wrong, but this wasn’t shown clearly until Bell’s theorem in 1964, and the successful testing of Bell’s theorem in the 1980s.
The Tibesti mountains and Sahelanthropus
The Tibesti massif remains one of the most alien, rugged, desolate, and poorly explored regions on the planet. Go to Google Earth, zero in on the little town of Faya-Largeau in northern Chad, and check out those deep canyons to the northwest. Spooky.
As for Sahelanthropus tchadensis, there are few fossils, and so far they have failed to settle a debate over whether the species predates the human-chimpanzee split (which occurred at about seven million years ago) and is an ancestor of both species, or postdates the split and is an ancestor of humans only, or is only a distant cousin of both and an ancestor of neither.
Erupting out of Africa in successive waves
Pretty much all we know for sure is that Homo heidelbergensis left Africa at least six hundred thousand years ago, giving rise to the Neanderthals in Eurasia, and it appears that Homo sapiens followed much later, something like sixty thousand to eighty thousand years ago. But the dates are sketchy, and there may have been many crossings, by these and other species, almost certainly including crossings back into Africa. Our own ancestors may even have gone from Africa to Asia, evolved substantially, gone back into Africa, and evolved some more, before leaving again. We don’t know. See “Some Dates.”
The Toba event
The explosion of Mount Toba, in about 70,000 or 72,000 BCE, created Sumatra’s Lake Toba. Other supervolcanoes like Toba will blow in the future—Yellowstone National Park is a likely candidate. There’s a good chapter about this in Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. You may want to avoid reading it if you live within about a thousand miles of Wyoming.
“In my beginning is my end”
The poet T. S. Eliot grew up in the United States, but moved to England in 1914 at the age of twenty-six. The refrain “In my beginning is my end . . . in my end is my beginning” is from his poem East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets. Appropriately, they were chosen for the plaque beneath which his ashes are buried: they lie in the parish church at East Coker, the English village from which his ancestors had emigrated to America in the 1600s.
The Fermi paradox . . . lots of explanations
There are many ingenious solutions to the Fermi paradox. Iona’s thesis is a version of the super-predator hypothesis. This explains the absence of alien visits by hypothesizing that one advanced civilization has colonized the galaxy already, and it is now busy (a) eating everyone else, (b) destroying all other advanced life for roughly the same reasons that make us reach for the cockroach spray, or (c) destroying all other advanced life before it becomes competition. Iona’s thesis combines (c) with a supernatural—or perhaps, rather, a “super natural”—twist on (a).
As the text indicates, another solution could be that aliens are already here, but invisible. Within that scenario, Daniel’s “like-wow cloaking technology” is just one possibility. Consider this: just since the era of the Apollo missions, our own electronic components have shrunk to perhaps a thousandth of their former size, and we routinely manufacture working devices that our immediate ancestors could not even have seen with the naked eye, much less recognize for what they are. So we can’t be confident that advanced aliens don’t have, say, fully autonomous robot spacecraft the size of small viruses. There could be one orbiting your head right now. For that matter, there could be a hundred of them building a research station on the surface of your eye. You’d never notice.
“Mars . . . all life is doomed.”
Careful readers of Ghosts in the Machine, or anyway the notes, will already know that I took this argument from Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom. See his thought-provoking argument in “Where Are They? Why I Hope the Search for Extraterrestrial Life Finds Nothing” (MIT Technology Review, 2008, and available online. Apart from anything else, it’s a nice example of what a smart person can do by taking a few obvious ideas and actually thinking clearly—as no one else seems to have done, in this case—about their implications.
Interstellar travel and fresh steak
I took Morag’s counterintuitive idea that aliens might not be much interested in us, or our resources, from physicist David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality. As for how far we are from mastering interstellar travel, first note that even being able to travel at the speed of light would be almost useless: Betelgeuse, a fairly close neighbor in our galaxy, would require about a thousand-year round-trip. And the fastest objects humans have ever made to date are spacecraft capable of about a fiftieth of 1 percent of light speed.
The original pronunciation of Seattle
You can find it online, spoken by Skagit elder Vi Hilbert. The final phonemes are so different from anything in a European language that they’re hard for an English speaker to hear, much less say correctly. This is a common problem for language learning: by the age of seven or eight, our brains have been wired for sensitivity to the phonemes in our native language, at the expense of other phonemes. This process makes distinguishing unfamiliar phonemes virtually impossible.
How to interpret quantum mechanics “like the preference for baggy or skinny trousers”
Once you’ve accepted that quantum mechanics is in some sense true, you’re going to have to decide what the innocent-looking expression “quantum mechanics is true” actually means. Is your personal version of quantum mechanics Niels Bohr’s old-school Copenhagen interpretation? Or maybe the unfashionable de Broglie-Bohm model? If you don’t like those, there are other options with cool names too, such as Quantum Bayesianism and Consciousness Causes Collapse. (The great Eugene Wigner thought this last view meant consciousness could not be material.) Or you could really bet the farm, and defend Hugh Everett’s beautifully consistent but stonkingly outrageous Many Worlds interpretation.
Panpsychism hasn’t been taken seriously in the West for a long time—but some contemporary philosophers argue that it becomes a whole lot more tempting when you understand how hard it is to make sense of the smugly prevailing theory, materialism.
The monad theory of Newton’s great contemporary Leibniz is a form of panpsychism that prefigures both quantum entanglement and the idea that consciousness is an underlying feature of reality. A Leibnizian monad isn’t an atom, but an “atom of consciousness.” Since monads don’t exist in space and time, all of them are aware of all the others, instantly. The great Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza entertained a similar idea—that each of our minds is a tiny region of an infinite mind.
Panpsychism is a commonplace in Indian philosophy, and that’s probably where Erwin Schrödinger, pioneer of quantum physics and half-dead cats, got the idea. The Catholic philosopher Teilhard de Chardin was another thinker who believed that mind, or spirit, is present in all matter. (He was also one of the first Catholics to take evolution seriously, and recognize that accepting it posed major problems for a theology involving immortal souls.)
A major contemporary defender of panpsychism is the British philosopher Galen Strawson. The podcast Philosophy Bites has a good interview with him on this.
To quote philosopher David Chalmers, “it’s all dark inside. There is nothing it is like to be a zombie” (my italics). So your friend Phil Zomby might give every appearance of loving his family, disliking broccoli, and wishing his injured leg didn’t hurt—but this inner self he describes so plausibly, this realm of emotions, isn’t there. (He isn’t trying to fool you. That’s not the point. On the contrary—there’s no “he” in there to do any fooling.) Listening to Phil will seem like listening to someone talk about their experiences, while what’s really going on is much more like listening to a recording.
You might ask: how do I know this isn’t true of my own parents, sibling, or best friend? Sorry, but the simple answer is: you don’t! This is the ancient philosophical “problem of other minds.” But in the story, Hideo Murakami gives a reason for thinking that the problem is far less worrying when we’re considering people who really are known to be people (in the biological sense), and should only start to give us the creeps when we have good reason to think they might not be real people in this sense.
Chalmers has argued that because (a) it’s in some sense possible that philosophical zombies could exist, and (b) we’re not philosophical zombies,* therefore (c) it can’t be true that consciousness is a physical phenomenon: consciousness must be an extra thing, in addition to any complete physical description of us. Other philosophers, keen to make themselves useful, have said that the zombie argument is a lurching heap of BS—barely hanging together, stinky, and long overdue for reburial.
If this brief introduction to the debate leaves you feeling a bit philosophically undead, you can slake your craving for mind-blood by lurching over to Chalmers’s website, consc.net/zombies. There you’ll find links to the philosophical literature, but also to zombie movies, bands, novels, games, and more.
* You will perhaps have noticed that, in saying “we” are not philosophical zombies, strictly I can speak only for myself. Heck, I know that I’m certainly not one, because I experience stuff. But I don’t know about you—and by definition I can’t know about you. For the same reason, though, you have no reason to believe what I’m saying—by definition, you can’t know about me. In turn, I can only console myself with the thought that maybe this shouldn’t bother me much. After all, maybe you say you don’t believe me, but in truth you don’t have any beliefs—because you’re a zombie. Welcome back to the problem of other minds.
The United States, cyber-warfare, and Iran
In about 2008, probably with help from Israel, the US managed to get a software worm called Stuxnet into the control computers inside Iran’s highly secure nuclear fuel enrichment plant at Natanz. The software was designed to destroy the centrifuges crucial to the enrichment process, while making it look as if they were malfunctioning due to operator error or material defects. It did just that. But in 2010, the code, intended only for Natanz, somehow got out and spread all over the world, allegedly infecting a Russian nuclear power plant. See Alex Gibney’s documentary Zero Days.
“Hekla . . . one of history’s great eruptions”
The Hekla-3 eruption, in about 1,000 BCE, has been blamed for years or decades of climate disruption and famines as far afield as Egypt—though the connections with Hekla are disputed. That eruption probably released about seven cubic km. of material; that’s at least five times the amount ejected by Mount Saint Helens in 1980, but less than Pinatubo in 1991.
“We should not live as animals, and we can’t live as gods”
It’s Aristotle Morag is thinking of. The point he’s making in the Politics is that human beings are naturally social—which is political in his sense of the term; creatures of community, we might say. Creatures that don’t need community can be only either less or more than human.
“May you live all the days of your life”
Jonathan Swift, Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738). It’s a good slogan—but Swift, characteristically, makes its value ambiguous by putting it into the mouth of a character who appears to be chatting someone up while getting drunk.