The Web site of aleph · Index
The lethal text
Writing under erasure
Mesopotamian myth
The Gilgamesh legend
The nam-shub of Enki
The Tower of Babel story
The song of the Sirens
Plato's metaphor of the cave
"man's insanity is heaven's sense"
The Ultimate Melody
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
Snow Crash

Once upon a time The Web site of aleph by Michael Chorost existed, but has since ceased. These texts represent a small measure of its content. Image from the short story ARI-L by Caza.

deoxy > philosophos

The Ultimate Melody
by Arthur C. Clarke

This short story is about a scientist, Gilbert Lister, who develops the ultimate melody—one that so compels the brain that its listener becomes completely and forever enraptured by it. As the storyteller, Harry Purvis, explains, Lister theorized that a great melody "made its impression on the mind because it fitted in with the fundamental electrical rhythms going on in the brain". Lister attempts to abstract from the hit tunes of the day to a melody which fits in so well with the electrical rhythms that it dominates them completely. He succeeds...and is found in a catatonia from which he never awakes.

Clearly, the Ultimate Melody behaves like a lethal text. Like the lethal texts in Macroscope and Snow Crash, it affects the physical structure of the brain in such a way as to render the individual incapable of normal action. Purvis explains that the Ultimate Melody "would form an endless ring in the memory circuits of the mind. It would go round and round forever, obliterating all other thoughts".

Interestingly, Purvis speculates whether Lister's fate is a negative one. He muses, "Yet I'm not sure if his fate is a horrible one, or whether he should be envied. Perhaps, in a sense, he's found the ultimate reality that philosophers like Plato are always talking about". Purvis also compares the Ultimate Melody to the song of the Sirens, in that it was a "lethal" text that no one could hear in safety, nor communicate to others.

The Ultimate Melody is somewhat like the catchy tunes written by Wyg in The Demolished Man, which the protagonist uses to hide his murderous thoughts from mind-readers. Anyone trying to "peep" his mind will get only the tune, going around and around. It is somewhat analogous to a nam-shub, which is described in Snow Crash as a virus of the mind.