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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 Gilgamesh legend

Gilgamesh, one of the few surviving Mesopotamian legends (c. 2700 B.C.), is about the fear of death and the search for immortality. When Gilgamesh's friend Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is so revolted by the spectacle of his physical decay that he seeks the secret of immortality. He wants a Body without Organs, one that does not die or rot or stink. After a long journey, he meets Utnapishtim, a man who has been granted immortality by the gods. Utnapishtim rescued all living things by gathering them into an ark so that they survived the Flood, and for this the gods blessed him.

I want to suggest that what Utnapishtim did was create a model of the world, that is, a metaphorical representation of it which contained all of its vital information. In other words, a genotype. To create a model of something is to abstract and dematerialize it, such that it becomes pure information, nonsubject to the limitations of physical entities. Utnapishtim's ark carried information for a world, not an actual physical world. Immortality was an appropriate reward for a model-maker.

Naturally, Noah did the same thing Utnapishtim did, but he did not earn immortality for his efforts. This is because Biblical legend emphasizes the differences between natural and supernatural, whereas Mesopotamian legend does not. Utnapishtim could traverse the gap between humanity and divinity, whereas Noah, who accomplished the same thing, had to remain a man and die like one.