Protocol (Serial Experiments Lain: Layer 09)
A woman’s voice opens the episode. Her message is, as have been all prior opening messages, quite enigmatic, even within the context of the episodic content itself. ‘If you want to be free of suffering, you should believe in God. Whether or not you believe in Him, god is always by your side.’ From the perspective of our own world, in which the existence of god is at least very highly suspect (and most likely there is no such thing as it is no longer really necessary as a theory to explain the existence of the Universe), this woman’s statements are extremely naive. But within the metaphysics of the show itself, they are likewise pretty subject to questioning as the real world may just be a hologram emitted from the hive mind of the Wired, which itself seems to have a god who is neither a creator being nor an omnipotent one, but only one who is omnipresent within the Wired and seems to cause more trouble and grief than he fixes. That god is always by the side of the denizens of the Wired whilst within the Wired, but not when they exit the Wired, and furthermore, his presence doesn’t belie the unproved assertion that he is beneficent and worth trusting, or generally a source of alleviation of suffering. He may, in fact, be causing suffering. Certainly his actions have caused suffering for Lain.
A man’s voice, giving a briefing to an unknown person or group of persons (perhaps us, the viewers, alone?) will alternate with events from Lain’s quest throughout this episode. He will explain past events and archival footage, photographs, and other materials will stream by on the screen, thereby visually aiding his explanations. He begins by explaining that on July 4th, 1947 in the desert of New Mexico, an unidentified craft crash landed. Further, ‘Conjecture has become fact, and rumor has become history.’ This incident, the Roswell Incident, has been investigated pretty thoroughly and explained through scientific analyses to have probably been the crash-landing of a weather balloon rigged with many measurement apparatuses or even possibly a spy plane. Conspiracy theorists have taken the event to signify the crash landing of an alien craft, which was recovered by the American government and hidden from the people. This is bs, but has been swallowed wholesale by much of the American public as true. The conjecture has become fact, the rumors, history. The virtuality of the Event has taken precedence over the reality behind it, and is as such, now a social fact.
Lain is next shown within her den of room sporting her kawaii bear kigurumi. someone cracks open her door and she hears steps into the space of the room as something wades into the water covering the floor, ensuring her Navi coolant system has a constant source of makeshift coolant. She asks who’s there, but receives no answer. When she moves and crawls around her equipment to locate the intruder, she comes face to face with a traditional grey alien across the room. Just as Roswell conspiracy theorists have been fooled by their curiosities and drawn into a paranoid-schizoid fantasy, so too has Lain’s normal mental functioning, her normally astute rational brain, been worn down by rumors, conjecture, and falsity on the Wired. The grey alien disappears, signifying its presence only within her mind, and Lain looks disturbed.
The scene shifts and the man’s voice begins his lecture once more. This time he speaks of a different time: 1984. A TV producer, Jaime Shandera, received a manilla envelope in the mail in which was couched a roll of undeveloped film. The envelope was from an anonymous source. Shandera developed the film and found what has come to be known as the MJ-12 Document (or Majestic 12 Document). The document stated that Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter and eleven other doctors, and military and government officials ‘concluded a secret treaty with extraterrestrials as a special organization answerable only to the President’ of the United States. Hillenkoetter was a director of the US Central Intelligence Group and the first director of the CIA (notably important in this context as he was the head of the CIA when the Roswell Incident took place. Why this is important I have no clue as that incident was a domestic incident that should have involved the FBI and not the CIA who are at least supposed to only deal with affairs pertaining to national security outside of U.S. borders).
Other individuals listed therein include the doctors Dr. Lloyd Berkner (a physicist and engineer who developed radio technologies and atmospheric measuring tools), Dr. Detlev Bronk (one of the fathers of modern biophysics), Dr. Jerome Hunsaker (aeronautical engineer of airships and flying boats), and Dr. Donald H. Menzel (one of the first theoretical astrophysicists in the United States and a notable UFO skeptic). The government officials James Forrestal (first US Secretary of Defense) and Gordon Gray (a national defense adviser for Truman and Eisenhower who replaced Forrestal after Truman asked for his resignation after the war). Finally, there are the military officials besides Hillenkoetter: Lieutenant General Robert Montague (a commander at bases in Texas and Nevada during and after the time of the Roswell Incident who conspiracy nuts believe helped cover up the ‘truth’ of the incident), Admiral Sidney Souers (one-time director of the Central Intelligence Group, an Executive Secretary to the National Security Council, and a Presidential consultant on military affairs), General Nathan Twining ( long-time head of the US Air Force), and General Hoyt Vandenberg (an air force general and the second head of the Central Intelligence Group).
Above, I purposely leave out one figure: Dr. Vannevar Bush. The man continues his explanation of MJ-12 by explaining that the signature of President Harry S. Truman written on the document is now verified as forged. And we know that the entire document was a hoax. But the conspiracy crowd has used the document since and continued to attest to its veracity based less on actual evidence and more on a need to believe outrageous things to add some sense of adventure to their lives. In this too, just as Roswell, conjecture has become fact, reality mere virtuality, at least for an idiot fringe. The man continues his speech: ‘Named as a member of the MJ-12 was Vannevar Bush, head of MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering.’ He leaves us for now on this mysterious cliffhanger, but will later elaborate on who this very important individual was.
Lain enters the Wired. Unlike past avatars, all of the current ones are outlines of human forms filled with static and the occasional naturalistic detail like an eye, an ear, a nose, a mouth, or even a forearm, rendered in flesh hues realistically in a manner that contrasts sharply with its contextual background, the rest of its body. Lain asks how she could change something that happened into something that did not happen. That is to say, she is asking the group for ontological advice about how she was able to delete the memories of past events from the minds of people within the real world, how she was able to delete the event itself from the fabric of reality retroactively (as she did in the previous episode). The inhabitants do not seem to understand the thrust or content of her question and instead direct their tentative answers and further questions toward the broader question of who Lain is that she could manifest such great powers.
They all seem to know Lain, though she knows none of them. They claim that she has been present since the moment of the Wired’s inception and that within its domain, she is free. This means that she is free there as opposed to un-free elsewhere. Namely, in the real world, where her powers are limited by physical laws and the rules of the game in that space. They then begin to run off on tangential debates about whether they themselves existed first in the real world or in the Wired. Someone else tries to affirm their existence in some form through remembrance, which is a record of some form or another. A woman’s voice questions who Lain really is and claims that she cannot be coincident with the Lain of the Wired with which they are all familiar as this real world Lain is much too young to have been around since the beginning of the Wired. The voices quiet down and all of the forms disappear, leaving Lain alone to wonder after twelve things simultaneously.
The man’s voice begins again to discuss Vannevar Bush. During WWII and after, he was the head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development. He oversaw projects like Manhattan at this time. He also founded the military contractor company Raytheon, pushed for the creation of the National Science Foundation, co-created one of the first practical use analog computers from 1928-31 in the Differential Analyser, helped develop and push forward into the modern age Digital Circuit design theory, and was generally one of the pioneers of computer science. But most important to this series is his conceptual development of something called a Memex in 1945. The idea was of memory expansion device that would use a massively condensed microfilm system chock full of documents like films, audio, graphics, books, and other information that could be easily searched through in an intuitive manner much in the way human memory works, every bit of information related and branched to another by conceptual relevance. The information could be projected on a transparent screen and seen quickly by users in an intuitive, simple interface system. This should sound familiar as this was the major influence for the concept of the modern multimedia computer used today.
Lain is next in Cyberia. She catches the attention of the club DJ JJ who tells her that she forgot a manilla envelope on the club floor the previous day. This mirrors the manilla envelope of MJ-12 previously discussed. Lain doesn’t remember being there the previous day and takes the envelope, though she is noticeably perplexed by the ordeal. When she opens it, she finds a computer processor chip with The Knights logo emblazoned upon it.
The man next speaks about a different pioneer in another field of science, which is much more speculative and seems to have fewer real-world, positive applications (at least so far): sensory deprivation. The man is John C. Lilly whose experiments with sensory deprivation using ‘Native American narcotics and isolation tanks to probe the unconscious’ have had questionable scientific usefulness in subsequent years (but at least provided good material for a great sci-fi film in 1980s Altered States). Lilly supposedly believed that through his experiments he made contact with a cosmic force or group of forces who would help guide him and were known as ‘E.C.C.O., Earth Coincidence Control Office.’ Later, he began research on dolphin language and communication, which are known to be able to contact fellow individuals or pods along long distances using complex echolocation and ultrasonic waves. In a word, the guy was a bit crazy, but in some ways probably really believed he was doing valid scientific work.
Back to Cyberia, Lain approaches a table in the corner of the room where three children recline. The kids are the same ones who gave her advice on her Psyche processor in the past, and the leader of the group is a boy who earlier expressed an interest to go on a date with the wild Lain of the Wired. He also advised her earlier on the god of the Wired (but had little interesting information to give) while fighting monstrous player characters in an online virtual reality game on the Wired. Lain tells him that he promised to go on a date with her previously but he and the others at the table pretend not to remember. The boy, whose name is revealed as Taro, explains that even if he did say that, he would only want to go on a date with the wild Lain and not the real world Lain standing before him. Lain goes wild eyed at this point and claims that she and that other Lain are one and the same. The crazed look in her gaze causes Taro and his entourage to flinch and move back.
Taro decides it’s best to do what she says and follows her back to her home and her room where he admires her complex Navi system. She asks him about the computer chip she received in Cyberia, which she has somehow surmised is actually Taro’s who works with JJ and only told him to give it to Lain to somehow sabotage her. She claims that there is another Lain in the Wired, but that she is the only Lain in the real world (a claim that goes against the ending of last episode when the social Lain split off from her and interacted with her friends in the real world). Using this logic, she discerns that the Lain who wanders Cyberia and is a regular therein is actually a fabrication of Taro’s who has been manipulating the memories of those within the club to believe she was there, and was gregarious whilst there. She tells her Navi system to play ‘Track 44’, an EDM club track played within Cyberia, which is encrypted within that context to manipulate the minds and memories of the hologram-people in the club.
Downstairs, her father and mother sit on the couch in a suggestive position. He speaks aloud after hearing the music upstairs: ‘It’s almost over, isn’t it? Finally…’ His wife suggests that in the meantime they should make the best of it and begins to kiss him. The camera glides back to reveal Mika sitting within an adjacent room. She sits, nearly catatonic, mumbling in her characteristic way as the clone she is. Then, for the first time since the initial real Mika disappeared and replaced by this aberration, she speaks: ‘Beep. Beep. Beep.’ She hold an imaginary telephone to her head: ‘Roger. Now communicating. Beep. Beep. Beep.’ This behavior continues and relates nothing useful to the viewer as of yet.
Upstairs Lain approaches Taro, who has fallen to the ground in fear, and tells Navi to turn off the music, which she does. Taro explains that it wasn’t his idea to play the music in the club to alter memories, but that he was aware of the process. He explains that he is not one of The Knights, that he is too young and inexperienced to even be considered as a potential member and that he is unsure of the exact effects of what would have happened if Lain had installed the computer chip into her system, but that some part of the memory would have been destroyed: ‘It’s a non-volatile memory! It’ll override existing memories.’ He doesn’t know which ones. He does know that Lain intrigues The Knights, though they also seem to be trying to destroy her for some reason: first the parasite bomb in her coolant system and now this.
Taro explains that the purpose of The Knights is to ‘make the one and only truth there is into a reality’ because ‘the truth has power because it’s the truth, and because it’s the truth, that makes it just.’ However, when pressed, he cannot explain what this truth is as he is not a Knights member. just a brainwashed youth with a case of hero-worship. As he regains his composure and gets up off of the ground, he explains that he must return to Cyberia because his girlfriend Myu-Myu is jealous of Lain, but he kisses Lain first before he leaves. He explains his behavior as necessary as he’s a guy, Lain’s a girl, and this was a date after all. He departs the room, but leaves behind his gum in the mouth of Lain, who is dumbfounded by the experience. Kid’s got game.
The man’s voice resounds again as he begins to talk about the American philosopher, sociologist and information technology theorist Ted Nelson. The man is known particularly for coining many terms and concepts within the jargon of modern information tech theory. Some of these terms as are follows: hypertext (texts linked together in a StretchText branch by hyperlinks to other hypertext pages), hypermedia (a nonlinear information medium of audio, video, graphics, text, hypertexts, and hyperlinks), and transclusion (how information is connected within a StretchText branch of hypertexts and hyperlinks; opposed concept to transdelivery whereby information is connected by inclusion of information from other contexts, and transquotation wherein information is quoted from unconnected sources). Other concepts include virtuality (the seeming of anything as opposed to its reality, or the feel of a thing. A film is totally a virtuality to the average public, and only a reality to film buffs who study each scene or frame for the film’s actual construction) and intertwingularity (the interconnectedness of all knowledge, which cannot be artificially divided into fields of study or branches of knowledge).
Nelson also developed the concept of Project Xanadu in the early 1960s. The project was an attempt to create a memex of hypertexts and hyperlinks within a massive StretchText branch of hypermedia transcluded in a way that allows all knowledge and media within to be totally intertwingled. That is, a world wide web twenty years before the world wide web, which would be much more extensive and interconnected than the Internet we have today. A project in which all of the information could be linked back through hyperlinks to its sources, in which all information flowed in a manner like the associative mind instead of a binary of drawers that need to be rifled through individually, one at a time, to find information. Xanadu has not been developed, but if one day developed, could be much more easily usable by a human being augmented with a man-machine interface like a neural lace than the current system we have in place.
The man explains that Ted Nelson was a student of both Vannevar Bush and of John C. Lilly. The name for Xanadu, the ‘electronic library in satellites in stationary orbit which could be used at any terminal on Earth via radio or phone lines’, is derived from the Mongolian myth of a utopia wherein ‘all written cultures would never be lost.’ The element that becomes apparent in Serial Experiments Lain at this point is one similar to a vein of thought in the animated film Fullmetal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa in which the development of science and chemistry is intertwined with the occult and with alchemy. Here, the development of computer science and the Wired is intertwined, intertwingled if you will, with UFO conspiracies, eccentrics, and ancient mythology.
Lain is shown at her Navi checking her memory. She has learned a little bit about how to manipulate reality (which is, as we now know in the anime, only a mere projection from the data of the Wired) and decides to re-view her visit to Tachibana General Labs. This time, three people are inside the room: her father, mother, and sister Mika (the only one of the three that has hitherto been named in the series). The father takes Lain’s hand and guides her back through another memory, to the time when she first went home and was introduced to her room. He opens the door and the real Lain back in the real world turns as her real world door opens and a vision of her digital self and her memory father opening the door and peering inside appears before her.
The real world Lain exclaims: ‘That is me!’ The memory Lain responds, ‘Yes. This is me.’ The real Lain gets confused and asks, ‘Who are they?’. The memory Lain gets confused and responds back, ‘I’m you, so I wouldn’t know.’ The real Lain finally understands that the vision is aberrant, that it is a glitch in the real world fabric that occurred through her manipulation of data within the Wired without understanding the consequences of what would happen. But Lain has real power to change the world around her, so she claims that all of this is a lie and the memory Lain and her memory father who had moved through the past to this moment through the force of Lain’s will are just as easily dispelled by that will. They disappear.
The man begins his second to last elaboration on computer science history and the development of the Wired (as well as what amounts to a laying bare the cyberpunk influences of the creators of the anime). He explains that the Earth has an electromagnetic fingerprint unique to itself. This extremely low frequency (or ELF) band lies between the surface of the Earth and its ionosphere. The constant resonance registers at about 8 hz and is called the Schumann Resonance. It may or may not have an effect on human beings, though evidence supports the latter assumption. If any effect at all is present, it is probably pretty minor or negligible. The man calls these resonances ‘Earth Brain Waves,’ which is pretty misleading about the reality of these waves (unless one falls into the trap of Gaia theory of World-consciousness, which is relatively harmless as a metaphorical Teilhard de Chardinian concept, but just dead wrong as a reality).
The man goes on to explain that the ‘Earth’s human population is approaching that of the number of neurons in the brain.’ This is also widely off-track as there are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the average human brain, and there are not even ten percent this many humans on the planet currently (in 1998 when this anime was created, there weren’t even six billion people on Earth yet). The probability that the human population will ever exceed even fifteen percent of this 100 billion threshold is also extremely unlikely as birthrates plummet worldwide.
Next, the voice explains that the media theorist ‘Douglas Rushkoff proposes that the consciousness of Earth itself might be awakened when all humans on Earth become collectively networked.’ This sounds possible in theory, but such panpsychism has the potential to lead theorists down the rabbit hole toward conclusions such as the possibility that there are even sufficiently complex rocks and thermostats such that they would naturally generate consciousness. Neurons are neurons and not all physical phenomena have the ability to behave in the same manner. Most probably do not hold this ability and there are probably very few substrates able to generate consciousness through sufficient complexity. Rushkoff, as portrayed by the voice in this episode, seems to jump to conclusions about the whole matter (which I admit I may be wrong about in the final analysis) before anything has been fully established through actual data.
As an aside, Rushkoff as a media theorist is notable for coining a number of important terms such as viral media, social currency, and digital native (a person born into the digital age), which are intuitively understandable. Their ease of comprehension has led to wide-spread use of the terms in popular level blogs and news outlets for more than two decades. In the early nineties, Rushkoff also penned his first book on cyberculture and rave culture called Cyberia , which is notable here as the title is the name of the rave club within Serial Experiments Lain that serves as a hub of cyberculture within the real world.
In Lain’s penultimate sequence in Layer 09, she is in a thin negligee. The ‘camera’ angle is dutch, from above peering down in a slanted manner. She exclaims that there is one truth only, which she identifies as ‘God’. A voice, presumably the god of the Wired, responds: ‘Yes. Me.’
Finally, the disembodied male voice which has served as the point of elaboration throughout the episode speaks up once more. He explains that there was once a researcher for Tachibana General Labs named Masami Eiri who supposedly developed the concept of the world wide web further than even Tim Berners Lee in the eighties. Eiri theorized a system whereby individuals could be plugged into the Wired at the ‘unconscious level without the need for any device.’ He used the Schumann Resonance Factor, encoded it, and encrypted it into the IPv7. He did all of this without the directive of his company and was chastised and dismissed for it. Just a week later, his body was found, dead, near the Yamanote train line in Tokyo. (Eiri is where the series makes a clean break with reality as he only exists as a character within Serial Experiments Lain and shouldn’t be confused with a real entity).
In the episode’s final scene, Lain is shown standing in the street near her home. She is face to face with Eiri who has seemingly used his man-machine interface to download himself onto the Wired. In the process, he became the ‘god’ of that domain.
Ciao for now,
And if you made it this far, kudos. This is my longest blog post to date at nearly 14 pages in length based on word count alone. I’ve enjoyed the process, but hope the next one won’t be quite so lengthy, and that Serial Experiment Lain won’t give me quite so much material to work with, to unpack, and to research further and present her.
- Anime Update: July 2019
- Anime Update: June 2019
- Anime Update: May 2019
- Anime Update: April 2019
- Anime Update: March 2019
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- From Dawn to Duskmon (Digimon Frontier: Episode 20)
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- Trailmon vs. Trailmon (Digimon Frontier: Episode 18)
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- Mamoru Oshii: Career Beginnings
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