10. The Holy Encyclopedia

Their questions grow frantic; the fear of the unknown hovering at the edges of their eyes. You smirk, mockingly.

Language claims ownership of all-that-is-unspoken, asserting its legitimate dominion over the boundless Outer Sea ‘and any lands that might be found therein’. And while it always insists its conquests are nearly done, each venture into those waters finds much yet unexplored.

Week 10

This week we’ll talk about media of communication. This broad concept is meant to include any representation which aids communication: from artistic media (e.g. clay or poetry) to written/verbal language to shared concepts or ontologies. Each of these is a part of ‘the means by which mankind gets through to one other.’

This post is formatted as a parable, for which I have a specific interpretation in mind. But I don’t want to share my interpretation just yet! Please feel free to share your own interpretation or reactions in the comments. About a week from today, I’ll share my own thoughts.

Let’s jump into it.

The LEGO apocalypse

Two hundred years after the fall of civilization, the tribes of mankind live underground. As such, they have some strange cultural practices. One of these is the maintenance of a Holy Encyclopedia (hereafter the HE). 

The Encyclopedia has many entries, but it can only be expanded via a particular ritual: if, standing before the Elder Council, you can represent something using LEGOs, and the Council agrees (on the basis of your representation) that that thing you’re depicting actually exists, then it will inscribe your proposal in the HE. So if you see a new type of radioactive cave-grub, and reproduce it with LEGOs (the glow-in-the-dark kind, presumably), and the Council buys your argument, it will add your grub to the holy book.

You are the only person in living memory to have left the underground commune.

Of course, everyone is curious to know what you have seen. At the same time, they quite piously and naturally intend to obey the laws of the Elder Council. So they ask you to stand before the Council and describe what you’ve seen in LEGO form.

At the next meeting, you try to convey the sun. This seemed challenging, at first - how would you convey fire, burning, or brightness with LEGOs alone? But you throw something together:

Of course, no one knows what you’re talking about. They think your ’sun’ is a disc, or perhaps a flower. “It’s more like a globe”, you say. “But why would you draw horns on a globe?” they ask. ”And what do you mean, a ‘hot globe’ - is it bread?” You hear a chuckle from the audience. The Elder Council denies your request, but thanks you for your effort.

Perhaps the sun is too strange to convey, but you can surely share something important about the surface world. So at the next HE meeting, you try again: this time, to describe large moving bodies of water, another thing your tribe has never seen.

So you make something like this:


At first, the Council is amenable! You breathe a sigh of relief. They love the idea of a blue stone floor - until you try to convey that, actually, I know it looks like stone, but it’s really moving. The ENTIRE THING moves. You can be inside of it. Fish are IN the floor. You can go IN the stone - I mean, the water.

But the Elders quite understandably conclude that it’s impossible for water to be available in such large quantities. Everyone knows that water sinks into the earth! Your proposal is rejected.

While the tribe has found your sculptures amusing up until this point, they’re starting to talk, and you get the sense that you’re expected to drop the issue. You really shouldn’t push things further.

But… perhaps the darkness is starting to get to you, after your day in the sun. Maybe the misunderstanding and criticism of your peers has struck a nerve. You don’t know why, but you do know that you just have to convey the idea of water to your people. There must be a way.

You requisition every blue LEGO you can. You labor for days, cutting your callused fingers on the damn things. Finally, you come out of your hovel, unwashed and triumphant. And at the next HE meeting, you present your masterwork:

It’s certainly interesting, but try as you might, the Elders just don’t get it. They insist it’s made of stone. Soon enough the whole commune is mocking fun of you and your magic blue rocks.

You wander dejectedly through the caverns one evening, having just escaped a gang of taunting children. As you wipe the sweat from your brow, a heretical thought arises. “These damnable LEGOs”, you think to yourself. “Perhaps the problem isn’t on my side. Perhaps the problem is with this whole LEGO communication thing in the first place!”

You’ll show them what water's really about. But first you have to get them to see in the first place. So at the next HE meeting, you come in with something… strange.


What is it? This ugly thing? Do you seriously want this added to the Holy Encyclopedia? You claim this exists on the surface world? Their questions grow frantic; the fear of the unknown hovering at the edges of their eyes. You smirk, mockingly. You’re quickly ushered out of the room.

Weeks pass. Old friends begin to distance themselves from you. You’re not invited to the next HE meeting.

But on the appointed day, you show up anyway. As the Elders file in to take their seats, they see you putting the finishing touches on a (thankfully) innocuous and familiar scene: caves, tunnels, grub farms. Known things, comfortable things. They start to hope that things will finally return to normal.

LEGO IDEAS - Build that holiday into THAT holiday! - Waitomo ...

But their hopes will be dashed; your performance is not over. With an evil gleam in your eye, you shout, in a booming voice: “I present to you: WATER.”

And you set the LEGOS on fire.

It is ecstatic chaos; it is perverse, unstructured. It is liquid motion incarnate; it is the thing that lies beyond. They cannot look away.

Finally, a child screams in fear, and the Elders snap out of their stupor. One of them calls the guards; they haul you away, to crucify you or something suitably sacrificial.

But you laugh. All you can do is laugh. The damage has been done. Water was conveyed.