Shinsekai Yori: Cantus

Just today I finished reading the second book of Shinsekai Yori, and on that occasion I decided to write about Cantus.

“Cantus” is the name we gave to 呪力 (juryoku, cursing power). It’s psychokinesis, but as far as I know it’s pretty much omnipotent. As explained by the fake minoshiro (the Tsukuba branch), psychokinesis was scientifically attested in year 2011 by the Azerbaijani cognitive scientist Imran Ismailov. Before then, just like in our society now, superpowers like psychokinesis are considered mere fantasies.

He realized that much like the observer effect in physics, in cognitive sciences as well observing a system has effects on the outcome. If you think about it, this has been common sense in pharmacology for ages, that’s why they always include placebo as well in every experiments. Ismailov realized that if they want to scientifically prove the existence of psychokinetic powers, they need to avoid the observer effect. People working on the experiment, expecting it to fail in disbelief have a negative effect on the experiment subject. So to minimize the influence of observers, everyone taking part in the experiment in any way only knew their little bit, and not the whole. No one knew all the details, not even the place and time of the experiments.

The first identified esper was a 19-year-old girl called Nona Maldanova. During the experiment she successfully moved a light plastic ball inside a transparent tube. The success of the experiment had dramatic results. After the first case, there was no stopping to psychokinetics showing up one after another. In the end about 0.3% of humankind awakened to psychokinetic powers. Even that small number with their (at first) feeble powers managed to cause huge disturbance in society. Especially that according to resources from that age, a large number of PK users showed signs of the schizoid personality disorder.

As I said, at first their powers were very weak. Scientists thought that PK’s source of energy was the burning of sugar in the brain. But evolution showed once again that it still has a strong grasp on humankind. Once people started using PK for crimes, such as in the case of Boy A, society started to fear them, and we all know that if society as a collective starts to fear something, then society as a collective starts to act to erase that threat. PK users were hunted, and of course they fought for their survival. That was exactly the threat of death and natural selection that was necessary for evolution to blast down the doors.

In America a civil war started trying to eliminate all of the PK users. In India, they tried to use DNA manipulation to give people PK powers. Due to the constant hunting, the percentage of PK users dropped from 0.3% to 0.0004%. But it had other effects too. Soon after the first fiends appeared, among them Raman (in India) and Klogius (in Finland). They butchered tens of thousands of people, that’s why the “fiend syndrome” was named after them. By this time it’s been confirmed that there’s practically no upper limit to the power of PK users, and the strongest ones by that age could already unleash powers that rivaled nuclear weapons.

This resulted in the destruction of our society as we know it. Governments existed no longer and human population decreased to a mere 2% of what it once was. (Saki comments at this point in the book that “hundred thousand” isn’t a unit for counting humans.)

Now as for the energy source of Cantus. As explained (first) by the Tsukuba Branch in the book, it’s clear that the metabolism of sugar in the brain can not account for the near-infinite power of PK. The logical question is then: where does that omnipotence come from? There are two theories. One theory suggests that the human brain in some way harnesses the power of the Solar System, tapping into the (by human scale) near-infinite power of the Sun. That would of course mean that once PK users leave the Solar System, they could no longer use Cantus (or they would need to learn how to use it again). It is however not really explained anywhere how the brain would tap into solar power.

The other theory is quite abstract, and I won’t claim I fully understand the underlying science. I’ll just sum up what’s written in the book. As I wrote above, the similarity of the effect of observation in mental and quantum contexts became clear even before PK was discovered (though reading up on the subject, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in quantum theory is rather a fundamental property of the wave-like nature of matter, and not (just) the quantum interpretation of the observer paradox). This theory suggests that this quantum-like nature translates into the real world through the use of PK. By the mental act of conscious observation (activating PK), people are able to change the information that describes the world. If this theory is right, that would mean that theoretically it could be possible for a single PK user to change the nature, shape and laws of the entire universe. It’s described as an “ironic circle”: the material world is born from the quantum interactions in space, which then through billions of years of evolution gave birth to intelligent life, and then humans became able to use PK, which would allow them to change the universe from its very foundations.

The novels also mention that the mental process to magic as described by Frazer is very similar to the mental process of activating PK, but I can find no details about Frazer writing about magic that way anywhere.

Now such an omnipotent power can be fatal for the entire humanity (as it actually was), so they applied the two restraints of  a mental violence restraint and the death feedback. The mental violence restraint is achieved through education and hypnosis. The latter is implanted in the human genome artificially. The false minoshiro explains this in detail, so I’ll not write much about it. Just read what it says.

Of course these restraints aren’t perfect either, and that results in the emergence of karma demons and fiends. I’ll write about those on a later occasion (I’d say in about 5-6 episodes’ time, when fiends are explained in detail).

Not to mention that humans can’t control their Cantus completely. The subconscious is vast, and thus its effects on Cantus are as well. Cantus keeps leaking, having (mostly negative) effects on the environment. As explained by Shun, that’s the reason for the rapid evolution seen in nature over the past thousand years. The constant leakage of Cantus from humans altered nature, creating animals like the minoshiro or the tiger crabs, or even specialized, deadly ones like the haythatcher. I may write later more about the biosphere of Shinsekai’s world (let’s just ignore the redundant word there) later if I can think of enough to write.

This entry was posted by Vale.

10 thoughts on “Shinsekai Yori: Cantus

  1. Thanks for the write up. I don’t particularly dig the quantum explanation, as it implies PK (and by extension, our brains) were somehow quantum mechanical in nature. It comes across as slapping on quantum mechanics to make it sound “cool”. But this is science fiction, so I digress. Interesting universe though.

    • Let me directly quote that part:

      …the point is, time, space, matter, everything is reduced to information. Cantus is the ultimate power that allows us to change the information that describes and forms the universe.

      • I tend to believe psychokinetic powers could be more direct expressions of our transcendent minds. So I don’t think the show needs such a materialistic explanation. I agree with xviruz, that it could be just showed in there for the cool factor.

    • If you would allow me to digress . . .

      Hypothetically if we accept the idea that Cantus works because it changes the direct quantum information of the universe could this not, in fact, lead to solipsism?

      T/L Note: Solipsism is the idea that we can only be certain of the existence one’s own mind.

      If one person is allowed to change the make-up of the universe (foundations and all); then how is this different from changing ones perception of the universe?

      Say Shin is sitting there with his egg. Say he breaks it with Cantus (because Cantus allows you to change the quantum level of the egg). What if instead of interacting with the quantum side of the egg, Shin was just being fed information from the universe to say his egg was broke?

      I’m fucked. What I think I am trying to get at is that if you change the world so instantaneously and drastically you may as well be in a deluded state where you can’t tell what is reality is anymore.

      I don’t even anymore.

      • I was thinking the same thing, Jayz. It would be most logical (yet very abstract) if the fact a person can change the information around him would be due to him changing his own analysis of what’s happening, i.e living in his own imaginary world where he has powers. Yet that would mean that Shin Sekai Yori would all only be part of Saki’s dream-world….
        I think, therefore I am. (Descartes)
        You think, therefore you are.
        But how do I know that you think?

  2. Hi Vale, cheers for the info. I really appreciate it being the pseudo-lit/phil douche that I am.

    Just a quick question regarding the second paragraph, and on the development (or perhaps awakening) of PK. I’m not too familiar with the Observer Effect so bear with me.

    Is the reason the reason that people didn’t utilize PK before 2011 because they were culturally indoctrinated to be predisposed against the concept of Cantus? As in; no one whipped shit around with their minds because they thought that it was a fucking ridiculous idea and didn’t give it a second thought?

    But once one person (Nona) broke through the paradigm and disproved this people expanded their concepts of nature and reality to allow for the possibility of Cantus. And from here on out it snowballed until 0.3% could use PK?

    Am I interpreting this right?

    • That is my understanding of what he wrote, yes, but it leads to a problem. Namely, that people have only thought “magic” powers were nonsense for a short period of time. Hell, there are plenty of people that are still rooted in worldviews that depend upon magical thinking to work. It seems unlikely viewed in this light that the only thing standing in the way of PK’s rise to prominence was people’s belief in it. A few hundred years ago most of the world believed in magic and shamans and so forth, so why didn’t PK emerge then?

      • who’s to say it didn’t, in a number of legendary miraculous individuals? the lore of history interprets them into saints, prophets, shamans, and miracle men because in the context of their time that’s what they would have been conceived of as by most people. Jesus, Mohammad, etc.

  3. Pingback: Shin Sekai Yori Ends | FunBlog

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