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Hey! You Got Objectivity In My Postmodernism!

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  • Hey! You Got Objectivity In My Postmodernism!

    Okay, so I've been doing some more thinking and, much as I love Mage to bits, I have a real gripe with the metaphysics (or at least the way it's presented.)

    The core of Mage, the thesis statement, is that reality is subjective and that there are no absolute truths. That you can't categorize or define something and have it be 100% accurate, because someone else might have a different perspective.

    Except that's wrong, because absolute universal truths are all over the lore as presented! No matter what your paradigm is, you'll eventually grow up and realize that the truth is that you're a reality warper subconsciously imposing your will onto reality. That's it. That is an objective fact. Every other perspective may be equally wrong, but they're still wrong.

    This is magick. Period. Those poor, silly Technocrats think they're doing Enlightened Science, but the truth is that it's magick.

    In fact, the way the books present it, the Technocracy (and, to a lesser degree, the technomancer Traditions) are objectively wrong about most things. You have right to call a spirit realm an alternate dimension, but you're wrong. You can call spirits aliens, but they're not. You're not using technology, you're using magick disguised as technology.

    I don't know. The way I see it, things shouldn't be so cut-and-dried. In my Mage, nobody really knows what's going on. It's possible (and not entirely unlikely) that Mages really are Reality Deviants using wildly-applied para-science. It's equally possible that the Dreamspeakers are right and that all magick actually comes from subtle spirit intervention. Sure, some people believe that Awakened Avatars provide Mages with the ability to shape reality to their will, and there might even be some evidence to support that, but nobody knows for sure. It's entirely reasonable to suspect that everyone is wrong about everything. Who's to say?

    It's definitely not the Garou, but I've harangued enough about that on this forum already. :P


    Shameless Technocratic shill.

  • #2
    Originally posted by The Nilbog View Post
    Okay, so I've been doing some more thinking and, much as I love Mage to bits, I have a real gripe with the metaphysics (or at least the way it's presented.)

    The core of Mage, the thesis statement, is that reality is subjective and that there are no absolute truths. That you can't categorize or define something and have it be 100% accurate, because someone else might have a different perspective.
    Is it, though?. If mage was 100% subjectivist then it would completely disavow the truth of Paradigms that state otherwise, hence it's wise to not make subjectivity an adamant truth of it's own. This is not a problem of Mage but of postmodernism itself, as I would try to show:


    Except that's wrong, because absolute universal truths are all over the lore as presented! No matter what your paradigm is, you'll eventually grow up and realize that the truth is that you're a reality warper subconsciously imposing your will onto reality. That's it. That is an objective fact. Every other perspective may be equally wrong, but they're still wrong.
    That's the paradox of the Consensus. Consensual reality makes humans into reality warpers, and gods the products of whim. See how this it's a problem of Postmodernity itself?: If there's something that the Consensus doesn't govern, then the universe would have realities that "the subject" (that composes the Consensus) isn't capable of altering. Because Reality it's subjective you shut down the posibility of humans(and significant others) being anything other than "reality warpers"

    This is why I actually cherish those few contradictory places of the lore where Reality(tm) doesn't bend towards the Consensus. Things like the Universal Constants, the OOC importance that the Spheres have in so many parts of the lore (even when they are ignored in other parts), the defying nature of certain spirits.

    You can explain these things with the Consensus, but you can also state that they present *truths* outside the reality warper shtick. You can even combine these two concepts sometimes: The Astral Umbra it's influenced by human tought, one always shows in the shape of the other - but this hapens because the Umbra it's product of humanity subconscious ?, or it's the condition of posibility for human to have a subconscious?. Maybe they're codependant, one being the condition of posibility of the other and viceversa.

    This is magick. Period. Those poor, silly Technocrats think they're doing Enlightened Science, but the truth is that it's magick.
    Magick it's just a word that for some people means Science(!). They are not wrong, they're just using a different word to define the same phenomena. The phenomena of Reality(tm) being flexible/dynamic/postmodern

    Again, this is not a problem of Mage but of Postmodernism itself: If there's no truth, then there's A truth. God, in his death, become more powerful and pervasive than ever. If you want everything to be "postmodern", then (objective) science can't exist and those that believe in it are bound to be wrong.

    Again, I see the cure in a certain suspension of judgement. The universe MAY not be subjective. Perhaps. Remain in the doubt instead of being certain. In this endeavour the objective aspects of mage are priceless - ironically, it's the adamant insistence of many authors on a postmodern "Man it's the Measure of Everything" what shuts down other worldviews.

    In fact, the way the books present it, the Technocracy (and, to a lesser degree, the technomancer Traditions) are objectively wrong about most things. You have right to call a spirit realm an alternate dimension, but you're wrong. You can call spirits aliens, but they're not. You're not using technology, you're using magick disguised as technology.
    This I see as a flaw. The flaw comes in the form of a mechanic that clearly distinguish the Umbra from the Real World in a way that no Paradigm can change.

    This flaw, as many others, were included in Revised. Before Revised "outer space" was very vaguely defined and there were aliens. Aliens, not Umbrood, aliens (or at least there was no way to prove them to be "spirits", as they were material).

    I much preffer this view over the idea that everything not human out there has to be made of Ephemera and equally suceptible to the Spirit Sphere, that every other planet would inflict "disembodiement" on you, that Consensual Space extends to the Asteroid Belt, to name a few changes of Revised. Among other things because these changes make Reality(tm) less varied, less misterious. The outer worlds shouldn't be governed by such a small set of rules.

    I don't know. The way I see it, things shouldn't be so cut-and-dried. In my Mage, nobody really knows what's going on. It's possible (and not entirely unlikely) that Mages really are Reality Deviants using wildly-applied para-science. It's equally possible that the Dreamspeakers are right and that all magick actually comes from subtle spirit intervention. Sure, some people believe that Awakened Avatars provide Mages with the ability to shape reality to their will, and there might even be some evidence to support that, but nobody knows for sure. It's entirely reasonable to suspect that everyone is wrong about everything. Who's to say?
    Indeed, I agree. And I think there's enough contradictory material in Mage to make it so. People has been using canon material to make contradictory theories about how WoD REALLY works since the begining of time. Similarly, how Mage really works can and has been contested (in this very forum you can find many examples). Similarly, there isn't one canon answer, among other things because canon it's contradictory, there's many places where you can grab to favor one theory over others. The cherished total sujectivity of mage has been contested several times.

    In Mage (in contrast with Werewolf) these contradicitons are to be cherished, because having contradicitons about what's really going on it's the only way to remain in the doubt, to "not know what's going on"
    Last edited by Aleph; 02-28-2018, 04:01 PM.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by The Nilbog View Post
      Okay, so I've been doing some more thinking and, much as I love Mage to bits, I have a real gripe with the metaphysics (or at least the way it's presented.)

      The core of Mage, the thesis statement, is that reality is subjective and that there are no absolute truths. That you can't categorize or define something and have it be 100% accurate, because someone else might have a different perspective.

      Except that's wrong, because absolute universal truths are all over the lore as presented! No matter what your paradigm is, you'll eventually grow up and realize that the truth is that you're a reality warper subconsciously imposing your will onto reality. That's it. That is an objective fact. Every other perspective may be equally wrong, but they're still wrong.
      This is similar to a somewhat common complaint around the time Ascension and the rest of the Time of Judgement books came out, that if everyone was surpassing their paradigms didn't that mean those paradigms were meaningless? What does that mean about the values behind them? And the Ascension War itself? But there is a problem with that line of thinking.

      I'll use an example from that time. At some point there was an asshole (name sounded something like Hamnesis, but I forget the details ) who started arguing that if Mages were surpassing their paradigms, and morality was a part of paradigm (which you can see in some of the Tradbooks), doesn't that mean they are also surpassing their morality. Shouldn't all high Arete mages turn into amoral forces of nature. Of course that is nonsense, for a variety of reasons, first and foremost among them that amoral god monsters it is not an interesting character path in many Mage games (which that Lamnesis guy refused to accept as a valid argument at the time. I wonder what he thinks now).

      And that highlights an important element, because while high Arete mages are surpassing something it isn't everything that they believe in. M20, in one of it's good moves, removed even that ambiguity by indicating that Mages were only surpassing foci, not their entire practice.

      Mage did a big disservice by making the rules and the in universe explanations sound so similar, and that continues to bite it in the ass 20 years later. People tend to conflate the rules with the actual in-world metaphysics, but they are not the same thing. The rules are just a gaming abstraction and this:
      I don't know. The way I see it, things shouldn't be so cut-and-dried. In my Mage, nobody really knows what's going on. It's possible (and not entirely unlikely) that Mages really are Reality Deviants using wildly-applied para-science. It's equally possible that the Dreamspeakers are right and that all magick actually comes from subtle spirit intervention. Sure, some people believe that Awakened Avatars provide Mages with the ability to shape reality to their will, and there might even be some evidence to support that, but nobody knows for sure. It's entirely reasonable to suspect that everyone is wrong about everything. Who's to say?
      is much closer to what Mages are actually seeing, in-universe.

      Yes, many Mages espouse this idea that changing the minds of the masses can change the world, and there is good evidence that this is broadly true. The how and the why are a lot more elusive. For all that the Technocracy and Traditions have managed to alter the world, they don't seem to have a clear idea of how hard each change will be to make, or how far it will spread. Some ideas seem particularly hard to alter, and some factions are particularly adept at dealing with certain pieces of reality. Likewise, mages shed foci as they grow, and they often find underlying similarities with other practices as their own understanding gets more complex. Does that really mean all Paradigms will eventually dissolve into one great Unterparadigm? That's the Tradition party line, but only the Oracles could know if it is true or not.




      Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink

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      • #4
        I don't think Mage was ever intended to be a Postmodern game, not entirely. It is a New Age game. New Age is a synthesis of Postmodernism and mysticism--the latter concerning itself with hidden universal meaning and order. A New Ager will say you can influence your own destiny through a dream board or whatever, yet your destiny is still influenced by the planets. Likewise in Mage there is the Consensus and individual will, but Fate is a real force that is independent of either. The three Primordial Spheres point to the universe, structures, and living things having a fundamental nature. How that fundamental nature manifests is subject to perception.

        That said, it seems easy enough to just add another layer to the metaphysic structure that makes all those supposedly fundamental principles subjective too (as has already been done with Spheres--they are presented as a universal structure but are ultimately a construct). Maybe there are alternating layers of subjectivity and objectivity, ad infinitum--and delving deeper into the metaphysics is an endless cycle of mystery, discovery, and epiphany.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Faradn View Post
          I don't think Mage was ever intended to be a Postmodern game, not entirely. It is a New Age game. New Age is a synthesis of Postmodernism and mysticism--the latter concerning itself with hidden universal meaning and order. A New Ager will say you can influence your own destiny through a dream board or whatever, yet your destiny is still influenced by the planets. Likewise in Mage there is the Consensus and individual will, but Fate is a real force that is independent of either. The three Primordial Spheres point to the universe, structures, and living things having a fundamental nature. How that fundamental nature manifests is subject to perception.

          That said, it seems easy enough to just add another layer to the metaphysic structure that makes all those supposedly fundamental principles subjective too (as has already been done with Spheres--they are presented as a universal structure but are ultimately a construct). Maybe there are alternating layers of subjectivity and objectivity, ad infinitum--and delving deeper into the metaphysics is an endless cycle of mystery, discovery, and epiphany.
          I find the New Age interpretation and associated concepts to be intensely problematic, personally. But I guess if that's the authorial intent, then that's my problem, not the game's. :I


          Shameless Technocratic shill.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by The Nilbog View Post
            I find the New Age interpretation and associated concepts to be intensely problematic, personally. But I guess if that's the authorial intent, then that's my problem, not the game's. :I
            I don't think the New Age perspective is correct, in the real world, but why the strong aversion?

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Faradn View Post
              I don't think the New Age perspective is correct, in the real world, but why the strong aversion?
              Eh. It's a whole thing with me. I'm not super into naturalistic/holistic philosophies. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit of a materialist and I'm definitely a secular humanist. I like to keep an open mind as much as possible, but philosophies that downplay individual agency or vilify technological progress rub me the wrong way. I don't think New Agers are bad people. I think their hearts are in the right place. I just think a lot of the philosophy is barking up the wrong tree.

              In Mage terms, I'd probably be a Void Engineer, if you catch my drift.

              I always preferred Mage as a game of reality vs fantasy or idealism vs realism, as opposed to a game of enlightenment vs materialism. That aspect always rang a little hollow and misguided to me.

              But at the same time, I recognize that I'm just one player. It is clearly a theme that works for a lot of people and I certainly don't mean to be rude or condescending.

              But with a game that contains as much social and political commentary as WoD, it's basically impossible not to bring your real world opinions in with you. Naturally, there are going to be parts that don't jive with some people.


              Shameless Technocratic shill.

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              • #8
                I'd just add two short things, about how I see it, since it is a frequently debated topic, and I participated in several long arguments about it and don't really have the inclination to do so right now.

                So, in my eyes:

                - the consensus is not absolute, se the Pillars of Reality thing in M20. I've always seen the game like that and never as a totally postmodern one. I'm seeing it as "there are different paths to the Truth, but ultimatels, there is A truth".
                - the technocrats and technomancers are indeed, from the game's perspective, wrong, because it's not "sufficiently high level of technology, indiscernable from mabic" what they're doing. It's not their "tech" doing things, it's them doing things and the tech is just props. That's the game's perspective and it's an interesting tension and conundrum, but it's not really the "tech vs. magic, but ultimately they're the same" one it seems at first glance.

                So, in a nuthsell, Mage, to me isn't really postmodernism, though postmodern ideas do play an important role in it. Thus, objectivity does have a place in it too.

                It's just, most mages never get to the level of discerning those objective truths from the myriad subjective viewpoint.

                Although, that the books never said "this is how it is, period" is indeed, adds to the tension and not necessarily a bad thing, IMO.


                If nothing worked, then let's think!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by PMárk View Post
                  I'd just add two short things, about how I see it, since it is a frequently debated topic, and I participated in several long arguments about it and don't really have the inclination to do so right now.

                  So, in my eyes:

                  - the consensus is not absolute, se the Pillars of Reality thing in M20. I've always seen the game like that and never as a totally postmodern one. I'm seeing it as "there are different paths to the Truth, but ultimatels, there is A truth".
                  - the technocrats and technomancers are indeed, from the game's perspective, wrong, because it's not "sufficiently high level of technology, indiscernable from mabic" what they're doing. It's not their "tech" doing things, it's them doing things and the tech is just props. That's the game's perspective and it's an interesting tension and conundrum, but it's not really the "tech vs. magic, but ultimately they're the same" one it seems at first glance.

                  So, in a nuthsell, Mage, to me isn't really postmodernism, though postmodern ideas do play an important role in it. Thus, objectivity does have a place in it too.

                  It's just, most mages never get to the level of discerning those objective truths from the myriad subjective viewpoint.

                  Although, that the books never said "this is how it is, period" is indeed, adds to the tension and not necessarily a bad thing, IMO.
                  This is probably technically correct.

                  I've got to wonder at a certain point if I'm just playing the wrong game.
                  Last edited by The Nilbog; 02-28-2018, 08:01 PM.


                  Shameless Technocratic shill.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by The Nilbog View Post
                    I've got to wonder at a certain point if I'm just playing the wrong game.
                    You said you run it in a more purely postmodern way--are you and your players happy with the result? If you're a player in a game being run SAW (Setting As Written) are you able to maneuver your character around the "objective" parts of the metaphysics? If yes, it seems like it would be worth running/playing respectively.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by The Nilbog View Post
                      Eh. It's a whole thing with me. I'm not super into naturalistic/holistic philosophies. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit of a materialist and I'm definitely a secular humanist. I like to keep an open mind as much as possible, but philosophies that downplay individual agency or vilify technological progress rub me the wrong way. I don't think New Agers are bad people. I think their hearts are in the right place. I just think a lot of the philosophy is barking up the wrong tree.

                      In Mage terms, I'd probably be a Void Engineer, if you catch my drift.

                      I always preferred Mage as a game of reality vs fantasy or idealism vs realism, as opposed to a game of enlightenment vs materialism. That aspect always rang a little hollow and misguided to me.

                      But at the same time, I recognize that I'm just one player. It is clearly a theme that works for a lot of people and I certainly don't mean to be rude or condescending.
                      You're not alone, there. I tend to find the enlightenment vs materialism conflict comes across as a false dichotomy. The Technocrats are pursuing a path of enlightenment (or at least uplift), and where they are villains (because they can also be protagonists) it is not because materialism is wrong but because they've compromised too many of their ideals in the name of... well... their ideals. It is their human failings, not their philosophical ones, that bring them down.


                      Originally posted by The Nilbog View Post
                      This is probably technically correct.

                      I've got to wonder at a certain point if I'm just playing the wrong game.
                      Probably not. All this wrangling with the nature of reality is something that Mages do in setting, only moreso. A lot of it can remain undefined without hurting anything in the game. Knowing how the setting actually works is really only useful to you and your players, and then only for the occasional odd questions. And it's not like Mage takes a strong stand on which of the many interpretations of its setting are true. That's for you to decide. And as long as the end result mostly looks and acts like Mage, you aren't doing it wrong.


                      Mage: The Ice-ension: An Epic Game of Reality on the Rink

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                      • #12
                        I'd argue that many aspects of paradigm are actually True in Mage. The tree of life, Yggdrasil actually exists in the spirit realm and may also be a mountain. The One that shattered into countless shards which we now call the avatar, could have actually happened. Reincarnation is actually something that happens, and so the Euthanatos are right to allow the avatar a chance to recycle if their current host is suffering or causing suffering. There are literal angels all over the Astral Realm, with whom the Hermetics communicate with frequently. And at the end of the day, everyone and everything is lost to oblivion, that deep dark pit that literally exists at the heart of the underworld, slowly consuming all with an unending hunger. Just as the Hollowers would be keen to remind you.

                        These things objectively exist, but are subjectively interpreted. "Those aren't angels, but spirits of the wind" a Verbena may contend. "Actually, I think you'll find they are metaphysical apparitions from another dimension" The Etherite might retort.

                        When a Chorister is doing magick, they are not just imparting their will on reality, but literally calling on the power of The One to utilise them as a vessel for its own will. For them, the Avatar does the magic, not the mage.
                        While the Akashic is instead focusing their mind on an inner form of power so far removed from humanity, it allows them to see beyond the constraints that bind them. For them, the avatar is that ideal state of being which one must get closer too in order to achieve greater awareness. The avatar isn't doing anything but serving as a guide, and entry way to what lies wtihin all humans, a link to the world.
                        And yet the Virtual Adepts don't see the avatar at all, nor do they really see what they are doing as magic. The world is programmable, down to the pixel. All you need to know is how to speak the coding language of the universe and boom, cheat codes all around. With the right combinations of 1's an 0's, literally everything is at your disposal. Some Hermetics might even agree with this in so far as language, and the correct placement and orientation of key items are important in order to properly command the laws of the universe.

                        Objective truth subjectively interpreted.


                        Keepers of the Wyck: A Chronicle I'm running FINALE: Chapter 39: Green Fairy

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Ramnesis View Post
                          Probably not. All this wrangling with the nature of reality is something that Mages do in setting, only moreso. A lot of it can remain undefined without hurting anything in the game. Knowing how the setting actually works is really only useful to you and your players, and then only for the occasional odd questions. And it's not like Mage takes a strong stand on which of the many interpretations of its setting are true. That's for you to decide. And as long as the end result mostly looks and acts like Mage, you aren't doing it wrong.
                          Yup, I'd like to second that.

                          Also, Mage is full of postmodern ideas, it's just, it's not only postmodernism, at least in my eyes.

                          Alsoalso, it's your decision how much you'd want to stress actual paradigm in your games and also how much division do you want between the "purple paradigm" (aka, the game's rules) and the characters' beliefs.

                          Alsoalsoalso, the less you do crossover (or crosover using the actual rules and metaphysics of the other games), the more you can go with absolute postmodernism. I actually like crossover, but then again, I'm okay with the game not being totally postmodernism.


                          And, in the end, when a technomancer reaches the level when she starts shedding instruments, she could still say what she's doing is science and describe it in (proto/fake)scientific terms. It's essentially a new, modern version of Hermeticism. Honestly, who says it isn't science? Science is just a language we use, to describe things.

                          Technocrats can't do that, but that's not ability, it's brain-washing.

                          Also, wonders are usable by everyone, even mundanes (if I recall correctly), so isn't it effctively tech, just tech using an entirely different level of physical laws than average mundane tech?


                          But mundanes building machines and achieving effects on par with magic via totally mundane, technological manners? No, Mage's setting is not that technologically advanced.


                          If nothing worked, then let's think!

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by PMárk View Post

                            Yup, I'd like to second that.

                            Also, Mage is full of postmodern ideas, it's just, it's not only postmodernism, at least in my eyes.

                            Alsoalso, it's your decision how much you'd want to stress actual paradigm in your games and also how much division do you want between the "purple paradigm" (aka, the game's rules) and the characters' beliefs.

                            Alsoalsoalso, the less you do crossover (or crosover using the actual rules and metaphysics of the other games), the more you can go with absolute postmodernism. I actually like crossover, but then again, I'm okay with the game not being totally postmodernism.


                            And, in the end, when a technomancer reaches the level when she starts shedding instruments, she could still say what she's doing is science and describe it in (proto/fake)scientific terms. It's essentially a new, modern version of Hermeticism. Honestly, who says it isn't science? Science is just a language we use, to describe things.

                            Technocrats can't do that, but that's not ability, it's brain-washing.

                            Also, wonders are usable by everyone, even mundanes (if I recall correctly), so isn't it effctively tech, just tech using an entirely different level of physical laws than average mundane tech?


                            But mundanes building machines and achieving effects on par with magic via totally mundane, technological manners? No, Mage's setting is not that technologically advanced.
                            I tend to stress paradigm a lot. Like, I don't need a 90 page treatise on how you're going to shoot an ice beam, but I need a rough idea of what your character is doing. There's no flavor or panache to just willing things into existence, as far as I'm concerned. Besides, it allows for Jojo's Bizarre Adventure-style games of one-upmanship, complete with increasingly strange and tortured rationalizations. The fact that it's a stretch isn't a bug, it's a feature!

                            And I think that's my biggest gripe, really. All the gonzo diversity of the setting isn't presented as something to be reveled in, in and of itself. It's presented as a crutch to be overcome. A wall in front of true enlightenment and Ascension (which we all know is turning into a whispy energy being and doing nothing in heaven forever).

                            But yeah, the way I see it, there are some odd and undeniable commonalities in the Awakened experience, no doubt. But at the end of the day, it's entirely possible all that Mages really are doing different thing. Things that happen to interact semi-consistently because that's how they contextualize other practices.

                            Like, a bolt of heavenly lightning didn't come from the Chorister's will. It came from the One. It's just that only the Awakened can really communicate with them.
                            Last edited by The Nilbog; 02-28-2018, 10:34 PM.


                            Shameless Technocratic shill.

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                            • #15
                              I'll just leave this here…

                              Also, this.


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