Having rejected the two extremes of the path of determinism and the path of life, only one more road remained in his mental vision.
The option that remained happened to be the road in the middle. It stretched straight before him as if he'd already been walking on it without even realizing it through all the fog that previously obscured his imaginary sight.
"This is the default choice. The boring choice. The most straightforward choice."
That didn't necessarily mean it was the worst choice. Determining whether this path was best for him or not depended on what he was trying to achieve and how well this direction allowed him to accomplish his goals.
As its placing suggested, the middle path pursued a middle ground between the path of determinism and the path to life.
The extremes of the latter two paths evoked a lot of misgivings to Ves.
He didn't believe in the deterministic ideal that everything could be controlled or designed. Even if Ves pursued this path and reached a point where seemingly everything was in control, reality simply didn't work that way. Life and existence could never be brought under total control, and it would be a grave mistake of him to think otherwise.
He reached a point where he began to think of himself as a god who was capable of designing life, then he might just begin to miss the possibilities that didn't fit into his paradigms!
Much like how the Skull Architect became fundamentally incapable of accommodating his own customers, Ves could easily imagine himself developing similar blindspots!
The path of life came with its own problems as well. It was just as self-centered as its opposite, only expressed in a different fashion.
An overemphasis on the value of life would detract far too much from the design aspect of his profession. Why should he leave everything to chance? Why should he surrender so many aspects to his mechs or the spiritual fragments that formed their spiritual hearts?
The path of life had more to do with the insane experiments of the Five Scrolls Compact than the sober mech design that the MTA espoused.
"I'm not a mad scientist." He affirmed. "Even if what I'm attempting to accomplish is anything but normal, at least I'm better than those deranged madmen!"
The System described his design philosophy as spiritual man-machine symbiosis. It was his specialization while still holding onto his foundational skills.
"It's important to remind myself that I'm still a mech designer. The moment I think of myself as something more than that is the moment I'll lose sight of what I should be working towards!"
His design philosophy was a means to an end, not an end by itself. What this meant was that Ves shouldn't get too hung up over the methods he developed in order to advance his goals.
"Both the path of determinism and the path of life have their good points!"
They also had their pitfalls, and some of them were so deep that they were practically bottomless.
The main point was that Ves did not have an obligation to stay pure on either path. While pursuing them to the extreme might lead to exceptional accomplishments, were they really necessary?
If Ves maintained his sights on designing better mechs, then his enthusiasm for the more extreme paths diminished. Why go down the rabbit holes when there was a perfectly functional slide in the middle?
The middle ground entained a pragmatic and conscious approach to the development of his specialization. The focus would always remain on spiritual man-machine symbiosis. The description from the System already hinted to him of the importance of balancing out the living and non-living aspects of his work.
"The nature of a symbiotic relationship is that both sides benefit from their association with each other." He reminded himself. "Man and machine. Living and nonliving. Made or born. Everything is in balance. Synergy is the key!"
Why did the inventors of mechs decide to pair humans with mechs? Because they worked well with each other!
Humans by themselves were physically weak but very creative, inventive and devious.
Mechs were awesome machines of war that could unleash a great amount of devastation, but could easily be exploited if controlled by an inflexible AI.
It was a given that the original developers of mechs decided to combine the two. By pairing humans with mechs, they got the best of both while conveniently covering up for each other's weaknesses.
It was a match made in heaven and a winning formula that persisted for over four centuries, so much so that they defined the current era of human history!
While all of this was basic knowledge that each first-year student of mech design learned at school, reiterating it during his state of introspection kept him centered. It helped him maintain perspective and prevent him from giving into temptation.
"I have to make a grounded choice! Passion alone is not enough! It has to align with what I want to accomplish!"
Choosing the middle ground made a lot of sense. By selectively incorporating elements from the path of determinism and the path of life in his design philosophy, he could thread the needle and accomplish his goals without dipping too much into the craziness of both sides.
Of course, in the perspective of the other paths, the middle ground was the craziest path.
"Instead of adhering to a single logic, I'm just mixing and matching bits and pieces whenever it suits me. There's no overarching theory binding them together."
This would probably be his main challenge moving forward on the middle path. By refusing to get carried away by the extreme paths, his understanding of both directions would always be shallow and incomplete. He'd only be able to make use of the more shallow applications of the path of determinism and the path of life.
"There's always a price. I can't have it both ways. I'll be lucky enough to reach my goals at all given how haphazardly I'll sling from side to side when I progress down this path!"
He would have to be very careful and conscious about his subsequent dabblings in the path of determinism, the path of life and all the other paths that he might uncover along the way.
Throughout it all, he needed to find a way to resolve the inherent contradiction he identified earlier and that the purer paths attempted to solve in their own way.
"Both the path of determinism and the path of life offer a solid endpoint."
The path of determinism resolved the contradiction by maximizing the design aspect and minimizing the human element.
The path of life resolved the issue by maximizing the life aspect while minimizing the design aspect.
Meanwhile, the path of the middle ground sought to achieve a stable balance between both aspects.
"In other words, I should just continue to design what can be designed."
As for what couldn't be designed? Leaving it up to the irrational existence of life was no big deal. He just had to maintain at least some direction by selecting the right spiritual fragments or whatever else he might use to breathe life into his designs.
"In a way, it feels like I haven't moved at all."
His decision to take the road he was already inching towards sounded anything but groundbreaking. Yet internally Ves felt he had passed through his first major milestone in his design philosophy ever since he formed his design seed.
He finally found his direction! He was no longer blind and stuck at the starting point because he was unsure of the way forward!
Now that he explored all his options and made a conscious decision, striding forward no longer made him shake in trepidation!
A mental roadmap appeared in his mind, giving him a direction on how to deepen his specialization and expand the capabilities of his design philosophy.
Not only that, but the certainty he felt in his mind also sublimated his design seed to a degree. A mysterious transformation seemed to take place in the depths of his design seed that configured it in a way to better accommodate his chosen design direction!
His spirituality became invigorated as well, as if it celebrated his evolution of thought!
"This won't be the last time I stumble across a crossroads." He muttered.
From what Ves knew of design philosophies, a mech designer could still shift its direction along the way. Even Journeymen or Seniors could steer their course to some extent depending on the decisions they made along the way.
To Ves, this meant that he could always start leaning more towards the path of determinism or the path of life if he encountered a significant obstacle that made it extremely difficult to push straight forward.
"As the pendulum swings one way, it will eventually have to swing in the other direction in order to maintain balance."
Ves had to take a lot of care in balancing his directions. Leaning too much into the path of determinism or path of life meant he was all but adopting them entirely.
While this wasn't necessarily a disaster that would lead him to a dead end, it still invalidated his earlier choices in favor for the convenience of a path with a simpler but extremely radical narrative.
That was not his choice! His multitude of bad experiences with fanatics and purists who thought that their beliefs were unquestionably right left him with a very bad taste for mindless adherence to a single ideology!
This was one of the driving reasons why he opted for the middle and most pragmatic path.
Though Ves felt very satisfied and self-confident about his choice, a brief sliver of doubt momentarily assailed his thoughts.
It was all well and good to choose the least committed path forward, but how well would he be able to hold his sensible direction when coming into touch with a more radical design philosophy?
"What will happen if my design philosophy interacts with Gloriana's design philosophy?" He asked.
Despite never having studied her design philosophy up close, everything he witnessed so far led him to believe that she chose differently than him. She explicitly pursued perfection, which was very problematic in many ways.
"In theory, our design philosophies shouldn't affect each other's direction. It's the mech designers who hold them that hold the reins."
Nonetheless, Ves didn't believe it was as simple as that, especially when it came to trying to achieve synergy between their specializations. Perhaps at some point they found a way to push their design philosophies to the next level, but only if they borrowed the help of each other.
Ves shook his head. "All of that is way too far away. I should be thinking about myself before adding others such as Gloriana to the equation."
Even if the best results could be achieved by combining the strengths of multiple mech designers in a single design, Ves had to stand on his own before he could think about leveraging synergies.
"I have to walk before I can run."
That meant that Ves had to progress a fair amount before he felt he had the confidence that he could contribute something solid when he and Gloriana finally attempted to collaborate on a design.
As he slowly subsided from his introspective state, he recognized that his perspective on mech design had fundamentally changed.
Although he reaffirmed many inclinations he held before, he also became more open to the idea of borrowing radical elements without dipping too much into the craziness associated with them. He just had to maintain a firm grip on his priorities and his sense of self.
"I am and will always remain a mech designer. Nothing more. Nothing less."
He spoke those words with a greater level of certainty and confidence than before.
As he began to contemplate what he could do to progress his design philosophy in the short term, he began to lean in the direction of the path of life.
Right now, his spirituality was too weak and he lacked the underlying theory to design better images. If Ves wanted a more immediate boost to his mech designs, then refining his utilization of spiritual fragments sounded like a better idea.
"In a way, I've already been doing this to an extent. The only difference now is that I'm more aware of my limits and how far I can go before I cross point of no return."