Recreational possibilities, and pitfalls, of suspended animation.
Even I was surprised by the changes that seemed to have swept the outside world, this time. I mean, the last time I had been out
I had been totally unable to communicate with anybody, but, at least there were bodies. This time was incomparable. I was hardly able
to identify the life that filled the space. It seemed as if larger organisms had just disappeared ... images far beyond the reach of
any human language ... But I was finally able to understand what I was really doing ... where I was really going. I was going to The End,
to The Final Moment of Time ..... to Oblivion.
There was no turning back at this point. There was nothing to turn back to.
I had made my commitment and was now wholly immersed in the experience. Maybe I should have left the group a long time ago? ... gone on
some deep space mission ... some travel to the edge????.. Maybe I should have, but that opportunity
was now gone forever. And it was gone not only for me, but for all the group.
I started thinking back to the last time that I had seen
the Phoenix Gang. They had left the chambers to go out into space. Their first mission was on a ratio of two thousand to one. That is to say that
they went on a mission with a round trip time, to them, of two years, but an Earth-local time of four thousand years. Of course, the whole idea
of a round trip didn't really mean anything anymore. To come back to a place four thousand years later is just as good as never coming back. And
the Phoenix Gang aged in the process. They were living life in slow motion - relative to Earth - while I was hopping through time totally devoid
of any motion at all.........
But that was the decision that I had made. At least I had had a choice in the matter. Some others hadn't.
I turned around and walked back to the chamber room. It was time to go back under ... into the future.
As I approached the door some very strange emotions were rushing through me. New ones, I think, because I couldn't identify them, or
even classify them in any way. Perhaps they were part of some process the body, or the mind, goes through as it prepares to die? The hormonal
ace up the sleeve ... some new application of neurotransmitters... whatever. All I knew was that I was approaching a feeling of finality that
I had never even had an inkling of before. I was going to experience not only the end of a process, but the end of ALL processes.
I pushed the door open and looked, once again, into the waiting room. Occupying the desk this time was Susan. As I looked at her I felt
sadness sweep past the other emotions. She was one of the people in our group who had really had no choice ... the product of two past group
members who had been left many hops before.
Her parents, Sarah and Armand, had both been interesting and fun people. They were born
about two million Earth-years apart, though they were still, obviously, the same species. Armand was older, in terms of birthdates, and had met
Sarah some eight million Earth-years after her birth. They both felt that the chance meeting, over the whole expanse of time, was more than that.
It was fate. Armand was, biologically, about 31 years old, while Sarah was, biologically, about 34. They got married and decided to stay in the group.
In fact, Sarah, the mother, had gone through several hops while she was pregnant with Susan.
By the time that Susan was born, some six
hundred thousand Earth-years after the conception, there was just barely a viable social exterior environment to go travel in. So, Susan's parents
decided to take one more hop with her, to see if something better was to be had. At the next stop her father didn't make it out. This happened every
so often. People do die taking the trip. There is something about bugs in certain physiologies... Anyway, Sarah pretty much freaked out when she awoke
and heard the news about Armand. She immediately had herself put down for the long trip.
The long trip was when you went under and left
instructions not to be woken up until just before The Last Moment of Time. Right before the universe collapsed back in on itself you would be woken
up to see it ALL end. The chambers had built up considerably over the millennia and there were quite a few people on the long trip. Sarah would
certainly not be alone for The End. So, Susan was left with no connections to anything in the world, except for the group. And with the group
I scanned over the waiting room and saw that there were two others, Jack and Tom, sitting around. Jack was waiting to go back
under while Tom had just come out. The two of them did quite a bit of traveling together. They would try to meet each other, in person, at least
every ninety or a hundred million Earth-years, exchanging notes when they not in sync. They were enjoying a small game of chess.
I walked in,
everyone looking up as the door shut, loudly, behind me. That door has served as the one real constant through all these years. I waved hello and
approached Susan. She smiled as I walked over. She had a beautiful smile that felt warm, but with that hint of melancholy behind it. She looked to be
about the same biological age as me, now.
I stopped to speak to her for a little while. It was mostly small talk, mutual compliments...
I told her that I wanted to speak with the chess mavens and that I'd be back after. She said that she wasn't going anywhere, and laughed lightly.
I went over to Jack and Tom and screamed a loud greeting. We all hugged and took in each other. [It was strange. Even though we were hopping
through billions of Earth-years, biologically we were only really experiencing a few years. But still, there was some sort of feeling that it
had always been a long time since one was last seen. Maybe the mind was trying to align the horizons that it had to work with, since we had all
experienced rapid aging of our friends, back in the days of human life outside. That was when this was for recreation, and not necessity!]
I looked over the board quickly. It was pretty sad. Neither of them had ever been any good at the game, but they really loved playing.
I forced a smile-like look onto my face.
They sat back down to their game and went on to make excruciating moves and annoying analyses
over and over. I couldn't really bear to watch, but they loved it. Rushing to Oblivion through mediocrity. I sighed.
We spoke for a few
minutes, but they really didn't have much to say. Jack was going back under. He had been out for three months and had spent the time mostly just
hanging around the complex watching historical scenes, playing games... Not that there was that much else to do anymore. He said that he was going
back down for five million years. He just didn't see any point to coming up sooner.
His conversation took on a decidedly dark tone,
but when I pressed him with some questions he refused to go any further. He would make some stupid joke and try to redirect the conversation.
Jack was, sure enough, a nice guy, but I never liked that type too much. For some reason, I had always been bothered by their vacantness, their
lack of ... I don't know. And here I was, stuck with them for eternity.
But why did they bother me so much? After all, what have I done
with my life so far? Why was I seven billion four hundred and twenty thousand years removed from any possible interaction with the world of
human life? Every so often I would ask myself this question. Here I was, running fast forward through time ... to what end? How did I ever get
Everything really started around the beginning of the third millennium. We were experiencing a boom, economically and
technologically. As with the punctuated equilibria of evolutionary systems, we experienced a serious phase change in the structure of human society
I had been part of a project investigating suspended animation - technology that was crucial to any further endeavors in
space. The costs involved in sending a self-contained society out into space were far too great, both economically and psychologically, so the
only way that we were ever going to get a team into deep space would be to slow down their biological clocks. Well, it was either to slow down
their biological clocks or to extend their life spans. The former approach ended up being much more reasonable, and there was something very
strange, and very interesting, about the idea.
As the project progressed, there became a need for human volunteers. The initial periods
for testing were ever so slight, a tenth of a second, two seconds... Everything went fine. But as people were being kept down for longer periods,
say three weeks, a subtle side effect began to make itself known. There was something interesting, to some people, about hopping through time.
It was nothing like sleep, there being no dreams at all ... just an imperceptible instant. To just close your eyes one moment and have the next
moment be weeks later was a strangely interesting feeling. Being part of the research, I was one of the first to experience this.
My first long test was three and a half weeks. Before that I had gone down for a day or two... nothing spectacular, but three and a half
weeks was different. I noticed some changes in my friends and things just felt different. On the next test I was down for 3 months, and the
effect was profound. People seemed to split into distinct groups based on their reactions to this effect. Some liked it, some disliked it,
some were scared of it... It was a control issue, for almost everyone, but where they placed the source of control seemed to determine how
they viewed the experience.
I loved it! And was the most frequent research subject at the lab. The personal side effect, at the time,
was exhilarating. I had basically managed to slow the aging process in me, dramatically. In the first ten Earth-years after I started going under
suspended animation, I, biologically, experienced only nine months of aging.
There were two profound effects that I noticed. The first
was that I was losing my connections to people in the world. It was hard to maintain relationships with very little communication. This caused a
certain withdrawal from society, in general. The second effect, however, was truly unique. I was able to see the fast motion development of life!
It was a totally different perspective than I, or any other human, had ever had before. Between these two effects was a tradeoff, and a precarious
truce. How each person dealt with these circumstances was, as I have said, different, and there was a good deal one could tell about a personality,
using only the view towards suspended animation.
Most people had assumed, before it became a workable and affordable process, that
suspended animation was a technology that would only have uses; that it would be for sending teams on long missions, saving dying people, ...
but they had overlooked the fact that it had a recreational side. Hopping through time was an experience that was, potentially; exhilarating, risky,
dramatic, mind expanding,...
I do have to admit, though, that the economic aspects of suspended animation ended up doing more to drive the
post-invention development than anything else. The lab had hired an interesting fellow to help market the project, which we had all assumed meant
dealing with governments and large companies - those who could afford pieces of distant space travel - but, instead, he went to Wall Street.
He was going to sell the experience as an investment package.
Everyone knew that money, compounding any real rate of return, would
eventually grow to a massive size (in surplus terms), if one only had the patience to not take anything out of it. But we all have to live, and
we need this, or that, every once in a while, and there are unexpected expenses... Well, all of this could be avoided by setting one's investment
and then going under suspended animation for some period of time. An investment hop. The length would be based on assumptions about the various
economic developments and could be dynamically overseen. When one awoke, if all went well, he would have a nice bundle of funds and would then be
able to live out the rest of his life as he saw fit. Not a bad deal; set your finances, close your eyes, and the next moment you experience will
be as a wealthy person! All one had to give up were most of the relationships he had developed, but even that could be taken care of if one went
on a "charter" trip. That is, he went with a whole group of people ...
The investment strategy was extremely successful, and
helped bring the cost of going under suspended animation to a very affordable level, which was a bonanza for the thrill seekers, like our group.
In fact, I don't know if our group could have even survived, otherwise.
Our group had been born very early in the development of the
technology. I was really the first, along with a couple of other people from the original lab. It was little more than a friendly competition,
to start with. We had thought up a new measure of age that took into account the time spent under suspended animation. This really grew out of
the way that our ages were being treated by society. The first birthday that I had, after the testing had started, brought the problem to the fore.
We were celebrating my having aged a full year, but I had been under for more than nine months since my last birthday, so I was only three months
older, biologically. As we were joking about this at the party, we devised a scheme for measuring "life-time" and started keeping score
at the lab.
As all competitions serve to maximize the component being used for measurement, so did ours. We started a list of the oldest
people at the lab, which after not that long, in our terms, turned into the oldest people in the world. This got some press and attracted more
In the beginning, it was really a great time. The group was an interesting collection of people, and we all used to go out on
field trips around the world, and eventually the solar system, every so often. It was not that we timed our periods under, but that we set dates
for trips and meetings, and people would just make sure that they were out then.
And the group was a dynamic being. It grew quickly in the
beginning, with people from every generation coming in. There were varying lengths of Earth-time that people would spend with us, and The Wall
served as our main identification point; our "home". This was where the current list of ages was kept and included little biographies
of each person, describing whatever there was to say about the person, though mostly it was a list of hops and dates. And people would drop out,
deciding that they wanted to live the rest of their biological years in some environment they had found, or they would meet something outside of
the group... Then high ratio space travel appeared. This pulled a large percentage of the group away, since the effect was essentially the same,
that of stretching one's personal time over the fabric of "universal" time.
Anyway, a great deal has happened since my last
time down. Man had put up a valiant effort, but eventually he got run over by evolution. At first there were challenges from hybrid forms, and
then a massive reorganization occurred. I can't even begin to describe the higher organisms. I mean, they had senses that man could never
comprehend, in much the same way that I have senses that my individual cells could never understand. There were traces of man left throughout
the universe, but his existence was reduced to traveling from special station to special station, and these were rapidly disappearing. Besides,
they were more like the wildlife preserves we used to have on Earth, with other entities watching man live...
Man really didn't have
anything left to do. He had research that had to be done for the maintenance of man's share of universal entropy, but he was not working for the
universe. His basic existence was sustained by others... those watching. There was no more poetry to write, no more math to create/discover...
Anything that man could find, had already been found. There was no more art to create. All emotions could be called upon with the trivial
application of a machine that was invented a long time ago...
This was the world that I now inhabited. There was really nowhere to go,
except to the End. It was the only distinguished point of time left, and there was really nothing to be gained by living in this time.
I could have lived out my life with some people from the group, but there just didn't seem to be any purpose to it. Other animals lived out
meaningless lives without any problem, but only because they didn't have access to meaning. For me, either give me meaning, or give me a
special point of time.
And that was it. I walked back to my personal chamber, to go under for the long trip to Oblivion. I would have
only a few moments left in my life, after I went under, but they would be the last moments of time!
As I lay in the tube, waiting to
go under, I reminisced about my life and thought, "The Grateful Dead had been right, it certainly has been a long, strange trip to here."
I never imagined, when I had started time hopping, that I would end up in anything like this. But hopping ten months was so exciting that I had
to try two years, which was even more exciting. So I had to go for ten years, fifty years, a thousand years, five million years... It kept getting
better ... life grew more and more interesting ... But I couldn't get myself to stay in any single environment. Normal life had gotten too slow
for me. I had to see if the next stop would be even better yet. It was beckoning me forward. ........... Until I went one hop too far and finally
realized where I had really been intending to go, the whole time .... on this trip ... to The End of All Things.
I could hear the words
running through my mind,
"I was only going to live one life, anyway. So what does it matter how far, over the life of the universe,
I stretch it out? There were other pursuits, and personalities, that would have led me to, essentially, the same social environment. At least now
I am participating in something that can never be told to anybody, ... will only be known to a select few, .... the only distinguished point of
time accessible to life in this universe. If I had it to do all over again, would I change things? Well, I guess the Last Moment of Time is
something that only needs to be experienced once, but I would certainly aim for another pursuit like this. In a replayed life I think that I
might travel to the edge of the universe, instead, ... although ... I guess that's really the same thing!
I must ... just be .......
Interactions of dreams and reality, via hallucinogens.
I have never been any good at taking tests. In fact, I've never handled any sort of time pressure well, which has led me to a life of utter procrastination. Just put everything on hold. Don't handle that situation this week, put it off until next week, maybe it will just disappear... But it never does, and every so often life becomes miserable as processes get resolved one way or another, only to have a new pile begin amassing...
Well, the biggest hurdle of my life was now firmly planted in my path, and there was no way to get around it. To continue living meant to confront this. It was my final test, and my final chance. I had failed it twice before, and three strikes were all that we were allowed.
I had to pass this time. If not, and I feared that that was going to be the case, my entire life would have to be totally rearranged; I would have to start all over again. I knew that there was no way that I would be able to handle that. It was just too much. Any and all of the work that I had done over the past six years would be rendered worthless, and the worst event to befall a true procrastinator is that of the effort that was finally put into something ending up having been useless. I would have almost preferred, at this point, to just skip the test, thereby at least relieving myself of the worry over passing or not. Yes, I know that this sounds truly idiotic and
nonsensical, but that was how I felt. There was really nothing that I could do about it.
I had almost totally lost control of my mind. The thought of the test, and related fears, seemed to pop up and take over my conscious no less frequently than every twenty seconds. If I tried to concentrate, or even just think, about anything else, to divert my attention in any way, within twenty seconds I would find myself dwelling on the test, feeling full of tension and worry. I had no real independent conscious left. I guess I was even less than human in this way.
This seems to be where my personality has always failed me the most. If the choice had been mine,
I would not have thought like this, but I couldn't help myself. Were it up to me, I would recognize that the worst might well happen, so there's no sense wasting energy worrying about it. I might as well just give it my best shot and work with the future as it develops. But, unfortunately, that was not my personality.
So, it's not at all surprising that I was thinking about the test when the doorbell rang. It startled me so much that I found myself jumping out of the chair. My whole body was as tense as it had ever been and I felt as if I would explode any second. "Who the hell could be coming over now? Everybody knows how much I need this time to be alone, to simmer in my own private hell..."
I snapped the door open only to be confronted with a face I hadn't seen in years. It was Brian, an old friend of mine from my heavy drug days. The last time I was with Brian we were tripping on something that was supposed to have been acid. IT WAS NOT, and it was most definitely not a good trip. In fact, it was so bad that I never even had the desire to trip after that.
Brian had brought a friend with him. He introduced himself as Ofer, and had the look of a veteran drug player. You know the type, they can do any drug at all and never have a bad time. Brian was very much like this. He was always able to understand that he was under the influence of a drug, and that it would eventually pass. That last trip that we had been on had not fazed him one bit, "It's not acid, it's not what we had expected, and that's how it goes... On to the next thing." Not my kind of thinking.
Anyway, they came in and we sat down around the coffee table. Brian pulled out a joint and lit it up. Ofer carefully placed a little bronze vial of liquid on the table. I nodded acknowledgment. Brian offered me a hit from his joint, but I explained that I had a major exam the next day and that I really needed to focus for one more day. Ofer blurted out, in a heavy accent, "NO... you do not need to focus. You have done everything that will have been done. There is nothing left to do. Anything that can be squeezed into the last day will probably be worthless. What you need to do is relax. I mean, REALLY relax. I have got, right here,
[as he picked up the vial] the finest LSD that has ever been manufactured. This is food directly from the gods, guaranteed to solve any problem..."
"That's nice, but the god food will have to wait, besides, I tell you, I was never a good tripster. It's almost guaranteed to magnify any worries or problems that I may currently have. I know myself that well."
"No man... you just haven't had the right experience yet."
"Thanks, anyway, but I just can't."
They hung around for about a half an hour. They had both dosed while they were there, placing a couple of drops of the liquid onto bread, then rolling it into balls and eating it. I was really intrigued, it had been so long since I had been in a scene like that... I watched them chewing the bread up and swallowing it. I could see myself doing that, just skipping the whole test, tripping out... I realized that the only time when I wasn't worried about the test was while I was thinking about tripping, and I actually DID give it some serious thought. But even that only lasted for a couple of minutes before the old worries came back, and strong!
Anyway, Brian and Ofer left and I was right back where I had been before they came. I had been nervous while they were over and couldn't wait for them to leave, but I then realized that their visit had actually been a tiny oasis in the middle of a huge desert ... and that rest was now done. I began to feel extremely nervous.
The hours passed like years. It was the most interminable wait that I have ever gone through. That's what hell must be, being assigned a terrible fate, but not knowing when it will come to be...?
I was sooo happy when it was finally close to the time that I should be in bed. I had a feeling that I wasn't going to get to sleep, but at least the phase change could now take place (i.e. I was now in the getting-to-sleep phase, which had a seamless passage to the actual sleep phase). I walked into the bedroom and flopped myself down onto the bed.
By some strange event, I fell asleep immediately. [It would have been a real shocker if I had been aware of it!] I began to dream, and it was different from the start ... much more intense than the
dreams I'd been having for years, just run-of-the-mill subconscious sitcoms ... This was the way I used to dream when I was doing drugs. I recognized this feeling and realized that I was dreaming. This was certainly the first lucid dream that I'd had since the drugs. So, I decided to do something good.
I looked around and noticed that the dream was taking place in my bedroom. I got up and walked out to the living room. As I got past the door I saw that Brian and Ofer were there, sitting around the coffee table. I was really happy to see them.
As I approached them, I kept looking around, amazed that I was in a dream. The feeling was exhilarating. I looked down at the floor and could see every detail, every crack, every speck of dirt. It was a very sharp dream, visually, and I thought the same thought that I used to have with every other lucid dream, "What is the difference between this and 'reality'?"
I sat down and just smiled at Brian. Then Ofer asked me if I wanted to dose now. All of a sudden, I remembered that I had the test as soon as I woke up. I told him that I couldn't. He said that I must. I didn't answer for a couple of seconds and he said, "Look, you're in a dream right now ..... Right?!! [I nodded] So nothing bad could possibly happen. This is the experience that you've always needed. Tripping with a net."
All of a sudden I was lying in my bed, on my back, with the little vial of liquid acid from this afternoon. I held the vial over my chest and just looked at it, thinking, "I really should do this. After all, I am dreaming..."
As I was thinking about this, the vial just fell and spilled all over my chest. "Hoooly SHit" I felt my stomach just drop out from under me. I remembered that feeling, too. I was going to trip something furious. The visuals started immediately. The whole room began to get "mushy" and then the perceptual changes started building up. The walls were pulsating, the colors were dancing, the past disappeared and I found myself firmly embedded in the moment. I grabbed the sides of the bed and just held on. Within a microsecond I was immersed in some strange electric scene. I felt something dropping towards me at an incredible
velocity. It was so close.
At this point, something happened to me. I had been dreaming about tripping so furiously that when I thought the object hit me, in the dream, it triggered a real flashback in my brain. I awoke, tripping for real, in my bedroom, where the dream had been taking place. I looked around and saw the same scene that I had seen before, in the dream. The walls were pulsating, there were "mushy" looks to things, colors were jumping from object to object ... Time was gone. I was definitely tripping. I thought that I was still in my lucid dream. In fact, that's what saved me. I thought, "Well, I'm protected by this dream state. There's really nothing to worry about." So I just let my mind drift, and felt very much at ease. The more at ease I got, the better the trip was. I could even notice a relationship between my feeling and the dancing of the colors. Every so often I would look down at my right arm, but as the veins would start to dance and crawl out of my forearm, and the hand would start to appear claw-like, I had to look away. It was too strange.
I decided that I had to go outside and check things out. [In reality, it was 3:20am, and the streets were totally deserted, except for a few homeless people. The scene was dreamlike by itself.] As I passed the homeless people, they just looked at me and went back to what they were doing. Walking down the street, I kept thinking, "Hey, this is my dream. Everything can't be closed!" I walked a few more steps and saw a couple run into some place a block away. I ran down there. Well, it felt like I was running, but I was tripping so hard that it might have just been a regular walk. I opened the door and walked in.
There were only about six people inside and they didn't really react when I walked in. I sat down and ordered a shot of vodka, which was sitting in front of me, seemingly, before I even asked for it. I downed it and ordered another. This time there was an empty glass sitting in front of me. I didn't remember drinking it. Then I saw the vodka rising out of the shot glass into my mouth, like some shining, glassy cobra. But I couldn't tell if I was remembering what happened, or imagining it, or watching what was happening
then. I started to get worried about the trip. I was losing my place in time, again. That was always the start of the problems, that I would start to feel that I was getting swept away by time, that I just wanted the moment to stop, because I couldn't know what the next moment would mean for me... would have meant for me...
I started to feel closed in by time, so I got up and started walking out of the bar. The bartender came running after me and demanded some money. His face was grotesque and his words came out like some kind of insane babble, although I did understand him. I reached into my pocket, but there was nothing there. Then I remembered, "Oh yeah, I'm dreaming. This is just a dream." So I just threw my hands up and said, "Well, I guess I'll catch you in the next dream." Then I turned around and continued out.
All of a sudden I was on the ground screaming, the bartender sitting on me. Time speeded up and the next scene I was aware of was as the cops were taking me into the station. I looked up at it and the building was jumping into the air. I wondered how the hell I had gotten there, and then, the next thing I knew, I was in a room in a mental hospital, strapped down to a bed.
The trip started to go really bad. The visuals were harassing, the straps on my arms and legs started turning into lizards of some sort, and I felt so nervous that my whole body was shaking. Everyone who looked at me had some devious plan .... I couldn't really tell.
All I wanted to do was wake up. I thought, "This dream has been interesting, but I'm pretty much done with it." But I could not seem to wake up. I tried everything. I shook, I pulled at the lizard straps, I screamed... A nurse came into the room to give me a sedative. I told him that that was a good way to get out of this situation. I don't think he understood, but just nodded as he gave me the injection.
I could see the visuals start to calm down, the colors were fading, and I relaxed, "This dream is finally coming to an end." I felt so safe, now. I just drifted off.
I was now really asleep, and started dreaming.
This time I dreamt that it was the next day and that I was just waking up. I got up,
grabbed some breakfast, and walked to school, feeling lighter than air. There was something strange about the day, but I did feel good. I was unaware that I was dreaming and thought that it was real life.
I took my exam, passed with flying colors, and before I could recall any of the details, I was sitting at that bar down the street, talking to the bartender. I told him about the dream, how I had been in the bar, the cops picked me up... He thought it was pretty funny. We had a really nice conversation, and laughed and joked... After a few drinks, which went by quite quickly, I told him that I had to go. I put some money up on the bar, but he said that I'd been through enough, already, and gave it back to me. I said thanks and headed out. As I left he said that he felt guilty and was sorry about having sat on me.
I went back to my apartment and dropped myself onto my bed. I could feel myself falling asleep. I was just so happy that I'd lived through that bad dream, passed my test, ........ my eyes closed, the scene turned black, and then it started filling up with amazingly strange images which moved and contorted until I recognized that I was now looking at myself, lying in my bed. I knew that I was now dreaming, although, I still thought that the day had actually happened.
At this point, I was extremely lucid in this dream, but something still felt very wrong. I didn't really care for another lucid dream. This is why I had stopped them, before. They tend to get too intense, and are really draining. I was also worried about having another bad dream. The last one had really scared me, and I didn't want any bad thoughts to pop into my mind.
Just as I thought of that, I saw the vial of liquid acid hanging over me. I just stared at it and saw that it was starting to spill down on me. But from this little vial, gallons of acid spilled out. I was awash in liquid acid, and it was scary. I would be tripping forever.
As before, the visuals started coming on rapidly, but this time they just kept getting stronger and stronger. This was becoming the most intense trip that I had ever been on, and I didn't feel comfortable.
Once again, the dream became so intense, the mind mimicking this trip, that it
set off another actual flashback. I awoke, for real, .... tripping, for real.
I found myself back in the hospital room. I was tripping so intensely... I looked at my legs and saw that, not only were the straps lizards, but my legs were turning into snakes and there was nothing that I could do to stop it. Convinced that I was still in the lucid dream, I thought, "I can't believe I'm dreaming about this hospital again. This dream is totally out of control ... I have to get out ... I have to get out of this dream. I can't take this anymore; my mind is coming apart."
I yelled for someone, over and over, until finally an orderly came by. I tried to hold myself together enough to convince him that I was okay. But it was kind of tough to judge behavior whilst tripping oh so strongly.
As I tried to quietly explain something to the orderly, I could see the whole universe pushing up behind him. There was a feeling of great speed and pressure, we were in some galactic tornado. But I think I sounded pretty calm and relaxed.
Somehow I managed to persuade him that I was well enough to go get a doctor. I knew that I could convince anyone that I was still capable of logical thought, if only I could speak to him. And then I could get out of here. That was all I needed. I thought, "I have clearly lost control of this dream, but I can force it to change by jumping out of a window, or something................... ........ .. ........"
I saw the open window and fixed my gaze on it. "I could easily get to it," I thought, "This whole dream is now reduced to this one last moment."
I listened to the doctor for about 5 seconds more, and then said to myself, "This is it. Carpe Diem." I sprang up and ran as fast as
I could, jumping headfirst out of the window. I was finally free.
Sensory representation and computation in the brain.
"...hmmm...plus two hundred and fifteen point...seven two... times twenty three point four..." my hands shuttled the beads back and forth on the abacus "...minus one oh three point five..." I had done this so many times that I did not even have to look at the device anymore. My fingers knew the positions they had to get to as soon as I looked at the numbers. I could even carry on choppy conversations while I was calculating. It's funny, but I knew quite a few people who could do the same, and no one seemed to have ever thought it was a little strange. But just a quick look at our office, while everyone was busy calculating, would have told you that something was happening.
The office was arranged by skill level, computational skill. In the front were all the new kids who were just learning the use of the abacus. They were kept very busy figuring the long, mundane problems. There was always enough work around to keep them constantly calculating. It was generally low grade information they were working on, so mistakes were not fatal; it was not time critical, so speed was not essential, and it was endless, so they could get intensive training on the machine.
The next group, past the novices, were the people who were proficient on the abacus, itself. They could calculate quite rapidly and with great precision, so they were given more sensitive work, that demanded more rigor in the process. This group was not very homogenous. It really encompassed several skill levels and there were different machines being used by different people. The newer people used the same machines they had used when they were novices, but they were much more proficient with them and could handle more sensitive and complex calculations. The more advanced people used machines that had much smaller individual pieces, and more of them. They could handle larger calculations, and were usually faster. Some of these people could compute so fast that their hands were just blurs, at times. But they were not the best.
There was one last group, at the end of the room. These people had become so fluent at the "language" of the abacus that they didn't have to use them anymore! They usually kept the last machine they used on their desk, but they did all of their calculations in their heads. Everyone was a little different, but most of them, while they were doing their calculations, would just stare up at the ceiling, bobbing their heads, or close their eyes and rock back and forth in their chairs.
I was in the middle group, but towards the end. I used one of the smaller machines, and was finding that I didn't need it all the time. Usually, I would not even look at it, although my hands and my fingers were always moving. I saw the abacus in my mind's eye, and it was clear enough that I could even count the beads in that picture.
You build up a different type of memory as you do this work. I guess it's like a chess player who can remember boards very easily, even sequences of boards. He just has a different way of organizing the information and a side effect of the reorganization is that things get conceptually grouped together, hence easier to remember. Mnemonics at work!
Anyway, I worked very hard and, after a year in the second group, I was almost fluent with the abacus. This meant that, even though I still, physically, moved my fingers,
I could see the entire calculation going on in my head. I no longer needed any physical abacus, since I was only moving my fingers to adjust an imaginary abacus that I pictured on the desk in front of me. What is even more interesting is that I could use machines of varying size, in my head, and the largest would not even fit into my mind's eye image!! But I could still use it to calculate, as long as my arm could, physically, reach the beads on the imaginary machine that I pictured in front of me. My physical movement still had an effect on the picture I could hold in my mind's eye. So, if the machine in my mind was too large,
pieces of it would get fuzzy, but if I moved my fingers and arm to correctly adjust an imaginary machine sitting in front of me, then the picture would get clearer.
There were two hurdles left between me and total fluency on the abacus. The first was that I needed to disconnect the mental images and manipulations from any physical movement. I was still 'moving my lips while I read'. The second jump would be to then get rid of the mental picture, totally, and just do the calculations out of sight. Then I would be totally fluent, a native speaker.
I started hanging out with Seth, one of the fluent people. In fact, Seth was the best computer in the office. He could perform huge computations with seemingly little effort and was even able to perform operations that no one else could. I told him flat out, from the beginning, that I was interested in knowing how he did his work. I was not using him for that, but I wanted him to know that I was not disinterested in the topic.
We used to speak about processes quite a bit. Seth had quite an interest in psychology and was more than happy to share some of his secrets with me. But, only in exchange for me sharing other thoughts with him. He wanted to know what happened when I applied the lessons... exactly what happened when I applied the lessons. I had to go through my entire thought process with him and break it down into the most minute intervals that I could, telling him the entire environment of mind that I had as the process was proceeding. He would give me a lesson and then we would have usage and debriefing.
He was constantly quizzing me about other issues at the same time. He said that he wanted to see if the evolution of my computational powers had any side effects on my thinking, in general. I had never really considered the idea that learning anything like this skill on the abacus could have any impact on how I thought about unrelated issues. I mean, learning another method for doing arithmetic does not seem as if it should impinge on how I feel about politics or art?!?
A good deal of what we worked on first was that of tightening and speeding up my finger movements. What I had to do was imagine an abacus with tiny components sitting in front of me. This would make the required movements tighter and faster, so that my finger movements got reduced to small, quick jumps. Whenever I was calculating rapidly my hand looked like it was just shaking, although it was really shifting tiny beads around on this imaginary abacus.
I worked on this process for about six months, making the imaginary machine components smaller and smaller. I practiced very hard and even did computations outside of work. By the end, I was using an imaginary abacus whose components were so small that they would be extremely difficult to see if the abacus were actually sitting on the desk. A nice side effect of this is that the smaller the components of the machine, the larger the computational ability of the device, since more fits into the same space. I was doing huge calculations very quickly.
Then Seth told me to stop working on large problems and restrict myself, for a week, to elementary calculations that required only the simplest machine. I was to do these calculations imagining the smallest abacus possible sitting on the desk in front of me. I didn't quite understand why he thought that I should do
this, but he insisted that it was extremely important. I had almost gotten "addicted" to doing large calculations and found it very hard to stop them, but if that's what Seth wanted me to do then I would certainly give it a try. I restricted myself to the most trivial problems, and pictured a tiny, tiny abacus sitting on the desk in front of me.
It was excruciatingly painful, from the perspective of concentration, for the first hour. I thought that time had stopped. My mind became very distracted and started wandering. I started wondering about what the hell I was doing... this was too much work for a stupid skill... what would I do later... Then it happened!
As I was doing a calculation, my mind started to drift and the picture of the abacus, in my mind, started to fade. As I've always done when the picture started to fade, I moved my fingers to adjust the beads on the tiny imaginary abacus in front of me. But this abacus was so small that my fingers just quivered ever so slightly and the picture in my mind sharpened right back up. Then my mind would drift again, the fingers would quiver and the picture would sharpen... Somehow, the physical movement of my fingers stopped relating to the imaginary machine in front of me, and any finger movement, at all, would sharpen the mental picture!
I did a few more small calculations using only my mental picture of an abacus and just randomly shaking my fingers when I needed to sharpen the picture. It worked like a charm, so I started using larger mental machines. Still, I had only to tremble my fingers to sharpen the mental picture. By the end of the first day, I had dispensed with all accompanying physical movements, except for the slightest quiver every once in a while.
Seth and I met after work and I told him about the progress that I had made. He said that it happened much more quickly than he thought it would, but he cautioned me to be careful when I make adjustments in the process. This time was okay, but small changes could have profound effects. Seth said that I should work for the rest of the week on larger problems with as little finger quivering as possible.
I was so excited about my progress that I couldn't even wait for work the next day. I started doing a computation as soon as I got home. It's hard to explain but I enjoyed doing the calculations. I mean, it felt like a game that I was just about to win and I was excited at the prospect of my own ability. As the night, and the computation, wore on I figured out how to totally stop the physical movements. If I even thought about moving my fingers the mental picture would sharpen up. I was truly over the first hurdle, I could do the entire calculation in my mind!
We had one task left and that was to get rid of the mental picture that I was doing the computations on. This was the hardest part. It was that point in learning a language when one finally stops thinking in his native language, translating pieces in his conscious, and begins thinking in the new language. The point at which communication in the new language becomes a non-conscious event.
I did some of the largest, longest computations for the rest of the week and had absolutely no physical movement at all. I was even able to stop thinking about moving my fingers and could just think "sharpen" and the image would perk up. The change in my
technique was noticeable enough for the office to move me to the last group. Even though I was still not truly fluent, my calculations were totally mental and that was all that was really required.
The move, itself, was a very quiet affair. I came in one morning and my nameplate and old machine were sitting on a desk in the back, right next to Seth. As I walked in everyone shook my hand and congratulated me. I made my way back to my new desk and sat down. Seth told me that I had done a good job and then leaned over and said that there was some special training necessary for the final step. He said that getting a working mental image was easy; getting rid of it was not! But he knew a few special tricks that would take care of this problem. I should meet him at his place and we would do it that night.
I asked him what he meant by saying that we would do it "that night". Was it only going to take one night to finish up the hardest part of the training? He said that I would see. I knew Seth well enough to know that I was not going to find out anymore so I just said, "Okay," and set about to the computations for the day. But I could feel the excitement building up inside me and by the end of the day I was about to explode.
As soon as work was done I told Seth that I couldn't wait any longer and wanted to get started already. Seth said that he understood my eagerness and that now was as good a time as any. We walked back to his place, speaking along the way. Seth told me why he had had me do those simple calculations in the beginning of the week. He said that by making the total imaginary abacus small enough, the meaning of the finger movement would get lost, although the effect would not. This is how the sharpening of the mental image became associated with any finger movement and not just coherent movements. It was interesting that he had known the whole process that my mind would go through.
We arrived at Seth's place and he led me into a room devoid of any furniture, except for a beautiful leather chair in the middle of the room and a large easel standing in front of it. There were at least eight or nine paintings on the easel, one behind the other. The painting on top was beautiful. It was some sort of flowing scene, with a strange mix of colors splashed over the canvas. It grabbed my attention as soon as I saw it.
Seth noticed this and asked me what I thought of the painting. I told him that it was interesting, for sure, but there was something strange about it. I didn't feel like I was looking at a painting. Seth smiled and shook his head, "All abacus people like this painting, and only a few know why." He told me to sit down and relax and he went off to get something.
I sat down in the leather chair and stared at the painting. If I looked at it for more than a few seconds, I noticed that my point of concentration would start to drift back to my mind's eye, where I saw a copy of the painting. Then I would notice that I wasn't concentrating on the painting, but on a representation of it in my mind, and my concentration would snap back to the real painting. It was a weird feeling and I couldn't take my eyes off of it.
I was looking deep into my mind's picture of the painting when Seth came back in. I had not even noticed that he had returned until he was standing between me and the real
picture, with a big smile on his face. He said that the training was not going to be bad at all.
He had brought another picture in with him, but I couldn't see it. He placed it on the easel, backwards, and handed me a few sheets of paper. I looked down at them and saw that they were some regular problem sheets from work. The sizes and complexities looked to be something for someone deep in the second group. These were large summations that needed to be carried out one summand at a time, but each summand was easily computable from the previous ones, so once the problem was set up, I would only need to calculate a subtotal and do a few simple routines each time to get the next summand. This was "hands off, eyes off" work. Seth said that he wanted me to perform the calculations, but staring at the picture the whole time.
I looked down at the paper and checked out the first problem. It was easy to get set up and the numbers looked as though they might not end up that large. The summation involved positive and negative terms, and it looked as though they were going to cancel each other out. So the machine that I constructed in my mind was not that big. Of course, if the process demanded it I could always just scale up my inner machine.
As soon as the process was started in my mind, when I was just manipulating the mental abacus, I looked up. Seth had turned the picture around. It was a very nice painting, though not as intense as the other one had been. I continued on the calculations and stared at the picture. There was, again, a strange interaction with the picture, in that my visual concentration moved towards my mind's eye, but something new happened this time. As the mental picture of the painting got stronger, the mental picture of my abacus got weaker, AND... I started to hear a little clicking noise that I "knew" represented the clicking of the abacus beads.
This effect got stronger, with the abacus seeming to be moved out of my inner visual arena and into my inner audio arena. As long as I heard the clicking in my mind, I "knew" that I was working on the abacus, calculating the problem. It was not long before I could no longer see the abacus in my mind. I could only see the mental image of the painting and hear the mental clicking of the imaginary beads. After fifteen minutes I was done calculating the sum. The clicking in my mind stopped and the abacus, with the result, appeared sharply in my inner vision.
I moved on to the next problem and got it set up in my mind. This required the internal visual abacus, but, as soon as it started the computations it disappeared and left only the clicking sound. I closed my eyes for few moments, just listening to the clicking of the computation. It was actually pleasurable, I didn't feel as though I was concentrating hard, but as if I was daydreaming. This was going to alter my work days incredibly!
When I looked up, Seth had changed the paintings. I stared at this new painting, still enjoying the clicking in the background. As I looked at it, though, the clicking started to change. It seemed that the rhythm of the clicking was related to where on the painting I was looking. I got nervous for a moment and thought that I was not doing the computation any more, but as soon as I thought of the problem I could start to hear the clicking of the computations
return to a more normal rhythm, and the imaginary visual abacus would slowly begin to appear. Then I knew that I was still computing so I moved my concentration back to the painting and experimented with the rhythms of the canvas.
The night went on like this. Every new problem was accompanied by a new picture which had a different effect on the way I represented the computations in my brain ... in my mind. Some of the pictures had simple, straightforward effects, while others were more complex and subtle, requiring long computations to 'see' most of the effects. I met parts of my mind that I would have never even imagined existed. It was one of the most interesting nights of my life.
The last problem came around 2:30 in the morning. By then, I had picked up so many different ways of representing the computations in my mind: as a visual abacus, as audible clicking, in different interacting visual color schemes... But there was always something represented in the conscious, taking up space. The last picture turned out to be a sort of universal volume control. It allowed me to control the volume of any of the conscious representations.
I was able, from practice with the earlier paintings, to control which conscious representation I used for the computation, but now the volume of that representation was directly connected to the part of the painting that I was staring at. The painting was really just a control plate. This was all interesting, but the real genius of the painting was that the volume got lower as my point of concentration moved away from the center, and the volume was zero a couple of inches before my eyes got to the edge of the canvas. Whichever conscious representation was being used would disappear as I moved my point of sight to the edge of the painting. That was IT!
I looked to the edge of the painting and the representation in my mind disappeared completely. Then I looked further over, off of the painting, and nothing happened. I was now looking at a blank piece of the wall and my mind was empty. I thought that I had stopped computing, but as soon as that thought popped up the representation came back very strong. It was still working! I looked back at the center of the painting, aware of the mental representation, and then moved my eyes back off of the painting. Again, the volume of the representation subsided as I got away from the center, and disappeared as my eyes left the painting. I still felt that I was not doing anything, which then prompted the return of the conscious representation, so I returned to the painting to repeat the whole process. That last problem that I was working on was extremely long and hard and I went through the above process several times before finally deciding to keep my eyes off of the painting and just see what happens.
Seth had been watching me quietly, but when I turned to him and told him what was happening he just started asking me questions about the current state of politics. I was caught off guard and just gave him some simple answers. They were pretty innocuous, but Seth took offense to one of the points and got very mad. He started yelling at me, calling my point idiotic, saying that I should know better... The conversation quickly grew into a heated debate, and Seth kept cutting me off every time I tried to speak.
I got so mad that.... ALL OF A SUDDEN an abacus appeared in
my mind's eye with the result of the computation on it!
I stopped and furrowed my brow, trying to "get a better look" at my mental abacus. Seth asked, "What's the answer?"
I told him what I saw and he nodded his head and smiled, "So, you can carry on an emotional debate without missing any of the computation. I'd say that's as fluent as anyone could ever hope to be!" A smile started forming on my face. Seth grabbed me in a big bear hug, "Welcome to the upper echelon. You know, most of the people in our group, at the office, do not have this ability. They are very good, but they still require some inner sense to maintain their calculations. It's almost impossible to get rid of that, except by using something like these pictures. And even then, getting just the right order is of utmost importance."
I was now totally fluent, able to compute silently, with no conscious effort. I asked Seth, "But how did you ever find out about this?" I couldn't believe that it had been this easy.
Seth said, "Well, there used to be this guy, Peter, at the office, who was the best computer that I have ever seen. He was a natural, and seemed to have the ability from the first moment he looked at an abacus. I think that, had the abacus not existed, Peter would have invented it. He would have had to, it was his language. So, these are paintings of his. They don't seem to do much for people who haven't trained on an abacus, but for us, they have these weird effects. I don't know why, although that's always been the question at the forefront of my thinking. Ever since the first time I looked at these paintings, I've never been able to forget them. For whatever reason, the brain performs some strange operations in order to 'analyze' the pictures and the side
effects of these processes are what you just experienced."
I walked home very slowly, still trying to digest and understand what just happened. Seth had helped me build a computational device in my brain that I could consciously program and would run totally in the background. I had formed new involuntary neuronal machinery that was, however, voluntarily set. Neural Sculpture......
Then the ideas started rushing into my mind. What other computational/logical devices could we sculpt in the neuronal landscape? How could we tie them together and build great new machines of the mind? As I got to my front door I stopped and turned around to look at the whole cityscape before me. So many brains, so many structures. I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my life.
It's interesting how those accomplishments which man exults in, during good times, can turn their characters so rapidly in bad times. Great leaps in technology and formal knowledge had taken man on a great rocket slide of upward progress, but, as a recession hit the US it all turned around quickly, and violently. What had bothered The People a little bit, before, now scared them; and what had scared them, now terrified them. They could not take the pressure of trying to make sense out of a life that continually placed them at less and less distinguished points in the world around them.
The US public had been wrestling with the greatest technological change of any nation and were beginning to show the strain. They were grappling with a great diversity of new ideas, but one that really hit a nerve was that of human cloning. People were being forced to look at themselves as they truly are, as organisms participating in the life of the Earth, and nothing more. This was a direct assault on the classical and religious concepts of self and Man's feelings of dominance and control of the environment around Him. This was all to be added to the isolation and dimunition that was levied on people via the mechanical and computer revolutions. It is very hard for someone to come to grips with the fact that an "inanimate" object, something that is inorganic even, can perform his "skill" better than he could ever hope to. It was a crazy race, to stay ahead of the artificial workers, and more and more professions were being infringed upon.
At first, when the machines were taking over menial jobs, there was little sympathy for those displaced. They had been at the bottom of the social, and professional, ladder, anyway, and had no real allies among those higher up. So they were forced to move up on the skill ladder in order to stay one step ahead of these machines. But the machines were not prepared to halt their siege at the menial tasks, and the computers started making inroads into areas which were, previously, thought to be closed off to machines forever.
It is quite funny, actually, because the lowest forms of labor, in terms of the depth and breadth of skills required, had been grappling with this problem for over two hundred years, since the start of the industrial revolution, and had learned to cope with what they perceived to be an inevitable event. It was the people at the higher levels, those who performed "intellectual" tasks and had never imagined that their jobs would be under assault, who really freaked when the machines caught up to them. Many of these people were at the outer fringes of their abilities, to begin with, and were terrified at the prospect of having to learn more complicated skills in order to survive and provide for their families in the manners they had grown accustomed to.
But this was all an academic problem, as the number of jobs was growing and the world's economies were chugging along. There were more than enough positions for all the people and all of the machines, which were now part of the permanent work force - although they were never counted in the employment reports, showing up only in the regular productivity numbers.
But then the world economy slowed down and all of these "academic" debates turned quite vicious.
The mass of people became confused about their places in the social scale. Companies certainly much preferred to employ machines that had already been bought and paid for - with the assumption of certain working lives - than people, who could just go and shop for another job. Okay, so the companies did not really care that there were no other jobs around for the people...
And still the cloning debate raged on, with the technology getting closer and closer to fruition. But now, the whole idea of human cloning just angered the masses. How could anybody even discuss populating the planet with ever newer methods when it did not seem to be able to support the people who were already there; people who had appeared via "natural" methods? The big joke was that in vitro fertilization was now considered a "natural" method!
Anyway, there was a great feeling that science had spun wildly out of control and needed the oversight of The People to straighten it back out. After all, The People knew what was best for them, so they should be in charge of deciding those issues which had large impacts on their daily lives. If the scientists were not going to act "responsibly", then The People were going to have to take control and show them how to do things.
In a fit of religious, democratic frenzy, a great deal of the scientific world was democratized. It was decided that these positions were so integral to the daily life of the average American that The People needed to maintain control of these resources, lest the professionals continue abusing their power. A lot of shit happened, and, among other specialties, Neurosurgeon became an elected position.
In the beginning, the neurosurgical elections did not cause any major problems. The local hospitals would just run their Neurosurgical staff slates for the elections - everyone had to be connected with one of these slates, or the public wouldn't generally vote for them - and that was it. There did not seem to be much dissent with this method, since the movement into managed care had been doing just that for a long time before, anyway. There was, to be sure, some competition left as the different hospitals, or health care organizations, tried to steal away positions from each other, but that was pretty well self-contained infighting that was not apparent to much of the general public.
But then came 'The Great Campaigner'. He was to become a legend among all of the electable fields, for he could convince a sizable percentage of any population about anything. He was just the most charming and affable person to ever have walked the face of the Earth. Everybody who met him, loved him. He was aware that he didn't need to know anything about neurosurgery, because it was a field that was far too complex for the public to understand. He was, after all, a genius campaigner and could just double talk his way around anything. In all fairness, 'The Great Campaigner' was a very able person, in many respects, and could learn a good amount of neurosurgery as he went along, but his real talent was for campaigning.
A great deal of his genius at campaigning stemmed from, in these modern times, the fact that he was a genius at getting himself free publicity, so that campaigning did not cost him any real money. Somehow, he turned up somewhere
in the first few pages of the papers every day, either because of some controversial statement he had made, or some good deed that he alleged himself to have done. No one could figure him out, but all gave him the benefit of the doubt, because he was such an affable character.
When the neurosurgery establishment tried to go after him, he turned the whole debate around, and had them defending themselves every day. He would just grab some sad cases, that had been handled by whomever had said something against him that day, and parade them to the news people as examples of the ineptness of the current slate of neurosurgeons, even though these cases were, generally, in as good a shape as they could have ever hoped for. This campaigning technique scared the establishment and they became less willing to operate on people who had little chance of turning out 'normal'. 'The Great Campaigner' did not care. He had one overriding goal, beyond neurosurgery, beyond the welfare of the People, beyond anything even remotely social; he wanted to win whatever race he was in!
And whenever he could get his hands on a real case of the doctors making a mistake, which was bound to happen every so often, no matter how good the doctor was, he would exploit it like no one had ever before seen exploitation. He made the most competent neurosurgeons look like bumbling, bloated, self-important fools. The People, if they knew what was good for Them, would vote for him.
He especially liked to give highly "technical" talks to groups of blue collar workers and welfare recipients and retirees, not really saying anything, but convincing them that he was saying something important. The logic that he offered would have offended even Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, but the public ate it right up. Persuasive ability is, of course, the repository of power in any democratic system; and persuasion is rarely constrained by logic or sensibility.
It took the hospitals and the regular neurosurgeons a little while, but eventually they figured out that they could win positions without having any of the skills normally associated with the positions. They needed only to learn how to campaign. Elected positions came down to a question of charm and persuasive ability. Persuasive charm was the capital of election. The management of resources, in democratized fields, was assigned based on the amount of persuasive charm one could develop in the same way that the management of resources, in a capitalist economy, was assigned based on the amount of capital one could control. In both cases, notions of efficiency and effectiveness never really entered the equation, and how one came to be in control of persuasive charm (whether it was naturally occurring or bought and paid for), or capital, was never really considered.
As this became apparent, others decided that they could get enough persuasive charm to be neurosurgeons, and the elections grew to become truly competitive events. A great deal of the resources that used to go to the neurosurgery, itself, had to be diverted to the campaigns. The neurosurgeons also found themselves having to spend more and more of their time involved with public relations and campaigning. The actual amount of neurosurgery that was being practiced dropped off, and the level of competence of the neurosurgeons declined dramatically.
While one might think that this decline would have helped promote the more competent neurosurgeons, it did not. The public was worked up to a frenzy, with statistical analyses being offered by every side to support the view that they were better, and giving the amazingly complicated, and usually incorrect, reasons why. For every statistician that came out to support one view, another came out to rebut it. The contorted mass of figures that were flying around was enough to confuse anyone.
There also developed fringe groups who wanted their people to occupy the positions. Someone would claim that he had a new method for doing the surgery; that the rest of the establishment was blocking, for fear of losing their own positions. Conspiracy theories, and other ridiculous notions, thrived.
As the races became more negative, candidates found that they were defending themselves, as people. It was no longer a case of winning or losing a position as a neurosurgeon, but maintaining one's integrity in the eyes of the public. Public relations and advertising firms saw the potential cash in these bitter races, and a whole industry popped up around the election campaigns. The amount of capital wasted on the whole process was beyond obscene!
Eventually, a new 'Great Campaigner', Mildred Drylan, emerged, who revolutionized the Neurosurgeon races. She understood that persuasion came in positive and negative forms, and as such, would hire someone to run against her, aligning himself with her regular opposition. But this "candidate" would offend everyone, alienate all groups, make a total ass of himself ... all the while taking the side of Mildred's opponents, agreeing with everything they said, quoting them, praising them, and instilling in the public a connection between himself and her opponents. He would make sure that people knew that he thought that a vote for any of Mildred's opponents was a vote for him, and that people who voted that way did so because he told them to. He would, thus, drive votes away from Mildred's opponents, persuading negatively, and into Mildred's hands, the only person this obnoxious candidate did not agree with. Negative persuasion was, after all, much stronger than positive, and could bypass any sense of logic much more easily. Needless to say, this new tactic did nothing to help the dissemination of information through campaigning.
But, the People never knew what hit them, and, still drunk with feelings of empowerment, felt that they were getting the best possible results. It was truly sad ... to have to listen to people say, "Well, if you don't like how it's being done, then exercise your power and vote.... because, if you don't vote, then you can't complain."
Political installation method ... a step beyond democracy
"...goddddammit... I can't believe that moron thinks that he's gonna get that piece of shit legislation through.... What the hell is he thinking??..."
Lucy picked up the coffee cup beside her and took a few quick sips. Then she composed herself and forced a smile onto her face. Undoubtedly, there would be a major press conference soon, and she would have to work hard to stay afloat. After all, physical movements, gestures, expressions, every word one uttered ... it was all being scored ... always.
She was only playing the game because there was no other way to really move up in this administration. It was all about the games, and the scores. Oh, how those scores determined so much.
Lucy had thought that the tests and games had ended when she accepted her diploma from law school and passed the bar. But those tests had been ... nothing.
Sure enough, the phone started ringing and her beeper was going off. She picked up the phone, "Hello..?".
It was her boss, Manuel, "Lucy, the shit is going to hit the fan. That prick, Senator Tom Revere, has called the committee vote on his bill and it passed. It's gonna hit the floor too quickly. We've got to lay our ideas out before they get lost in the shuffle. We need a good base view expressed. Are you going to be able to handle it?"
Just as Manuel had finished asking that question, the answer popped into Lucy's mind, in its entirety. It was so obvious. She realized the fatal error that the Senator from Georgia had made and could exploit it quite handily. "Manny, don't worry about it, I'll take care of the situation."
Manuel let out a sigh of relief, "Whew ... Good. The press conference starts in ... uh ... twenty seven minutes now."
"Don't worry. I know exactly what to do." With that she hung the phone up and started jotting down the major talking points she wanted to address. That would be enough, Lucy would remember whatever else she needed. Then she called some aides and told them what to do ... who to call, what to offer, ... what to threaten.
Within 25 minutes the orders were all out and the whole situation looked good. Lucy got up, straightened her suit, and walked a few feet to the podium in the adjoining room.
There was no one in this room, just 5 video monitors arranged in a semicircle in front of the podium. There were also a few video cameras there, which were closely following Lucy's delivery, as if it were a real press conference. On each of the monitors was any of several "reporters" asking questions. Some of these questions were coming from real people, actually watching the press conference, while others were generated from the database. There was really no way to tell the difference, since that is what happens at a normal press conference, anyway.
Lucy didn't like the press conferences, but at least their scores were not weighted any more heavily than absolutely necessary, given the system they had to work within. Lucy didn't really like this legislation, either, but she had been assigned this specific bill to get through, and that could not be changed.
Back in the selection stage she had opted for a different bill, scoring very highly on its selection, and for contributing to its creation. The legislation had performed well in the pre-enactment test, but then Lucy was assigned this inferior bill by her bosses. She had to prove that she could skillfully align herself with whatever was needed.
The press conference lasted a little under twenty minutes, and went quite well, with the questioning following, essentially, the lines that Lucy had planned on. The aides had all done their jobs, as assigned, and everything was pretty much sewn up. So Lucy returned to her desk and picked up the phone to call Senator Tom Revere of Georgia.
How are you doing? ... Yeah, I think we have to sit down and discuss where you're going with this legislation. ... Right ... Right ...... Good, because I think that we both want to maximize our positions, here. ... Okay ... I'll speak to you tomorrow morning. Bye."
Senator Revere slammed the phone down and kicked his desk hard enough to hurt himself. He had been working so long on this bill, and now he knew that he wasn't going to get everything that he needed. Lucy was just too good. She had already wrapped up a good deal of the uncommitted votes and was about to leave him hanging in the wind as soon as the next morning arrived. He thought to himself, "God, I wish I had Lucy on my team."
He tried to think of ways that he could escape the whole situation in good shape, but he knew that he had just jumped the gun on pushing his legislation through the committee. He should have waited until after the ENTRA bill had made its way through Congress. Too much power was tied up by that piece of legislation and the vote on his bill was just putting unnecessary pressure on a lot of people. A fatal mistake... all of the political capital that he had painstakingly built up over the past six months was gone in the space of one hour... and for nothing!
Tom Revere started to think about how stupid this whole thing was. He didn't like the bill that he was pushing, and thought that it was unfair that he got stuck with it. He started wondering if he really wanted to run for the Senate for a party that would force him to play some stupid game like this. How had he ever gotten involved with this to begin with? He could have just gone with the other party... he knew enough money people to interest anyone in letting him run. As all of these thoughts went through his head, he knew that he was not going to score well, and could feel his chances of a Senate seat slipping away... He could always go for a less responsible position.
The weeks went by and the game moved on for all. The rankings came out every three days, and Senator Revere saw his position slip with each new set of figures. He knew that he was not going to make it, and now, he was just waiting for the call.
The call came at 12:23pm. Tom Revere was to report to "Simulation Planning" immediately. This was finally it. A seat in the Senate, with this party, was not in the cards for him. He just didn't have the skills that they required. He had scored poorly on choosing legislation, lobbying legislation, arguing points, and most other measures, and every bad score had punched another hole in his concept of himself as the ultimate negotiator.
Tom walked up to the planning office and met with Jerry Lawrence, the Director of Simulations and Strategy. Jerry explained to Tom that he could not run for the Senate, but if he wanted to try for some other position, there would be no problem. Incensed, Tom blurted out, "Look, I came here to be a Senator and I have no interest in any other position. So, either you guys see what you can work out, or I'll go to my friend, Mark Katz, at the Washington Post, and tell him about all of the shit that's going on here. I think that The People will be very interested to hear about how Democracy is being warped and twisted by this administration."
"You do what you have to, Tom, but I must warn you, your scores on any of the public debates that you engaged in, during the simulations, were very low. You are just not very adept at that skill."
"We'll see who's adept and who's not." Tom Revere stormed out of the office, grabbed his few things, and went home. He called up the Washington Post to speak with his old college buddy, Mark Katz. He would expose all the gory details and the administration would fall. They couldn't be allowed to force people to play these stupid games before they run for office.
It offended the general intelligence.
"Hi, can I speak to Mark Katz? Tell him Tom Revere is calling."
"Hey, Tom. Long time ... how's it going?"
"Not well ... Listen, I've got a story for you that's going to blow the lid off of this administration. Are you interested?"
"You've got my attention."
"You need to look into how this party is choosing its candidates and staffers. They're using idiotic games to decide who will be running this country, ... who will be making major decisions."
"What do you mean? Tennis, weird sex games... what?"
"Let's meet for drinks and I'll tell you the whole story. Say, four o'clock at Nat's?"
"I'll see you there."
Tom hung up the phone and felt satisfied with himself for the first time in many months. He had not had even one day, while playing the simulations, when he felt as though he had made a decision nearly as good as this one.
Tom arrived at Nat's about a half an hour early. He was too jumpy to sit around his apartment, and had been walking all over the city, trying to kill time until he could deliver his information package to his friend, Mark Katz, and the American public, hopefully. Tom Revere would not be made a fool of.
The door swung open at exactly four, and Mark walked in.
"What's happening, Tom? Long time.."
"Yeah, it certainly has been. Yep, Yep, ....."
"So, what've you got for me? What's the game?"
"Well, I'll tell you, I've been with this administration for over 3 years, working mostly staff positions, bill riding..."
"And I decided that I wanted to move over to the elected arena... I wanted to run for something. Actually, I wanted to run for Senator."
"Listen, I knew a good amount of the money side of things, and I had access to a large amount of legal money. I could have easily won the Senate seat, against all but the most entrenched incumbent. But I did not even have to go that far; both of our Senate seats are going to be open and the field will be fairly weak. I would have won easily. Really."
"So, what's the problem?"
"The problem is that the party is being, essentially, run by President Calla. She controls every aspect of the party, including who gets appointed for which positions and who gets to run for which seats. I had to speak to her before I could get any party support for a candidacy. So, I went to see her about seven months ago."
"Where do the games come in?"
"I'm getting to that. Don't worry, your time is being well spent, here. ... So ... so, there's a set of games that the party keeps constantly running. These are, allegedly, simulations of different jobs. If someone wants to move to a new job they make him play the game, simulating that new job for a while, to see how he performs."
"Huh! That's pretty interesting." "NO!! You don't understand. Don't you see??! Don't you see what they're doing with the power? Don't you see that they are taking the power away from anyone who has any interest in the running of the government?"
"I don't know. It sounds pretty reasonable to me."
"Of course it does. You're an idiot! I don't know why I even wasted my time calling you. You're as stupid now as you were in school."
Tom got up and ran off, kicking the bar on the way out. Tom Revere was a tragic character, in the classic sense. The transient characteristics of his personality were always more interesting than the constant ones. His subconscious suffered from a serious flaw in its selection process.
Mark was too interested
in this game idea to even think any more about Tom. He had to speak to someone, and find out the whole story. What was really going on?
He went back to his office, sat at his desk and thought about it for a while. This was the first really new political idea he had heard about in his lifetime. "Could we be on the verge of a fundamental transformation in politics? What's the real story, here?"
Mark started looking through his book of contacts, seeing who he could try. He looked down the list for the administration until he came to:
Director of Strategy and Planning
Mark remembered meeting Jerry at a couple of parties. They had had a few short conversations, but that was it. "But," Mark thought, "this has to be someone who would know the whole story."
He told his secretary to get Jerry Lawrence on the phone.
"Hi, Jerry, this is Mark Katz, Washington Post."
"How are you doing, Mark?"
"Fine, ... uhm ... I have a couple of questions for you regarding the administration's policy towards hiring and filling positions."
"Ha ... ha ... I knew that Tom wouldn't make a good Senator, and he keeps trying to prove me right. Mr. Revere is one of the worst negotiators that I have ever known. I was expecting your call, but not this quickly."
"What do you mean?"
"Tom had threatened that he was going to speak to you. Like I said, negotiation is not his game. Anyway, I spoke with President Calla a little while ago and told her that you might be calling. She said that she thought it was time for the public to be made aware of what we are doing and she would like to do an interview with you."
"How about right now?"
"That's fine with me."
"Come on over to the White House."
Mark was a little nervous about the interview. It was his first interview with a sitting President, and he had no idea what the interview was going to be about. He tried to think of questions as he was driving over, but he couldn't really come up with anything. Well, he'd find out everything when he got there.
Jerry Lawrence met Mark at the entrance and took him back to the Oval Office to meet President Calla.
"Mark Katz? How are you doing?"
"Fine, Madam President."
"I hear that you have some interest in the tests that we give in our administration."
"Actually, I heard that the testing is party-wide."
"Yes, it is. But only as a matter of policy for the administration. Look, there is really nothing strange about the tests that our administration gives. We force everyone to play a simulation of a job before taking the actual responsibilities. You wouldn't think of letting someone try to land a 747 without first gaining experience on a simulator, would you."
"I don't think so."
"Of course not. Because there are certain fundamental skills which are required in order to perform that difficult task effectively, and they can be tested for, fairly well, on a simulator. Realistic simulations did not always exist for that job, and people used to have to learn the hard way. Many made it, but many did not. Is that a risk that we can afford to take with the ship of state every so many years, if an alternative exists?"
"No. Not if an alternative exists.... I guess not..."
"Do you think that there is anyone who believes that the positions of government require no specific skills, outside of a biological age? After all, the government manages a larger set of resources than any private business. Is it possible that a job that large could be accomplished, ably, by anyone over
35 years old? Or, in more contemporary terms, by anyone over 35 years old with the ability to raise a certain amount of money? What is the connection between age and ability to perform in public positions, anyway??"
"Madam President, I have no idea."
"I don't know, either, especially given the fact that many of the greatest creations of mankind have been by young people. Age has little, if anything, to do with competence. But competence is the least of what we should be striving for.
So, our administration just likes to make sure that each of our appointees has a set of skills commensurate with the set of skills required to perform the appointed tasks.
Not only does our administration administer these tests to all of our appointees, but also to all prospective candidates for the party. We make each of them play games which require sets of skills commensurate with the position he, or she, is vying for. A commensurate sense is something that the People should be demanding, not something that we should be explaining. This is the real commén. sense that the People should look for in their public officials. Common sense is of little help within the professional depths. Commén. sense is required for that."
"What do you mean, exactly?"
"As politics becomes more professional, in that it requires a larger set of specific skills, at 'higher levels of proficiency', it cannot be left up to the people to decide. They have no real basis for making any intelligent decision along those lines.
It is very much like the 'school choice' ideas floating around. The responsibility of assessing and rating the individual schools is placed on those parents who are, generally, ill equipped to make those judgments. I mean, 'school choice' is supposed to help the inner city poor, but those are exactly the parents with very little formal education, themselves. How would they be able to tell which schools are better? They have no real basis to make a judgment.
Let me put it this way, I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, but I know very little about art, or art instruction. So, if my child were to want to go to art school, there would be no way that I could know which art school is better. I might think that the way they teach at one art school is terrible, but that might be the best way to learn art. How would I know? Art is not my field, so, my vote, with respect to ranking art schools is, basically, worthless.
In the same manner, most of the voting population are not legislators, so their votes ranking legislators are, basically, worthless. How many voters can describe, in even the roughest terms, any of the legislation that their representatives took active roles in? So what are they basing their assessments (i.e. votes) on? Can it really be connected, in any way, to the abilities of the representatives, with respect to their actual jobs of legislating? ... Hardly. But the assessment of the level of commensurate skills should be fundamental in politics, as it is in almost every other aspect of society. As the political landscape gets more complex, the need to assess commensurate skill levels becomes more fundamental, hence our use of the simulations.
But, the games that are used for these commensurate skill tests don't HAVE to be simulations. They could be any abstract games which require sets of skills commensurate with the sets of skills required to ably perform the jobs. It would be really nice if a game like chess, or basketball, could do this, but it seems that the computer simulations are the only games that we know of, at this point, which have the required characteristics. That's why we use them.
This whole process was only made possible by the latest advances in math and technology which gave us the ability to put together fairly
realistic simulations of each task. Before now, the only way to run accurate simulations of a government position was on a smaller scale of government. Being a Governor was very much like being a President. Being a state Senator was very much like being a national Senator. ....
And we have seen these simulations played out many times, already. Many Presidents have performed very much as they did while they had been Governors. But using smaller scales of government for the simulations means that the "candidates" have to have effects on real life as they are testing their abilities at a type of position. And they are restricted to the contexts of their times. And only a small number of people can participate in these simulations at any given time. The computer simulations take care of these shortcomings, and, in our experience, the actual performances have remained quite close to the simulation scores."
"So, you believe that these computer simulations are accurate predictors of performance?"
"Well, nothing is certain, and someone performing best, in a simulation, does not mean that that person will perform best in reality, too. However, if someone is outstanding in the simulation, the chances are pretty good that he, or she, will at least perform well in reality. On the other hand, if someone bombs out in a simulation, the chances are pretty good that he will bomb out in reality, too."
"But, democracy does seem to work. Why the change?"
"The question is not whether democracy works, but whether democracy works well, and works well for us. We don't know how much better our government would function if it were populated with people who were highly skilled at the positions they held, rather than good campaigners and money people. I'm willing to bet that the increases in efficiency and effectiveness would be of an order of magnitude, at least.
I'm also not so sure that it's Democracy that you are really referring to.
People, for many years, have confused the robustness of the framework of the US government with the democratic method of installing people in positions within that framework. The structure of the US government is quite stable, and idiot proof, but that is handled at the level of the government, itself. Our democratic method of installing people in the positions which make up that government is not idiot proof, as is well known. The diffusion of power is also handled at the level of the government, and not in the democratic method of filling the government. It is really our governmental framework that works, not our democratic method of installation. Do you see?"
"Well... yes, I guess that... Yes, I see."
"So, what is all the voting good for? Could it really keep a madman out of office? It didn't seem to work too well in pre-Nazi Germany, and many self-proclaimed democratists claim that it did not work in Algeria, even though the Muslims were projected to win some seventy percent of the popular vote; a greater landslide than any modern democratic nation has seen. But all of the modern democratic governments agreed that democracy was wrong, .... for Algeria!! So, do the modern democracies feel that the vote should really mean something, or, is the vote, at this point, only of use in placating The People by tricking them into believing that they are having some say in how their country is actually being managed? ......
Look, democracy basically says, 'Take a bunch of people and ask them questions about things that they don't know, and, even though each individual answer will be senseless within a global context, all together they will add up to a sensible answer, because an algorithm that is greedy, at the local level, must generate a globally efficient system!!' It is well known that maximizing local efficiency does not
necessarily imply global efficiency. For smaller, less advanced societies, this does not pose a great problem, but as the complexity of a society increases, the differences between local and global extrema grow quickly.
Democracy also suffers from a couple of other fundamental, structural problems.
The first is that the main fitness test of democracy is the percentage of votes one can accumulate, and someone very skilled at getting votes is exactly what evolves in a democracy. Democracies don't generate the best legislators, or the best policy people, or the best negotiators; only the best campaigners. One must ask, what is the relationship between the set of skills required to be a great campaigner for the Senate and the set of skills required to be a great Senator?"
"I don't know. Is there any connection?"
"There's no connection, at all. We might as well have candidates play one-on-one basketball to decide who gets the office, instead of wasting all that time and money on campaigning. Our politicians spend more than half of their time, in office, campaigning, ... How would that go over in any other industry? ...... Not well, but that is a feature of a modern democracy.
On the other hand, the simulations' main fitness tests are for the sets of skills required to execute the offices effectively. If we want to generate good legislators, then our tests of fitness - the games one plays to become a legislator - must have something to do with the specific skills required to be a good legislator. Democracy fails in this respect.
Democracy is also burdened by the fact that only a very limited number of people can run for any position, without making the whole race so confusing as to be preposterous. But with the simulations, games would be constantly running, for every position, and anyone who wanted to try to fill a position could just enter the appropriate game, at any time. This would allow us to select from a much larger pool of candidates than would have ever been possible with an election process.
This enlargement of the pool of candidates would, by itself, propel the standards of excellence in government much higher. It is also much fairer, in that only the skills required are being tested for. It would not matter what class anyone came from, what gender, what race, ... A truly egalitarian method.
One must keep in mind that the notion of democracy, in the sense that all citizens of a certain age are afforded an equal vote, is a fairly recent one, and, as it is not well equipped to handle more primitive societies, it is equally inappropriate for highly advanced societies. The more modern countries are starting to approach these limits, and will pass them sometime in the late twenty first or twenty second century.
Democracy is certainly NOT the ultimate and final method of installing people in positions of public interest. At some point, we have to start looking into the possibilities for the next system. We need something that is going to benefit society, bring efficiency and competency to government, and attract the best possible people to fill the positions. Democracy does not do this, but the Commén. Sense method will!
What the People need is not the job of deciding who has which specific skills, and to what levels, but access to information regarding the daily, and historical, functioning of the government. They need a voice within the process to raise any objections that might be perceived. That is real power."
"That all sounds reasonable, but what are the problems with this system?"
"As there are weaknesses in every political system, reservoirs of power that can be tapped by people bent on abuse, the system of Commensurate Sense also has its problems. These show up in the development and administration of the games and
simulations. Someone needs to decide what the games will test for, and they must be constantly updated. There must be some sort of oversight committee, and here is where the true power lay.
I believe that we have, however, much of the same problem, in the present system. Here it shows up in the Supreme Court. This is a powerful, independent committee that has to answer to no one. But, I think that the Supreme Court serves as proof that one can construct such a committee and have it act in a reasonable way, over an extended period of time. The Supreme Court appears to have been making better and better interpretations of the constitution over its lifetime, and there is no reason to assume that this could not be copied for the rules committees for the games. Besides, this power over the games is such that it can only be realized through the playing of the games. It is not direct power, which lessens the chance of abuse and reduces the severity of any abuse that does take place."
"So, Madam President, where do things go from here?"
"Well, our party is going to make public all scores, in all games, for the coming elections. These games and scores say more about a candidate than any amount of campaigning and debating, both of which carry information values approaching zero. I mean, we all know that what is said during the campaign bears little relation to what actually happens after the election.
And the campaign debates are the greatest exercises in stupidity that I have ever witnessed. We get to see the potential officeholders placed in a situation that they will never be in, while they're in office. Alone, with access to no information other than what they can carry in their heads, with no one to advise them, making decisions and statements for public consumption in less than one minute. Where is there any skill that is required to perform the actual duties of the office? Our games, at least, relate fairly closely to the requirements of the actual jobs!"
"But, Madam President, is there something that you are striving towards, or are these simulations the end of the line? Is Commén. Sense it?"
"No. I do have a vision of a future political system. I like to call it The Fluid Body Politic. In this political system voting would be totally replaced by the simulations, or some other commensurate skill tests. These tests, or simulations, would be running all of the time and open to anyone who cared to try. There would be free instruction to help people become familiar with the responsibilities of any position so that we could get politicians from a pool of ALL the people, and not just the weird campaign and money types. There also needs to be a couple of changes to the framework of the government.
First of all, there would be no fixed length terms. All terms of office would be defined as probability distributions. A Senate term would not be fixed at six years, but would be, say, a normal distribution with a mean of six years, and a standard deviation of one or two years. Of course, the specific numbers, and the types of distributions, are open to debate.
When someone first gets into office, a lottery is drawn from the distribution of that particular office, which determines the length of that specific term. This information is not public. In fact, no one can know about it. A great deal of the skewing of power resides in the 'death date' of an officeholder. If no one knows how long someone will be in office, including that person, then it cannot figure into negotiations. And negotiations should hinge on what is being negotiated, not who is negotiating. So, in The Fluid Body Politic, no politician would know how much longer he, or she, would be in office.
When someone does leave an office, the replacement would be whomever is the best performer, at that time,
in the simulation, or game, for that position. Since the simulations are always running, there is a constant supply of people to fill positions, and no need for messy, expensive elections...
The second change is something that we touched on, already. The People would have a voice within the process, to raise objections to contemporary policy. The key to this voice would be the ability for the People to vote anyone OUT of office. Since replacements would be easy to come by - just scoop up the current leader in the simulation for that position - there could be much more latitude in getting rid of sitting politicians. The ability to throw someone OUT of office is much more powerful than the ability to put someone IN. After all, the major problems with a bad politician occur while he is IN office. That ejection power is the power that the public really needs.
In The Fluid Body Politic, there is also a pleasant side effect of the simulation competitions running constantly. Since there would always be more than a few people simulating any position, if the real officeholder runs into a nasty problem there would always be people to consult, either directly or by requesting that the problem be modeled in their simulations. This is a benefit that should not be underestimated.
I think that these three changes would lift the functioning of government to a higher level, and we would all benefit immensely.
Mark, I'd like to thank you for this interview, although you didn't really get to ask too many questions. I'll make it up to you next time. After you print the story, I will give you an exclusive interview to answer any questions that you might have."
"Thank you very much for your time, Madam President. It was very enlightening."
As the next major election approached, President Calla opened up the games to anyone who wanted to participate. If someone wanted to be a candidate with the President's party, she just had to enter the appropriate game and see how she scored. The party would provide training for each position, free, so that everyone actually had the opportunity to try out for some position. The winners would be the "party sanctioned" primary candidates.....
Some of the early simulation "winners" were quite interesting. A kid from the South Side of Chicago turned in phenomenal performances, while an older lady living in retirement in Florida blew away the rest of the competition for a Florida seat in the Senate.
Some retired "professional politicians" also took part in the simulations, to help give the public some sort of baseline for assessing the scores. Some of them did well, but less than 30% of them finished in the top 15% of any of their simulations. That was the government that we had had ... that people had gotten so attached to.
It was pretty ironic, because democracy ended up working, precisely because it did not work! As the people saw the scoring of the party's candidates, they started demanding that all the other candidates in a race also participate in the simulations, so that they could compare. Simulations became an unofficial part of campaigning, and a large percentage of votes came to be based on the scores, even though most of the voters did not understand what the scores meant!
Epilogue The Antidote to the Peter Principle
Eventually, the simulations became ingrained into the American political structure, but it was not until some time after President Calla's death that The Fluid Body Politic was finally instituted, in toto. As it turns out, she had been correct. The efficiency and effectiveness of the political structure improved by, according to almost everyone, at least an order of magnitude. The US started running huge surpluses, even after insuring free, and excellent, educations for all,
and health insurance and welfare and everything else that a decent government feels obligated by.
Meanwhile, businesses saw that the simulations were extremely efficient in assessing peoples' abilities to fill positions, and they adopted that approach in full force. The improvement in business efficiency was not as pronounced as it had been in government - after all government had been SO inefficient to start with - but it was there.
So, all through society, the old way of doing things, of making someone prove competence at some lower job before being promoted to one with a new skill set requirement, was finished. Now, people proved their skills for the actual jobs they were going to assume. In the army, someone became a general, not because s/he was a good colonel, but because s/he demonstrated the ability to be a good general! After all, someone may be a great colonel, and may be maximizing her potential at exactly that scale, but by the old method would have been promoted past her level of greatest competence. This, The Peter Principle, was now a thing of the past. The Competence Principle was the new way.
This new Competence Principle carried with it an interesting side effect. It turns out that a great deal of abuse of power had resulted from people attaining positions for which they lacked the appropriate skills. They would become very insecure, terrified that their incompetence would be discovered and they would lose their jobs and their "stature". The only way that they were able to defend against such an event was by abusing the power that they had, in order to keep subordinates, who might otherwise make public their incompetence, quiet. This abuse tended to extend, also, to anyone who might challenge one of their incompetent, and generally bad, decisions. In addition, it made these people less than willing to hire, and work with, people who actually were competent, for fear that their own failures would be, thus, exposed. The Competence Principle, by simulations, did away with this, and made almost all positions run much more efficiently, and fairly.
Development of open markets for citizenship, and effects.
It became quite clear, in the late twentieth century, that conventional notions of citizenship were to grow untenable in the coming decades. These notions did not scale well and the United States stood as a good example. Any child of a US citizen was automatically eligible to be a US citizen, no matter the country of birth or life. This policy presented little trouble while the general flow of population was INTO the United States, but if those flows were to reverse, the number of US citizens on the Earth could explode to a preposterous size.
Of course, the general view in the US was that that could NEVER happen, even if other countries cloned the US form and brought daily life up to the same standards. No one would ever want to leave the US, even though communication technology made physical presence unnecessary. I mean, who would ever want to move, even if some other country offered lower tax rates... even if friendlier laws were enacted... even if it was a younger country with more opportunity...
And this was but one small example of the problems to be encountered. We have not even begun to examine the dilemmas posed by a general population explosion, which is what a great deal of our technology was oriented towards. Extend the life, provide for all...
So what's the point? The point is that things were going to have to change, anyway. There needed to be a fundamental reassessment of how nationality and government were viewed, what ownership meant... As is often the case, this transition could have been smooth and well-reasoned, but it was not. People had gotten so used to the conventional notions that they even assumed that there was some sort of divinely natural character to our governmental frameworks. Who would have guessed that the Asian Crisis of the late 1990's was the event that would eventually deliver the new concept of nation?
It is not strictly correct to say that that event was the actual cause for later developments in the notion of nation, but it certainly facilitated the emergence of the new concepts by bringing the problems with the old systems down to the level of the individual. As they say, "no pain, no gain". Nothing moves easily at the levels of large scale social organization, and almost never without the impetus of the unreasonable pain unleashed in the death throes of an old system.
The Asian crisis may have started in the financial arena, but it made its way across the spectrum of human endeavor, in expected and unexpected ways. It hit the economic sphere, eliciting little reaction other than a quick shrug of the shoulders. The initial tremors, felt very soon after the event, were much smaller than many had thought, and therefore it was assumed that the further waves, if there would even be any, would also be smaller than originally envisioned. Such is the reasoning of a linear thinker. That they were, in fact, larger, by an order of magnitude, was surprising.
The Asian situation, economically, grew more unstable by the minute. Hardships were being forced onto vast numbers of people, almost all of whom had had nothing to do with the situation, at all. It was the folly of politicians and their friends in business who, for the most part, did not let The People know what types of risks they had actually been taking with the resources of the country. It was as if some distant cousin came over one day and said, "Listen, I took out a huge loan a little while ago. I was going to try to make some money for all of us, so I signed all of your names on it. I'm sorry, but the business didn't work out, so you guys are going to have to pay that off now. They're probably going to take all of your assets some time next week, so you had better find somewhere to go. Also, I bought a bunch of houses and cars for myself, so I won't really see you all around too much... Oh yeah, and do me a favor, don't ever try to contact me again. Here are the loan papers, ciao!"
And the foreign lenders, who also knew the risks,
had chosen not to disseminate the information. That was the funniest, and saddest, part of the whole crisis. Transparency, which was supposed to have existed in the larger financial systems, did not seem to stem the idiocy in any way. But the whole transparency argument suffered, itself, from transparency. I mean, who was the transparency for? Was it for the individual stock holders? I don't think so, since nobody ever really cared very much about that group. I guess it was for the banks and lending institutions. But that makes no sense; a lending body always has as much transparency as it desires. If it doesn't get the information it wants then it just doesn't lend the money! And that is the responsibility that lending organizations have. They are allowed, by society, to conduct financial business, but they have the responsibility to conduct it in a reasonable and prudent manner. If a lending institution cannot adequately judge the risks involved then it should not be in that line of business!
Enough of the sermon, suffice it to say that the global financial structure had some small bugs, which exhibited themselves in the Asian currency crisis and then propagated to other areas. The jump from the economic to the political sphere was abrupt, and when it happened governments changed overnight. Much of Asia was swept away as new political powers emerged. But even these new people were still stuck dealing with the old system.
There was quite a bit of chaos, as all of those economies ground to a halt. The peoples were, basically, abandoned by the West, who had then gone on to try to copy the same formula with Africa. Asia quietly became the world's biggest ghost town. Many of the projects that so much money had been spent on were standing empty. The collapse of the economies meant that even the cost of maintaining the buildings far exceeded any rent that could have been charged, so they just stood dead. One of the jokes that was circulating, to illustrate the situation, was; What do you do with a 100 story office tower in an economy that's growing at .5%?? Needless to say, a dry humor gripped most of the peoples.
And there came to be great flows of population, greater than this region, or the world, had ever seen. People were shuttling around, squatting city-sized areas, trying to find food, shelter, anything. The only country that hung together, relatively speaking, was South Korea. As the other countries had started falling, the lenders became very, VERY nervous. Some of the new governments said that they were not responsible for the debts. The banks had lent money to illegitimate governments - governments which had seized power from the people and kept it by force. The country would not, itself, be held responsible for their actions. The old governments were not legitimate signatories to any international contracts. The contracts were, therefore, invalid.
It does seem strange that, in most societies, trafficking in stolen goods is as illegal as the theft, itself. But this did not apply to governments. A group of people would "steal" a nation and then all of the "legitimate" governments and businesses saw nothing wrong with signing contracts with these illegitimate entities. This is one of the funniest aspects of the United Nations. Governments that would never even consider allowing the people to really vote on anything are, themselves, given a vote. Antidemocratic and illegitimate entities pooled together to form a democratic entity.
Anyway, the lenders started to get very, very, VERY nervous. South Korea was then able to renegotiate most of the terms of their financial agreements, ballooning much of the debt, staving off the final call. This was done on most favorable terms for South Korea and allowed for their survival. Because of this stability, people throughout the region were drawn to the country. But getting in to South Korea proved to be extremely difficult, while staying in was absolutely unheard of.
Then a leak sprang in the dike.
It is true that one man's famine is another man's feast and while a good number of wealthy and middle class Asians desired to flee their countries, others thought that there was great opportunity in the economic wastelands, if only they could find the capital to start. These two massive forces were destined to find each other. South Koreans had something that was in great demand, a place in the stable society there, and people were willing to pay good money for this. But how could this have ever gotten done?
The ingenuity of man is one of the most beautiful creations of nature that money can buy -apologies to Steve Martin- and where there is a dollar to be made, especially a United States Dollar, there can be a way found around even the most seemingly impossible of situations. If citizenship in South Korea was in great demand, then there was going to be a market, one way or another.
It started with a bureaucrat working within the ruling party of South Korea who had close connections to people in other Asian governments. He had grown up in a rather poor section, and knew a number of hard working people who, although they were able, did not seem to be able to break out of their economic level there. They did not have access to any capital, and were constantly living from paycheck to paycheck. If only they could get the money to open a business, they would be able to fulfill their potential. He knew that they desired, more than anything, to make a good life for their children. If they had to leave home to do it, then that was the price that had to be paid. The citizenship trade appealed very much to these people.
But the trade also appealed to others, who saw the possibility of obtaining some surplus money that could be used to send their kids to school, to pull the family out of their situation in that way. The trade had wide appeal and didn't seem to harm anyone involved; a truly symbiotic transaction. There were the makings of a great business, here, for all.
These South Koreans who wanted to embark on their own would "switch" identities with those who wanted to come into South Korea. They would exchange citizenships, for some agreed upon amount. Each would then be a citizen of the other country, and live their lives from there. The South Korean benefited in that he would get a considerable cash sum in exchange for his citizenship. So, he could start some kind of business with the money and try to break out into another economic strata. The other person got entry to South Korea, and what he considered to be a better, more comfortable life.
This was a highly complicated transaction, and it required the forgery and creation of many documents, but once the initial framework was set up, it became quite routine, and grew to a large trade. It was such a successful market that there were whole towns known to be products of these dealings. The people generally liked the idea and considered it to be important. The modern world was demanding more mobility, anyway, and this helped to propel the feeling of a "free" world. Even though this trade was very much known to the local populations, no one spoke about it and the rest of the world seemed to be unaware of it. But that was about to change quite dramatically.
There is always something inherently dangerous about unenforced laws. Selectivity among law is a source of great social leverage, and usually not for the public good. It places society on a point of unstable equilibrium. What happens is that anything that makes someone want to attack someone else might become the cause of great social change. That is to say that anything which may make some person try to enforce these laws could bring on unpredictable consequences, which is what started in Asia and spread to the rest of the world.
It came to be known as the Yin/Yang effect. Asians found the name to be particularly apt, and nicknamed the whole process the Tao.
Xuejun Yin was a local political boss in a remote border village in South Korea. A great deal of citizenship trade came through his village and the local economy came to be based on it. Beyond that, many of the villagers were, themselves, citizens by trade. A young man named Lao Yang was one of these citizen customers. His family was able to get some money together and buy him South Korean citizenship. He was to go to school, make some money, and bring the rest of the family along. But the first person that young Yang met when he got into South Korea was Yin's daughter, Jong. She was quite beautiful and outgoing and could have had any man she wanted, but the two of them fell in love immediately.
Now, Mr. Yin made quite a good bit of money helping out the new citizens, including running legal interference for them, getting them set up in other parts of the country... stuff like that. But he did not like them very much. He felt that they were destroying the country and wished that the trade would end. Needless to say, Mr. Yin had a number of inconsistent thoughts and feelings which were being resolved through the money that he was getting, but the internal pressure was building for him to finally resolve his thoughts to one side or another.
Mr. Yin had spent many sleepless nights, sitting alone in the kitchen, trying to reconcile his feelings. He was, in his own mind, helping to destroy his country, but he was so happy about the money he was making. He could live well, and send his children to the best schools when they needed. Life was better for him than he would have ever expected. So, to pay the price of losing a little bit of sleep seemed small.
But the feelings were getting stronger, and the internal conflict was building faster and faster. Eventually, the problems started invading his everyday life, occupying his mind while he was eating lunch, while he was helping a customer, while he was watching movies! So, when his daughter came to him and said that she had fallen in love with one of the new arrivals, that set off the conflict within Mr. Yin.
Any feelings he had had about the good of the trade disappeared and he could think of nothing but bad ever happening because of these new people. Feelings of hate started swelling up inside him until they boiled over into a rage. Mr. Yin immediately picked up the phone and told the police to go pick up Mr. Yang for being illegally in the country.
The daughter dashed out of the house and ran off to tell her love that he was in danger. They decided that he had to leave, and that he had to leave alone. His chances were much better, on his own, and he would come back and pick her up when he was safe. With that Mr. Yang put together a few things and, while the police were busting in through the front door, he jumped out a window in the back.
He was able to elude the authorities for a long time, and built up a reputation in the process. He actually became a strange cult figure. There were stories of his escapades which made their way around the country. A sighting here, a sighting there. It was the most entertaining program, because it was still spoken about in hushes. All of the people who had gotten into the country by purchasing their citizenship were very quiet, because they didn't want to risk being sent back, themselves. The trade, itself, was even slowed down, which just heightened the tensions.
Finally, a young newspaper started printing stories about Yang, and the whole issue of the citizenship trade. It was now in the public domain and people started talking openly about the whole concept. There was great divisiveness among the population, as a whole, on the issue, although most people were in favor of it ... at least they were in private.
Well, the police finally caught Mr. Yang. It was a rather dramatic moment, with cameras swarming all over; the most widely viewed event in the history of South Korean television, as well as the other Asian countries.
One of South Korea's most brilliant lawyers decided that the citizenship trade was an important issue and he volunteered to defend Mr. Yang. He was quite well known in the region, and could not be summarily tossed aside. He knew that his influence was the only chance that Yang had, since his argument would not have been heard by the people, otherwise. The lawyer had studied the idea carefully and felt that he would have very little problem arguing the point to The People. Then they might have to exercise some of their own social power.
So the case went to trial. People followed every bit of news they could get about what was going on. A small group had formed on the courtroom steps, early on, which grew at an exponential rate. People came in from all over the country to show their feelings about the issue. The demonstrations then started taking place all over the country. It was such a happening that the international press came in to see what was going on. As they reported the gist of the case, the rest of the world was amazed at the idea of buying and selling citizenship.
The case against Lao Yang was not one of philosophical grounding. It was merely a legal issue. Buying one's citizenship from a private party was illegal. The defense, however, was grounded in the reasons for the existence of the trade, and its utility to society. There was also, to be sure, the legal reasoning in the unfairness of selective enforcement of the law.
It eventually came out that the whole national crisis was due to one man's ignorance and abuse of power, but by then the argument had already shifted to a defense of the trade, and, more broadly, to a restructuring of the notion of citizenship to be based on that of an open market.
An open market for citizenship seemed to be a reasonable idea for any free market thinkers. It helped to control, automatically, many of the thorny issues which governments usually wasted huge amounts of money on, and were never intended to handle. It has been long known, in all parts of the world, at every level of society, that government is the most inefficient body with respect to the management of any resources. And the public resources of a country usually dwarf any collection of resources that private business might have gathered. So, we have the most inefficient structures set up to run the greatest amount of resources. It just doesn't make any sense, anymore.
The Asian crisis demonstrated what happens when governments try to set the world prices for their resources, with little concern for any notion of supply and demand. This is a method that cannot, in the long term, work, and only serves to make the whole financial, and hence social, landscape more unstable. The point of citizenship is that final ownership of the bulk of resources that the country owns, MUST rest with The People.
As technology moves on, these resources are, themselves, growing, because the utilities of groups of people, with specific distributions of skills, become greater in the information economy. National wealth is being created. So, as the countries were getting richer, their governments were wasting money faster. There was no reason to ever turn a profit, and the citizens didn't really care too much about a profitable government, because no one ever expected their government to make money. As long as capital was available, everyone was happy. It did not matter that everyone could have been that much richer.
Mr. Yang ended up winning his case, due in equal parts to his lawyer's arguments and the huge crowd that supported him outside the courtroom and around the country. The citizenship trade then became a legitimate market, with most Asian countries participating.
The effects of the citizenship open markets were quite astounding. The markets served to help the peoples involved, since the one country was able to switch a poor citizen for one who put up some capital to get into the country, thereby giving that person
much more reason to help in the development of the economy and the society. When someone puts down $50,000 to come into a country, you can be sure that that person probably does not want to see the government and society he paid for go and waste the resources of the country. Meanwhile, the other country got someone who now had capital and generally wanted to start a business.
The citizenship trade also happened to have profound effects on the internal structures of the societies. If one government decided to institute some draconian law, allowing liberal search and seizure, say, then the country's share price would plummet on the market, as people tried to get out, and demand dried up. This would hit the populace directly and they would be more motivated to do something about what was happening. When you see one of your biggest assets, your stake in the resources of your country, plummet, then you perk up. In the traditional governmental structures, conditions would have had to go so far out of balance for the people to be motivated; it was an inherently unstable situation. So, the trade had a stabilizing effect on human rights, and many other legal and social issues, throughout the region.
There was also the problem of population control, which the citizenship markets handled quite well. A country would have an initial offering, just converting all current citizenship to the new, tradable asset. There would be regular offerings of new citizenships; some for immigrants, some for children of citizens, but they would have to buy these. So, a couple could not just decide to have 12 kids and expect that each of them would immediately control an equal share of citizenship in the country. The parents had two citizenships (their own), and could pass these on, but if they had more than two children they would have to go out into the market, at some point, and purchase citizenships for the extra kids. So, the population sizes stabilized quickly, which freed up a good amount of resources for the rest of the country.
People around the world had followed the arguments and protests closely and started debating the whole issue of being allowed to freely trade their citizenship. People wanted to know why they were not allowed to control an asset that belonged to them...
It was not long before these markets popped up for countries all over the world, which then brought into clear view that the world was really a marketplace for people. Talented and driven people were the most valuable resources on Earth and countries were making "competitive bids" for these resources.
Governments became leaner and more efficient, reorganizing their frameworks, trying to maximize share value for their citizens and, thereby, gather more resources. There were a few governments that were EXCELLENT at running their countries, and as other countries saw what they did, they started outsourcing certain jobs to them. A mini political merger wave even swept through, as synergy in governments became the new buzz. Governments were, after all, nothing more than organizations which were hired to do certain jobs for the maintenance and growth of a society, and this, also, became an open market, with organizations bidding for jobs running countries... but that's a whole other story!
It was considered a stupid idea by almost everyone who had heard about it, but I didn't really give a shit. I knew that it was something important and had to be done. Besides, I knew all along that it was going to make lots of money. I was working on a project concerned with aging. Now, most people have investigated ways of slowing down the aging process, or of extending the life, as if these were the only interesting aspects to examine. I came from the opposite direction. I was working on methods to speed up the aging process!
The work was quite successful right from the start. Within the first year of research I was able to force a body to age at three times the natural rate for a period of 4 months. In the absence of a clock to read directly, one might wonder how we knew that that was the ratio, and biological aging was, indeed, occurring. Well, we already knew the mean life spans of the organisms we were using for the research. Not only did we know the mean life spans, but we had very good data about the whole distribution of life spans of these organisms. We also knew the biological ages of the organisms before we applied the process, so we would just measure the distribution of life spans after the process was applied and see if that was merely a
translation of the ordinary distribution. It was, and the difference between the two distributions was the amount of biological aging that had occurred under the process. We tested the post-process life spans in many different environments, each of which had its own distribution of life spans, and the results were always pure translations of very close to the same amount.
This was pretty tight evidence, but there was one stronger piece, which we never extended to humans. That was that we could actually see the rapid development of an embryo, and it followed the same ratio as the adult had. This was the strongest evidence that the process was actually something very much like biological aging, and, in addition, there were always the normal anecdotal signs of aging within all of the systems of the organism.
While the ratio of aging seemed to remain constant, independent of the age of the organism it was applied to, there was always the question of energy. Adult aging required less energy than youth aging. Aging an organism through puberty and adolescence was an expensive task that required large amounts of energy. This meant that, for reasons of efficiency, the process was only useful for post pubescent organisms of any size.
Needless to say,
finding human subjects was close to impossible but the process worked on every other life form, from cells to apes. I knew that raising the aging ratio was going to take a little bit of work, but that it would be achievable within a short time frame. There were no real intellectual roadblocks left.
Less than a year later I had perfected the process so that I could age an organism at 600 times the natural rate. This meant that I could force a human to age 50 years in just 1 month. This was a product that the world was calling out for, even though they were not aware of that yet, but when they did recognize the need, they wanted it; and I sold it to everybody. Aging at 600 times the natural rate is a process that certainly takes a bit of energy, but it was an amazingly efficient process, so the actual cost was relatively cheap. Even the poorest countries saved money by using it. But, using it for what??
It was the alternative to jail. After all, if we look at a jail as a machine, what does it do? It takes in people, doesn't allow them to interact, physically, with society, and then spits them out when they reach a certain age. The sentence, combined with the age at entry, determines the age of the person upon release. But it costs society a great deal
of money supporting the lives of the convicts while the jail machine is processing them to this new age. So, we skip all of that. The sentence states that someone shall not interact again with society until he has reached a certain age. Instead of housing and feeding him for all that time in a building that, itself, needs to be fed and maintained, we just use my process on him and I make him the desired age within a month, a month and a half at the outside! There would be no more problems, or expenses, relating to escaped cons, prison riots...
Let's say that a guy, 19 years old, commits a crime for which he is sentenced to 25 years. The court sends him over to me, I put him under for a little over a week, and when he comes out, he's physically 44 years old. He's lucky in that he's in a little better shape than he would have been in, had he actually lived the years, since he was not exposed to any toxins, wear and tear... So, he's then released back into society and now has 25 years less to live. Meanwhile, there is much less collateral damage from the sentence. His family suffers much less than it would have, since the wife isn't left alone, raising the kids... Most of the problems that serving time brings on the family of the prisoner are eliminated.
The first problem that I ran into was a little fight put up by the rehabilitation folks, who felt that the time in jail was useful in that the criminals could be rehabilitated while they were there. But, the data on jailhouse rehab was quite pessimistic about this proposition. People tended to pick up illicit skills and connections while in jail, and were further separated from society in the process. Besides, society could still rehab the criminals after the aging sentence was carried out, at a much lower cost than before, and with greater effectiveness, since that dreadful prison environment was replaced by a more normal one. It turned out, by capitalist luck, that there was a side effect of the process that seemed to render the rehab point moot, anyway.
Many people tended to describe intense experiential memories from their time under. They said that it was not exactly a dream. It was as detached in some aspects while sharper in others. All other memories seemed to remain intact, but there was a definite change in personality that I used to see with many organisms, including man. They became much more relaxed and docile. It was not that they became zombies, but that they seemed to socialize much better and were much less violent.
I think that this might have had to do with some type of overloading that the mind experienced in this jet-fueled aging, though no one reported pain of any kind.
There were interesting results on peoples' attitudes towards the process. For a first experience, it seems that people found it very pleasurable to be aged a year or less. Over a year, the pleasure seemed to dissipate, with a two year aging returning no "fun", and longer spans being viewed progressively worse. For a second experience (after having aged a year on the first), everything was the same, except that pleasure peaked at seven and a half months, with emotional parity at fourteen months. The third experience was contracted even further. No one was going to want to keep going under the process.
The second problem that I ran into with some people was much thornier, because the other side would not even admit to what they really wanted. They were the vengeance folks. They thought that the main purpose of jail was to abuse the prisoners and make their lives living hells while they were in. They wanted these people to hurt, and to hurt bad. But most of these folks would never come out and say that this was what they wanted. They would usually frame their arguments in
terms of deterrence. It was not that they wanted jails to be bad, but jails had to be bad in order to be effective. I took care of these arguments by citing the pleasure data from above, with the natural deterrence arising from several applications of the process, and by shifting their attention to the sizes of the sentences and number of applications used to achieve the required age, as ways to adjust the deterrent aspects of the process. Once they moved to debating about these implementation issues they became as docile as my research subjects.
There was one other group that was very interesting, and this process scared them more than anyone else. They also happened to be the most powerful group I had to deal with. These were the white collar criminals, and potential criminals. This process made no distinction between sentences for white collar crimes and sentences for violent crimes. There was no minimum security aging process, it was all the same. But this was one of the greatest appeals of the process, to the average person; a standard sentence was always carried out, irrespective of the crime! A truly egalitarian penal code! It did not take long for the professional opposition to fall away.
Countries all over the world bought my process,
and a great world debate finally opened up addressing the issues posed by judicial, legal, and penal systems. Everybody was happy - I got rich, and the world got a better, cheaper, more decent method of dealing with criminals.
A consistent model of time in which discrete backward travel is possible.
The backward time travel story
Einstein's Twin Paradox And My Relativistic Family
The Impact of space colonization and relativity on various aspects of human socialization.
Mom and Dad looked great as they stepped out of the craft. It was a beautifully sunny day, with just the right amount of wind blowing from the north, and I was going to see my parents for the first time in over 23 years of my time. I was only 14 when they left to study the Tarlisis Black Hole. It had been a fairly routine mission that ended up sending back some fabulous data. They were quite well known through a large part of the universe and I was very proud to be associated with them.
Dad picked me up and spun me around, which was no mean feat. He was a big man, but so was I. I smiled and told him that he didn't look a day over 50. He put me down, gave a little sarcastic smile, and said, "I'll have you know that I'm not a day over 38!"
"Let me see that", I said, as I grabbed his hand and looked, jokingly, at his personal clock. "Yeah, that's what it says here, but I remember my dad being much bigger and much older than me."
We both laughed and hugged again.
The big day was only a week away. The family birthday. This had taken quite some work to do, but we had managed to synchronize all of our birthdays so as to land on the same day. In fact, the great bulk of the birthdays fell within a three hour time frame. And we were all the same age, too!
It was the Family 38th Birthday.
I know that this seems a bit strange but most social traditions end their lives as weird anachronisms, and the "birthday" was no different. It was just following its natural development. But ... it was still alive and, luckily, carried very few adverse effects. It was a fairly innocuous ritual. Many other social structures had experienced much more violent deaths, wreaking havoc on mankind while in their death throes, locking populations in social jails, destroying the cores of societies. People tended to wildly underestimate the inherent dangers of bugs in the social structures within a framework of sustained exponential growth and change.
The concept of "birthday" had changed quite a bit, though. Most dramatically, it was now measured from the moment of conception, which for reasons of its own was now always easily detectable and never unplanned. Conception was really one of the only distinguished points in the life cycle of an organism, and it was accepted by the great majority of the population as being the least arbitrary
place from which to start counting.
A cheap method had been invented, some time ago, which measured the exact number of living cells in any biological organism without affecting the organism itself. This was applied to developing fetuses, since it was a much better gauge of fetal development than the ancient trimester approximation. So, doctors started talking about developing fetuses in terms of cell count and velocity. This entered the abortion debate and transformed the entire subject to that of deciding which procedures could be done within which cell count intervals, obviously measuring from ONE, the point of conception!
Anyway, the local time frame that is used for a fetus is that of its mother, which makes sense, since the fetus is, essentially, restricted to its mother's system, in terms of acceleration relative to other frames.
The moment of actual delivery is now connected more with the acquisition of a private time frame than with the beginning of life. A personal time frame is assigned to the newborn infant and a clock is taped to its body. This clock carries the infant's time, and hence age, with respect to the moment of conception. It is initially set to the time since conception as measured by the mother's time. Often, the personal clock is surgically embedded, at some later point, so that the person doesn't have to worry about losing his/her concept of personal time and "true age".
Now, Earth birthdays (the word "birthday" was retained, even though we are really speaking of "conception moment") are measured with respect to increments of personal time of one Earth year; that is 31,556,926 seconds. This defines a traditional Earth birthday. Ever since man went into space, though, and started colonizing the solar system, the old time units of days and weeks and years lost a good amount of their worth.
Availability of light became intimately connected with man's activities. Light was a commodity, like any other, and was not free. It became inefficient for the bulk of a large population to work on the same shift schedule, although days were initially preserved as shifts were reorganized to more uniformly distribute the population's schedules. As this happened, though, differences in the sleep and work patterns for different people began to emerge and show up in productivity numbers. It became abundantly clear that massive
shifts of any kind were not going to work.
Needless to say, all of this happened off of the Earth, in the first few large scale colonies around the outer edge of the solar system which received scant amounts of energy from the sun. Energy expenditures on these colonies were tightly regulated and all of their light was self generated, so they could not afford to use it unproductively. Energy could not be wasted in providing an Earth-like light environment. Well, the optimal light systems varied with the different colonies, and the types of work they were doing, but the concept of day quickly died at all of them.
These people started quoting all times in seconds, since that seemed like a reasonable arbitrary length from which to establish a base time reference. Besides, every piece of timing equipment, all legal contracts, all computer software... it was all written for seconds. So the "second" became a distinguished length of time due to purely economic considerations. Naturally, they preferred to speak of time in metric terms, so all other "distinguished" lengths of time were at orders of ten, with the unit, second. For them, the big "conception" moment celebration was at 100,000,000 seconds. That was what they called one metric year.. We were, however, a traditional family and grew to like Earth time, which had really evolved into something of a mild religion with many rituals structured around it.
But these were all just differences in standards and social ritual. The real problems with how we dealt with time came with the introduction of near light-speed space travel. This is where man got up close and personal with relativity.
One of the fundamental aspects of relativity is that, while the speed of light is constant in all inertial frames of reference, time flows differently for different inertial frames. This was illustrated in Einstein's "Twin Paradox", which showed that if you took a pair of twins on Earth, sent one of them away on a rocket at close to the speed of light, turned around quickly and returned just as fast, that the traveling twin would age only a few years, while the stay at home twin would age decades. When they got back together they would be vastly different ages. This is why everyone had a personal clock with them, always, because there was no longer any concept of universal time. Everybody had their own frames of
reference, and depending on what they did, time flowed differently for each of them.
A surprising effect of this splintering of time was seen in the religions that had grown up on the Earth. The Western religions were very much time based and were thrown into metaphysical shock as deep space travel took hold. There was no absolute time measure that would satisfy everyone in every frame. If they demanded that Earth time be followed, then the religions would, effectively, restrict themselves to frames of reference which were essentially at rest with respect to the Earth, and close, too. This put quite a cap on the possible spread of the religions and they all fragmented quickly.
There were 'personal time' versions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This was so people could retain the rituals even though time, for them, was moving far differently from that on Earth. Of course, there were many more new problems to be conquered, such as the fact that each individual acquired an almost unique set of ritual times, which started more than a few fights. There were also problems with clashes between ritual times and normal life, as the concept of "day" had gone by the wayside for many.
These problems only splintered the sects further into "semi-local time" versions. These groups had stations placed throughout the populated universe and each station had its own "canonical clock" which had been set on Earth and delivered to the station by the original cleric. These sects ran into huge problems, also, mainly due to the costs of maintaining the multitudes of stations. Many rituals started to fall away, but, in the end these religions just didn't adjust well to the relativistic world.
The Eastern philosophies, on the other hand, were not time based. They fit very well into the framework of relativity and spread easily outside of the solar system. These philosophies had their grounding, to some extent, in the isolated and independent travels through life, which is what physics demanded of us!
Anyway, our family had been extremely fortunate in that we had entered this new age with a good amount of capital and training. This is why we had the luxury of keeping Earth time, and also how we were even able to contemplate synchronizing our Earth birthdays, which was not a cheap proposition. Personally, I was never that wild about the idea. Synchronized family
birth, or conception, celebrations were generally displays of economic status, since they entailed everyone in the family picking deep space missions very carefully, so as to adjust the flows of their personal times. Fine tuning was done with very short, fast trips around the solar system which were generally worthless, except for the adjustments in personal time flow, and expensive. But there was something great about having six generations of one's family close to the same biological age at the same time, in the same inertial frame, in the same place.
From despicable fringe element to mainstream hero in 4 short years, and the introduction of random infant redistribution as national social policy.
Hail The Serio-Gamist
Part 1: The Inception
"I can't believe he actually did that. Does he know that you found it?"
"No, I .." she could hardly speak, sobbing in between every few words, trying to catch her breath, "I ... I ... I didn't know .. know what to do, .... so, I just ... just .. I just put everything back ... everything back where ... " she broke into uncontrollable tears, quiet though obviously pained. Her friend grabbed her hand and smiled an empathic smile that belied the tears welling up within her, too. The emotion then spread outward from the two women and surged through all of the other tables at the cafe; a wave of sorrow so strong that it quieted all there, which only made the feeling even more intense. And then, as quickly as it had overtaken the place, it dissipated and the discussions began back up, awkwardly at first, as everyone tried to shelve the unwilled emotions in them and move back to their own topics.
This scene had interrupted Newt Fallwell's little discussion group, although, it seemed entirely appropriate to each of them, as if god was reaching down and showing them a scene from the life that they were currently analyzing. "What's Wrong With America" was the topic today, as it was every day. They knew that the country was in bad shape, and they could pinpoint all of the problems, even offering solutions, but they all knew that none of these solutions was practical. And that is how they would feel at the end of every talk, confident that they knew the answers but deflated that they could not force them on the nation. If people only knew what was in their best interest....
But today was a little different, at least for Newt Fallwell. He had a different feeling than usual. He had managed to convince his friends that the whole problem of the decline of morality in America, and the world, even, could be reduced to a single factor. It all came down to the sexual drive and the unreasonable strength of that drive in many people, and therefore, in the media, and in government, and everywhere one looked. That overpowering drive is what sent many men to women outside of their marriage, as that scene had illustrated so poignantly. It is what caused great jealousy and insecurity among couples. This is what caused families to have strife, which caused the deterioration of the family, which caused abuse and anguish within the fragmented family unit, which caused the development of aberrant personalities, who would later practice abuse of power, which caused the disproportionate allocation of sexual resources, which caused the disproportionate allocation of personal resources towards sexual dilemmas, which caused a general dissatisfaction with society, which caused antisocial and asocial behavior, which caused the general breakdown of morality. America, Newt concluded, was stuck in a spiral of disintegrating morality all started and spurred on by the surplus sexual drive present in most people.
He was very proud with himself for illustrating the problem so succinctly and clearly, and his friends all had to agree with him, as the logic was overpowering and the implications so self evident. But what could they do about it? It seemed that, even though Newt had identified the key to a Moral society, the solution was even further off than their usual offerings.
Newt just smiled and nodded his head, rocking back and forth in his chair. He knew something ... he knew something very big. The group pressed him for more information but he just said, "I cannot say more, right now, except to tell you all that our grand discussion is almost finished. I have a solution that is practical, simple, and doable." He would say no more, though.
Newt sat, contented ... quiet, as the others discussed
what it was that he might have been hinting at. He leaned back in his chair with that simple, self assured feeling that comes with a great discovery. Newt knew something that no one else knew, and he would let the whole world in on the secret when he thought it appropriate. He was going to 'jiggle the planet', as Von Neumann used to love to say, but only when he, himself, decided the time was right. It was a feeling of great power that was hard not to enjoy.
But feelings are ephemeral and fleeting, and as Newt was in the middle of his mental/emotional paradise a thought, called 'Urgency', intruded. It pried its way into his mind through a strong image that appeared to him, and the whole emotional landscape of his being suddenly changed to 'Need To Do, NOW', known generally by its nickname, 'Urgency'.
Newt got up and said a hurried 'good-bye' to all of his friends as he raced out of the cafe. True, there was still a small remnant of the smug self praise, which made him smile as he heard the conversation about his idea start up again as he walked out the door, but 'Urgency' was now the emotion in control. The smile disappeared as soon as the door shut and he raced back to his lab.
Newt, it turns out, was a geneticist of some renown. He had been working on the Human Genome project, but not in the sequencing arena. He was over on the semantic side, trying to figure out what each of the genes meant. This was a problem of unbelievable complexity, as genes tended to have multiple semantics. That is, most genes held different positions in different areas based on other genes, making the deciphering job harder than anyone had imagined. It was like trying to decode a message that could be read ... NO, should be read .. two hundred different ways, with the coding being different for each individual reading and group of letters being read. This was hard work, but it led to a very interesting discovery.
He found that different genes had different numbers of interpretive contexts, with some having very few, say one to four different meanings, while others had hundreds. He hypothesized that the number of different interpretive contexts that a gene had was roughly based on how long the gene had been part of the genome. He claimed (to himself) a general rule of thumb which said that genes which regulated the older, more primitive aspects of the organism had fewer interpretations. They were more specialized genes. He based this assumption on the idea that the most fundamental traits of an organism could not be readily varied, without throwing the organism wildly out of balance, so evolution had to be extra careful in these cases. The sexual drive was one of these fundamental traits and Newt had found the sections of the chromosomes where it resided, which was the start of his great discovery.
When he had been working in a private lab, before the Human Genome project, he had investigated the sexual drive in many different organisms, from the genetic perspective. Countless hours had been spent alone in the lab, at night, assessing the sexual characteristics of mice and guinea pigs and cats and all other sorts of animals. It was tedious, boring work, but Newt had never minded it that much. He was not doing this for any research to published, but for his own information. For years he had been building up a personal database of the genetics of the sexual drive. But, he had always known what he was really trying to do and all of that work was finally paying off. When Newt got to the Human Genome project he could finally apply some of his (private and personal) research to Man, which culminated in the discovery of "Gene M".
Even though it was more than twenty blocks from the cafe to Newt's lab, the thought of jumping in a cab never entered his mind. He was definitely in a hurry to get there, but the walk seemed to serve some purpose, though he
was moving at quite a clip, almost tripping over his own feet as he fought back the urge to run. And as he made his way across the city blocks, the images in his mind's eye grew more and more detailed. He was on the threshold of the complete solution.
No one can stop the thoughts that bubble up to the conscious, as the shape, distribution, and frequency of these thought bubbles comprise what we regard as the personality ... and other scenes intruded as the problem was being worked out in Newt's subconscious. Between glimpses of the solution that would percolate up to Newt's conscious every so often, playing themselves out in beautiful movies of inner vision, there were thoughts of the future; of the new world, of Newt's place in it, of people everywhere talking about him, of the great morality that would soon sweep the land, the great Moral ascent of Man .... The overpowering human sexual drive was an evolutionary artifact, much akin to the taste for sweets, that no longer served any useful purpose. It was an anachronism that was now holding Man back from greater things, and Newt Fallwell would, single-handedly, take care of this problem and release Man, so that He could continue his Moral development. It is one thing to be a genius, to have a great thought that creates a new field, a new pursuit ... but it is quite another to serve as a director of evolution. Newt was not thinking of his place in human history, but in evolutionary history. He would be a major factor in the history of life on Earth!
Newt had discovered "Gene M". This was really a misnomer, as it was not a single gene, but a large set of different genes. Originally Newt had called it "The Morality Gene Complex", but he knew that that would not go over very well with people (the other geneticists, mostly) and it was too long of a name, so he shortened it to "Gene M". He rationalized, though, that since this set of genes really coded for a single END PRODUCT, in terms of a specific type of behavior modification, the end product being a higher Morality, it could still be reasonably called a gene, in a much larger semantic sense. The "Morality" part, now reduced to "M", derived from the way the gene fit into Newt's concept of morality, and the drives behind it... namely the sexual drive.
"Gene M" served to moderate the sexual drive in the species that it affected. It did not destroy the drive, but just turned it down a couple of notches. I have to stress that this gene complex seemed to only affect the underlying sexual drive, having nothing to do with the preference in any way; meaning that it did not dictate what the organism would find "sexy", as this was a much higher level function with aspects genetically programmed and aspects acquired. It only determined the level of mental and hormonal activity once the assessment of "sexiness", or arousal, was made; the frequencies and intensities of the various sexual thought bubbles that came to the conscious.
"Gene M" fit into the areas of the chromosomes where the sexual drive resided, not taking up the entire sexual drive space, but only part of it. It was a very peculiar gene that had several 'new' properties. It was a "discretely targeted", "sparingly dominant", "self modifying" gene set.
"Discretely targeted" referred to the fact that it seemed to affect only human beings, chimpanzees, and a few other monkeys. Even though the sexual drive area of the genome was an extremely primitive feature that was present in all sexually reproducing species, "Gene M" appeared to be transparent when placed in the appropriate points of any other species. It had no effect, at all.
"Sparingly dominant" meant that, no matter where it was placed, within the area of the sexual drive, it had
the same effect. Even if extra copies were put in, the effect remained unchanged. It did not get any stronger or weaker, but was either on or off. Period.
Clearly, the gene could only affect cell behavior when it was turned on, which meant that it only applied to cells in which any of the areas of the sexual drive were active. The fact that the sexual drive was an extremely primitive section of the genome meant that it had very few separate interpretive contexts, which meant that there were very few cell types, and very few cell environments, in which any area of these sections of the chromosomes would be activated. This allowed for a great deal more latitude in the design of these areas, since their effects were, essentially, restricted to a small set of cases.
"Self modifying" was the most interesting aspect of "Gene M". The gene complex, itself, was quite intricate, and part of its coding ensured that it would not remain in the genome for the entire life of the organism. It would, eventually, code for a certain set of enzymes that would work on the DNA, itself, changing the code for "Gene M". Newt could not be sure, but it appeared that this happened globally, around the same time, as the enzymes would be sent out in little protein packages, like viruses, that would do their work on all of the cells that they encountered. If the gene had already been altered, in a cell, then the virus would just breakdown and melt into the inner environment of the cell. If "Gene M" was still present in the cell, then the virus would alter it, build copies of itself, and send the virus out for further modifications. "Gene M" would turn itself into another set of genes, which looked to be very much like the set that most people had... the sexual overdrive set of genes.
This seemed to make sense, or at least Newt was able to think up a reason for this behavior. If an organism with "Gene M" lived to a ripe old age, then it should take part in more reproduction, since other parts of the DNA may be better adapted to the environment. So, as the internal virus entered the testes and egg sacs of the organism, the moderate sexual gene would be turned off, so that the organism and its descendants would take more active roles in future procreation. The sexual drive should be a more dynamic part of an organism's personality, changing and adjusting as the organism makes its way through life; letting the development of society into the individual genetic strands, enhancing this next hierarchical level of growth and development... That's how Newt reasoned it. This was, clearly, a bit contrived, as "Gene M" did not seem to be a naturally occurring set of genes. Newt had fabricated the gene complex, himself, through an evolutionary gene creation system he had devised, but that is going a bit too far afield for our purposes, here.
The fact was that "Gene M" was exactly what Newt had been looking for. It would serve to reduce the sexual drive in humans to a more moderate level, thereby alleviating a great deal of the stress and strain that had been placed on society. Morality would be allowed to emerge and Man would be able to fulfill His higher destiny.
Now the problem turned to that old thorny and oft difficult issue of implementation. This was always the greatest barrier standing between a revolutionary idea and its realization. How would Newt be able to get "Gene M" into the population? He had known that the answer would be found in a retro virus of some sort but he had not been able to nail down the specifics. The self modifying nature of "Gene M" was problematic in establishing any kind of lasting change ... Until his brainstorm in the cafe! That was the moment when he realized that he knew the answer.
It had been a strange moment. Newt had not seen the entire
solution, but a feeling came over him that the solution was within him, lying somewhere just outside of the reach of his conscious. The feeling said that "the solution is here" and would be accessible to his conscious sometime in the near future. It was the "tip of the tongue" phenomenon on a grand intellectual scale. Professional aphasia, of an unprompted type ... more of a "tip of the mind", really. And as he walked the city blocks the solution began appearing piece by piece, bubbling up through the subconscious net that was his personality, escaping in small fragments to his conscious mind.
Newt never questioned why the entire answer was not available to his conscious immediately, nor how long it had been bouncing around in his subconscious to begin with, but by the time he got to his lab it was finally all on the surface; the exact retro virus, the exact collection of plasmids (with the associated codes necessary for the maintenance of "Gene M" within the cell), the functioning of the system, the sustainability of the implantation of "Gene M", the societal effects,... It was all available to his conscious mind, to be written down and discussed and presented and worked on and DONE. The theoretical answer was now to become reality.
Newt arrived back at his lab ready to "jiggle the planet". He had been so close to the solution before that he had allowed himself to fantasize about that eventuality, as in the cafe, but now the fantasy was about to become real history. He had everything in the lab that he needed and started working furiously on the problem. He stayed holed up there for forty days and forty nights, ordering food only on every third day. He just kept forgetting to eat, between the tests he had to run, and the models he had to examine. But on every third day he ate, and then he slept. A great, relaxing eight hours of uninterrupted, total REM sleep, dreaming the whole time of running further tests and experiments, for the myriad of busywork details that had to be taken care of. It would probably be incorrect to term this sleep, since his brain was still busy working out many of the problems that it would have been assigned, had he been awake, but at least his body got to rest .... somewhat.
Newt would awaken from that sleep and work for another three days straight. He felt that he could not stop until he had, at least, reached a point where he did not have to do any more investigations. All of the research needed to be finished, and then he could take some time, thinking one last time about the idea, the effects, when he wanted to activate the whole system, who he wanted to tell, what he wanted to tell,... but first he had to finish a prototype because he was so close.
This was such a huge step in mankind's path to Morality and Godliness, and Newt was in control of human destiny. "No," he couldn't decide, "Am I in control of Man's destiny or am I obligated as such?" Newt knew that this question had two distinct answers, depending upon which side of his personality was being asked ... his ego or his heart. But regardless of whether Newt was in control, or acting out an obligation, Man was about to be changed, radically and violently.
The M bug was a slick little virus that carried "Gene M", along with the associated plasmids and control structures. It was a marvel of genetic programming that emerged from the forty days and forty nights that Newt had kept himself locked in his lab, cut off from all outside communication. He did not answer the phone, he did not answer his e-mail. He spoke only to the various viruses he was manipulating, talking to them through the different genetic fragments he was implanting and changing; watching how these viruses would, themselves, talk to the various cells they roomed with in the test tubes distributed throughout the lab.
And at the end of these forty days and forty nights Newt had produced exactly the virus, the agent of human change that would propagate through fresh water supplies as he had foreseen in the cafe.
He produced a large amount of M bug and put it into a small vial that he took home with him. He threw himself into his bed and fell into a DEEP sleep for three days, cradling the vial of M bug in his arms the whole time. It was the most enjoyable and satisfying sleep that Newt had ever experienced.
Newt woke up and was surprised to find the vial lying in the sheets of his bed. It had not been some kind of fantastic dream, but had REALLY happened. He had been so obsessed with getting the correct virus built that he had not stopped to think, one last time, about what he was proposing to do. This was the task that he now had to tackle.
It was a bit strange, but that thought left Newt's mind after only a split second. Newt still had no doubt that he had to carry out his initial plan, to release the M bug into the environment via the water supply, and let it take its hold on the American psyche. The usual second thoughts could not manage to even squeak by the subconscious net of Newt's personality, beyond that lone thought upon waking. The only thing that kept him from doing it right then was the great feeling of power he felt as he held the vial of "The Future". He loved that feeling and could not think of anything in his life that he had ever enjoyed more. To release the M bug would be akin to the climax of orgasm; much pleasure but also much sadness at the prospect of the completion of the journey. The anticlimax of the climax. Newt became acutely aware of this analogy that was playing itself out in his conscious field and knew that this was exactly the problem. He wasted no time and put a tiny amount of M bug into a glass of water and drank it.
The virus would insert "Gene M" into a cell and make exactly two copies of itself which would then go out of the cell to work on the others. The M bug was such that it would probe each cell it encountered, testing first to see if "Gene M" was present. If it was not then it would enter the cell, do its work, and two copies would leave. If it found "Gene M" in the cell then it would just detach itself from the cell's membrane and move on to another. In this way all of Newt's cells would be converted in little time, with the M bug being sent out in Newt's feces to enter the water supply and do more work. Since "Gene M" had no effect on most species the M bug did not pose any great problem for the environment, and would only serve to help it, straightening Man out.
Another day at the cafe, and another discussion of "What's Wrong With America". Newt walked in in the middle of the debate/gripe session. Everybody was so happy to see him. They started bombarding Newt with questions about what he had been doing, what the story was... The conversations had been so aimless without him, although the bomb that he had dropped about his solution had kept them speculating about all different types of scenarios.
Newt smiled and sat down, leaning back in his usual chair, feeling himself at the throne. His smile was from ear to ear (without the benefit of ever having a face lift) and he enjoyed playing with the vial of M bug that he carried in his pocket at all times. It felt like petting a lion, or stroking the skin of a hydrogen bomb... like carrying a world around. Newt was the modern day Atlas. Power beyond power.
He would carry the vial of M bug with him everywhere, always playing with it, his fingers massaging it as if he were masturbating. And the enjoyment was very close to the same, the greatest orgasm that Newt had ever known was building up as he
prepared for the eventual release. But this was over a week of growing intensity.
Then something funny started to happen. Newt noticed that his enjoyment with the vial was subsiding, just a bit. He still loved the power, but he did not feel compelled, any longer, to immerse himself in the anticipation. He started to think more rationally about the whole process.
What was happening was that the M bug Newt had ingested after waking up that day had finally spread throughout the cells of his body and the neurons were now busy producing the enzymes and proteins of "Gene M". He was starting to feel the effects and could tell the change in sharpness, as measured by his love of his Mbug vial. It was subsiding, and his thought of the release began to clear. It was time.
Newt stood in front of the reservoir, lit only by the few light posts there. There was a new moon this night, as seemed mildly appropriate.
He had been having new thoughts over the past few days. As his interest in sex, and by subconscious analogy the power of the M bug vial, had waned to a point just below ecstasy, where it was still enjoyable but not primary in his mind, Newt had begun to think of very different things. He could feel his priorities shifting, his concerns and cares and worries and interests. Everything seemed to be moving around, ever so slightly, yet it was perceptible. And even this perception, itself, was something that he would not have had before. Life was taking on an entirely different hue, that was so interesting and strange. It was almost a new life.
Newt could feel the subconscious net, that was used to decide which thoughts would bubble up to his conscious realm, changing. The shapes and the frequencies and the distributions and the thoughts and the types .... they were all slightly different. The environment of his conscious mind was just a quiver off to the left.
He held the vial in his hand, looking down at it. He had gotten so much pleasure out of this act before, but now that feeling of enjoying the great power he held just never appeared .... never managed to bubble up to the conscious surface of Newt's mind. He just looked at the vial and felt, ... content. So he opened the vial, threw it into the reservoir, and walked home. There was much work to be done now that the world was going to change.
Part 2: The Good Years
Janet and Simon Farrell were a nice, decent couple. They loved each other very much, whatever that meant. They took their marriage vows seriously and felt that sex with others was, without a doubt, wrong. But this could never stop each of them from seeing people in the streets and having certain thoughts bubble up to the conscious surfaces of their minds. This happened even when they were together, walking down 7th Avenue, taking in the feeling of the city.
A beautiful woman would walk by and Simon, through no fault of his own, would see an image of himself naked with her in the furniture store that he and Janet had just been shopping in, writhing in one of the beds. He could see the woman's face, the surprise on it as he brought her to levels of ecstasy that she had never experienced with any other man, and the sadness in her eyes as he communicated to her through his own power of aura that she would never experience this again. He was ruining her for any other man, for she would never be satisfied again, knowing how incomplete the sexual experience was. She would, in every sexual encounter to come, try to attain the same level as had been reached in that furniture store with that man who had just grabbed her hand and led her in off the street, never speaking in words, never allowing her to understand where his true power came from, never letting her in
on the great secrets that he exposed her to for only a short two hours of furious passion. He left her in that bed, wasted and sad and forever under his amazing sexual control. And he would see her years later, when she had just finally settled for an incomplete relationship with a man who was very close to being able to satisfy her in the same way that Simon had, only to bed her once again. But this time he would obliterate any notions she had about sexual fulfillment with anyone else. This time Simon would make wild, passionate love to her, but taking her only to the very edge of ecstasy, stopping for a few minutes to let her calm down, then taking her back to the edge, stopping to let her calm down, taking her to the edge ... over and over and over for half a day, until he knew that she was the most desperate, at which point he took her as close as was possible to ultimate fulfillment without attaining it and then stopped, got up, and left for good. He owned her for all of this life, the next life, the next..... He was the god of her sexual world.
And as she passed him on 7th Avenue he smiled at her as these images flew through his mind. She was his, at least in the fantasy that bubbled up to his conscious. And after she passed, Simon felt a wave of guilt run through his body. His stomach actually tightened .... because he knew that he had gotten so much pleasure out of that small fantasy. But as his guilt was subsiding, another, even sexier woman, with full breasts and long sleek legs stepped out of a store and walked quickly in front of Janet and Simon. Her ass was so firm and perfectly shaped, the legs exhibiting just the strength necessary for holding his hips firmly against her as he pushed deeper into her. She was strong enough to almost not let him escape from satisfying her fully, as he brought her to the edge of ecstasy. He tried to pull out, so that she would not go over the top and climax, but her legs were so strong, and felt so good wrapped around him ... he trying to pull out, she keeping him inside her, trying to pull him in deeper and deeper ... it was anti-sex, with both of them working against each other in an arousing tug of war. But Simon was the man, and he grabbed her legs and pried them apart, as she screamed for him to fuck her deeper, to come inside her, to drive her over the edge.... And he turned around, as he was walking out the door of her apartment to see her sobbing for him to come back, to satisfy her. He walked back to the bed and started undressing again, his penis erect and hard and ready for its mission. He could see that she wanted his hard dick. She reached up and tried to grab it, to pull him down by his penis. But he said that he did not like to be treated like that and that he would not stand for it. He threw her back onto the bed and told her that he was disappointed. He was going to go out into the street, find the most beautiful, young girl he could, and give her what he had left. He would drive this other into the total ecstasy that he now withheld. He dressed and left the apartment, not looking back this time.
But he did not even make it into the street. As he was waiting for the elevator a lady down the hall came out of her apartment. She was beautiful and she had been listening to Simon and the other woman. She wanted him and let it be known by pulling him into her apartment....
"Simon, do you think that we should go to ...." Janet's words fell out of Simon's mind as he felt so guilty this time that he couldn't hear the sentence. "They are expecting us and it wouldn't be a bad idea to see what they think about the whole ...."
Just then Janet saw this gorgeous man stepping out of his car. He was tall and strong and clearly in control of his world. Images started making their way into Janet's mind's eye. The beach, crowded with college kids running around, having a good time, this guy
lying on a towel trying to get some rest, and Janet walking by. She knew that he was mesmerized by her. He had not wanted to meet anyone, being married, but only to rest for a bit. But the sight of Janet turned something on inside him. He got up and started walking after her. She pretended not to notice him, at all, and picked up the pace ever so subtly. This was one of her most enjoyable fantasies, to be able to walk very quickly, yet so sexily, that men had to almost run to keep up with her, to expose themselves and their intentions and desires fully just in order to approach her. A naked mind is a fun toy to play with, especially belonging to those men who thought that they had control.
And he ran to catch up with Janet, sleekly moving quickly in front of him. Finally, in a full sprint down the beach, he caught her and tackled her to the ground. But she easily rolled him over on his back and pinned him down. Then she stripped his swimsuit off and stood up, looking at him in such a vulnerable position, all the college kids now gathered around them. She could see the desperation in his eyes, almost tears. So she let him take control of the situation, if only temporarily, by faking being tripped by his flailing legs, letting him on top of her.
In the next image she saw the two of them in the furniture store that she and Simon had just been shopping in, writhing together in one of the beds. They were situated doggy style, with him working hard to try to bring her to pleasure. But he was not quite able, since she was making him so aroused that he was not able to control himself. She laughed to herself as he tried and tried, but he was out of his league. She laughed because she knew that he would satisfy her eventually, she had that effect on all men, but he would realize his place. Control was something that he would never again fool himself into thinking he knew about.
So, in the image in her mind, Janet saw herself positioning so that she would achieve the orgasm that she deserved. She moved her hips in such a way that his erect member was moving along the perfect path, touching and rubbing all of the important points in her. And she was so sexually skilled, so able to arouse, that he was harder than he had ever been before. In fact, the feeling of being inside Janet was so fantastic that the man was feeling more fear than excitement. And Janet's pleasure rose higher and higher and higher until she knew that she was ready to come in a grand finale, all the little orgasms having led up to this. He could sense that she was doing this and begged her to not let him come at that point. He wanted more. But right then Janet hit the final climax and tightened her vaginal muscles in just the right way that he could not help himself. He came in the greatest orgasm that he had ever experienced, pleading for her to stop right up until the end. The look of fear on his face, as he realized that he would never have that experience with any other woman, that he had no idea of what actually happened, that he had no control, was the most perfect ending to the experience that Janet could imagine. She could hear him begging for her to come back as she walked out the door.
"I don't know." Simon's voice infringed on Janet's daydream, "I'm not really all that enthused about going over there tonight. What do you think, sweetheart?"
"Do you really want to see them tonight?"
"See who? Oh, .... I'm not so into it. Let's just put it off for a couple of...."
Janet, in her fantasy, saw the man come running out of the store after her, tripping over boxes lying in the street, crying for her as she (very quickly and smoothly) walked away.
"... a couple of
days. ... I ....uh ... I , yeah a couple of days from now will be better."
Janet felt as though Simon knew what had been running through her mind and she was embarrassed. She was worried that he was going to ask her what she was thinking about, and she had no good answer to give, other than the obviously diversionary, "Nothing special". But Simon asked nothing, and Janet noticed that his eyes were glued on the woman in front of them. She had a great body. So she asked Simon, "What are you thinking about?"
"I don't know.... nothing special. Why?" Now Simon knew that he was caught.
This was just a regular scene out of the life of the couple of Simon and Janet Farrell. It was something that was beyond their conscious control, the fantasies showing up in their minds without having been summoned in any way. That was just how their minds worked. They would see people during the days, images would rush into their conscious fields, they would experience the excitement of the fantasies, and then feel very guilty afterwards. And every time it happened they could each feel something fall out of their relationship. It was barely perceptible each time, but could be felt over the weeks and the months. They had even taken to going out in the city together less and less. Tonight they would feel the minuscule effect as they engaged in their regular lovemaking, each holding inside all of the feelings that had been let loose in the fantasies over the day. They would be just a little more awkward in the initial approach, a bit more reserved in the act (lest the feelings come to the surface as they do in the daydreams), a bit more cautious of each other, a bit less trustful, less trustworthy. They would fall asleep just 2 millimeters further separated in the bed, angled 4 degrees more away from each other, their minds working a little more furiously to keep the excitement present. This was a relationship in which neither had any great control, and they both were losing what little they did have as the days passed and the fantasies grew.
The control was being passed on to outside objects and other people. They would watch other couples, when they were out, seeing what they talked about, what they did. They would go to movies hoping to find solutions to their lives, to see what they should do, what they should talk about, how they should act. They would live the roles they saw, stealing a line here and a line there, hoping that the writers and directors and actors had some extra insight into their own lives, able to lead them down the path of happiness and fulfillment. It was a very sad situation.
There was a good amount of M bug coursing through the water as it made its way up the 8th avenue main. Up 8th avenue, left at 75th street, right at 54 west, up three floors and into the pitcher that was sitting under the kitchen faucet.
Simon was not being very careful as he spooned the lemonade mix into the pitcher, spilling a good amount of it because he was fixated on the morning aerobic show. "That girl has the best body I've ever seen. I wonder how she is? Great, I'm sure.." So, he put an extra two spoons in, trying to approximate the amount he had spilled. He threw some extra ice cubes in, to cool the drink and add a little more water to compensate for the extra spoons of mix he put in, having compensated for the spillage. He was not really concerned that he had adjusted correctly because this was very sweet lemonade mix and he knew that too much was never a problem!
Simon poured out two cups and brought them over to the table where Janet had just started eating. They didn't talk very much but just ate and drank and read the papers. Janet had switched the channel to the news show when she walked in.
It was supposed to rain today, but when was the last time the weather people had really been correct?
They both finished their meals, drank their lemonades and left for work. A little kiss as they split up on the street, each heading in a different direction. The M bug was now on street level, traveling around in human bodies, starting to work its magic.
The days went by and the M bug worked to insert "Gene M" into all of Simon's and Janet's cells. It only took about a week for this job to be completed.
Neither of them could put their finger on it, but as the weeks went by something was changing. They were together more, a little happier. It was something like the realization of aging; all of a sudden one wakes up and realizes that he's old. One day, Simon and Janet were walking down the street and all of a sudden Janet noticed that they had been together more than usual. And they were speaking more, too. It seemed a touch strange, but she certainly welcomed it.
Then Janet began to notice more things. She realized that she had not fantasized about any of the men she'd seen in .... "How long has it been?!" But, as quickly as she had perceived all this, these thoughts were pushed out of her conscious by others bubbling up. "The buildings here look interesting, but I think that they could use some..."
This same scene was playing itself out all over the city, as the M bug made its way, via the water supply, into all of the cells of all of the humans. "Gene M" was inserted into almost all the DNA of the people, and the specific cells, in contexts with "Gene M" active, were busy pumping out the proteins and other products that "Gene M" coded for. It was a noticeable effect. A newspaper had even run a story about the proliferation of married couples on the streets. The article was written tongue in cheek, entitled "A Springtime Infestation of Happily Married Couples", but it was the first public display of the effects of the M bug and "Gene M". Still, nobody had any idea why it was happening, except for Newt.
Newt Fallwell had taken to walking the streets, talking to everyone he could. He would give some people little questionnaires that he had made up to measure the effects of "Gene M". He was more than pleased with the results, in terms of the absence, to a good extent, of sexual overtones in the answers. He also noticed that people tended to be more focused and less distracted when they were speaking with him. Before the M bug, Newt would speak with men and follow their eyes as they inspected every woman walking by, sometimes losing their attention, totally. It even happened to him, on occasion. But now Newt could carry on whole conversations without this ever happening. He was so proud with himself; he felt as though he was the father of everyone, taking care of them and leading them back to god.
The first group of people to really notice the exact change, though, were from the advertising community. They had all of the tools required to find out such things, and keeping with the pulse of the populace and its desires and fears was precisely their job. Added to this was the fact that sex had become such a huge part of their business that they were destined to be the first to notice the sea change in attitudes. After all, sex had become embedded in ads for almost every product they were pushing, from fashion (which was at least sexually related, itself) to hand tools to cars to movies to books. Everything used to have sexual connotations in its ads, but now they were seeing that these ads started to become ineffective. They had no idea why things were changing, but sex started to quickly drop out of the ads targeted at the major cities
(where Newt had dumped the M bug), and it did not take long for the national ads to be affected.
The changes also started showing up in some "objective" figures, like the productivity numbers. It seemed that, as people were less sexually driven, much of their resources and efforts came to be redirected to more productive pursuits. A great deal of friction at the workplace disappeared, as men and women got along better, with intra-gender rivalries also lessening a great deal. There was much less hiring based on looks, and subsequently, efficiency and competency skyrocketed.
Even Newt was surprised at the percentage of effort and resources that had gone into sexually related pursuits before, which were now contributing to society's growth, instead. It seemed that people channeled the extra energy into work and art and politics and science and pursuits of all kinds, with everyone seemingly pursuing her own creative notions. While the sexual drive had been moderated, the notion of aesthetics was still present, and even a bit stronger. But different notions of beauty started to appear as the sexual link was mitigated. It was amazing! People started to feel that this was the New Renaissance, perhaps even greater than had been experienced in Europe before. There was a great excitement rampant throughout the country, though it was more the subdued excitement of many simultaneous micro-discoveries.
The way that people socialized changed. There was still a bar scene and singles still liked to get together to meet each other, but the old meat markets started to disappear. Alcohol consumption dropped precipitously, as people took to other types of drugs, en masse, which were more conducive to creativity and conversation and interaction. It was a resurgence of mental and emotional intimacy. People wanted to "know" others.
Another strange result occurred concerning ownership and private property. These are concepts that many people thought were natural expressions of human nature, themselves, that got applied to sexual contexts. It turned out that they were actually sexual concepts, which had gotten applied to all sorts of other contexts! As "Gene M" moderated the sexual drive, the desires for private property also moderated. People were much less worried about the idea of others having sex with their mates (by projective reaction) and therefore less concerned with notions of ownership and private use. There was much more trust, and the friendly social dynamics were greatly altered as married people engaged in the social rituals described above, which is what made socializing that much more interesting. There came to be much less gender clumping in the relationships of friends. It was just a kinder, gentler society. If only Freud had known how close he was, he would have loved to have seen and studied the M bug society.
A funny result was that a lot of the "Moralists" found themselves out of work, as questions of morality fell away. Much of the abuse of power and crime had been, it seems, sexually driven somehow, and now it was dissipating quickly. The number of abortions fell off dramatically, which took that issue out of the public debate. It just did not seem that important anymore, since the numbers were now tiny. This abortion issue was to be the first of Newt's disappointments with the results of "Gene M", although he was too busy with new research to be bothered that much by it.
But people started to notice that, not only had society changed, but they had changed, too. Those who kept journals began to notice the differences in the thoughts that they would write about, and the thinkers noticed that their conscious environments were altered. People started talking about this as they were analyzing the greatness of the "new" American
society and culture. But no one wanted to upset the applecart, to jinx the situation. Why ask about why something is working so well? That would only be inviting trouble. It was a sort of national superstition to not be too explicit about the reasons for the changes. But some published questioning and probing articles and people started to feel a bit strange about everything, though no one could say why. A feeling of unease crept into the public psyche.
Finally, as Newt saw all this going on, he knew that he had to do something. He had to go public with the story and let people know what had been done. He figured, "They will understand, because they see how great everything is."
Newt Fallwell got dressed in his best suit as he prepared for the press conference. He had announced, a few days before, that he was going to address the cultural changes in America and that he knew why they were happening. He went so far as to intimate that he was, in some ways, responsible and would elaborate on it all at this conference. The people were intrigued and viewership was quite high for the event.
Newt stepped up to the podium and said:
"The reason for the great changes that have been sweeping through America is a virus which I call the 'M Bug'. It carries within it a set of genes which I have named 'Gene M', which serve to moderate the human sexual drive. They do not destroy it, as you are all aware, but turn it down enough to keep it from infringing on all other aspects of life, releasing us to follow each pursuit separately and to its own ends.
I developed the gene set and the virus in my lab a little over two years ago and released it through the water supplies of the major cities. I watched its effects very closely and can say that all of my initial expectations have been easily surpassed. The profound changes that "Gene M" has brought on people and society have startled me with their depth and intensity. Man is moving on to a higher evolutionary and emotional level and the anachronism of the overpowering sexual drive had to be mitigated.
This is all a great shock, I'm sure. So, I will give everyone a week to consider the issue and then I will hold a session for questions and comments. Thank you."
Part 3: The Point of Inflection
The initial reaction to Newt's press conference was one of profound shock. So much so that words were not even available to describe the emotions that people felt. Houses and living rooms were silent, with people just staring at their television screens. Even the coverage by the various networks was momentarily vacant as reporters and anchorpeople, themselves, just stared into the cameras. After a long minute, though, the stations all put commercials up and the living rooms started to discuss what had been said, awkwardly at first, as everyone tried to shelve the unwilled emotions in them.
The were some strange reports the next day, trying to analyze the news, and soon a reasonable debate emerged. Some people felt violated, that their minds had been raped, but eventually society came to grips with the situation. Whatever had happened, had happened and there was nowhere to go but forward now.
The intellectual debate raged on for a couple of weeks and served as a national catharsis, allowing people to adjust to the situation and feel comfortable with it. A large segment of society hailed Newt as the new Messiah, the greatest human to ever have lived, while a much smaller segment vilified him.
But society was in such a state of change (upheaval, really) from the effects of "Gene M", having initiated the removal of sexual references from the myriad aspects of life into
which it had embedded itself, that the debate quickly disappeared into the intellectual forest, with most people forgetting about it and just getting back to their normal lives. They had better, more important, more pressing things to do than whine about what could have been.
Much of society's "libraries" of entertainment had been rendered useless by the moderation of the sexual drive, and an immense effort was needed to replenish these libraries with works and pieces and games that appealed to emotions and desires other than sexually related. It is amazing to see how things can fit together so well sometimes. The moderation of the sexual drive released resources to follow more creative and productive endeavors, no longer tied down to a subliminal, if not explicit, appeal to sex. At the same time, it rendered useless much past work which then called for a great amount of resources to be spent on replenishment of creative and productive works. It could not have been planned better!
People did not miss the overpowering sexual drive, in the way that there were no holes in their lives. They still lived full lives; many
claiming much fuller than before.
It was a situation much comparable to the release from an addiction; the addict is terrified at the prospect of living the rest of his life without his "drug", assuming that it will be incomplete, even empty, but it is actually freer and more exciting. The essence of being addicted to, say, X, being a subconscious net that allows strong thoughts about X to bubble up to the conscious at a great frequency. The X addict thinks consciously about X five or ten times a minute, with all other thoughts pushed out as the thoughts about X bubble up to the conscious surface. To be more specific, the nature of each individual addiction (or habituation) is determined by, not only the frequency of X thoughts, but acceleration, final level, etc. Of course, a life continuing on without X seems as though it would be incomplete but, as the subconscious net changes, thoughts about X bubble up less and less frequently, which leaves the person "new" conscious mental time to think about all sorts of other things.
Being tied down to a single aspect of life, because of the overpowering sexual drive, was like being in mental and emotional jail and "Gene M" allowed people to now fly free in the numerous other possibilities of life. So, for the next year, society moved ahead in one of the most fabulously satisfying intellectual and emotional times in Man's history. But the good times could not last forever, and a certain edge came into the collective feeling as people seemed to realize this eventuality.
The M bug turned out to be quite an organism, if one would call it that. It was very successful - more successful than anyone could have ever imagined - but eventually the human immune system got wise to its tricks and started developing the required antibodies. This forced mutated forms of the M bug to start appearing in larger and larger percentages. And these mutations were a bit stranger than normal. The virus, itself mutated, forced by the human immune response, but so did the "Gene M" that it was carrying. Part of this was due to the random mutations which occurred in reproduction, transcription, etc., but another type of change was due to the self-modifying nature of "Gene M", which took it off in a wildly different direction. It was a strange feedback system that led the gene set, "Gene M", into realms unimagined.
Eventually, an equilibrium of sorts was reached, and the new, dominant M bug carried a very strange mutation of "Gene M" which was called, appropriately, "Mutated M". "Mutated M" had a very different effect than the original gene set.
It turns out that Newt had been mistaken in his assignment of the sexual drive mechanism of the genome. The section that he had identified was really more closely related to the seat of a complex mental/emotional associative foundation. It was part of the mechanism which dictated, to a good extent, the primary framework of the associations between the primitive needs, the instincts such as sexual, survival, hunger,.... and the subconscious nets dictating the frequencies, distributions, shapes, etc. of the thought bubbles of these various areas that were allowed to surface to conscious or near-conscious areas. This is the genetic section that Newt had been playing with, the moderation of the sexual drive only having been a lucky hit ... a bit like the astrologers of old who were carrying out real scientific work, making detailed observations of the stars and planets and comets, but being wildly misdirected in their interpretations of the data they were gathering.
Well, "Mutated M" left no room for any further misinterpretations of this genetic segment, the effects being too strong and too scary. "Mutated M", when inserted into the appropriate sections of the chromosomes, caused a permutation of the associations of the primitive instincts and the subconscious nets. It shuffled the emotional associations, with seemingly little direction, except for a single case. The sexual instinct was now always associated with the phobic subconscious net; a net that only allowed feelings and thoughts of a fearful nature to surface. That is to say that sex became a phobia for everyone infected with "Mutated M"; as bad a phobia as whatever their worst fear had been. If someone had been acrophobic, that was now how they felt about sex, with their attitude about heights reassociated with a new subconscious net, generally non-phobic. If someone had been claustrophobic, that was now how they felt about sex, with feelings of tight places shuffled out of the phobic net. And, if someone had no great phobia then the association with sex was shuffled into whatever their greatest fear had been, at a phobic level of intensity. Needless to say, the immediate impact on society was immense.
It was very lucky that the good years had occurred, when sex had slowly been removed from large segments of society, since this helped to soften the landing of the sexual phobia, caused by Mutated M, that DEMANDED sex be removed. The good years helped keep a potentially explosive situation under control. There were great differences, though. As the importance of sex had subsided under the influence of "Gene M", the pendulum now swung fully to the other side under "Mutated M". The idea of sex now elicited fear and panic reactions from the vast majority of individuals. The only way to express the feeling is to imagine a group of people with great acrophobia living in a beautiful, small, mountain top village, with sheer drops all around and the only way to have kids, or produce kids, is to take a glass bottomed cable car to the valley below, do what needed to be done, and then ride it back up. It was an extremely terrifying prospect. More directly, thinking about the act itself was comparable to an acrophobe contemplating a 500 foot bungee jump out of a hovering helicopter! That is how people with "Mutated M" felt about sex.
The most immediate consequence of this was that the birth rate dropped to just about 0. No one was having sex anymore, and no babies were being born. The population of the US went into free fall, with the death rate determining the overall population growth rate, now negative. This was not totally bad, at the level of individuals, since wealth was locally increasing, but at the global level the US would cease to be a society in less than one generation, and the lopsidedness of the demographic situation was dire.
A great deal of effort went into fighting the M bug, and "Mutated M", but no one could seem to even make a dent in the problem. It was just a virus of a totally new type and none of the conventional approaches gave any indications of effectiveness. There was a great worry over this, although very few would even discuss it openly, due to the sexual phobia.
Society started to fall apart, with old racial and ethnic prejudices reemerging even stronger than they had been before the good years of "Gene M" had done so much to dissipate them. Newt Fallwell was found murdered in his lab. A group who called themselves the "Free Evolution Council" claimed responsibility, stating that Newt Fallwell had run afoul of Mother Nature and had to be stopped. This group was comprised of a very unusual mix of characters, bound together only by their strange notions about evolution.
The government, realizing that the situation had to be dealt with soon, started very quiet discussions about forced procreation. Very quiet, because the public did not even like to hear about anything sexual. This was like, in our analogy, deciding to put up walls, so that the acrophobic people could not see the great height they were living at, but this meant that they had to find huge numbers of people to ride the glass bottomed cable cars down to pick up the materials, ride them back up, and work on the edge of the plateau, building the walls. It was unlikely that such a group would be found.
There was another problem in that, not only would people resist the work of procreation, but they would not accept the infringements on their "civil" rights to force them to do so. After all, this is the United States we're talking about - "Give me freedom or give me death". The career politicians were most definitely not going to try to pass such an unpopular law and found themselves at a loss for any reasonable solution to the problem.
No one knew what to do and a feeling of sad resignation came over the country. "Mutated M" seemed to spell the end.
Part 4: Emergence of the Post Modern Anti-(Anti-Hero)
The mood of the nation grew progressively worse, but, luckily everybody had a different way of dealing with their depression. Some became lethargic and apathetic, not seeing any reason to do anything. They enjoyed wallowing in self-pity, concentrating on the presumed end. But many people threw themselves into their work, trying to not think about the situation. They led a great productive movement that almost made up for the problem of the inevitable end of society. Not quite, but almost.
Then a very strange anomaly started to make itself known. There was a sudden increase in the number of pregnancies, which then grew exponentially as time went on. The birth rate was not yet close to what was necessary to stem the erosion of population, but it was enough to give hope to the idea that things might work themselves out. But there was something else, very odd, occurring; the percentage of infants that were being put up for adoption was gigantic, something like 85%, while the number of people applying to adopt kids exploded. In fact, it turned out that many of the people who were waiting for adoptions were families in which the wife was pregnant, and that child was being offered up for adoption at the same time!
It was very strange because everybody knew what was going on, although no one spoke openly about it. These pregnancies were almost all the results of rapes. The couples had not changed one bit; almost none of them were having sex, but there was some explosion in the occurrence of rape. This became all too apparent as the races and looks of the infants bore no resemblance to any of the husbands,
with white couples giving birth to black children and vice versa. But it is funny how weird explanations can be dredged up, and accepted, to save the personal and public psyche!
The various levels of government also knew what was going on but the politicians looked at the rapists as saviors, of sorts, since the onus was then taken off of them. There was no longer a need to pass forced procreation laws, as the rapists were taking care of this problem. They would have liked to have legalized rape, or at least decriminalized it, but they knew that this would not be possible, besides it would have been a logistical legal nightmare, so they responded, instead, by not enforcing any of the rape laws, and not pursuing any rape complaints. Well, they made it look as though they were investigating the "crimes", but they were not. If the rapes were stopped, then the government would have to act to solve the population crisis, and none of them were prepared to do this. I know how the old saying goes, but to call politicians and serial rapists strange bedfellows....
The politicians felt pretty confident in this approach of "Don't ask, don't tell" with respect to rapists, and were even more assured as they received the results for a pair of polls commissioned by the General Accounting Office. These were two polls that both had the same question appearing, "Do you believe that the rapists should be stopped?" In the first poll, conducted in malls with the respondents checking off responses on a sheet, in public, and then handing the sheet back to the pollster, 83% said "Yes". But in the second poll, where respondents filled sheets out in a private room and then dumped them into a large trash can full of other polling sheets, only 4% said "Yes". It was clear that the American people, deep down, agreed with the politicians about not doing anything.
But why were the rapists doing this, why were they having sex? After all, everyone had "Mutated M" in their chromosomes.
It turned out that the serious pathological rapist, the serial rapist, had some distinctly different genetic mechanisms. We are not talking about your regular, run-of-the-mill rapist, but those who could not help themselves, unable to do anything but rape. They had, what used to be called in nicer times, genetic abnormalities; but it was just these "abnormalities" that rendered them immune to "Mutated M". They became the only people in society who were interested in having sex, precisely because it was never the sex itself that they pursued, but the rape, and from their point of view it was like an open field now. Everyone had so much extra time, being released from all duties sexual, that the streets were constantly filled with women of all sorts. It was a rapist's smorgasbord.
All of this was taking place within a chaotic, and increasingly nasty society. Old prejudices and hates served as the outlets for many peoples' fears and frustrations, and even though sexual foundations were removed from these problems, they proved that they could be just as ignorant and dangerous on other bases. But, again, how things seem to fit together is beyond amazing.
The situation where almost all of the pregnant women wanted to put their babies up for adoption was now understandable, given the circumstances surrounding the pregnancies. Women, with great sexual phobias, were carrying children of rapes. While they very much wanted children, and families, (as the motherly instinct was still intact) they were in shock over the ordeal of the rape and the children they were carrying only served to remind them, every day, of this event. So they wanted to offer the children up for adoption (as abortions had dropped off during the good years, most clinics had closed, and women did not even seem to consider that as an alternative,
anyway, seeing the population situation) but many of them wanted to take a child home from the hospital with them. A sense of continuity was something that people cherished.
So, all of a sudden there was a great pool of infants available for adoption and a great pool of families wanting to adopt. There was so much confusion reigning, with all of the other effects of Mutated M having to be dealt with, that the children were just randomly distributed among the eligible families, with little concern for any social factors. A great shuffling of babies.
It did not take long before this was formalized in the National Infant Pool. All infants born had to be entered into this. People not only accepted this idea, but welcomed it. It took a great deal of the guilt off of the mother for feeling that she wanted to give up the baby, allowing her to say to herself, "It's not that I want to, but I have to." The infants were then randomly distributed among the waiting families, with only a small weighting applied to whether the mother had given birth recently and the size of the current family. Genetics was quickly being disengaged from the idea of family. One was biological in nature, while the other was cultural. This turned out to be a great advance for society, as the mixing of the babies, and thus the dehomogenization of families, served to solve many of the raging racial, ethnic, and cultural problems.
Cultures started to be looked at, as families were, as distinct from the genetic content of their practitioners and members. Cultures were forms of their own, living and dying based on whether people decided to adopt them, or not. And the distancing from genetics helped many cultures in that people were no longer restricted, in a social way, from adopting cultures which were "not theirs". The random infant redistribution destroyed any ideas of a culture belonging to a specific genetic class and opened all up for participation to any who liked the rituals and ideas and whatever else served to define the culture. When people decided to raise a family, they would pick and choose from among all the available cultures, since everyone realized that one's cultural background was a random event, anyway.
And, thus, society continued. The rapes went on, and even grew in numbers and people understood that they were a necessary part of life. Mutated M made sure of that. But the rapes were not even that bad, as society is very nimble at times, and much of the trauma from the rapes was removed as the social stigma, of necessity, disappeared. In fact, being pregnant was looked at with great admiration, since everyone, the men and the women understood the scary circumstances under which it occurred. It was an attitude very close to initiation rights; the great pains that young males undergo in many societies before they are called "Men". And women gained a great deal of power because of this. They were the ones carrying the torch of society.
The rapists eventually started demanding their rights, and recognition of their functionality in society, as proscribed in law. They wanted to be decriminalized, if not appreciated. This movement started building some steam, until a watershed moment when it finally realized its goals. A book, entitled "Hail the Serial Rapist", came out chronicling the history of the US and the rapist community in it, putting everything into perspective. This hit the public hard, although they still didn't talk much about anything sexual, but they began to understand the plight of the rapist. Laws against rape were removed and society finally found a new equilibrium to settle into.
Eventually, there came to be a "genetic war" between Mutated M and the rapist personalities .... Society realized that they needed to start a special gene bank, preserving all of the pathological and strange
genes they could, just in case they were needed for future "genetic battles".
A new type of society emerged from all this, with a much better, much more personal understanding of the workings of evolution and Man's (Woman's, really) place in it. This was just the bare beginning of Humankind's next great step forward.
The Genetic Preservation Company
Saving genes/people for the future.
The original inception of the company had little to do with accumulating power. It had just appeared as a side thought, as one answer to the question, "Which aspects of society have not been revolutionized by technology?" The late twentieth century was a great time to pose this question... as the whole world lurched forward and a certain dissonance grew between the different areas as each followed its own path of modernization.
There was an area in which it was perfectly clear that technology had not had any impact, at all. This was the process of burial, or more encompassing, the process of closing a life and disposing of the physical residue. This involved, essentially, the same set of procedures that had been used since the dawn of recorded history on Earth.
To be sure, there have always been other processes of disposal, but processes of a different class were always reserved for the elite. You could be mummified in Ancient Egypt or cryogenically frozen in twentieth century America, but only at a cost that was high enough to ensure that the masses would not have access.
For The People, the process was always, essentially, the same. There was a period of mourning, with some accompanying rituals, after which the corpse was destroyed by any of various means, leaving only whiffs of the original person as lived on in memories. Children were, for most people, the only lasting effect they would have on the environment, since the original was just thrown away.
This was a huge waste, and in fact, the way we handled the closure of a life had become counter productive, given the abilities and technology that we came to possess. We were wasting good real estate, an important and limited resource, for use in destroying chromosomal information, another important and limited resource. Waste on both sides of the equation!
After all of the effort and resources nature expended in the production of a particular structure (a complete set of human chromosomes), its utility to society, and the world, was assessed over a single instantiation over some finite amount of time, locked within whatever context it lived. Given all of the random events which conspire to shape a life, this certainly seems a bit inefficient. Everybody can think back to the multitude of "chance" events that altered their futures immeasurably. But, I guess that people had just resigned themselves to this set of constraints long ago, developing other existences, after lifes and other worlds, to demonstrate a more coherent view of the whole process of life, itself. Unfortunately, in evolutionary systems, ignorance is NOT bliss.
I decided to start the "Genetic Preservation Company". I thought that the company had the potential to provide me with a nice living, and I felt that it was a better process that would be beneficial for society at large. The company's basic approach was to ask people if they wanted to continue throwing away all useable traces of their loved ones? And that's what we actually said, "After all the work that nature put into the design of someone ... someone you love ... why throw them away, into the garbage? Shouldn't the essence of what they were be saved ... the potential for their renewal? We are all aware that human cloning is going to be a reality in the future, so give your loved ones a chance."
What we proposed to do was save peoples' basic genetic information, actually copies of their chromosomes, via frozen tissue samples. This was a relatively simple process and the development of super-conducting, super-cold freezers allowed it to be done cheaply and effectively. The temperatures that we were storing the samples at were very close to absolute zero, so we could keep them for millennia, with no degradation in the information.
It is true that we could have just sequenced the chromosomes and saved that information, which was much easier to handle, but, there were several compelling reasons for saving whole cells,
with intact nuclei.
First of all, there may have been more to the chromosome than just packaging. There were many open questions regarding the utility of the chromosomal package, and it was not entirely clear that unique genetic sequences pack uniquely.
There was also the fact that we had not mapped the genome well enough to be able to read much useful information from the genetic sequences, themselves. This shortcoming was augmented by the associated biographies, which were to give some higher level insight into the framework dictated by the chromosomes.
Finally, then-current cloning methods required the entire cellular nucleus, so, just the genetic sequences, themselves, would have been useless with this technology. We decided to be on the safe side and just keep the whole cells, which included the chromosomal packages.
One must keep in mind, however, that the information contained in the chromosomal package does not comprise the totality of a life. It provides only the initial potential along with a general developmental framework for the organism. The influence of the environment on any instantiation of a set of chromosomes is a fundamental force, and the reactions dictated by the chromosomes to the environmental input is a great part of the nature of that specific set. So, we needed to know more.
We needed to know what the context of the life generated by a set of chromosomes had been. What were the environments that the organism had grown within, had performed within? What had been the basic traits... intelligence, physical ability, creative function, social life? What had been the physiology... diseases, immune function, hormonal schedules...? All of these data were absolutely essential to supplying any real value to the chromosomal package, itself. That is to say that chromosomes, by themselves, were of no great value. We needed some description of the possible growth of the organism, how some instantiation of that chromosomal information had turned out. Given this, there would be a good chance that, at some point in the future, conditions would be such as to make another instantiation of that chromosomal package a reality. The person would be cloned and live again, in some way.
Eternity for the masses! And the cost was reasonable.
Anytime someone allows the masses to utilize a tool theretofor reserved for the elite, there are problems to be expected. The great churches didn't take this task lightly, and quickly set upon destroying the company. Actually, it was fairly hysterical, in a twisted way. The churches found themselves siding with groups of "Pro-evolutionists" who saw my work as being "counter-evolutionary" in that these structures (us!) were designed for only a single life span. The Genetic Preservation Company would be violating Nature to save the chromosomes for later use. The churches claimed that evolution was god's order and it could NOT be tampered with, lest we all face divine consequences.
The debate came to the point where god was equated with evolutionary pressure. On that I agreed with the church. I had always thought that the concept of the 'abstract god' was really just the identification of evolutionary pressure, anyway. God is everywhere at once, but nowhere. Man has "free will" but god controls the overall development. Local randomness within global order. This is just a description of the perceived pressure within a system that is evolving to a higher internal complexity.
It was also important that one understood that Man could never do anything "counter-evolutionary". That would be tantamount to saying that Man is qualitatively different from all other species; that there is all of life on Earth, and then there is Man. But this is, clearly, silly. Man is as much a part of nature as anything else, an evolutionary product and an evolutionary tool. He does not control evolution, but is only a passenger on this most dynamic ride in the world.
Besides, the notions of "pro-evolutionary" and "counter-evolutionary" have no meaning without a point of view, since they carry with them explicit references to the relationships between the assumed effects of some act and the worth of those effects. A developing society could be considered "counter-evolutionary" from the point of view of individual constituents. Many organisms, which would have been considered unfit in some previous social environments, are kept alive. But, what actually happens with a society is that the competitive evolutionary pressures shift. The definition of fitness changes. As it must have, "free will" got lost in the debate.
A society, whether it be a society of cells, such as a human, or a society of humans, must constantly work to organize information in its local area. It is just a little island defying the raging flow of entropy. As when we save someone who is dying, there is always the possibility that we are saving this person only to have some strange disorder introduced into the environment... but the possible benefits of saving the genetic information far outweighed any of these unforeseen consequences, and the debate was quickly resolved in the public mind. It seemed that we had really hit a nerve in the mass thinking. People wanted a chance to live on.
Luckily, the work that the company was doing was not, in any way, illegal. We were not cloning anyone, only storing certain parts of a person, like the cryogenic folks, so the business just went on as people debated the issues.
The start of the company was fairly easy. I worked with people on an individual basis. A family (or person) would contact me and ask about setting up some family member (or himself). As I said before, just the chromosomal package was not enough. We needed to know how these chromosomes had grown and performed, and within what contexts. We needed a detailed biography of the life that these chromosomes had generated.
There were several methods we used to get this information, but the best case was for someone who was still alive. With that person we could run batteries of psychological, physical, and emotional tests to determine all different types of aptitudes, along with the usual interviews of friends and family and general history.
So, the depth and completeness of the biography was the single greatest factor in preserving the life, this time around. I stressed this point with the families, and it didn't hurt that, what was good for the preservation and determination of the chromosomal structure, was also good for business. The deeper the biography, the larger my revenues and my margins.
It did not take long, however, before we found that there were other issues that we had to deal with. The question of orphaned data was a sticky one. What would happen with genetic information that had lost its sponsor? There were certain annual storage fees which, although they were not very expensive, might stop getting paid at some point, due to the family dying out, or people deciding that they did not want the service anymore. What happened to those chromosomes?
Well, as we started dealing with this issue, we found our main customers. The world had been evolving, socially, very rapidly and quite a few people were getting left behind. Between the pressures of career and changes in society a growing number of people were being left childless. But they still wanted to pass their information on in some way, to live. Some of these people just wanted their chromosomal information saved, and did not really care who owned that information. There were others who wanted to make sure that they would be cloned at some later point and left funds for that next instantiation. Some of these folks even left specific instructions for the care of the next instantiation of their chromosomes. But, most of the individuals signed ownership and/or custody of their information over to us.
We also started picking up a great deal of chromosomal information through abortions. There was something reassuring to the woman who wanted to have an abortion. If the fetus' genetic information was being kept, then it wasn't really being thrown away. After all, the fetus only represents a few month's development of one instantiation of its set of chromosomes. It had not developed anything remotely resembling a human personality, so, starting a new instantiation of the same set of chromosomes would be very close to just having had the development put on hold for a while. This was low grade chromosomal information, though, because there had been no independent life to record, so we did not really know what the expression of the chromosomal information might be. All we had was the information for the parents, which did, however, lend some value to the chromosomes.
The first few years were uneventful, with business doing well, but nothing to write home about. But then human cloning began to emerge from the research and development phase and started being used in the general public. It was an expensive process that was restricted to a very few, but even so, still generated one of the greatest debates to rage across the Earth.
I saw a number of the old arguments that had been used against the company reemerge, but the necessities for the cloning process were even more compelling now. The whole idea of colonizing space was put forward as a "must do" and there was no way that enough genetic material, and information, could be transported in the living crew. After all, using an entire grown organism merely to transport and manage the minuscule data that defined it is inefficient to the nth degree! And not all of the multi-generational space missions were going to need human populations of great size, so, for the smaller ones, with only 20 or 30 people, there definitely had to be extra information that was not packaged in the form of a human being. We cannot take a billion people to use as seeds for a colony, but we CAN take ten billion sets of chromosomes.
The growing debate over the years was the greatest publicity that the company could have asked for and we came to be in control of the largest chromosomal database in the world. The key was the quality and integrity of our database. Not only did we have the largest database, but we had the only complete one. The biographies were integral to the extra value of our data. This put the Genetic Preservation Company in a position of great "universal" power. When a mission into deep space was being planned, we were the ones they had to come to. We didn't own all of our database, but acted as agents for the data that was owned by others.
But there was more. After the use of cloning on humans had been going on for some time, we had more than a few sets of chromosomes that had gone through several different instantiations. AND we had the biographies for every one. In fact, the biographies were more in depth for each succeeding instantiation.
The colonization of space had opened up whole new worlds, literally and figuratively, and the ability to "get to know" a set of chromosomes was greatly enhanced as the surface area of life grew exponentially. This is only to say that, once we started colonizing space, the only constraints on human population growth were the constraints in actually building habitable environments. In this environment a set of chromosomes could have several instantiations at once, and would even be needed to do so.
We took a view, at the company, that the set of chromosomes was "the soul" and that each instance of life grown from a soul was an "incarnation" in physical life (as opposed to later computational models). We started looking at those philosophies which had examined reincarnation and tried to see which concepts could be translated from the metaphysical to the physical (and computational physical).
The following is an excerpt from a set of biographies that was given to the tenth incarnation of a specific soul:
The Seventh Incarnation
Mordechai Noffman Chromosome #2A215-5KTL478LQ
Turning 20 was monumental. I know that, around that age, every year seems to be special in some way, as one organizes life... but for me there was something else, and it altered my view of myself, the people around me, and life in general.
I received a set of books from the Company that consisted of 6 large volumes and 1 thin one. Each book had a name across the top, a chromosomal number under it, and a large picture of a person on its cover. The chromosomal numbers were all the same and my name and picture were on the thin volume. These were the biographies of the six earlier incarnations of my chromosomes, along with a little of my life, to that point.
I started reading the first book, "Martin Knopman". It was interesting, but I didn't feel any special bond with the person described. I knew that he was a brother, of sorts, whom I was reading about ..... a twin, actually, but there didn't seem to be any other connection. For some reason I couldn't stop reading, though.
I was into the third chapter, describing Martin's late teens, when I noticed that I was shaking my head in acknowledgment as I was reading. This had been an unconscious movement, to start, but after I noticed that I was doing it, I started reading more carefully. I understood what Martin was saying, in relating his thoughts and feelings of the time. I even saw some things that I had done myself, thinking all the time that I had been making independent choices. I felt as though he was talking to me.
As I got further into the book I felt as though I was reading into my own future. One possible future. Then I picked up the second book, the biography of the second incarnation of my chromosomes.
There were many differences, and in this person I noticed sides of my personality that I hadn't seen in Martin. It was like the second person was a different snapshot of me.....?...?..!..?...
I started to wonder what "me" was?!? Was I the main character in this play of seven acts, so far, or was there something greater of which "I" was only a minor part? Was "I" just one more snapshot of my chromosomes?
I realized that "I" was just part of a larger ME. I was THEM!! and whatever other incarnations of my (our) chromosomes will be. What I had assumed comprised the sum total of MY life was just the tip of the iceberg. The biographies allowed me to see hidden parts of ME, and some day "I", my biography, would be doing the same for another brethren of OURS. ....... I guess I must mean you! Who else would be reading this?
I learned quite a bit more, after having first received the biographies, and I can only say that my life was as full as one could expect. There was something so reassuring about being part of our "chromosome club".
I assume that you've already read the six incarnations of our chromosomes before me, so I'll just catch you up to date on our "family" from my point of view.
I had three children, biologically.
Our set of chromosomes, during my lifetime, had: a 50% interest in 5 incarnations, that is to say that we gave 23 chromosomes to each of these incarnations, a 72% interest in 3 incarnations, we gave 34 chromosomes, and a 22% interest in 11 incarnations.
I even knew quite a few of these people, personally.
Our set of chromosomes was also extended for 2 incarnations of the new '48 chromosome' humans. The extra tools, added in the 47th and 48th chromosomes, were the best available, at the time. These were tools that, while they did build some extra neural capacity, were mostly "software" modules,
but I'm sure this is all covered elsewhere.
Anyway, I'll tell you, I was never the same after that day I turned 20, as you will never be after this one! I always felt that, even if I died, that ME would live on, in you, and, as long as the chromosomes were safe, we would both be "alive".
Damming the flow of time for its energy ... large scale social effects.
The wine was flowing, the laughter hearty, the mood nervously jubilant. The biggest event to occur in fifty metric years (that is, five billion seconds) of our world's time was to take place. The countdown to resyncing was at:
1232 seconds, 31, 30, 29, ...
We were all gathered on the roof of the great Falls Tower, my attention pointed up towards the sky ... whose own roof was about to open wide up.
I was at the party only because it seemed like the place where the view was going to be best. I didn't come to celebrate, but to observe. Looking around the deck, there were more than a few people who had already passed out. They were going to miss the entire event! But ... maybe that had been the intention all along? This was a fairly nervous and anxious happening for all of us, even the ones who had wanted the resyncing.
I wasn't participating in the festivities, at all. I wanted to be sober for the resyncing, to experience the event in its fullest. Well, maybe a hit of acid wouldn't hurt the experience, but I definitely wanted my senses in working order as the moment came, because I knew that it was something that I would remember, and relive, for the rest of my life.
1012 seconds, 11, 10, 9, ...
I wondered what stars were really going to look like. I had seen all of the historical pictures of the primitive sky, the synced sky, but I thought that they could not possibly convey the full impact of the real thing. I could not even imagine the feeling of being able to just tilt one's head upward and see into all that space ... what could compare?
Our world had spent a huge amount of energy on this resyncing, and the decision to move in this direction had only passed by the slimmest of margins. A good percentage of people had been against the idea, for any of a number of reasons.
Most of the dissenters had just been nervous and scared at what we might find in the outside universe. It had been so long since our world had had to deal with anyone else, and the old legends and tales were not all pleasant, with stories of large scale wars and vicious competition. But, no one knew which tales were true, and even if they were, would they still be true today? After all, while our community had aged a thousand metric years, five hundred thousand metric years had passed in the outside universe. What had it developed into ... or out of?
Some of the other dissenters had actually wanted to run the energy tap some more and push us further into the trap of the slow bubble. They did not want to work, but just reap the benefits for their lifetimes .... fuck the future! Sell the future! Luckily, their vote was not nearly strong enough and we decided to join back up with the rest of the universe, even at the cost of seven metric years worth of stored energy. While we did not have a democratic government, we used The Fluid Body Politic, this was a choice that had little to do with skill. It was a decision well beyond the particulars of politics, so we had it put up to a public referendum.
I looked up at the sky, trying to visualize the resyncing. But all I saw was the same sky I had seen all of my life. Black. Blacker than black.
841 seconds, 40, 39, 38, ...
I felt so lucky that I lived in a world that was moving back towards participation in the whole universe, although, who knew how many time bubbles now dotted the space outside?! Those who had wanted to run the tap some more had broken off in a little bubble of their own. We had to pay for their time, also, in the resyncing, but most of us understood their apprehensions, and felt that they deserved the choice. But there was sadness in watching them go. We all knew what they were doing.
They were a spiraling slow bubble in its infancy, setting out to live the easy life. They would probably never come back out, but make their Faustian deal and disappear forever.
They were, however, not the only time bubble inside our little world. Even though we only had 400 million people, and a radius of 1127 kilometers, we had developed several different time bubbles within our own ... some slow, some fast.
I had heard all the legends ... about communities trapped in the spiraling slow bubbles ... (although I never knew where this information had come from!) ... mining their way deeper and deeper. These people had committed themselves, and their descendants, to living in truly finite worlds, both in time and space. Measurably finite ..... visibly finite!! Continuously mining the energy of time, going more and more slowly through the life of the universe.
But the mining provides diminishing returns and some are alleged to have mined their way to oblivion. They had gotten so addicted to the lazy life, ... wasting most of the energy that they had mined, ... their time slowing with every new extraction. They would never be able to generate enough energy to pull themselves back to resync with anyone. And even if they could find the energy required, there was probably not enough time left in the universe for them to resync. They could have, quite easily, mined themselves down to a ratio of 10-30. They were lost forever.
603 seconds, 2, 1, 600, 599, ...
I looked across the roof and saw Inbal staring back at me. She was smiling, but the corners of her mouth were quivering, ever so slightly, and the quivering of her cheeks betrayed the attempt at calm that the smile espoused. I loved her so much. It hurt to see her like this, but I empathized fully.
She walked over and put her arms around me. The feeling of being held was so reassuring. I hugged her back and we stared into each other's eyes. For this small moment, we were both in an emotional time bubble of our own.
501 seconds, 500, 499, 98, 97, ...
"I'm really scared," Inbal managed to whisper, as tears started to well up in her eyes. She turned around and waved her arm in a small arc in front of her, encompassing the people passed out around the deck, "I think that they might have the right idea... just get drunk and let the resyncing pass ...."
"Don't worry," I told her ... and myself too! "As soon as the resyncing is over, we are going to get out of here and go traveling. We are going to see what the whole universe really is. You and me."
"How do you propose to do that? You know that we have no way of traveling outside of this area. The only machines for real space travel that we have ever even heard of were from the prehistory, before we formed this bubble. Who knows what is out there now ... who is out there now?"
"We'll find a way .... I promise."
440 seconds, 39, 38, 37, ...
Looking back over the rich history of tool use among life forms in the universe, the time mining machine was something that was so distinctly different; it boggled the mind.
The basic idea was that the 'movement of time', pushing objects through time, required energy. No one knew where this energy came from, but it was there, and it could be tapped. The best analogy, and it is only an analogy, is a computational one. Every section of space could be viewed as a program living inside some large computer. Each section was initially assigned a standard amount of CPU activity, which was needed to evaluate interactions, to update the state of the section. A section could, however,
sell a percentage of its future CPU cycles, so to speak, and the proceeds from this sale were the energy that was spit out by the time mining machine. But the section then had less CPU cycles to move it along and, as a result, the 'time' in that section, the updates of state, would be slowed down compared with sections of space abutting it.
On the other hand, a section could also buy future CPU cycles, expending energy, and thereby speeding up its local time. For reasons of symmetry, and the lack of better knowledge, we were only able to do this in spherical sections, hence the term 'time bubbles'. They were very close to perfect spheres, except for gravitational dents, which were inevitable, seeing as there were other objects in the universe.
Once one had created an unsynced time bubble, where the local time was different from that of the boundary sections, there could be no outside communication, in either direction. The bubble became the entire physical world, for those inside. This is why our sky was pitch black. Generally, nothing emerged from it and nothing bounced off of it. Particles that hit the boundary would just disappear, although, every few metric years, there would be a great burst in the sky, as some of the energy of particles stuck in the boundary for those years was released back into our bubble. But, for the most part it was just blackness.
Different communities had different tastes, and some preferred to spend energy in order to create a fast bubble, buying future CPU cycles, making the time inside move faster than the boundary sections. This had the advantage of speeding up the evolution of the life in the bubble, so that, when they sold their extra cycles, mined energy to slow their time back down, and resynced with their boundaries, they would be more advanced than those around them. But a fast bubble carried a continuous cost of energy with it, and the energy yielded in slowing it back down was a pittance compared to the original cost.
Our community had gone the other way, the easy route. We had mined the energy, slowing down our time, so that we didn't have to work, but could live off of this 'free energy'. When we resynced, at a huge cost to our world, we would be much more primitive than those around us, and this was the scary part. This is why that group of dissenters had gone off in their own slow bubble, and how those bubbles could dig themselves deeper and deeper. But those were all just tales, because no one ever emerged from a spiraling slow bubble!
212 seconds, 11, 10, 9, ...
Inbal and I just held each other tighter as the clock winded down. We were going to guard each other against the whole universe that was about to be released on us ... in ...
142 seconds, 41, 40, 39, 38, 37, ....
The deck had quieted down, now. People were either passed out or staring at the sky in silence. In fact, the whole city was silent, and black. Almost all of the lights were turned out as everyone looked up to the future.
43 seconds, 42, 41, 40, ...
I could feel the real anxiety and excitement well up inside me. Maybe this resyncing was NOT the correct decision? Had we all made a horrible mistake? What was there to be gained by emerging into a universe that was so far ahead of us, now?
Inbal could sense my apprehension and she tightened her hug, which did help to calm me down. At least we were not alone for this.
9 seconds, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
The whole sky started glowing white, plain white. It was too bright to look at and Inbal and I buried our faces in each other's shoulders. Then, as the glow, that had even made it through our eyelids, subsided, we lifted our heads up and saw a
large yellow-orange ball in the sky, bright enough to light up the whole city. We stood, still silent for a few seconds, and then Inbal and I kissed as others applauded and toasted. We had made it and everything seemed all right.
The party broke up and we all went home. We knew that the real work was just beginning, to see what this universe held for us and what we owed to it.
He looked across the field - scanning to the left ... scanning to the right... There were no animals moving around in his field of vision, although there was certainly a great deal of movement. The wind was swirling around, bending the grass and shaking the few trees ... but the interest of these events to his mind was minimal. These types of movements were in almost every scene that he looked at and his mind assumed that the movements were just the nature of the scene.
He had no name, being one of the first humans to appear on this planet. The verbal language of words and rules was not something that had yet developed. There were not even any publicly understood utterances other than cries of extreme pain. This is not to say that abstract communication was beyond his mental means. Communication had been taking place since the dawn of cells, exchanging DNA fragments in a chemical model of information transfer, but the spoken word had not yet been formalized in any way.
So, he had no name ... not even to himself ... not even the general "I". But he was not without intellectual potential, and, at least, the abstract concept of "it" existed, as manifested in the communicational possibilities of the pointing finger. This was something that he understood; he knew how to point, and he understood what pointing meant. This was the primordial core of higher intelligence, the ability to identify a pattern, to identify a unit. After all, that is what finger pointing means; to isolate and identify some pattern that sits within the field lying in the path of the extended arm and finger. This pattern is usually an organism, or object, of some type and this recognition is the abstract notion of "it".
Finger pointing was, by itself, a great leap forward ... one of the first signs of human genius to appear. And the introduction of the pointing finger was an interesting story; a child born of a combination of luck, physical prowess, and anticipation.
Humans were organisms that had developed a great combination of fine biological tools in their arms and hands. They were able to manipulate objects with great precision, and the structure of the upper limbs allowed for the possibility of being able to throw objects with respectable accuracy. It was lucky that, even though there were not many humans around, in the beginning, biological evolution was working overtime. It was producing great variations in the combinations of chromosomes and genes which led to wildly different "personalities".
One personality that managed to appear had an extreme prejudice towards the upper limbs - a "limb-minded" human. This is only to say that this human had a natural tendency to attack all problems with the upper limbs, much along the lines of a person being left handed in modern times - always striving to use his left hand ... altering his environment, if necessary, to use his left hand. This "limb-minded" human had a mind that was structured so that he got great pleasure out of using his upper limbs, which meant that he would even use them for no reason other than his mind had a high emotional priority associated with such use. He would use his upper limbs just to have "fun".
Another personality appeared that was predisposed to observing - an "observant" human. This was a, generally, static personality that used vision in a disproportionate weighting. Whereas the "limb-minded" human was always using his upper limbs, inevitably changing and altering his environment, the "observant" human was driven to leave her environment unchanged (when she was comfortable) and just look at things. One could say that this was the genesis of the reporter's personality. She would observe, just to have "fun", as that is how the emotional associations were arranged in her brain.
The luck was that a few of the above types managed to survive and come into contact with each other,
which was not a small feat, in itself.
The "limb-minded" human had been driven to use his arms and hands so much during his development that he had been able to learn how to control them well enough to throw objects quite accurately. This skill was certainly one of great survival value and would, almost surely, be copied and passed on. But it was only a physical skill. The great insight occurred when two "observant" humans came into contact with a "limb-minded" human.
As the "limb-minded" human would throw objects, the two "observant" humans would ... observe. The observation of the act of throwing, however, included the instinctual anticipation that was present in all hunting species. That is to say that, after the "limb-minded" human would throw an object a few times, the "observant" human would anticipate the direction in which the object was going to go. It was important that the "limb-minded" human was able to throw accurately, so as to make the anticipation of the future movement of the object easier to identify. Intellectual progress loves consistency!
Eventually, during one of the throws, one of the "observant" humans was moving her head and eyes, in anticipation of the direction of movement of the object, while the other "observant" human was, by chance, watching her. As these two "observant" humans had static personalities, they were prone to repeat these actions within similar contexts. And, as the "limb-minded" human enjoyed using his upper limbs, he was prone to throw some more.
At one point, the "limb-minded" human did not throw an object, but merely moved his hand and arm in that same motion, to simulate a throw. The first "observant" human, not understanding that no object was being thrown, still followed the anticipated trajectory, while the second "observant" human noticed that the head and eyes of the first observer moved in the direction of the outstretched arm and hand of the "limb-minded" human, as before. But, this time, the attention of the second observer did not get diverted by the flying object appearing in her peripheral vision.
For some reason, again with a little neurophysiological luck, this became the association that stayed with the second "observant" human. That, as the arm and hand of the "limb-minded" human stretched out in a throwing motion, the other's head and eyes moved to face in that direction. A new sense of abstract control was introduced to the human world. One could force another to face in a certain direction by moving the arm and hand in a throwing motion. This was the precursor to the pointing finger - which developed as the throwing motion was finally slowed down to a stop - which was the precursor to the abstract notion of "it", which was the key to an illusion of unity.
The pointing finger was a survival tool of even greater utility than the accurate throw, and it was a tool of a new type; a tool of abstract communication. As such, it became widely used by all who encountered, and managed to adopt, it. But it led to something much greater .....
As the more dynamic personalities, perhaps the "limb-minded" personalities, picked up on the pointing finger, they were driven to investigate the possibilities it offered. Eventually one human, while "researching" the pointing finger, pointed his finger at his own eyes, so that he was looking directly at the tip of it, and, in that moment, the most important intellectual event in the history of man occurred ....
The seeming insignificance of life. This is an idea that has invaded my thinking on more than a few occasions. I could just never understand the "Why?" of it all. I mean, it is certainly nice to be alive, to take part in the world, but to what end? Thousands of years from now, I will have ceased to exist and be long forgotten. Millions of years from now, the Earth may well be nothing more than a slimy rock again, most traces of higher life destroyed by some strange event. Billions of years from now, our sun will be burnt out, all traces of life on Earth reduced to atomic dust.... And finally, if there is enough mass in the universe, enough stuff laying around, the entire cosmos will collapse to a single point and all that was will have been for naught. That all of life was nothing more than an exercise in the possibilities of particle interactions. Interesting, but nothing more.
That's what the physicists are trying to tell us. The ultimate fate of the universe, and everything inside it, including man, comes down to a question of, "How much stuff?" And, if there is enough mass, then this ultimate fate is a fate accompli. All of man's inventions, and all of man's art, and all of man's great innovations end up being nothing more than hobbies that were used to kill time as we all waited for the ultimate and inevitable end, for everything to be reduced to a single point with no name. Man, in specific, and life, in general, have no bearing on the ultimate fate of the universe. Not a very satisfying scenario.
Religion offers no better explanation. The basic answer given there is, "Things are as they are. Live with it." Or, as the Buddhist version goes, "Things are as they are not. Live with it." There is no real attempt to answer the question, "Why?". It is only shunted off onto some other level that we have no access to. One has to trust that god has a plan and all will be as it should. But, again, life in general, and man in specific, have no real purpose, other than, maybe, god's amusement as he wiles away the time that he created....
I always found the answers offered to be less than satisfying, in the deepest way. But, in the absence of any alternative explanations, I was left to just float through my life unanchored to anything ... unable to see "Why".
Not long into the third millennium the world embarked on a mission that would finally yield a sensible answer to this eternal dilemma.
Man's reach into space had become such that travel around our solar system, which was eventually named "the Briah" by the People, was routine. This name, Briah, for our solar system, was inevitable as Man had discovered other solar systems in the universe and had to start naming them all. It struck people as odd that this solar system, which contained the Earth, had not been named before, but, as they say, "necessity is the mother of invention (and the necessity to differentiate two objects of the same type is the mother of naming)". The word "Briah" grew to mean not only this specific solar system, but sometimes it meant all of human life within this solar system ... as if the Briah was itself alive, composed of the humans within it.
Colonization of the Briah had led man on a journey of explosive growth, with the human population mushrooming to fifty trillion. By the year 2150, there were colonies a touch outside of Pluto's orbit, and we had investigated some close stars, but that was the extent of man's reach. We had yet to go into really deep space, outside of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
The first mission outside of the Milky Way was the largest undertaking that man had ever attempted. A colony of about a hundred thousand people was going to go into deep space. The idea of a colony supporting this many people was nothing new. There were many, far larger, scattered throughout the Briah. But this colony was different. Once it left it would not be able to get anything else from anyone. Even the colonies out by Pluto had always enjoyed contact with others, and received regular transport and cargo flights. This new colony had to be totally self sufficient, and this added quite a bit of complexity to it.
Even with the great size that man had grown to, it still took all of civilization to build the Colony. This was a great turn of luck, because man had started getting a bit antsy being stuck in the Briah. It was pretty crowded, in space terms, and after the first great rushes for resources, most of the easy stuff was already spoken for. With nothing to keep them occupied, groups had started fighting, but the Colony project demanded so much from everyone that it consumed their minds, along with their factories. Everyone's attention was focused on deep space. There would be life elsewhere in the universe, ours if no other.
Of course, there were a good number of people who were concerned with the Colony. Man was sticking his finger out into deep space, and no one knew what that would mean. It is often the innocent toe that steps on the rattlesnake. But even they knew that we had to keep marching forward. The Briah would fill up and run out of resources, at some point...
There was quite a bit of politics involved in setting the Colony up, but, in the end everyone understood that the group that was sent off was only the initial population, and would bear little relation to the people who ended up populating the Colony some hundreds of generations down the road.
In order for this to have been a genetically robust group trillions of sets of chromosomes had to be taken along. A system as delicate as the Colony could not let its population just pick and choose when they were going to have children, and how many. They could not be forced to choose among the living population, either. Lack of genetic diversity would become a real problem at some point and the system would become fatally unbalanced. So there would need always be a repository of "outside" genetic information to pull from and it must be constantly mixed with the population. Besides, the Colony was built to seed other colonies at places, and each of these would require a huge amount of information, something like a cross section of human life up to some point. There was also the problem with new viruses and other pathogens, that might require a much larger database of genetic information to help in any fight against them.
While it was not an easy task, by any stretch, the Briah got the Colony completed and operational. People had been living on the Colony throughout its construction, but it was finally ready to go off and survive (and thrive, hopefully) on its own. So, the Colony made a sixty year trip around the Briah, visiting as many other colonies and settlements as possible and seeing how its own life was developing. Eventually this trip around the Briah was finished, and the Colony went and sat just off of Pluto for about forty years, making as many final checks as they could.
Before it left, there was much to know about how later generations would accept living on the Colony. After all, only the first generation had had the choice to be on it, or not! People did opt off of the Colony during its time by Pluto, and a high percentage of these people had been born there, but, it seemed that the native population was generally satisfied with their position. The whole Briah grew more excited as the launch date approached.
It was interesting because Man was going to be thrown into a situation He had been in long ago, on Earth. As the Colony got further away from the Briah, its ability to remain in contact with the rest of civilization would lessen. The cost of transmitting and receiving messages would become prohibitively expensive for the Colony, which would have to make do with only what it had and what it found. It could not afford to waste energy so that someone could say "Hi Mom", nor could it afford much other communication. Besides, the time lag would eventually become too much for anything useful to be relayed. When it takes fifty years to get an answer, you had better make the question worth it. The Colony would be totally cut off from all things human in the universe, except for itself.
The Colony was to leave the Briah, go past any place man has been to, and head out into deep space. The trip would take hundreds of years just to get to their first stop, which was a solar system, much like the Briah, near the Von Neumann Nebula. Once there, if all went well, the Colony would drop off its first copy, or seedling, as they liked to call it.
The main ability that the Colony had was that it was able to build copies of itself, given energy in almost any form. So, as it was traveling through space, most of its population would be involved in expanding and enlarging the Colony.
It had taken the Briah a gigantic effort to build the first Colony, but that was due, mainly, to the research that needed to be done. Once the plans for the Colony were set, it was much easier to make a second one. All you had to do was obtain the materials and follow the instructions. It would take the Colony a much longer time to reproduce itself, using only itself, but they had time to burn, anyway. Hopefully, they would have finished at least one copy before they reached their first stop and would drop that off before heading on their way.
But their way to where? The Colony had no final destination. It was just a piece of the Briah that was to float around the universe, lighting fires of life along its path.
There was much fanfare as the Colony finally started its propulsion system and headed out of the Briah. Man was now a player in the universe, on a level with other cosmic phenomena, a truly moving moment.
Off into space they went. For years and years and years and years....
Life on the Colony was extremely dynamic. It was, in many ways, much more interesting to be on the Colony than in the Briah. Socially, the Colony was very much a primitive setting - a fairly small number of people stuck together and separated from all others. And even all of the advanced technology seemed like stone tools against the backdrop of deep space.
Much of what the Colony had taken from the Briah had changed over time. The language was dramatically different. Many dialects had grown on this tiny island of humanity and a lot of these changes were incorporated into the official language. People seemed to have a drive to create language, either to differentiate themselves and bind small groups, or to express aspects of daily life that just hadn't existed before. They had also come up with their own developments in math and physics and psychology and art.... The Colony was an independent clump of life following its own path through evolution.
The Colony was always keenly aware, however, of what they were really doing. They were going to attempt to cross the intergalactic Void. To go into the Void was not a proposition to be taken lightly. There was nothing that the Colony had ever dealt with that could even compare to the Void. The empty set would be the only notion that comes close, but even the energy used to save any representation of the empty set was greater than the Colony would find in the Void for years. Getting through the Void, alive, was by no means certain. The Colony had to make several advances before going into the Void, and had to be absolutely efficient, the closest to a perpetual motion machine that had ever existed.
They decided that they would try to release a seedling before they entered the Void, at the last star along their path out of the Milky Way. This would give some people a chance to "get off the ride" and would also allow the Colony to dump whatever extras it was carrying. Planting a seedling at the edge of the Milky Way also meant that the Colony could have some contact with someone else for the beginning of the crossing, if it needed. So, if something of great importance happened while they were in the Void, there would be a chance that they could tell someone. There was a lot of work to be done if all this was to happen, and everyone on the Colony geared up for the great event.
Time marched on and the Colony approached the last star. It had been able to harvest quite a bit of energy over the last hundred years and had built a beautiful seedling to leave at the last star before heading into the Void.
Meanwhile, life back in the Briah had changed fairly dramatically. After the Colony had left, the Briah built another Colony and sent that off in the opposite direction. And then the Briah built another, and another... The great bulk of resources in the Briah converted to building, populating, and launching Colonies.
The tree of life that had grown on the Earth and then spread to the Briah was now blossoming and spitting fruit out in all directions. People in the Briah did not understand why, but they felt that they were doing the right thing.
The Colony spent about a hundred years at the last star. They wanted to make sure that they were really set for the Void, and to make sure that the seedling would grow strong. But, as all good things must come to an end, time did make its way.
As the moment approached for the Colony to actually head into the Void, a certain tension started to build. It was different from the feeling of leaving the Briah. Much more intense, and much more final. But they had been very careful. They had checked and rechecked everything fifty times over. The Colony had, by their own calculations, just enough energy to make it through the Void.
As the Colony started making its way out of its orbit around the last star, there was no fanfare this time. This was more of a feeling of good bye to a departed loved one,... that you know you will never see again. Everyone was very emotional, but certainly not celebratory. When the Colony had left the Briah, they could still keep in touch for a while, leaving slowly, really. Going into the Void allowed for nothing like this. Energy was so important that life had to be regulated down to the most minor detail, and this meant that there would be no communication once the Colony started out of its orbit, except for something of absolute necessity.
So, very quietly, the Colony left its orbit around the last star and disappeared into the darkness of the Void. The seedling, at the last star, then set about to its appointed task. The seedling was doing what all seedlings were supposed to do. It was collecting energy from its sponsor star, following the instructions left with it, building copies of itself, growing its population to fill the copies, and spitting the copies out to go to other sections of the Milky Way and do the same. Life in the universe was growing rapidly.
The Milky Way was becoming quite a lively place, with everyone working to send off copies of themselves, to send off copies of themselves, to send off copies of themselves.... But there was only one group that was in the Void, still. What was happening with the Colony?
Four hundred and fifty odd years after the Colony had left the seedling at the last star, the seedling received its first message from the Colony. Everyone knew that it had to be something of utmost importance, since the cost of sending the message was enormous. But what could it have said?
The Colony had had a revelation. They were deep into the Void, when it was found that there had been some serious miscalculations about the energy that they had. By their original measurements there was just enough to get across the Void, but the reality was that they only had ninety eight percent as much as they had thought. This was not discovered until they were past the effective halfway point and could not stop and turn around.
At first the news was kept quiet. It was not as if it was an immediate problem. The ones who learned about the problem would be long dead before it affected the Colony, but it put a wall up in front of them that they would eventually smash into it and disappear.
After quite a bit of secret discussion, the information was disseminated among the people. The reaction was quite different than had been expected. The people all pulled together and decided that there had to be a way around this. There was time, and they would have to find some way to either, use less energy, or get their hands on some new energy.
As they trimmed down the Colony, to cut out all possible waste, they started to notice something strange. The temperature was a bit higher than it should have been. The first thought was that the measuring equipment was faulty, which put a little chill through everyone's spine.
They checked the equipment over and over, but it always checked out okay, and the checking, itself, was quite expensive. They redid some calculations with the new energy numbers, since they were able to use this extra energy, and found that they would be able to make it through the Void. ... But where was this energy coming from? No one could pinpoint the source.
For fifty years they wrestled with this pleasant problem until a young woman physicist, named Irianala, was finally able to provide the answer. The source of the extra energy was THEM. The Colony was generating free energy on its own. It was the creative thought that was the furnace. Irianala discovered that life, itself, generated free energy, usually seen in its self organizing activities, and creative thought, in particular, generated much larger amounts. This was the defining feature of life. Life organized at a cost of energy less than that released upon a comparable disorganization. Life was a portal through which energy flowed into our universe. Not only was the universe not a closed system, but we were the openings!
The place of man, and life, in the universe was now obvious. Life had to spread out through the universe, creating its free energy. If life could eventually occupy a reasonable percentage of the universe, then there would be a chance that it could generate enough energy to alter the "fate" of the physical universe. This was, finally, the purpose of man. To throw seedlings was His job... in working for the universe.
It is true that this did not answer all questions about man's role in the big scheme of things, but at least, at the level of the universe, our task was clear. Once that was done, we would start worrying about the universe's role in the big scheme of things.... when this universe would acquire a name of its own.
Times were tough on everyone. The government had destroyed the economy and brought terrible suffering to most of us. There was no work to be found anywhere and people were on the brink of starvation. The only thing that saved us were the meager rations that the government was handing out. This was the food that I used to feed to my cat - food that I now had to eat.
I used to love my cat very much. In the good old days, when food was plentiful, she was a joy to have around. I know that she was only an animal, certainly a lesser being than I, but she was cute.
That all changed, though. As the situation got worse, I had to start eating her food and she had to be satisfied with whatever I could scrape together for her. I tried my best, but could only find bits and scraps that, although they were enough nourishment for her, were quite disgusting. But, as the government had told us, we all had to suffer through this together.
Well, the cat would have nothing of it. She just refused to eat any of the disgusting food that I put in front of her. The first day was not bad. I figured, "If she doesn't want to eat, then fine. I don't care." But she was steadfast in her ways and the second day started crying and wailing. All day long. She would just lie in the center of whatever room I was in and cry.
I didn't mind this for about ten minutes. Then it started to get to me. I went through a whole slew of emotions, hating her at first, then feeling bad for her, then feeling sick about her... She was forcing me to watch myself torture her to death.
And it was even worse. I could not have friends come by anymore. It was impossible to carry on any kind of conversation with her lying around wailing. Even as I was forcing down my own throat what used to be her cat food, she refused to eat what I put in front of her and just cried.
It was really a very embarrassing situation. While I was eating the disgusting cat food, the cat would not even touch her new disgusting food, but just lie in front of it, stare at me eating, and cry. I tried to go eat somewhere else, in private, but the cat would just crawl to wherever I was and stare at me and cry.
And cry and wail and cry and wail .... all day, every day.
Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. But, what could I do? Then it occurred to me, "The government is forcing me to eat like a cat... so, if they are going to treat me like a cat, then I'm going to act like a cat!"
I went into the main city plaza, in front of the government headquarters, put out a blanket, and set about on a hunger strike. I would not eat the rations that they were offering us, and they would all have to watch me die. And I would cry and wail all the way to my death.
This had never happened before. Up to that point, all protests had been violent in nature. But I thought that this new, nonviolent approach would have the same effect on the society, the government, and the world, that my cat had had on me.
People around the world did follow my plight, and they were moved. Our government could no longer have any foreign dignitaries over, since no one wanted to be seen walking by me as I slowly withered away, crying and wailing as loudly as I could.
In the end, I died. It was a horrible, horrible death, and right after me, someone else took my place in the plaza. This eventually became too much, and between the pressures from the people and the world, the government finally fell.
I was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for my creation of a nonviolent method of demonstration. It may seem a bit arrogant, but I had thought, before I had started the whole hunger strike, that something like this might happen, so I had prepared a letter to be presented at the award ceremony. I had given this to a close friend of mine, who then attended the ceremony in my place.
The head of the Nobel committee made the presentation,
"We present Martin Knopman with the Nobel Prize for Peace for his great contributions to mankind's continued struggle against inequality in society. His creation of the method of nonviolent protest places man's struggle on a higher plane, actively engaging the emotions and the soul. For this he shall be remembered."
My friend then came up to the podium and accepted the award.
"I would like to thank everyone on behalf of Martin Knopman, a great man and a great thinker. He had known that this might happen and prepared a letter to be presented here. It was sealed when I received it, and I have not opened it up until this minute."
With that, my friend opened the envelope and started reading my letter:
What is Genius, Really?
I would like, on behalf of all people, to thank my cat, Kelly, for her great contribution to the advancement of mankind. She was the one who came up with the idea of a hunger strike, knowing how to pull and tear at my emotions, and I cannot, with any dignity, accept this award for myself. So, I present Kelly with the Nobel Peace Prize, which she truly deserves.
What is genius, really, and what is so human about it? I guess that is for all of you to decide. My only genius was in losing an intellectual and emotional battle to my cat. But I think that we can all say many thanks that I did!
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to convey to you the full torture that is my life. Periods of pure Hell, separated by periods of waiting for, and fearing, the return to Hell. Not even a few days of relaxation have I ever experienced. I am going to try to paint, for you, a picture of the turmoil always present in my mind, but normal people could never really understand. And you should consider yourself lucky that you won't. To illustrate how bad things are; normal people, to me, includes people with all types of birth defects and other "problems". I only wish that my situation were that simple, that I had no legs, or no arms....
I know that everyone has times and situations when he feels odd, or out of place, but that is always within the context of being able to fit in somewhere... That is that they always know that there is a place where they can be themselves, and will be accepted as such. And even if they are not there, at any given moment, they can imagine being there eventually, giving them some direction and purpose, if only for reasons of self-satisfaction and ease. I have never had any such place - not even in my mind! This is a Hell known to only a very select, very tortured few.
I had been known to be strange all my life, from the earliest I can remember. And it always bothered me. People looked at me as if I was a freak, as if I tried to hurt myself because I wanted to. But I could not help it. I could not stop myself from cutting slices in my arm, or burning myself, or biting myself, or throwing my body against walls hard enough to knock myself out. There were times when I looked as if I had been trampled by a horse after losing a nasty knife fight. But, it was all that I could do to stop the horrible thoughts from invading my mind, taking over my being. I had to do these things, at risk of a fate much worse than death. Death is the easy way. That I have not been able to muster the strength to commit suicide is just another indication of the ultimate patheticness of my personality. I find it hard to even look into a mirror, since it only reminds me that I am locked in the suffocating cage of a torturous life.
The entryway to Hell would appear very suddenly, with no respect for where I was or what I was doing at the time. I would start to feel a weird sort of pressure building up in my head and then the thoughts would start bubbling up at a furious rate. I cannot really describe them, as they were visuals mixed with strange, intense feelings. But, I guess they are akin to how someone feels when they get really anxious and have to leave some situation. The whole body tenses up, shivering and shaking starts, and there is a feeling - not a thought, just a very strong feeling sweeping through the body - that something so unbelievably bad is going to happen that the thought of leaving becomes the only one available. There are no other choices. This is what happens to me, but it is not about leaving something; it is about cutting and bruising and hurting myself. That is the only way to relieve the pressure and calm my mind.
Because of this I have never been able to keep any friends, or any types of social contacts. Even my own family thinks that I am a freak.... Even I know that I am a freak, and would prefer not to be around myself. As I have said, I have no concept of real sanctuary, not even in my own mind. Even on my best days there was an edge to my emotions, the fear (of the pressure and thoughts suddenly appearing) always present.
So, over the years I have adjusted by not letting anyone get to know me, by building an aloof personality where I can feel free to leave any situation as soon as I feel the pressure coming on, to go home and mutilate myself in the privacy of my own home .... at least so much privacy as my own screaming allows for. I have to move quite often, as you may gather.
And then there are always those terrible moments, I call them the 'points', when I have no time to get home, or even anywhere. The 'points' are times when the pressure does not come as a warning, but the horrible thoughts and feelings appear instantly and I must do something to myself in that moment. Actually, I am hedging here, not even able to admit to myself what really happens. The 'points' are really times when, all of a sudden, I notice that I am cutting myself with something that happened to have been handy, or hitting my face, or I just realize that I am running straight into a brick wall, unable to stop myself. I have lost many friends and many jobs due to the 'points', and they scare me more than anything.
It is not strange, then, that I began to feel more comfortable than I ever had before as our country descended into economic and social chaos. The government destroyed our economy and was keeping people in line only through very heavy-handed, repressive tactics. It was hell for all, which seemed to have brought everyone else closer to my level, though they were only worried about feeding and clothing and housing their children, and staying out of the way of the cops, really, whereas my worries extended much, much deeper. But, at any rate, I became closer to people than I ever had been before. We were all beginning to share a seemingly common misery and anxiety.
I loved walking through the city ... just enjoying the pain and anxiety that I saw on everyone else's face, thinking, "Now, they are beginning to understand how it feels." One day I was standing on a lawn in front of the main government building, watching the people walk by, when, all of a sudden, I started to feel the pressure building up in my head. The tension began to sweep over my body like a tidal wave. I was so scared that I could not even move ... scared that I was not going to be able to get anywhere safe in time. My body froze as I tried my best to fight back the urge to hurt myself, being totally exposed in public. A cop, at that moment, said something to me but in my state of terror I didn't respond. He had told me that I had to get off of the lawn. But I was stuck on the realization that I had to start beating and cutting myself very soon or I would just explode.
Out of nowhere I felt a terrible pain in my leg. The cop had taken his baton out and struck me for not moving. The pain in my leg served to help mollify my thoughts, somewhat, but I was still overwhelmed with the need to damage myself further. The cop said, "Now, get off this lawn before I really make you sorry."
Indignantly, I refused, "I will not. I have every right to be here."
So the cop proceeded to beat me, viciously. And with every stroke of the baton I howled in pain, for it was excruciating. But, at the same time, every hurtful blow served to calm my mind down a little more, to send some portion of the terrible thoughts and feelings back to wherever they came from. I was screaming, but through a slightly widening smile, which only seemed to make the policeman even madder. He seemed, however, to get great pleasure out of beating me.
Although my right eye was swollen shut I could open my left eye, in between the blows, and see the people standing around watching me. They were crying and holding each other. Some turned away, they couldn't watch ... but this was totally different. Usually, when I was doing this to myself in public - if I couldn't get away in time - people would run away from me, and the ones who stayed and watched would have looks of absolute horror on their faces; looks describing their absolute repulsion at my existence, looks that would shame me to the inner core of my being. But no one had those looks this time, they were looking WITH me.
So, as the policeman was beating me mercilessly, the look of the crowd was saying, "We feel for you ... you have done nothing wrong," and I felt the fear I have always had of my condition disappear. I was in Heaven, comfortable with myself and my thoughts for the first time ever in my life. I thought, as the next blow of the baton came crashing down against my face (just before I passed out), "So, this is what it feels like to be normal..."
And when the policeman had finally finished his beating of me, leaving me lying in a bloody mess on the lawn that I was told to get off of, people actually came over and helped me to my feet! People actually cared about me!!
A foreign correspondent had been around and had seen and photographed the whole beating. She was one of the people who helped me back home. Again, I cannot impress on you how different this was. Usually, after mutilating myself in public, I would have no help, no one would even come near, and I would end up having to drag my bloody carcass home, humiliating myself in front of every person I passed. This inevitably led to me being kicked out of wherever I was living, only compounding the situation even further.
But this time people helped me home, looking up to me, asking me how I was so strong... In one moment, the cuts and bruises and welts on my body, always a source of extreme shame, were instantly transformed into badges of immense bravery. Everything gained a brand new meaning.
I started spending all of my time near that lawn, just in case the pressure, and the terrible thoughts and feelings that make me hurt myself, appeared. That was the only place where I knew that I could get relief without seeming strange. Word about me spread very quickly (after the second and third beatings) and people looked at me with awe. After all of these awful years, I had finally found a way to take care of my problem, and people didn't think I was weird. In fact, people seemed to love me because of it! I could not believe that this possibility existed for me. The police with their batons were the angels of my deliverance. They were the instruments of my normalcy.
I began to get an inkling of what was happening. The government was suffering from the peoples' and the world's revulsion at their tactics and it was beginning to have an effect. People were deciding to stand up for themselves, realizing that they really had nothing to lose. And everyone thought that I was a genius. They were constantly telling me how smart and how brave I was. I found it hard to even look them in the eyes, although things were still better than ever before ... and I did enjoy the respect. I wrote a letter describing some of my thoughts on this and gave it to my correspondent friend, telling her not to open it until the time was really right. I told her that she would know what I meant.
The final beating that I was to take was something of absolute horror. My body was so broken from all of the previous beatings that I could not even walk. My friend, the correspondent, helped me to the center of the city. The horrible thoughts and feelings were so deeply embedded in my person ... and I was no longer physically able to hurt myself enough to alleviate them, even if I wanted to. I NEEDED someone else to beat and cut me, now.
The scene was so sad, but luckily it was all well recorded and documented. News of my actions had spread around the world and there were many different news organizations gathered at the spot. I sat, very briefly at a cafe next to the lawn of my saving and then rolled off of the chair and crawled all the way to the place that I went to every day, to get my daily dose of hurt.
People were crying as I slithered so slowly and painfully across the street, finally reaching the grass, where there were five cops waiting for me. As soon as my hand touched the grass they all started hitting me with abandon. And I screamed and screamed and screamed, the terrible thoughts subsiding the whole time. Until the thoughts finally seemed to disappear, totally. I was dead.
The whole world reacted to my story and the pictures and descriptions of my last moments on Earth. After me, another started taking my place on the lawn, doing the same thing, disobeying the police, getting his public beatings. But it was too much, and between the pressures from the people and the world, the government finally fell.
My name came to be identified with the fall of the government and I was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for my creation of a nonviolent method of demonstration. The head of the Nobel committee made the presentation,
"We present Martin Knopman with the Nobel Prize for Peace for his great contributions to mankind's continued struggle against inequality in society. He was a man of such deep feeling for life that he understood the sacrifices necessary to provoke the better nature of Man ....
His creation of the method of civil disobedience places Man's struggle on a higher plane, actively engaging the emotions and the soul. For this he shall be remembered."
My correspondent friend then came up to the podium and accepted the award,
"I would like to thank everyone on behalf of Martin Knopman, a great man and a great thinker. He had known that something like this might happen and prepared a letter to be presented here. It was sealed when I received it, and I have not opened it up until this minute."
With that, my friend opened the envelope and started reading my letter:
What is Genius, Really?
I would like, on behalf of all people, to thank my own mental problems for this great contribution to mankind. I was forced into the actions that I took and I cannot, with any dignity, claim any responsibility for my actions.
What is genius, really, and what is so intentional about it? I guess that is for all of you to decide. My only genius was in having a problem that I would not wish on my worst enemy. But I think that we can all say many thanks that I did have it!
Man will adapt as she needs, And if not, will cease to be.