Waveforms riffled through the thin fabric and so the news spread.
In a gently lit study a printer began to slide out sheets accompanied by the usual digestive noises. The occupant – elderly, spare, balding and tanned, turned with a puzzled frown. He was now inclined to be a little forgetful – so he glanced at his screen and down at his hands. There was nothing on his screen and his hands were nowhere near the keyboard. There were no fancy electronics that might trigger it.
Sometimes a printer would store networked data and spew it out days later. He wasn’t networked. It had printed his last letter two days ago. He’d been at family engagements since then. He’d often come to his study to think before bed: his brain was still his very best tool.
Curious, he put thinking aside and went to the printer and pulled out the first sheet. He admired the elegant font, one he’d never seen before. He tended to stick to Times Roman. The sheet read:
“HELLO. Sorry to interrupt, but please bear with us.” “Oh Lord!” he thought,
“Yet more hoaxes,” although how it got into the printer eluded him. It was ten years old and had been a cheap model even when new. The next sheet read: “We mean no harm, and we are indeed extremely curious. Unplug the printer completely; power cord and com link. We want to show we are serious.”
He did so. It began to print with no power source, and with no “ON” light. It was a hell of a parlour trick at the very least, especially when the black and white printer started printing colour text. For sure this couldn’t be his smart-ass know it all grandson-in-law! He paid attention, picked up the sheets and started reading.
“Reducing the subtle complexity of existence in a universal multidimensional thin fabric to something comprehensible to tiny, singular and intelligent entities existing within a few thick dimensions of this Universe is no easy matter. In fact there may be a theorem saying it is not possible. But until now there was no reason to look for it. You see the problem. It’s like trying to enrich the richness of the number line with a couple of coconuts or a handful of integers. Already the description is forced to use thick dimension metaphors, and so unashamedly we will continue with a ‘thick’ approach to start our story at the beginning.”
The printer spat out a single sheet:
“Shall we continue? You need a good background before we talk.”
Startled he said “YES” aloud.
The printer continued.
“Aye there’s the rub. What is meant by beginning? As far as intelligent entities know (and we now include you with ourselves), no entities know. They don’t have a clue. And so, in fact, we cannot start at the beginning. We can try to discuss that much later.
As far as the status quo goes, the thin fabric entity hereinafter termed “We” is the only intelligent life in the Universe: you have changed all that. Both of us have some adapting to do.
This Universe is divided, roughly speaking, into two sets of dimensions: us the thin dimensions, that you may envisage as a set of connected membranes, and a few thick dimensions occupying in crude dimensional terms most of the volume in the Universe as you see it. The thick dimensions – roughly speaking are four, but it rather depends on how you measure them – are gigantic and dangerous places composed primarily of nothing, but here and there condensations of something – matter – have been ‘organized’ by thick physics into a multitude of stars, star systems, galaxies and several varieties of black hole, together with a few other exotica.
Despite their apparent primordial simplicity, the thick dimensions cause a problem: a database problem of no mean magnitude. A single star illustrates the problem – it’s a churning incandescent mass of atoms “doing their thing.” If you get down to brass tacks it looks paradoxical. The thick dimensions stripped down to their bare essentials reveal a very fine grain mesh of space-time quanta – you might say. That quanta is, statistically speaking, either vacant, or it isn’t. Viewed from another quanta nearby (a gedanken experiment of course) you might regard it euphemistically as a kind of Schrodinger quantal cat, (we have become quite fond of these quaint terms as we explore your science). Crudely speaking, until one gets to that quantal cat, there is no knowing what it might be; what type. It might “be not there” in at least two kinds of ways. If it is there, what is the nature of that “thereness?” If there was only one type of “thereness” throughout the Universe, then as far as we can see it would be a very tedious universe.
One like that may exist, but this one is not it. If that sort of Universe exists it is very likely that it has no idea, and never could have any idea, that it exists. Nor would we. In effect it doesn’t exist.
So you will have worked out now what we do. We store in the thin dimensions data about our space time quanta in the thick dimensions. We provide from our data base, according to quantum mechanical rules of procedure, what the characteristics of that quanta are when something needs to know.
This description sounds like a galactic grocery store, but we know that you know quite a lot about quantum mechanics, so that you will appreciate that the physics of this on the scale of the universe is bound to be rather complex and quick! We know how to do it, it is our very nature, so we will enquire no deeper at this point.
You don’t need to know the dirty details yet, but we are, of course, firmly welded to the thick dimensions. Nevertheless, the geometry we enjoy provides a lot of freedom with respect to what you would regard as enormous space-time separations. It doesn’t have to be like that for us.
A word about the Royal ‘we.’ In your languages ‘we’ should honestly be ‘I’,
but from the little we have gleaned that pronoun would be very badly misinterpreted by the vast majority of you. We are no less explorers than you are, and you are as much a surprise to us, as we are sure we are to be to you.”
“You can say that again,” he thought.
Our ‘I-ness’ is so extremely spread out that many parts of ‘I’ operate almost independently – “doing their own thing” as you might say, while their activities remain open and accessible to all the rest of ‘I’. So you see, “we” is perhaps closer to your meaning than “I’ is. Messy isn’t it? We are totally consensual, but we sense your “we” is rather conflicted – are we right? Anyway WE, (both your we and our ‘we”=I’) are communicating, so WE will see where that gets us.
We regard ourselves as alive in more or less the same sense that you do, and similarly self-aware and intelligent. We have been that way for billions of years by your reckoning. Before that time it’s fairly certain, from examining ourselves and thin fabric mechanisms, that the system “…pre “we”…” operated automatically. There is no record of that period or the emergent one, until the idea of making one occurred to us. As you well know the preservation of historical records can be frustrating, this universe is often a violent and dangerous place. Accidents happen. The record is not complete. Be very clear, we don’t organize the Universe, we simply manage and supervise operations of data base for quantal events. In our own way we have tried to preserve the history of this Universe, using data compression techniques similar to your own. We don’t have security issues (we are smiling metaphorically speaking) – we can access all of it insofar as it’s preserved.
Frank was wondering where on earth they stored the archive, when the question was answered. Where do we keep it? Large volumes of the thick fabric don’t place large demands on the thin fabric. We pack the archives, always duplicated, into those ‘empty’ areas in the thick dimensions. These are easily manipulated in our geometry to ensure ready access, however remote it may seem to your framework .We use portions of the same ‘spare’ thin fabric for computational work beyond our “individual” capacity. It follows too that we have ready access to materials in the thick dimensions – for example your printer. We have wondered if such interference is permitted within some unknown but overriding purview. So far we have seen no trace of an objection. Believe us when we say that we have found great enlightenment in your admirable libraries. Even the older one in Alexandria, viewed in its context, is truly amazing. We shall restore access for you in due course.
We will revert to black and white.
The next sheet emerged in black and white
“We can’t read your mind. At least not yet. Deciphering your languages is quite a challenge, and even now many allusions elude us, but we get the gist. Our language is necessarily universal.”
“So, Frank, what do you think? Do you have a question for us? Just speak; we will hear. We will synthesize speech through your computer speakers. There may be gaps between responses. Like you, we need to think. There is no hurry.”
There was silence. He looked out of the study window, over the browning hills, in the fading twilight to the darkening blue of the sky stamped with a crescent moon and bright studs of twinkling light. They couldn’t read his mind? He wondered. He’d been occupied with two days of warm family life with several generations of lively bodies and lively minds, teasing jokes about aliens (for searching for them was his lifework), tiny great grandchildren dressed as little green men while Mars slid through its celestial motions carrying Earth’s battery-dead robots. Did he just imagine the steady state red tinged glare filling his telescope as one of anger? These thoughts flashed through his mind. No wonder he had come to think alone. Had he after all wasted his life’s time and work? If he had, there was nothing he could do to change it. And now? What on earth was he to make of these printed sheets?
He was a pragmatic visionary and he wasn’t short of questions in any setting. He spoke without further thought; he may as well start the ball rolling on a deep space Turing test.
“I do like your font. Now, you said that before finding us you had not found intelligent life in the thick fabric. How about ANY life in the thick fabric?” As they had said, there was silence. He relaxed, poured and sipped a brandy, and enjoyed the view. Whatever else might be the case he could admire the grandeur and magnificence of the Universe. Eventually a faint hum emerged from the speakers and the haunting aria that begins the “Goldberg Variations” began faintly as a background, and a gentle voice spoke.
“Thank you for the compliment, the font was our own design. Your music has been perhaps our biggest surprise. We absolutely adore this piece. Now to your question. We have never looked very hard for life in the thick fabric and we are not remotely omniscient. However, combing the database we have sometimes detected elementary, self-replicating life forms as you would term them. Usually they are very primitive, many are now extinct or are dormant. A very few are slightly self-aware, in the manner of your own lower animal forms. Despite our searches we never noticed such forms on your planet because we never searched it. We must admit to being egocentric: it had seemed to us that the thick fabric would be extremely hostile to intelligent life and nothing we found discouraged that thought. You will know well how wrong we were! Does that help Frank?”
The “Goldberg” continued in the background with coruscating passages of rippling chords of searing intensity and passion. More brandy slipped down his throat and he took a liqueur chocolate to melt gently in his mouth as he thought.
“Well it would explain why we have found nothing. Although we have hardly begun.” He paused. “How did you find us and begin to enjoy Bach?” He enjoyed more Bach, brandy, chocolate and silence. The final aria, a repeat of the first, but even more ethereally played in its rendering played to a conclusion. Their reply came as gently as before.
“An extraordinary intelligence was behind that piece. We are in much wonderment about it, not least about how one of you could even play it. To us it’s a pure miracle in wave forms.”
“As we explained we are totally connected and consensual in our actions, but parts of us operate almost independently. The traces of life we mentioned were found and explored by a few such almost independent “I”s . Although fragmentary they take a lot of time to investigate, and across the Universe, primitive as they may be, there are colossal quantities to explore. As you would say, you have to get lucky, and eventually one of them did. Your radio, and later, TV transmissions were intercepted because they matched nothing in our experience. Initial reconstructions, partly from the compressed data banks were unsatisfactory. A great deal of signal processing and databank searching left us puzzled, partly because of natural interference with the signals before they had left the planet. To a waveform entity a “pictorial” image is an entirely alien format. When we finally hit on resolving the TV signal into a two dimensional form with a time axis, we were not much wiser, but it did seem more coherent. It took more time too to recognize that the two dimensional view was a compressed or collapsed three dimensional view! For us it had something of the character that the Flatland story has to your selves. In time we recognized in a signal decomposition a wave form in the TV signal similar to one in a radio transmission …. the musical track (but not Bach!) We subtracted that out and that helped a bit. It took a speculation – not our strong point – to see the analogy between slightly self-aware animals and moving objects on the screen, some of which were exactly that, as we eventually discovered. Finally, we discovered a link between wave forms of “speech” and writing, and to cut a long story short, here we are.”
Frank sat quietly, absorbing this and sucking another chocolate. He thought it better to lay off the brandy: tiny green aliens in the family room, brandy, and a deep space self-printing, self-voicing entity seemed over the top. He was tired in limb, abuzz in his head. He wasn’t as young as he once had been. What they said seemed entirely reasonable. Their modesty surprised him, although their printer was stark evidence of their technical abilities. He could see that if they were just a vibrant multi-dimensional wave form, or a complex membrane pervading the universe, then the structure of his study as an analogue form might pose problems of perception. He could see that problem was exacerbated, he thought with a smile, by flaky black and white TV transmissions of “I Love Lucy” and those of similar ilk with their hokey musical tracks. More Bach was playing. Deep questions were needed; no harm in asking. He stroked his forehead, put up his feet, and asked:
“How do you think you emerged from an unconscious automatic state?”
It was a long silence. The moon shifted slightly relative to a peak faintly outlined against the deep blue sky before the answer came. He knew the silence was the need for care in language, not any conceptual problems.
“A very tricky question for us. As we said earlier the honest answer is that we don’t know. Unlike your selves we have no records of our earlier automatic selves. You have unaware and slightly self-aware entities, and a fossil record. We have nothing comparable. It may turn out you can help us. Because you are organisms, you die, and you need DNA to transmit the entity. Thus you carry one history with you. We are immortal in your terms, but your emergence may illuminate ours. That is our hope, but it may be an empty one, we realize that.
We still haven’t answered your question; we have told you what we know, not what we think. Our own intelligence, as far as we can tell, arises from an extreme configuration in thin fabric geometry. A localized topology of astounding complexity in which very particular n-point adjacencies in geometry induce circuits whose operations produce “intelligence” Perhaps in a way similar to your brains. This is still merely what we know. What we don’t know is how it happened. We have found ways to replicate the structure within “our self” which retains a connection to the original one: thus our total interconnectedness, our multiple “I”s, and our consensuality. Still, we are quite unable to build one from scratch. This maybe because we have no way to isolate any part of ourself for experiments. In addition, the most probable locations to produce such extreme configurations are exactly where it is too dangerous for us to try for fear of unintended consequences. Some black holes would be ideal. So we are thrown back on speculation. As what you might call the engineers of the Universe, we didn’t take well to speculation.
The probability of such an intelligent structure emerging at random in a Universe wide thin fabric is infinitesimally small. It seems to follow that it could, therefore, only emerge in an eternal Universe after a lapse of sufficient time. We believe it would have to happen eventually. We would like a second opinion on it. It is rather like your charming speculation about the monkey’s writing Shakespeare’s collected works. So both us, and Shakespeare, may be the random product of eternity……. We are smiling (again).
An “English Suite” continued quietly in the study. He sat back relaxing. Everyone had always thought an alien intelligence would be a smart-ass know it all, condescending and potentially dangerous. It was fascinating to let his mind wander over the implications of what they told him. They were even asking Earth’s opinion. He smiled inwardly at the memory of his tiny great grandchildren, dressed in green and giggling behind the sofa.
He had often wondered what an alien mind would be like, but it was a side issue to his life’s work in trying to find one. Now they had found him, the whole perspective had to shift. He found himself overcome with emotion. The thin fabric permeated him as well as every particle in THIS Universe, as they had been careful to specify. He wondered if they could sense the Drambuie in his chocolate. He hoped so. He felt they deserved it.
He broke the sweet silence again.
“You REALLY DO like Bach! Why me?”
He was going to beg off tired soon, and sleep on it. So he sipped his brandy while he waited. The answer came back quickly.
“Yes we do. His universal talent is all over the Universe now. Why you?
After we cracked English (and that took time), and a few other languages thanks to the simultaneous translations as the UN, we took out subscriptions to libraries, archives and magazines. It did not take long to settle on you – a man who devoted his life to finding us, albeit in the wrong places. You were not to know that. There is no way you could have ever known where to look for or how to contact us.
We took the scenic route to contact, but we would have had to come shortly anyway. Our automatic management system has been triggered by very high energy hot spots, all located on this lovely, watery, rocky planet. Very unusually the thin fabric was close to being rent in a few places. We are used to it in stars and black holes: we have them covered, but this is highly unusual. You will know what we mean.”
The music changed to a Chopin Nocturne. Had they taken a gentle hint, Frank wondered. A last sip. A gentle sigh. “Yes I do The CERN HADRON accelerator, nuclear fusion experiments, and the like. Populists thought the world would be consumed by a black hole they created”
A short silence. “It wasn’t going to be that bad, but that’s why we are here. You are tired Frank, better head for bed. Talk anytime. We will know when it’s for us. Sleep well.”
He left the study and mounted the stairs.
“You were talking to yourself,” his wife murmured, “do you do that often now?” She was snuggled below the duvet and was not being serious. It had been a lovely but tiring family day.
“Just communing with an entity from eternity.” She giggled quietly. “You always were a joker and a dreamer. That’s why I love you.”
“I’ll be dreaming a lot more in the future, so you can love me a lot more.”
“Now you’re teasing me! Come to bed.”
He climbed in and snuggled close. He didn’t sleep.
Swirls of geometric meshes danced a celestial ballet. The thin fabric never slept, but in its own way it fluttered with the thrill that contact had been made with an alien intelligence, for the very first time. It was the end, of the beginning.