A Continuous Party I Once Went To

(Part I – written in 2009)

It was July.  July 3rd, to be precise.  I remember the date because one doesn't arbitrarily show up in Boston for no reason and then forgets the minutest of details.  It's almost as if our brains, confused like hell, suddenly become more alert: such an unusual turn of events must mean something, and you know how our brains are just massive pattern matching devices where things that we do every day don't even enter our prefrontal cortex and things that don't make sense get escalated in panic; this is probably why we remember oddities.

Encouraged by an unlikely success at work; guilty for taking the better part of your friends' evening on July 3rd which was not a holiday; owing to a deity who somehow always intervenes at the right time but fails to give you an explanation you are really looking for but know that you will never get; or simply unwilling to go back to my apartment, I decided to drop my friend off in Boston.  Perhaps it was the irony of this statement that pushed me over the line. (I should have gone just a tad further and gone to Europe... maybe next time.) Anyway, I'll move on because I haven't even gotten to the interesting part; who cares why I went to Boston. Now I'm at the front door of this fraternity house in Boston.

The best thing about writing (and the thing that doesn't get much recognition) is the editing. Not the process of editing your writing, but the process of translating the spacetime into paper. The transition from a decision to go to the front door is so seamless that you probably didn't stop to think about what could have happened in the three hours prior to this (okay, two and a half). Though actually, nothing happened and hence the cut.  On reflection, maybe the lack of recognition is the best kind of recognition.  To make making nothing out of something look like nothing.

The sequence of images, sounds and thoughts that memory now presents to me is, how to put it, fluid.  It's non-linear, yes, but also selectively fuzzy and, most curiously, nondeterministic.  There is no single story.  With every thought the story changes slightly; the further I reach the more of one thing I reveal and of another I lose.  I can't be certain that everything is right (I'm quite sure some memories are imputed but does it matter since it's fiction anyway) but it feels familiar so I don't question it.  Some details are deemed more important than others.  I call this process "the third mode of storytelling", to differentiate it from the traditional way of recounting events and imagery (a kind of deliberate construction aimed at keeping the listener engaged) and from the way our brain constructs stories in dreams (there is I bet some mechanism that prevents our brains from confusing dreams with reality because the dreams always seem a little "off"--at least to me.  That seems like an evolutionary thing).

There is a party happening at the frat house.  The music is muted because--somewhat surprisingly, as, after all, it's the middle of summer--the door is closed.  I'm sure I can make myself remember what color the front door was, but I don't feel like it. Red? No, not red. There may have been greek letters painted on the door but kind of shoddily and I feel it's a reluctant must-have; just like the premium we pay on destroyed jeans (will future generations look at this anomaly in fashion with the same disdain we look at the '80s?).  I wish I could say something insightful about the smell in the air but, quite frankly, I only remember the visuals at this point and maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.  I don't knock, even though the thought of just barging in makes me uncomfortable.  I end up kind of awkwardly peering through the door just barely ajar only to, sadly, see nothing.  A few seconds pass, and I enter.

(Part II – Written in 2012)

The house has five stories (I always preferred the spelling "storeys", so much less simplistic). I enter at story 0 (which is not the bottom-most; I am European and an ANSI programmer and there was a basement level). There is music and a (matching? or am I imagining it now?) prevalent color, a warm yellow. The music blends with the color. It has beats but doesn't feel loud; good choice of genre for entrance music.

Story one has different music and a different color scheme. But what truly surprises me, what truly makes me pause, is the transition between the sets and thus the ambience of story 0 and story one (and, as I will later discover, all the floor transitions). The change is smooth and gradual (or is smooth and gradual really the same thing? What would gradual but not smooth look like?) and even though the two stories have nothing in common, walking upstairs doesn't generate an awkward combination of audiovisuals. The yellow turns into a dark brown; the beats disappear and turn gentle, indie-ish. I am at a party, that much I know, but as I transition between floors I realize I'm actually at a party that is a superposition of all these individual parties.[1]

Each floor creates its own atmosphere. Each floor captivates. I sit in a couch on floor II (which, by the way, is reddish and Reggae) and all the other floors--the rest of the world, for that matter--disappear. I could be on floor II forever. In fact, I forget I am on floor II. But there is floor xxx, which incidentally is also the roof, and I really want to figure out the sound and the color, if any, but by now I know that floor xxx won't disappoint.

And it doesn't. It's hip hop, the good kind not the mainstream shit. It's dark blue and it's dark outside and it's a good combination. Fresh summer air makes for a good finale.

But then I'm realizing what you probably remember, if you were reading carefully, and are jumping to answer, so go ahead and tell us! Yes, the basement level! What experience will the basement level provide? Can I handle all these transitions to find out? Of course I can! I must!

It's black. And it's electronica. It's a good floor to end this 180-mile night.


1. I didn't know it at the time, but I would experience this again two years later in New Orleans, during JazzFest, the same effect but of a much larger scale: as I walk from one stage to another, the first genre becomes less distinct, then acquires a chaotic sort of richness, and finally fades to give way to the second genre. Takes about five minutes, which is prolonged, but which makes it kind of mysterious.

Adding more to Sum

(This post was originally published on October 11, 2011)

I recently read Sum  and instinctively remarked to my friends that it's probably fairly easy to come up with a large number of different afterlives, some better some worse.  Well, I was called out on it.  So here's my pass.

  • We are actually immortal.  When a near-death event occurs, the universe splits in two -- you continue in one branch, alive.  To everyone in the other, you are dead.  That's why you see others die in your universe.  The rules of the universe are constructed in such a way that it never appears as if people lived forever (that would raise some eyebrows!).  Instead, as you get older, people around you also get older, but by the time you're 90, you don't notice the strangeness.
  • When you die, time simply stops.  You find yourself being able to control it entirely; you can rewind to your favorite life moment, and play it over and over again.  Since everything already happened, unfortunately you can't change your past.  You're confined to forever be a perfect spectator
  • When you die, you move into Nothingness.  It's precisely what you can imagine it is -- a bunch of white and nothing else.  You don't exist physically, but you can perceive the whiteness.  It's a particularly boring existence, because you can reminisce and think of new things, but you can't make anything happen.  After years of such confinement everyone wishes they could move on, or die, or something -- ANYTHING -- but they can't
  • When you die, your consciousness merges with that of other people who died.  It's hard to explain exactly what it feels like, because while we're alive we never feel that, but I can explain a few benefits.  (a) You can communicate with people instantaneously, (b) You feel their presence which is similar to physically being near them, (c) You share your feelings and thoughts more precisely than you ever could.  I can also explain a few drawbacks.  (a) You communicate with people instantaneously, whether or not you want to, (b) You feel their presence all the time. (c) You always share your feelings and thoughts
  • Life is actually already an afterlife, a very special one.  It's Purgatory -- a test of whether you can become a better person so you can go to Heaven.  You invariably find out that you have failed
  • It turns out that while nobody ever came back from an afterlife, we all know what it feels like, because our scientists have been able to digitally simulate "life" and let you experience it, and thus let you experience "moving on" from the digital life back to the real one.  It's believed that the actual afterlife feels the same way
  • The afterlife is a shadow of your life.  You've lost the recollection of your death, so you relive moments of your life.  But something isn't quite right -- you get this strange feeling that you may sometimes get when dreaming, maybe thinking that it's a different kind of reality, a work of fiction.  However, the feeling never goes away
  • As you lose your consciousness dying, time slows down to a crawl since with your life your perception of time dies.  Your consciousness can perceive the time slowing down, and eventually time stops and your consciousness becomes stuck in one moment in time, being able to perceive but with no sense of cause and effect, or sequencing (since that would require a notion of time).  While it sounds depressing, it's actually a wonderful feeling, since once memory is gone, all is life is pure consciousness.  And it's wonderful
  • After you die, you relive the entire universe's existence, synesthesized in your brain to make the early events make sense to you.  At first, all you can hear is a strange buzzing.  Then flashes of lightning appear.  You watch the first particles form, chatty, confused, clinging to others fearing aloneness.  You watch planets form in a symphony of.  You witness stars die in spectacular dramas surpassing anything you saw when you were alive (by then, of course, you don't remember your life anymore).  By the time you witness your own birth, you have such wonderful perspective on everything around you that your birth has both a mystical significance and no significance at all
  • When you die, you get in a time loop.  Usually it's about 10 seconds leading up to your death.  You don't remember that you're in a time loop, of course, so you happily relive your death, gruesome though it may be, over and over again
  • We all die young.  When we die, we wake up in an afterlife, as an old, sick man who can never die.  The afterlife rules have allowed every resident of the afterlife one journey -- but only one -- to live another life in a world far away, as a young, healthy person.  Now that your trip is complete, you can only reminisce of good, young times
  • There is a constant number of souls in the universe.  This means that when you die, you respawn as something else -- unlikely a human or even anything on Earth.  You may think that the number of conscious creates has been increasing on Earth, but the Universe is so vast, and so many quintillions of conscious creatures die in planetary implosions every minute, that the balance is kept pretty well.  You may have to wait up to twenty seconds after you die, but don't worry, time passes by quickly
  • Everyone leads two lives.  In your first life, you are you.  In your second life, you are simultaneously every other person except for you.  In your second life, you get a perfect notion of what others think about you, but you do miss your own self a little bit.  Particularly, when everyone around you thinks something that you know is simply not true.  You are so misunderstood
  • When you die, you realize that your life was a computer simulation, just like in the Matrix.  It turns out that in the actual life, technology solves every problem, there is no disease, famine, but there is also no emotion.  Is so incredibly boring that people built life simulations that they periodically subject themselves to, choosing not to know that they live in a fake world for the duration of their simulated lives
  • In an afterlife, you can relive your life, but you can change a few crucial moments. To your surprise (and despite your hard efforts), your life always ends up being the sam
  • The afterlife is spent waiting in line.  Eventually you forget why you're standing, or what you were doing before
  • This life is our first life.  Each subsequent life is recycled from your prior life.  So each subsequent life is a little worse, a little less stable.  The scenes are the same, but your accomplishments are lesser.  Still, you live each life happier than any previous life, embracing it, knowing that the life after will be even worse
  • There are several tiers of afterlife.  The High tier is wonderful.  The afterlife is warm and sunny, you hang out with your friends, drink a lot but never get a hangover.  The Middle tier is so-so.  It's cloudy all the time, you feel a little bit miserable most of the time.  The Low tier is shitty, it rains all the time, you have no friends, no money, and poor health.  Which tier you go into depends solely on your SAT score (or an equivalent, computed with an incredibly complicated formula from your life's achievements, if never took the SATs)
  • After you die, if you weren't a good person, you are given one more chance.  You are brought back to Earth with an explicit mission.  At some time in your thirties, you will need to save a life of someone who dies tragically.  If you fail, you are gone for good.  As you grow older in your last-chance-life, you muse over the poor soul who failed to save you
  • Some time ago, scientists proved what happens when we die.  It's nothing spectacular; describing it would be a waste of ink.  It's just good enough for people to look forward to, but not too good for people to start committing suicide.  Unsurprisingly, while the religious leaders accepted the undeniable proof, they still insist on parallels between the proven afterlife and whatever their religions promise.  Life goes on the same way as it was before we knew what the afterlife was
  • In an afterlife, you retain most of your memories of your previous life.  Sadly, nobody believes you.  You try to prove it to people by describing events from your previous life, but they say you just read it in history books.  You try recalling facts that only you know about, but you don't quite remember all the details; you often get them wrong and so people just think you're crazy.  You're likely to spend the rest of your life in a mental institution, together with people who remember not one, but a hundred afterlives.  All the memories blend to them so even to you, what they say is just one unrecognizable jumble
  • The afterlife features actual Greek gods.  The first thing you find out is that they exist -- the whole mythology.  The second thing you find out is that all the gods got tired of humans and stopped messing with their lives.  They had other, less petty, things to deal with, such as their own love triangles, betrayals, and murders
  • You become the representative of the people you left behind.  You have to defend them in front of God who is angry with mankind and wants to wipe the entire human race out with some germ or a meteorite
  • When you die, you just float out there above the universe.  You watch the universe die and restart itself.  It turns out that the probability of life in the Universe is astonishingly low, about 1e-159.  You patiently wait until you see something familiar, something biological, something you simply took for granted.  You could give up your immortality just for a glimpse of even the most despicable human behavior, even the most boring gesture, anything at all.  Watching a bacterium divide would make you ecstatic.  Instead, you traverse universe after universe, in search of something that is less likely to happen than a Universe filled with gold
  • You are respawned as a molecule, an electron with consciousness.  You perceive everything around you, and can affect the environment you're in.  Unfortunately, your signals are too weak to be accurately detected by most instruments and so scientists who study you and your fellow Afterlifers puzzle over seemingly random effects you cause.  They even gave the name to a whole branch of physics that studies these phenomena. They call it "Quantum Mechanics"
  • When you die, you find yourself in a hallway with an infinite number of doors.  You can't open any of the doors, but each door has a note on it.  The notes say you're really close, the further you go the closer you are.  And so you wander in an infinite hallway, passing closed doors, hoping for an end that never happens
  • When you die, your consciousness scatters throughout the environment that surrounded you.  Consciousness, it turns out, if just the network of particles that makes up your body, the more connected the cells and particles are, the stronger your consciousness.  After your mind begins to decay, you still exist, but are much more spread out
  • When you die, you meet your family and friends who died before you.  They have all been watching over you.  They have seen everything; they know your every secret.  They judge you.  You are first confused, then angry, then resigned over the unfairness: you never saw their secrets.  So, even though at first you resolve not to sink to that level, you begin judging those that come after you just as those who came before you do to you
  • The Afterlife is actually pretty simply.  You are reincarnated, with the memory of your prior life, but not just after you die.  You come back to Earth exactly 100,000 years later.  As you walk around Earth, you meet other people who were respawned and mingle with the contemporary humans.  You compare your notes on the world you left behind, and, to nobody's surprise, pretty much recreate what you were familiar with.  You realize that when you were first alive, there were other humans roaming the Earth alongside you, who had died around 100,000 BC.  Unfortunately, their consciousness had not developed sufficiently well for them to be able to tell you what those memories they are having are
  • When you die, you become a particle of light.  You see what it is like to travel with the speed of light.  It's actually a humongous disco show, a blur.  You are born in one of the suns, and four weeks later you enjoy taking a walk to Earth.  You may bounce off the atmosphere and spiral in a particular direction, maybe encountering another planet, maybe getting sucked into a black hole (which is, suffice it to say, really boring), maybe traveling for the rest of the universe's existence, until you slow down and head back crashing with all other particles
  • When you die, you become the creator of new souls.  Everyone who's ever died gives up a bit of their soul to create a new one for a newborn baby.  You can decide what part of your soul you give up.  Maybe it's a dark part, and if enough people choose to do that, the man is a conflicted, evil man
  • When you die, you find yourself back on Earth, exactly the same as when you left.  However, the only thing missing is other people.  The Afterlife is completely devoid of other people or any other beings with a soul
  • When you die, you become a bit in a massive computer system.  You work hard, getting flipped, sometimes many hundred times a second, sometimes not at all for months.  You kind of like this afterlife.  The demand for bits is always growing, and the system upgrades itself, so you'll never get bored.  If you're lucky, you may be a part of a computer algorithm that uses you to draw an entire image, and so you get a glimpse of what the user may be looking at.  You can chat with other bits but not too much -- the computer hardware is built not to tolerate interference between bits.  You are amazed at the complexity of software being built, and at the wonders that the system's users are given access to.  In fact, you learn quite a lot about the users simply by getting flipped around
  • In an afterlife, everyone ends up making their immoral life look just like what they are used to -- their regular life.  At first, you want to start anew, maybe pick up a hobby.  But eventually you give up, too.  It's just too much effort
  • In an afterlife, you are granted an unlimited number of wishes, but whenever you make one, you forget something from your past.  You ask for money and other personal goods.  Quickly you realize the futility of such selfish wishes and turn to your family, ensuring they are healthy, have good jobs and are happy.  If they get into an accident, you wish them to get better.  You also start wishing good things upon mankind.  Unfortunately, by the time your loved ones arrive to the afterworld, you've forgotten them
  • When you die, you find a book that contains the precise descriptions of millions of lives that you have to live through, sequentially.  When you are respawned, you forget about the book's existence, so you don't end up valuing the most precious lives
  • The rules of the afterlife allow you to go back on earth, as an invisible observer, as a form of tourism.  You see all the other Afterlifers, though.  You wish you didn't, because this means that it's way too crowded around the big events, like Jesus's birth or JFK's assassination.  You keep going back and back again, but you simply position yourself anywhere near where the action is.  You much prefer random times in the past where you may run into one, maybe two other people
  • The afterlife is a Vermont village
  • There is a curious connection between the afterlife and the earthly life.  From the afterlife, you can affect things in the earthly life, but very subtly.  You try to leave messages, by carefully arranging grains of sand (you can't really lift any heavier objects that grains of sand), or letting the wind blow in the right way into a window during rain to reveal a hidden message.  To your great disappointment, nobody can see the messages.  You keep trying, though
  • You get to choose your afterlife from a list of several thousand.  Naturally, some afterlives are more popular than others, so there is a fairly convoluted application process.  Some afterlives are incredibly selective, allowing in only the more noble of people.  Others require internships in other afterlives first.  Others make you take a test.  It's very competitive out there
  • Once you die, an extra-dimensional being pulls you from the aether, demanding to know what life is like.  It turns out that crossing all dimensions, there is an entity that has always been and will always be, is omnipresent, and all-knowing.  However, it can't create anything, let alone life
  • Once you die and gain some perspective, you realize that the passage of time is not nearly as much of a problem as the fact that the space shrinks.  It gets more and more crowded, which is annoying given that all these new souls keep arriving but the real estate gets more and more pricey
  • Just after you die, you realize you have been incredibly close to discovering what afterlife was while you were alive.  Your intuition, bolstered by irrefutable proof, was right.  If only you had just a few hours of life left.  But then you realize that some complex law of the universe, a kind of exclusion principle, prevented you from revealing the facts of the afterlife, and resulted in your death
  • When you die, you are randomly assigned a color, blue or green.  There are two identical afterlives, and you end up in one of the two based on your assigned color.  You never mix with the people of the other afterlife, and because you were never given the context, you (and everyone in each afterlife) is convinced that they are in hell and the other afterlife is heaven
  • The afterlife is run by a corporation.  It strives to maximize profits, which is strange because it's unclear what good money is for in an afterlife.  Because it's pretty much a monopoly, you don't feel like you're treated well at all.  In fact, you feel you're only a statistic that the corporation uses to convince more investors to contribute, a kind of "look how many people we can efficiently handle" and "there will always be an increasing demand for our services"
  • You get quizzed on your life.  If you fail, you repeat your life.  As you are about to take the test, you realize that you really don't want to go back to your miserable, aching life.  In fact, nobody wants to do that.  But the quiz is very hard.  Some even think it's rigged, to make it impossible to pass.  It's almost as if there was no afterlife but nobody had the guts to tell you
  • When you die, you find yourself sitting in front of a TV screen, watching another person's life.  After that person dies, they end up watching someone but still watch them so now you watch two people -- the person watching the TV and the person being watched.  This repeats forever, which is quote fun, because you keep watching new lives.  You begin to wonder who is watching you.  You try sending them signals by zooming in an out in a kind of cipher, but you realize that there is no way for your watcher to ever communicate to you anything about themselves.  You decide to send signals periodically hoping that someone in the chain above you can communicate back to you, because you feel lonely.  Then, one day, when the person being watched hundreds of thousands lives away dies, and you decide to zoom onto the person they start watching in their afterlife, you realize that the person is you
  • When you die, you stay in the same physical universe you were in.  You are finally truly happy.  But one thing gnaws at you.  Entropy keeps increasing.  One day this universe will die.  And then what?  What will happen to your lifetime?  Will you cease to exist?  Or will you more to another afterlife?  You can't imagine being just as blissful there
  • It turns out that anyone can control the afterlife here, from Earth.  Politicians have seized this opportunity to test alternate histories to determine which of their actions will have the more desirable result.  They shape the afterlife to look exactly like the one on Earth including the decision they are about to make, and then let it play out and see what would happen tens of years later (time is just one of the things that can be controlled).  Recently a faction began advocating for the rights of the afterlifers.  After all, we're all going to be one of them at some point, and we wouldn't appreciate being guinea pigs being experimented on with stupid political decisions.  For now, however, people prefer to live their earthly life better than have a better afterlife
  • You wake up in front of a book you are writing.  It turns out that every one of us has been dreamt up by an immortal writer, trying to capture the essence of mortality
  • Due to strangeness of physics, the afterlife is at a precise location in space, about eighty light years away from Earth.  You spend your after-lifetime conflicted whether you want mankind to ever discover this location or not.  There are many people here who think they should start communicating out to the human race some facts that are known here, such as the location of buried treasures or solutions to mysteries.  Ultimately, you decide that it will do more bad than good and sit quietly, hoping that you are never discovered, trying to minimize your celestial footprint so that scientists on Earth with their ever-improving instruments can never detect you
  • The afterlife is an infinite escalator.  Most people just stand on it, but you can walk up and down if you'd like.  You pass people every so often (either by walking up or down or by them walking up or down) but in the long run everyone is just going up at a fairly uniform rate.  You just hope you don't meet that really annoying guy who may want to spend the rest of his life here talking to you
  • Your life has been a simulation.  It's a pretty low-fidelity simulation, actually.  You could compare it to the videogames of the 70s.  Imagine what the afterlife life must be like!  (Well, nobody can)
  • In the future, humans discover what causes people to die and become capable of reversing the process, thus making mankind immortal.  To deal with population growth, however, everyone on Earth decides to create a synthetic afterlife, a place where all people are "sent" when they "die".  Over time, we decide that it's better if the afterlifers don't mix with the humans, and, in fact, if nobody really knows what an afterlife is.  That uncertainty creates a more stable population (and makes possible some large organizations that claim without any scientific evidence that the afterlife is exactly the way they envisioned it)
  • In the afterlife, we are given a chance to carefully construct a world for our new life.  One thing we're not told, though, is that as soon as we start our new life in our beautifully designed world, we lose all memory of having created it in the first place.  Most times, then, we end up not taking advantage of the wonders left in the world by our immortal selves
  • In the afterlife, we awake as librarians.  We have been dreaming a life described by a book we just finished reading.  It turns out that the afterlife is all about classification, and the only way to classify a book is to live out a life and see what the protagonist was really feeling
  • There is no God.  God liked His creation so much that he decided to start living as a mortal on Earth, lifetime after lifetime.  It's addictive, being mortal is.  But we who die and go to the afterlife, don't know that.  We pass by one opportunity to go back to Earth after another in fear that God comes back when we're not there and we'll miss out
  • It turns out people can, and in fact do, come back from the afterlife.  All they remember is that it was worse than the earthly life
  • After you die, you are put in an interrogation room and asked one question.  This is a simple yes or no question.  It is, "Do you believe in God?".  Answering correctly grants you an afterlife; answering incorrectly makes you perish forever.  Nobody has answered this question correctly yet
  • God is an accidental God who just happened to mix some life in a test tube.  He doesn't understand the significance of it all, and in fact, he doesn't care about it.  He just experiments with matter to get cool visual effects
  • God is himself looking for an afterlife.  He sees all these people arrive in his world, claiming it to be their afterlife.  He doesn't understand why that can be; after all, his world is pretty normal.  It's as if some humanlike forms started appearing on Earth claiming it was their afterlife.  That makes him very uncomfortable about his own afterlife
  • You are given a choice between the red pill and the blue pill, just like in the Matrix, but for the life of it you can't remember which one was which in the movie.  IF you take the wrong pill, you live the entire afterlife in the Matrix.  But regardless of which pill you took, you keep doubting whether you are in the Matrix or not.  There is simply no way to find out
  • Everything is familiar in the afterlife.  It's as if you've lived it before.  That's because you have: the afterlife is an infinite permutation of the moments you've lived in your mortal life
  • After you die, you find yourself in a lavatory of a plane, on an infinitely long flight.  The flight is so boring (and it's unclear whether it actually leads to anywhere fun), but the lavatory has a cool feature in that it allows you to relive and entire lifetime.  You just wish there were more lavatories on the plane; whenever someone comes in, they stay there until their entire earthly life is over
  • After you die, you can pick the time period you get respawned in.  The overwhelming majority of people pick the future, for example the year 2150, only to discover to their shock that they are the only person alive.  It turns out that there was a biological disaster that wiped human life from Earth in 2012
  • The afterlife is precisely what you want it to be just before you die.  Every effort is made to accommodate everyone's wish, and ideally everyone would just be happy that way, but of course there are many incompatible wishes, so we had to build multiple different afterlives, based on who people don't want to hang out with.  The biggest haters get the smallest afterlives.  Over time, they no longer remember why they hated all these other people, and just feel lonely
  • As you die, your consciousness fades slowly, and your perception of time changes.  You feel weaker consciousness-wise, like moving from a dream to a deeper dream.  First you lose the conception of death, then of yourself.  Finally, you lose the conception of anything
  • There is no such thing as an afterlife.  Instead, there is a beforelife.  The day you are born, you have already gone through a long lifetime of comfort and serenity.  Some of us remember it, and are thus deeply saddened, knowing that they will never achieve what they had
  • Consciousness is not a complex process in the brain, it's a particular arrangement of particles, a fingerprint.  You share this fingerprint with other beings, but you only perceive the strongest manifestation of the consciousness as you, and your human instance overpowers all others.  When you die, the next strongest instance could be in some insect, or a flower, or a bacterium. This pattern lives overwhelmingly in your brain, in a very concentrated fashion, which is why you think of yourself as having your body.  When you die, the consciousness It flips back to a less strong one, like a flower or a bee
  • Afterlife is one example where Communism worked out.  It's all that Lenin could have wished for.  However, it still sucks.  You’re fed but never taste, you find yourself unable to form an opinion because nobody is interested in it, every day is the same as the day before
  • In an afterlife, everyone has a pass at creating their own idea of a life, and then everyone lives that life out.  There are no rules, no limitations, anything is possible.  However, you’re approximately #100-billionth in line so you have to live through some pretty terrible designs first
  • In an afterlife, you are paired with an alternative version of you for whom everything in life went better.  It's pretty depressing.  But then someone whole life went worse than yours was paired with you.  They look up to you the same way you look up to your role model.  That makes you feel better

The Collider

(Originally published on February 23rd, 2010) 

On February 20th, the Large Hadron Collider ramped up its output to three-and-a-half trillion electron-volts. That February 20th–despite what the skeptics had presumed–was not the day the world ended. No, the end of the world has not dawned upon us yet. But now we know that it will–and we know that it will come soon.

Skeptics and religious zealots aside, scientifically, February 20th was actually supposed to be rather uneventful. At three-and-a-half, the Collider operated at half its target energy, and the Higgs boson was unlikely to rear its coveted head. At seven–it was theorized–it should, but the Collider wasn’t ready for seven; that wouldn’t be happening until 2012. Unsurprisingly then, on February 21st, in the absence of any sensation to report, the headlines of some European newspapers (and Page 2 blurbs of others) focused on the questionable value of this very expensive scientific experiment–the most expensive experiment in human history, in fact–calling it “the World’s Greatest Waste of Money”.

The Collider’s computers pumped experimental data at a staggering rate of twenty gigabytes per day. CERN was kind enough to make the data available to the scientific community (or rather, to the tiny fraction of the community capable of consuming data that quickly) but there was a widespread understanding that results–if any–would take weeks to hunt down in the jungle of zeroes and ones.

Consequently, the revelation that came on February 25th startled absolutely everyone. All six detectors embedded in the accelerator’s hull reported several major anomalies. It seemed, based on CERN’s back-of-the-envelope analysis, that the space throughout the accelerator manifested pockets of non-relativistic properties. Particles twice as heavy as electrons have been detected. The electroweak and strong forces seemed to switch places. The events were short-lived and highly localized yet nobody knew what to make out of it.

The prevailing mood at CERN was one of bewilderment although there were obviously some who were elated–hoping for “easy” Nobel prizes or dreaming of proving the likes of Steven Weinberg wrong–and many more who were highly critical. Following a policy that could only come out of an institute desperate for wonders, the management board at CERN allowed an occasional anomaly so long as they were within the prevailing safety guardrails; the experiment was allowed to continue.

But the event that–in retrospect–was far greater in magnitude, occurred that day not in Europe, but at the Fermilab particle accelerator in Illinois. One of the particle colliders–similar in design to the Large Hadron Collider but capable of producing only much less spectacular collisions–reported spontaneous particle activity. Somehow particle collisions were being observed despite the fact that the accelerator had not been launched. Similar events at various accelerators throughout the globe were reported shortly afterwards, roughly in decreasing order of the accelerator’s sizes.

What was going on? One theory put forth somewhat hastily was that due to some unknown “particle tunelling” phenomenon all the major accelerators developed a kind of coupling, wherefore an event in one accelerator triggered a respective reaction in all the others. The theory likened this effect to that of quantum tunelling (a phenomenon known to the wide quasi-scientific New Scientist-and-the-like community as being the one making teleportation plausible) but on a large scale. The theory gathered widespread adoption despite being entirely unsubstantiated; it did not help explain how such a mechanism was possible, how–if at all–the Large Hadron Collider triggered it, and–most importantly–what the implications of the emergence of such a tunnel were.

The events of February 26th helped answer, at least partially, the latter questions. Concerned about possibly having caused an event that they didn’t fully understand, the scientists at CERN decided to turn off the Collider. A “controlled shutdown” was ordered: the energy would be slowly reduced to zero to allow teams all around the world to observe how the decrease in the Collider’s energy affected the coupled accelerators. The hope was that, if the Collider was the origin of the phenomenon, a shutdown would reduce the intensity of the individual tunnels. Most events in physics, after all, are reversible.

As the Collider’s power approached 95%, the Fermilab team (and then all the others) observed miniature black holes emerge at the sites of the anomalies. As an increasing number of short-lived, microscopic black holes popped up and as their size and life began to increase, it became clear to all that further power reductions would not be prudent. Evidently, following another theory put forth a few days later, the particle tunelling effect was not reversible; the only way to eliminate the tunnel is to let Nature create a black hole large enough to collapse the endpoints of a tunnel into one point. As there were by now dozens of tunnels between most major particle accelerators throughout the world, to stop the tunnel would have a disastrous consequence of witnessing the creation of a black hole large enough to consume all of Earth.

Here we are, barely seven days after the Large Hadron Collider started smashing electrons with never-before seen energies, equipped with the damned knowledge that the Collider is a ticking time-bomb and that the days of our planet are numbered. How much we have, nobody knows for sure. It all depends on how much longer we can keep the Collider running.

The world is watching the Collider–the tool of our demise–with suspended breath. If it breaks down or suddenly drops its power output, we are all going to vanish spectacularly, consumed by a black hole we will have accidentally created in the name of the elusive, impalpable knowledge. As anything man-made, it’s bound to break down. It’s just a matter of time.

February 20th was the day mankind doomed itself.