Entangled Hearts 5 - Internet
What happened so far:
Walter, a middle-aged man with a love for science and adventures, decides to pick up online dating with the new platform Entangled Hearts. The woman he connects with, via a quantum-phone, is a science communicator called Sara and they both get along from the get-go. Meanwhile, the first conscious AI, called Albert, is put into operation on the moon, and immediately concludes that the meaning of life is to decrease entropy and that Earth is about to be hit by a giant meteorite. To avert the meteorite, Albert builds a space elevator, which is needed to build a rocket with the biggest nuclear bomb ever made in orbit. Unfortunately, new calculations turn up and show that the meteorite is too big to be averted with conventional explosives.
With the backdrop of the end of the world, Walter and Sara decided to meet on the observation platform of the space elevator. On the elevator they discover that even though the quantum entanglement in their phones is just a marketing stunt, the two of them do have entangled phones and exist in opposing directions of time. At the big bang, ordinary matter went forward in time and the equivalent amount of anti-matter went back in time.
Being on opposing ends of the universe, they realize that they can never meet in person, since anti-matter and matter annihilate each other in an explosion of pure energy, when they touch. This, however, also brings a solution to the unavertable meteorite bound for Earth. Since the meteorite exists also in the anti-matter universe, their quantum entangled phones need to be connected via a wormhole and shot at the matter and anti-matter meteorites, which will then annihilate each other. This will save the world, but also take away the precious connection that Walter and Sara had made.
On the elevator trip, where Walter was supposed to meet Sara, he encountered an orphan called Yin, with whom he got along immediately. After understanding that she is an orphan and that his connection to Sara is the only thing able to save humanity, he decides to adopt the little girl…
Walter and his odorless horse bolted away from the explosions. Kapow. Bullets were flying over him, whizzing through the air. Without looking, he fired two shots over his shoulder to hold off the pursuers. Just ahead of him was a train gaining speed. At full gallop, Walter screamed: “Hijah!” at his horse, which raised an eyebrow, shat twice to reduce ballast, and caught up with the train. Walter, in the meantime, lifted his feet on his saddle to get ready for a jump. With a big leap, he barely caught onto the roof of the train and hoisted himself on top of the steam driven beast. “Phew,” he commented. A hatch in the wagon roof allowed him to jump down into the passenger compartment. Four surprised gentlemen got on their feet and reached for their weapons. Four shots thundered from Walter’s revolver, leaving the barrel smoking, while a flock of birds tried to escape the train. Out of ammo, he threw the colt on the floor and made his way onward on foot. Looking out the window he saw that the train was now passing over a vertigo inducing bridge running along a mountain side. It must have been a 2000 meter drop down to the valley. Out of nowhere, two hands wrapped around him from behind. “Final stop cowboy,” said a voice in his ear and threw him straight through the window. In slow motion Walter observed his fall down the mountainside, looking up at the train still running along its track with shards of broken window flying down with him.
Boom, went the explosion that tore the side of the train open. A fire ball launched debris and a speedy silhouette into the air. The silhouette raced towards him and just before passing said: “Catch.” Thud, a wingsuit landed in his hands. Still turning and twisting in his fall, Walter wiggled his hands and feet into the fasteners and spread out his limbs to catch the aerodynamic draft. As the train debris shattered below him, he smoothly glided away from the mountain. Not far off in the distance he spotted the silhouette and yelled: “Sara, is that you?”
“Yes of course!” she answered with a thumbs up and then shouted: “Watch out!”
Some top hatted, fat mustached gentlemen were pursuing them in 19th century wingsuits, made of wood, cotton cloth, and steam engines. Their monocles were barely holding on to their faces, while their pocket watches were flailing uncontrollably behind them. With revolvers they opened fire.
“We can shake them off in the cliffs!” Walter shouted at Sara.
Both curled up and turned their wingsuits to face back to the mountain. Hurtling towards the stone wall, they flipped themselves around at the last moment and dove down along the rock face. Two sharp edges lifted away from the mountain and with ridiculous speed, they threaded the needle and managed to glide in between them. There was little room to maneuver, so little that the top-hatted gentlemen had to give up their pursuit.
Further down the mountain, they released their parachutes, glided towards an open field and finally landed on their horses. Dusting off one shoulder, Walter said: “That was a close one. Did you get what they were transporting?”
“I got everything that was in the safe, no idea what it is though. It was quite easy. Thanks to your diversion, there were barely any guards on the train.”
“Great! I think this is a good time for a break huh? Yin should come home from school soon.”
“Oh yeah of course. You’re going to cook dinner?”
“It’s already on the stove. See you later for a late night sesh?”
“Yippy kay-yay, high Waltage,” she said and saluted him with two fingers.
Walter lifted the VR-headset off his head and detached the spinal cord disrupter patch from his neck. Thank God that thing reliably turned off together with the end of every VR-session, otherwise he’d be trapped in paralysis. Marcus (Marcus Carter, engineer on the lunar station) had assured him, that if he’d think the safe word 5 times in a row, the spinal cord disrupter would turn off automatically. Having had extensive issues with installing printers in his past, Walter wasn’t too keen on trusting technology paralyzing his body. However, VR enabled him and Sara to spend time together and that was worth every risk. It was strange though; how playing video games had become as dangerous as SM-sex. Strange but awesome.
With the flick of a switch, he made his office chair come back to a normal sitting position. Since the spinal cord disrupter rendered his body completely limp during VR, his body needed to be fully supported by a chair that reminded him of his dentist. Sara said it was like being at the gynecologist, which had him conclude that all doctors must have kinks.
Walking back to his living room, he looked out the glass wall and was amazed by the autocrafts bustling around. ‘This never gets old’ he thought. Then, the smell of the dal he had set on the stove took his attention. He walked over to his kitchen island, raised the lid off the pot and looked inside, to see a stew stirring itself. The induction heating technology seemed like a miracle.
Magnetic fields switched their orientation at the frequency of the power grid to wiggle around iron atoms in the crystalline material structure of the pot. The internal friction heated the pot itself instead of a hot plate below. But this was not the end of it. The magnetic field was created by multiple electromagnets arranged in a circle. By switching the average orientation of the magnets in a circular motion, an additional magnet, which was inside the pot instead of underneath the cooking field, could be moved around on the inside. This magnet was there to stir the dal Walter was cooking.
Suddenly, the door slammed open, and Yin entered the apartment. “School sucks!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, one hundred percent agreed. What a banana scale 1 kind of place.” Walter said and explained himself: “When I went to school, I had to learn stuff I wasn’t interested in; then go home and spend time studying things I didn’t care about, so that finally, someone else could judge me on how well I did stuff, I didn’t want to do. What were they trying to teach me there? How to pretend not to feel miserable? That learning things sucks and is a punishment? Jesus Christ, it took me years to unlearn what they forced into me and rediscover my sense of curiosity for the world.” Walter stopped his lamentation and remembered that Yin was in a different situation entirely. He had managed to get her into the best school there was, which wasn’t that hard, since Yin was a genius. Still, somebody had to enroll her, buy her school utensils and pay for transport. “But you love studying. I had a conversation with your teachers the other day, they told me you were studying like crazy and given all the freedom in the world to explore your own curiosity. I heard you are working with the school’s particle accelerator. So, what’s the problem? I am surprised you don’t like it.”
“I don’t know,” she made an unconvincing pouty face. Then, she visibly remembered the particle accelerator and couldn’t help but giggle, “the accelerator is cool though.”
Clearly something funny was going on so Walter inquired: “You don’t know why it sucks? Why do you say so then?”
“The other kids told me so. And when I said something else, they were angry with me.”
“I see. But having different opinions is fine you know?”
“I don’t want to be alone again, Walt. I just want to be part of it,” she sounded fed up with life.
“Part of their group?”
“I just want to have friends, Walt!”
“I understand you very well. I also always had problems with other people. Couldn’t quite get along with most. But you know, the friends that stick, they seem to come out of nowhere. You can’t plan to meet them. From my experience, if you don’t know after Hello whether you’re getting along, it’s probably a no. So just do your thing, keep saying ‘Hello’ and everything’s going to be fine. Oh, and in my opinion, all you NEED is one friend. And you already have me. So, don’t worry, alright?”
Yin was visibly consoled, “OK”.
“Are you ready for dinner? I made dal.”
“Yaaay. Can I have it with ghee?”
“And curd rice?
“I got the buffalo curd that you like”, he smiled.
At the dinner table, they both sat in silence, enjoyed the food and occasionally looked out the window to observe the autocrafts. After a while, Yin blurted out: “I can’t wait to meet Domenique Svalbardson, she is my hero! I can’t believe she will come here all the way from the Moon.”
Walter sadly remembered that Domenique Svalbardson was going to come and take the quantum phone away from him. The entanglement between him and Sara, who was on the anti-matter side of the universe, was the only way to stop the meteorite bound for Earth. Even though they couldn’t meet, they had made quite a strong connection, in part thanks to the virtual reality games they played. “Yes, you are right”, he was not very excited, “should be only a couple of days left.”
“No, it’s going to be tomorrow. Look at the calendar!”
Walter looked at the calendar, which had the alleged years since the Big Bang written out in words: thirteen billion four hundred twenty million three hundred forty three thousand and sixty nine; and then the day. His heart dropped into his feet. Yin was right. This was the last evening he could spend with Sara, and then it would have to be goodbye forever - and also negative forever, since she was going back in time. “Oh my god, I completely forgot! I have to get back on the phone with Sara. This is the last time I can speak to her!”
“Wait, Walt!” Yin had something on her mind.
“Can we talk about it tomorrow, Yin? I’d really like to talk to Sara now.”
“I just wanted to say that I don’t trust the machine. Albert, I mean.”
“Yes, you said that before. But you also checked the calculations and said they were correct.”
“Yes, but I don’t understand them, and therefore, there could be more to it.”
“Ok, there is something in the world you don’t understand. This is normal you know?”
“Ok, maybe, but in the orphanage, I learned: don’t trust the big guy, or the small guy, or anyone really. Just don’t trust.”
“I am sorry you had to have that experience, but what is there left to do? It seems to me, I don’t really have a choice. And you know what? For humanity, for you, I can live with it. I am going to talk to Sara one last time and I’ll see you in the morning, ok?”
Walter left everything on the table and went straight to his office. How did he forget that this was the last time he was able to speak to Sara? And why didn’t she say anything? There was no time to lose with pondering. He went straight to his chair, flicked the switch to get him into a dentist ready position, put on the VR-headset and the spinal cord disrupter, and dialed up Sara.
Virtual reality was a bit like a controlled dream that you could share with someone else. The spinal cord disrupter stopped his body form responding to his motoric brain activity, which was instead fed straight into the virtual reality. Starting a VR-session felt like waking up. With a deep inhale, Walter opened his eyes on the back of a horse. VR was a lot of fun, but also strangely uncanny. Hearing, seeing, and the sense of touch below the neck were all there and pretty close to what you’d expect from a dream, but there was no smell or taste. He never thought how big of a difference it could be to see a horse, but not smell it. In a way better, but it still didn’t feel like the real thing. ‘Fortunately’, he thought ‘I would become rather uncomfortable if VR would become indistinguishable from actual R’.
Suddenly, Sara appeared next to him, “Howdy, shmauwdy!” she said.
“Howdy! Hey, why didn’t you tell me that this is our last session?”
Sara’s face dropped, “whaaaaat?”
“Oh, you also didn’t know?”
For a moment Walter could see how Sara was checking the date. “Oh my god, Walter. This is our last session!” she was shocked.
“I don’t really feel like playing to be honest. Can we just talk?”
“Of course. Let’s go to the saloon?”
They both closed their eyes for virtual reality quick travel and appeared in front of a saloon. Some drunk guy got thrown out of a window and plunged into the horse drinking trough. Together they entered through the swinging door and sat down at the bar. “What ya havin’?” the barkeeper asked.
“I’ll have a peach mojito with flowers and a rainbow.”
“Just a beer, please. Thanks”, said Sara and then turned to Walter giggling: “What the hell are you ordering?”
“I am still trying to find out what he can’t do. Also, since we have no smell or taste, what does it matter what we order anyway?”
“Right. So what now? What should we talk about? I… I actually don’t know.”
“Well, our feelings maybe?”
“Uhh feelings. You have those?” she was teasing him.
Walter had to laugh; he was never one to talk about feelings either. He really didn’t know how somebody would do that. This woman, though, had done something special to him, and it was only right to talk about the indescribable that went on inside everyone. “I like you. There it is. It’s out,” he smirked.
“Really? I would have never guessed. Thought you just liked my odorless horse.”
Walter smiled, “I’d tell you that you look great, but we both have avatars that look nothing like us in VR compared to actual R, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“Yeah. It’s a real pity that you go crazy, if you try to look the same.”
“The uncanny valley culminates in uncanny madness. How ironic that virtual reality cannot represent actual reality for this reason, isn’t it?”
Sara responded: “Also a little consolidating in my opinion. If VR gets too close to normal regular R, how do we know what’s real?”
The bar keeper had already poured Sara’s beer and was now busy powdering fairy dust over Walter’s drink to make a rainbow appear.
“Yes, Walt. I really like you too. I’d even go as far as to say…”
“No, please don’t,” Walter’s lighthearted sadness flipped to despair.
“I think I love you, Walter.”
Walter broke out in tears, “I love you too, Sara!” he got up from his stool and went over to hug her. He could feel the sensation of a hug around him, it was relieving and comforting. Without smell it wasn’t the real thing though. It was as if she was there, but also she wasn’t. Then he let her go and asked: “Why the banana scale negative shit, does it have to end like this?”
“I don’t know. I guess the universe had other plans for us”, she wiped her virtual cheek from a real tear.
Walter was sad and enraged. The universe was unfair. Who knew? The drinks were now in front of them. It didn’t really make sense to drink them, since he couldn’t taste or smell anything. He took the drink and threw it on the floor. A rainbow splat appeared, and the saloon got quiet.
“Hey gringo! I think you spilled something. I am going to wipe the floor with your balls,” someone yelled angrily.
“Oddly specific, but why don’t you come try genital-janitor.” And then raised an eyebrow towards Sara asking: “genitalitor?”
Walter was ready to unleash his rage on the next NPC (non-playable character) that came his way. How nice to just express your unspeakable emotions in a virtual environment, not hurting anybody. He took the closest chair he could grab and smashed it against the guy. The furniture burst into a thousand pieces and the guy dissolved into butterflies. Walter had enabled a setting that replaced human violence with random animals. Then, the next dude from the bar got up and attacked him. Fists flying, he tried to hit Walter, but he was too fast. Walter grabbed a pint of beer and drank the whole thing in one go. “Drunken kung-fu style” he explained to the NPC and slapped him in the face with no effect. Then Sara came to his help by swinging from the chandelier and kicking the guy with both feet in his side. Poof and a bunch of miniature monkeys appeared that caused their own mess. The rest of the saloon got up and attacked simultaneously. “Let’s hook in,” Walter said to Sara and they hooked in elbows, started to dance in a circle and kick around aimlessly. One after the other got kicked in the crotch and evaporated to another member of the animal kingdom. Finally, the saloon was filled with chirping, slurping and other sounds, and a disappointed waiter who said: “And I thought you were different. Are you going to pay for that?”
“No,” they said in unison and made their way towards the exit.
“I’ll have to call the sheriff, then.”
“Oh damn it, Walt. If the sheriff catches us, we’ll be suspended in separate cells. That would be a terrible end for this.”
“I agree. Let’s run babe. This is it. All or nothing.”
They got on their horses and started riding towards the sunset. But not before long, the sheriff appeared behind them. They yelled at their horses to go fast, but the sheriff had a lasso. Tricky guy. He threw the lasso and caught both with his sling.
Next thing they know, they are facing each other in opposing prison cells, stretching their hands through the bars towards each other, just barely not being able to touch.
“Damn it!” they agreed.
“Never gets boring with you,” Sara commented. Walter could hear that she wasn’t disappointed from how things had played out.
“So what now? Go back to talking about our feelings? Not much else to do now, have we?” Walter said resigned.
“I’m good, honestly. We know what we feel. This is the last time we get to talk. Let’s just talk about whatever we want to and enjoy the convo one last time?”
“Yes, please. Let’s do that!”
After a short contemplation Sara said: “Do you know Gödel’s incompleteness theorem?”
“I have heard of it, but I wouldn’t dare reciting it.”
“I wouldn’t dare reciting it either, but there is one aspect of it that really caught my attention lately. It states that in a logic system, like math, there will always be statements about the system, which are correct but cannot to be proven by the axioms.”
“Wow, so catchy!” he joked.
“Let me explain. The axioms are the ground rules. Fundamentally there are four of them and the simplest of those is A + B = B + A.”
“I never liked Abba.”
“Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight, is not good enough for you?”
“Alright maybe they have a few good songs. Maybe I’m just disappointed they didn’t teach us dancing queen in Math.”
Sara couldn’t resist a short “Ha!” and then continued her argument: “You see ABBA is the rule for addition, then there is one for subtraction, multiplication, and division. Once you have those, the system is set up. Now here comes the catch: In this system, constructed by these simple laws, there are true statements, which cannot be proven by those laws. These true statements can thus be regarded as additional laws, which can be added to the fundamental axioms.”
“Hmpf. So the system expands with new laws? It expands itself in a way?”
“Yes indeed. And no matter how many laws you find, once you add them to the fundamental one, you can find new ones. So, there must be an infinite amount of them.”
“Infinite rules? Sounds like fun!” He was being sarcastic.
“Now consider what this might mean for the physical world. After all, we describe the physical world most accurately with mathematics. If we consider the fundamental particles and forces as the ground rules for our physical reality, and incompleteness also holds true for this logic system, we can be sure that there are additional rules, which are also true about our universe, but cannot be explained with particles.”
“Damn. So, what you’re saying is that even if our universe is just made out of particles, there is still more to it than just the particles?” Walter was exited.
“I find that strangely relieving.”
“Yes, me too. So, this is just my own philosophy, but to me this relieves us from determinism. Particles may behave in a deterministic way, but freewill, consciousness and what not may still emerge as ‘additional rules’ of the universe.”
“Huh, that’s amazing! So, you would consider consciousness and freewill, whatever those are, as real things, which cannot be described with particles?”
“Yes! I mean, that’s my guess so far. Subject to change if new evidence arrives, of course.”
“Of course,” Walter agreed. “So what else is there? If non-physical things exist, what else that we can’t see is there? What about ideas, or better yet, fictional things? If I write a book with fictional characters, let’s say they live in the 21st century and are still awaiting the climate massacre to happen, are they real? A book is just a pile of atoms, where we have declared that this exact pile represents this story. But the meaning of the ink on the pages could be arbitrary. We may as well make up a new language and define what is written in the book to mean something completely different. So, the content of the book is in a way independent of the book. The story and its characters are things that exists, independently of the book, and therefore, independently of the physical world.”
Suddenly, the door slammed open, and the sheriff stepped in. “Howdy, Gringos. Do you regret your deeds yet?”, he said and spat his chewing tobacco into a metal pot. Peng, his spit sounded through the room with considerable reverb.
“Hello sheriff. Are you real?” Walter wanted to know immediately.
“Gringo, I am the most real damn thing, that’ll whoop your ass if you don’t do as I say.”
Walter turned over to Sara, “This guy is a simulation of a fictional character. So, there are actual particles that make him, but the meaning of those particles is independently real. Does that mean he is real?”
“He is definitely real in some sense, but that doesn’t mean he is conscious or anything like that. Effectively we can’t say anything about stuff that isn’t made of atoms. At least scientifically we can’t. We can just philosophize.”
“Ma’am, Sir, please refrain from questioning my existence, or I’ll whoop ya’ damn asses all across the great planes.”
Walter responded: “But this may be great news for you. Maybe you are not just a simulation on a computer.”
“I ain’t no simulation on a computer. What the hell is any of that anyway?”
“Imagine a puppet moved by a steam engine. That’s what you are. Just way more complex.”
“Me, a puppet? I am the sheriff!”
“Yes, but in a game. So, you are not real, but maybe there is something real to you.”
The sheriff started to stutter: “I ain’t real? I,… but…, This can’t be,” then he buckled over, fell to the ground and started to whimper: “I am not real?”
Walter showed the awkward expression of having accidentally done something very wrong, “Uff, I did not see that one coming.”
Sara had large eyes: “Me neither,” and then added: “So what do we do now?”
“I don’t know. Can we break out somehow? Do you still have what you got from the train earlier?”
“Oh yeah, of course. But it’s just a weird key made of bones, probably no good here.”
“A key made of bones? That’s a skeleton key! It opens any door. Let’s get out of here!” Walter was excited.
Sara took out the skeleton key and opened both their prison cells, while the Sheriff was still having an existential crisis on the floor. “A key made of bones opens any door? What kind of logic is that?”
“It’s video game logic, it makes perfect sense,” said Walter took Sara by the hand - which felt weird, since skin to skin interaction did not feel at all like it did in reality - and started to rush towards the exit. Before leaving, he quickly turned around and said to the sheriff: “Sorry ‘bout your reality, I didn’t mean to break it.”
A campfire was crackling, spewing sparks into the night sky. The smoke had no smell and neither did the dusty canyon stretching out in front of them. “So this is it, huh?” Walter asked.
“Final stop cowboy.”
“I feel like I heard this before,” Walter sighed and continued: “I can’t believe it’s over.”
“Me neither. It feels like it hasn’t even started yet.”
“But we are saving the world,” she tried to cheer him up.
“Sure. If the world needs saving, we’ll step up” he took a moment before he went on: “you know, Yin is skeptical about the whole thing. She says that she can’t understand the calculations and that puts her off.”
“Really? I also tried to give it a go, but I couldn’t make sense of any of it.”
“You also tried?”
“Yeah, but just because it’s beyond my horizon doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”
“That’s what I told Yin. Her horizon is pretty damn vast though.”
“I don’t know what to make of it, but it seems to me we have no choice. Domenique Svalbardson is coming tomorrow morning, maybe she can make sense of it all.”
They both took a moment to look at the virtual stars before them. Even the fake ones were able to spark awe. The immensity of the cosmos was just unbelievable. Billions and billions of stars, and who knows how many planets. Planets full of life, with inhabitants also looking at the night sky. Maybe they were also just looking at an image of it. Or possibly, just thinking about it.
“Do you think humanity will travel the stars?” he tried to distract both of them.
“Someone or something will travel them for sure, but not us.” It sounded like an honest guess with no intention to elaborate longer on the subject.
Another pause lingered on between them.
“Can I tell you something, Sara?”
“Now would be a good time.”
“I see the crystal raindrops fall, and the beauty of it all, is when the sun comes shining through. To make those rainbows in my mind, when I think of you sometime, and I wanna spend some time with you.”
Sara looked over at him. Two fake people looking each other in the eyes. Their facial expressions weren’t perfectly true to reality, but it was still clear that both were tearing up.
Sara whispered: “Just the two of us.”
Then, Walter reached for her hand. They had tried to establish body contact many times before, but actual human to human skin on skin interaction could not be simulated. It was an experience that was unique to the real world. This time, when they touched, he felt a profound sensation of warmth travelling though his palm, like a lightning bolt of hot honey.
What he wasn’t aware of, was that it was already morning and Yin had gotten up. When she cleaned up the still full dinner table, she heard Walter breathing sadly. When she checked in on him and saw the limp man slumped on his chair with tears rolling down his cheeks, she squeezed his hand.