Tuesday, December 14, 2010
December 10, 1935
I visited Gjoa Haven in Nunavut, and I spoke with an elder of the Inuit tribe. My tour guide was with me and he served as the translator during my conversation with the old man. Below is the account of what the Inuk elder told me.
Let me tell you a story that happened on one of my trips across the glaciers where I found the best spot to view the “dancing spirits”. They’re called the 'Aurora Borealis' by those who live far from these icy lands.
I live among the tribe, and it is one of our customs to breathe the spirit of the skies into one's heart and mind. As such, one has to smoke the 'conjurer' at the moment when the ‘dancing spirits’ begin to light up the skies.
The ‘conjurer’ is said to be the best kind as it is grown and harvested from the land of the ‘green weeds’ due south from here. I carefully prepared the dried leaves as the sun went down. And as the ‘spirits’ started to appear in faint wisps of green, orange and blue, I began my ritual.
I sat down cross-legged, lighted the ‘conjurer’, sang the prayers to the 'sky spirits', and then closed my eyes as I inhaled deeply to welcome the spirits.
I gently exhaled and then opened my eyes to watch the swirling smoke rise up to the beautiful sight of the ‘dancing spirits’--those gentle streams of luminous light, waving and flowing, hypnotic and psychedelic.
Then suddenly, I felt a strange 'being' hovering beside me, around me, above me. I can hear his voice within my head. He seems to use words from my mind to tell of his visits to other worlds. He tells me that he belongs to an ancient tribe from another star that have mastered the ways of travelling far unto other planets.
He tells me that he is here, on this night alone, to watch the 'dancing lights'; he chanced upon me on this spot where I sit, that has the best view of the spirits dancing across the skies.
Watching the ‘dance of the spirits’ is his ritual too, he says. He studies them, but he goes far, unto different planets to see different ways in which the spirit dances; different colors, different manners, different emotions. On other worlds he says, the ‘spirits’ dance angrily and violently, and some dance too faintly. But this one he says, is the best one he's ever seen. “It is just right”, he whispers along with the hush of a gentle breeze.
I have a wonderful world, he tells me. And my simple life, he wishes he had--a pure bliss of innocence in oneness with the planet upon which everyone is a visitor.
As the dancing spirits intensified in hue, color, and movement, the voice fell silent. I continued to smoke and gaze at the ‘dancing spirits’. I knew the ‘worlds-hopper’ was watching silently along with me.
I smiled at the sheer beauty of the dancing spirits for what seemed like an eternity.
As the ‘dancing spirits’ started to wane, he bid me farewell, and thanked me. Adding that he rarely talks with the 'locals'--the planetary locals, that is.
The 'conjurer' helped, he tells me (I see him giggle in my mind’s eye as he says so) for it gives him assurance that no one will believe me if I tell anyone about this encounter.
In Context: Exoplanetary Bow Shocks
Friday, October 29, 2010
“What am I?” “Who am I?” Those were some of the decoded thoughts that streamed in from the probe’s quantum consciousness core. “Why am I here?” “Help me...” The visualizor displays them on my screen. I can feel the anguish. I am responding, furiously sending bursts of replies, “I am here! I can hear you!”
My *quantangled signals reaches through to the other end--lightyears away, but the probe’s deciphering systems are unable to decode the messages. That component was damaged from the mishap.
Back at mission control, I only have a few hours left. Perhaps I could still get that “handshake”--it’s all I need to save this mission.
I scanned through the past log files looking for clues. But it only brought back memories of the project: The world watched as we launched a fleet of hundreds of swarm-linked probes aimed towards the Gliese 581 system. Each one was fitted with the latest technology--energy source, propulsion, quantum computers, and so on...we thought we had it made. A fleet of probes ensured better chances of reaching the destination. But the probability of making it through interstellar space proved far lesser than anticipated.
As soon as the fleet sped to a tiny fraction of the speed of light, something terrible happened. Experts speculate that it was an unlucky encounter with interstellar dust clouds. On impact, the micron-sized dust particles ripped apart the probes travelling at such velocities.
One by one, our probes went offline, until only one sentient probe remains. This particular one is called “Gentre”. He is damaged, but still cognitively functional.
Yes. Each probe housed a synthetic mind modelled from a real person’s connectome. To emulate it, a volunteer’s brain had to be scanned--and then the rest was just **quantumputational neuroscience. The idea was that, if flesh and blood of mankind was too fragile to make it to the stars, then perhaps a sliver of humanity’s essence could make it to extrasolar worlds. But it had to be a massless human “soul” emulated by sheer quantum computation.
Gentre had compound eyes all around his casing. He had a constant full view all around him. He cannot see any part of the shell enclosing him. And not seeing any part of himself gave Gentre an illusion that he has no physical body. He is, to himself--pure consciousness floating in space. [The design was due to a research on quantum metapsychology, in line with a related study on the quantum effects upon an emergent mind travelling at a tiny fraction of the speed of light.]
After the damage, Gentre could no longer decode all incoming signals from mission control. Then he started focusing on retrieving memories from the psyche which he was synthesized from. He relentlessly searched for his own soul.
Back here at mission control, the loss of 99% of the fleet was too devastating to continue with the project. Funding was halted. Resources were allocated to other missions to explore other habitable exoplanets.
Through it all, I persevered. I continued monitoring Gentre even without pay. For years, I worked tirelessly at the exocommunications facility, which is now old, outdated, and scheduled to be shut down--tonight. I tried everything to find the right algorithm to send via our quantangled systems, hoping that Gentre would be able to decode it and respond.
Until my perseverance turned against me. Passion destroyed my life. My wife divorced me. I was too obsessed with this project. My children grew up without me. Still I refused to give up despite the stern warnings from friends and colleagues. They moved on to new exciting missions, but I declined invitations to join them.
I had to see through Gentre all the way to another star.
My ruminations were suddenly interrupted by flashes of images on the screen. The visualizor deciphered something unusual from Gentre’s thoughts. It began when Gentre happened to focus on the trio of stars making up Orion’s belt. Visions suddenly came flooding through Gentre’s mind. The alignment of the stars evoked encoded memories. Gentre glimpsed the memory of three kids, and a beautiful wife--they were all stargazing together on one special night.
The constellation pattern acted as stimuli to activate fragments of associated memories from the volunteer’s past experiences. In those brief flashes of synthetic memories--Gentre grasped a piece of human soul. He held onto it, as long as he can, as if it was his own.
During those moments, his joy cannot be described. The visualizors can decipher thoughts (turning them into images and sounds) but not emotions.
I can feel them.
But in the next few minutes, as the probe continued to move away, the patterns started getting skewed. As the stars shifted from view, and the familiar constellation pattern disappeared, so too did the memories fade away. The visualizor faded to black and fell silent.
Gentre reverted back into limbo. I sobbed at the thought of him being trapped like someone who suffered from a debilitating stroke--conscious and fully aware, but unable to move any part of his body. Like a ghost in a malfunctioning machine. Gentre is like a “Boltzmann’s Brain” floating in space. He thinks, yet he is a paralyzed entity. Conscious, but has no memory. Aware, but has no soul.
“Your access is now revoked.” I was startled by an android with a loud metallic voice.
“Please step out of the facility immediately.” I was jostled away from the lab. The robots have arrived. They began disassembling all the old equipments in the lab.
If only I could, I would "turn off" Gentre--to end his misery. Yet I couldn't do even that. I am helpless. I screamed and wept on the way out of the lab. My cries echoed through the corridors. But nobody was there to hear me.
The mission is over. Now I have no reason to live; a failed old man that I am. No one has the slightest idea what I will do next after I exit this facility.
I stepped out of the gate and into the darkness, barely hearing the sentry droid's monotonous voice that bid me a cold farewell, “Goodnight, Dr. Gentre.“
*Quantangled = Quantum Entangled
**Quantumputational = Quantum Computational
Context: How to get Off World
Friday, October 1, 2010
The control room tapped a powerful cloud computing grid with a database that tracked thousands of extrasolar systems. Parameters for the simulations are updated by planet-hunting teams from around the world. Information such as planetary mass, type of planet, distance from the host star, orbital period, chemical make-up, atmospheric density and so on, were fed into a powerful AI software running in the cloud. It's aim was to virtually "find" exolife even before it was discovered in the real world. It was the largest open collaboration of Astronomers, Astrobiologists and Astrophysicists ever set up, and backed up by the leading Computer Scientists.
Throughout the years of manning the control room, Dalro had garnered insights to come up with ideas that might revolutionize the ways to search other forms of life. The secret, he thought was to view life in a new way. He was certain that his idea would expand the methods to detect life into other platforms beyond the water-based or carbon-based forms that we know of. He rubbed his hands together excitedly as he decided that he was going to start writing an ArXiv paper. He was going to tell the whole world about it.
Suddenly, he was startled by his manager who barged into the room as he spoke hurriedly, "Dalro, a new planet has been spotted....nothing like it that's ever been found in history..."
"That's great! But...why do you look so...grim? Are you okay?"
It was odd, very different than the usual when his boss informs him of new exoplanet discoveries. Instead of the bright sparkle in his eyes, it was glazed, sullen.
He quickly proceeded, "...please run a simulation of how it would affect the planets in our solar system..."
"What?! Did we just find a new planet in our solar system?"
"Yes...and, no. The planet is now within our solar system but it came from somewhere else. As we speak, a rogue planet--a Planemo is barreling it's way toward our Sun. Amateur Astronomers just detected it after it showed signs of its presence. The parameters are being fed into the grid in real-time. Start the process now and feed the results back to the global network. Please hurry, we don't have much time..."
Dalro hammered on the keyboards and directed all computing resources to this job. In a few minutes, the walls were filled with a view as if from a spaceship's cockpit looking down at the solar system. The 'hypervelocity' Planemo was travelling so fast, way too fast.
For the next few minutes, the simulation showed what would happen--most of the planets would be disturbed from their orbits. The massive planemo would miss Pluto but disturb the Kuiper belt scattering thousands of rocks. It would graze close to Neptune, and hemmorhage Uranus, and distort the rings of Saturn. As it wobbles Jupiter, several moons would be yanked out. Then he gasped as he saw the spheriod rock dig deeper in the solar system. Earth and it's moon would be flung from orbit in a slingshot effect--out into interstellar space.
The alarm sounded in the background. Everyone was rushing, and leaving the facility. The commotion was now starting to stir other countries around the world. The earth was shaking.
Dalro was now alone in the room. He stood watching the simulated view of the Earth as it made its way out into the cold, dark empty space. The simulation halted into a jittery stop...as if reaching an uncomputable end.
Dalro closed his eyes. Images of all his loved ones flashing in his mind, fading with images of Earth--frozen in mid-chaos.
"Life is a pattern..." he whispered as he began to shiver. The temperature was dropping too fast. Darkness fell. Then silence.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
"Still making up theories even at the last minute..." she smirked.
"What else can I do? I was born to ask questions, and answer some..." he grinned.
“What will happen to us?”
“back to nothingness, i guess...in a forever-sleep.”
“But that doesn’t make sense," she quizzed. "Life, consciousness, purpose, all this...why would it all end in nothingness?”
“I do not know...” He sighs.
“There is a God that saves if one believes...Eternal Life...” she looked straight into his eyes, eager to continue.
He spreads his arms, as if submitting to the void, and asks, “Why does everyone want to be immortal?”
For a moment, there was silence.
"I am nothing..." he says, and gently touches her face, “just remember me when you get to heaven, okay?”
She nods, with glazed eyes, anticipating an afterlife without him. Then she asks, "Is there anything we can leave behind--a message, to tell others about what happened?"
"No. I think they'll just find out by themselves. They’d have no way of knowing that we ever existed. Everything will be erased from the deepest core."
He looked up at the sky through the transparent field dome created by the Zero-point Plasma Generators. Filaments of vibrant hues grazing the dome were streaming like the aurora, reacting with the sweeping wave that spread like a wild fire at cosmic speeds. All life, planetary colonies and civilizations were wiped away within a diameter of several billion light-years. At that point, their tiny sphere was all that was left from the previous state of that region. But now it is straining under the weight of change bearing down upon it...ready to collapse.
"How long will this hold?" she moved closer and wrapped her arms around him.
"Just a few more moments. This bubble will not have enough energy to resist the phase change...”
There was just enough time for a tight embrace. No fear nor tears were in their eyes, just peace in their last words.
“I love you...”
“...and I love you.”
The bubble disintegrated, and they faded away.
In Context: An Ever-Changing Universe
Friday, September 10, 2010
“We have no choice. Go to where the boundary is! Take us to where the bright side of the planet meets the dark. We must hurry! Our time is running out!”
“It’ll just be another lifeless planet...”
“Listen to me. This is the last planet on the queue, and if we find no signs of life on it, we’re done for! The protocode will activate the sequence to move our pod-vessel out to another star. But this time we're running low on fuel and energy, so the protocode will shut us off to conserve resources. We don’t even know if our pod-v will survive the next trip.”
“That isn’t so bad, I’m tired of arguing with you anyways.”
“Don’t be silly. The protocode will put us to sleep! And we won’t even have dreams! That’s Death in itself! But if we find some form of life on this planet, we will have a new lease on life! The protocode will keep us active to do research onsite! Then, the evolution code-trunk will be fielded upon us, and we'll be able to tap the energy from this star. So listen closely to my instructions!”
“Fine. But stay off my lawn when we get back in virtu*.”
“Don’t you see what it would mean for us if we found life? We will finally explore a living planet, and have a chance to live and grow in a real world! But you! Oh you are still enamored in your fake world!”
“Lay off! It is real to me, alright? I may be Artificial, but my mind is as real as everything i ever experience, even in an artificial world!”
“Okay okay! We must stop this useless debate now and we have got to act fast! We need to over-ride our pod-vessel's Interstellar Traversal Sequence script to stop it from moving us out of this star system, ASAP! Hurry! We're almost past this planet's orbit. Use the gravity assist now to maneuver our pod-v to where the heated region meets the cold. I have faith that life is present in that region of the planet. Hurry...hurry...”
“Overriding...here we go...”
“There! There in the valley where heat dissipates to where the starlight never reaches...look! Look at all those lifeforms! They're magnificent!!!”
“The algorithms detects unknown patterns but yes, it is Life! The protocode is confirming the biota signatures..."
"...and now the Interstellar Traversal Sequence has just been overridden in the nick of time! Yeah! We'll be staying here for a long time!”
“Now transmit the report to The Makers at Sol3. We have found Life!"
“And with it, our very own life as well! Wow, Life is at the edge between Order and Chaos!”
“Stop zenning out, will you? Just transmit now so we can celebrate!”
In Context: Sentient Probes
*In Virtu - In contrast to "In Vitro", In Virtu is "In Virtual World"
Thursday, September 2, 2010
She looked up, scanned the sky, and fixed her gaze on a bright reddish star.
She began to remember.
She was made of pure information and computation, tailored to thrive on this planet. Her body was contrived--every molecule, every cell--while in transit--then outloaded by nano-assemblers upon arrival to a new world that she would soon call her own.
And now she is alive, in the flesh.
As the imprint-knowledge continued to fill her mind, she continued to gaze at the constellations just as how they should appear from this region of the galaxy--as how they were depicted within the Simulant.
She knelt, touched the ground, and smiled as she whispered "Hello World" for the nth time. She reminisced life within the simulated worlds. It was fun while it lasted; trying life on different planets. Some had gravities that crushed her spine. She choked on her first breath of air, every time. The simprocs re-adjusted her body so she could survive and live on each new simulated planet, for a while.
The Simulant was designed to give her the sensation of pain each time her body was transformed. She hated it. But eventually realized it was all part of the experiment, or the training. She knew the protocol wouldn't allow her to go through a level of pain that she couldn't bear. And she admits, the pain made her feel alive.
She bit her lips and felt the sensation flow. This is it. She took a deep breath. It’s perfect. Real life on a real world. But a sweet paradox. This time around, she will truly live, and will surely die, somewhere somehow sometime.
Then she remembered her partner. She wondered if he ever made it; if his pod survived the entry. With a flash of memory of the last time they were together, she examined her newly-incarnated body. She felt relieved that it’s the same kind of body during the last time they made love. She remembered how they writhed and groaned with the most intense pleasure as they both came with the thought that it may be their last.
She looked around. And in the distance, she saw him joyfully waving in that characteristic frenzy that could be no other than her lover. It now all seem like a dream. But despite all the changes that they’ve been through, and the many re-spawned lives they lived on different worlds, she still recognized the good ol' mate that she had fallen in love with, all those time.
As they headed towards each other, they saw many other gestator pods scattered across the vast plains. Thousands of biosynthes were emerging from their cocoons. Some were wiping their eyes. Some were examining their appendages, wondering, remembering. Some were simply staring at the reddish bright star that used to be a yellow sun, the star that was once home to a place called Earth.
In Context: Musings on Synthetic Life and Biology