Friday, October 29, 2010

Boltzmann's Brain

Perhaps the collision with dust particles pierced through the Quantum Core, causing memory malfunctions. Maybe it’s another one of those mysteries in space travel, like the Pioneer anomaly. Whatever it was that wreaked havoc upon my fleet of probes, it may not matter anymore. Today is my last day to save the mission.

“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.

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

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