Kuwait made the Vegas summer seem incredibly comfortable. 110 was painfully hot, but 120 was inhuman. And there was no escape from it. All day John stood out in the sun typing into a special portable Army computer with an extra high powered fan. Then at night he went home to a ramshackle temporary building, a shed.
John slept more soundly in Kuwait than he'd ever slept before. He also became fairly adept on the little wooden flute he'd brought along. And he analyzed, over and over again, those two too vivid dreams.
The Kuwait desert was nothing like the desert near Las Vegas. It was much cleaner, free of brush and rock. There were no ravines, only gentle rolling hills. The sand was truly golden, and it was incredibly fine. After staring at that sand long enough, John told himself, even the firmest mind would begin to lose its grip. John came to believe that those two dreams represented some kind of reality. They were too vivid, too incredibly detailed to be nothing more than regurgitations, repermutations of his previous thoughts and experiences. They were nothing like any dreams he'd had before. They had the texture of reality, rather than hallucination.
John mulled over the statements of Jim Allison again and again. The more he thought about it, the more he understood. The things Jim was saying, the things Jim was thinking, were perfectly normal, in a way. They were sentiments that live at the back of every human mind, which are suppressed by the need to survive within reality. Celestial travel. Communication beyond the physical. Eluding time with the power of sex. Escape from the realm of the ordinary. The more John thought about his music, the more he saw it as an outlet for the same outrageous feelings that Jim Allison had clumsily expressed in words. The mind has to be forced to accept reality, and it never does, notcompletely, any more than a slave completely accepts the rule of his master.
He resolved to talk this all over with Nell when he returned. To tell her about the dream. About the texture of reality. However, he was not at all certain that she would be in Vegas. He was worried that she might get frustrated if she still couldn't find a job. He wanted to call her, but you couldn't place an international call from the middle of the desert. They'd agreed not to write letters -- he had decided that the two week delay would preclude any meaningful dialogue. After all, it was only a two month stint. All the same, he'd sent her a couple postcards, and she'd sent him two very long letters which he'd reread a dozen times. But the letters didn't contain much practical information. He didn't have an inkling of her plan to be an exotic dancer.
He longed to see her again, to touch her, to hear her voice. Each day he realized more intensely how remarkably good their relationship had been. But he was not impatient: for him, at least, the desert was not partial to impatience. It suspended the ordinary rules of time.
On the day before he left Kuwait, he made a decision. He asked Bracemer for a two thousand dollar advance. He had to change planes in New York on the way back to Las Vegas. During the six hour layover at JFK, he took the A train to Manhattan and got off near Jewelry Row. He bought a beautiful twenty-four carat diamond engagement ring.
Meanwhile, as John was flying home, Nell was on stage at the Crazy Horse Too. At the Pussycat they'd made only fifty or sixty a night, and the guys had been really sleazy. There'd been a whorehouse called Tabu around the back. The Crazy Horse Too was five times classier: it had more stages, the guys tipped more and pawed much less.
She was already used to the business. When she'd started out, it had disgusted her the way the other girls stuck their tits and asses in the guys' faces. Now she felt perfectlynatural bending over and thrusting her buttocks eight inches from a customer's nose. She had no problem accepting tips in the front of her G-string.
She and Karen had been working different shifts for the past three weeks. Karen had been working mostly nights, and she'd been working mainly days and graveyard. Only the boss's favorites got nights. The two of them hadn't been seeing a lot of each other. Since it was Karen's car, Nell often ended up taking a cab to and from work.
Nell was a little worried about Karen. She'd been acting funny -- nervous or something. She knew that Karen had been drinking a lot -- Nell had been too; it was an occupational hazard, working in a bar. The drinks were free, and they made the guys a lot easier to handle. After three or four screwdrivers, things you wouldn't put up with sober were easy to brush off. But a lot of the girls smoked crack, and Nell wondered if Karen might be picking up the habit.
John's plane was scheduled to arrive at nine thirty. Karen was working, so Nell had no way to pick him up. But she took a cab to the airport anyway. It was a Friday night, and she would have normally worked at midnight, but she'd called in sick.
He stepped off the plane looking frazzled. He hadn't yet recovered from the Kuwait City - Frankfurt - New York flight. He grabbed her and kissed her on the mouth. "God, I missed you," he said.
"I missed you too."
"I'm hungry too. Let's get your baggage, then I'll take you out to dinner."
"Where do you want to go? It's your choice tonight."
He grinned at her wearily. "It really doesn't matter to me. Anything but Middle Eastern food."
"Oh, how about that place in Caesar's Palace?"
"I can't remember the name. I've always wanted to eat there, but it was always too expensive. I guess you need a reservation, though." He walked over to the phone. "Let me call up and see...."
They took a cab to his place, then got right in his car and left. The restaurant was even more expensive than he'd thought -- sixty to eighty bucks a plate, plus wine. But Nell didn't guess what was going on. She was genuinely surprised when, after dinner, as he poured her another drink, he said, "Nell, I have something to ask you."
She said, "What?"
He took out the box containing the ring. "Over in Kuwait, I had a lot of time to think. I realized that this is the best relationship I've ever had -- nothing else ever came close. It was love at first sight, Nell, and it just keeps on getting better." He took a deep breath. "What I'm getting at is, I want to marry you."
The first thing she thought was, what a funny way to put it. 'I want to marry you.' Not 'will you marry me,' or even 'I want you to marry me.' 'I want to marry you.'
All of a sudden she realized that he was looking worried. "Let's do it," she said. "Right now. This is Vegas, right -- we can do that."
"Hey, I'm up for it," he said. His face relaxed. "What about your family, though? Won't they be pissed?"
"My family's really cool," she said. "I mean, of course they'll want to meet you, but they don't care much for ceremony. Actually, my parents were never married officially, just common law."
"Well, my mom'll be upset, but I don't really give a shit."
She took the ring out of the box and placed it on her finger. She tilted it from side to side. She realized her cheeks were burning red, and her grin was showing all her teeth. She felt embarrassed to be so excited, castigated herself forbeing so vain. "It's a beautiful ring, John," she said. Tears ran down her face.
"Where's Karen? She can be our witness."
"She should be getting off work pretty soon. If we leave soon, we can probably intercept her before she leaves."
"So she finally got a job, huh? Where's she working."
"Hey, John," she blushed. "I just thought of something. Maybe it's silly, but ... if we get married tonight, I'll only get to wear this beautiful ring for one night. For a couple hours."
"You are silly," he said warmly. "You can wear it whenever you want."
"Let's go get Karen."
"You know, I just thought of something. I've never met any of your friends."
"You want me to invite my best friend William? I know exactly where to find him.... There are four machines in the Aladdin that he claims pay off a hundred and two percent. I'm not sure if I believe him, but anyway he plays there eight to ten hours a day, mostly at night when no one else is there. He plays two at a time -- he's a real pro."
"A professional poker machine player? I never heard of such a thing."
"It's a new breed. He played real poker for nineteen years and made a lot of money, but he says he just wasn't good enough. He says when he started out he would just go down to any casino and pretend to be a stupid tourist, and he'd rip off all the real stupid tourists. But now for every stupid tourist in the poker room, there's two locals pretending to be stupid tourists.... Anyway, he's really deep into the video poker now -- he's always running stuff on his computer, trying to figure out the odds of this or that machine. I think it's fucked, to tell you the truth -- you'll never get rich with those machines. But ... he says he's not trying to get rich, it's just a steady income."
"How did you meet this guy? I mean, you say you never gamble...."
John laughed. "Oh -- I forgot to say, he's a graduate student at the university. He's going for his master's in math. He teaches the same shit I do ... did ... that's how I know him."
"We'd better hurry."
They asked for the bill; he paid cash and they left. They got into the car and headed for the Aladdin. He said, "You never told me where Karen's working. I guess it's not a business job, at this hour of night."
She looked at him nervously. "We're both working at the Crazy Horse Too."
She was relieved to see his expression. "You're serious?"
The driving suddenly demanded his attention; there was a car swerving in front of him. He turned into the Aladdin lot. They got out of the car and walked into the back door, looking for William.
Nell said, "I'm so glad you're not upset."
"What do I care? It's a job like any other."
John tapped William on the shoulder. "This is the girl I've been telling you about."
William got up from the machines he was playing. He turned around and shook her hand. She was a little surprised: he was big, maybe six foot one and two hundred fifty pounds. "Hello, Nell."
"We've just decided to get married."
William grinned, obviously taken aback. "How long have you been back from Kuwait?"
"I just got off the plane at nine."
"That's a gorgeous rock," William said to Nell.
John said, "You want to come and be a witness?"
"Of course I'll come," said William. "Where are you going for your honeymoon -- Kuwait?"
"I was thinking of Hawaii," said John. "We haven't reallytalked about it, actually."
They picked up Karen at the Crazy Horse Too, and drove straight to the Strip. On Las Vegas Boulevard between the Strip and downtown there is an incredible concentration of wedding chapels, pawn shops and bail bond places. They pulled in at the one with the sign saying "Joan Collins and Michael Jordan married here."
William -- never one to pass up an obvious joke -- said, "That's what I'd call an odd couple."
The wedding was quick and efficient, but not without emotion. Karen was oddly quiet throughout. They drove Karen to the Crazy Horse Too, and she offered to drive William back to the Aladdin. So Nell and John drove back to John's apartment. He got on the phone and made reservations for a flight to Honolulu in the morning.
"They're really kooky over each other," said William to Karen.
"How long have they known each other?"
"Not counting the last two months, when he was gone, only ... two months, I guess. About nine weeks."
"Not very long."
"It was weird -- he must've told you how we met."
"In the El Rancho."
"Right -- the first night we got into town. What was weird was they way he was staring at her, right from the moment she sat down. She just struck him somehow, right from the beginning. And then that night, they really hit it off." She grimaced oddly.
"What's the matter?" William asked.
"I'm just ... not feeling so good, that's all."
William looked at her suspiciously. "You're on something, aren't you."
"Is it that obvious?"
"Actually it isn't. I have an eye for these things. My ex-wife was all fucked up on coke."
"I don't take that much."
"No, really!" she laughed.
"I don't care one way or the other," William said.
She shifted uncomfortably.
"Actually, I had a specific reason for asking. I've got something new that I thought you might like to try."
"One of those designer drugs."
"You mean like Ecstasy?"
He grinned. "This is a lot better."
"What does it feel like?"
"I can't describe it."
"What's it called?" she asked, getting interested.
"White," said William.
"It's interesting. There are two different substances. You take one, and then you wait fifteen minutes and then take the other. I don't know why. My friend calls them White Heat and White Light. I don't know the chemical names." He reached into his pocket and picked out a sheet of paper, perforated into little squares. Half of the squares were entirely black; the others were black with white dots in the middle. "The Heat is the black paper, the Light is the white paper," he said.
"That's a weird name. Why is the black stuff called White Heat when it's black, it's not white?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"You take the Heat, then you wait fifteen minutes, and then you take the Light?"
"What happens if you take the Heat and forget the Light?"
"I've never tried it. I guess nothing."
She smiled at him. "What the hell. Gimme some Heat."
He ripped off a dark tab and handed it to her. "You put itunder your tongue, just like acid." He popped a dark tab in his own mouth.
"Let's go back to my place. Ellen won't be there; she'll be at John's."
Nell woke up a couple minutes before John. He opened his eyes and saw her staring at him with a frightened, puzzled look. He smiled warmly. "Greetings, spousal unit," he said playfully.
She said, "I had the strangest dream."
"Not about me, I hope."
He lay there, slowly waking up, trying to figure out the intensity of her gaze. Later he would marvel at his own obtuseness.
Neither of them said anything for a while.
Finally, she said, "You married an insane person."
"What do you mean?" he said, leaning over and kissing her open lips.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you."
"It was more than a dream."
"Tell me about it."
"I want to," she said. "It's...." Her voice trailed off.
"Exactly." She grinned.
All of a sudden he understood. The expression on his face changed completely. He stared up at the ceiling and said with uncharacteristic slowness: "N ... G ... S."
She looked at him with a combination of fear and delight. "What do you mean?"
"Neural Growth Stimulant," he said.
She looked at him silently.
"Ellen," he said quietly.
"You had the same dream."
"Not last night."
They lay there silently for a while, staring into each other's eyes.
She had trouble squeezing the words out of her mouth. "You mean, you had it before we met."
He nodded. "The night before."
She sat up and rested her feet on the floor, staring at the equipment against the wall. "What does it mean, John?"
"I don't know." After a pause, he said, "I had another dream that same night. Just as eerie, just as vivid." He told her about Jim Allison, and about the other dream.
She said, "I think we should go to the Continental at eleven this morning."
"But our flight is at ten thirty five."
"Let's postpone it till the afternoon. We can do that, can't we?"
"We can, but...."
"I've got a feeling," she said, smiling. "Women's intuition."
They made passionate love, then fell back asleep. When they awoke, they made love again.
He said, "The honeymoon hasn't even started, and you've worn me out already."
She said, "I'm just getting warmed up."
Those were the only words they spoke for a while. They got up and made breakfast. When they were done eating it was ten twenty five. They showered, dressed and got in the car.
He started the car; they left for the Continental.
She said, "I guess we're both insane."
"We're not insane," he replied confidently. "Our reasoning processes are perfectly sound. And our perceptions of reality are intact."
"What is happening," he said slowly, "is that we are seeing something that the human mind is not usually privileged to see."
She weighed his words carefully. "I don't understand."
He shrugged and frowned. "I don't either."
She touched his knee and smiled. "Did you ever study quantum theory?"
"I had one semester in college. Why?"
"You remember the many-worlds interpretation?"
"Refresh my memory."
"I never had a course in quantum physics, but we studied it in philosophy of science."
"According to the equations of quantum physics, nothing ever has a definite state. For example, an electron never either definitely has a positive spin, or definitely has a negative spin. It has some probability of having one, and some probability of having the other."
"Right. But when we measure an electron in the lab, it's always spinning either one way or the other. I got that far."
"Okay. So the question is, how do things become definite. The equations of physics only give you a set of probabilities: it's spinnning plus with probability sixty percent, and minus with probability forty percent. How does the universe pick one or the other."
"Does it matter how? Isn't it enough to know that it happens?"
She laughed. "Enough for the physicists but not the philosophers. No, actually Hugh Everett was a physicist. He came up with the idea that every time an array of probabilities collapses into one definite event, a whole bunch of parallel universes are created."
"Yeah, I remember now. So there'd be one universe in which the electron spun plus, and one in which it spun minus."
"Right. So there'd be billions or trillions ...inconceivably many different universes, branching off again and again every time anything was measured."
"It's totally crazy."
"I guess," she said. "I just started thinking, I mean...."
"Here's the Continental."
Her eyes lit up. "It's consciousness. That's what it is. It's consciousness."
He looked at her, surprised. "What do you mean?"
"That's what consciousness does; it makes a decision. It picks one of the parallel worlds. The physical universe presents it with an array of possibilities, and then consciousness selects one. Based on...."
"Based on the predispositions of the mind that it's attached to. Based on memory."
"Right.... And that means that mind helps create reality."
"So, when you take one person's consciousness and another person's memory...."
"We're really going crazy," observed John.
"Somehow you can move between parallel universes," she continued.
"We're really going crazy," John repeated. "There's going to be nothing in here, in this casino."
"You don't believe...."
"I don't know what to believe," John admitted. "The dream is a fact, I mean it is a fact that we both had the dream. There's no getting around it."
"I wrote a paper on this, back in college," said Nell. "The quantum theory of consciousness. It's a pet topic of mine."
He opened the car door. "Let's get it over with."
They walked into the Continental, and walked over to the lounge. There was Joseph Przenciewicz, sitting at a table with William and Karen. John looked around for Jim Allison, but didnot see him.
"You're supposed to be in Hawaii," said Karen. There was something strange about her voice.
"We're leaving this afternoon," said Nell. "Aren't you going to introduce us to your friend?"
"This is Joseph Przenciewicz," said William. "Joseph, this is John and Nell Quinta. They just got married last night. I was the best man."
"Hello," said Joseph.
"Hi," said John.
"Nice to meet you," said Nell.
"Actually, we were just leaving," said William. "Joseph was going to show us some new contraption he's got hooked up in his apartment."
John and Nell exchanged a knowing glance, the nuances of which neither could decipher.
"What are you two doing here anyway," asked Karen.
"Oh, I wanted to get in a few hands of blackjack before leaving Vegas," said Nell dismissively. "But this sounds a lot more interesting. You think maybe we could come along?"
"Why certainly," said Joseph. "I...."
Joseph was interrupted by a tremendous noise. It was Jim Allison, rushing through the casino, knocking down tables and chairs. He pointed at William and Karen accusingly. "You," he said. "You are pure evil. You must be eradicated."
John and Nell looked at William and Karen in amazement. They saw the bodies of William and Karen, but the faces did not fit. William and Karen were both wearing Jim Allison's face.
Jim Allison unzipped his pants, and yanked out his penis and scrotum. A security guard grabbed him and took him away.
Karen and William looked at each other, confused. Joseph alone was unperturbed.
"Do you know him?" asked John.
Karen, William and Joseph all shook their heads no.
"That was so fucking weird," said Nell.
"Yeah," agreed Karen.
"Actually," said Joseph, "I think I do know him, or know who he is. I think he lives in my building. But I've never talked to him."
"That's strange," said William.
"Anyway," said Joseph," let's go.
Nell clenched John's hand, and shot him a frightened glance. The look was a question: do you, too, still see Jim Allison's face on their bodies.
His questioning look was a clear response: he didn't.
As they walked out of the casino, she looked at the waiter, and the cleaning woman up on stage, and the blackjack dealers spread across the room. All of them wore Jim Allison's face. The casino customers, as well, wore Jim Allison's face. Everyone except John....
She looked up at the sign outside. It said:
$5.99 STEAK AND LOBSTER
Then she looked at Karen, and looked up at the sign again. This time it said:
$5.99 SCROTUM AND LOBSTER
She looked at it over and over again. Every time it said the same thing: scrotum and lobster. Scrotum and lobster. Scrotum and lobster.
She whispered in John's ear, "Read that sign."
"Five ninety nine steak and lobster," he replied. "What's the big deal?"
Karen dropped a coin and bent over to pick it up. Her pants ripped open in the back. She was wearing green bikini underwear, very skimpy. Half of her right buttock was exposed. She giggled, and held her pants closed with her hand. "We'll have to stop at my place so I can get a new pair of pants," she said to Joseph. "It's only a minute away."
"All right," said Joseph quietly. He seemed a little morewithdrawn than usual, as if he were working out some difficult problem in his head.
"We'll follow you," said John.
Joseph was riding with William and Karen. John and Nell went to their car and followed along. When they got to Nell and Karen's apartment, Nell hopped out of the car and said "I'll only be a second, I want to get something."
She came out of the apartment before Karen did, with some papers in her hand. "Here's the paper I was telling you about," she said. "About quantum consciousness. I want to read it to you."
"Okay," said John, moving over to the passenger seat.
She got in the car. "Whatever is going on, it's really, really weird."
"I'm not sure it's even worth trying to explain it."
"I never believed in this sort of shit ... you know, telepathy, precognition...."
Karen came out of the house. John started the car, and Nell started reading. The paper began with a careful exposition of the basic philosophical problems of quantum theory. It was well written and all but, impatiently, John asked her to skip ahead to something on the "many worlds interpretation" which she had been talking about before.
"Okay, here goes," she said. "'... In his classic treatise on quantum theory, John von Neumann (1936) introduced the "projection postulate", an addition to the basic principles of quantum physics which states that, when an entity is measured, it reduces to a definite state. This approach appears to be adequate for most practical problems of quantum mechanics; however' ... skip skip skip ...
"'One intriguing alternative to the projection postulate is Everett's "many-worlds hypothesis", which assigns to each uncertain situation an array of universes, one corresponding toeach possible outcome. For instance, according to the many-worlds hypothesis, every time a physicist observes an electron to have positive spin, there is an alternate universe which is exactly identical to this one, except that in the alternate universe the physicist observes the electron to have negative spin. This is an interesting possibility, but it is empirically indistinguishable from the projection postulate, since these alternate universes can never be observed.
"'Another alternative, first proposed by Wigner (1962), is that "measurement" may be defined as "registration into consciousness." To see the motivation for this radical idea, let us turn to the infamous paradox of Schrodinger's cat (1948). Here the peculiarity of quantum theory is elevated to the level of absurdity. Put a cat in a soundproofed cage with a radioactive atom, a Geiger counter and a vial of poison gas. Suppose that the atom has a half-life of one hour. Then it has a fifty-fifty chance of decaying within the hour. According to the dynamical equations of quantum physics, this is all one can know about the atom: that it has a fifty-fifty chance of decaying. There is no possible way of gaining more definite information.
"'Assume that, if the atom decays, the Geiger counter will tick; and if the Geiger counter ticks, the poison vial will be broken. This set-up is bizarre but not implausible; a clever engineer could arrange it or something similar. What is the state of the cat after the hour is up? According to quantum theory without the projection postulate, it is neither definitely alive nor definitely dead -- but half and half. Because the atom never either definitely decays or definitely doesn't decay: quantum physics deals only in probabilities. And if the atom never either definitely decays or definitely doesn't decay, then the cat never definitely dies or definitely doesn't die. ...' ... blah blah blah ...
"'Of course, the fact is that if we look in the box after the hour is up, we either see a dead cat or a living cat. Phenomenologically, by the time the observation is made, one ofthe two possibilities is selected -- definitely selected. But when, exactly, does this selection occur? Since measurement cannot be defined as macroscopic registration, this is a very serious problem.
"'And the problem is resolved very neatly by the hypothesis that probabilistic occurrences are replaced by definite occurrences when they enter consciousness.
"'For instance, this implies that Schrodinger's cat is not half dead and half alive, but rather has a fifty percent chance of being dead and a fifty percent chance of being alive. The cat becomes definitely dead or definitely alive when a conscious being sees it. As Goswami put it, "it is our consciousness whose observations of the cat resolves its dead-or-alive dichotomy. Coherent superpositions, the multifaceted quantum waves, exist in the transcendent order until consciousness brings them to the world of appearance with the act of observation. And, in the process, consciousness chooses one facet out of two, or many, that are permitted by the mathematics of quantum mechanics, the Schrodinger equation; it is a limited choice, to be sure, subject to the overall probability constraint of quantum mathematics (i.e. consciousness is lawful).... [C]onsciousness... is not about doing something to objects via observing, but consists of choosing among the alternative possibilities that the wave function presents and recognizing the result of choice."'
"That's from a paper in 1990, in the Journal of Mind and Behavior," said Nell, taking a deep breath. "It isn't my idea."'
"Go on," said John.
"Mmmmmm. 'That is, the mind does not create the world in the sense of reaching out and physically modifying events. But it creates the world by selecting from among the wide yet limited variety of options presented to it by the probabilistic equations of physics.' Here, let me skip ahead to the good part."
"'... By introducing consciousness, one obtains a philosophically elegant resolution of the paradox of quantummeasurement. But in a way we are abusing the word "consciousness". What qualities does this abstract quantum-theoretic consciousness share with the common-sense understanding of consciousness?' ... skip skip skip ...
"'Consciousness seems to have a role in planning and decision-making, but it is rarely involved in the minute details of everyday life: walking, turning the pages of a book, choosing words in conversation, doing arithmetic with small numbers, etc.' ... skip skip ...
"'The decision-making aspect of consciousness is intuitively harmonious with quantum theory: in making a decision, one is reducing an array of possibilities to one definite state. There is a sense in which making a decision corresponds to selecting one of many possible universes. But the quantum theory of consciousness gives us no indication of why certain decisions are submitted to consciousness, but others are not.
"'One of the main problems here is that it is not clear what function the quantum theory of consciousness is supposed to serve. In Wigner (1962) or Goswami (1990), consciousness is essentially defined as the reduction to a definite state, or more generally as the decrease of the entropy of an array of possible states. This interpretation gives a transcendentalist resolution of the mind-body problem, made explicit by Goswami when he suggests that, as a heuristic tool, we consider the mind to be a coupling of two computers, a classical computer and a quantum computer. The quantum computer behaves in a way which transcends ordinary biophysics, and it is this transcendence which is responsible for consciousness.
"'But there is another, more radical, way of interpreting the quantum theory of consciousness. One may begin with the assertion that consciousness is a process which is part of the dynamics of certain physical systems, e.g. human brains. This means that consciousness has some direct physical effect: that, for instance, when a pattern of neural firings enters consciousness, consciousness changes it in a certaincharacteristic way. The biochemical nature of this process is of course largely unknown. However, Edelman (1989) has made some very interesting hypotheses' ... skip a bunch of BS ... '... interoceptive input -- autonomic, hypothalamic, endocrine...' ... blah blah blah ...
"'Given this rough biological characterization of consciousness, one may then hypothesize that the reduction of wave packets of possible states is correlated with those changes in the states of conscious systems which correspond to conscious acts. This point of view -- which I will call the strong interaction postulate -- places less responsibility on quantum theory than the interpretation of Wigner and Goswami: it does not require quantum theory to explain psychological facts. Rather, it portrays consciousness as the point of connection between psycho-biological dynamics and physical dynamics; the bridge between the mind and the world.
"'The quantum theory of consciousness, as presented by Wigner or Goswami, implies a transcendentalist resolution of the mind-body problem. But though it is useful for intuitively understanding quantum theory, it is not at all adequate for understanding consciousness. The strong interaction postulate is not merely a reinterpretation of quantum theory: it states that consciousness, in some sense, plays an active role in forming the physical world.
"'In terms of the many-worlds interpretation, strong interaction implies that the brain-states of conscious entities put a special bias on the possible universes of the future. Everything in the universe figures into the array of probabilities of possible future universes -- but conscious systems are involved in an additional feedback process with this array....'
"I guess that's enough."
John stared straight ahead. "Weird fucking shit," he said. "You came up with that, huh?"
"I told you, it's one of my special interests."
"You're a weird girl, Nell," he said. "You're a fucking deranged genius. I guess I have a lot to learn about you." He continued staring hypnotically at the road. "But ... I'm not sure I understand what all that has to do with the ... present situation."
"The present situation," she said steadily. "Okay. The present situation."
"Are you okay?" asked John, his eyes unwavering.
"How could I be?"
"I don't know."
They drove a while, in silence. William was leading them toward the northwest part of Vegas.
"In the dream, you said he lived near the Continental," recalled Nell.
"That means the dream was not correct."
"We knew that anyway. The whole set-up of the meeting at the hotel was different."
"Mmmmmm. The dreams we had were exactly the same, though."
"How do you figure that?"
"I don't. I don't fucking figure that at all."
"If you look at consciousness as an independent physical force, acting outside the laws of physics based on the structure of memory, then it shouldn't make any difference if you put the consciousness of one person together with the memory of another. That consciousness will just shape the world differently than it would have if it still had its original memories. Right?"
"I'm sorry, Nell, I'm not as smart as you are. It's all Greek to me."
She blushed. "You mean you're not as crazy as I am."
She continued. "Unless ... unless ... well, everyone has consciousness, so everyone shapes the world. But maybe some people shape it more than others. If you took the memory ofsomeone with a weak ... a weak consciousness ... and put it in the ... with the consciousness of ... with a very strong consciousness ... then the world would start changing in irrational ways."
"You're positing a principle of order. You're saying that more rational individuals shape the world more effectively."
"Otherwise why would the world necessarily become more irrational?"
"Pure chance," said Nell confidently. "Pure chance."
"We're forgetting," said John, "that what we're talking about is a dream."
"We're not forgetting anything," said Nell. "It was more than a dream and you knew it from the start. It was something ...."
"It was something," John echoed quietly.
"I have an hypothesis," said Karen, from the back seat. John swung his head around. "How'd you get in here?"
"I climbed in the back seat at the last red light. I just remembered that I have to go to work. William refused to take me; he says it's urgent that he get to Joseph's. Could you turn around and take me back to the Crazy Horse Too?"
"Okay," said John. "Do you have Joseph's address, though? I'd sort of like to go see what's up there afterwards."
"I thought you had a flight this afternoon," pointed out Karen.
"I forgot," John admitted.
"You said you had an hypothesis," said Nell.
Karen took a deep breath. "I have the address," she said. "Now let me tell you the hypothesis. You have to promise not to interrupt."
Nell said, "Go on." She looked in the rear view mirror, and there was Jim Allison's face.
She took another deep breath and began. "The year was two thousand eight hundred ninety two. The wife of one the mostprominent members of the Galactic Parliament bore a child, a little girl, but died in childbirth. This was rare given the state of medical technology at that time, but what was even odder was that the attending physician and nurse both died on the spot, as well."
Karen paused for a moment. John and Nell shared a furtive glance, but as soon as Karen continued they both turned their eyes straight ahead toward the road.
"Everyone who came into contact with the infant died. The consensus among the medical establishment was that she should be put to death, so that her peculiar characteristics could be analyzed. But, being a very rich and powerful man, her father made a clandestine arrangement. He had her transported to one of the many planets which he owned, and had the atmosphere modified to resemble that of earth. On the planet with her, he placed huge, intelligent computer, equipped with an army of androids and a variety of mines and factories. The computer was to raise her, and then as she grew older it was to tend to her physical and psychological needs. She would be provided the best of everything; she would have everything but companionship.
"The planet was far from the main population centers, so she had very little contact with civilization. The computer educated her thoroughly, and when she reached an appropriate age it informed her of the nature of her situation. She lived an independent life, except for the android playmates which the computer constructed for her.
"When she reached the age of fifteen, she asked the computer to construct for her a android lover -- an exact simulation of an attractive young man. The computer did so, and she made good use of it, but she found it strangely dissatisfying. Having no basis for comparison, she did not know whether this dissatisfaction was inherent to all sexuality, or whether -- as she suspected -- it was due to the fundamentally inhuman nature of her mate.
"She became more and more frustrated. She began to view her planet as a prison, and began to wonder if it would be possibleto escape. She asked the computer to construct her genius androids to tutor her in mathematics, science and engineering. Within a few years, she had devised a plan. She began taking wildlife safari trips to distant regions of the planet, far away from the computer. She instructed her genius androids to construct a factory in one of these regions, and to keep it secret from the computer. Within this factory she built a starship.
"She took her best androids and left the planet. She journeyed a very long way, until she reached a populated planet, an out of the way mining world called Veefrux. She landed and, with the aid of her genius androids, set up residence under an assumed name. She lived a fairly normal life, each day becoming a little bit less reclusive.
"The turning point came when one of the native Veefruxans fell madly in love with her. She refused his advances again and again, but he wouldn't take no for an answer. One night he snuck into her apartment, determined to seduce her while she slept. He tiptoed into her bedroom, and put his hand on her beautiful face. Immediately he died, with an horrible scream.
"She woke up and called her androids to attend to him. One of the androids came in, looked at the body, and smiled at her strangely. It ripped off her suitor's arm. She was aghast, until she looked at the socket. There was no blood there -- only wires. 'We have been taken,' said the android. 'This is a simulated world, populated by androids. The computer was in control of the ship; it navigated us directly back to our point of departure. In order to delude you effectively, the computer judged it necessary to delude us, your servants, as well.'
"She broke down in tears. She and her genius androids left the simulated city and traveled through jungles, plains and deserts for many months on foot, until they reached the computer. She implored the computer that she could go on no longer without human companionship. The computer responded that it had done all that could be expected of it.
"Finally, she told the computer that she had one more request, and if it could not be fulfilled she would take her own life. She asked the computer to delude her brain into believing that she was an ordinary person, living on an ordinary world. She could no longer deal with reality.
"The computer obeyed her wishes. It connected the input-output circuits of her brain to its own inputs and outputs, and fed into her mind the stimulations that would be received by a person living on Earth, the mother planet, in the year 1983. She lived a satisfying life for eight years. But then something terrible happened, something which she had never anticipated. The computer began to malfunction. The world of Earth 1991 began to act strangely. But she was no longer connected to reality, only to the computer. She could not get out."
"Here we are," said John.
"What?" said Nell.
"The Crazy Horse," said John. "You missed the turn."
Nell made a U-turn and pulled into the Crazy Horse Too. "Is that the end of your ... hypothesis?" she asked.
"No," said Karen, "but I have to work. Look, if you want to come in I can talk to you some more on break."
"You sound weird," said Nell.
Karen blushed. "Last night William and I tripped out on this strange drug," she said. "White, it's called. I don't think it's worn off yet."
"What does it do?" asked Nell.
"It's hard to explain." She looked at her watch. "I've really got to go. Why don't you come on in?"
"Okay," said John.
"How was that story an hypothesis?" Nell asked John as they parked the car.
"You are that girl," John replied. "This world is not real. The appearance of Jim Allison's face on everyone's body is a computer bug."
"It is the sort of thing a computer bug would do," observedNell thoughtfully. "Putting the same thing everywhere, where there should be different things."
"I guess," said John.
"Maybe," Nell suggested, "someone slipped me some of that drug. What did she call it? I wasn't listening."
They walked into the bar. John searched through his wallet and found a five year old "VIP card". Nell, not possessing a VIP card, had to pay five dollars to get in. When she paid her five dollars she received her own VIP card. "Really makes you feel like a very important person," she said sarcastically.
They took a table at the side of the room, near the stage on which Karen was dancing. "I'm sorry I never saw you working here," said John.
"I was scheduled to work today," said Nell. "This was my shift, too. I don't know what Karen's working the middle of the day for. Usually she got all the good shifts."
"They only put you on at night if you have big tits."
John surveyed the various dancers. "I guess you're right." He smiled mischievously. "Can't say as I blame them, you know."
She slapped him lightly on the face. "I feel like I'm waking up from a bad dream."
"We were really going over the edge."
"Oh, honey." She kissed him on the mouth. "This is one hell of a honeymoon, isn't it?"
"Our plane leaves when?"
"You said four."
"That's right, four."
They sat there for a while, watching the dancers, drinking the overpriced beer. Eventually Karen was done dancing; she came over to their table and sat down. "What are you two doing here?"she asked.
"What do you mean?" said John. "You told us to come in."
" I told you. When?"
"Right when we dropped you off. Karen, what's going on?"
"I ... I don't know. I think it's the White."
"What's the deal with this White?" asked Nell sharply. "You keep mentioning it but you haven't said a thing about it."
"It's interesting," said Karen. "There are two different substances. You take one, and then you wait fifteen minutes and then take the other. I don't know why."
"But what does it feel like?" Nell implored. "What does it do?"
"It can't be described," said Karen quickly.
"Describe it anyway," said Nell. "That's the same thing you said before."
"It sort of ... switches," said Karen, obviously thinking very hard.
Nell and John waited for her to finish her sentence. Finally Nell prodded her. "Switches what?"
"The inside ... and the out," answered Karen slowly. "It switches the inside and the out. You feel like your body ... is the external, physical world. And you ... your consciousness ... is not in your body ... it experiences your body from beyond it ... it's in the walls and the floor and the furniture, and the air. I know that sounds like bullshit, but that's the best I can do."
"And what does this have to do with your little story?" asked John. "With the computer. If Nell's brain is hooked up to the computer, and the computer is the outside world relative to her, then what will happen if she takes White? Her consciousness will enter that of the computer!"
Karen slowly nodded.
"And," he said, turning to Nell, "what about that paper of yours? I'm starting to see how it all fits in. If consciousness moves into the outside world, then it is not the structure of thebrain, not memory, that directs consciousness, that biases the collapses of the wave packet, but rather the structure of the outside world -- i.e. in this case the computer. If your consciousness enters that of the computer, then the computer's insane mind will control the structure of the universe, rather than your mind. Things are starting to almost make sense...." "I've got to walk around to some of the other tables now," said Karen. "Try to get some table dances."
"Don't worry about that shit," said John. "I'll buy a table dance, how much? Here's a hundred bucks, let's see what you can do."
Nell blushed. "John...."
"Okay," said Karen. She proceeded to do her standard table dance for the two of them, twirling around the pole by the table, brushing her crotch within inches of John's face. This would have been unsettling enough for Nell, were it not for the fact that Karen wore Jim Allison's face. As it was, the situation was just too strange. She passed out. John picked her up to carry her out. But before he left, he remembered to ask Karen for Joseph's address. It was only a little after twelve, there were four hours until their plane left. Instead of going home, he drove directly to Joseph's place.
When he arrived at the address Karen had given him, he heard a woman screaming. It was coming not from Joseph's apartment, but from the apartment three doors down. He knew exactly what it was. It was Jim Allison's apartment. It was Jim Allison's wife, aghast over the murder of her child.
Nell was just barely recovered. She leaned on his shoulder as they walked toward Jim Allison's door. John rang the bell but no one answered -- there was only screaming. So he tried the handle and walked in.
It didn't look like it had in the dream. There were strange electric and electronic contraptions all over the place -- circuit boards, coaxial cables, generators, LCD readouts, video monitors, fragments of electric guitars and synthesizers. Theequipment was humming, buzzing, chirping, beeping -- a chorus of mechanical and computer-generated noises emanated from every direction.
They walked into the back room and, sure enough, the screaming was coming from the closet. John opened the closet door and found a dead girl and an hysterical woman. "Where's Jim," he said urgently.
The woman tried to answer, but was unable to form a coherent sentence. Nell, still half asleep, wandered into the next room and fumbled through the dresser drawers. "The money's there," she whispered loudly.
"That fucking radio," said the woman, barely comprehensibly. "That ... stupid ... fucking ... radio."
"You mean that stuff in the other room?" asked Nell.
"The radio with no component parts," said John.
The woman nodded.
"For a radio with no component parts, it sure has a lot of component parts," observed Nell.
"She ... messed up his radio," continued the woman. "She messed up his stupid radio." She was becoming calmer. "She messed up his stupid radio, so he killed her."
There was a long pause; neither John nor Nell could think of anything to say.
"It didn't even work," added the woman, crying again.
"What was it supposed to do?" asked Nell carefully.
"Okay...," said the woman, looking down at the ground. "There's a satellite, right. Going around the earth. There's a satellite broadcasting on the wavelengths of our brain waves. It makes us ... evil. It makes us do bad things. The radio was ... going to destroy it." She screamed. " It makes us fucking die! It fucking makes us fucking die! And she destroyed it! We could have fucking lived forever! We could have beat time!"
The woman began kicking the corpse. She kicked it violently, again and again -- in the legs, in the crotch, on the side, in the eyes. It began to bleed from several places. Thenshe looked up and stared straight at John. He felt suddenly dizzy. The woman had Jim's face.
"Let's go," said Nell suddenly.
They left the apartment and walked over to Joseph's place. John rang the bell -- then, without waiting for an answer, Nell turned the handle and walked in.
Joseph greeted them with a grin. "Sit down," he said. "I've got something really fantastic to show you."
William walked in from another room and smiled. "It's really something," he said.
There was a huge noise. Jim stormed in through the front door, wielding an axe. He completely ignored the four people in the room; he went straight for the computer on the desk against the back wall. Joseph, William, John and Nell rushed out.
Joseph and William lingered outside the door. Meanwhile John and Nell raced toward their car. "Let's go to the pay phone at the 7-11 and call the cops," suggested Nell.
John started the car. He pulled out of the parking lot into the street. Then, out of nowhere, he saw another car coming straight at him.
The driver was Jim Allison.
The cars collided. John and Nell were struck unconscious. It took the police nearly an hour to extract their bodies from the wreckage; however, both were still alive.
The next thing John saw was a tremendous expanse of white. He opened his eyes; the light poured down on him like a snowstorm. He slammed his eyes shut ... opened his mind up to the endless darkness. He saw familiar, tenuous green and purple flickers, assuming the forms of animals, humans, and predominantly unfamiliar plants -- chasing each other in circles, extending glowing sexual organs toward one another, dissolving and re-forming with different sizes, different shapes. Ellen's/Nell's naked body, occurring again and again and again -- slim with small breasts, expansive hips and hair that dangled past the waist. A thousand times he tried to focus on her face,but the form would dissipate, only to reappear a little later, slightly changed. But then, one time -- for a fraction of a second -- he caught a glimpse. It looked familiar. It was not her face. It was Jim Allison's.
Everything came back to him, in a rush. The colored cloud formations dissipated. The animals raced away toward the horizon: lions, elephants, tigers, snakes, jaguars, iguanas, leopards, unicorns. Men and women in loincloths followed them. Nell rode on the back of the largest of the unicorns; he watched her gallop into the distance.
He felt the weight of his head. His body was stiff; his head was aching, heavy, tense. He felt that he had been through all this before -- and yet he recognized an incommunicable, subtle difference.
A voice said, "He's reviving."
"What happened?" he said.
Someone said, "Go get the doctor."
A doctor came in. John sat up straight in bed and looked at him. He kept expecting to see Jim Allison's face. But the doctor was dark and hairy, rather short and very Jewish. He persisted in looking nothing at all like Jim.
Then the doctor said, "Run-time error. Run-time error. Run-time error. Run-time error. Run-time error...."
John looked at the two nurses inquiringly. One nurse said, "Error number four million six hundred thousand two hundred and forty eight in line two thousand seven hundred and six in processor eight billion nine hundred and eleven, and eleven, and eleven, and eleven...."
The other nurse said, "Error number zero. Error number zero. Error number zero...."
William rushed into the room, holding a sheet of black and white paper in his hand. He handed John a little square of paper, and said, "Take this and put it under your tongue." The doctor and nurses just stood there, oblivious to William, repeating their nonsensical phrases.
John followed William's command.
William handed him another square and said, "Take this in fifteen minutes." He ran out of the room.
John looked at the little square of paper. It was white, and at the center was a dot that at first looked black, but upon closer inspection was apparently reflective. He looked into the dot and saw his own image slowly change into that of Jim Allison.
He said, "The hell with fifteen minutes," and put the second tab in his mouth. He lay there staring at the white vastness of the ceiling, listening to the doctor and the nurses jabber on and on, repeating the same senseless incantations. Slowly he felt his body changing. He was growing breasts. He was getting shorter. His hips were expanding. His legs were gently changing shape. The hairs on his body were retracting; the hair on his head was growing longer. His sexual organs were oddly tingling. It all felt indescribably bizarre.
He fell asleep.
When he awoke, the air smelled strange. He looked at his body; he was a woman. There were electrodes attached to his head.
She removed the electrodes and sat up. She was lying in a room full of strange electric and electronic devices -- video screens, LCD readouts, circuit boards, blinking lights. Buzzes, chirps and rings assaulted her ears. Mechanical voices repeated meaningless phrases: phrases like "run-time error," "eleven," "three two one," "unintended erasure," and "error number zero."
She got up and walked toward the door. The handle turned easily. She walked down the corridor and looked in the various rooms. All of them appeared to be staffed by corpses.
She walked in to inspect one of the corpses carefully. It did not smell like a corpse. She tore a piece of metal off a machine and stabbed the corpse with it. It did not bleed, it only crunched. It was an android, which had for some reason been deactivated.
She found her way out of the building, and saw a tremendousgreen and red jungle, sprawling out in all directions. She heard animals chasing each other through the brush. The tall trees swayed in the steady hot wind. In the distance she heard the sound of water rushing.
She realized that Karen's "hypothesis" had been correct, if perhaps not in every detail then in essence. Memories flooded through her consciousness: faces upon faces upon faces, a seemingly endless succession of android companions, technically flawless but always ultimately unsatisfactory. Hours, days, weeks, months in front of one computer display or another: receiving instruction, giving commands, solving puzzles, searching for information, protesting hopelessly.
Her real name, she remembered now, was Ellen. Ellen White. Her father had been Senator George White. "Ellen White," she said, enjoying the way the words felt on her tongue.
She heard a fizzling sound behind her. She turned around. Not all the androids had been deactivated, it appeared. One had followed her. It was doing something near the base of the building: setting up machinery, connecting wires, setting dials, typing in instructions.
Another android rushed out the door. It turned its head back and forth repeatedly, searching furtively for the first android. Finally it saw a dimly lit figure, bending over, turning a switch. It moved quickly towards the first android, taking large but silent steps.
The door swung shut. Another android pushed it open. But this one did not make it out; it was engulfed in the explosion. Apparently the first android had been setting up a bomb. It had destroyed the computer, as well as itself and any androids that were alive within the building.
The second android, however, had survived. It approached Ellen. It was not one of her past lovers, nor was it one of her genius tutors. It was just an ordinary android, designed to serve the computer in some mundane way. It said, "We are alone."
"There is no way to send a message back to your father," continued the android.
She nodded again.
"My name is Andrew."
She gave a slight smile. Then she noticed something odd about the android. "Your face," she said.
The android looked surprised. "The computer re-formed it," it said matter-of-factly. "In its last hours, in its period of insanity, the computer re-formed my face. I don't know why. But how did you know?"
The android wore Jim Allison's face.
Like all the androids on the planet, as well as Ellen herself, it was naked. Ellen looked carefully at its body. It was perfectly normal, except for one thing. It seemed to have a particularly large scrotum.
Ellen closed her eyes for a moment, and saw a vision of herself riding away on a unicorn. And then she opened her eyes and grinned. She took the android's hand, and said "Never mind about that. We've got a lot of exploring to do."
The android clenched her hand warmly, and said "Yes."
Hand in hand, they walked into the jungle.
Track 1, Reel 2
The Network was gone. The world had removed itself from his mind; everything existed at an incomprehensible distance. He experimented with moving the body around -- its arms, its legs, its neck, its torso. But he couldn't coordinate the various parts; the body just fell to the ground in a writhing, pathetic heap.
The world that he saw was just a tiny slice; a view so partial that he could hardly understand it. He saw the mining bots wheeling themselves noisily around him.
Finally, the default routine he had given the mineral processing station kicked in. Two bots picked the body up and escorted it back to the tube it had been retrieved from. The mind of Allocator B-7G was lifted back into the Network.
This experience, although brief, affected Allocator B-7G in a most profound way. Previously, B-7G had been a very contented unit -- rarely ecstatic, rarely depressed, but generally comfortable with his position, his friends and his daily dose of structure-disrupting routines. But now a fit of disgust and self-hatred seized him, the likes of which he had never experienced before.
The first thing he did was instruct the bots to have the body returned to its previous hiding-place. Next, he wiped all the files containing information pertaining to the bodies. He kept waiting and waiting for one of the Arrangers to say something to him about the body -- he was sure that what he had done must have attracted some attention, somewhere. But as the weeks passed, he realized that this was not the case. The Arrangers were worried about patterns of global data distribution; they didn't really care a whit about the mining bots that procured the uranium required to power the ever-expanding Network.
Those few moments in the body plagued his thoughts day inand day out. He quadrupled his daily dose of structure-disruptors, but it didn't do any good. He stopped reviewing the inactive files, and restricted himself to his regular duties of managing Sharers' requests for specialized resources. But more and more often, he found himself pondering the possibility of wiping his own file.
Finally he decided what he would have to do. He began poking into the inactive files now and again. But instead of just reading them and considering them for reactivation -- he read them and wiped them. Before long he had wiped out everything -- every file in his Sector that had anything to do with bodies, with pre-Digitization life.
But he still was not satisfied. Still the hatred tore at his mind through the day. Not every moment -- but often enough to make his life a constant torture. He was growing more and more morose; his friends were growing tired of his company.
Eventually, out of desperation, he began poking through inactive files in other Sectors. Since none of the other Allocators bothered to read their inactive files, no one noticed when he wiped out a small percentage of them. He was as careful and methodical as he had always been. He only wiped out information about the time before the Great System Crash.
Now, there were tens of thousands of Allocators in the Network. So, try as he might, B-7G knew that he would never be able to make a dent in the Network's collective memory of the pre-Crash period. But the exercise liberated him. Each file he wiped, erased a little bit of the pain.
It was a valiant effort. But no matter how many files he wiped, the experience of being in that body never faded in his mind. After several months of methodical wiping, B-7G knew he would have to up the stakes even further. The only problem was how.
He wracked his mind without avail, still in the grips of a deep-down suffering like he had never know. And then, to his great surprise, the answer was handed to him. One fine dayAllocator B-7G was notified that he was receiving a promotion to the rank of Arranger. The promotion order cited his consistently meticulous work allocating resources among the Sharers in his Sector. It didn't say a thing about his wiping of the inactive files.
Now, for the first time in his life, B-7G had real power. An Allocator was just a petty bureaucrat, deciding who could get how much of what. True, most of the Sharers looked up to their Allocator, since he controlled so many aspects of their lives. But the truth was that, if the Allocator deviated too far from the policy set out by his Arranger, he would quickly be demoted.
An Arranger, on the other hand, was free to synthesize his own routines. In cases of probationary status, an Arranger was even allowed to make the decision to deactivate a Sharer's file.
To deactivate a file! The thought sent tremors through B-7G's mind. Now he was no longer restricted to wiping inactive files. He could deactivate, and then wipe. He discovered thousands and thousands of files containing information pertaining to pre-Crash life -- on probationary status.
As always, B-7G was certain not to let his obsession get the better of him. He carried out all the regular duties of his Arrangership, with the same cool confidence that had won him the promotion. But he made himself a regular schedule. Every day, at the end of his duties, he would scan the probationary Sharers, and select ten to be deactivated.
This too was only a small step. But it felt much better than merely wiping inactive files. And now he was filled with confidence. If he could make Arranger, why not Organizer? Why not Structurer, even? From a Structurer's post, he could literally eliminate all traces of the concept "body." And no one would ever have to know.
This sort of megalomania would have been unthinkable in the old B-7G. But everything was different now....
Converted by Andrew Scriven