Necessity of the interdisciplinary

Click on the image for the Nature article

A strange cosmic “crucifix” in 774 AD, recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, could be explained by the occurrence of a supernova, perhaps rendered unobservable by a dense cloud of gas between Earth and the dying star that scattered all but some of the light. The real story, however, is that of Jonathon Allen, who came up with this idea after listening to a radio talk-show that mentioned a strange spike of C-14 content in three tree-rings in Japan. Because increased C-14 generation in the atmosphere can happen only with incoming cosmic radiation from supernovae or vicious solar flares, the two strange phenomena could be related. Such a development also does well to justify inculcating an interdisciplinary background amongst scientists (such as astronomy and history) because it would simply be hypocritical to assume that the laws of physics apply in one field but not in another.

Understanding the Solar System from within a shard

Click on the image for the Caltech press release

A new variant of titanium oxide was discovered less than two days ago at Caltech, embedded within the famous Allende meteorite, which crashed on Earth in 1969. Using electron diffraction, mineralogists found the mineral, named panguite after the Chinese legend of Pan Gu, in a refractory incursion (RI). In the early stages of the formation of the Solar System, condensation of pre-solar gases at high temperature and pressure resulted in the formation of refractory liquids, which then solidified into RIs, which are called so because of their stability in extreme conditions. Thus, the contents of the panguite in situ play a crucial role in understanding the birth of our extended home.

What's allowed and disallowed in the name of SUSY

The International Conference on High Energy Physics (ICHEP) is due to begin on July 7 in Melbourne. This is the 26th episode of the most prestigious scientific conference on particle physics. In keeping with its stature, scientists from the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the LHC plan to announce the results of preliminary tests conducted to look for the Higgs boson on July 4. Although speculations still will run rife within the high-energy and particle physics communities, they will be subdued; after all, nobody wants to be involved in another OPERAtic fiasco.

Earlier this year, CERN announced that the beam energy at the LHC would be increased from 3.5 TeV/beam to 4 TeV/beam. This means the collision energy will see a jump from 7 TeV to 8 TeV, increasing the chances of recreating the elusive Higgs boson, the “God particle”, and confirming if the Standard Model is able to explain the mechanism of mass formation in this universe. While this was the stated goal when the LHC was being constructed, another particle physics hypothesis was taking shape that lent itself to the LHC’s purpose.

In 1981, Howard Georgi and Savas Dimopoulos proposed a correction to the Standard Model to solve for what is called the hierarchy problem. Specifically, the question is why the weak force (mediated by the W± and Z bosons) is 1032 times stronger than gravity. Both forces are mediated by natural constants: Fermi’s constant for the weak force and for gravity, Newton’s constant. However, when operations of the Standard Model are used to quantum-correct for Fermi’s constant (a process that involves correcting for errors), its value starts to deviate from closer to Newton’s constant to something much, much higher.

Savas Dimopoulos (L) and Howard Georgi

Even by the late 1960s, the propositions of the Standard Model were cemented strongly enough into the psyche of mathematicians and scientists the world over: it had predicted with remarkable accuracy most naturally occurring processes and had predicted the existence of other particles, too, discovered later at detectors such as the Tevatron, ATLAS, CMS, and ZEUS. In other words, it was inviolable. At the same time, there were no provisions to correct for the deviation, indicating that there could be certain entities – particles and forces – that were yet to be discovered and that could solve the hierarchy problem, and perhaps explain the nature of dark matter, too.

So, the 1981 Georgi-Dimopoulos solution was called the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model (MSSM), a special formulation of supersymmetry, first proposed in 1966 by Hironari Miyazawa, that paired particles of half-integer spin with those of integer spin and vice versa. (The spin of a particle is the quantum mechanical equivalent of its orbital angular momentum, although one has never been representative of the other. Expressed in multiples of the reduced Planck’s constant, particle spin is denoted in natural units as simply an integer or half-integer.)

Particles of half-integer spin are called fermions and include leptons and quarks. Particles with integer spin are called bosons and comprise photons, the W± and Z bosons, eight gluons, and the hypothetical, scalar boson named after co-postulator Peter Higgs. The principle of supersymmetry (SUSY) states that for each fermion, there is a corresponding boson, and for each boson, there is a corresponding fermion. Also, if SUSY is assumed to possess an unbroken symmetry, then a particle and its superpartner will have the same mass. The superpartners are yet to be discovered, and if anyone has a chance of finding them, it has to be at the LHC.

MSSM solved for the hierarchy problem, which could be restated as the mass of the Higgs boson being much lower than the mass at which new physics appears (Planck mass), by exploiting the effects of what is called the spin-statistics theorem (SST). SST implies that the quantum corrections to the Higgs-mass-squared will be positive if from a boson, and negative if from a fermion. Along with MSSM, however, because of the existence of a superpartner to every particle, the contribution to the correction, Δm2H, is zero. This result leaves the Higgs mass lower than the Planck mass.

The existence of extra dimensions has been proposed to explain the hierarchy problem. However, the law of parsimony, insofar as SUSY seems validatable, prevents physicists from turning so radical.

MSSM didn’t just stabilize the weak scale: in turn, it necessitated the existence of more than one Higgs field for mass-coupling since the Higgs boson would have a superpartner, the fermionic Higgsino. For all other particles, though, particulate doubling didn’t involve an invocation of special fields or extrinsic parameters and was fairly simple. The presence of a single Higgsino in the existing Higgs field would supply an extra degree of freedom (DoF), leaving the Higgs mechanism theoretically inconsistent. However, the presence of two Higgsinos instead of one doesn’t lead to this anomaly (called the gauge anomaly).

The necessity of a second Higgs field was reinforced by another aspect of the Higgs mechanism: mass-coupling. The Higgs boson binds stronger to the heavier particle, which means that there must be a coupling constant to describe the proportionality. This was named after Hideki Yukawa, a Japanese theoretical physicist, and termed λf. When a Higgs boson couples with an up-quark, λf = +1/2; when it couples with a down-quark, λf = -1/2. SUSY, however, prohibits this switch to the value’s complex conjugate (a mass-reducing move), and necessitates a second Higgs field to describe the interactions.

A “quasi-political” explanation of the Higgs mechanism surfaced in 1993 and likened the process to a political leader entering a room full of party members. As she moved through the room, the members moved out of their evenly spaced “slots” and towards her, forming a cluster around her. The speed of the leader was then restricted because there were always a knot of people around her, and she became slowed (like a heavy particle). Finally, as she moved away, the members returned to their original positions in the room.

The MSSM-predicted superpartners are thought to have masses 100- to 1,000-times that of the proton, and require extremely large energies to be recreated in a hadronic collision. The sole, unambiguous way to validate the MSSM theory is to spot the particles in a laboratory experiment (such as those conducted at CERN, not in a high-school chemistry lab). Even as the LHC prepares for that, however, there are certain aspects of MSSM that aren’t understood even theoretically.

The first is the mu problem (that arises in describing the superpotential, or mass, of the Higgsino). Mu appears in the term μHuHd, and in order to perfectly describe the quantum vacuum expectation value of the Higgsino after electroweak symmetry breaking (again, the Higgsino’s mass), mu’s value must be of that order of magnitude close to the electroweak scale (As an analog of electroweak symmetry breaking, MSSM also introduces a soft SUSY-breaking, the terms of which must also be of the order of magnitude of the electroweak scale). The question is whence these large differences in magnitudes, whether they are natural, and if they are, then how.

The second is the problem of flavour mixing. Neutrinos and quarks exhibit a property called flavours, which they seem to change through a mechanism called flavour-mixing. Since no instances of this phenomenon have been observed outside the ambit of the Standard Model, the new terms introduced by MSSM must not interfere with it. In other words, MSSM must be flavour-invariant, and, by an extension of the same logic, CP-invariant.

Because of its involvement in determining which particle has how much mass, MSSM plays a central role in clarifying our understanding of gravity as well as, it has been theorized, in unifying gravity with special relativity. Even though it exists only in the theoretical realm, even though physicists are attracted to it because its consequences seem like favourable solutions, the mathematics of MSSM does explain many of the anomalies that threaten the Standard Model. To wit, dark matter is hypothesized to be the superpartner of the graviton, the particle that mediates the gravitational force, and is given the name gravitino (Here’s a paper from 2007 that attempts to explain the thermal production of gravitinos in the early universe).

While the beam energies were increased in pursuit of the Higgs boson after CERN’s landmark December 13, 2011 announcement, let’s hope that the folks at ATLAS, CMS, ALICE, and other detectors have something to say about opening the next big chapter in particle physics, the next big chapter that will bring humankind one giant leap closer to understanding the universe and the stuff that we’re made of.

The post-reporter era

One of the foundation stones of journalism is the process of reporting. That there is a messenger working the gap between an event and a story provides for news to exist and exist with myriad nuances attached to it. There are ethical and moral issues, technical considerations, writing styles, and presentation formats to perfect. The entire news-publishing industry is centered on the activities of reporters and streamlining them.

What the reporter requires the most is… well, a few things. The first is a domain of events, from which he picks issues to talk about. The second is a domain of stories, into which he publishes his reports. The third is a platform using which he may incentivize this process for himself, and acquire the tools with which he may publish his stories efficiently and effectively. The last entity is more commonly understood in the form of a publishing house.

The reason I’ve broken the working of a reporter into these categories is to understand what makes a reporter at all. Today, a reporter is most commonly understood in terms of an individual who is employed with a publishing house and publishes stories for them. Ideally, however, everyone is a reporter: simply the creation of knowledge by people based on experiences around them should be qualification enough. This calls into question the role of a publishing house: is it a platform working with which reporters may function efficiently, or is it an employer of reporters?

If it’s an employer of reporters, then any publishing house wouldn’t have to worry about where the course of journalism is going to take the organization itself. Reporters will have to change the way they work – how they spot issues, evolving writing styles to suit their audiences, so forth – but the publishing house will retain ownership of the reporters themselves. As long as it’s not a platform which individuals use to function as reporters, things are going to be fine.

Now, let’s move to the post-reporter era, where everyone is a reporter (of course, that’s an idealized image, but even so). In this world, a reporter is not someone who works for a publishing house – that aspect of the word’s meaning is left behind in the age of the publishing house. In this world, a reporter is someone who works simply as a messenger between the domains of events and stories, where the role of the publishing house as the owner of reportage is absent.

The nature of such a world throws light on the valuation of information. When multiple reporters cover different events and return to HQ to file their stories, the house decides which stories make the cut and which don’t on the basis of a set of parameters. In other words, the house creates and assigns a particular value to each story, and then compares the values of different stories to determine their destiny.

In the post-reporter era, which is likely to be occupied by channels of individual presentation – ranging from word-of-mouth to full-scale websites – houses that thrive today on the valuation of information and the importance the houses’ readers place on it  will steadily fade out. What exists will be an all-encompassing form of what is known as citizen journalism (CJ) today. Houses take to CJ because of the mutually beneficial relationship available therein: the CJ gets the coverage and the advantage of the issue pursued no longer being under wraps; the reporter gets a story that has both civic/criminal and human-interest angles to it.

However, when the CJ voids the relationship by refusing the intervention of a publishing/broadcasting house, and chooses to take his story straight to the people through a channel he finds effective enough, the house-level valuation of stories is replaced by a democratic institution that may or may not be guided by a paternalistic attitude.

Therefore, if a particular house has to survive into the post-reporter era, it must discard issue-valuation as an engine and instead rely on some other entity, such as one represented by a parameter whose efficiency is a maximizable quantity. This can be conceived as a fourth domain which, upon maximization, becomes the superset of which the three domains are subsets.

A counter-productive entity in this situation is that of property, which is accrued in great quantities by a high-achieving house in the present but which delays the onset of change in the future. Even when the house starts to experience slightly rougher weather, its first move will be to pump in more money, thereby offsetting change by some time. Only when the amount of property invested in delaying change is considerable will the house start to consider other alternatives, by which time other competing organizations will have moved into the future.

Fizzed-out futures

Initiatives are arising to plug holes in the Indian education system, or so they claim. Many are ambitious, some even overreaching, but they also exist in the company of those that are honest. However, the cause for concern is that such projects are being viewed as extracurricular to the prevailing education system-even by those who have founded the initiatives. Thoughtful engagement is sought after, an awareness of the “outside world”–a summation of the realities extraneous to the student’s chosen field–is deemed lacking and designated a goal.

Most such initiatives are by students, or recent graduates, and with them, they carry fresh memories of incomplete lessons and half-mentored theses. As their activities grow in scope–which they surely do–there is an attrition between a tendency to remain experimentalist and the certainty provided by going commercial through installing a secure source of support and a fundamental incentive. The last is necessary even though many students remain in denial of it: one man’s idea cannot be shared with the same intensity throughout unless there is a need to depend on it. Money, many fail to realize, maintains currency, too.

The prevalent belief is that the Indian way of learning sidelines the humanities: if a job doesn’t fetch a fat cheque, it concludes there is no point in studying for it. Unfortunately, however, such a view also degrades the pros of technical learning. Subsequently, the responses are disappointingly reactionary. If a student has found it difficult to inculcate a skill, he simply participates in the overarching institution of frustration and dissatisfaction, and assumes the problem is faced by everyone. That is never true, has never been. However, it finds enough purchase to surface as fixes.

In many parts of the country, young graduates and final-year students gather in small rooms on terraces and in garages. For the most part, they discuss the different activities they could perform to compensate for what they think they ought to have learned in the classroom but didn’t. They quickly conclude that original thought is missing-which is very true-and proceed to talk about what they’d need to inculcate it. These are, obviously, surface-level problems. As time passes, the incentive to meet each subsequent week and debate and act or whatever peters out. Essentially, such students’ and graduates’ concerns have been for the short-term.

The long-term concern, it seems, can be addressed more effectively at the individual level than at the systemic level. The institution can encourage extracurricular tasks, point at the dearth of invention and abundance of innovation, and build up an army of youngsters to fix the nation’s most pressing problems. However, the only solution that can pluck India out of this moshpit of unoriginality is to do what is required of all youngsters no matter where they are these days: ideate. Ideas, whether original or otherwise, are necessary; even better when they are distilled out from a knowledge pool that is vast.

Whatever the most dollar-guzzling problems are, the ones that are solved by continuous ideation are what will keep the machine from descending into a standstill. May the humanities be sidelined, may the rote-learner be celebrated, may technical learning signify the staple diet that deprives most Indian students’ of the indulgence of the arts-we are not in need of a paradigm shift to rectify matters. What we need most is to build ourselves to achieve even in the absence of expectations. What we need most is to transcend our cubicles and classrooms and disintegrate the institutionalized frustration. By not doing so, we are letting our communal objectives be defined by a chance mistake.

A simplification of superfluidity

“Once people tell me what symmetry the system starts with and what symmetry it ends up with, and whether the broken symmetries can be interchanged, I can work out exactly how many bosons there are and if that leads to weird behavior or not,” Murayama said. “We’ve tried it on more than 10 systems, and it works out every single time.”

– Haruki Watanabe, co-author of the paper

To those who’ve followed studies on superfluidity and spontaneous symmetry-breaking, a study by Hitoshi Murayama and Haruki Watanabe at UC, Berkeley, will come as a boon. It simplifies our understanding of symmetry-breaking for practical considerations by unifying the behaviour of supercooled matter – such as BEC and superfluidity – and provides a workable formula to derive the number of Nambu-Goldstone bosons given the symmetry of the system during a few phases!

This is the R&D article that serves as a lead-in into the issue.

This is a primer on spontaneous symmetry-breaking (and the origins of the Higgs boson).

Finally, and importantly, the pre-print paper (from arXiv) can be viewed here. Caution: don’t open the paper if you’re not seriously good at math.

SciAm's new blog on the block!

Scientific American has announced the introduction of a new blog, Critical Opalescence, edited by senior editor George Musser. It will focus on the quirky and the fascinating, attempting to revive interest in forgotten papers, explain usually complex phenomena, and generally potter around with interesting inventions and discoveries.

The Sea

Big Fish walked into a wall. His large nose tried to penetrate the digital concrete first. Of course, it went in for a second, but Marcus recomputed the algorithm, and it jumped back out. The impact of its return threw Big Fish’s head back, and with it, his body stumbled back, too. The wall hadn’t been there before. Its appearance was, as far as Big Fish was concerned, inexplicable. And so, he turned around to check if other walls had been virtualized as well. Nope. Just this one. What business does a wall have being where it shouldn’t belong? But here it was.

He turned into the door on his left and looked around. Nothing was amiss. He walked back out and tried another door on the opposite. All desks were in place, computers were beeping, people were walking around, not minding his intrusion. It was surreal, but Big Fish didn’t mind. Surreal was normal. That’s how he liked them to be. He walked back out. There the wall was again. Has Marcus got something wrong? He poked a finger into the smooth white surface. It was solid, just like all walls were.

He turned back and walked the way he had come. Right, left, right, left, right, left, left, down a flight of stairs, straight out, left, left, left, straight out once more, left, right… and there the canteen was. The building was the way it had once been. Marcus was alright, which meant the wall had to be, too. But it couldn’t be – it didn’t belong there. He walked back up once more to check. Left, right, straight, right, right, right, straight, up a flight of stairs, right, right, left, right, left, right… and there’s the bloody wall again!

Big Fish had to log out. He walked into the Dump. The room was empty. No queues were present ahead of the Lovers, no bipolar behavior, no assurances being whispered to the new kids or hysterical religious clerks talking about being born again. Just him, so he walked up to the first of the two Lovers, and stood under it. When he decided he was ready, Big Fish pushed the green button next to him. The green guillotine came singing down.

The blade of the machine was so sharp, it whistled as it parted an invisible curtain of air. The screech, however, was music to Big Fish’s ears. It meant exiting the belly of Marcus. It meant reality was coming. As soon as the edge touched his head, Marcus came noiselessly to life in the Dump. His thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, scars, scalds, bruises, cuts, posture, and many other state-properties besides, were simultaneously and almost instantaneously recorded as a stream of numbers. Once the input had been consummated with an acknowledgment, he vanished.

When he stepped out of his booth, Big Fish saw Older Fish staring at him from across the road. His stare was blank, hollow, waiting for the first seed of doubt from Big Fish. Big Fish, however, didn’t say anything. Older Fish stared for a minute more, and then walked away. Big Fish continued to watch Older Fish, even as he walked away. Had he seen the wall, too? Just to make sure, he began to follow the gaunt, old man. The stalking didn’t last long, however.

He watched as Older Fish turned around and pointed a gun at Big Fish’s temple. The barrel of the weapon was made of silver. My gun. How did Older Fish find my gun? A second later, Older Fish pointed the weapon into his own mouth and fired. Flecks of flesh, shards of bone, shavings of hair, dollops of blood… all that later, Older Fish fell to the ground. In a daze, Big Fish ran up to the still figure and stared out. Older Fish’s eyes were open, the skin around them slowly loosening, the wrinkles fading.

Big Fish saw them gradually droop off. Time had ended. The world was crucified to the splayed form of Older Fish. The commotion around him happened in a universe all of its own. The lights flashed around him, seemed to bend away from his bent form, curving along the walls of their reality, staying carefully away from his arrested one. The sounds came and went, like stupid matadors evading raging bulls, until the tinnitus came, silencing everything else but the sound of his thoughts. Only silence prevailed.

When darkness settled, Big Fish was able to move again. My friend, he lamented. He opened his eyes and found himself seating in a moving ambulance. Where are we going? There was no answer. Big Fish realized he was thinking his questions. When he tried, though, his tongue refused to loosen, to wrap itself around the vacant bursts of air erupting out his throat. Am I mute? He tried again.

“Where are… we…”

“To the Marxis HQ.”

Marxis HQ. The cradle of Marcus. The unuttered mention of that name brought him back. What were the chances of walking into a wall-that-shouldn’t-have-been-there and Older Fish killing himself? The van swung this way and that. Big Fish steadied himself by holding on to the railing running underneath the windows. His thoughts, however, were firmly anchored to the wall. Big Fish was sure it had something to do with Older Fish’s suicide.

Had Older Fish seen the wall? If he had, why would he have killed himself? Did it disturb him? When was the last time a wall disturbed anyone to their death? Could Older Fish have seen anything on the other side of the wall? Did Older Fish walk into the space on the other side of the wall? What could have been on the other side of the wall? Had Marcus done something it shouldn’t have? Was that why Big Fish was being ferried to the Marxis?

“I don’t know.”

“Huh?”

“Mr. ——-, the reasons behind your presence being required at Marxis HQ were not divulged to us.”

I’m not mute, then. Big Fish laughed. He didn’t know himself to be thinking out loud. The others all looked at him. Big Fish didn’t bother. He settled back to think of Marcus once more. At first, his thoughts strained to comprehend why Marcus was the focus of their attention. Simultaneously, Older Fish’s death evaded the grasp of his consciousness. In the company of people, he felt he had to maintain composure. Composure be damned. Yet, tears refused to flow. Sorrow remained reluctant.

The van eased to a halt. A nurse stepped up and opened the door, Big Fish got down. One of the medics held on to his forearm and led him inside a large atrium. After a short walk that began with stepping inside a door and ended with stepped out of another – What was that? Did I just step through a wall? – Big Fish was left alone outside a door: “Armada” it said. He opened the door and looked inside. A long, severely rectangular hall yawned in front of him. At the other end, almost a hundred feet away, sat a man in a yellow chair, most of his body hidden behind a massive table.

“Please come in. My name is Marxis Maccord. I apologise for this inconvenience, but your presence here today is important to us. I know what you’re thinking, Mr. ———, but before you say anything, let me only say this: what happened had both nothing and everything to do with Marcus. It had nothing to do with Marcus because it wasn’t Marcus’ fault you walked into a wall and almost broke your virtual nose. It had nothing to do with Marcus because it wasn’t Marcus that precipitated in Mr. ———-‘s death. At the same time, it had everything to do with Marcus because, hadn’t it been for Marcus, you wouldn’t have walked into a wall. Hadn’t it been for Marcus, Mr. ———- wouldn’t have killed himself.”

Silence. What is this dolt trying to tell me? That they’re not going to take responsibility for what Marcus did? Why can’t they just get to the point, the idiots?! Bah! “I understand what you’re saying, Mr. Maccord. You’re saying you’re going to let Marxis Corp. be held responsible for Marcus’s actions, and that’s fine by–”

“Oh, Mr. ————, I’m not saying that all! In fact, I’m not going to assume responsibility either. You see, Mr. ————, I’m going to let you decide. I’m going to let you decide on the basis of what you hear in this room as to who’s culpable. Then… well, then, we’ll take things from there, shall we?”

Ah! There it is! Blah, blah, blah! We didn’t do this, we didn’t do that! Then again, we know this could’ve been done, that could’ve been done. Then, shit happens, let us go. Your call now. Bullshit! “Mr. Maccord, if you will excuse me, I have made my decision and would like for you to listen to it. I don’t care what Marcus did or didn’t do… and even if I want to figure it out, I don’t think I want to start here.”

Big Fish turned to leave. “Mr. ———–, your friend put the wall there because it scared him that someone might find something out.” Big Fish stopped just before the door. “Mr. ————, the wall wasn’t there a second before you walked into it. It was computed into existence by your friend because you were trespassing into his thoughts. If you had crossed over into the other side, you would have witnessed something… something we can only imagine would have been devastating for him in some way.”

Marxis Maccord stood up. With a start, Big Fish noticed that the man wasn’t standing on his legs. Instead, his torso, his neck and his head were floating in the air. From the other end of the hall, they looked like a macabre assemblage of body parts, a jigsaw held upright by simple equilibrium, the subtle cracks visible along the seam of their contours in the light borrowed from the city that towered around Marxis Corp. Him? It? It. “Mr. ————, you are downstairs, standing in booth SP-8742, your thoughts logged out of reality and into this virtual one.”

Big Fish hadn’t said anything for a while. The transition had been so smooth. Big Fish hadn’t noticed a thing when we entered the first door. It was like walking through, past, a veil. It was an effortless endeavour, a flattering gesture that drew the mind out of its body. Maccord continued to talk. “Say hello to Marcus II, or, as we call it, MarQ. When you stepped into that first door, your reality was suspended just as ours took over. Once the switch was complete, your limp body was lain on a bed and transferred down a shaft 3,000 feet deep, under this building. You are now lying sound asleep, dreaming about this conversation… if that.”

“In a world where moving in and out of reality is so easy, picking one over the other simply on the basis of precedence will gradually, but surely, turn a meaningless argument. It is antecedence that will make sense, more and more sense. Your friend, Mr. ————, understood that.”

Big Fish finally had something to say. “And why is that important, Mr. Maccord?” He felt stupid about asking a question, after having asked it, the answer to which might have come his way anyway. However, Big Fish was being left with a growing sense of loneliness. He was feeling like a grain of salt in the sea, moving with currents both warm and cold, possessing only a vintage power to evoke memories that lay locked up somewhere in the folds of the past. The sea couldn’t taste him, Big Fish couldn’t comprehend the sea. They had devoured each other. They were devouring each other.

Maccord responded quickly. “Marcus is the supercomputer that computes the virtual reality of your old organization into existence. You log in and out everyday doing work that exists only as electromagnetic wisps in the air, shooting to and fro between antennae, materialised only when called upon. Marcus tracks all your virtual initiatives, transactions, and assessments. You know all this. However, what you don’t know is that the reality Marcus computes is not based on extant blueprints or schematics. It is based on your memories.”

At that moment, it hit Big Fish. He had wondered many a time about how Marcus knew everything about the place where he worked. The ability to log in and out of reality – or realities? – gave the machine access to people’s memories. This means the architecture is the least common denominator of all our memories of the place. “You’re right.” Maccord’s observation startled him. “You see, Mr. ———–, MarQ has computed me, and MarQ has computed you. However, I own MarQ, which means it answers to me. Before it transliterates your thoughts into sounds, they are relayed to me.”

He can read my thoughts! “Oh yes, Mr. ————, I well can. And now that I know that you know that the place is the least common denominator of all your knowledge, the wall could’ve been there only if all of you had known about it. However, the wall hadn’t been there in the first place. Which meant Marcus had computed something that had happened fairly recently. Then again, if the LCD hypothesis is anything to go by, then the wall shouldn’t have been there because you continue to be surprised about its presence. Ergo, on the other side of the wall was something you already knew about, but not yet as the source of a problem.”

It was hard for Big Fish to resist thinking anything at all at first, but he did try. When he eventually failed, questions flowed into his head like water seeping through cracks in a bulging dam, simply unable to contain a flooding river. The questions, at first, cascaded through in streamlined sheets, and then as gurgling fountains, and then as jets that frayed into uncertainty, and then as a coalition that flooded his mind.

Big Fish understood this was the end of the “interaction”, that Marxis Maccord had been waiting for this to happen since the beginning. Everyone would have wanted to know why Older Fish killed himself. To get to the bottom of that, and to exculpate Marcus, a reason had to be found. Marcus had known we’d come to this. He let me hit the wall late. He let me know that none else found it odd because they’d been used to it. Marcus had let me be surprised. Marcus knew something was going to happen. And when it did, Marcus knew I’d be brought into its hungry womb to be judged… to be devoured by the sea.

“Mr. Maccord?”

“Yes, Mr. ———-?”

“Take what you need.”

“I already am, Mr. ———-.”

Universality of the Lotka-Volterra equations

If humankind were to discover a planet that harbours water, and if, by some provenance, the same unicellular organisms that were the precursors to Earth-bound evolution were to be introduced into this environment…

  1. Would the significant differences between our evolutionary pattern and their evolutionary pattern be equivalent in any measure to the significant differences between our environment and theirs? (akin to linguistic relativity; see Whorf-Sapir hypothesis) How might we measure these differences?
  2. How would the second-degree Kolmogorov model predator/prey population functions change? (Lotka-Volterra equations)
  3. Will the timeframe for “onset” of intelligence be determinable? Will intelligence manifest itself again at all? (Naturalism)
  4. Will the Earthborn megapode be able to recognize the “alien” megapode (or vice versa)? (Vitalism)
  5. Will evolutionary parameters in similar environments be similar, or will small changes in the evolution of genetic components manifest as large deviations in the final morphology?

Winterwolf VII

At that moment, the semi-AI beeped completion, and 34 jumped out of the chair in one fluid motion and lunged at 32, pinning him to the floor as the gun spilled from his hand and clattered a few feet away. Did you upgrade yourself?! 32 simply smiled. I REPEAT, DID YOU UPGRADE YOURSELF?! “No!” Why not? “Because I want to stop this war. I want to go home.” No, you don’t. “I don’t?” The grip loosened and 32 was able to turn his head to face 34’s. You must be upgraded. “No!” He screamed without regard, and incessantly, struggling all the while, kicking and grabbing at 34’s crystal frame; however, neither relented in their individual efforts. Eventually, just as the final pellet was about to be fired, 32 was strapped in and the semi-AI had been mounted to the binary-encryption projector. There is no time. They are coming. I will not let you receive all the memories. Know simply what is to be known, for your future is short.

32’s scream was abruptly silenced, casting upon his person a ghostly sheen, because wherefrom the alarm had issued there was only an faint-blue darkness, the face contorted with terror and the jaw held open by the lack of electric impulse.

Twelve minutes later, the door banged open and six members of the crew tumbled in, clumsily wielding guns and looking around frantically. When they spotted the two cyborgs standing next to the viewing port, they held their guns up and advanced.

“You! What’re you doing here? What happened to Commander Fanderay?!” The two part-machines turned around to face the advancing belligerents, a strange expression on their faces: their eyebrows were flicking, cheeks flushing and unflushing over and over. The Earthborn couldn’t understand any of it, and in response, they brought their guns closer and closer. “Which of you killed Commander Fanderay?” one of them yelled. One of the cyborgs answered in the negative, and the men immediately trained their guns on the other one, and saw a quick transition in his facial features. The gel in 32’s eyes was diluted by an array of microfluid valves set behind his “eyes”, quickly expanding and pushing the iris films out. His eyebrows adjusted and consequently widened across the structure of his square face, but only by a few millimeters. The hydraulic pistons underneath his jaw went slack and muscle control across most of his limbs was lost, rendering them momentarily slackened. All this 34 observed with indifference: 32 was finally human.