The War of the Wells by H. G. Worlds or The House of Mirrors

Once, a long long time ago, when the world was still pristine and a few good men and women treaded lightly on the earth, the water in the lakes and streams was crystal clear and quenched our collective thirst. Then we grew to be many. Someone found that there was also water under the ground and they built their wells to ladle up the clear fresh water to their cracked lips and parched throats, and it also quenched their thirst. The people grew around these wells. We found we could live almost anywhere as long as we could somehow stay connected to these wells and lakes and streams.

Soon there were too many of us, so we divided ourselves into us and them. We were good and true, of course, and they were bad and false. We found that we could put salt into their wells, so that they would not be able to drink and would become so weak that they would die or we could kill them. Just to make sure we had enough energy to kill them, we put sugar in our wells. Of course, they did the same to us because, for them, they were us and we were them. All the wells and lakes and streams came to be poisoned with the sugar and salt we put into them, not to speak of the constant spills from oil pipes, chemical and nuclear waste dumps, and acid rains.

Although this is really happening all around us, I intended it as an allegory about facts and factoids, fake news, spin, and such. The wells are our sources of information, be they books, newspapers, TV, radio, or Internet, the crystal clear waters are the facts and truths, and the salted, sugared, and otherwise polluted waters are the manufactured factoids, fake news, spin, and such.

A little about the alternate title of this post: we find ourselves in a house of mirrors. The mirrors don’t let us see where to go or who’s behind them. All we can see is what the mirrors reflect. All they reflect is us, whether distorted or “true”. The fake news sources are just mirrors that reflect our own beliefs, desires, and prejudices. In a house of mirrors there are no windows through which to see what’s going on in the real world outside, just mirrors that reflect your image, fat or skinny, elongated or short and squat.

After the people have quenched their thirst, filled their bellies, and satisfied their other needs for survival, they will look around for facts and truths because they can’t survive on sugar and salt alone and they can’t survive without truth and facts. A person without the capability to sense the truth in order to interact with the world will not survive.

You can go on a long time without having access to the truth, nobody knows quite how long, but eventually you’ll collide with a reality you didn’t prepare for and die.

I’m an optimist of sorts. I tend to believe people will eventually begin to thirst for “real” news and truths, not just the fake news that confirms what they already think they know or want to believe.

A healthy skepticism is in order; not the Doubting Thomas kind or the perennial Devil’s Advocate kind. It’s more like the “I’m from Missouri, show me” kind:

  1. Don’t automatically trust the snake oil salesman, or anyone else for that matter, who’s telling you something you’d like or need to be true;
  2. Check the source of the information: does it come from just one source or several? Does one of those sources include what’s been considered a reliable source for a long time, like since before the Internet?
  3. Does the source’s domain of expertise include the subject of the information? Don’t trust a scientist’s opinion on morality or ethics as being better than your own, but do trust his or her opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as better than yours. Don’t trust a priest’s, minister’s, rabbi’s, imam’s, or guru’s opinion on medicine, physics, geology, biology, or chemistry as being better than yours, but you may trust their opinions on religious commandments, rituals, and lore as better than yours.
  4. Ask yourself whether the information really makes sense to you, is it consistent with everything you know (when you are being honest with yourself), or is it something you really have to act on (or is it something you can wait on until you get more facts)? If you have to act now, then go with what you’ve got; if not, then wait until you have more facts or have to act.

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The Truth about Fiction

Animals are realists. All the species except for us. There are a couple significant differences between the rest of the animals and us that are probably related to each other.

The first difference is that animals are born with the knowledge of how to make use of all their bodily functions and how to get along in the world whereas we are born with only a partial knowledge of our bodily functions and how to get along in the world. Animal instincts are transferred and stored in their genes. Sapiens’ knowledge is acquired through our senses, stored in the brain, and transferred by means of language. Animals are capable of learning varying amounts of information but could probably get along with nothing more than their instincts for most of their lives. Sapiens have instincts too, but not enough to survive on.

The second difference is that animals have only rudimentary languages, if at all, for conveying only real concepts, commands, and warnings whereas we have highly developed languages for conveying representations of internal and external realities, as well as fictions. Fictions include assertions that may or may not be true, that haven’t been proven yet, that we’d like to be true, that we wish were true, that we want to believe are true, that we want others to believe are true, that were once thought to be true, that we are willing to accept for the moment as true, or that are patently false.

Examples of fiction include stories, myths, religious dogma, beliefs, astrology, political propaganda, rights, duties, lies, traffic lights, metaphors, hyperboles, scientific conjectures and theories, histories, nationalities, communities, races, cultures, civilizations, money, corporations, gender roles, purpose, meaning, romance, and our world views. Examples of reality might be hungry, lion, waiting, and waterhole.

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Sapiens, a Brief History of Humankind”, written by Doctor (of Philosophy) Yuval Noah Harari. One of the interesting points he makes in his book is that animal species cannot aggregate and cooperate in groups composed of more than a few hundred individuals whereas Homo Sapiens can and in many cases do aggregate and cooperate in groups numbering millions or more. Harari attributes this capacity of Sapiens to get such massive numbers of individuals to live, work, and fight together to their ability to convey fictions with their languages. Our fictions unite us, keep us together, and direct us towards common goals far more so than our reality. If a lion enters our camp, it’s every man for himself. As we say, you don’t have to run faster than the lion. You just have to run faster than the guy in front of you. If you want to kill a mastodon, you don’t need more than a hundred or so men with spears to surround it and bring it down. If you wanted to launch a Christian Crusade to take Jerusalem from the Muslims back in 1099, you’d need thousands of foot soldiers and 300 knights and if the Muslims wanted to take Jerusalem back, they’d need even more soldiers and horsemen, which they were able to muster easily. For the Christians, God was on their side, but for the Muslims their God was greater, or Allahu Akbar (الله أكبر).

Lest we conclude that civilizations would be a lot better off without their fictions, Harari goes on to point out that every social structure comprising more than a few hundred individuals would break down without the fictions that organize them. Many large groups enforce religious beliefs or official party lines, such that non-believers are subject to violence and/or death, for the groups to survive. If, however, enough members of a group stop believing the organizing fictions, that group will cease to exist, as will any benefits accrued by members of the group.

Remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative? Kant’s criterion for whether an action was moral or not was derived by asking what would happen if everybody were to perform that action. If the answer were that society would survive or even thrive, then it would be considered a moral action. If, however, the answer was that society would break down, then it would be considered an immoral action. For example, is it moral to steal from a person? No, because if everybody were to steal from each other, then society would break down. Is it moral to give charity? Yes, because if everybody gave charity, society would survive or thrive. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but you get the idea. If not, read the link above.

So the bottom line is I shouldn’t attempt to persuade people to give up their fictions. If I did, society would break down, people would stop working at their jobs, drive through red lights, crash into each other, babble meaninglessly, commit crimes, acts of violence, and suicide, starve, get sick, and die. As a matter of fact, I should probably keep my opinions to myself.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Message in a Bottle

Nothing is more desperate, more poignant, more romantic than a message in a bottle. You visualize a beautiful young woman or a handsome young man on a lost island writing a letter, possibly with a description of the constellations he sees in the night sky, tracking them in their arcs from sunset to sunrise, possibly including an inventory of the few remaining supplies, and possibly mentioning the young family waiting at home, the love that was abandoned or passed up, or the wrong which was never admitted.

You visualize these things written on a ragged scrap of parchment rolled into a cylinder, stuffed into a bottle, sealed with a cork, and cast in a long arc over the waves crashing against the beach, into waters moving in a deeper current away from the island toward someone also handsome or beautiful who will find the small bottle floating between the waves in the immenseness of the ocean stretching from horizon to horizon, someone who will be able to decipher the strange markings on the parchment, someone who will care enough to drop everything and change course, setting sail for the lost island where the desperate writer waits before it is too late.

And what is the Voyager 1 space probe, launched from Earth in 1977, reporting back to us all it sees until 2025 when it will continue its blind inertia towards the star Gliese 445 somewhere in the constellation Camelopardalis about 40,000 years from now, carrying a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that the spacecraft is ever found by intelligent life forms from other planetary systems, but a message in a bottle cast into the endless seas of space, even smaller and darker than a bottle floating between the waves on a moonless night?

But if it is found, the Voyager 1 that is, will the finders be smart enough to decipher our strange markings? Will they be kind enough to come rescue us from our loneliness and ourselves? Will they laugh at our primitive efforts or even recognize them as worthy of scrutiny? If they do come, will they come in peace or will they come as we do, wreaking havoc and extinction upon us? We are the most destructive species that has ever lived on our planet. Are we the norm in our galaxy or in our universe? If not, then how do we expect our alien rescuers to welcome us into the family of worlds? But if so, then we should cease shining our beacons at the stars and our explorations of distant worlds before they detect us and come to root out the risk to the universe while it is still small and confined.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Chapter 19: Journey to the Center of the Universe

Cadmus woke up twice during his first sleeping period. Lonesome raised an eyebrow but otherwise continued snoring away. He sat up in his hammock, swung his legs over the side, and slipped down onto the floor careful not to step on his sleeping dagu.

He opened his hand against the smooth wall to orient himself and followed the ambient lighting to the personal service room. He entered and slid the door shut behind him.

The first time he tried to pass water he relaxed his bladder in one dimension but the water squirted out in another dimension. Fortunately, the inside of his suit dried almost instantaneously,

The second time he tried to pass water, a couple hours later, he couldn’t figure out which dimension his bladder was in to relax and had to wait a few minutes before his bladder, his stream of water, and the toilet were dimensionally in synch.

He made his way back to his hammock somewhat proud of himself and fell back asleep.

The next waking period, after the lights made their presence felt through his eyelids and his dreams, and the smells of spiced tea wafted into the room, Cadmus looked over at Galen’s hammock and saw it was empty. Lonesome was not under his hammock either. He got out of his hammock and hobbled stiff-leggedly over to the shower room, took off his suit and googles, put them in the bin, and stepped into the shower stall.

After refreshing himself in the shower, he dried himself off, opened the bin, and found his suit and goggles good and fresh. He suited up and donned his goggles, and followed his nose to the kitchenette where Galen was putting breakfast on the table. Lonesome was eating his kibble in a bowl with gusto.

Sleeping period followed waking period, which followed sleeping period, so on and so forth until it became a routine of sorts that belied the danger and the desperation of their adventure, three insignificant microbes rushing to the defense of a dying universe.

After a while Cadmus became so proficient in the use of his suit and goggles that he became totally unaware of them. He was able to run through the halls effortlessly jinxing one way into one dimension and another way into another dimension, moving in ways he could not have imagined before. Lonesome followed along on his jogs around the ship anticipating his friend’s moves.

Galen was pleased that Cadmus was now his physical equal, and his sensory and motor skills were on a par with his own. The way Cadmus processed his sensations was the same as always though, and that also pleased Galen.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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From Generation to Generation: Aidan’s Great-Great Aunt Rochel

From generation to generation. Reflections on Aidan and his Great-great-aunt.

Source: From Generation to Generation: Aidan’s Great-Great Aunt Rochel

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Chapter 18: The Leap of Intent

“That box of kibble is starting to look pretty good to me,” Cadmus said to whomever might be listening.

“Sorry,” Galen said, “I’ve been remiss. Just be patient a moment longer and I’ll fix something for us to eat and drink after I get us going. Besides, it’ll be better for you if your stomach is empty during the leap.”

“What should I do? Where should I be?”

“Just put your hand over Lonesome’s goggles and close your eyes.”

Cadmus did as he was told. At first nothing out of the ordinary happened. Then there was a crescendo of rumbling. He felt a vibration in the chair. Then he felt it in his skin, his muscles, his stomach, and his bones. It was as though somebody had reached inside him and pulled his internal organs down, up, or sideways – he couldn’t tell which direction. He opened his right eye, just a squint, and saw only whiteness out the window.

The pull on his innards diminished somewhat. The vibration lessened and the rumbling turned to silence. He opened his left eye and saw Galen puttering around in what looked like a kitchenette against one of the walls. He looked down at Lonesome who was panting and smiling, seemingly ready for anything. He removed his hand from the dagu’s goggles.

“What’s going on now?” Cadmus asked.

“I’m making us something to eat.”

“No, I meant what’s going on with the ship?”

“Oh. We’ve leapt off your moon, left 763, left Draco, and are traveling on a vector toward the center of the universe.”

“Didn’t you say the Frats might be in the opposite direction if there was a big bang?”

“Firstly, the big bang is not very likely because it’s a singleton. Secondly, if the Frats are not at the center of the universe then we’ll travel to the edge and try to find them there. Thirdly, it doesn’t matter where we think they are because they will find us by our intention.”

“So why didn’t we just stay put in my cabin in the middle of a rather picturesque lake or your cave?”

“Because that would not have broadcast our intention. Besides, we are only going where we went in our future, at least until we reach the event horizon.”

“So everything is determined in advance?”

“That’s the only rational conclusion.”

“Well, I don’t think that.”

“That’s why you and Lonesome are onboard.”

“And that’s why you don’t know what I’m going to think before I think it. So how do you know what I’m going to do in the future?”

“Do you think you can come to the table without any help?” Galen asked Cadmus.

“I’ll try.” Cadmus got up from the reclining chair tentatively and tried to think himself over to the table near the kitchenette. He walked unsteadily at first until he got the hang of it. He pulled out the chair and sat down.

Galen brought over a kettle of tea and bowl of fruit, laying it on the table. He put out plates, cups, and a loaf of bread. He sat down and poured tea for Cadmus and himself. “Consciousness and thought are not the same as action and physical being,” he answered. “Consciousness and thought are totipotent. They contain all possible states. Anything non-physical can develop from them. They are only limited by the structures through which they pass, structures which they create for themselves. Action and physical being are only multipotent at most and monopotent at least. They are limited by the structures of physicality, what you might call reality, at least the part of it you are aware of.”

“Don’t I have to think of doing something before I do it?” Cadmus asked through a mouth full of bread.

“Most of what you do, you do without thinking about it,” Galen answered. “You do it automatically, predictably.”

“But sometimes I think and then I act on that thought.”

“That’s what I’m banking on.”

After they finished eating Galen took Cadmus and Lonesome on a tour around the ship.

They walked up one hallway and passed the sleeping quarters. There were two hammocks suspended between walls in opposite corners of the room. There were a shower room and a personal service room for evacuating waste products. Up the hall was a simulation room and, beside that, an audio-visual communications room.

“After I give you the tour I promised Remi I’d give her a call.”

“Can you only call her from here?”

“No, I can call her from anywhere in the ship but the visuals are better in this room.”

“What is the simulation room for?”

“For exploring possibilities.”

They walked past an exercise room, a library, a music room, a storage room, and finally they came back to the main control bridge.

“Is that it?” Cadmus asked.

“No, there’s more downstairs.”

They walked down another hall past a huge engine room, a telecomm room, and a situation room. A little further down the hall they passed a closed door.

“What’s that room?” Cadmus asked.

“The war room,” Galen answered without embellishment.

Finally, they came back to the control bridge.

Cadmus tried to stifle a yawn. “What time is it?” he asked. He hadn’t seen a clock since he passed through the portal into the ship. He remembered he hadn’t seen a clock in Remi’s and Galen’s cave either.

“Time for you to get some sleep,” Galen smiled. “Besides, where we are, your question doesn’t make much sense.”

Galen walked Cadmus back to their sleeping quarters.

Lonesome was lying in his usual heap underneath one of the hammocks fast asleep.

“Should I take off my suit and goggles before I go to sleep?”

“No, leave them on in case you have to get up to go to the personal service room. You can take the suit and goggles off before you shower. Put them in the recycle bin before you step into the shower and they’ll be refreshed by the time you’re out. The molecules maintain their programming throughout the recycling.”

“Good night Galen.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

Cadmus lay down carefully in the hammock and turned off the bright lights, leaving only the soft ambient lights in the base boards. Soon they were snoring a soft duet.

The ship accelerated two orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light, leaving behind the local cluster of galaxies, known as the Draconian super cluster, and the largest artificial structure in this part of the universe.

If anyone had been watching this pin-point speck of a ship from afar, he would have surmised that its intention was lonely but brave.

from Out of Time

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 17: I Can See

Cadmus didn’t really understand what Galen had in mind for Lonesome but, since he never went anywhere without his dagu, he felt no need or inclination to ask.

“I really don’t see how we could be of any assistance to you,” Cadmus said to Galen. “I really don’t.”

Galen answered him matter-of-factly, “I don’t know why you finally agreed to come with me, although I’ll know as soon as you think of it, but I see across the three dimensions of time all the way to the event horizon and you and Lonesome join me in this journey.”

“You see me in the future?”

“You might say that.”

“I might not say it either,” Cadmus answered. He thought the future was the set of all things that hadn’t happened yet or maybe the set of all things that might happen.

“Time is just another set of coordinates in one or more dimensions, past, present, and future. The coordinates of time may be seen as easily as the coordinates of space if you have eyes in those dimensions. We are just a bunch of meandering vectors through volumes of space-time with beginnings and ends, and continuum in between.”

“That’s the way you see us?”

“Yes. Does that bother you?”

“Well, yes. So you see Lonesome and me meandering off with you?”

“Yes. That’s what I see.”

“So what happens to us? Do we survive? Do we beat the Frats?”

“I don’t know.”

“What? What do you mean you don’t know? I thought you said you could see into the future.”

“I can only see up to the event horizon. What happens to us beyond that is farther than I can see.”

“Farther than you can see?”

“Sight is linear but time is curved. None of us can see beyond the curves of time or space.”

“I wonder whether the Frats can see beyond the curves of time or space,” Cadmus said pessimistically.

“Yes, that is the question,” Galen agreed.

“So much for the element of surprise,” Cadmus offered hopelessly.

“We would not be able to surprise them, but you might.”

“When do we leave?”

“We already have.”

“Do you mean that I agreed to go?”

“Yes.”

“Why did I agree?”

“Because you realized that the element of surprise confers a ten percent advantage for a short window of opportunity. Actually it’s only a five percent advantage.”

“Are you parked at the terminal? Shall I call us a shuttle?”

“No need. Just call Lonesome to come to you.”

Cadmus whistled through cupped hands. Lonesome came loping, ears flopping counter to his paws pulling down the hill.

“What now?”

“Can you lift up Lonesome and hold him in your arms?”

“Yes, at least I think I can.”

“Do it.”

Cadmus bent down, put one arm under the dagu’s belly while his other arm wrapped around the dagu’s flank, and tried to straighten up under Lonesome’s weight. Cadmus started to lose his balance.

Galen scooped them both up into his strong cobalt blue arms. “Close your eyes a moment,” he told a very surprised Cadmus who felt himself being flipped over. His arms thrust out instinctively trying to protect himself from the fall and Lonesome jumped out of his arms, pushing sharply against his chest, but when he opened his eyes, what Cadmus saw didn’t look anything like his island in the middle of the lake.

“Where are we?” Cadmus asked, “and what is that?”

“We’re still on your island but I had to flip you and your dagu bodily into a volume where my portal is,” Galen explained. “That structure over there is the portal.”

Galen led Cadmus over to the portal door while Lonesome tagged along behind sniffing the ground furiously. He put his hand on the door and it shimmered away. They walked through it into a large octagonal room.

The portal door shimmered closed and disappeared into the curved wall. The large windows on one side of the room were filled with strange constellations of stars Cadmus had never seen before. Through the windows on the other side, he saw a huge irregular structure where their sun, 763, should have been. It throbbed like a beating heart in shades of ultraviolet.

“What you’re looking at through that window is a Dyson hypersphere. We use it to power our portals and terminals in this solar system, and to conserve stellar fusion.”

After some time Cadmus turned away from the windows and began looking around the octagonal room they were in. “Why is the room so empty,” he asked his host.

“It’s not. You’ll see later. Anyway it’s time to get you and Lonesome suited up.”

“Suited up?”

“Yes. You first. Walk over to that scanner in the corner and remove your clothing.”

“Everything? My socks and underwear too?”

“Yes, everything.”

Cadmus did as he was told. After he had undressed the scanner powered on and moved around him slowly projecting a blue light against his skin. When it finished whatever it was doing to him, it produced a shiny blue suit through one of its orifices.

“Please put this on,” Galen said. “It is a robotic exoskeleton programmed to allow you free movement through all eleven dimensions. You’ll be able to command it verbally or, eventually, by your thoughts. It is also designed to protect you from harm.”

“Thank you,” Cadmus said looking admiringly at his arms and legs. One of the walls opposite him turned into a mirror and he admired himself fully in it. “But how can I move through the upper dimensions if I can’t see where I’m going?”

“That’s what these are for,” Galen smiled and tossed some goggles over to Cadmus.

Somehow Cadmus managed to catch the goggles in his gloved hand.

“Those are all-dimensional,” Galen explained. “They allow you to perceive all dimensions but, since your brain can’t represent more than a three-dimensional volume, they project the upper-dimensional structures into a three-dimensional representation. It’s like shining a light through a three-dimensional wire sculpture onto a two-dimensional wall.”

Cadmus put the goggles on his head and over his eyes. At first he couldn’t see anything. Then it powered on. What he saw made him nearly lose his balance and fall. He saw a room full of structures he never could have imagined before. They were positioned at impossible angles that made him queasy to look at. His hands shot out against something, anything, to steady himself to keep upright, whatever that was anymore. He removed the goggles from his head and the room became empty and familiar again.

“You’ll have to get used to them,” Galen said kindly. “After a week or so, it’ll become second nature. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea for you to move around in the suit until you get used to the goggles.”

Cadmus looked around the empty room and saw a reclining chair by one of the windows. He couldn’t move. Then he remembered what Galen had said about the suit. He told the suit to walk over to the chair by the window. Halfway there he was able to walk just by thinking about it.

Just like moving around in my body, he thought.

He sat down tentatively in the chair and put on the goggles again. The things he saw went crazy again. He watched Galen walk over to one of the consoles and press some buttons. He looked over at Lonesome, who was looking up at him from a strange angle. He was panting and sniffing the air, but he was smiling. Galen came over to the dagu and asked him whether he was hungry. Lonesome looked up at him. Galen poured some kibble into a bowl in the corner by the scanner. While the dagu was eating, Galen powered on the scanner. Lonesome didn’t seem to pay attention to the scanner moving around him or to the blue light. After the scanner and Lonesome had finished what they were doing, the scanner spit out another suit, this one for Lonesome.

Galen wrapped the two pieces around Lonesome and zipped them together. Lonesome didn’t like the idea of his suit at first and wasn’t very cooperative, but soon he forgot about it and loped over to Cadmus, lying down by his reclining chair.

Galen walked over towards them and stooped down to slip the goggles over Lonesome’s head and eyes. The dagu raised his head and looked around, sniffing.

Cadmus watched Lonesome get up awkwardly, almost falling, and walk uncertainly over to the console and sniff around it. He remembered he hadn’t seen it before putting on his goggles.

He looked up at Galen, who was standing over him and smiling.

“I can see,” Cadmus said softly, “but I’m not sure I understand what I see.”

“Time,” Galen answered, “give yourself time.”

from Out of Time

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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