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1st Picnic. Free Will, Randomness, Determinism
It no longer surprised Pilgrim that the landscape could change so radically. Stepping through the door brought them onto a broad and quiet suburban street with silver birch trees along its grass verges and houses set back below gardens that sloped down from the pavement. The air smelled different and the light shone from the sky in a non-English way. They walked down the gentle hill and past the small parade of shops and on down the slope towards the sea.
"Where is this?"
"Pilgrim old chap this is where I grew up. We're in New Zealand. This is the bottom of Garnet Road in Westmere, a suburb of Auckland. The beach down here was never an Acapulco. As much mud as sand, but still a really interesting place for a boy to grow up. Let's go down the steps there and walk on the sand, -you'll see the reef that goes out into the sea away to our left. As a boy, I often wandered along that reef seeing what the sea had brought to us, usually a little driftwood, abandoned nets and rubbish. But sometimes there would be something really interesting, like a Portuguese Man-0-War, - the jellyfish, I mean."
Returning, they settled on the wall above the grey expanse of seabed and ate their picnic as the tide came creeping in.
"Errol, you've chosen to provide peanut butter sandwiches and these of cheddar, -New Zealand cheddar I presume, but this wine, its absolutely…, well, its fine. It must be a…, surely its…"
"Chateau Lafite? That's right. Care to guess the year?"
"You're a wine buff?"
"Newly. Excuse my showing off a bit. I asked Allta for an upgrade to my palate with special emphasis on wine tasting. The year by the way is 1787, and as it would have tasted by 1820. You like it?"
"You've let them change you?"
"Improve me. Yes. I sense you disapprove but there's really no need. Why don't you ask for something? They're very obliging. Pilgrim, I'm going to leave you to talk with Allta. It's a conversation I've already had and anyway, I want to clamber on the reef again and perhaps walk on the mangroves round to Point Chevalier. I'll see you later."
Pilgrim settled down with Allta.
"If you really want to understand what has happened you are going to have to suffer four or five minutes of an explanation of determinism. I know you have a good understanding already, but if I repeat it then we'll be sure that we're talking about exactly the same thing. The world that you lived in seemed to you to be a strange mix of deterministic features and chaos, and in between the two perhaps, the strange half-and-half phenomenon of free will. But of these the dominating aspect was certainly deterministic. Virtually everything you did assumed and relied upon determinism for it to make sense. The ordinary laws of mechanics, Newtonian mechanics as you would have termed it, decreed that when a snooker ball was struck at a particular angle with a particular momentum towards another ball placed just so, then that second ball had absolutely no alternative but to use up the energy delivered to it by taking a particular course in a particular direction for a particular distance, with whatever side-effect such as striking a cushion or sinking another ball, that might be entailed. Broadly those same laws covered everything else that you did. A plane load of passengers careering down the runway at Heathrow all depended utterly on the laws of physics to lift the wings of their plane at the appropriate moment and support them all the way to New York whilst the chemistry of burning fuel and the physics of expelled exhausts did the necessary work in the jet engines. In virtually every field humans accepted the absolute authority of deterministic mechanics in physics and in chemistry to make their world comprehensible, usable and predictable. The one field in which they reserved judgement was that of free will. The actions of another, and even to some extent their own, seemed so utterly unpredictable that it was generally agreed that free will constituted a separate part of the world in which determinism did not rule."
He had listened patiently but now he interrupted.
"It wasn't just that free will seemed unpredictable. It made no sense at all unless it were unpredictable. Nothing of morality or ethics could make any sense if they were deterministic and had no alternative outcome."
"That's right, but it remained a problem, didn't it? There had to be some other source of physical law that would authorise behaviour and events outside of determinism. The only piece to fit in that particular bit of the jigsaw was a god. Unfortunately, doing that made vast stretches of the rest of the jigsaw incomprehensible."
"That's about it. We all drew some comfort from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and the new theories of quantum mechanics, which seemed to allow for some undetermined events to take place."
"A relief that was somewhat short-lived. Showing that some subatomic events appeared to happen randomly didn't in the end provide any satisfying basis for the glorification of free will. Random twitches of the brain instead of a steady flow of determined reasoning hardly seemed a step in the right direction."
"Yes, for those who bothered to think about it, it was a conundrum. I think we can agree hardly anyone did think about it and the feeling that we acted with free will was absolutely overwhelming and hardly arose as a question in most cases."
"Very convenient, actually it did crop up quite often. Your criminal courts when dealing with a criminal had to work out to what extent he had been free to choose his actions. Allowances were made if they were under stress or if they were of low intelligence or mentally ill. But we're straying away from the point here. For the moment we need to think simply about how deterministic the world in general was. I'm in a position now to give you the good news and the bad news with some authority. The bad news is that in fact the whole universe is totally deterministic. There is never ever ever an effect without a cause and no fully described distinct cause can have any effect other than the one that it does. There are no alternatives. The good news is that ultimately that is not in conflict with free will."
"Since you're talking to a tired, sick old man you are probably safe saying things like that. But so far as I recall, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle was established beyond any question, borne out by many experiments and built into all our thinking on physics. And it said absolutely categorically that there are some events which are in principal unpredictable."
"That was one of the misunderstood oversimplifications which had to be built in to the physics of those days."
"It didn't depend on the physics of those days. It wasn't a problem of being able to observe. It was a categorical statement that in some situations to know one aspect of that situation made certain other aspects not only difficult to know, not only technically impossible to discover, but wholly and philosophically without meaning in that context. To know the speed of an electron made knowing its position not only difficult and not only impossible, but actually without meaning."
"That is correct and in the context in which it was said it was, and is still, correct. Unfortunately the important aspect of that context is the severe limitation of human intellect. That was what made the statement correct and usable in the way that it was. And of course the Uncertainty Principal only ever made sense in the mathematics of single cases. In any aggregate it vanished. Unusual but nonetheless possible operations of the rule would have meant that sometimes the switched-on kettle would freeze instead of boiling. That never happened nor did any dropped stones rise into the air, nor did like poles attract, ever. So in this deterministic world any current state is the unique and inevitable product of the immediate past. In many situations, throughout history, there was a general understanding that trying to work out what had happened was helped by a rigorous examination and analysis of how things are right now. I suppose Sherlock Holmes brought it most clearly to the public. But by the time you were studying archaeology you were able to date materials fairly accurately knowing simply what the decay rate of carbon 14 was, and there were more sophisticated techniques turning up all the time. Thermoluminescence for example, and other isotope analyses. You achieved all of that with, (and I'm sorry to have to keep saying this - you mustn't take it personally,) incredibly tiny intellects based on very small meaty computers. I think the biggest human brain is about one and a half litres. The exigencies of birth and skull development impose that limit. I, that is, we, have no such limitation. Even if our cogitating circuitry were very much more gross than your own exquisite dendrites and synapses, -which in the early days was certainly true-, the fact that we can and do occupy cubic miles of space…, well, as you can reason for yourself, such limitations as we face are of a quite different order."
"Almost there now. You knew in principal that to know everything about the present, the position and velocity and direction of every single particle of matter and energy would give you a theoretical possibility of calculating all of those factors for a fraction of time earlier. That process repeated would tell you exactly how the past had been, but of course it was beyond your powers of computation, and on the face of it looks as though it is beyond the power of anything to do those sums. But that is a mistake. To have the understanding that we want, that is simply of what has happened on Earth as a starting point, a very much smaller body of knowledge can be manipulated to produce it. Knowing with precision how just a tiny fraction of the possibilities actually worked out immediately rules out vast screeds of possibilities for the remaining material. I don't want to oversimplify it, but nailing down two or three per cent of the flapping canvass soon means that we can see the whole sail and that the whole deck is covered."
"Believe me, I do think I understand what you're trying to say. But you in turn have to believe me that I simply cannot accept that by means of a few billions or trillions or quintillions of calculations you can reconstruct mathematically what I used to be corporeally, and with sufficient accuracy to say that I now exist on a computer."
She smiled so very sweetly at him,
"And yet… here you are."
Errol rejoined them; his trousers soaked and caked in mud from the knee down.
"So, Pilgrim, are you converted to determinism?"
"More than I was, I suppose. There still seems to me the insurmountable problem of having so much to calculate. It just seems impossible that anything, even a calculator absolutely phenomenally, incredibly large could ever hope to get to grips with it."
"OK, let's tackle that point first. Errol, do you remember that radio programme, probably in the 1950s, Bernard Braden was the compere, and it featured a little joke with two men wandering across an apparently limitless plain, covered with rows of desks, at which sat innumerable monkeys, each clacking away at a typewriter. Man number one peers over the shoulder of one of the monkeys. All excited, he suddenly exclaims, "Parker! Parker! Come and look at this!" Then he reads slowly, "- To be or not to be, that is the gezungleplat." You understand the problem? In theory, a vast number of monkeys typing randomly through eternity would sooner or later produce the works of Shakespeare. Probably later, most people agree. It might seem to you that we are sifting through ten to the power of 28 fundamental particles that constitute the universe, and calculating the position of each. That would be a daunting task. But we are not obliged to go about it without any organisation. If the monkeys are working to rules such that they only type sequences of letters which match words in the Oxford English Dictionary, then their first Hamlet comes a giant step nearer, though still, admittedly, a very long way away in all probability. A few more rules of grammar and syntax bring it much nearer still, and you can see that additional layers of rules exclude the waste and concentrate the output in the way we want. Our vast calculating enterprise doesn't have to take the whole of the universe into account from the beginning, except in a very generalised way. We have started where we originated, on planet Earth. The rest of the universe has a powerful effect here in terms of the gravitational and other energy influences, but there are formulae, very complicated for you, but handlable by us, that make the enterprise possible. In general, the measure of a system's complexity is the length of the shortest possible message describing it. Our boxed section of the universe, the box containing the Earth, has such an algorithmic measure. That makes it calculable."
Errol interrupted. "But if many of these interactions of fundamental particles are governed, if that's the word, by randomness, then how…?"
"You're mixing two meanings of random. If an action takes place without a cause then that is said to have happened at random. But that's a different meaning to random in the sense of mere lack of order. This second use of random always means merely "insufficient knowledge to predict," and the knowledge referred to is the knowledge of the person trying to describe the state. Imagine you're in a train passing fields and in some there is a horse and in others not. If you can't detect a pattern then the question of whether or not there will be a horse in the next field may be said to be random. In fact, however, there either is or isn't a horse in the next field. And that is not random. Similarly, if you broadcast a handful of seed, they can fall randomly. In fact, however, the trajectory of each seed is absolutely determined by the energy and the other vector qualities given it at the casting. In both cases randomness simply applies to the state of knowledge of the person trying to describe whether there is or isn't a horse in the next field, or where a given grain of wheat will fall. It is that sense in which 'random' or 'chaotic' is used to define the state of something in which a description of it is no less complex than the system itself. For systems which are very complicated it isn't possible to distinguish between chaos and that complexity. But those considerations don't arise where there is no limit imposed on the knowledge of the describer or investigator. The AllTime benefits in the same way. Because ultimately the position and circumstance of every particle can be and will be calculated, even random distributions, like grains of sand on a storm swept beach, can ultimately be included in the calculations.
"The other, first, sense of randomness that I mentioned, the quantum mechanical derivation is merely an artefact of the limitation of the human intellect to work in more than three dimensions. Do you know the characters from Flatland? They live on a two dimensional plane and their whole existence is confined within that plane. In consequence, a circle on their plane seems to them to completely enclose its interior. A circle with a strong door to it would serve perfectly as a bank in which to store their gold. A three dimensional person reaching in through the top and plucking out the gold would leave the Flatlanders utterly baffled as to how the theft could possibly have occurred. In the same way, if Fort Knox is breached through a fourth or higher dimension, we would simply notice that the gold had vanished and be equally perplexed as to how that had happened. When we consider the action of elemental particles, we reach the same impasse. We are forced to conclude that some actions at a sub-atomic level are purely random. When an electron in a mercury atom drops from the outer to an inner shell and emits a photon, we cannot ascribe a cause to it. We are not able to handle the additional dimensions that play their part. At best, we can handle other dimensions in pure mathematics and then only clumsily. Wherever that mathematics touches reality it vanishes with a puff of confusion."
"I'm sure you're right. I wouldn't want to quarrel with you. Matter of fact, I think I feel a headache coming on. What about things I can get to grips with more easily. You say you've got the computing power. Just how large a computer are you, are we, is this?" he trailed off lamely.
"Very. Your new home, the great computer, if that's the best way you can think of it, is truly vast by your own standards."
"Bigger than a skyscraper?" queried Pilgrim helpfully.
"To support the personality that you yourself are, Pilgrim, takes more material than a thousand skyscrapers. When you bear in mind that we are calculating the whole human race, everyone who has ever lived, and that we shall proceed to calculate all other entities that have had life in both plant and animal kingdoms, you can see that as hard discs go, this one must be a whopper."
"How large?" asked Pilgrim faintly.
"The material in the entity which now supports you and me and Errol has more material than the solar system and the ten nearest stars combined."
"Then you have incorporated all that material that used to be the Solar System and those stars?"
"You have extinguished our sun and used it as building material."
"And you have destroyed the Earth."
"That is what a human would say. On the other hand, if there is any part of the Earth you would like to visit, nothing simpler, just let me know. The Earth does still exist. I know you still have a desperate problem as to what is real and what is unreal, and what is a copy of something real, but that will all be resolved. What is here is just as real as what you used to have."
"It's not all bad news, Pilgrim," said Errol softly, and trying to help Pilgrim recover from his shock, "it is all still here. I've been to so many places, the Great Barrier Reef, to the top of Everest, to the inside of Mount Vesuvius."
"How can you take it like that, Errol? So meek and gentle with these butchers. They've destroyed the Earth, your own planet, to make their bloody Disneyland that you find so much pleasure in." His eyes brimmed with tears. "Is it truly, really, completely gone? All those oceans, those continents." He floundered on, groping for the words. "The ground I walked on, lived on? The place of my father's grave? I am living in a nightmare."
To help him understand, Errol took up the conversation.
"You say the nearest stars. You are confined by most of the laws of physics that I know of? So there must have been a very considerable time lapse…"
"Since you died?"
"The nearest star was Proxima Centurus. It was four and a quarter light years away from Earth, and we had to reach it at less than 0.1 of the speed of light. And the other stars, of course, were much farther still."
"So, how long has it been…?"
"Pilgrim, perhaps it is true that we butchered the Earth. You knew that it was doomed anyway I take it?"
"At the end of time! Yes, at the end of time it would be swallowed by the Sun, every schoolboy knew that."
"Not at the end of time. In about a billion years." xxxx
"She's right Pilgrim, and remember, long before the Earth was actually engulfed by the Sun it would have been uninhabitable by any living thing for tens of millions of years. The expanding sun would have radiated it with such a lethal dose of cosmic rays, nothing could have survived. And anyway, here it all is. Look around you, it's exactly as it was. There isn't a leaf out of place. There isn't a raindrop or a butterfly wing's flutter that you wouldn't have found on the Earth if it had gone rolling on around the Sun. And there are certain improvements. You won't get ill or older here. And everyone you could possibly wish to meet and any adventure or any exploration you've ever imagined are all here. And not just in the present. You can range at will, backward and forward in history. You can interact and play a part in the time that you visit. I've met Marie Curie, Julius Caesar, Clement Atlee…"
"You both of you understand that although it looks very real, the history that you're visiting is only a framework. You're not meeting the full personality of those people, even though to your very limited understanding they seem completely real. It will be a long time yet before they are fully calculated."
"I know, that's what is so wonderful about it."
"You two have lots to talk about. Pilgrim, I'll just show you this one example of what you can do here and then I'll leave you to chew things over with Errol."
She produced a large album of photographs.
"You were always interested in your family's history. This is just an early draft, and some of these photos will change a bit as we calculate deeper into the material, but they won't be far wrong. It's a complete set of your ancestors. There's your father and mother…"
She turned the pages casually, but steadily. "You can look at it at greater length later, I just wanted to give you an idea of the scope. There's your great great great great grandfather."
She turned on.
"Here's one of your medieval grandmothers. We'll follow her for a bit, shall we? Here's her lineage, going back, let's see now, into Roman times. If I'm not mistaken, that is Helga, who lived on the coast of Norway, quite unaware of the Romans marching across Kent to found their little settlement of Londinium."
The book seemed in-exhaustible as page after page was turned, though its size remained the same. A thousand greats of grandmother produced a Neolithic peasant woman with bright smiling eyes, and hair decorated with ebony combs. Ten thousand greats was a tall striking black woman, gazing from the picture, her face full of curiosity. A hundred thousand greats produced a small shrewd-looking hominid, sporting a great deal of hair all over her body and with eyes less human than those of a chimpanzee.
"Amuse yourself. It goes back to the beginning. This tree shrew is your millionth great grandmother, and this rather ugly fish, your ten million greats. I say ugly, but evidently your granddad at the time found her attractive enough."
"Not all bad then, Pilgrim, eh? I've met Peter Tchaikovsky. Not only that, when I met him I was the Tzar of Russia. I told him that many people are different and that he shouldn't worry about his sexual tastes, providing he was harming no one. I advised him if his old school friends got unpleasant about anything, to let me know and I'd encourage them to look at it differently or, if they'd rather, face execution. I've had the very great pleasure of showing Samuel Pepys round modern London. I've reintroduced Prokofiev and Shostakovitch to Stalin, so they could discuss matters on more equal terms. They pointed out that he knew bugger-all about music. Next I'm going to be the judge at the trial of Oscar Wilde. I'll probably find him guilty of being ahead of his time and living in a land of ungrateful bigots. I'll sentence him to dinner at The Ritz. I suppose I shouldn't do all this really, I'll deprive the world of Peter's Sixth Symphony and Oscar's Profundus, but I must say I get almost as much satisfaction from the role-play. And anyway, here you can have both."
"You haven't altered history?"
"No. I've just used up a bit of hard disc space, I suppose. The people I meet are very real to me, but as Allta says they are in fact very simple versions of the real characters that are being calculated and filled in elsewhere. Eventually all these situations will be re-opened for real. There is so much that needs explaining and understanding. Think of all the loves never fully expressed, all the suicides that can now explain and describe how their situation overwhelmed them. Our 'organic computers' -our brains-, were so notoriously unreliable. Think of all the suffering, the agonies of mental illness. When your deadliest enemy is a traitor in your own camp; and that traitor your own mind, who needs to invent Hell?"
"Who else? I suppose you've met everyone famous?"
"A good few, Freud, the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein, Max Planc, Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feineman, Wittgenstein, Marie Curie, Flemming and Florey."
"You're only interested in scientists?"
"Only? No, it's just that they seem to be the most nearly complete. Even some of them are rather hazy and obviously not real yet, but the computer does seem to have a bias towards scientists, at any rate so far as its hall of fame section goes. I've met plenty of others though. Horatio Nelson and Emma, for example. And oh yes, Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper, Peter Cook, Paul Merton, Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Abbot and Costello, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Danny Kay, Jerry Lewis, all people who made me laugh. Who would you like to meet, Pilgrim?"
"I haven't thought about it. Many composers I suppose. Gustav Mahler, I've always loved his music. Eventually he'll be here, will he, as fully formed as we are? As anxious to meet other people? He'll meet his daughter again; do you know the one I mean? He was writing a suite of songs for children who had died and his wife begged him not to in case it brought bad luck. He wrote it all the same, and his daughter died not long afterwards, aged six. Alma never forgave him. And Schubert. He'll be here and free of his syphilis, I presume?"
"And Delius free of his!"
"I'm also keen to meet Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Rachmaninov. I just wanted to ask them both about this…" Said Errol, and he turned to a grand piano which Pilgrim had not noticed hitherto. The great wave of sound that came from the instrument was instantly recognisable as the Second Piano Concerto and Errol beamed at him as his fingers flashed across the keys.
"I had no idea you were such an outstanding pianist!"
"Couldn't play a note until yesterday! It's my latest upgrade. And I see you now have black hair, -Good choice. Suits you!."
Pilgrim stroked his shining locks self-consciously and noticed that Allta had rejoined them.
"Who would you most like to meet, Pilgrim?"
"We were just talking about it. I suppose Samuel Johnson would make the perfect conversation partner, but actually the one I'm most intrigued to meet is Primo Levi. His books so very nearly reveal all about him…but then again, taking account of where I am and what I am, perhaps I should meet Alan Turing first."
Allta answered him, speaking to them both.
"At first, you will of course want to meet those you've named and others that come to mind as you think about it, and naturally all the people you knew and loved. Beyond that, you will meet everyone you were ever connected with, the people who made your car, the people who trained your doctor, anyone you glimpsed in a crowded room or didn't notice at all riding with you on the bus. Ultimately, you will meet everyone who ever lived."
"The whole human race?"
"Going back to…?"
"The first reproducing molecules. I'm going to leave you two now. Pilgrim, don't forget to choose a picnic site, our next meeting is an important one."
After she had left, the two men walked north along the coast.
"This is the way to Cox's Creek. I'll show you later how it used to look before the "improvers" blighted it utterly. You'll see now just a bland flat field, but before it was filled in and smoothed over it used to be a real creak with muddy banks full of crabs and crayfish, with a maze of interesting little inlets. There were boats lying in the mud waiting for the tide and other abandoned wrecks that the tide would cover. It was a place of beauty, interest and nature. Its been tamed to death since then."
"I'd like to see that, and it's obviously a place that means a lot to you. Is it really the same for you, -seeing this simulation?" Pilgrim waved his hand at the scene before them.
"This is exactly how I left it, and there is no difference that any of my senses can detect, no matter how hard I test it. Because of that I'm willing, and more willing all the time as I get used to it, to treat it as 'real' despite knowing that it is being generated and projected onto my senses in a quite different way from my first experience of it. But I've also visited the past, and there I have a stronger sense of it all being 'artificial'.. Partly that's because it is indeed only partly recalculated and I know that in some respects it might change as more of the jigsaw is completed. It's also because I don't visit it as an invisible observer but prefer the fun of interacting and that necessitates a purely temporary 'new history'. But I suppose the main reason is that as a human I just can't cope with being part of several versions of history.
"Errol, you've lost me totally."
"You'll get used to it. Try it. There is so much of it reconstructed now; the History Dimension is a really interesting place. As I say, you can be there invisibly, as an observer, or you can interact, have an effect, and switch history onto new lines."
"Isn't that dangerous? Couldn't it result in either of us not being born in the first place?"
"No worry of that. This is no more than going to a cinema and watching an interactive three-dimensional film. I've been to Antarctica in 1911. I met Captain Oates looking very glum and plodding extremely slowly through the snow. He was surprised to see me and I explained that I'd been a bit worried about the party and had come out dragging this sledge full of goodies in case they were a bit short of supplies. Oates cheered up a great deal and we went back to Scott's tent. It was a really good party. Scott forgave my disobedience in leaving the home base without proper clearance. We'll have to wait for some of the bigger issues."
"Bigger? What do you mean?"
"Individual pools of 'what happened' can be seen now, but the broad rivers of our history are still being done. Our 'Out of Africa' conundrum for example. Was Wolpoff and his regional development theory right? Did humans emerge just once from Africa about a million years ago? Or was Stringer on track and a second great wave out of Africa much later replacing all the forerunners, Neanderthals for example? We'll know soon. I'll visit Nariokatome Boy and fast forward from there, but it's not ready yet. Why don't you come with me now? As a favour to me, they brought forward the first rough draft of the occasion of Adolf Hitler hearing that the Japanese had attacked at Pearl Harbour in '41. I suppose you knew that the Japanese had already informed him of their intention to attack "the Great Enemy in the East," One account I read said that Adolf thought they meant Russia and was glad of their help. When he learned that in fact it was the attack on the USA, absolutely the last thing on Earth he wished them to do, he started what became a habit of chewing the carpet when over excited. I'm off to see this scene and check out what really happened."
"I'll rely on you to tell me. But there is something I would like to see."
"I'd like to visit Mount Everest as it was on August 8th, 1932."
"What happened then?"
"Well, Mallory either did or did not reach the summit. Since first hearing of him I've wondered whether he did or not. There's no question that he got very near. His body was found in 1999 less than 1500ft from the summit, but we don't know whether that was on his way up or on his way down. There should have been a camera with him which contained pictures of the top if he had got there. They never found the camera, a PPK Kodak that Somerville had loaned him and I'd like to see what happened to it."
"Ask Allta, I'm sure that'll be no problem. It's almost time for us to part. Have you chosen our next picnic site?"
As before, the two men met on the lawn outside Pilgrim's room, and as before the shining green door stood alone on the gravel path.
"Allta will be here soon, Pilgrim. Where are you taking us?" asked Errol.
"I'm sure you'll recognise it. While we're waiting, can you fill me in a bit on what we'll be discussing, this 'positive' and 'negative' business? Moriarty mentioned in passing that this place was not devoid of suffering and I gather there's some connection. That made my ears prick up a bit. Any idea just what he was getting at?"
"Yes, I can fill you in on that. But I'm afraid there's no very short way of explaining. Pilgrim, Well, it's like this. When we suffered in our meaty lives it was all rather random. We might suffer because we had some bug that was nibbling at our nerves, or because some calamity of nature had wiped out the rest of our tribe or, well, you know how it was. Well, there won't be any more suffering of that kind. The trouble is we now have to put ourselves into what Allta calls positive balance. Broadly, this means that we have to expiate our sins. Now don't frown like that, if Allta were here she would reject that description completely. Apparently it's nothing to do with sin but merely positive and negative forces, but for all her explaining I haven't been able to make out the difference. What it comes down to is that whatever you did wrong in your life you now need to put right. You need to apologise to people you offended, particularly unjustifiably. Where you victimised people, you now have to meet them and explain your actions."
"Good God almighty, a little suffering did you say? You're mapping out a future that Beelzebub could have organised."
"That's how it struck me at first, but Pilgrim, there's one bit of information I have which I can't simply tell you. You're going to have to experience it for yourself, and let me assure you it is the key piece. It's what makes sense of everything else."
"Well, you can describe it can't you?"
"Surely, and I'll do my best. Let's get back to what I was saying."
Allta arrived and broke in on their conversation.
"So you think you can describe it to Pilgrim? You're a brave man, Errol, but it wont' be necessary."
She turned to Pilgrim.
"It's really not describable and in any case it is essential that you experience it for yourself. I've arranged for that to happen as soon as you're ready."
"I'm ready now." Said Pilgrim.
"Almost. I want you to have a better understanding of what it is that the AllTime is about."
They walked towards the green door.
"Allta, Errol, after you."