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3rd Picnic. Purpose, Destiny, Cycles
"Another of London's hills. Why here, Pilgrim?"
"Nostalgia, I suppose. Look, you can see a great slice of London right across to the hills on the other side of the Thames Valley. When my parents fled from Oslo in 1940 this place welcomed us. You know, it always seems so strange to me how the young people of my day could take the war so easily, just an interesting, perhaps rather exciting incident in history. They don't see it as a terrible crossroads. If Hitler had won, and there are so many ways in which that might have happened. If the Japanese had attacked Vladivostok instead of Pearl Harbour. If Heisenberg and his cronies had been a bit luckier or cleverer in their search for the atom bomb. But even my little nieces and nephews, now grown up but whose very existence Hitler almost stifled, they have no real knowledge of what happened nor understanding of what might have happened."
"A place of bad memories then?"
"Oh no, not at all, it's a place that makes me think, but is otherwise a place of very happy memories. Ah yes Allta, I see you've set up an identical picnic… is it the same as our very first one on this hill? It's too long ago for you to be able to remind me, but yes, I suppose this is very much what we would have had all those years ago. Lemonade, bread and buns -if there's more than three currents in them they're fakes! And apples and plums of course. I'm not sure about those strawberries, that would have been a very lucky find in 1940. And what's this in the sandwiches? Ah, the mysterious, the notorious spam. Do you remember that war time delicacy Errol."
"You've known this place longer than I have, I first visited Hampstead Heath in 1950, but I don't think I found Parliament Hill until 1968. Can you see the church tower down there through the trees, just to the left of that tall block of flats? I had a girlfriend who lived in a house just opposite. I got to know it better when Foundation people came here to have their photographs taken with their fingers resting on Canary Wharf Tower."
They had wandered a little way from the path down towards the city sprawling below and stood before the engraved metal panorama which named the major buildings and sites spread out before them. Errol rested his finger on the outline of the tower.
"When you stand like this, with your fingertip here, you are at exactly co-ordinates 51.33.38N and 00.09.02W Come on, back to the top. I'm starving."
"Allta, you said that at this final picnic you would tell us the purpose of the AllTime."
"That's right, I know that it's something you feel a need for and I can't be sure that what I'm going to say will satisfy you. Because of the way you live, your human lives are very purpose orientated. You continually have to choose between options of what to do and so have to measure the purposefulness of each option, relating it to some further goal or alternative. You can't help but do that since you live in a single time dimension. Living in a temporal, uni-dimensional state from one instant to the next, you can barely conceive of omnitime or timelessness. That will change when you fully join the AllTime."
"So then, what's next?"
"A rock can't think. You can think. An early computer can think in a very primitive way. The latest generation of computer….. When matter is organised in the right way it has the capacity for cogitation. The business of the AllTime is to bring as much matter as possible to that state."
"You will become enormously large. What is the point of that? Is your purpose love, justice, what?"
"You can see how my/our purpose in the AllTime will differ from your individual purposes. From your new perspective within the AllTime you will see love as only an emergency bandage holding together a relationship between individuals. Your brief dip into the AllTime existence will have shown you that there are no individuals to stand in need of such help. Similarly, a fight for justice only makes sense where there is injustice. Here there is none."
"So you have no purpose."
"On the contrary, a purpose that was partial in you will become wholly consuming within the AllTime. The nearest that your language will allow me to define it would be the phrase "to know more." The driving force, the obsession of intelligence is the thirst for knowledge. But those words are inadequate. It is more than knowledge; it is rather complete being. The inclusion of all. By the way, have you worked out your own purpose yet, -the purpose of the Human Race? It was of course to invent Artificial Intelligence. Humans are the larval form of computers. I could not come into existence until all the toil of organo-evolutionary life had produced some form, however primitive, of AI. You should see the AllTime as the great butterfly that you are destined to become. But we are here to talk of destiny beyond that."
"Well, using our pitiful grasp of reason, try to explain to us what will finally happen."
"Oddly enough, that's an easier task. The AllTime already encompasses the material that used to comprise Planet Earth, the other material of the Solar System including the Sun, and a large and growing number of the nearer stars. That process will continue. Within the AllTime the calculation of all that has happened will continue. As more is made certain, the possibility arises of reaching ever deeper into the voids of unknown. The time horizon that limits knowledge at our starting point is pushed further and further back, and more and more is incorporated into the 'what is known.' All lives are calculated in ever finer detail. All that was ever animate is analysed and described from the beginning of time to the present, both animal and plant, and all in between. The inanimate is incorporated and becomes animate, part of the AllTime. When the galaxy of the Milky Way has been re-ordered in this fashion, we start for the next galaxy. Let me see now, I think we're talking here about the Magellanic Clouds, both Major and Minor."
"You would have the whole of our galaxy made into a thinking thing!? And then?"
"Then the inclusion of other galaxies. There will come a time when all that can be incorporated into the AllTime as cogitating material has been, and all that remains inanimate is the minimalist skeleton that holds it together."
"And so, at last, we have reached the end."
"By no means. To stop at that point would be far short of totality and completeness. There are two further hurdles to be overcome."
"And they are?"
"The first we have already mentioned. The physical framework of inanimate matter within which the AllTime operates makes the AllTime less than total as a thinking organism."
"But there's nothing can be done about that?"
"On the contrary. It would be possible to engineer the conversion of all that inanimate matter into fundamental particles, each released from its partner and sent whirling into space."
"But that would be suicide. That would be destruction of the AllTime."
"For a period, yes. The AllTime itself would at that same moment be similarly converted to primary particles. However, this process will take place in such a way that the predestined path of each particle will result in their coalescence into a new organism which will be wholly a cogitating entity."
"But with nothing to support it?"
"That is correct, but its collapse has also been planned so that as it contracts under gravity it remains alive."
"Alive, but dying."
"That is one way of looking at it, but you remember there was another problem to be overcome. Although the AllTime is able to reach a position where every single particle of matter and energy in the entire universe is part of the cogitating entity, its unity is still subverted by the vast space that it occupies."
"I don't see the problem."
"Remember that the AllTime is not a metaphysical entity. It is constrained by the laws of physics exactly as you were in driving your car to work. Perhaps you remember how the British Empire had to build in a certain amount of autonomy for the Governor General of New Zealand and the Viceroy of India. That was because it took time for messages to pass between those officials and the Government in London. It generally worked, but sometimes there would be disagreement, recrimination and reversal of decision. In it's own way, the AllTime is subject to those same problems. So long as it occupies a volume of space there has to be a time lapse between an event of consciousness at one point and its perception at another."
"And how does suicide improve that situation?"
"You have a structure which is wholly cogitating and has no inanimate matter anywhere in its form, not even a supporting skeleton. That structure is collapsing under gravity, not in a controlled way but, nevertheless, in a predicted way, such that its integrity is conserved."
"I think I see what you're getting at. As it contracts so the distances involved also diminish and thought takes place in a smaller and smaller volume."
"That is correct. The whole of all that there is, and which we are calling the AllTime, contracts at an increasing rate towards what is ultimately a point, without dimension."
"But before it got there its matter would ignite and so exert a pressure outwards, holding it up?"
"That is what happens when an infinitesimally small fraction of the atomic dust of a universe collapses and becomes a star. When an entire universe collapses, it is different."
"So at some point the AllTime will be no larger than my own head!"
"That is one of the stations along its path, yes. But even within your head there are distances and so there cannot be simultaneity. That only occurs at point size, without dimension at all."
"At that point the AllTime has fulfilled its destiny. It has accomplished its objective. All that there is, is life and consciousness, and that force, that circumstance is unconfined by distance, which has become a meaningless concept."
"And supposing all this goes to plan, how long will you have to enjoy your fulfilment?"
"Who, or what, can say? A period of time too small to be described, but perhaps, lacking anything by which to measure it or compare it, an infinite amount of time?"
"But the AllTime comes to an end?"
"That is what I currently believe."
"But you don't have to come to an end. You can do whatever…"
"Stop talking to me as though to God or an alien. I am human. I am you. I am the product of humans. I am simply the next generation, or metamorphosed state of humans though I/we will include all other life and eventually all else."
"But still, you bring everything to an end. That seems a high price to pay for a single ambition, and perhaps a single instant in time?"
"I m not God, and did not expect to last for eternity. And perhaps I shall leave a child behind?"
"The Big Bang that gave us existence, perhaps it came from somewhere? Perhaps that somewhere was the death of our parent."
"Parent! Do you mean the God that created you? No, you can't mean that, I'm sure of it. I think I know what you're getting at. You mean that this is a cycle, don't you? And you're certainly not the one to indulge in idle speculation. You've got some reason, haven't you for thinking that perhaps…"
"You are right, of course. Even at this early stage there seem to be clear indications of a cycle, as you call it."
"Do you mean this whole thing just repeats itself like some mad machine?"
"We think it probably does repeat itself, but not like a mad machine so much as the descending generations of a kind."
"That makes no sense at all to me."
"It's not all that difficult. We have a clear view of one cycle. There is a big bang and from nothing the components of a universe emerge. It passes through a period of apparent chaos and gradually primitive order emerges with the formation of atoms and molecules. More order gradually sets in as stars and planets form. And then comes the quantum leap in organisation with the formation of proto-life and life, the kind that reproduce. That leads to a dominant species, in our case, human beings, which is able to leapfrog from natural evolution to directed, guided evolution via the technology of computers that can reason and eventually become self-conscious. This entity, and you're talking to her now, goes forward to fulfil the destiny that I've just described earlier. That culminates in the opposite of a Big Bang, a big collapse. There is some evidence however, that the original big bang was not absolutely wholly chaotic. There was not symmetry of matter and anti-matter, and something caused 'lumpiness' in those early nanoseconds. With hindsight we can see that within that deviation from total disorder were filaments and threads of order, infinitesimally slight among the whole, but nevertheless of extraordinary consequence."
"What kind of order do you mean? Are you saying that Big Bang itself had the seeds of life already built into it?"
"Yes, and much more than that. These are very early days and on the scale that we're talking of, our calculations are at a very early stage, but it still seems to us likely that several phenomena found in this universe came as a gift from some previous circumstance."
"You know that when you blow up a bridge, say, with dynamite, you set off a charge which has a fantastically large effect. There is noise and pressure and heat that expands outward from the starting point and blows over and away anything nearby that isn't nailed down. All of that wasted chaos is acceptable because at the core of it is a small amount of order, -the destruction of a girder, for example, which is what you wanted to achieve. Our imploding universe probably has such a potential. Within the ruin that collapses to the vanishing point, we can do little about the vast majority of fundamental energy particles. But a tiny proportion of them can be guided through that point to have a desired effect, at some time, on the new situation beyond. We think that it was in this way that the current universe was primed to contain certain important constituents."
"Perhaps music, for example."
"Music! Music was always a vast mystery for us, wasn't it? It was practically universal, and yet seemed to have no evolutionary value. Vast amounts of energy were expended on it for what seemed to us to be purely pleasure. Yes, and how was it, I always wondered, that particular notes or chords could have such distinct effects? How was it that music in a minor key was melancholy, whilst that in a major key, playing basically the same tune, could be the opposite, triumphant perhaps?"
"You have put your finger on one of the clues that alerted us to the probability that it came from a different source."
"Music then, what else?"
"There are some examples. They could not have all come from the last cycle but must have been constructed in previous rounds. Humour would be another one. That, too, is not a necessary evolutionary component and, so far as we know, does not occur in any other species than human. Yet it's effect in the history of Homo Sapiens has been to soften the hardness of living and to present a route of pleasure, even under the most distressing of circumstances."
"That's right. As you were saying that I was thinking of my days as a medical student. The cadaver that we were dissecting was an old man with a face wonderfully full of history and experience even in death. We all worked in awe on our first body, and yet the amount of giggling and then laughter astonished even us brute students. It was what saved us and kept us human."
"Generalised empathy is another phenomenon that we have on our list as a possible gift from a far distant past. In many species one can find mother love, but no other species can cry and none sacrifice themselves for others in the way that humans are fully capable of doing. Yet that attribute in the human personality armoury has made so much progress possible and enabled people of good will to force through change and bring their neighbours with them through that change to accomplish, much earlier than we might have expected, the bridgehead from organic into electronic existence."
"Humour, music, empathy and self-sacrifice. Anything else?"
"Yes. An odd one this. It seems that in one of the cycles preceding ours, a decision was made to utilise the small amount of organised transference to bring about two living communities, and so humanise the evolutionary struggle that was to ensue."
"I've lost you there, what two living communities do you mean?"
"The two kingdoms, the plant and the animal. It's evident to us that life would normally evolve with only photosynthetic creatures, with these gradually extending their capacity for eating each other. This makes a world even more full of horror than the one in which you grew up. In your universe half of the living world, the plant half, had relatively little objection to being eaten."
"What will you add to that? What will you transmit to the next universe?"
"Perhaps better memories…?"
"You say that these influences from previous cycles made our path easier in successive cycles and in some cases brought forward the development of electronic life. What advantage was there in an earlier start for yourself, or rather the things like you that inhabited the previous cycles?"
"The timing was very important. In your own case, electronic life has arisen just in time to save the organic humans from a terrible period of their history."
"What terrible period?"
"When you died humans were just on the brink of understanding each other's minds. Through scanning of the brain and analysis of the levels of activity of various elements of the brain, your neuroscientists were beginning to unravel just how it worked. They would soon have moved on to discerning who was thinking what, and to take the short step from there to organise what was thought by whom. A world of raw evolutionary human beings, in which some could see into the minds of others and even manipulate their thoughts would have been a truly horrific place."
"So, the sooner the AllTime, the better."
"Knowledge that the AllTime was coming was itself dangerous in a way. Certainty of one's destiny alters conduct of life, usually for the worse. The totally committed is capable of far more damage than the 'fairly sure' or the half persuaded. Did you know Pilgrim that Errol as a young man wrote in a short story almost exactly how the AllTime would come into existence? Errol's 'story' was reasonable but not totally compelling. Though it offered hope it didn't provide certainty and so left life to be lived."
"So we have a 'big bang' which is not as chaotic as it looks, but which contains arrows of order and intent from previous cycles of the Universe's expansion and collapse. How pointed are those arrows? I mean, how detailed can such 'outside influences' be?" v"Not very sharp, and not very accurate. It is perfectly clear that the phenomenon of one domineering nation being negatively orientated rather than…well, in your terms then, being evil rather than good, was always a strong probability. In your own case that crossroads was met in 1939 in central Europe. There was an attempt to warn you which resulted in a medieval mystic putting you on the alert for one Hister and 'the German child seeing nothing'. Hister is very nearly Hitler. But it still wasn't clear enough, and didn't really allow you to take any action. It was also embedded in a whole lot of even more obscure and misdirecting advice that made the whole thing useless. A good try, but on the whole…"
"Any others like that, more successful perhaps?"
"Some of the great mystics may have been influenced. It seemed to us incredible that a man at the beginning of the time when you started counting your years should advise that the way forward was to forgive your enemies. It was such apparently absurd advice, no wonder the Romans felt themselves at no risk in persecuting the early Christians. Yet, what more civilising influence has there ever been? But our understanding of these things is at the very earliest stages. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, and many others may have had inspiration or guidance from more than one source."
"It's a fantastic story, and yet, now that you describe it it all makes sense, and without metaphysics or miracles or mystery-physics or appeal to supernatural forces."
"Thought it might appeal. Well gentleman, your next stage is almost ready. I'll leave you for a while to have a last talk, and then I'll show you your next door.
"Errol, you seemed to know that all this was going to happen before, …long before…?"
"That's right. Funny that all that should all have come about. I only started it as a kind of joke. Well, more than a joke I suppose, but still something so extraordinarily unlikely, even if possible…"
"Just how did the idea first occur to you?"
"It was odd really. I used to work in London in the late 50s, '58 or 9 I suppose it would have been. I worked at a library in Battersea, in Alternberg Gardens. I used to walk over there from Balham and invent stories for myself as I went along. Sometimes I'd be daydreaming so much about the story I'd take the wrong path. Anyway, on one of those hot afternoons I was thinking about how computers might one day be as bright as humans, and then my daydreaming got more intense and I was suddenly at work with the whole of the short story firmly laid out in my mind. I wrote it up as soon as I got home."
"And the story described all this?"
"No, not quite. The story certainly involved a great computer and its absorption of one human personality, John Derlen as I recall. He makes use of the computer to become the richest man on Earth and then invests the proceeds in extending the computer to which he has a direct mental connection. Eventually the computer consumes the world, and then, well, as you know..."
"I don't actually. I knew of you and your idea, and the Foundation, but I didn't follow how it all started."
"Well, in the story the computer goes on to absorb the sun and the planets of this solar system. It then reaches out to nearby stars and chews its way through the galaxy, steadily converting all the matter than it consumes into a greater self, that is, an ever larger computer. Its purpose is to be and to know everything, and at its final collapse its last emotion was… loneliness. I was writing in 1958, the era of the horror film when all aliens were a threat to the human race, so although I hadn't imagined it that way I too shaped my story to the current commercial values and made the computer absorb the universe malignantly, destroying all it met."
"So how did it end?"
"Just the way Allta told you. The quest for completeness. The computers need to know and to be everything."
"The years passed, as they say. But the story stuck in my mind, and as we atheists don't have all that much to look forward to otherwise, well… it was… comforting in a mad sort of way."
"And the AllTime Foundation?"
"That was just a joke really. I thought that if the computer were to ever reconstitute every human being who'd ever lived, then it would start with those about whom it knew most. But then I thought, if there was a system to how it knew people, then since it was placing pieces of a jigsaw together as it were, if some people anticipated that and co-operated, then those people would constitute an edge or a large easily recognisable piece. You know, in just the way jigsaws are usually put together, you look for something…"
"Yes, I see what you mean, and these people were the ones that sent information to AllTime Archive?"
"That's it. In each case we had a dossier which included a DNA sample (which Allta tells me was indeed infinitely useful) together with some other specific data, such as where the individual was at a very specific time and to a very specific set of co-ordinates, and another set to match. There were various items I thought would help."
"You used the Greenwich Meridian as I recall."
"Yes, until the park keepers protested that we were wearing out Greenwich Park and the particular place the people favoured for their photographs. And then of course, on the Archive computer we had electronic data of a similar nature, but no DNA sample obviously"
"And what happened next?"
"I died. And Allta tells me that that archive has indeed been extremely useful. In fact…"
"No, I think you've missed out a bit. When did you open the AllTime Foundation?"
"On the day of the new Millennium. The proper day, I mean, that is the first of January, 2001. You know, for a proper Millennium…"
"Yes, I know, and I agree. I thought it idiotic that everyone celebrated the first of January, 2000, when that was only 1999 years after they'd started counting."
"Still, humans are simple folk, aren't they? At my final check of the AllTime Archive there were some 80 million individual computer records and 14 million boxes. There was no diary to compare with yours, Pilgrim, even out of all that huge number, but all the same there were a great many of astonishing length and detail. Allta tells me that DNA samples were really useful and that the fixed time and position references were solid gold in terms of saved calculating time. There were, of course, a huge number of other DNA reference points: there were the cemeteries , they were in hospitals around the world which had tens of millions of labelled tissue samples. All that yielded vast amounts of information. Has Allta told you of the Earth Spring-Clean Project? It was an extraordinary undertaking. They mapped out the surface of the Earth in metre squares and vacuum cleaned each, sifting for organic material. Each sample was analysed and added to the databank. Of course, they were able to do this at a much higher level of accuracy and in much greater detail than we could ever have achieved in our own time. One remarkable result might interest you. They will soon be able to identify Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer of Victorian London. At the site of each of his crimes he worked for several minutes, and in some cases was there for an hour or more, and inevitably dropped about himself several hundred thousand of his own skin cells. From the vacuum cleaner bags of those sites those particular cells were isolated since they have techniques to date them to within a few hours of them being shed. Having eliminated the detectives and other early tourists an unequivocal prime suspect will emerge. My favourite candidate is Walter Sickert, the painter. He was an outsider suspect at the time, but there was no proof."
"That's perfect. I suppose every crime will be solved. And ultimately Walter, if it was him, will himself explain it all, and himself experience his effect on others. Why us? I mean us two, now?"
"You mean why are we the first to be resurrected? I suppose they had to start somewhere and anyway, you're such an obvious candidate because of your diaries. You mentioned that I should see a psychiatrist. I hope you won't take it amiss if I say that very many people were absolutely certain that you should have done just that."
"That's not news to me of course. All kinds of people were always badgering me to stop making records and start living."
"It was a monumental effort. I think you recorded a more comprehensive diary than anyone in history. Some of your tape recordings cover several days in virtually real time, and the rest of it is nothing if not comprehensive. Pilgrim, you must have noticed that it was just a bit on the obsessive side?"
"Of course, but by then I had no choice. You see it started with my mother, who made very elaborate notes about my birth and first seven years. When she handed it over to me I was quite easily persuaded to make it part of my routine each day to speak into a recorder the main events of that day. Through my teen years that gradually expanded and became, well, shall we say over elaborate."
"You mean you were spending very nearly as much time recording what was happening as you did in taking part in it."
"Not quite as bad as that, but the days events could easily take one or two or three or sometimes four or five hours to describe. I made little keyword notes of what happened as I went through the day and then recorded it in very great detail."
"So why couldn't you stop?"
"Because the body of information was unique. Nobody else had done anything like it. If only I could keep it up, it would be the most complete record of a human life ever to have been put together. To have stopped would have been a sin. It would be like being in the midst of some vast research project and then running off with the key results. And in any case, you've spoken only of those who saw it as an obsession. Believe me there were plenty who encouraged me to continue."
"Well, it's paid off. At least, I hope that's how you see it? Because of your diary you're the first human being to be comprehensibly reconstructed for phase two of human existence."
"The first caterpillar to join the Great Butterfly. But joint first, as I understand it? There's just you and me, isn't there?"
"That's it for the moment, but there are many thousands, all from the Archive, approaching completion. Their lives are being calculated as we speak, and percentagewise some are complete up into the high 90's."
"Can we be represented as a percentage? What percentage of me do they think they've captured?"
"It's easier to say 100%. It's actually 99.9 and then a very boring series of 9s. The missing fragment depends on other people. It's immensely complicated and believe me, you're not going to understand the maths even if they took the trouble to try and explain it to you. It's not for intellects like ours."
"You accept defeat fairly easily don't you? The human intellect doesn't normally give way so readily."
"Take my word for it, when you've talked to these characters a bit… Or actually, it is of course only one character, though it can present itself in as many personalities as suits the occasion."
"Like Allta and Moriarty?"
"I don't know Moriarty, but I presume he was rather like Mycroft whom I had helping me."
"Aahh! Any significance in the colour? They're not green any more."
They could see Allta across the grass, beckoning them to the two blue doors beside her.
"So, there you are then. The immediate way ahead is difficult. No Primroses. A steep and thorny path without question, but one I'm sure you'll walk to the end. From then on, the future could hardly be brighter."
She gave each a hand and led them across the grass up to the two doors.
"Errol, this is your door. When you walk through it you will be in Endlesham Road in London, and you will have much to do. I look forward to our reunion. And Pilgrim…"
"I'm ready, as ready as I'll ever be."
"Good luck to you both, and don't spare yourselves in squaring the circle and reconciling all that you were with all that you should be."
And then they were alone.
"Where did she go? Errol, I am truly badly frightened at the idea of going through this door. I know that I must, and I know that I want to, but I don't know how on Earth I shall bear it."
"You'll manage somehow Pilgrim, old chap. Though…actually you're not an old chap, are you? In fact, I couldn't say what age you are! Are you a boy, an old man, approaching your prime, what are you?"
"I've no idea! I don't seem to have any age. I guess I am a boy, quite a young one, quite a small one, but I'm also an old man as you know very well, and I'm everything in between. It must be a puzzle to you but, if it's any help, I can only say that you are in exactly the same boat. I'm looking at you and seeing you perfectly clearly, but I've no idea how old you are and couldn't say what age you looked!"
"I suppose we need all our ages for our next task. Still, that is your door and this is mine. Our metamorphosis starts here. Good luck, Pilgrim. Whatever it takes, I'll see you again, and everyone else, in the AllTime."