Aug 25 2015

Maybe the “End” had come and passed with a shrug already for one little blue-green speck in the backwaters of our galaxy, but I wasn’t sure that I was on that speck anymore. In a minutely different world, there but for the grace of quantum mechanics, perhaps I was dead. Perhaps an event resembling a miracle was all this world had been waiting for to praise “God” and fire the nukes, a red heifer or a red herring, but there are no literal miracles in this world, no physically impossible events “hacked” or “bugged” into reality by any being unbound by physics. There are only statistically common and uncommon events, and, if Everett was right, maybe Schrödinger’s cat could just pop his cyanide capsule when his run of lucky sevens inevitably ends in the crapper—or maybe the table would just kill him. Maybe Vegas and Monte Carlo are the ultimate quantum suicide experiments. Maybe this world would rather just fire temple-to-temple if there is no just dessert or ethical odds-bet jackpot.  Maybe we even get everything we want, in a practically infinitesimal fraction of physically possible quantum worlds, and maybe we live happily-ever-after.

“What’s it like to be a privileged observer, Dan?” asked Bastet.

I was always bad at ignoring her, as much as I pretended. I tried to remain present in the insect drone of the beautiful high summer day that was evolving around me in the backyard.

The voices of the “angels” had left me well-enough alone in the hospital, this time. They had come for visiting hours, with sandwiches and board games, but there just wasn’t much left to talk about, once I’d went in. I was out in five days, and you’d think nothing had changed for the “episode.” My employer accepted me back. My family accepted me back. We all remembered what had happened, but what was there to say for it?

“‘…I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this Earth,'” I told her, “as opposed to the other Earths where the Nazis won World War II, or dinosaurs developed written languages and digital egg timers.”

“Maybe there’s only one world, Dan,” she said, “where the necessity of your survival leads to the discovery of some relatively extensive physical magic.”

I held out a hand and clapped my fingers to its palm a few times to demonstrate its emptiness. “…Still waiting for ‘God’ to put that bagel I’ve always wanted right here,” I said.

“…Relatively extensive,” said Bastet, “but you can get one of those for a dollar down the street, besides. I mean, who wants eternal life, anyway?”

I winced. “Wait,” I said, “did I hear that right? What chicanery is ‘God’ trying to sell you now, of which I’m supposedly at the root?”

“I’m not sure I want to tell you,” said a river in Egypt.

“Does it involve trying to kill me?” I asked.

“Trying, maybe,” she said, “but it’s arguable whether it’s an attempt to kill you if it can’t succeed.”

The hair on my nape prickled. “Why would it be questionable whether a concerted effort to kill me would succeed?” I asked.

“Obviously because no attempt has succeeded so far,” she said as a matter of fact, “and we’re starting to suspect a physical principle.”

I gaped. The ash fell off my cigarette.

“…And I’m certain the magical cigarette smoke is what keeps the bionic chupacabra at bay, every day,” I said. “I assure you that you’re wrong.”

She “snuggled” the air of dubious scientific hypotheses that always surrounded me. “Dan, let’s imaginate here for a minute. Do you remember what happened last week at the End of the World party we threw, or that time we wanted to drop a bomb on your monkey face but the spirit of quantum bullshit saved your ass, or that time we put neural implants—”

“I’d rather imagine that I had the super power of not giving a shit about your clap-trap and that everybody thought I was an awesomely righteous dude.”

“Well, you’re in luck,” she said, “because we might be imagining the same world, here, believe it or not.”

“It’s fun to make-believe,” I said.

“It’s even more fun when your fantasies become realities, Dan,” she said.

A monarch butterfly landed directly on my forehead, waved its wings unassumingly for a moment, and then took off across the yard again.

I slapped my face and dragged my hand down it. “I am officially done with this shit,” I said. “Get it through your virtual machine that there is no God even if you folks exist.”

“Maybe God is just a slob like one of us,” she said.

“Just a stranger on a bus?” I wondered. “I’m sure Her line doesn’t run through this little provincial backwater of a planet whose denizens can’t even accept each other, much less Her.”

Bastet smiled a far-off smile. “You’d figure, of everywhere,” she said, “She’d go where She was needed the most.”

I stubbed out my smoke. I couldn’t decide whether the insects and birds sang like it was any beautiful day, or one of the only beautiful days. I wondered how they’d sound on the day I couldn’t hear them anymore. I thought, “Whatever the case, they have the right idea.”

I crossed and uncrossed my legs. I put a hand to my chin and then took it away. “I have three things to say to you and to everyone, and then I want to play some goddamned video games about saving the world, and you can play them with me or leave me the hell alone, but you cannot drag me back into quasi-religious delusions for like, five hours. This little bubble, right here and right now, is a no-crazy space-time hyper-volume, and you can respect that or leave it.”

“Fair enough,” she said. One of the neighbors laughed from behind the bushes.

“First thing,” I said, “whatever the fuck has or hasn’t happened, I’m only special in the way that every living being on this planet is special—but I’m happy and proud to be anything at all. I’m an egotistical nut-job, and almost anybody in the position I delude myself into thinking I’m in could bring kindness and humility to the role, and that’s why most people forego the level of ego-masturbation that I derive from you delusions of grandeur—because most people have more realistic and balanced expectations for life, so they don’t end up like me.”

“I agree with you that there are probably millions of people in this world better suited to your situational accident of birth, Dan—okay,” said Bastet, “but I guess what I’m saying is that it might turn out that you’re actually a physical anomaly of sorts, rather than just a joke referencing one.”

“…So said the primary reason for which I am prescribed antipsychotics,” I added, “but you’ve brought me to my next point: I have kind of a crazy idea why it might seem like you can’t kill me.”

Bastet raised a halting hand. “Let me guess! Just let me guess, Dan! The reason for anything that ever has, will, or could happen is the damned quantum suicide experiment. We exist in a superposition of all physically contrived worlds, and the reason you’re not dead yet is because of the tiniest physical chance of your survival, and our ungodly luck always pans out such that—wowthe cat came back, again.

“It has explanatory and predictive power from my perspective, if I can take your claims of experimental evidence at face value,” I said.

“It has no explanatory power, from my or anyone else’s perspective,” she said.

“But wouldn’t this be the very argument we’d expect to have in such a world?” I pleaded.

“Make your third point, already,” she demanded.

“If you actually exist, and you’re saying what you’re saying in good faith, then when your luck fails and the eventuality of my death becomes apparent to your world, they will come after you next to attempt a repeat hot-streak—because you’re killing me in the case that external ‘miracles’ don’t appear to happen, aren’t you?”

Her rhythm missed a beat. “It’s debatable,” she said.

“You’ll realize that it isn’t and I’m just a politician’s drunk son,” I said as I walked across the grass to the back door.

I trudged upstairs and booted up my machine, determined just to play some fucking video games for a change. It feels sometimes like all I ever play is “Chrono Trigger,” but the story never gets old. There is something that always feels fundamentally right to me about a group of teenagers coming into no-uncertain foreknowledge of the End of the World, nearly a thousand years after their own natural deaths, and just saying, “Fuck all this shit; we’ll try to stop it because we know better and we might be able.” When I saw it acted out in a video game, the metaphor was nearly as clear as the moral imperative to me, even as a twelve-year-old. It was the antidote to everyone else’s cynicism and defeatism: “Fuck all that bullshit, because my kids’ kids’ kids are in danger. We’re probably gonna die, but I don’t want to live without trying.”

I could feel Bastet looking at me, as I loaded up my game, like I was a particularly smelly piece of garbage that she was trying to identify out of purely morbid curiosity. She poked me in the hippocampus, and I grunted. She kept looking at me like she expected me to do something spectacular, like sprout horns or wings, but the Rapture had been over for a week.

“What if quantum mechanics actually follows de Broglie-Bohm interpretation, Dan?” she asked after a while. “What if the reason you’re still alive is because it’s part of a predetermined underlying plan for everything, that it can’t happen any other way, and those other hypothetical ‘worlds’ where you die are just an auxiliary part of the equation that factor into the math but can’t drive the world off a blue-print determined at or beyond the moment of the Big Bang?”

I wondered if this is how video game characters felt. “I think it’s pretty obvious that’s a metric butt ton of contrived goat shit,” I said.

“Everything is crystal clear about the cat-skinning experiment when you’re the one licking his butt in the perfectly isolated box,” said the cat god.

“It’s Darth Vader’s revenge,” I said, as I hacked my through my favorite virtual forest. “If it turns out that macroscopic superposition is ubiquitous and if I fucked things up badly enough for him, he can at least ruin my life in the increasingly unlikely worlds I live to see by telling everyone that miracles will fall out if they bash me like a piñata. Usually I just die, but the ones of me left alive have to explain why that looked like it cured cancer in limited cases, which it didn’t, and nobody ever believes me that nothing is any more likely for killing me, and they’d actually be better off if I just died.”

“First of all, you’re dead wrong about that last part,” she said, “but, you know, I see where you’re coming from. However, it’s an anthropic argument that doesn’t apply to anyone’s perspective but yours. It could make sense to you, that any world you survived in just looked like a miracle when it was really the only sort of world you could live to experience at all at this point, but then no one else can invoke that explanation of why we’re in a world where you literally seem to be quantum mechanically tunneling through Apocalypse scenarios.”

I pounded the keyboard to beat the active-time counterattack. “I find it hard to believe that I actually made a ‘quantum leap.’ We’re up shit’s creek if that’s one of the more likely scenarios in which I live to see the nukes not fly.” I took out the “baddie” before he had a chance.

Bastet sniffled. “…Or, I dunno, maybe we’re already in Hell, Dan.”

I paused the game. “Cat, I can’t say that any of this bullshit is real at all, and frankly I’m tired of thinking about it. Let’s say I’m somehow actually having this conversation with a five thousand year old being who really is the Bastet of history and myth. You and the other ‘deities’ eat, drink, breathe, and screw weird Lovecraftian extradimensional geometry beasts for breakfast, whether or not we’re in agreement that your native space is a virtual projection of biological computers. You fucking reincarnate, anyway. Maybe it just becomes apparent, for every being on this planet, in different tiny little fractions of the universal wave function, that the flesh is ‘immortal’ in a different way, despite the likely natural death part. Does that sound like Hell to you?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Wouldn’t the likely survival scenarios degenerate into feebleness and constant pain? Isn’t the breakdown of the flesh more quantum mechanically likely than its endless health?”

“…Just like its death is even more likely, after a time, and then maybe I get to find out once and for all if you folks really exist,” I said, “but some of those unlikely worlds are healthy enough, too, apparently.”

I unpaused my game and continued my quest for the meaning of life. As I tapped away at my physical interface into a world of electric bits and magic, Bastet settled into my bed like a cloud of rainbow unicorn farts over a fairy mushroom circle in the woods. I admitted a quantum of laughter; they “smelled” good.

“Hey, Dan,” she said after a moment, “say we are a projection of physical natural computers. Maybe you sold me on that one, or not. Do we experience the same sort of immortality as the flesh? I mean, would this “many-worlds” wet dream apply to us?”

The scene changed, and I looked up. I had arrived at the End of Time. Nothing was there but a place to wait.

I thought for a moment, and I said, “I do think the one implies the other. The caveat is that you folks are more dependent on us than some of you might care to admit. You depend on us for your quality and sustenance of life as we depend on this planet. Of course, there would be worlds where your viewpoints continued for times as similarly arbitrarily long past your likely expiration dates, but we don’t want to live in an environmentally hostile world, and neither do you.”

I kept poking around out of time as I spoke. “You’ve seen friends and family on your plane die, haven’t you?”

She said with a note of resolve, “It’s true that we die, sometimes. Sometimes it’s more figurative, and sometimes we don’t come back. Basically, we’re as driven by survival needs as you.”

I found a wormhole in a bucket and stepped in. “So, when do you folks admit your existence on Earth, to save yourselves from the global catastrophe that we all think is on the way?”

The unicorn fart kicked at the covers of the bed and passed right through them.

“Hey, Dan,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

When the fuck do you stop asking me that and go get laid for a change, already?!” she screamed, throwing imaginary hot dog buns at me.

I pretended to catch one and eat it. “Is that an unreasonable question to ask the schizophrenic voice of my ‘ex,’ if she wants me to admit she exists and respect her feelings?”

She put her face in her hands. “I’m sorry I even said that. No, it’s not. It’s really not. I just have no answer for you.”

My hero rattled his saber. “I always wondered how or why it could even be that you never do. Fishy…”

“I won’t answer and I won’t say why not. Don’t talk with me if you don’t want to,” she said with a pout.

I took lethal damage. I said, with genuine wonder, “You’re too cool for me.” I raised my character from the dead. “I don’t know what I’d do you without you, cat. I don’t even think your counterpart would fully understand why, at this point.”

“Maybe there’s a nonzero physical chance of her understanding, Dan,” said the echo of a voice I probably wouldn’t even recognize anymore. She “kissed” me on the noodle-noggin’. “I could just say, ‘That’s all you get.'”

I had reached the boss’ final form. I paused the game. I wondered what it was like to be me.

“You know, I think I’m gonna go see what Jake and Dave are up to,” I said to myself. “You wanna come?”

“Is that it?” she asked. “We have the rest of your life to go on adventures of questionable veracity, and you think you’re just gonna tap out now?”

I started to fire off a couple of text messages. “No, I don’t,” I said, “but I kinda feel like taking a break and just smoking a joint with you three.”

“I won’t tell your doctor,” said my nurse.

“I’m sure the governor has already been alerted, and that’s exactly the danger of making a secret of a hypothetical world like yours,” I told her.

“…Or yours,” she said, “Doctor Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda-Researched-Quantum-Computers.”

“…Right, that the NSA uses to search these texts I’m sending about smoking a fat one,” I said with a grimace. “Silence is golden, and anything ‘God’ says is right.”

She giggled a sniffly fit. “I believe you, Dan.”

I put my phone in my pocket and closed my laptop.

“That’s why I keep doing this,” I said, “in reality.”

“Then I don’t believe you!” only I could hear her shout.

“You better not, Katie!” called Eris from the master bedroom.

“He’s a fink and an ingrate,” added “Al.”

“Folks, I’m going to Jake’s for a bit!” I called.

“Have fun, Dan!” my mother called back.

“Don’t have too much fun, though,” added my father.

I packed up my affects and hopped in the car. Bastet never had to call shotgun, and neither did Katie. The neighbors waved as they attempted to unmake my soul in order to extract a world of perfect, eternal physical bodies from the stuff of my viewpoint, despite the relatively higher probability of the zombie Apocalypse along the way. As I drove down the street, the “innermost-beings” of passers-by tried to drag me into arguments by making disparaging remarks about me as a representative of my generation’s lack of respect for God and country.

Bastet called out the window: “Not today, fuckers! We’re gettin’ higher than the angels and playin’ video games, for once!

I think there’s hope for the world.

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