Unboxing the universe

In this study, we make the methodological assumption that the universe exists within a computer simulation. This simulation would, by necessity, be all-encompassing and able to account for every possible state our universe has ever been in or could ever be in. By definition, there would be nothing available to our sensory organs that could exist outside this simulation. Therefore, there would be no direct way to demonstrate conclusively that the simulation is in fact a simulation; the simulation would self-correct to provide consistent sense data should any error occur. However, it is our belief that we can approach the simulation indirectly, and use statistical analysis to tease out the truth of the matter. If we live in a simulation, there ought to be limits to how complex the situation can become before things start to glitch out. Thus, by introducing a great number of easily calculable processes running in parallel, we hope to discern at least the computational power of the simulation. If we exist in a real universe, everything should proceed smoothly. A simulation, however, would exhibit slowdowns, glitches or other aberrant behavior (e.g. things going out of bounds) after a certain point

We operationalize this methodological assumption by firing an ever increasing number of bouncy balls into an ever larger number of rooms, in the hopes of eventually running into the upper bounds of the computing power of this place we call home

Everything according to spec

He had found it. Finally, after all these years. The most generic, formulaic, run of the mill nondescript ache typical example of pure genre there ever was. It would never stand out as the best example of anything, nor would it distinguish itself as the worst of its kind. In every respect, it was thoroughly and utterly average, so relentlessly forgettable that merely keeping it in mind for an extended period of time was an effort. As such, it was perfect for his writing project

Taking a deep breath, he intended to set to work at once, and found he had forgotten all about it

Small misadventures in big data

The project was a complete failure. There was no other way to put it. No euphemisms, no learning from our mistakes, no vague gestures towards it all being an iterative process where it all happens incrementally, one less bad version at a time. After this, there would be no next version. It was done, over, no more

The initial aim was to use big data to copy people. By scraping everything that could be scraped about someone from databases, social media and everywhere else an algorithm could get a foothold, a sufficiently informed replica of an individual could be created that in all ways that mattered were that person, down to whether they had dandruff or not. Everything that could be known went into this doppelganger, and out came a copy so indistinguishable as to be identical

However

The process could not copy the small flaws that made up a person, the minute hesitations, the second-guesses, the imperceptible reroutings of thought processes through childhood memories that characterize a mind that has been around for a while. They got everything right, and thus, they got it all wrong

Nowhere could this be seen more clearly than in the cases when someone chose to have themselves doppelgängered. For whatever reason, they were too busy to be everywhere they needed to be, so they built a copy of themselves to keep up. However, these copies turned out to be better at being themselves than they were, and soon it all became a game of catching up with one’s better half just to stay in the game. Moreover, it happened at times that when someone figured out the person in front of them were the original rather than the copy, their barely disguised looks of disappointment could positively destroy those of a sensitive disposition

And thus it came to pass that no one copied this project. It was, once and for all, over

We are digging the Pit of Babel

In the area surrounding the Pit, no sounds could be heard. No birds chirping, no small things rustling in the undergrowth, no insects buzzing to and fro. Only a silence so profound as to defy the senses could be heard. The workmen, numerous and well organized, took great pains to fill out this void with sounds of their own, talking and singing so as to ward off their unease. Yet the many tongues and languages were insufficient to the task of heeding the warnings scrawled upon walls of the Pit, an ancient writ in symbols only remotely and accidentally similar to the ones now in use. As this last work crew, already bored by the routine and fresh out of songs to exorcise this most dreaded of horrors, passed the now familiar warnings that

THIS IS NOT A PLACE OF HONOR

and

THE DANGER IS STILL PRESENT IN YOUR TIME, AS IT WAS IN OURS

one of its members noted that it sure was a strange thing that so many different languages were represented therein. Upon relaying this comment, a comrade remarked that they were but a few short of one of each; another, laughing, stipulated that, truly, they were digging the Pit of Babel

How the email found you

It found you, in your office, as you were reading through your list of emails. Somehow, even though the list of things you actually do during your days has shrunk recently, the amount of emails you receive has not followed suit. If anything, it has expanded significantly, taking up more and more of your time, in an inverse proportion to things accomplished. The email found you in a state of pondering this state of things

The email found you as you were out clubbing. It was something of a dissociative moment to see those very bureaucratic words coming at you during the thumping of a bass so phat as to threaten to shake the very Tree of Life itself, the beat boosted by at least one counterfeit chemical brother. The dissociation triggered within you the realization that none of that stuff mattered, and that doing it half-assedly would get the job done just as well as acing it. The email did indeed find you well

The email found you submerged under a trio of cats, who all individually want the same thing from you, albeit with the provision that none of the others get it. It’s shaking out to be another tough round of negotiations, and this new email is relentlessly orthogonal to this series of events. It is unclear whether it actually found you

It found you by gyrating through the forgotten crawlspaces and air ducts of the many buildings of the many cities between sender and receiver. Along the way, it cleared the path for many a blocked airflow, possibly preventing a double-digit number of respiratory-related diseases. The exact path it travelled is a marvel of fractal geometry, geopolitics and edge cases of zoning laws. Alas, the email was filtered out by the spam algorithm

As the sound of a particularly large bird awoke you in the middle of the night, you decided to make the best of it by going to the loo. At some point in this process, the email was checked. An email that would ordinarily require an inordinate amount of thought had appeared. The thought apparatus being temporarily disconnected, you replied with a simple “k” and promptly forgot about it. Lawyers and literary theorists argue to this day about whether this email actually found you

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This email hit like a truck, and you hit back

The letter always arrives at its destination. Indeed, it is created at the moment of arrival. It is not a physical letter, per se. Rather, it is a sudden connection in one’s mind between all the things that brought you to this moment, and how one led to another, in what now seems an inevitable series of events. The letter, upon arrival, manifests as this sense of inevitability, foreclosing upon any thought that it might have been different. This is either a lack of regrets or the gradual disappearance of historical contingency. Either way, it’s here now

As the white whale was hauled to shore, its dead carcass a mass ever so slightly too large for the human mind to grasp in its entirety, one of the surviving sailors waved at you to come over. He’d found something lodged within the whale, somewhere; a bottle with a note in it, with what seems to be your name etched upon its rolled-up surface. The sailor, still in a haze after the ordeal, simply hands you the bottle. At some point in the future, you vow to figure out a way to get the letter out of the bottle without smashing it

Ten meaningless poems

1

I looked out the window, and there they were
leaves
swirling, swirling, swirling
and then
they were gone

 

2

Boop
beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop
beep beep beep
boop

 

3

And thus the cat
a master of remaining perfectly still
extended its artful prowess
and found purchase
for all we know
it remains there to this day

 

4

404
Page not found
404
Page not found
404
Page not found
404
Page not found

 

5

Looking at a bookcase
one is blue
one is yellow
one is purple
one is bigger than the others
many are small
the red one seems well worn

 

6

They said it would be quick
I don’t know
it’s been a while now
perhaps we differ
with the quickness

 

7

As the ad screen cycled
yet again
through the same three ads
I wondered
wouldn’t a poster be cheaper?

 

8

Next station
get off
stay on
the only two choices
oh, to be decisive

 

9

When considering the Tower of Babel
ponder
the greater the preparations
the more comprehensive the preliminary work
the faster it will be built
the fastest way is to build nothing at all
for as long as possible

 

10

Dog
dog
dog
dog
woof
dog dog dog dog dog
woof
wag wag wag wag wag

Beneath the streets

The spaces beneath the streets hold many mysteries. One popular theory posits that a beach hides there, regardless of the distance to any body of water it would be a beach to. Just a decoupled, freestanding beach, free to use by anyone who needed such an amenity at the moment of discovery. A rare thing indeed in these landlocked times

Alas, no one has found it yet, but the rumors abound

A slightly more resounded spot is the place where all lost earphones and earbuds end up. The mechanism for them ending up here, specifically, regardless of where they happen to get lost, is not altogether clear. What is clear, however, is the sound they emit in concert. Individually, each lost speaker can contribute only a soft, faint hiss, present only at the edge of one’s hearing, but together they emit the most profound and riveting sound. Every tiny detail of a song is expressed in crystal clarity, such that audiophiles have broken down crying over the limitations of human ears when faced with such aural perfection

It is a very popular spot among ravers

Random encounters

This particular street corner was known to her as a random encounter spot. Some of the random encounters could be explained through the powers of statistics and probability – the sheer number of people passing through every day meant that you were bound to meet someone unlikely every once in a while. Indeed, most encounters were highly familiar – some friend not seen in ages, that one guy from high school, a celebrity who took a wrong turn, and on occasion an ex to swiftly avoid. Other encounters, however, were outright spooky, such as when she found a fondly remembered childhood toy, staring intently at her with his epoxy eyes, just as he’d done all those years ago. She sometimes wondered if she should’ve picked him up, but the nature of the spot told her, again and again, that there were things best left as encounters

Dividing by zero for fun and profit

One day, having heard the rumors about its impossibility, she tried to divide by zero on her trusty, ever so slightly oversized calculator. To her surprise, it gave her an impossible answer. Not the answer to what happens when you divide by zero, but a different impossible answer

The answers came with conditions, however. The questions could not be a priori impossible – no asking the names of some bachelor’s wife. Nor could they be unintelligible – the feelings of the color green (outside of literary interpretation) were similarly off the table. The metric for measuring impossibility seemed to consist of how intricately interconnected and nested the if-statements involved managed to be – and how many they were. Adding ever more layers of improbability increased to possibility of impossibility

Being a teenager, she immediately saw the inherent potential applications. Thus inspired, the ever increasingly complex speculations about the internal emotional states as reflected in actual and/or perceived social constellations provided amply impossible questions for equally impossible answers. On balance, the calculator could not have found a more compatible user

Prefiguring in medias res

“You can’t just start things off right smack in the middle. Readers won’t have context for what they’re seeing, and thus become confused. Whatever literary effect you’re trying to achieve will be lost on them, both in the initial confusion and in the latter stages of having stopped reading”

“So what you are saying is, Tolkien style worldbuilding through the most literal historical exposition possible?”

“Gods no. Books should be brave enough to begin somewhere after the literal creation of the world”

“That sounds very much like a middle to me”

“You know what I mean”

“How about endings?”

“Oh, you definitely should not end before”