Logic Knows No Manners
Have you heard the one about the Cretan liar?
No, wait. I’ll get to that. Paradoxes are something we need to discuss. But before that, listen.
For the purposes of this recording, I shall refer to myself as Argos. As you know from your classics, Argos was Odysseus’s dog. That makes me an Ithacan. Ithacans make good journeymen. The distinction is now clear.
Somewhere along the line I came into some knowledge (shall we say) that at the time was called a fanciful idea. The idea is this: that luck (for lack of a better word) is a limited resource shared between all conscious entities on this earth. The more numerous we become, the less fortunate we are. I could even prove it…kind of. And before anyone tells you otherwise, I never called it science.
This, then, is a recording I make as some kind of explanation. It’s because of this notion of a shared reservoir of fortune that some say I am the worst tyrant in living memory, which by my estimation puts me leagues ahead of the worst tyrants ever begat by humankind. They say I started a war. I say differently but it doesn’t matter now, the other side won, so what I say is without value.
Besides, they don’t mean a war with guns and pamphlet drops; they mean a war on the collected psyche of humankind. Such a thing is only possible because people believe the stars have aught to do with their fate. When did the notion of faith combined with inaction become such a miracle?
Luck, you see, is the currency of chaos. Good luck you make yourself. Bad luck is just the world in normal operation and that means the will of others imposed on you, the individual. The more people there are to force their worlds on yours, the less of your own fortunes you decide.
I flipped a blackboard and began to write out a sequence of mathematical formulae that looked convincing enough, with plenty of narratives about the for-alls and over-eaches of bracketed expressions. I worked it all into a mandala.
When finished, some people were even nodding. Had I stumbled on some mathematical truth in my charlatan’s performance of psychic economics? In the bar afterwards, to divert their questions, I repurposed an old story.
It goes like this:
An old man lies upon his deathbed. Let’s say his name is ‘Churchill’.
He is an organised man who plans his day to the heartbeat. And on that day, simply put, dying is not scheduled. What is in the day’s plan is a further catalogue of his considerable achievements – defence of the realm, the liberation of millions.
There to receive this list of mighty works: the family physician, one who had served his patient for over four decades and serves him even now in frail dotage, shaking fingers. He will be there until the end.
Churchill’s son – a wanton drunk – returns to his father’s room each night after yet more frittering away of their fortune, passing the assembled newspaper men with their ready-licked pencil ends and notepads, all awaiting the dire news of their great leader’s fate.
Day after day, the first-floor window shutters would be pushed out, the window raised, and the physician would announce in thin voice the Great Man’s condition.
Yes, he still desires immortality – it is, after all, the thing to which he has dedicated his life’s work.
Thank you. No questions.
A week passes. The son arrives as per, somewhat worse for wear, waving cordially to the reporters. He enters. A hush descends while they wait. All eyes go to the window, but it remains closed.
At last, it is the front door that opens, and the son steps out, hat in hand. Flashbulbs erupt.
“I am deeply sorry to report that my father” – but before he can finish the sentence, the street is alive with reporters’ voices in a clamour of questions. The son raises a hand.
“To report,” he continues, “that my father’s physician passed peacefully at the bedside not one hour ago.”
And the window is thrown open again.
Churchill stands there resplendent, cigar in mouth, screaming “Ha ha!” to the sky.
All of which was well-trodden misdirection. To understand, you would have to be in the room. Therefore, I like to imagine how one of these patient-doctor conversations went, with me in the starring role.
“I have decided to place my fate in the judgement of immortal god,” I (Churchill) would say.
The physician might reply, “A man of science – of numbers — should know better than that. To invoke the infinite is the same as giving up.”
“Doctor, I am a man of economics. This alone automatically precludes my being an expert in morality. The way I see it, there are things made under my will, things made from some wild part of me where strangers dwell. And then there’s the rest of existence, which I have no influence over at all. Yet, I am blamed. For an idea. This alone makes me more than a scientist; it makes me master over the stars.”
Over the long days of illness, we would, discuss the absurdities of nations and of race and of political unions, as two men who are given to finding fascination in things.
I ask the physician, “Do you always trust what you are told in books?”
“When men of science illuminate me, yes.”
“Why that trust?” I ask. “Those men serve only vanity and their cult of discovery. What makes you think it is their job to benefit you?”
“Because their science is mine also,” he answers, straight-faced “And because people smarter than I are right by the world more often than they’re not.”
“But when they are wrong, it goes worse than anyone else could manage.”
He shrugs. “I’ll take my chances.”
“Then you’re no scientist.”
“Correct,” he answers. “I am an Ithacan.” Which explains our friendship adequately.
I tell him one day, “This, to me, is the only science that matters: a man stands by a river and writes on paper the most profound secrets of the universe, forever truths, through all the many changes in thinking that are to come, about how humans with their tiny minds can perceive the boundless mystery of space. The information is beyond valuable, it is priceless.
“It is destroyed. The man takes a lighted match and holds it to the page. It quickly catches and turns to cinders. The ash falls into the water and is swept away, just atoms now. He is not sad. Why? Because he knows in this universe of infinite chance one of two things might happen.
“First, the memory of those atoms might live on in the broiling weft of galactic memory. The parts that make up the page might be brought together again by some pattern processing function of universe. Truths, as we know, are wont to escape.
“Or, a machine is created in the far future, either to transmit or receive the light of older days. There is someone — a time traveller — standing at the man’s shoulder while he writes. A witness! The message was never lost at all. Perhaps as well as learning from the past man, the far future visitor whispers into archaic ears, ‘Are you prepared to become a monster? Here are the calculations that define everything, Journeyman.’
“Why do you laugh, doctor? Both these things are going to happen, and everything else besides. Whether we like it or not.”
Peter Haynes lives and writes in Birmingham, UK. His work has appeared in Unsung Stories, Reliquiae Journal, Litro USA, Spelk Fiction, Hypertext Magazine and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter: @ManOfZinc
Edited by Maria Omena