Chapter 15


Debate turned quickly to the selection of candidates to send into the alien gimbal. Palmer was offered the journey and an accelerated training schedule. He declined, suggesting that there were more worthy recipients, and expressing a desire to focus on the developments within Ellies team.

Four candidates were shortlisted based upon a variety of backgrounds, testimonial statements and interviews. There was a musician of Irish descent, with a Doctorate in Political Science; a former archery Olympiad, with a degree in Philosophy, majoring in Artificial Intelligence; a Neurologist, who had performed work with Médecins Sans Frontières, and a popular and philanthropic author of novels on the Human Condition and self improvement.

Each candidate was subsequently provided with the background of The Fishbowl research. The current theory that an encounter represented only a cognitive increment was explained. The implication being that their contact was likely to be somewhat brief. The machine was operated twice before the enigmatic signal again stopped.

Each candidate returned to report an experience similar to Ellie’s, with the understandable absence of Ellie’s father. Both, however, encountered a figure of significant influence in their life. As a control the backgrounds of both candidates had been explored to identify any potential mentor figures.

The first voyager was the musician, Martyn O’Leary. He had been inspired by his Cello teacher, he reported landing amidst the most beautiful cello music in a valley of reverberation that permitted the music to sustain itself almost impossibly. Few words were spoken but he was provided with new insights into many levels of harmony as he played a duet with his tutor and the echo of the cello against the valley walls.

The archer, Qui Fan, had met atop a mountain of massive boulders and had meditated with her instructor to control her breathing and tune in to her heartbeat. They also discussed the ‘chinese room’ thought experiment of conscious states.

Just like Ellie’s experience both contact events drew tantalisingly close to an awakening before they were drawn inexorably home.

Two signals were captured and stored. The telemetry data was given a perfunctory analysis by the SETI based research team with their available tools. Before long  the decision was made to abandon analysis and pass the process on to the other teams. Copies were placed in the SETI archive, the SETI Research partition, and an Offsite copy was established. Without ceremony a set of copies were provided to The Fishbowl research team.

Many at SETI were very relieved of the developments at The Fishbowl, despite the specifics of their research being not scientifically mature enough for publication. With little alternative Kent decided that SETI itself would remain the public focus and buffer any pressure for as long as could be credibly sustained. Any matured results would be released only after the team had prepared itself for the inquisition that was sure to follow.

The rest of the Post Detection Task Group agreed not to elaborate on The Fishbowl research until such time as Ellie authorised a result. She was urged to hurry and they offered whatever resources they could avail to speed up the progress. Many of those present had suspicions that the project may become militarised. There was an unspoken resolve to provide unyielding support to Ellie, believing that she would not allow the findings to be diverted or buried.

The popular ‘4front’ magazine produced monthly articles and editorials on the future. It had a motto which was:

‘In four years time, but in your time today’.

The magazine ran the story based upon the SETI press release, whatever it could garnish from the scientific community and it’s myriad social network feeds. Kitz and the fear of professional suicide had ensured the code of silence from those in the know. The journalists had the sneaking feeling that something was afoot but they failed to dig up anything.

The headline article read:

“Contact Enigma”

Forty-eight hours after the mysterious signal reappeared the SETI Institute was still out of contact. The internet went into overload, and the most popular search query was SETI@home despite being shelved five years ago.

The article then continued…

The SETI radio telescopes were not alone in the detection of the new signal. The world, seasoned with knowledge of the previous event, had already begun to capture and speculate.

Most of the science, and many of the decoding capabilities available to SETI are widely replicated and readily available. Groups spontaneously sprouted everywhere with the latest speculation, mathematical constructs, algorithms and contributions to the @home servers. The race is now on to decode the new signal which carries none of the previous hints or lessons, and appears to be nothing but noise.

SETI has tried to provide answers, and yet just like the public it still has nothing to go on except for the noise. Spokesperson Professor Kent Clarke said of SETI , “We’re the only organisation geared to utilise the Alien Gimbal machine which is still likely to play a significant role in the interpretation of the second signal.” The Professor was referring to the white elephant constructed by the International Machine Consortium, and on which Eleanor Arroway embarked on a four second journey fifteen years ago causing a major enquiry into its complete lack of results and possible conspiracy links to Hadden Industries.

Although lacking the previous evidence compelling the use of the machine this time Clarke has said that SETI remains of the position that the use of the Human Gimbal machine is the only response under serious consideration. He added that several candidates had been readied, and that until any new evidence came to light, or the signal ceased, SETI’s recruited candidates will be gearing up for their journey in the machine. At the time of printing the first candidate had participated, while another candidate was already being prepared for their ‘journey’.

4front have been advised that at this stage there are ‘no surprises’. Professor Clarke said that another contact event like that of Eleanor Arroway has occurred and has yielded ‘new and  unique but similar telemetry data’. The data has been called ‘challenging’ and is currently being analysed by SETI. The cry for access to this data from the world’s ameteur and scientific community is building. SETI’s official response is that applications for access to this data can be made through the same channels as those who wish to access the previous SETI data.

The candidate recently dropped in the machine reported an experience ‘consistent with the previous event’. This can readily be interpreted to mean the anticlimactic duration, and useless telemetry, of Arroway’s contact event. It also implies the same hallucinatory experience originally reported by Arroway. The next edition of 4front will  endeavour to include an interview with these candidates. Arroway, meanwhile, remains unavailable for comment.

The recently reported Supernova event of Betelgeuse is widely considered among astronomers to be practically coincident with the signal’s arrival. Clarke said that although no proof existed on whether the two events were related the proximity of the source of the new signal to Betelgeuse was compelling. This connection was a strong thread of exploration. SETI would not be alone in the assumption that these events are too close to be attributed purely to chance.

SETI also reported that a special task force has been established to decode the new signal and it’s telemetry data. The position of SETI is that since the new signal bears little resemblance to the original transmission it’s analysis may be even more complex and may take years to interpret.

The investigation task force is said to be conducting two lines of exploration. One that has produced early results is Headed by General John Meredith of DARPA. The other line of analysis is understood to be more speculative, and still embryonic.

The analysis performed by DARPA called upon the capabilities of some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to perform a complex inverse fractal transform on the telemetry noise of Arroway’s event. The General’s credentials here include exploration of telepathic and mind prosthetic research. Some twitter hashtag trends suggest that this again raises the spectre of a conspiracy.

The processing consumed several months of supercomputer time, and the output appears to be the telemetry of the drop event. The result appears unremarkable, and by itself would consign the event to the “Busted Myth” bin. The new interest seems to be in how the forward transform could possibly have been performed in six seconds. Further research is now being performed with other transforms as well as fractal detection, extraction and encryption (see our supplementary section on the resurgence in Fractals and Transform Theory).

It is also thought that the primes provided in the signal may hold a new key. If this is the case there may be serious implications and new research into cryptography. SETI have now revived their @home project to calculate these other transforms over the telemetry signal. This news, while gaining popular support, accompanies reports of the widespread appearances of Ford Prefects.

In response to doomsday prophets the  Douglas Adams fan club has provided a press release on their website saying that they have investigated the situation. They recommend ‘Don’t Panic’ and that an intergalactic bypass is not on the Vogon Planning approvals.

The article mentioned several of the other theories, the political reaction and calls for new funding. The activity at SETI was frenetic. Ad-hoc plenary sessions were conducted and working groups were assembled.

One of the strengths of SETI now was the preparatory work of the Post Detection Task Group. They had engaged a Public Relations organisation on retainer. This organisation was now involved in the progressive dissemination of information. This tactic provided sufficient delay to keep the public perception high, the information scant and the press off the backs of those directly involved. Everyone knew that the time would come when the spin would be recognised for what it was and the world would want an outcome, or it would bring SETI to account for its failure to deliver. The hope was that boredom would set in.

Following the anticlimactic conclusion of Ellie’s drop through the gimbal in the original Contact event the theorists had gone into a tailspin. They could be divided into several camps. All of these camps stood juxtaposed at the SETI institute.

Some preferred to stay firmly in the well defined area of ‘experimentally verifiable and epistemologically justified’ research. They were careful, though, to steer clear of the conspiracy theories of skeptics. Instead they argued that Ellie’s experience was one of faith and belief, and that the truth required a justification that could no longer be acquired. This group called themselves the “Gettier camp.”

Some believed that Ellie had in fact travelled the distance in the time she reported. This theory invariably relied upon some form of time dilating wormhole and was supported through the apparent interconnected ‘network’ Ellie had seen. The popularity of wormholes in pop culture provided a further tinder box to sustain this idea. Disillusionment was common once anyone had subjected this idea to detailed analysis. Those that found relativistic enlightenment sought out other theories or went back to tenured positions in the high energy physics laboratories. Some stalwarts in the group were reluctant to acknowledge any other explanation. They called upon Occams Razor and dictated that the simplest explanation was likely to be the truth.

Ellie squirmed at the notion that the argument she had used to dismiss the existence of God was now being used as justification for scientific tradition and narrow mindedness. She sometimes wondered whether the cyclic ‘paradigm paralysis’ that infected science was the original root of religious fervor. When pressed the group called themselves the “Einstein Rosen Bridge camp”.

Others had put forward ideas of telepresence or immersive virtual reality. This could comprise anything from a foreign presence, a shift of Ellie’s consciousness, or perhaps a mutually shared virtual environment. The network that Ellie had seen was explained as being a part of Ellie’s consciousness travelling to experience this telepresence.

In all cases the fly in the soup was relativity. The idea that information could flaunt this most fundamental law through the use of the gimbal machine created a ‘Pandora’s Box’ full of paradoxes. The only glimmer of hope lay in the fourth group.

The telepresence advocates had eventually spawned a splinter group that explored whether one or more parallel universes were involved. This meant there was no need to traverse distances and also that the information in one universe could not create paradoxes in another. Marty McFly could not exist in both universes, the same game of sport may have different results, Biff would have been disappointed in his theft of the Sports Almanac. Again Ellie’s network was portrayed as a manifestation of travel across multiple universes. This group had begun to gather many followers and had become a sub cult, generally attended in Internet forums by Sci Fi aficionados. They had begun to call themselves the “Many World Order”.

The appeal of this was particularly strong among those theorists that held true to the Many Worlds Interpretation.

Now, the various working groups at the SETI Institute moved quickly into the nature of consciousness. Many scientists wished to replicate the successes of The Fishbowl. Although scientific method would have dictated this to be the ‘norm’, Palmer Joss stepped in and suggested that before another Artificial Intelligence was brought into existence, the path of the current one should be played out a little further. Kitz was in agreement although perhaps for very different reasons.

John and Palmer were useful in keeping the ideas in check. If it could not be adequately explained, it was inelegant. The test of elegance and aesthetics in any theory was seen as a way of determining whether it was being unreasonably and tenaciously held beyond its usefulness.

Several SETI scientists as well as Palmer, John, Fisher, Kent, James and Willie were in a tutorial room. There were several half filled coffee cups, one provided a ‘vi  cheat-sheet’ and sat adjacent to a chipped mug with an anecdote telling all who would read it that ‘Physicists do it relativistically – the faster it goes the more massive it gets’. A third showed the four Maxwell equations in a speech bubble and a bearded man with the caption ‘Let there be light’. They all had drips down their sides suggesting that they had not actually been emptied for some time, and had simply been topped up perpetually.

The cups sat cold and neglected upon a freeform shape made of trapezium desks and strewn with papers and pens. A whiteboard stood in a corner of the room with the hieroglyphics of a mathematical derivation. Evidence of various finger smearings and scribbles showed the calculations had evidently not worked out. It also stood as a reminder of the absence of any eraser.

The debate was moving towards the observation that the signal seemed to disappear whenever one of the hypothetical consciousness signals had concluded.

“Folks, we don’t understand consciousness enough to really know about ‘observation’. We are now in the hands of philosophers, psychologists and anaesthesiologists. Maybe consciousness has a form of entanglement with corporeal existence. This would be consistent with the findings obtained through our Quantum Computer. If the wave collapses it becomes real and consciousness awakens. Maybe there is no risk.”

“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa! What are you saying please?” pleaded John Meredith.

Palmer, meanwhile sat with his arms folded and simply smiled. He was very much enjoying this discussion, and was simply waiting to see who would gainsay Ellie’s theorem. He had already been privileged with her first rehearsal.

Ellie had been trying to avoid having to provide too much pedagogy. She had now resigned it as inevitable “Well, there are two main interpretations of Quantum mechanics: ‘Copenhagen’ and ‘Many Worlds’. Both try to explain superposition, or ‘being several things at once’; like right and wrong”.

“Like  Schrodinger’s cat being dead and alive?” Suggested Palmer.

“Exactly, or maybe ‘up’ or ‘down’; ‘left’ or ‘right’; ‘clockwise’ or ‘counter’. Anyway, the state of something is not actually determined until it is measured. This sounds obvious, but it is actually quite problematic.  Bohr and Einstein spent years debating it, so the Einstein group came up with the Einstein Podolski Rosen paradox. It is one of the most counterintuitive ideas we have, and it pushed Einstein to ask Bohr “Do you really think the moon isn’t there if you aren’t looking at it?”

If, for argument’s sake, we were subatomic particles, we could conduct an experiment that looks like a magic trick. We arrange with our gorgeous female assistant that a tickle on her foot represents asking a predetermined question, and she should wiggle her left toe for ‘yes’, and right toe for ‘no’. Then we saw her in half and take the top part to the North Korean US Embassy.

Now when we feel a rumble we tickle the woman’s foot. She wiggles her right toe to say that it wasn’t a North Korean nuclear missile, and this information travels faster than light. At the quantum level the two halves of our ‘assistant’ are entangled

BUT! We physicists are uncomfortable with the idea of faster than light travel because it violates causality, so we scramble around looking for ‘hidden variables’, or a new definition of ‘locality’. It is looking very much like ‘hidden variables’ are out. This means ‘locality’ may be an obscure idea; here and there can be one and the same.

This very real phenomenon depends on managing decoherence, which happens when the system finds interference such as a simple measurement. Our meeting the Vegan A.I. is just that.”

Ellie went over to a whiteboard. She used her sleeve to scrub as much of the greek characters off as she needed. “This is the double slit experiment. You know that light can be a particle or a wave don’t you.”

General assent around the room

“So the thought experiment goes like this: Over here in Vega on the right we do a double slit experiment, but with a pair of entangled photons.” Ellie then drew a rough outline of slits and a screen. “One photon goes to the double slit and the other shoots off into the distance. Over here on the other side of the whiteboard is Earth. If we measure this photons direction we might be able to work out which slit it was going into. If we do that it will make a single peak instead of an interference pattern. If the Vegans measure it as a peak they will know we measured the photon. And yes even though the photon arrives here in Vega much earlier than the photon on earth it’s result will be stalled until the measurement on Earth is done or not. At this point the information instantaneously travels the 25 light years to Vega. Instantaneously  meaning infinitely faster than light. In fact, as if they were the same place.

Let’s take our assistant again. She lives on Vega, and while there she is metaphorically sawn in half. Under careful conditions one entangled half is sent to Earth. Just like Schrodingers cat she is put in a box which effectively grows at light speed from Vega to Earth. For 25 years the two halves remain entangled. After this time our assistant has either arrived at earth or not. The box is opened here on Earth, and we find our assistant, whole again. On Vega however her entangled half must now be gone, and finding this they turn off the transmission.

I’m troubled wondering who was watching for the interference pattern as well as how they switched off the transmission since they would have to be in the box as well.  I expect we may have to ask our AI friend how this works, it probably needs parallel universes in there.”

Everyone felt obliged to help John understand. It may not have been elegant but by sheer weight of numbers John was forced to concede its plausibility. Eventually Ellie concluded.

“So in my case the Vegans prepared for a departure when they first got our signal in 1939. Someone’s consciousness was entangled locally in Vega and in the transmitted signal. It was seen to have departed then because it arrived here to be measured as a recorded and translated noise.”

John shrugged saying  sardonically, “Thanks, that was a big help. Who has an Asprin?”.

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