Saturday Storytime: The Knobby Giraffe

When I studied physics, my consuming visualizations were limited to photons and reflection and color. This story by Rudy Rucker takes things just a little further, but the sensation is awfully familiar.

“Logged my hundredth hour on the MRI today,” I was telling her that night in December. It was snowing, with all Manhattan clean and still. “I feel like I’m approaching a state where I can tweak the cosmos,” I said. “Doing it with my head.”

“You’re beating a dead Schrödinger’s cat,” said Shirley. “Or is it alive?” Being a hard-core physics prof, she wasn’t taking my ideas very seriously.

“Listen, Shirley, after my session today, I did a bunch of coin flips and I scored nine heads in a row.”

“The odds against that are over five hundred to one!” exclaimed Shirley, mocking me with fake enthusiasm. “Final proof that Irit Ziv’s mind has attained direct matter control! Quantum telekinesis!”

“Why do you always tease me?” I asked. “Can’t anyone around here be smart except you?”

“You’re smart, Irit, but you’re up a blind alley. Listen to me. The physics department is not going to approve a pile of self-aggrandizing crap. You’re like a little girl making up stories about herself. I can fly! Watch me jump off the couch!”

“You’re supposed to be my thesis advisor,” I said, suddenly close to tears. Shirley had never spoken quite so harshly to me before. “I’ve been counting on you to win over the committee.”

“I adore you, Irit, but there’s only so far I can go. Everyone knows we’re lovers. If your thesis is crap and I push it—then I look crooked. Or like a fool. You have to give your ideas an academic slant, babe. Make them look respectable.”

“In my introduction, I have a whole history-of-science thing about Leibniz’s Monadology,” I said. “Which for some reason you refuse to read. Everything’s a monad, right? Particles are monads, but so are bricks, dogs, and cities. There’s no preferred level of scale.”

“What would a monad look like if it was actually real?” asked Shirley.

“They’re like, uh, little balls or blobs. They’re shiny and they reflect each other. Like ornaments on a Christmas tree. And thanks to the reflections, the monads are in eternal harmony. They’re computing the world in parallel.”

“The committee’s going to ask what’s inside one of those mirror balls,” said Shirley.

“A parameter,” I said. “The secret code for the world.” I smiled, happy with this idea. “It’s the same parameter inside every monad. The monads are like a zillion parallel computers crunching away on the same program.”

“Not bad,” said Shirley. “Be sure to say it’s a quantum computation. And say it’s all happening in Hilbert space. That’s what quantum physicists like to hear about.”

“Okay, fine,” I said. “And instead of saying the monads reflect each other, I can say they’re quantum entangled. So if you change one monad, you change ’em all. But don’t forget I want to work my way around to direct matter control. If you can connect with the secret code inside even one monad, you’re like a god.”

Shirley paused for a minute, then sighed and shook her head. “That kind of talk is not going to fly, Irit. We’re the physics department, okay? No superpowers. You’ve got to produce a formula. A formula that specifies how your monads behave. Call it Monadrule.” Shirley was writing on a piece of paper while she talked. Something she liked to do. “You’ll say that our universe is being computed as Monadrule[secretcode]. The secretcode is an arbitrary initial input. Like a number, or a specific point in Hilbert space. Maybe you can suggest some possible toy-universe-type values for secretcode. But mainly you need a precise symbolic description of Monadrule. Otherwise you’re coming into your thesis defense like a crazy mumbling acidhead. And I’d have to vote thumbs down.”

“What about my graphs of me meditating inside the MRI?” I said. “Aren’t they enough?”

“They’re worthless crap,” said Shirley. “Nobody cares about them. Stop stalling, Irit. Do some actual frikkin’ work.”

And at this point I lost it. “Snobby goody-goody,” I yelled. “I wish you were dead.” And then I stormed into the soft snowy night and hooked up with a cute woman from the Physics 101 lab section I was in charge of. Spent the night at her place.

The next morning I hear that Shirley is dead.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Knobby Giraffe

One thought on “Saturday Storytime: The Knobby Giraffe

  1. 1

    Hey, I read this very story last night in the April 2016 edition of Lightspeed Magazine. Nice to see it recognized here. A fun, surreal story with a happy ending.

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