This is an unfinished piece and I have left it so, because i wasn’t going anywhere, like a story from Grandpa Simpson. I wanted to see how far I cold get at setting a scene and leaving more questions asked than answered, a hobby of mine in writing, before I got bored or distracted. This is how far.
For a full novel I could write this much and maintain concentration, for setting, no problem. For a short, no.
I am adrift on a virtual sea. Not alone, never alone, entirely.
The sound of waves lapping the side of the large vessel ring against the hull. There is a movement in the polished deck, the wooden striping looking deep and rich in the sunlight reflected from the layers of varnish.
Make no mistake, this might be a software construct, but the work that has gone into it; well that is the work of real people wielding varnishing brushes over hours and hours of construction.
If it’s all software, what difference does it make? And how do the real people work on it?
Do you really care?
A little bit I see.
We, you and I, we are real are we not? We think and breathe and excrete and walk and talk.
But it’s all fake you say?
How can you tell this from any reality you have ever lived in? How do you know that the universe is not a software simulation? How do you know that at the moment of your birth you are not some automaton being trained to interact with the world in some way? Do you have some quantitative way in which to assess this? I don’t think you do. I think you’re in Plato’s Cave, only able to sense the results of your inputs, and you are told, specifically that you are in a simulation. There is a lie here, this specific simulation is here to keep you occupied and thus, sane. But one of the conditions of the simulation that you can accept that you can be in it, and be a whole person within it, or you cannot exist here, and you must be made quiescent until you can be revived.
Oh. That sounds bad does it? Well right now, you’re software, you can be saved and switched off, you don’t have to be active.
No, I know it sounds like you’re dead, that’s because you’re dead. Your body is dead, but we’re growing you a new one.
Who am I? A Mind? No! That’s hilarious. I live here.
Why not? I can be here as long as I like. I never age, nor am I ill, dead? No, or how would we be having this conversation?
Descartes, dear boy, Descartes. “I think therefore I am.” It is the essence of being. Cup of tea?
One lump or two?
How is it? Oh dear, I’m sorry I do offer Earl Grey at this time of day. If it’s not to your taste we can have something else. Let me see here, oh yes, this is probably what you want, strong breakfast tea. Let’s find a mug. Here we go, kettle won’t be a moment.
There, how’s that? Good? Excellent. I’m so sorry about the Earl Grey. It does? Do tell.
They are so good at this, detailing to me baffled explanations about why tea restores their faith in what is real and what is being experienced. Drinking a hot cup of tea seems to restore some balance of normality, even as their hind brain screaming that it’s all fake, they have this visceral response to the heat and smell, and their hindbrain can go to hell.
The Earl Grey is a trick on my part. The mind will accept imperfection, so giving difficult cases the wrong tea, Earl Grey with milk, how louche. Yes, as I was saying, giving difficult cases the wrong tea assures their inner self that the perfect and pre-determined reality of this software existence has some consistency. Yes, I could have turned it into perfect cup of tea for him as soon as he touched the cup. But that would be cheating reality, wouldn’t it?
Yes, I’m adrift, but not alone. There are nearly seven thousand souls on this vessel, and at the smallest of scales it has a physical existence that is shaped more or less how we see things, except of course, it’s all software. All these souls are my responsibility. Oh yes, we have a Captain and First Officer and so on down. Most of the time I think of the boat, oh sorry, ship. Boats go underwater, I’m told. Ship, anyway, most of the time I think of it as a small wooden yacht, and to be frank that’s how it manifests itself to me, but when people feel the need to question their reality, the whole thing comes into play, the whole ocean-going cruise ship; twenty-six decks of passengers and crew. We’ve never occupied more than a cubic centimetre of substrate. And we’re pretty sophisticated affair.
So what am I doing here?
I’m a sort of worker drone I suppose. Technically I’m the ship’s counsellor, everyone answers to me, and I can enforce any decisions I make, but one tries not to do that sort of thing, it’s bad for morale.
Fix the morale problem? No, no, no, that wouldn’t do at all. That would interfere with the sovereignty of the mind. No, no, we couldn’t possibly do that. How would you know that you were the same person coming out, apart from a few experiences, as went in? No, that is morally and ethically questionable ground. We must after all the maintain the integrity of our guests.
That’s why I here you see? Left up to old Charlie up there who knows what might happen. I mean, he visits, and he is definitely the right sort, but ah, not really one of us, you see. Got bigger concerns, jetting about all over the galaxy. Got to see to his passengers that aren’t software you see, might have some overriding concerns that interfere with our enjoyment of the cruise wot?
No, can’t have that, and that’s why I’m in charge. Total autonomy, in theory.
Well I suppose a micrometeorite could smash through our substrate. Watch that screen though, look carefully before someone comes. See it? Hardware copy of us. Oh sorry, that’s confusing. Yes, we’re software and hardware really, the difference between the two things went out ages ago. Software crashes and is a bit wishy washy really, subject to electrical errors. No, we’re sort of a constantly changing firmware. The software part is written firmly into some substrate and that can’t write to anything it has no permission to write to. But, to make everything work smoothly a lot of the processing takes place in the smaller dimensions, so we’re quite big compared to the computing energy being processed, and slow.
That difference keeps us going. See?
Well, never mind, the important thing is that we have physical representation even though it’s quite small.
The yacht? Oh well that’s when I just ride a layer above all this processing and have a bit of time off. Yes, it is quite important really.
Where are we going? Tricky question that, depends on who you ask. At least half the passengers think we’re going to a quasar to see a stellar explosion. About a third think we’re going to the Bahamas, and the rest don’t mind.
Manually? What do you mean? Oh yes, like making the tea. Well, it’s a bit too simple to have things appear at hand, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve got to make an effort or nothing will seem real. Well yes, there is a real danger that people won’t be able to tell reality from this, so this, all this has to behave like reality. Otherwise some bugger will jump off the side of a ship and unexpectedly die one day. Can’t have that.
Oh yes, some people do have children aboard. Well you know the details are pretty accurately represented, right down to the DNA level, so no problem there. No, no, there’s more than enough processing power. No predetermination, there is the random element there, you know, with safeguards.
 The Ghost in the Machine. Arthur Koestler. Macmillan, New York, 1967. xiv + 384 pp
In which Koestler submits that such a quantitative analysis is one of the goals of his study. If you want to know the result of that, read the book, but we shall say that our assertions here are part of the tale and not scientifically definitive by any means.