The Mind Games, Book One; Part 5



Simulation, Simulation.... SIMULATION

I'd never really believed Morphingus or any of the others who had tried in various ways to convince me of this. I didn't know how this trick with the text was done, though. It was hard to imagine a non invasive method that didn't involve The Village being a simulation, as claimed. Were they beaming lasers onto the back of my retina? I shook my head. The word stayed stubbornly put just outside the usually invisible boundary in my visual field beyond which I normally stopped seeing clearly, which was bloody annoying. It kept causing my gaze to drift downwards.

"Do I have to keeping seeing that?", I asked testily. The professor of existential philosophy, which sounded like a new discipline to me and was obviously not the same as 'existentialIST' philosophy, waved airily and the word 'SIMULATION' vanished. "Oh, it's just gone... that's a relief." I started looking around nervously.

"Are you bored, sitting here?", asked Dr Young. "We could always go somewhere else. Why not drop in on Number Two. He might offer us some elevenses..." Elevenses? Where did they dig up this character? I was definitely going to look him up on the web when I got 'home'. The Village pretended to allow me to use the Web, but the lag reminded me of the early days when they called it the World Wide Wait, and I was sure some of the search results returned to me were bogus or that access to most of the real World Wide Web was being blocked. I felt as if I were sequestered behind a firewall and they were executing my searches for me and only letting be see a heavily filtered selection of results after they'd done it. I was fairly sure now that that was true. They let me watch Youtube, which is where I'd seen episodes of The Prisoner.

"Are you serious?", I asked derisively, "The Observatory, Village Surveillance and Control... you really think I want to go THERE?"

"I'm sorry, that was tactless of me. I thought perhaps you'd like to talk to another real person and Number Two is the only one 'in' at the moment. If you're feeling at all peckish we could bag a picnic lunch and go for a walk on the beach."

"I don't mind doing that," I liked the beach. I felt a bit freer there somehow. "Why did you let them dress you in that naff 'Village People' outfit. Didn't they want me to believe you weren't just a dumb AI working from a smart script?" The professor steered me into a small delicatessen just off the seaward side of the square and we bought some sliced ham cut on a real old fashioned bacon slicer, a baguette and a small pat of Normandy butter. I checked that it was 'slightly salted'. I don't trust unsalted butter. The stuff from the village shop didn't taste right to me.

"I could change, if you want," said the professor mildly, "Trank! Download my light tweed Norfolk jacket and weskit and the tan plus fours, will you."  The blazer and slacks he had been wearing simply morphed into the casual outfit of an English country gentleman.

"That was terrific... can you download fighting skills as well?"

"Again with the 'fighting skills'? This isn't The Matrix. We can't download, upload or cross load anything but the most basic sensations. We made your hand hurt here, as it did out there, to help you feel that your memory of being in the real world, inhabiting the Gleissner peripheral, was genuine and would stay with you. We want you to trust it as authentic. This is the first time you've been sent back here without being set back, that's why you can't remember anything about the previous five trials."

This was making my brain hurt as well as my hand. We'd been walking as we talked and had reached the stone boat, beached on the Village strand. Dr Young climbed into it and I followed. We sat next to each other on one of the seats. I listened to the crying of the seagulls which wheeled overhead in an azure sky full of fluffy white clouds which grew and evaporated back into the clear air just like real cumulus clouds, in all their dynamically fractal detail. I didn't feel reassured. This wasn't the Matrix, but it wasn't the real Port Meirion either. That was still a hot tourist destination on north Wales, full of wallies buying lapel badges for their Village style blazers with a silhouette of an ordinary bicycle overprinted with the number '6' on each one

Port Meirion was a real, if eccentric, architect designed village that was now used, during the holidays at least, as a sort of live simulation of life in The Village of the famous TV series. But if this wasn't the real Port Meirion, and it couldn't be... then it had to be a sim. I still didn't know if the Gleissner robot and the hangar full of processors were real, though. If they could do all THIS then they could easily have done that as well, in exactly the same way. How would I know? What tests could I possibly contrive that would help me to find out. Talking to 'real People' was a start.  The real People who ran or visited The Village, the Numbers Two and the 'drop ins' like Morphingus/Mentz and Dr. Young, all passed the Turing Test. They could make and laugh at jokes, 'got' literary references, and seemed to have a lot of insight into how I was feeling and even what I was thinking.

"You're wondering how we can prove that everything we've told you is true. You can't believe, even yet, that Hangar One out near Groom Lake is as physically real as the real Port Meirion... can you?"

"No, I can't. It's just too far out. Emulated Neocortex ONE! You've got to be kidding. Why didn't they call me Brian? I feel as if I've been leading the Life of Brian, believing bullshit and going round in circles!" They had to know I'd find out for sure I wasn't Brian Eno as soon as I'd listened to Another Green World. Obviously I was never a member of Roxy Music. If I had been I'd have left sooner than he did. "What is Mentz, anyway, an ambient music buff along with everything else?"

"He has a Master's degree in statistics and got his doctorate in mathematical biosciences. He was a Professor with his own department, just like me... except that he's a typical computer nerd. I kept telling them to be careful about the 'in' jokes. They knew you were going to be given access to all the digitised media we could feed you." I thought about the thousands of TV shows, films, documentaries, plays, musicals and music videos I'd seen. All those lovingly simulated vinyl records I'd bought in The Village second hand shop and then taken home to my neat little simulated 1960s apartment, placed carefully on the detailed artificial Garrard 301 'transcription deck' turntable, gently lowering the magnetic pickup with the elliptical diamond stylus onto, and then played, through what I used to think was a genuine QUAD amplifier with BOSE monitor speakers plugged into it. I could remember in detail the timing and sound of the irritating surface scratch that had ruined the lead in to 'Repent Walpurgis' every time I'd heard it. I'd been so happy to 'find' all those 'golden age' classics. Now I realised they had just been 'given' to me by the freaks who claimed to have 'built' me from a warehouse full of off-the-shelf parts. I just couldn't help it. I began to cry again.

"When I was screaming at you all in the Village square.... why didn't you send in a psychiatrist?"

"Oh, that's an easy one," said Karl. "I told them not to. I said you would never trust anyone in The Village who admitted that he was a dome doctor. I convinced them that you needed to talk to a philosopher!"

"Like the mad King Lear, you mean?"

"Like the mad King Lear, except that you're not mad and you aren't a king."

"Then who am I?" I had grown up believing I was Martin Ronald Carter, elder son of a journalist who'd started on the Edinburgh Dispatch and then joined the BBC and worked his way up from regional radio reporter to international, globe trotting Foreign Correspondent, Ronald or 'Ronnie' Carter, but my childhood memories were mostly fragmentary and vague, with only isolated incidents standing out clearly; just like most people's I suspected, on reflection.

"The original brain that they tried to reverse engineer did belong to Martin Ronald Carter. He'd given his permission to be the subject of a genetic modification experiment already successfully trialed on mice for the Blue Brain project. It made every cell in his cerebrum glow bright green. Dr Mentz, Trank and Tiffany reversed engineered the whole thing, synapse by synapse. But every time it went live on line to a 'real world' simulation it crashed spectacularly, had seizures or went promptly insane. They rebooted it with all the variations they could think of, again and again." For a moment Dr Young looked as if he really felt for whoever on account of whatever these previous instantions of 'my' CNS had suffered.

"They realised, in time," he continued, "that building an adult brain from scratch and just switching it on was never going to work, so they hired Tiffany Carrington from MIT Life Sciences. She did her doctorate in the mathematics of developmental neurobiology. With her help we were able to simulate the process of neural development from the early blastula stage onwards, based on your own DNA code. We gave you an infancy and a childhood, largely supervised by what you'd call 'dumb, scripted AIs', which meant we could over clock you by about three orders of magnitude in the early days. Your infancy took less than a day, for instance."

"I... what... over clocked? Are you still trying to tell me I'm really just a program running on that server farm they showed me?"

"Yes and no... your aren't 'just' a program. What do you think conscious IS?"

"I... it's... it's like knowing that you can see and hear, having feelings, being able hear yourself think, knowing what's going on around you.... I don't know!"

"No one does, Martin. That's why we built you. You are conscious. I believe it. I believe in YOU. You aren't 'just a machine'. 'We are such stuff as dreams are made on.' "

" '... and our little life is rounded with a sleep.' Have you read The Self And Its Brain by Popper, Karl?"

"Ha, haa... that's a good one! I can see why they wanted to be sure you'd read that."

"He thought the mind was 'non physical', whatever that means. 'Such stuff as dreams are made on'. I think he might have been right but I still don't understand it..."

"Actually, you're made of more than that. The real you is a giant set of dynamically changing numbers. You're made of numbers, Martin; numbers that specify the neuronal firings, depolarisation waves, synapse activations... even the neurohumour and hormonal signaling systems have been emulated; everything."

"Whoa, hold on a minute... are you saying that a whole bunch of numbers in a supercomputer can think... and feel... and even know that it's doing it. That's impossible!"

"Is it? What do you think a human being is, except a bunch of organically organised signals, all of them amenable to mathematical specification. Natural human beings run on electricity as well, as you know. The brain alone uses up to 60 Watts of electrochemical energy."

"Suppose I did believe all this? What are we going to do now?"

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