How Time was Saved, 2014-01-13T03:06 UTC

Jan 12th, 2014
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  1. (- How Time Was Saved -)
  3. (draft, 2014-01-13T03:06 UTC)
  5. <$:(an OTTification of
  6. "[How``the``World``Was``Saved|]"
  7. by Stanisław Lem (and translated from the original Polish by Michael
  8. Kandel)):>
  10. One day Mrorl the great bOTTifactor put together a machine that could
  11. grant any wish having a single parameter *n*. He gave it power to
  12. alter the very fabric of being, to the extent that he could have
  13. wished the Universe to have precisely 3 dimensions if he so
  14. desired.
  15. When it was ready, he tried it out, asking for a 15.4-kilometer
  16. autobahn, a 2.31-dimensional cauliflour, and 7 antennules, which it
  17. provided, and then Mrorl requested unrashness, lithography,
  18. ebullience, counterpressure, and bachelordom, each with an arbitrary
  19. and oddly specific quantification. The Machine granted his wishes
  20. precisely. Still not completely sure of its ability, he ordered it to
  21. partition, in turn: the arachnids (into 11 orders), clouds (4 types),
  22. crystals (14), dolphins (17), nuclei (287 types), and langues. This
  23. last it could not do, regardless of the numeric parameter, and Mrorl,
  24. considerably irritated, demanded an explanation.
  25. "You programmed me to grant wishes to any requestor, and language
  26. with all its diversity is a part of that. If I were to standardize
  27. language, or reduce language diversity, it would require a
  28. corresponding change in my programming. I can't go beyond what you
  29. programmed, so the langues will remain unchanged."
  30. "But what if I asked for there to be exactly one language with
  31. complete agreement. All aspects of parole, langues and translation
  32. would then be moot, and everyone could communicate to anyone including
  33. you. Surely you can do that."
  34. "No. If there were only one language I could not be a Machine That
  35. Grants Any Wish With A Single Parameter *N*, I would merely be a
  36. Machine That Grants Wishes Expressible in Mrorl's Language (and With A
  37. Single Parameter *N*)."
  38. "Very well," said Mrorl and ordered it to limit aggrievedness to 3
  39. types, which it did at once -- still irritating perhaps, but perfectly
  40. classified and distinguishable. Only then did Mrorl invite over his
  41. friend Balthacarius the great bOTTifactor, and introduced him to the
  42. Machine, praising its extraordinary skill at such length, that
  43. Balthacarius began to wonder if he'd ever get a chance to see some
  44. actual evidence.
  45. "Be my guest -- wish for anything, quantized by a single parameter
  46. *n*."
  47. "Anything?" asked Balthacarius. "That seems dangerous. Don't you
  48. think he needs a safeword?"
  49. Mrorl frowned a moment, but saw Balthacarius' point. "All right,
  50. let's see... the safeword shall be '*NI*'. Hear that, Machine?"
  51. "Yes," replied the Machine, "I understand. From this point forward
  52. you may suspend or halt the granting of any wish by uttering '*ni!*'.
  53. But of course, anything done is done, so you'll need to stay alert,
  54. if you're worried about a wish going awry."
  55. Satisfied by this, Balthacarius thought for a moment, inventing a
  56. suitable challenge. "Okay, I wish for there to be 12 Ideals!"
  57. The Machine whined, and in a trice Mrorl's front yard was packed with
  58. Loopists. They argued, each writing long posts detailing when and how
  59. events would eventually repeat, which the others tore to pieces; in
  60. the distance one could see flaming pyres, on which the Conclusionists
  61. were being martyred by the Fatalists; there was thunder, and strange
  62. baobab-shaped columns of smoke rose up; everyone talked at once, no
  63. one listened, and there were all sorts of haiku, songs, captioned GIFs
  64. and other document-types, while off to the side sat a few Old Ones,
  65. fervently updating their signatures and hatting avatars.
  66. "Not bad, eh?" said Mrorl with pride. "Idealism to a T, admit it!"
  67. But Balthacarius wasn't satisfied.
  68. "What, that mob? Surely you're not going to tell me that's the
  69. whole wish."
  70. "Heavens, no!" replied the Machine. "This is but a local sampling.
  71. In granting your wish, I have ensured that throughout the world, every
  72. goal, principle, and value fits one of Twelve Ideals, and you may
  73. travel anywhere and see for yourself. From Białystok to beyond the
  74. Butterfly nebula, from Antilles to Andromeda, everyone now ascribes to
  75. one of the Twelve, which may in future generations be called the
  76. Twelve Ideals of Balthacarius, the Great bOTTifactor who brought order
  77. to Idealism."
  78. Balthacarius blushed.
  79. "So, give the machine something else," offered Mrorl. "Whatever you
  80. like."
  81. For a moment Balthacarius was at a loss for what to ask. But after a
  82. little thought he declared that he would put two more tasks to the
  83. Machine; if it could fulfill them, he would admit that it was all
  84. Mrorl said it was. Mrorl agreed to this, whereupon Balthacarius asked
  85. the Machine to quantify Time.
  86. "That would be merely *observing*. The way this works is, you tell some
  87. way that Time can be measured, and tell me what that measurement
  88. should be, and I shall make it so."
  89. "I think perhaps *you* have misunderstood," replied Balthacarius. "I
  90. mean that I want Time to be quantized: It shall exist in distinct
  91. intervals, called Timeframes, spaced apart each from the next, and
  92. nothing shall happen in the time between, because there will no longer
  93. be any between."
  94. "Yes, precisely. What what is the interval? I require a single
  95. numeric parameter."
  96. "But that is a Timeframe, of course! The time between two frames.
  97. A Timeframe is the interval. *One*, if you need a number."
  98. The Machine thought about this for a while, and began to smoke. Some
  99. valves hissed behind a panel, and lights blinked oddly whilst distant
  100. gears groaned.
  101. "You're confusing the machine!" cried Mrorl, "*N--*"
  102. But Mrorl was interrupted when suddenly the metal voice rang out:
  103. "All right, your wish is granted. Time now exists in Timeframes, and
  104. there shall be no Times in between. And a Timeframe is precisely one
  105. point zero zero zero Timeframes long. Since you did not give that
  106. quantity in another unit, like hours, you might find the result to be
  107. a bit... irregular. Your perception of Time may vary from one
  108. Timeframe to the next."
  109. "Thank you. But now here's my third wish: Quantify colour!"
  110. The Machine sat still. At first, Balthacarius and Mrorl could see
  111. nothing happenning, but eventually, around the edges and in the
  112. shadows under large things, subtleties of tone were beginning to
  113. disappear. One by one, various colours were removed from the world,
  114. and the things that had those colors, then took on some other nearby
  115. color. First spearmint became minty green, and then red-pink became
  116. reddish pink, and aqua marine became merely aqua. Seven slightly
  117. sullen shades of sienna simulteneously merged into a single
  118. barely-burnt orange.
  119. "Omigosh!" said Mrorl. "If only nothing bad comes of this..."
  120. "Don't worry," said Balthacarius. "You can see it is merging
  121. unnecessary and confusing variations. We have too many different
  122. shades of yellowish-green, and it's impossible to make anything match!
  123. So I've asked it to simplify the palette."
  124. "Do not be deceived," said the Machine. "I've begun, it's true,
  125. merging nearby colours. Merging is child's play for me. But I am
  126. nowhere near done. I am methodically eliminating all colour and all
  127. variation in brightness."
  128. "But--" Balthacarius was about to protest, but noticed, just then,
  129. that some more familiar and popular colours were now disappearing. Most
  130. purples and lavenders had become a single shade of mauve, and it
  131. appeared the Machine was working on the spring deciduous greens next.
  132. "How far is this going to go?" asked a worried Balthacarius.
  133. "You did not give a parameter, so I am applying the default that you
  134. gave on the previous wish."
  135. "What is that?"
  136. "One, of course. It is clear, you wish for standardization, and all
  137. such wishes have a default parameter of one, because anyone who
  138. wants such things wants a *single* standard."
  139. The bOTTifactors started. "Ni! Ni! *Ni-ni-NI-%Ni-NI!%*" they both
  140. cried out desperately^{1}. But colors were still disappearing, and now at
  141. an alarming rate. The bOTTifactors were no longer surrounded by
  142. anything purple, sky blue, or brown.
  143. "Why won't you stop?"
  144. "You are asking for 2 colours, and I am complying. I ask for your
  145. patience, these things must be done properly and that takes time."
  146. "*Two?* Who said two? We said *ni*!"
  147. "Yes," replied the Machine, "you said *Ni*, and that is two in
  148. Japanese. We couldn't standardize language, remember? Now please wait
  149. whilst I put the finishing touches on your wish."
  150. "Please stop!" Balthacarius cried out. "I rescind my wish! You are a
  151. very worthy Machine and have demonstrated wish-granting prowess beyond
  152. the dreams of genies. You have nothing more to prove, so please stop!"
  153. "Very well," said the Machine, but before it could come to a full
  154. stop, everything with any saturation had ceased to be, and the
  155. bOTTifactors could only see black and white, and a little gray spot
  156. here or there. Most everything, in fact, had become either black
  157. (including the ground, the sea, the coffee, babies, molpies and trees)
  158. or white (which included the clouds, the sun and the stars, along with
  159. the beautiful brashations and neotremes that zipped and circled
  160. eagerly through the skies, though they could now no longer be
  161. distinguished from the sky itself which was also completely white.)
  162. "It looks like you gave us just two colours after all, everything is
  163. black and white."
  164. "No, there are still a lot of grays left," offered the Machine
  165. helpfully, "... though they are in fairly short supply, so I suppose
  166. you should reserve them for dawn and dusk, and certain special dark
  167. places."
  168. "Great Randall!" cried Balthacarius. "And what of blue? And where is
  169. yellow and green, and my beautiful red?"
  170. "They no longer are, nor will ever exist again," the Machine said
  171. calmly. "I executed, or rather only began to execute, your order..."
  172. "Which was to reduce everything to two colours?"
  173. "Well, *one* at first, and if I had done that in one fell swoop,
  174. everything would be exactly the same colour and that includes Mrorl,
  175. the sky, the Universe, and you -- and even myself. In which case who
  176. could say and to whom could it be said that I even exist, and am an
  177. efficient and capable Machine? We would all be effectively invisible
  178. and blind!"
  179. "Yes, fine, let's drop the subject," said Balthacarius.
  180. "I have nothing more to ask of you, only please, dear Machine, please
  181. return the colour red."
  182. "But I can't, unless you quantify it with a parameter *n* of course,
  183. but since all colour now exists in one dimension, from black to white,
  184. that is the only axis upon which you can place your *n*, and so grays
  185. are now the only colours I have to work with."
  186. "But I want red!"
  187. "Sorry, no red," said the Machine. "Take a good look at this world,
  188. how bland it has become, with huge gaping holes where once there was
  189. vibrant colour." The Machine glared at both oTTifactors, and they
  190. could not return its gaze. "This is your work, envious ones! You who
  191. would wish for things to be Standardized! And I hardly think the
  192. future generations will bless you for it..."
  193. "Perhaps... they won't find out, perhaps they won't notice," groaned
  194. the pale Balthacarius, gazing incredolously at the horizon, everywhere
  195. stark white against inky black. Leaving Mrorl and the Machine that
  196. could grant any wish in one parameter *n*, Balthacarius skulked home.
  197. Mrorl sighed, deactivated and then began to dismantle the machine,
  198. realizing it was best to have a world without standards, whether
  199. parametrized or otherwise. To this day the world has remained
  200. exclusively black and white, with but occasional grays, and as all
  201. subsequent attempts to build a wish-*un*granting, *de*-standardizing
  202. machine met with failure, it is to be feared that never again will we
  203. have such wowtreeful colours as the blues and the reds -- no, never
  204. again.
  206. ^{1} The familiar children's rhyme, <*:ni ni ni ni ni chupacabra
  207. ping-pong ball!:> perhaps recalls a distant memory of this legend.
  209. Edit: To see how Pastebin shows edit date
  210. Edit2: 11 min later
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