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His Master's Voice, Page 21

Stanisław Lem

  Baloyne, perhaps because he felt that it was not suitable, in a meeting with the people of the Alter-Project, to stick to our old "aristocratic" structure—the division between the all-knowing élite and the poorly informed pawns of the collective—or perhaps just because he believed that what we were to hear would be revelational—organized a lecture meeting for more than a thousand of our workers. If Lerner and Sylvester were aware of the hostility of those assembled, they gave no indication of it. In any case, their behavior was impeccable.

  Their research—Lerner emphasized in his introduction—was purely theoretical in nature; they had not been given, except for the stellar code itself and general information about Frog Eggs, any details, and their purpose had not at all been to set up some "parallel experiment," or to compete with us, but only to approach His Master's Voice differently, having in mind exactly the sort of confrontation of views which was taking place now.

  He did not stop for applause—just as well, since there would have been none—but went straight to the matter, and proceeded quite lucidly; he won me over with both his talk and his person—and won others, too, judging by the reaction in the auditorium.

  Being a cosmogonist, he had worked on cosmogony—in its Hubblian variant and Hayakawan modification (Hayakawan, and mine, too, if I might say so, though I had merely done the mathematical wickerwork for the bottles into which Hayakawa poured new wine). I will try to give a sketch of his thesis and convey, if I am able, something of the tone of the lecture, which more than once was interrupted by remarks from the audience, because a dry summary would lack all the charm of the conception. The mathematics, of course, I omit—although it played its part.

  "I see it this way," he said. "The Universe is a thing that pulses, that contracts and dilates in alternation, every thirty billion years… When it contracts, it eventually reaches a state of collapse in which space itself disintegrates, becoming folded up and locked not only around stars, as in the case of the Schwarzschild sphere, but around all particles, the elementary included! Since the 'joint' space between the atoms ceases to exist, obviously the physics known to us also disappears, its laws undergo transformation… This null-space cluster contracts further, and then—speaking figuratively—the whole turns inside out, into the realm of forbidden energy states, into 'negative space,' so that it is not nothingness, but less than nothingness—mathematically, at least!

  "Our actual world does not have antiworlds—that is, it has them periodically, once in thirty billion years. 'Antiparticles' are, in our world, only the trace of those catastrophes, an ancient relic, and also, of course, an arrow pointing to the next catastrophe. But there remains—to continue the metaphor—a kind of 'umbilicus,' in which still pounds the remnant of the unextinguished matter, the embers of that dying Universe; it is a fissure between the vanishing 'positive' space, this space that is ours, and the other, the negative… The fissure remains open; it neither grows nor closes, because it is continually forced apart by radiation—by neutrino radiation! Which is like the last sparks of the bonfire, and from which begins the next phase, because, when 'what was reversed' has come to the limit of its 'inside-out' expansion and created an 'antiworld,' and extended it, it begins to contract again and break back through the fissure, first in neutrino radiation, which is the hardest and most stable, because at that point there is no light yet, only, besides the neutrino radiation, ultrahigh gamma! What begins again to swell spherically and form the expanding Universe is a spreading, globe-shaped neutrino wave, and that wave is at the same time the matrix of creation for all the particles that will occupy the soon-to-be-born Universe; it carries them with it, but only potentially, in that it possesses sufficient energy for their materialization!

  "But when this Universe is in full swing, with its nebulae flung wide, as ours is now, there are still stray echoes in it of the neutrino wave that brought it into being, AND THIS IS HIS MASTER'S VOICE! From the gust that forced its way through the 'fissure,' from that neutrino wave arose the atoms, the stars and planets, the nebulae and the metagalaxies; and this eliminates the 'problem of the letter.'… Nothing was sent to us by 'neutrino telegraph' from another civilization; at the other 'end' there is No One, and no transmitter, nothing but the cosmic pulse from that 'rupture.' It is only an emission produced by processes that are purely physical, natural, and totally uninhabited, therefore devoid of any linguistic character, of content, of meaning… This emission provides a permanent link between the successive worlds, the expiring and the newly created; it connects them energetically and informationally; thanks to it, a continuity is preserved, there are nonaccidental, regular repetitions; therefore one can say that this neutrino stream is the 'seed' of the next Universe, that this is a kind of metagenesis or alternation of generations, separated by macrocosmic time, but in the analogy there is, of course, no biological content. Neutrinos are the seeds from disintegration only because, of all the particles, they are the most stable. Their indestructibility guarantees the cyclic return of genesis, its repetitions…"

  He put all this much more exactly, of course, supporting it, when possible, with calculations. During the lecture it grew very quiet in the hall; when he finished, the attacks began.

  Questions were thrown at him: How did he explain the "life-causing" property of the signal? How did it originate? Was it, according to him, a "pure accident"? And, most of all—where did we get Frog Eggs from?

  "Yes, I've thought about this," Lerner replied. "You ask me who planned it, composed it, and sent it. If not for that life-causing side of the emission, life in the Galaxy would have been an extraordinarily rare phenomenon! But now I ask in turn: What about the physical properties of water? Had water at a temperature of four degrees Celsius been lighter than water at zero, and had ice not floated, all bodies of water on Earth would have frozen bottom-to-top, and no aquatic creatures would have been able to survive outside the equatorial zone. And had water had a different dielectric constant, not as high, protein molecules would not have been able to form in it, and therefore there could not have been protein-based life. Yet does anyone ask, in science, whose helping hand intervened here, and who gave water its dielectric constant or provided for the relative lightness of its ice? No one asks, because we consider such questions to be meaningless. Had water had other properties, either a nonprotein form of life would have arisen or else no life at all. By the same token, one cannot ask who sent the biophilic emission. It increases the probability of survival for macromolecular bodies, and this is either the same sort of accident, if you like, or the same sort of inevitability that has made water a substance 'favoring life.' The whole problem should be turned around, set right side up, and then it will read as follows: Thanks to the fact that water possesses these properties, and thanks to the fact that in the Universe there exists a radiation that stabilizes biogenesis, life can arise and oppose the growth of entropy more effectively than it would otherwise.…"

  "Frog Eggs!" came shouts. "Frog Eggs!"

  I was afraid that at any minute a chant would start. The auditorium already had reached the heat of a boxing match.

  "Frog Eggs? You know better than I that there was no success in reading the so-called letter as a whole, but only its 'fragments'—from which Frog Eggs came into being. This shows that as a meaningful whole the letter does not exist outside your imagination, and that Frog Eggs was simply the result of an extraction of information inherent in the neutrino stream, information that something could be done with. Through the 'fissure between the worlds,' between the one dying and the one being born, burst a ball of neutrino radiation, expanding like a soap bubble; this wave had sufficient energy to 'inflate' the next Universe, and the front of the wave is impregnated with information inherited, as it were, from the phase that has ended. Now, in this wave lies the information that created the atoms, as I already said, and the information that 'favors' biogenesis, and in addition it has segments that from our standpoint 'serve no purpose,' that are 'worthless.' Water possesses
properties like those I mentioned, that 'favor' life, and properties that are indifferent to life, as for example transparency; water could have been nontransparent, and this would have had no significance for the emergence of life. Just as one cannot ask, 'And who made water transparent?' one cannot ask, 'Who wrote the program for Frog Eggs?' It is one of the properties of the given Universe, a property that we may study—like the transparency of water—but that has no 'extraphysical' meaning."

  There was an uproar in the hall. Finally Baloyne asked how, then, Lerner explained the circular repetition of the signal, and the fact that all the rest of the emission spectrum for neutrino radiation in the sky was ordinary noise, while in that single, solitary band lay so much information.

  "But that is simple," replied the cosmogonist, who seemed to be deriving pleasure from the general stir. "Initially the entire emission was concentrated precisely in that band, since it was precisely at that point on the spectrum that it was 'sharpened' by the 'fissure between the worlds,' and compressed, and modulated, like a stream of water in a narrow opening. At the beginning there was a needle-band, nothing more! Then, as a result of dispersion, scattering, desynchronization, diffraction, deflection, interference—a greater and greater amount became diffused, blurred, until finally, after billions of years of the existence of our Universe, from that primal information there resulted noise; and from the sharp focus there resulted a broad energy spectrum, because in the meantime the 'secondary' noise generators of neutrinos—the stars—had become activated. What we are receiving, as the letter, is the remainder of the 'umbilicus,' the remnant that has not yet undergone dissolution, that has not altogether merged with the countless reflections and currents that go from corner to corner of the Metagalaxy. The present (and omnipresent) norm is noise—not information. But at the moment of the creation of our Universe, at its violent birth, the neutrino bubble contained within it full information about all that physically was to arise from it; and precisely because it represents a relic of an epoch that has left no discernible trace of itself other than this, it seems to us astoundingly different from the phenomena of 'ordinary' matter and radiation."

  It was clever, all right, the pretty, logically coherent construction that he put before us. Then followed the mathematical portion; he showed what features the "fissure between the worlds" would need to have in order to correspond exactly, as a "matrix," to the place in the neutrino spectrum where the emission, or what we called the "stellar code," was situated. It was a nice piece of work; he brought in resonance theory, and was even able to provide an explanation in his lecture for the constant repetition of the signal, and for the location—that radiant of Canis Minor—from which the alleged letter came.

  I took the floor then and said that actually it was he who had stood the matter on its head, because he refashioned the whole Universe to fit the letter, simply making the "dimensions" of this fissure of his such that they would correspond to the given energetics of the signal, and he even altered the geometry of his made-to-order, ad hoc cosmos so that the direction from which the "signal" came would turn out to be a thing of chance.

  Lerner, smiling, admitted that to a certain extent I was right. But, he added, if not for his "fissure" the successive worlds would come and go with no connection between them; each would be different—that is, might be different; or the Universe might remain permanently in the "antiworld," null-energy phase, and that would be the end of all creation, of all possible worlds—we would not exist, nor the stars above us, and there would be no one to rack his brains over what did not take place… But it had, after all, taken place. The monstrous complexity of the letter was explained in this way: the unimaginable concentration of the "death throes" caused the dying world, just as a man gave up the ghost, to "give up" its information; this information did not suffer destruction; instead—owing to laws unknown to us, because physics must have ceased in that compression, that discontinuity-dissociation of space—it fused with what still existed: with the neutrino node within the very "fissure."

  Baloyne, who chaired the meeting, asked us if we wished to begin a discussion then and there, or first hear Sylvester. We voted for the second, out of curiosity, of course. Lerner I knew a little, having met him once or twice at Hayakawa's, but Sylvester I had never even heard of. He was a small young man with a pasty face—which is of absolutely no importance.

  He began in a vein surprisingly similar to Lerner's. The Universe was a pulsing entity, with alternating phases of blue contractions and red expansions. Each phase took around thirty billion years. In the red phase, that of the retreating nebulae, after a sufficient dispersal of matter and the cooling of planetary bodies, life formed on them and sometimes gave rise to intelligent species. When the dilation ended and the Universe began to converge centripetally, gradually, in that blue phase, there resulted enormous temperatures and increasingly hard radiation, which destroyed all the living matter that in the course of the preceding two billion years had succeeded in covering the planets. Obviously, in the red phase—as in this one in which we have come into being—there existed civilizations at varying levels of development. And there must have existed those that excelled technologically; those that, with their advanced sciences, including cosmogony, were cognizant of their own future—and the future of the Universe. Such civilizations—or, for convenience, let us say such a civilization—situated in some particular nebula, therefore knew that the process of organization would pass its peak and the process of universal destruction would commence, in growing heat. If the civilization possessed far more knowledge than we, it would also be able, to some extent, to foresee the continuation of events after the "blue end of the world," and if it enriched its knowledge even more, then it would be able to affect that future state…

  Again there was a buzz of voices. Sylvester was offering nothing more or less than a theory of the control of the cosmogonic process!

  The astrobiologist assumed, along with Lerner, that a "two-cycle cosmic engine" was totally indeterminate—because, particularly in the compression phase, major indeterminacies would result from the changes, basically random, in the distribution of mass, and from the variable process of annihilation. Thus, what "type" of Universe would emerge from the next contraction could not be accurately predicted. We were acquainted with this difficulty on a miniature scale, because we could not predict, or calculate, the course of turbulence phenomena, the sort that gave rise to whirling (as, for example, in water breaking on a reef). Thus the particular "red Universes," that resulted, each in turn, from the blue, could differ so much among themselves that the type realized at present, in which life was possible, might constitute an ephemeral, never-to-be-repeated state, or one that would be followed by a long series of nothing but lifeless pulsations.

  Such a horoscope might not suit that high civilization, and so it would undertake to change the vision of eternity as an everlasting graveyard, now heated, now cooling—to change it through appropriate astroengineering manipulations. Preparing itself for the extermination that awaited it, the civilization could "program" a star or a system of stars, modifying in a fundamental way the energetics of that system, turning it into a kind of neutrino laser ready to fire—or, rather, arranging that it would become such a laser only at the moment when the tensors of gravitation, the parameters of temperature, the pressure, and so forth exceeded certain maximum values—when physics itself, the physics of that given Universe, began to crumble! Then this dying constellation would be converted entirely, "triggered" by phenomena that would release its accumulated energy, into a single, black neutrino flash—programmed with the utmost precision and care! Being the hardest and most inertial of the radiations, this monotonic neutrino wave would serve not only as the death knell of the extinguished Universe but at the same time would become the seed of the next phase, because it would participate in the formation of the new elementary particles. Moreover, the directive "stamped in the star" would include biophilia—the increasing of the chance of
the birth of life.

  Thus, in this spirited picture, the stellar code was revealed to be a transmission sent into the sphere of our Universe—from the Universe that came before it. The Senders, therefore, had not existed for at least thirty billion years. They fashioned the "message" so well that it survived the annihilation of their Cosmos; and their message, joining the processes of the succeeding creation, set in motion the evolution of life on the planets. We, too, were Their children…

  An ingenious notion! The "signal" was no letter at all; its "life-giving" virtue did not represent one "aspect" as opposed to the "content." It was only that we, according to our custom, had sought to separate what could not be separated. The signal—or, rather, the causal pulse—began first with a "tuning" of the cosmic material, newly resurrected, in order that there would arise particles with the desired properties (desired from the point of view of that civilization, of course), and when astrogenesis had got under way, and with it planetogenesis, other structural features became "activated," features present at the beginning within the pulse but till now having no "addressee"; only then did they begin to manifest their ability to assist the birth of life. And since it was "easier" to increase the overall chance of survival for large molecules than to direct and govern the formation of the most elementary building blocks of matter, we discovered the first effect as separate and "nonsemantic," while giving to the second, the atom-creative part, the name of "letter."