Science Fiction Challenge/Mnemtronium/Part 2

They dined at a table for five on the upper floor of the Campus Tower Hotel. The restaurant had no windows, but the walls were video displays that showed the adjacent Dock District no matter which direction you looked. Davuk could look between Dr. Taloqua and Dr. Morrisen and watch the lights of ships on the Bay.

To Davuk's left was Dr. Famatalan, a particle physicist. To the right, Dr. Wadd, a cosmologist. After the introductions, Dr. Wadd had suggested that they drop the use of titles and have an informal chat over dinner. Dr. Wadd looked like she was old enough to be a great grandmother, but she had clear, darting eyes that burned with the fires of a curious child. She said, "Please call me Nasha."

Dr. Famatalan pretended to offer Davuk needed male camaraderie, "When Nasha speaks of informal chat you should brace for excruciatingly erudite discourses on obscure proofs of theorems in theoretical physics. Come sit next to me lad, and I'll translate. I'll spare you my first name- my friends call me Allatin."

Dr. Morrisen introduced Davuk to Dr. Taloqua, referring to her as Maataa Taloqua. Allatin took Davuk by the arm and led the way to their table. "Don't bother to ask, Dr. Morrisen has no first name. Have you looked at her publications? Even there she is just L. F. Morrisen. For a time I called her "Elf", but then I realized she likes that nickname."

They spoke drink orders into the table and then Dr. Morrisen commented, "Allatin goes out of his way to antagonize people. My first name is very silly and it would delight a misanthrope like Allatin to learn my name and make fun of it. I realized this danger at an early age and never published my name. Allatin is frustrated by my secrecy and he hates calling me "Morrisen". Really, the one name is adequate."

Dr. Wadd put a hand over Davuk's hand. "Ignore them, they are like a foolish married couple. We had dinner with Maataa Taloqua last week and learned all of her secrets. Her first name is Berta, but she prefers to be called "Maataa". So, now, this week we will learn your secrets. Already you favorably impress me by not playing any of these silly games with your name."

Davuk let his fingers interdigitate with Nasha's and for a moment felt that he may have found in her another person who was on his mental "wavelength". But then the sensation faded and he thought again of his childhood friend, Katyin. Memories from his youth flooded back, but he forced them away and concentrated on saying something before his silence grew too long and uncomfortable. "I suppose I've always been puzzled enough by the basic facts of my life that I have not had to turn simple names into games."

Allatin chuckled. "Nasha does not accept that lying is a popular language game. Its a normal social interaction to test what you can lie about and get away with. Some of us lie about our names because it allows us to get in a quick lie even while being introduced to strangers."

Maataa Taloqua spoke quietly, but with force, "Davuk is lucky. He leads a life that is mysterious enough not to need the kinds of silly games others turn to in attempts to fight boredom."

Allatin shook his head, "What do you mean? Belief in ESP is not new, not mysterious. Read Dr. Morrisen's mind and tell us her first name, then I might listen to your stories about ESP. And you, Maataa Taloqua, die and come back from the dead....then I might believe in your past-lives nonsense."

Nasha squeezed Davuk's hand. "Ignore him. He denies the reality of anything not published in a physics journal. Morrisen says your ESP beliefs led you to participate in our little science project. Do you read minds?"

Davuk shrugged. "Today when Dr. Morrisen was talking about the unconscious, I had the thought that maybe everyone has ESP, but it remains in the unconscious. Maybe some of us find it easier to bring the ESP part of brain activity into consciousness."

Allatin skoffed. "Maybe some find it easier to play games with self-deception rather than lying to others."

Maataa Taloqua assured Davuk, "He was just as rude to me last week. Allatin is a skeptic. He is afraid to admit that the world might be more complicated than the mechanical system his science of physics studies."

Allatin defended himself. "I'm ready to believe evidence."

Dr. Morrisen said, "Davuk seems to think that maybe our research on hibatons can provide evidence that the brain powers a communication channel beyond the usual senses."

Allatin shrugged. "We know that is the case. Most large brained animals use the Sun's stream of hibatons as a source of orienting information, a beacon. Human worship of the Sun may be coupled to emotional responses triggered by hibaton receptors in the brain."

Maataa Taloqua began to ask a question but a pair of robots arrived with their drinks. After they were done serving, she said, "What about the soul? Could hibatons propagate our thoughts into a future without our carbon-based bodies, the future time after our deaths? Could hibatons bring us information and knowledge of past lives?"

"Bah!" Allatin threw up his hands in disgust. "How about some evidence? It is far easier for me to imagine that you just think you are experiencing past lives. What if Davuk just imagines that he experiences extra-sensory communication when in reality his own brain is playing tricks on him?"

Dr. Morrisen suggested, "But what if hibatons are what causes some people to believe in life after death and communication between minds by channels beyond the usual senses? Then maybe it is to be expected that participants in our study of how brains detect hibatons will be more likely to report contact with other minds."

Nasha asked, "But how would that work? How could anything as complex as memories and thoughts be sent between two brains in the form of hibatons? And what could send a signal of any kind after a brain dies?"

Dr. Morrisen added, "And how could we produce evidence for such signals if they did exist"?

Davuk tasted his drink and wondered about hibatons and the sense of connectedness he continued to feel. He let go of Nasha's hand and looked out at the Bay. His gaze shifted to Maataa Taloqua and he suddenly felt sure that he was feeling a link to her. Maataa Taloqua stared at him and a small grin appeared on her face.

Davuk had long imagined the possibility of finding someone else who not only was on his mental "wavelength" but also was able to sense that linkage in the same way. Davuk restrained his desire to confirm that Dr. Taloqua also felt the connection between them, but with a skeptic like Dr. Famatalan present, it just was not worth getting into.

Davuk turned his attention to the menu and placed an order for his dinner.

Dr. Wadd and Dr. Morrisen described a study they had once done together attempting to demonstrate that human thoughts could influence the activity of a quantum computer. The results were all negative, but that research had been done before the brain's hibaton receptor system was charted.

The robots returned and served them their meals. Dr. Morrisen ate a few bites then asked Davuk, "You did not answer Nasha's question; is what you experience a reading of another person's mind?"

Davuk shook his head. "I never said that I can read minds. It is not a matter of information exchange over a data channel. It is a sensation of connectedness."

Dr. Famatalan suggested, "Then we should be able to design a test that would allow us to demonstrate the existence of this connection."

Davuk shrugged. "If it were easy, I would have made such a demonstration long ago."

Dr. Famatalan noisily slammed down his fork, frowned and asked sarcastically, "And this is where you claim that you cannot make such a demonstration to skeptics because of their negative energy?"

Davuk chuckled. "No, I've never thought that there is any way to interfere with this mysterious sense of connectedness. Walls do not stop it and distance seems irrelevant. However, there is a phenomenon that I would call 'misdirection'. Sometimes when the sensation is awakened for the first time-"

Dr. Wadd interrupted, "Awakened? What does that mean? This extrasensory perception comes and goes? It is not reproducible?"

Davuk was all too familiar with the difficulty of trying to explain the "color" of an experience that others could not experience for themselves. "That's not what I said. If anything, it is a problem that the sensation is too constant. It is always there."

Dr. Taloqua asked, "Like a sound or odor that is always there? Your mind stops paying attention to it?"

Davuk asked a question of his own. "Does someone suffering from chronic pain stop feeling the pain? I suppose they just learn to live with the constant sensation of pain. For me, when this sensation of connectedness "awakens" I mean that I begin to associate it with a particular person. Imagine entering a noisy room. From outside you hear a mix of many voices. You enter the room and you can begin to associate individuals with particular voices."

Dr. Morrisen asked, "So do all of us have a unique "voice" that you can hear?"

Davuk frowned. "That was just an analogy. What I experience is not at all like a sound and it is not a matter of each person I feel connected to having a unique signal. I use the phrase 'my wavelength' because the connectedness comes to me in the same way for multiple people, like a single featureless carrier wave. I suppose you might have your own 'unique voice', but I cannot tune into your 'wavelength'. There is only a small subset of people that I feel connected to and I connect to them all in the same way."

Dr. Wadd asked, "How small is 'small'? How many people are you in contact with right now?"

Davuk replied, "I do not know. I think I have always been connected to the same small subset of humanity, but through my life I have found more and more of these people who are on my 'wavelength'. With each such contact I become more sophisticated in making 'the link", that is, identifying new acquaintances who are on my 'wavelength'. That is a learned skill, but the basic ability to feel the sensation is innate."

Dr. Morrisen began to speak, "It happen-", but then fell silent.

Dr. Famatalan was also speaking at the same time and did not even notice Dr. Morrisen. "So if we marched test subjects behind a curtain, you should be able to reproducibly tell us when one of your soul mates is on the other side, even if you cannot see or hear them."

Davuk shook his head. "Sorry, but it does not work like that. There is no directionality to this sensation of connectedness. It is just there. Everywhere."

Dr. Famatalan raised an eyebrow, "Then how do you single out individuals as being on your 'wavelength'?"

Davuk chuckled. "How do you 'single out' the people you fall in love with? It is through interacting with them. You associate a sensation of love with their being...with the patterns of behavior of particular individuals. Can you explain why you love one person and not another? I suppose these things are a matter of complex unconscious brain activity. It just happens." Davuk looked back at Dr. Morrisen. "You were saying something, Dr. Morrisen?"

Dr. Morrisen shrugged. "I have a rather personal question. I thought better of asking it in such a public conversation."

Dr. Wadd said, "I know Morrisen well enough that I think I can guess what is on her mind. She has the bad habit of getting personally involved with study participants and then remembering that she has a doctor-patient relationship to protect."

Davuk nodded. "Look, I came here -to join this study- because I want answers. I agreed to come here tonight with the hope that this could be the start of an adventure in which we will all cooperate to make discoveries. In particular, I want the honest views of each of you," he looked at Dr. Famatalan, "Even if you think I'm crazy. I do not think of myself as a patient. I'd be honored if you could all think of me as a research colleague." He looked back at Dr. Morrisen, "So please, tell me what is on your mind."

Dr. Morrisen still hesitated. Dr. Wadd said, "When we first got here, we held hands for a while, then you pulled you hand away. Then you started breathing fast and looked at Maataa Taloqua."

Dr. Morrisen added, "Davuk, you said, 'It just happens.' It happened here tonight didn't it?"

Davuk looked at Dr. Taloqua and wondered if she cared that this topic was being discussed. Dr. Taloqua said, "I've never experienced the feeling of 'connectedness' that Davuk described, but I do have what might be related experiences....usually when I dream. But what can happen to me when I am awake is what is a form of déjà vu in which I feel that I have known someone before.....even though we just met."

Davuk explained, "When we sat down here tonight I experienced a rapid 'awakening' of my sense of connectedness. Maataa Taloqua is 'on my wavelength' and I sensed that she also felt some kind of connection to me. I'm a bit disappointed to hear that she does not experience the connection in the same way I do. But still, this is exciting....I've never had anyone tell me that they felt some..." Not sure what word to use, Davuk paused.

Dr. Taloqua suggested, "Paranormal connection?"

Davuk nodded. "But I would not call déjà vu 'paranormal'. It has been studied by neurologists."

Dr. Taloqua shrugged. "I suppose it is a matter of degree. Most people would not call 'feeling connectedness' a paranormal phenomenon. All normal people have feelings of connectedness to others."

Dr. Famatalan added, "And it is easy for me to imagine that Davuk just fails to process these feelings of connectedness in the same way that most people do."

Dr. Morrisen held up her hands. "Here is the question we must address. How do we conduct this research project so as to maximize the chance that we might recognize connections between the brain's hibaton receptor system and any unusual sensations or paranormal experiences reported by study participants? We are using the study participants as sensitive instruments....we are relying on them to provide us with reports of their subjective experiences so that we can look for correlations between those experiences and our objective measures of brain activity. But the problem is, we," She looked at Dr. Famatalan and Dr. Wadd, "The study designers, are blind to these paranormal experiences. We have to rely on you," She looked at Davuk and Dr. Taloqua, "To make sure that we do not miss important data just because we are blind to it. You are our 'eyes'. We need you to be colleagues and help us make sure that this research is done correctly, so as not to miss anything important."

Dr. Famatalan protested, "We'll never get our results published if we include a bunch of irreproducible "feelings" and fantasies."

Davuk suggested, "If we are going to discover something new, something dramatically new in the world of science, we need to keep open minds, but not so open that we abandon proper skepticism and standards of testing evidence."

Dr. Wadd cautioned, "If we start down this road you must keep your expectations under control. If we do not manage to collect more than anectodal first-hand reports, those anecdotes will not pass peer review. You have to be prepared to walk away unsatisfied."

Davuk nodded, "Fair enough."