Saturday, 27 December 2014

This Our Reality

You can’t be serious,” the Doctor Professor said. “He can’t possibly have claimed that.”

“But he did.” His assistant cocked her pretty head at the computer screen. “See for yourself.”

The Doctor Professor leaned over her shoulder and peered myopically at the screen. “So he did,” he confirmed. “That’s certainly very curious. Very.”

“This won’t do his reputation any good,” the assistant, who was young and ambitious, observed. “And he says this is the most important discovery in the history of the human race!”

“No, it won’t.” The Doctor Professor took off his white lab coat – an unnecessary indulgence in his line of research, but one he affected as a kind of homage to the giants of the field – and headed for the door. Halfway there he stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Well?”

“What, Professor?”

“Are you coming along? I’m going to see him.”

The assistant furrowed her pretty brow. “Why?”

“Because I know him, and I know he's not stupid,” the Doctor Professor said. “I want to talk to him and find out why he says this. And then we’ll see what we will see.”

The assistant grimaced – with her back to the Doctor Professor, so he wouldn’t see it – and got up from the computer. The old man must be slipping, to go trying to save loonies from themselves.

The fact that the loony in question had been the old man’s favourite research student made no difference at all.


Professor.” Knowall was a big man, who could have been handsome if he had taken the effort to be. Even as he hurried across the office to greet his visitors, he seemed as if he would have fitted into an old film about intrepid young scientists battling an alien menace. “How nice to see you.”

“You know why we’re here,” the Doctor Professor replied without ceremony.

“Of course,” Knowall grinned. “I’ve been expecting you.”

“That’s why you sent me your research paper, I suppose?” The Doctor Professor sat down in the nearest chair with a sigh. “You’re setting yourself up for a whole lot of trouble, Dr Knowall.”

Knowall bowed his head in mock contrition. “Guilty,” he said cheerfully. “But how on earth am I to convince everyone of the truth otherwise? If they mock at me, at least they’ll have to read what I’ve got to say first, don’t they?”

The assistant glanced at the Doctor Professor and back at him. “And once they read what you’ve got to say?”

“Then they’ll either have to try and check my results, and if they do, then they’ll come to the same conclusions.”

The Doctor Professor frowned. “You’re actually serious about this.”

“Of course I am.” Knowall looked from one of them to the other. “Did you think I wasn’t?”

“But it’s so…” the Doctor Professor waved a hand. “So unbelievable. So fantastic.”

“But it’s true.” Knowall leaned forward in his chair earnestly. “I know.”

“How do you…know?”

“I’ve been there,” Knowall told him. “I’ve seen it all for myself. That’s how.”

The Doctor Professor sat back in his chair and rubbed his beard. “Tell me,” he said.


I first had the idea two years ago (Knowall said). I was at a conference listening to research papers which were so pedestrian that my mind began to wander. I began to wish I was anywhere but in that auditorium listening to stuff that was breathtaking in its banality, and cursing whatever fate had put me there. And I began to wish I was in a parallel universe, where I could have been doing something more interesting.

Then I had a startling thought – what if parallel universes actually could be shown to exist? What if we could visit them?

Once I thought that, other ideas began following in its trail, thick and fast. I scarcely remembered what happened during the rest of the conference. I didn’t even wait for dinner.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. Sitting at my laptop, I hammered out ideas and thoughts, and by morning I’d convinced myself that what I’d initially taken to be the fancy of an idle mind was not just possible – but testable.

I won’t take up time now in detailing the slow and tortuous steps by which I conducted my research. The details are all there in that flash drive. I’ve kept them ready for you, to take back and check for yourselves. For two years, I scarcely paused but to eat and sleep. I spent all my research grants, sucked my own bank account almost dry, and yet success seemed as far as ever.

And then one day I had my breakthrough. All along I’d been imagining that parallel universes were alongside us, sharing our own three-dimensional spacetime. But suppose they weren’t. Suppose – just suppose – they were in completely different dimensions. Then what?

Once I’d thought of that, I knew which way I had to go.

You're familiar with transdimensional theory, I take it? Each dimension is at right angles to all the others, so a fourth dimension would be at right angles to our three, and a fifth dimension at right angles to those four, and so on. I'd have to twist anything through ninety degrees if I wanted to send it across a dimensional boundary. That turned out to be less difficult than I thought it would be, once I accepted the fact that it could be done at all.

So I designed a machine. It wasn’t a large machine, just a tiny model. Here.  It doesn’t look like much, does it, for something that can twist space through ninety degrees? But it works. How it works!

I remember the scene exactly. For my first working experiment I’d decided to use something small, that I could send across without too much effort. After some time I selected a pencil eraser. I plugged in my machine to the mains, put the eraser in the pan here, pushed that lever there, and my eraser twisted, blurred and disappeared.

Well, no, it didn’t altogether disappear. A tiny smudge was left, floating in the air above the pan – the cross section of the eraser which was still in our universe. Because, as I'm sure you'll understand, anything can exist in a lower dimension only as a cross section of itself, just as you have to slice an apple to make it lie flat along the same plane as a sheet of paper.

Can you imagine my mental state at that moment, when I knew that I had won? If my efforts had been frenetic till that moment, they redoubled, trebled in intensity. I spent all I had, I borrowed recklessly, and I finally built the machine I have in a warehouse down by the river. The address is there in the flash drive too.

What is it like? Imagine a larger version of this machine here, but with an enclosed seat, in a bubble cockpit with heat and oxygen. I couldn’t know what it would be like across, of course. I’d sent over rats and mice, and brought them back alive and seemingly unharmed. But a rat or mouse doesn’t exactly have the same physiological requirements as a human.

Of course I took other precautions. For one thing, I put my machine on a timer. If I wasn’t – voluntarily – back within five minutes of crossing over, it would bring me back on its own. Five minutes, I considered, was good enough for a first trip. If it went well, I could always go back again.

And so the day finally came when I could send myself across. I sat in the capsule, set my instruments, pulled on my levers, and sat back to see what would happen.

The first thing I noticed was the shimmer. It spread from the centre of my visual field., as though the air was breaking into pieces, shards of light flowing out and falling together. The light felt as though it was invading my body, twisting my nerves and breaking them, showering through me in a cloud of a million million photons. The light grew until it seemed I could not bear it any more without bursting into flames, and just at the point where I had reached out for the emergency button to stop the process and bring me back, the light faded.

It faded so quickly that I thought I’d gone blind. And then something else came to take its place – something I can’t categorise as light, because it didn’t have any obvious source as in this universe. But, in its radiation, I could see.

And what I saw turned my entire concept of reality upside down. What I saw made me, for a long moment, wish I’d never come, that I’d never even begun thinking of parallel universes. But the panic faded, and what replaced it was wonder.

What was it like? I can’t describe it fully in terms you could grasp, because it was in a completely different dimension, at right angles to ours. But I’ll do my best.

Think distance. Distance endless, with no horizon to mark an end, distance which went on so far that it stretches literally forever. Far, far, away, there were many indeterminate smears of luminescence which I could not make out clearly.  Later, thinking it over, I decided that they may have been the stars.

But I had no time to think about the distance then, or the smears of light. For there in front of me, stretching in all directions as far as my eyes could see, was something. It’s not possible to describe what it was, except by analogy. Think of an endless mass of snaking, writhing tubes, stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see, above, below, to your sides, all of them tracing back to a central node. Think of something in the node, a vast and calm intelligence, engaged in actions that are beyond even our puny comprehension. And think of the slow astonishment of that intelligence when it detected my presence – an astonishment far exceeding my own.

I hung among the myriad tubes, regarding this wondrous being, and I felt it turn its enormous intellect towards me. I felt it try and understand what I was, and what I was doing there – and even with all its powers, failing. It was as though I was something to it that not only should not be – I could not be. And as it turned its attention towards me, the capsule and my machine began jerking and twitching, as if it would shake itself to pieces.

Then, fortunately, the timer cut in and the scene dissolved into shards of light. The next thing I knew, I was back in my warehouse, and the familiar walls looked back at me.


I’m sure you’ll understand,” Knowall said, “why I decided to talk to you before I gave out my discovery to the world.”

The Doctor Professor’s jaw worked. “Why, man, if this thing you say is true – you understand the implications of what you’re saying?”

“At least as well as you do, Professor.” Knowall leaned back in his chair. “That’s why I called it the most important discovery in the history of the human race.”

“You’ll need,” the Doctor Professor said grimly, “protection from lynch mobs.”

Knowall suddenly looked thoughtful. “You know, I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose you’re right. It can’t be helped, though.”

The assistant looked back and forth from one to the other. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Why should he need protection from lynch mobs, even if this thing exists?”

The Doctor Professor barely glanced at her. “Don’t you understand? This – creature, or machine, or whatever he’s described. What do you think it was?”

“God?” The assistant frowned. “But that’s impossible.”

“Of course it wasn’t a god,” Knowall laughed shortly. “It wasn’t even aware that I existed. It couldn’t even begin to comprehend how I’d reached to where it was. And when it tried to feel what I was, all it managed to do was almost shake me to pieces. What does that tell you?”

The assistant shook her head silently.

“Think of why people throughout history,” Knowall said, “have felt their lives not to be their own. Think of why philosophers have given names to the forces they said were controlling them – Fates, Karma, Furies, whatever best seemed to explain what was otherwise beyond their comprehension. And then think of something at right angles to our spacetime, engaged in its own inscrutable purposes, not knowing a thing about us, as astonished that we exist as we would be if this sheet of paper here disgorged something that came out and looked us in the face.

“Lady, don’t you understand? That thing across the dimensions is working at something we cannot even begin to understand. As for us, we are merely…”

“Its tubes,” the Doctor Professor finished. “We are merely its tubes, moving around in this our reality.”

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2014

1 comment:

  1. I tend to prefer ruminating on parallel universes to other dimensions... mostly because I can't really get my head around the dimensions thing.

    I mean, I've read a little physics... and "Flatland"... and I sort of get the object moving through a plane analogy. The best visual I've read, though, is Vonnegut's time thing from "Slaughterhouse 5." People's lives viewed as the object - through time. People as a centipede of sorts, with a baby on one end and an old person on the other, but one being.


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