Read an Excerpt
By John Norman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 John Norman
All rights reserved.
Herjellsen's device was deceptively simple.
Had he not been insane, had he not been an isolate, lonely, scorned, maddened, dissociated and crazed, the uniqueness, the simplicity of it, would doubtless not have occurred to him.
It was irrational.
It was as irrational as existence, that there should be such. The void was rational, space, emptiness. That there should be anything, gods or particles, that was the madness.
That there should be anything, that was the madness.
Dr. B. Hamilton, mathematician, Ph.D. California Institute of Technology, looked up, fingering the pencil.
It seemed startling, wondrous, that it should be.
As wondrous as suns and stars, the passage of light, and the slow turnings in the night of luminous galaxies.
Who could have predicted that there should be being? From what discursive statements of initial conditions and laws should such a prediction follow? And in the nothingness what entities might serve as values for those individual constants, and as values for those variables, for in the void there was nothing.
From nothing can come nothing.
Dr. Hamilton lit a cigarette, and drew on it, angrily, defensively.
But smoke cannot screen thoughts from themselves.
It did not appear to be a truth of logic, a matter of the meanings of words, or even of the possibilities of thought, that nothing could come from nothing.
Surely one could imagine nothing, and then something. It was imaginable, and whatever is imaginable is logically possible, conceptually possible.
Yet in some sense it did seem true, so true, that from nothing could come nothing.
It made no sense to call it a necessary truth, for its negation was semantically consistent, conceptually possible, and yet it seemed, somehow a strong truth, a likely truth.
Astronomers had speculated that, even now, matter grew, forming in the blackness.
Dr. Hamilton studied the smoke. It drifted upward toward the fluorescent tubes, lit from the compound's generator.
If it could come into being, there seemed little reason to suppose it might not be doing so still.
But it did not seem likely.
The quantity of matter-energy in the universe remains constant.
This was an article of faith, of a transient science in a provisional epoch. But it might be true.
But if it were true then matter, or its forms, or energy, or its forms, of which particles and smoke might be illustrations, and music and worlds, then the substance—whatever it might be—was eternal, coeval with space. There was nowhere for it to come from, nowhere for it to go.
Dr. Hamilton crushed the cigarette out
Who was to say what was, ultimately, rational or irrational, for these are anthropomorphic predicates, indexed to the brain of an evolving primate, only within the last few thousand years discovering itself in the midst of mysteries.
The lights in the bleak room dimmed and then again waxed bright and soft.
Gunther, with William, Herjellsen supervising, was busy in the hut.
There was not a great deal of power needed for the apparatus. The compound generator produced ample power.
Hamilton speculated, smiling. Electric power, from a gasoline-driven engine, no more than five hundred volts, was ample to the needs of the crazed Herjellsen.
Hamilton did not care for Hegel. Yet the thought, that of Hegel, was difficult to dismiss. We are where the world has opened its eyes.
We were the first animal, to our knowledge, to wonder, to seek to learn, the first to seek not only love and food, but truth.
Men had found truths, in their millions, in its pebbles and grains, but he had not yet found its mountains.
Herjellsen had looked in a different direction. If he had not, he would not have seen what he had.
Herjellsen was mad, but he had seen it, where others had not.
It had come to him in the night, in his cell in Borga. He had screamed and laughed, demented in the cell, tearing the blankets, biting at his own flesh, shrieking with joy.
Hamilton recalled that Kekule's hypothesis, of the ring theory of the benzene molecule, had come to him in sleep, in a dream, frought with twisting snakes, before his own hearth. Three-quarters of organic chemistry, some thought, derived, directly or indirectly, from Kekule's hypothesis. Herjellsen's had come to him in a madman's ceil. There is no rational procedure for the discovery of hypotheses. There are no machines to produce them. They come as gifts, and sometimes to the mad, to the diseased and crazed, as to Herjellsen. But the procedures for testing hypotheses, be they real hypotheses, if they are genuine hypotheses of science, are public, accessible. The objectivity of science lies not in its genesis, but in its warrants for validity, its procedures for examination and testing, for experiment and confirmation, for, to the extent possible, proof and demonstration. Hamilton was terrified, yet exalted.
It was possible that the Herjellsen conjecture was true.
The preliminary tests had been affirmative.
Again the fluorescent tubing dimmed and then again resumed its normal degree of illumination.
The artifact lay not more than a yard from Hamilton's hand.
It was rounded, chipped, roughly polished; it weighed 2.1 kilograms. Anthropologists would have referred to it as a tool. It was a weapon.
That there was something, that was the madness.
Who was to say what was natural and what was not? That there was something was undeniable.
Its nature had not yet been ascertained.
Hamilton arose, pushing back the chair.
A remark of Julian Huxley was difficult to dismiss from the mind.
The universe may not only be queerer than we suppose, but it may be queerer than we can suppose.
Laughter is the shield. Humor is the buckler against madness, against the mystery, against the immensity. Humanity had little else with which it might protect itself in the forest It had its brains, its hands, a bit of fury, a loneliness for love, and its laughter. And that laughter, like the gravitational field of a pencil on a desk, miniscule and yet profound, might be heard to the ends of space.
We are smaller than stars but the magnitude of our laughter has not yet been measured.
All that we know rests upon a slender data base, our first-person experiences, and nothing else. Each of us in this sense is alone, in his cage of sensation, limited to his own perceptions. And each of us, a perception to the other, builds his view of the world.
Hamilton was lonely.
How do we explain the succession, the continuity of our experiences. We postulate an external world of such-and-such a type. In various times and places we would have entertained postulations quite different from those which are now taken to define the truth, and beyond their perimeters we define madness.
Herjellsen had ventured beyond the perimeters of the given speculations, the customary postulations, those postulations that define not only what answers may be given but what questions may be asked.
Particles and forces, gods and demons, fields, purposes, collisions, all had served, and some still served, to make sense out of the chaos of sensation, that which must be reconciled and accounted for, our experiences.
Science is not a set of answers, Herjellsen had once told Hamilton; it is a methodology.
We learn from Egyptian star charts that the positions of the fixed stars have changed in the past five thousand years.
They change position slowly.
So, too, with the dogmatisms of science; what seemed eternal truth when the Parthenon was fresh seems now but a mood of cognition, a moment of advance, a footstep on a path whose destination is not yet understood.
Perhaps a thousand years from now, Hamilton thought, we will see that our current truths, too, were not the eternal verities we took them for, but rather another step on the same journey, leading perhaps toward a truth we do not now understand and may forever fail to comprehend. We must not despise ourselves, Herjellsen had cried, even though we shall pass, and shall be superseded in our turn, for we are a moment in a grand journey, one that began in the caves and must someday, if we do not slay ourselves, take us to the stars.
I have an appointment, he had laughed, with Arcturus, and with infinities beyond.
But Herjellsen was dying.
He was mad.
Hamilton went to the door of the room, and looked out into the Rhodesian night.
The work of Herjellsen had nothing to do with the stars.
Why should he insist that it did? He was mad.
Hamilton looked back at the artifact on the table. It weighed 2.1 kilograms. Anthropologists would have termed it a tool. It was a weapon.
Herjellsen's work did not have to do with the stars.
What is on the other side of our sensations? Is it truly atoms and the void, or is it an alternative reality?
We may only postulate, and test.
Hamilton could hear the generator now. A black servant was crossing the compound, a box on his shoulder.
There were only two blacks in the compound. The moon seemed bright over the high, wire fence.
Hamilton stepped out on the porch. It would not be wise to stay outdoors too long. It was late in summer.
Hamilton looked at the moon. Then, Hamilton looked at the stars.
There was a reality. It was only that its nature had not yet been ascertained.
It was, Hamilton supposed, a reality beyond contingency or necessity, as we might understand such things. Such predicates were unintelligible in their application to what most profoundly existed. Hamilton thought of Schopenhauer's Wille, never satisfied, violent, craving, inexhaustible, relentless, merciless, demanding, greedful incessant, savage; of Nietzsche's Macht; of the atoms of Lucretius; of the god of Spinoza, one with the terribleness and sublimity of nature. The reality, conjectured Hamilton, is more profound than gods and men. If there be gods, they, too, are its offspring, as much as stones, and twigs and men, as much as the spaniel and the mosasaur, as much as the pain of love, the smile of a child, the gases of Betelgeuse, the. tooth of the shark and the chisel of Michelangelo. It is a reality which may have spawned us, in a moment of bemusement, if only to set us its riddle, to watch us sniff about, and scratch and dig, to try to find truths which it has perhaps, in its irony, not constructed us to understand; the reality, perhaps, once fathering us, has forgotten us, leaving us to one side as a neglected toy, no longer of interest, or perhaps, a sterner father, has abandoned us that we may learn how to grow by ourselves, and be lifted only should we rise upon our own feet; seek me in the godship, it might say; I am waiting for you; but to Hamilton it seemed that the reality, whatever might be its nature, was clearly beyond morality; it was as innocent of morality as the stones of the moon, as the typhus bacillus, as the teeth of the Bengal tiger. The world was built on greed, and on killing, and hunger. To the reality doubtless the barracuda, in its way, was as perfect as the saint. The reality did not choose between them. They were both its children. Hamilton shuddered. The reality was sublime; before it even worship was an affront, a blasphemy. It wanted nothing of men. It needed nothing. It was sufficient unto itself.
But its nature? What was its nature?
Herjellsen did not know, but he had learned that its nature was not as men now thought.
Herjellsen had discovered a small thing. A clue, not well understood.
He did not know, truly, what he was doing.
But he would do it.
I do not understand this, he had said, but I see how I can use it, and I will! I will use it!
Man will go to the stars, Herjellsen had cried.
But what had the stars to do with Herjellsen's work?
Hamilton recalled the artifact lying in the bleak room. It had little to do with the stars.
At best, it lay at the beginning of an infinity.
Yet, like zero, a nothingness, it, like each instant, both initiated and terminated an infinity.
The artifact, like each moment, was an end and a beginning, a pivot between complementary, divergent eternities.
The Romans saw this, in their sternness, their solemnity and sadness, and pride, and called it a god, and called it Janus.
I see two ways, said Herjellsen. I am Janus.
Herjellsen is mad, had laughed Gunther. Hamilton did not doubt that.
But the Herjellsen conjecture? What if it were true?
Heraclitus has seen it, had laughed Herjellsen. Hamilton's thoughts drifted to the ancient Ionian, the poet and philosopher. I had rather discover one cause, had written Heraclitus, than become the King of Persia. He had taught all is fire. A man cannot step twice into the same river.
I believe all is pea soup, had said William. And I have often stepped twice into the same river. I stepped twice into the Thames, and once fell into it while punting.
Hamilton smiled. William made the compound bearable. Hamilton, too, had speculated if all might not be pea soup. It seemed a plausible guess.
Herjellsen had not been offended. That all is transience, flux—fire—is only part of the teachings of Heraclitus, he had told William. And then Herjellsen had quoted the Greek, that swift, liquid tongue sounding strange in the careful, northern accents of Herjellsen—the way up and the way down are the same.
I never doubted it, had admitted William.
Herjellsen had smiled at Hamilton, lifting a fork. And the beginning, he had said, is the end, and the end is the beginning. That is what Heraclitus had seen.
I do not understand, had said Hamilton.
Time does not pass, said Herjellsen. No. It is we who pass.
Hamilton had not responded. Herjellsen, in his late fifties, bald, small eyed, the eyes seeming large behind the thick, ovoid lenses of his wire-rimmed glasses, had peered at Hamilton. Herjellsen was a large man, but short, a broad, short man, with large hands. His head was rounded and unusually large, set on a heavy neck. Yet he seemed gentle. There was usually a sheen of sweat on his forehead and cheeks, and almost always when he spoke. Herjellsen seemed to speak easily, but he was uncomfortable in doing so. He was free only when lost with his own thoughts. He seemed to fear even Hamilton. His speech, with its Finnish accent, was precise and fluent. He rarely, even in English, made a grammatical error or hesitated in his expression, or wavered in the selection of a word or gesture. His mind worked apparently with such rapidity that he spoke as though he had spoken these thoughts before. Hamilton wondered if he had.
What if the Herjellsen conjecture were true?
Hamilton put aside the thought. The conjecture could not be true.
In a sense, though, Hamilton was willing to suppose that he had. He had conceived of them, and examined them, and then rephrased them and organized them, in the lapse of time perhaps of a syllable's utterance, and then, as though they might have been carefully written, he spoke them. Herjellsen seemed a gentle man. It was difficult to believe that he was criminally insane, that he had, in his time, in the course of strange robberies, killed four men.
In the cell at Borga could it have been the truth that he had seen?
But Herjellsen, whatever the flaws of his being, was a scientist. He well knew that self-evidence was a psychological variable, differing idiosyncratically from individual to individual, from culture to culture. Hamilton knew of men to whom it was self-evident that a piece of string forming a closed figure, in any shape, would inclose the same area. Standing on the porch Hamilton quickly lit another cigarette, and watched the lights in the window of the experimental shack. The lights in the small, rectangular, metal-roofed, stuccoed building waxed and waned with the humming whine of the generator. Such obvious falsities could be taken as self- evident by some men, at least for a time, and yet their patent falsity could be in a moment demonstrated empirically. And there had been men who had believed that motion was impossible, for nonbeing could not exist and thus, motion requiring place, or emptiness, or nonbeing, could not exist. To such men the self-evident had withstood the contradictions of their own eyes. Experience must yield to reason; fact to illusion. But Herjellsen was a scientist. He distrusted the light of reason, the flash of intuition, and more sternly in his own case than in that of others. There can be no genuine hypothesis without test. A truth must have its disconfirmation conditions.
Excerpted from Time Slave by John Norman. Copyright © 1975 John Norman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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