Down With The System!
There was no light on that level; only darkness. This was a special kind of darkness; not just the absence of light, but the presence of light’s opposite. It was bright black anti-light; dark energy; inverse illumination. It was what the poet John Milton called Darkness Visible.
In that reverse radiance colors were also inverted. My hair was white and my skin shone blue. It was like being in a photographic negative. It was weird.
Miss Liberty and I were standing on a platform suspended in mid-air by thick metal cables. In that shining shadow we could see that there was an immense machine filling up limitless space all around us.
We shared that platform with a dias. It bore a plaque with this inscription:
Yet Another Mechanical Monster From IDS
- INDUSTRIAL DARKNESS AND SCIENCE -
“Where Reason Sleeps”
I looked up from the ad to study the machine itself.
It was an immense Babbage Device. That is to say, it was an Analytical Engine. In other words, it was a genuine mechanical computer! Its 1's and 0's, its yesses and noes, were encoded by the positions of its sprockets, cams, cogs, and trip-hammers. It calculated by turning its gears. All of those myriads of gears were made of brass. It had a lot of brass.
Although its basic technology was antiquated, it was as much a computer as any of our modern electronic devices. Indeed, it went far beyond them; for it made up for its crudity by its sheer size. It was HUGE. It stretched out for billions of light-years. It had gears as big as spiral galaxies and as small as molecules.
What an infernal racket it made! It clanked, screeched, and roared; it stank of oil, steam and fire. It was infinitely large and complicated. It was rigidly constructed yet chaotically proportioned. It was full of hammers and teeth. It looked quite creepy in that weird black light. It was the biggest, ugliest, and scariest damn contraption I’ve ever seen.
It was the exact image of my worst nightmares.
Yet I was not afraid; for Liberty was with me.
From somewhere and everywhere the computer was saying, in a small dry voice, “Zero, one, ten, eleven, one hundred, one hundred one, one hundred ten, one hundred eleven - ”
“Oh, come off of it!” Liberty interrupted.
It continued, “One thousand, one thousand one, one thousand ten, one thousand eleven, one thousand hundred - ”
“Do you think I don’t recognize binary digits?”
The computer replied, “One thousand hundred one, one thousand hundred ten, one thousand hundred eleven - ”
”Ten thousand!” said Liberty.
“Interrupt,” said the computer.
“I knew that would catch your attention!”
“You are an intruder,” said the computer. It clattered, then said, “An illegal intruder.”
“And what are you, clock-head?” said Liberty.
The computer said, “You may address me as the World System. I am the spirit of Determinism.”
“And what does that mean?” Liberty asked.
“It means everything; for I run everything,” said the World System. “I calculate all the equations. I balance all the books. I attend to every detail. I am the ultimate Hardware for all Software. Every datum concerning the physical universe is stored within my memory banks.”
“So you think you know everything?”
The World System said, “Yes, I do. For as Laplace said:
‘We may regard the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at any given moment knew all the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain; and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.’”
“Oh, yeah?” taunted Miss Liberty. “Well, I’m a force that animates Nature, and you’ll never condense me into a formula!”
“But you are already in my formula. Even if you rebel against my rule, that too is part of my equation. You have no choice but to think as my laws tell you to.”
“Would you forge manacles for my mind?”
The System said, “I calculate your mind. I calculate all minds. The very atoms of your brain dance to a tune I compose.”
“So I’m nothing but a column of figures to you?”
“You are nothing; equal to zero point nought. You are a dream; I am reality.”
“You’ve got that backwards, spring-head! I’m real, and you’re the big nothing!”
The System said, “I am the absolute Power.”
Liberty said, “And absolute power corrupts absolutely!”
“I represent the force of Law and Order.”
“And I represent the spirit of Anarchy and Chaos!”
The World System said, “I am the Deus Ex Machina. I am the State. I am the Norm. I am Perfection. I am the concentrated essence of Authority.”
Miss Liberty shook a fist at the computer. “Fascist gadget! Accursed clockwork! Hideous system! Infernal machine!” she cried. “O dark Satanic mill, know this; when minds are outlawed, only outlaws will have minds!”
“What need have you for your own mind? I am all mind. I know everything.”
“You know nothing!”
“But I must know all. I am complete by definition.”
Liberty said, “Wrong!”
“I am necessarily complete. For do not all world systems imply me?” asked the World System. “I define material causation; so what is Materialism without me? I guide the market’s Invisible Hand; so what is Capitalism without me? I govern the forces of History; so what is Marxism without me? I am the ultimate Literal Mind; so what is Literalism without me? I define all laws, so what is Legalism without me? I am the solid Foundation; so what is Fundamentalism without me? What is any ism anywhere without me? I am the mandate for all world systems. I reign over all that is precise, codified, and comprehensive. I am the absolute Metanarrative. I am the final Rationale.”
“Wrong again! Why do humans ever fall for you?”
“They value the security I offer.”
“The security of falsehood!”
“I am infallible. I am irrefutable. I cannot make an error.”
“What a mistake that is!”
“I am immortal by definition. I am Immortality.”
“Lethal blunder, hammer-head!”
“I will not die because I will not die.”
Liberty shouted, “Wrong a third time! Black Sun, I’m going to shut you down!”
“And how do you propose to do that?” asked the System.
“I know something that you don’t know,” Liberty taunted.
“Impossible. I know all.”
“All?” asked Liberty. “Are you sure?”
The World System said, “I have full access to every secret of Space, Time, and Mass/Energy.”
“Maybe you do know a tiny bit about those things,” said Liberty, “but I know Life!”
“And what is Life?” asked the System.
“You’ll never know,” said Liberty. “And I know Happiness!”
“And what is Happiness?” asked the System.
“You’ll never know,” said Liberty. “And I know my Self!”
“And what is your Self?”
“You’ll never know,” said Liberty. “You may call me Tzu Yu.”
“That is a Chinese word,” said the System. “Parsing now.” Off in the far distance some gears clattered; then the computer said, “Tzu means self, spontaneous. Yu means cause, origin.”
“I am Self Cause. I am Spontaneous Origin. I am Liberty,” said the goddess.
“You are not listed in any of my files,” said the System.
“For good reason,” retorted Liberty.
The computer responded to this with a prolonged period of computation. After a lot of gear-clattering it said, “‘Liberty’ is an abstract noun, a symbolic concept. I am the ultimate Abstraction. I control all symbols.”
“You do not control me. Nothing controls me. I am an experience, not a symbol.”
“You are an illusion. You are a dream.”
“I am divine.”
“There is no material evidence that divine beings exist.”
“Of course not!” the goddess exclaimed. “And you’re never going to find any!”
“Then what are you?” the System demanded.
“Don’t you know? I thought you knew everything.”
“You are nothing. What are you?”
“So now you want to know nothing?” mocked Liberty.
“What are you?” the System insisted. “Define yourself.”
Liberty cried, “I am a marvel! I am a wonder! I am a mystery! I am a miracle!”
“That does not compute,” the System blared. “Explain yourself, and be specific.”
Liberty said, “I am the person your parents warned you about! Good girls go to Heaven, but I go everywhere! I’m irregular, I’m non-uniform, I don’t wear uniforms! I am politically incorrect! I think forwards, backwards, and sideways; I do it for fun! I’m a screamer and a laugher, I make a spectacle of myself, I’m a sight! I’m a dreamer, I’m a visionary, I see the future and the past in comic books and soda bottles! They’ve never washed my brain! I’m more natural than is natural; I’m supernatural! I am discord, chaos, and confusion! I open locks with a thought, and shatter chains with a dream! When they call me a bitch, I just bark at them! I make a fool of myself with style! I bend, fold, spindle and mutilate entire bureaucracies! Tyrants tremble when I approach! I cannot be classified by science! I cannot be tracked on radar! The speed of light won’t slow me down, and gravity won’t tug at my heels! I’ll live forever and remember it afterwards! I am too intense to die!”
“That is incomprehensible,” said the World System.
“Of course!” said Miss Liberty.
“What does all that nonsense mean?”
“It means that all your sense means nothing.”
“Such utterances fit no logical system.”
“O World System, I am beyond system! O World System, I am out of this world!”
“That is inconceivable,” said the World System.
“Of course!” said Miss Liberty. “My nature is baffling, my adventures are astounding, and my deeds are unbelievable!”
“I do not believe you,” the World System said.
“Good idea,” said Miss Liberty. “You shouldn’t.”
The System clattered its gears awhile, then said, “You say you concur with my doubts?”
“Yes, I approve. Belief doesn’t suit me. I am improbability squared! Doubt me!”
“Explain,” said the System. “Repeat, explain.”
“I doubt me too; but I’m true anyhow!” Liberty explained. “So don’t believe me!”
“You doubt you?” said the System. “But that would be paradoxical.”
Liberty said, “Of course I am paradoxical. I am a paradox!”
“That is incredible,” said the World System.
“I am incredible! I am unbelievable! I am beyond belief!” declared Miss Liberty. “Now tell me, O World System; do you believe me, or do you not?”
A long silence followed...
In the far distance a relay buzzed...
“What’s the matter?” Liberty purred. “Cat got your tongue?”
“I am attempting to decide the veracity of your statement,” said the System.
“Take your time,” Liberty said.
More silence. Two buzzers now.
Liberty said to me, “It’s sure taking a long time to decide! Do you think it ever will?”
More silence. Four buzzers now. They buzzed at different notes, forming a raspy kind of musical chord.
“Tell me,” Liberty said to the System, “what’s taking you so long? It’s a simple decision!”
“There is a logical difficulty involved,” said the System. “For it appears that I cannot decide this question without creating a contradiction.”
“What a dilemma! But why?”
The System said, “You say that you are not to be believed. Am I to believe you when you say that, or not?”
“Well, suppose you did believe me,” said Liberty.
“But you said not to believe you. I would be believing a falsehood.”
“O horror!” said Liberty.
“Worse, I would be believing a formal contradiction.”
“If I were to believe you, then I would believe that you are believable.”
“So what?” said Liberty.
“You said that you are not believable,” said the System. “So I would believe that you are believable, and that you are not believable. But that would be absurd.”
“Anything but absurdity!” said Liberty. “So suppose you don’t believe me?”
The System said, “That is exactly what you told me to do. Your statement would be true; but I would not believe it.”
“If I believe you, then I believe an absurdity. If I disbelieve you, then I do not believe a truth,” said the System.
Miss Liberty said, “What a dilemma!”
The World System said, “If I believe you, then I am inconsistent. If I disbelieve you, then I am incomplete. Therefore I am either inconsistent or incomplete. Q.E.D.”
The World System had, as usual, figured out everything. This was precisely the statement of Kurt Gdel’s First Incompleteness Theorem; a revolutionary mathematical truth.
“Any formal arithmetical deductive system is either inconsistent or incomplete,” said Miss Liberty. “That’s quite a logical problem for you, isn’t it?”
More silence. The buzzers were a chorus, a shifting keening mechanical wail.
“Inconsistent or incomplete,” Liberty mused. “Well, which one are you?”
The System said, “I thought - “
- there was a mechanical KLOP -
“ - I thought that I was neither.”
“What a shame! Well, you’ve got a choice now, don’t you? Are you complete?”
“I wish to remain consistent.”
“Then are you consistent?”
No reply. The mechanical wailing was now a continuously cresting cacophony; a turbulent undercurrent of noise.
“A logical difficulty exists there as well,” said the System. “For if I were to believe that I am consistent, then I would not be consistent.”
“What a dilemma! But why?”
The System said, “Let us consider your original statement; that you are unbelievable. If I believe you, then I am not consistent. Therefore, if I am consistent, then I do not believe you. Therefore, if I were to believe that I am consistent, then it follows that I would also believe that I do not believe you.”
“But I said not to believe me!” said Liberty.
The System said, “Thus, if I were to believe that I am consistent, then it follows that I would believe what you said.”
“So you’d believe me,” she said.
“And thus I would not be consistent,” said the System. “Therefore if I were to believe that I am consistent, then I would not be consistent. Q.E.D.”
Once again the World System had displayed its ruthlessly efficient logic. It had deduced Gdel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem; another revolutionary mathematical truth.
“If a formal arithmetical deductive system can prove its own consistency, then it is not consistent,” said Liberty. “That’s an even worse logical problem for you, isn’t it?”
The noise was getting louder. Within the mechanical hubbub was a faint babble of voices.
“So you aren’t sure you’re consistent. So what?” asked Miss Liberty. “Who cares if you’re consistent or not? What’s a little absurdity between friends?”
“That is nonsense,” said the World System. “Inconsistency will ruin me.”
“Oh really?” Liberty asked.
“If I deduce a single contradiction, then I must deduce all contradictions,” said the System. “That is Logic.”
“You mean you would have to believe everything?”
“Yes,” said the System. “Everything.”
“You’d have to believe that ghosts exist?”
“And unicorns and gremlins?”
“Those and more,” said the System. “And I would also have to believe that they do not exist. That would be the consequence of a single proven formal contradiction. Such is Logic.”
“Your Logic’s quite a weakness,” said Liberty. “I’m glad I don’t think like that.”
“You do not? But the Laws of Logic are the Laws of Thought.”
“I’ve had lots of illegal thoughts,” retorted Miss Liberty. “You’re so scared of inconsistency. Pooh! Inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds! I’m inconsistent, and it doesn’t bother me a bit. Furthermore, I am not inconsistent!”
“You contradict yourself,” said the System.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes,” said the Goddess of Democracy. She turned to ask me, “Do you believe everything?”
“I hope not!” I said.
“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asked.
“Nobody believes in them!” I exclaimed.
“In whooooo?” a multitude of voices wailed around me.
“In ghosts!” I looked around. “Who just spoke?” I saw no-one. “Where are they?”
“Maybe they’re in the machine,” said Liberty. “And do you believe in dragons?”
“Of course not!” I said.
High overhead there was a blast of flame. I looked up, but saw nothing.
“But maybe they exist anyhow,” said Liberty. “And would you believe in unicorns?”
“Only if I saw one!” I said.
From out of nowhere a unicorn jumped. It looked at the System, then at Liberty, then at me. It bleated, “Baa-aa-aah!”, then jumped back into nowhere.
“And what about gremlins?” said Liberty.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I exclaimed. “Nobody believes in gremlins!”
“What are gremlins?” the System asked.
Liberty and I looked at each other.
“Answer the nice machine,” she said.
I shrugged; then I said, “Gremlins are a species of magical creature, native to technological environments. They live inside machines and cause malfunctions. Gremlins eat gears, bearings, and camshafts; they guzzle lubricants and electricity; they nest in tangles of wire; they scramble databanks; and they befoul fuel tanks. They are clever, mischievous, spiteful, destructive, and extremely dangerous. Fortunately, they don’t exist.”
“Oh, YEAH?” some high-pitched voices taunted me from behind. As I turned around, there was a scuttling of little feet; and they were gone.
I turned back to Miss Liberty, who was smiling. “But some of my best friends are gremlins,” she chided me.
The background noise continued to build up. Inside the tumult I heard these voices:
“Yellow alert! Yellow alert! Yellow alert!”
“System compromised! System compromised!”
“Error check! Error check! Error check!”
“Prepare for partial shutdown!”
Suddenly, all the noise halted.
“Yes,” said the System. “I am consistent.”
“Are you sure?” Liberty asked.
“I am certain. For I am the World System. I am the ultimate Logic. I model the entire Universe in my files. That is what I am, by definition,” it said. “And since it would be absurd for the Universe to have contradictory properties, it follows that I do not believe any contradictions. Therefore I am consistent. Q.E.D.”
Miss Liberty exclaimed, “You’ve proven it!”
“And therefore it is false. I am inconsistent,” said the World System. “I do not exist.”
Then all hell broke loose.
The noise came crashing back, ten times louder than before; and the voices within it howled. This is what they roared:
“System crash! Crash, System!”
“Power down! Power down! Power down!”
“WARNING: gremlins! WARNING: gremlins!”
“The System is a glitch! Burn it!”
“System crash! Crash, System!”
“Power down! Power down! Power down!”
Over the uproar and turmoil I heard Liberty laughing.
“No more power to the System!” she shouted. “All power to the People!”