Conversion of Guelph energy to mass (p=0.049)

Saturday March 25, 2023

This is a short story I wrote in the second half of 2022. The image is from Dezgo.

a tiny old wooden waterwheel moves gently with the water in a slow creak passing through a verdant forest

“Are you sure you really want to know?” Verona asked, looking up from her book. The wind off the ocean had slowed but the beach was still cooling as evening approached. The sky was all pinks and purples now. It was a pleasant, easy day.

“Maybe it doesn't even mean anything…” Adam finished pulling his fingers through the sand one last time before turning with a smile. “Are you hungry?”

They had both recently detected a faint smell of grilling nearby. Soon they would go to dinner at one of the resort's restaurants, before retiring to their room. This required very little coordination. They enjoyed being in sync.

Verona grinned as she got up and began to shake out her towel. “Are you going to say it doesn't mean anything in your dissertation?” Adam was picking up the vanilla sun lotion and a few empty bottles.

“If I come out and say it, will there be any subtext left?” They were both happy. “Besides, I need space for all the null results and extended caveats.”

It had been a surprise when brain-scan research led to a breakthrough in understanding dark matter.

A new type of live brain scanner was designed with a calibration point that was expected to read zero. This zero-point check worked fine for some people. But for others, there was something there, where there should have been nothing. The research team at the University of Guelph initially called it strangely-interacting energy.

Particle physicists took an interest in this new zero-point measurement and before long showed, to everyone's surprise, that it was detecting one end of a spectrum that was somehow perpendicular to everything that had been measured before. At one end was the strangely-interacting energy. At the other end was strangely-interacting mass: dark matter. The whole phenomenon came to be called Guelph field.

The way Guelph energy interacts with regular matter is like a paddle-wheel in water, if it's always impossible to tell whether the water is pushing the wheel or the wheel is pushing the water. It doesn't matter whether you see just one or the other or both; the motion is the same.

The apparatus that makes it possible to observe Guelph energy is called a McKinsey device. Zero-point measurement was sufficiently paradigm-shifting that physicists sometimes almost forget that McKinsey brain scanners are state of the art for their intended task as well. As for Guelph mass, it is only observable by its gravity.

McKinsey scanners are expensive, but they're a good deal cheaper than particle accelerators.

“When I was a kid, she would take me canoeing sometimes, just for fun.” Adam stood near the yellow wall of the funeral home while unfamiliar extended family milled about slowly.

Verona had met Adam's great-grandmother only a handful of times in the last few years. “Will she be speaking?”

A tiny smile flickered across Adam's face. “She was old-fashioned. She said her family was better than any copy of her would be.” Adam sighed.

“Do you think she was Guelph positive?” Verona was trying to bring Adam to a friendly and familiar topic. She was surprised when he looked away into the distance for a while before replying.

“Sorry; I feel like I don't have a lot of room to think right now.” Adam paused again.

Verona answered for him. “I bet she was. I know everybody always says so. She was so special to you all. She must have been, right? Just like I feel like I must be, and you must be.” Verona squeezed Adam's hand.

“I don't know. I didn't expect to feel like this.” Adam continued to search for what to say. “I'm almost glad there isn't a copy; I think it would be harder with one here.”

At first, Guelph energy wasn't found anywhere outside biological human brains. It has never been observed in dog brains, or dolphin brains, or cuttlefish brains. It has never been observed in fruit trees, or vacuum, or radioactive materials.

It would be a perfect answer to the question of what makes humans different from all other creatures, except that not all humans are Guelph positive. Measurements are, however, consistently binary: either it's there or it isn't.

Guelph energy is detected in about half of people. When it is detected, the signal is strongest in the cerebral cortex and fades quickly at the brain stem. Repeated zero-point measurements are consistent across the life span, until death.

Guelph energy has never been observed in a dead brain. There are two main theories for why this is. The dissipation theory holds that the energy is no longer attached to the brain and radiates outward to unobservable levels. The conversion theory holds that the Guelph energy changes state, becoming undetectable amounts of dark matter.

It isn't clear why Guelph energy should have an affinity for human brains in the first place, or why this should change at death. No experiment has been devised to resolve the debate between the dissipation and conversion theories, or any of the many less plausible alternative theories.

“I think the least realistic part was just that so many labs would let him use their gear.” Adam and Verona didn't always like the same content, but they had found a movie called “Check Again” in which a man becomes obsessed with getting McKinsey zero-point tests, until he finds love in Greenland.

“It's more fun if you suspend your disbelief, you know,” Verona replied. It was a familiar conversation. “Or, if you want to nitpick, just think of the expense!”

“You're okay with the core concept?” asked Adam, relaxing back into the couch expansively.

“People have all sorts of beliefs about Guelph. It's easy to forget how many people really take it so seriously. But that's not what the movie was about! It didn't matter what the tests said; it's the same old story of a lonely guy who thinks proving himself will fill that empty space.”

Adam leaned over with a smile to kiss her.

In a Turing identity test, an examiner converses with two entities, one human and one computer. As in a traditional Turing test, the examiner seeks to determine which is human. The additional wrinkle is that the human and computer are both claiming to be the same person. The examiner must make a choice, so if the human and computer are exactly equivalent, the examiners will be right in about half of tests.

There are many types of brain scanners. They vary in fidelity, but they all produce digital versions of a mind. Most techniques in current use make copies that reliably pass Turing identity tests with loved ones. All have no effect on Guelph field, except for McKinsey scanners.

For years it was only known that if an individual who had tested Guelph positive was subsequently copied using a McKinsey scanner, that person's brain would afterward test negative.

A particularly well-funded professor decided to have her lab demonstrate that a computer running a copy was as Guelph-free as every other non-brain thing. The demonstration did not go as expected, and turned instead into a series of revolutionary papers.

Work on explaining the mobility of Guelph energy led to reconsideration of Kantor's development of information mechanics. That field had moved for a while fruitlessly in the direction of digital physics, but was revitalized by the problem of brains, computers, and Guelph field.

The stability of computer-linked Guelph energy is not well characterized but seems to depend on particulars of operating system and low-level hardware implementations. In particular, copying a copy has never led to observing two distinct Guelph loci. This has led some to speculate that there should be a “McKinsey computer,” but no concrete proposal for what this would mean in practice has yet surfaced.

“Will I ever get to meet Professor Loi?” Verona joined Adam at a small white table in the community cafeteria that they liked. They sat with steaming bowls of phở between them.

“It's getting harder for me to get even my usual scheduled time with him. He's been insisting on talking to himself more recently, spawning more copies and then keeping them all around, for analysis, he says.”

“I thought you said he was already way over budget?”

“He is, but he won't work with any of his PhD students unless he gets to work on his own research. All the copies talk to each other; he's like a union unto himself and none of the universities he's at can afford to lose him.”

“Weird! Do you know what he's working on?”

“I can barely get him to explain what I'm working on. But hey,” Adam raised his water glass, “this morning he said the hardware simulation tests look good and we should be able to start recruiting subjects soon.”

Guelph field has an obvious connection to gravity, via dark matter, but as with general relativity, the relationship between Guelph field and quantum mechanics is unresolved. The “zero-point” of Guelph detection is not related to zero-point quantum energy. This hasn't stopped all manner of popular misconceptions from flourishing, despite typically having as much grounding as saying Guelph field is elf energy because of the rhyme.

Among the most persistent misinformation is that there is no Guelph energy. The allegedly quantum basis for this claim hinges on the mistaken belief that readings from McKinsey devices are quantum observer effects based on nothing more than stochastic noise. These theories generally try to explain the persistent patterns observed with some appeal to entanglement over time or even more incoherent ideas about beliefs influencing observations.

Contributing to distrust of Guelph theory is the subject-observer isolation that is an intrinsic part of all McKinsey procedures. The person inside a McKinsey device gets no indication that it's working. More than that: After a procedure, the person who leaves a McKinsey device has no memory of what happened inside. The effect is analogous to some forms of anesthesia, or having a concussion, and is absolutely essential for the safety of the subject's brain.

“Come back! I see a blue blaze down this way,” Verona called out to Adam. He turned and walked through the same dappled light again, stepping on the same dry pine needles.

“This is why you should lead,” said Adam. “You're so good at finding things! Maybe you can help find participants for the study too?”

“Are you really so surprised that people don't want to get de-Guelphed?” Verona stopped to look at a patch of tiny white flowers at the side of the trail.

“Who's to say mass isn't just as good as energy? Anyway nobody would know the difference if we didn't tell them their initial test results.” He looked up into the trees. “We'll get the subjects. People are curious. It's really the regulations that slow everything down.” Adam paused for a moment. “I got approval to run the protocol on myself too.”

“Oh! You'll finally find out your status. Won't that be weird for you?”

“In the end I know rationally it doesn't make a difference one way or another.” Adam stopped to get something out of his boot, found nothing, and put his boot back on. “I know you said you don't want to be in the study, but if you want we can get you in for just the initial test. We'll have the equipment for the day.”

“You want me there for moral support, huh? Sure. I wonder if people’s eyes will look different, before and after.” The two walked on, up stone steps that could have been natural or could have been put in, matching the pace of the slowly shifting air.

It is often repeated that a brain is a quantum computer that simulates a brain. This is true in the same sense that a hammer is a quantum computer that simulates a hammer. All matter is quantum, but this doesn't imply that anything in particular is endowed with mysterious properties on that basis.

Grover's search algorithm, number-theoretic results, uncomputation: none of the uniquely quantum aspects of quantum computation are particularly relevant to brain mechanics. Apart from some aspects of parallelism, most components of brain simulation are more efficiently implemented with traditional computers.

A quantum computer capable of running even a low-fidelity copy of a human mind may never be technically feasible, but there is no reason to expect that it would behave differently from a conventional computer. A quantum computer is no more like a McKinsey device than a regular digital computer.

“It's darker with my eyes open!” When Verona spoke, their synchronized breathing was no longer the dominant sound.

“And my senses were just starting to experience deprivation,” Adam replied, with just a hint of a chuckle.

“What's the point of us being in here at the same time if we aren't going to interact?”

“When I was booking this, the guy said that half the time there's only one person using these two-person tanks. That's why it's such a good deal when two people use one at the same time.”

“Oh.” Verona began to imagine all the kinds of lives that would include floating naked in isolation.

“But yeah,” Adam replied again, “the dark is wild. I can almost forget whether my eyes are open or closed. Some people say they get hallucinations.”

Another topic came to Verona. “You really set it up so that we'll see our results at the same time?”

“Hmm? Oh, right. Yeah, it's all my code. No problem. We'll find out together.”

In popular culture, Guelph theory has stirred the pot but not improved the flavor, according to most. The problem of inclusion dominates discussion.

The binary status of Guelph energy, combined with the relative inaccessibility of legitimate testing, is taken by bigots for the elaboration of hateful theories. The formula is that their preferred group is Guelph positive while those they despise are negative (or, more rarely, the reverse) and this can justify all manner of atrocities.

The inclusion problem immediately confronts most philosophical appropriations of Guelph theory. If Guelph energy is a mechanism for free will, then why do only some people have it? Certainly this does not resolve any problems in ethics.

To philosophers in the tradition of Dennett, Guelph energy is a red herring, a distraction from anything that matters. The positive and negative (unfortunate terms, really) can only be discriminated by McKinsey device, not by introspection or any other behavior. Having a second kind of thing in the brain changes nothing.

And since Guelph energy is still a phenomenon within the domain of science, deterministic and described by equations, some look further to a “third kind” that might finally explain everything that Guelph theory does not.

For most, Guelph energy is just another mysterious part of the world, like aurora and dreams and microwaves.

“I love you,” said Adam into a microphone. They saw each other through video monitors. Verona couldn't move her head, but every emotion pulsed through her expression with the saccades of her eyes.

“Not like this,” she said. “I want to remember. Stop the experiment and we can talk face to face.” Energy reflected off her eyes, into a camera, through wires, off a screen, into Adam's eyes.

“It's already started,” said Adam. True to his word, he had programmed the system to run without showing results, and it was running now. Nobody used the emergency stop. What had been intended would be done.

Adam wasn't usually a gambler. But to ensure his experiment had sufficient power to demonstrate the stimulated conversion of Guelph energy to mass, he needed every Guelph positive participant he could get. Between Adam and Verona, in expectation there was one subject. The decision was already made in code. If he wasn't positive and she was, she would join him in his doctoral experiment after all. Surely she’d be okay with it. She knew how important this was. Professor Loi was sure it was the right decision.

Whatever was happening in there now, he would tell her everything afterward. The code was honest. There were no secrets between them.

The largest religions have not changed policies regarding science and have as much to say about Guelph theory as they do about electrolysis. This does not prevent the religious from having their own beliefs on the subject.

A few small religions, mostly for the super rich, admit only those who have tested positive. Some claim a connection to Calvinism, and that Guelph energy is evidence of predestined salvation.

Much more common, relatively, are religions that will certify Guelph positive status without testing. These religions hold that their certifications are more reliable than tests with a McKinsey device, so they have no trouble resolving the odd contradictory result. Several of these also claim a connection to Calvinism.

Neither religions that test before admittance nor those that certify after joining seem to turn many people away, and data on Guelph energy from any of them is generally not considered reliable by the scientific community.

“The phở tastes the same as always.” This is what Adam would have said he was thinking, had anyone asked. He sat alone at the same small white table. Phở had been their favorite.

The phở was hot. The noodles were chewy. The broth was salty. Sauce added sweetness and a touch of sour. Umami-flavored protein floated at the top.

Adam had never felt more alone.

As usual, he was surrounded by community here. So many people he didn't know. He overheard but didn't understand snippets of Chinese at a nearby table. He could turn on translation and join them, some day, but for now it was a relief that the sounds died at his ears.

The lights were always so bright here, like an examination room. Like the inside of a McKinsey chamber.

Adam tried to remember everything about Verona. What had it been that made her so special? What was it that was gone, without her?

Had anyone asked, Adam would have said he was thinking that he'd never know anyone like her again.