Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dakshinayanam 2004-2005 - Playing with infinities

Playing with infinities

The 12:25 local to Thane local arrived more or less on time.
Shivashankar ran in before it had fully come to a stop and grabbed a
window seat. His friends followed suit and all of them cracked a few
jokes on how childish he was and sat down around him (no one took the
window seat facing Shiva just to prove that they were not childish).
Shiva, Pramod, Nitin and Kartik made themselves comfortable before the
train pulled out of the station. The local was pretty empty, there was
only two other people in the first class compartment, and both of them
were more or less asleep.

Shiva and his friends were soon covered by a crisscrossed jumble of
wires. Three separate handsfrees had to be hung around necks, and the
headphones of three different kinds of music players had to be stuffed
into the ears with blaring music. Nitin got the old derelict walkman,
held together by pieces of rubber band. Kartik and Pramod shared the
earphones of a diskman between them. But Shiva was the real
technogeek. He didn't even remove his iPod out, but skillfully
operated his mp3 player by sliding his hands into his pockets.

Nitin, Kartik, and Pramod soon began to nod off because of the heat
and the hazy light streaming in through the dusty windows, and the
slow lounge that they were listening. But Shiva got out a book and
began to read. It was a little known book written by an Indian
professor named T Padmanabhan, called "After the first three minutes".
It was a book about the evolution of the universe, and Shiva was into
such things. He was mid-way into the book, and was now reading
something about density contrast in the universe. He was incredulous
as to how the education system's textbooks had managed to portray
absolutely amazing things like the basic fabric of the universe, in
such a boring way. Something he read made him ask himself a very
fundamental question, about the shape of the entire universe, and then
on further contemplation, its purpose. He closed the book and Gazed
out of the window thinking about it.

He snapped out of his reverie when his cell phone began to buzz and
made it uncomfortable for him to sit. Unlike the others, he had not
removed it from its pocket. He was in the awkward position of
possessing a mobile phone that was too inexpensive to flaunt. It did
not even have a color display, or a browser let alone a camera, but on
the other hand, calling a mobile with all these things a phone was
like calling a computer a typewriter.

He looked at the display of his Nokia 1100, and a very weird message
was being flashed at him, "God calling". Before he figured out what to
do, the call stopped. The signal bar in the phone was really low.
Shiva figured that some friend of his had changed his name in the
address book to God, and was now calling him as a joke. He slipped his
mobile back to his pocket, as the train approached another station,
and was feeling very tired, and the heat had finally gotten to him. He
stretched out his legs to relax, and it bumped into someone else's.
The seat opposite to his was no longer empty. A short man with very
large mane of tangled hair was smiling at him.

"So" The man asked, in a very slow, gruff voice. "You want the real
thing?" Shiva was in somewhat of a stupor, and so he did not find this
all that extraordinary. He began to accept things without being too
curious about them, like in his dreams, where amazing things go by
unquestioned. "What thing" he asked wondering where he had seen this
man before… looked like a professor. The man sitting next to him
considered him for a moment, with an amused expression in his eyes.
"The shape, and maybe, even the purpose of the universe." Ah. Shiva
thought, another fanatic with his view on the cosmos. There were
nutcases like these all over the place, and every one of them had a
unique perspective of the cosmos.

So Shiva sat back and weakly said "give it to me". "Really?" said the
man, "OK then, I don't do this to everyone who asks, you know… but
some are different. You see, the universe can either be finite or
infinite, you have to agree to that right?" "Yeah Ok" Shiva nodded.
"Now, if it is finite, what is outside it? – Another bigger realm, you
would say, and there would be another one at the end of that - and
suddenly you have an infinite progression of universes capsulated one
inside the other which would make it an infinite universe anyway, so
you end up with an infinite universe. An infinite universe would mean
infinite energy, that would mess a load of things up, like your
electricity bills will be zero, you will never have to refuel your
car, and you will have the technology to make ships faster than light,
and all the laws of physics will go haywire… just to begin with. So
the only way for a universe to actually exist, keeping its set of laws
intact, is to… is to have no way out." He finished somewhat lamely.
Shiva had not understood much, and the man seemed to fidget, looking
for a way to explain it better. "Give me your mobile" the man said, as
if something had struck him. Shiva, almost like a reflex action, gave
the customary response for this question, "No balance" he muttered
very curtly, and hoped that the very odd conversation was over – why
was this guy demanding his mobile all of a sudden? But the man seemed
to have guessed what was on Shiva's mind. "No, I don't want to make a
call with it; I just want to play a game." Shiva was now irritated. An
old man, almost thrice his age, was calmly asking for his mobile to
play games on. "Battery low", the other standard response. The old man
looked more amused now, and said calmly but sternly, "please." Shiva
reluctantly got his mobile out (not using it as much as his friends,
he had more than the regular amount of both balance and charge) and
handed it over to the old man. That face was definitely familiar…
The man took the phone, and relaxed. An odd shiver shook the
compartment. The man turned the phone around, and the world around
Shiva warped. Beams of twisting, contorting light were traveling from
him to his mobile, and he was sucked into it like dust gets sucked
into a vacuum cleaner. Shiva was not only somehow trapped in the
mobile, but he was the mobile. He could feel the electricity running
around his circuits. He could hear from the tiny slit that represented
the mouthpiece. He tried speaking through the earpiece, but only a
shrill sound came out. Where was he anyway? Where was the mind of the
cell phone? The processor? The sim card? Where was his real body
anyway? Suspended between dimensions, somewhere in Hyperspace? He did
not know the answer to these questions, but he could see the man who
caused it all to happen from inside the mobile screen, with the word
"menu" written in its mirror image. And he finally recognized him.
Quickly learning how to go about it, (it was actually very simple) he
manipulated the electricity around his various circuits and managed to
show the words "who are you??" on screen. Although, he already knew…
but Albert Einstein was dead long ago. Albert Einstein laughed from
outside and said in a loud booming noise, "I am God." Shiva replied
"Are you… Is Albert Einstein God?" "No, I am God, but I had to take a
physical form to enter your universe, and an illusion of this Einstein
man is a very fitting avatar for what I am going to show you." And
Albert Einstein/God began to press some buttons. Shiva knew what was
happening from his logic gates itself, and didn't need to see the
words in mirror image on the screen.

God-Einstein pressed the menu button, and then navigated till an icon
of a space-ship and three revolving alien somethings appeared, with
the words 'games' on top. Was God-Einstein really going to play games?
God-Einstein passed by space impact and stopped on snake II. And
selected it. Shiva was confused, but fortunately his brain was addling
itself in hyperspace, and it didn't bother him too much. A large
animation of two snakes intermingling and snapping at each other
played before him. Then a small, pixilated representation of a snake
began to move across his screen. The snake moved from one end of the
screen to another, and when it reached the end, it merely started over
again. All the snake had to do was search out for four dots in the
form of a diamond, which was the mobile phone equivalent of food, and
that was his only objective. He was looking at the classic game from a
very weird perspective, from the inside, but there was one thing
missing. There was no 'food' to consume. The screen was totally blank
save for the snake. God-Einstein looked at the mobile-Shiva and asked
him, now, tell me, where is the snake. He had figured out the earpiece
circuits by now, and said in a small, squeaky voice, "rectangular."
God-Einstein laughed. "Everyone thinks so – Ok then, what is the
length and breadth of that rectangle?" Shiva looked around. How was he
supposed to answer this? His circuits did not contain the pixels to
centimeters ratio in them, so he figured he could use old fashioned
maths instead (helped considerably by his circuits, of course). The
snake went across the screen once every three point two seconds… and
he was on level nine… that meant…somewhere like three pixels a
microsecond… he calculated a little further and…"something like two
point two by one point eight?" "Fair enough" replied God-Einstein,
"now, suppose I make you the snake, and the screen is your universe,
will the size of the universe still remain the same?" Shiva thought
about this for a while. He couldn't see where this was leading, but
the answer seemed obvious. "Yes" He said. "The size of the screen
would obviously remain the same, how would it change if I were the
snake?" God-Einstein merely smiled. No one ever got this right.
"Alright, tell me the size of the screen, and your universe, after

And for the second time that day, Shiva became something far lesser
than what he was. From being the mobile phone, he was suddenly reduced
to the snake, and he could see (after all God-Einstein dictated the
rules of all universes, including this tiny one), not beyond the
screen, but within the screen, and then it hit him. He could move, he
could feel his velocity hurtling through space, he could turn around,
contort and perhaps eat himself, but in whatever direction he went, he
went on and on forever. For him, he looked like he was in an infinity.
He realized that from his perspective, there was no knowing when he
had reached the end of the screen and started over again.

God-Einstein's voice echoed from somewhere in the distance "What is
the shape of your universe now?" Shiva knew there was no answer. The
realm of the snake was truly shapeless. Like some bizarre planet with
a smooth surface and absolutely no landmarks, which he kept
circumnavigating without any way of knowing when he was starting again
had suddenly been stretched out into the mobile phone screen. There
was no beginning, there was no end, but it merely repeated itself
after… somewhere. And as if to answer him, a single fruit appeared
above him. And now it rushed past him… once every three point two

God-Einstein spoke from beyond "That is how the universe is, limited
but without a definite boundary. It gives the illusion of being
spherical like the screen gives the illusion of being rectangular. If
by any weird freak of science (there are many amazing ones that you
don't yet know of) any of your people in your spaceships manage to
travel into the deeps of space in an endless and perfectly straight
line, their voyage will end, much to their perplexity, back on earth."
Again the light contorted and convoluted, and he was sucked out of the
mobile. He was back in his precious window seat now. All this was
wonderful… but there was something beyond the mere shape of the
universe. Now that God-Einstein was answering questions, why not ask
the more significant one anyway. "And what is its purpose?"
God-Einstein considered Shiva for a moment "I cannot answer that
question" he said "you will have to find out for yourself. I have
already shown it to you today. Maybe someday you will realize…" "Why"
Shiva asked "are you not answering this question?" God-Einstein
replied "you would lose trust and faith in me. The purpose would
considerably reduce the significance of your existence, and… your egos
would refuse to believe me… you might begin to hate me… and maybe find
troublesome ways to disobey the grand game plan…" Shiva was beginning
to lose thread of where this was going, and God-Einstein seemed to
understand this.

His avatar left the universe and Shiva was left alone on the seat. He
picked up his mobile and spotted that the snake was still moving. He
cut short the game, and slipped the mobile back into his pocket. He
was amused by the idea that God had played games on his mobile… and
then it struck him. The purpose… of the universe - God was simply
playing games. And the people inside it were too dumb to comprehend,
to understand, to believe or to even think of the beyond. Man was on
the inside; going round in circles, and God was out there pressing all
the buttons. Shiva realized that what he did for the rest of his life
would be totally meaningless and utterly inconsequential. It was too
much for his ego to take. And all of a sudden it was very important
for Shiva to live his normal insignificant life, and forget about all
those questions about the universe and the thing beyond… only the food
was enough for the snake. The station drew in, and Shiva decided it
was time to wake his friends up.

-Aditya MJ


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