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soul

Until The Bubble Pops

by Robert L. Jones III

On Wednesdays I clean the bathroom. Such is the routine nature of this task that it compresses my awareness of time. Whenever I begin, I feel as if I just finished, and if life is a grammatical sentence, mine seems to lack punctuation. My name is Norman Brinster. It’s Wednesday, so I’m cleaning the bathroom. I’m cleaning the bathroom, so it must be Wednesday.

I pour the cleanser into the toilet and begin brushing. I must have used too much, because the surface of the water foams excessively as I brush. The foam is fascinating, a microcosm of unknown significance. I’m intrigued by how the bubbles form, converge, and pop. It’s all so ephemeral. I glance at my watch.

#

The brush is no longer in my hand, and I’m no longer in the bathroom. This strikes me as odd once I realize it. I’m somewhere unfamiliar, but where I am paradoxically has a familiar feel to it. Somehow, I know this environment is not a physical structure or place. I’ve been here all the time, but now I can see it.

I’m inside what looks like a sphere whose boundary is a bit out of focus. It’s dark in here, but I can see the boundary in all directions. I drift toward it. Where is the light coming from? As I approach the boundary, I can see that it’s made up of smaller spheres. I’m in a sphere of spheres. They seemed out of focus from farther away because they’re pulsating, which leaves them slightly out of round at any point in time. I just said “time” again. I wonder if time matters in here.

My watch is not around my wrist, and the spheres appear unstable. Their surfaces are opaque in some areas and translucent in others. Small spots become transparent, and the patterns are constantly shifting. What are these spheres? I examine one more closely, and I’m inside it.

I have ideals. People are honest because they should be honest. Karla Farmington is going to be my girlfriend, but she doesn’t know that yet. We’ll get married, take long road trips, and sleep in motels. We’ll visit scenic wonders like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Redwoods, and Crater Lake. I have the ability to be a great athlete, and I’ll win a gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the Olympics. Hard work pays off.    

This sphere is mine, or it was. Suddenly, I’m back outside, back at the center, and looking at the curved, poorly focused boundary. Along with the sphere I’ve just examined, I see the other spheres. They’re all mine, and this is my sphere of spheres. That’s right: mine. Relaxed and curious, I drift back and try another.

People aren’t always honest. I’m not fast enough to be a world class sprinter. I’m going to be a great musician instead. Mary Richardson will be my wife, and we’ll be in a band together. We’ll tour the country in a van and play gigs to appreciative audiences. Our home will be a cabin in the woods, and we’ll own lots of land.

I’m back at the center, and this is a bit disorienting. It looks like I’d better try another sphere.

Life can be difficult. Hard work doesn’t always pay off, but everything works out in the end. Everyone is at least a little dishonest whether they know it or not. I’m brilliant. I’m going to be an elite scientist, and I’ll cure cancer. I’ll win the Nobel Prize. My name and my picture will be all over the world. I don’t know who my wife will be, but she’ll look like an actress or a supermodel. Money won’t be a problem. With her career and mine, we’ll have plenty of that, and our home will have a great view of the mountains.

Here I am, at the center again, and this is frustrating. People can’t be trusted until they prove themselves trustworthy. Things don’t always work out, at least not the way I planned. I’ve lost a few jobs for unjust reasons, but the job I have is a pretty good one. Very few people know or care who I am. Sometimes, the game is rigged. It takes discretion and tact to play it. I’m married to Naomi Brinster, and she has to work, too. We live in an apartment. I may not be able to provide her with everything I’d like to, but she’ll never have to clean the bathroom. Should I try one more sphere?

No, that’s enough. I need to see more, but I don’t need to see more of this. I’ve spent too much of my life scheming on the fickle, shifting crust of reality. What I thought I knew turned out to be shine and tarnish. The underlying substance is here, somewhere in the substratum. My name is Norman Brinster, and on Wednesdays I clean the bathroom. There must be more. Tired of putting off the inevitable, I feel a sense of outward acceleration, and the boundary rushes past me.

#

Going out was coming in, for I’ve moved into a much larger metaphysical space. I’m in a greater sphere of spheres. I’ve deduced this from the curvature of its margin, but this margin extends in all directions until I can no longer see it. As one can’t see the opposite shore of an ocean, I can’t see the opposite side of the sphere. I’m near its periphery.

Examining the constituent spheres, I recognize mine even though I’ve never seen it from this perspective. The rest are not mine. They remind me of the bubbles in my toilet, and new ones form as others pop. There are so many. They are too numerous, and I can’t begin to count them all. Within this context, I’m overwhelmed.

Who am I? My name is Norman Brinster, but what does that mean? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does. I continue to relax and drift. I still don’t know where the light is coming from, and I’m drifting away from the spheres. Is it Wednesday in here?

#

The ephemeral shore is no longer visible. I turn to look in the other direction, and there it is. This sphere is larger than the others. I believe it’s at the center of the great sphere of spheres. It’s all I can see in the void through which I drift. It doesn’t pulsate. It’s completely transparent, but I can’t see inside because of the intensity of its light.

#

Now I know the interpretation of the spheres.

#

The central sphere is perfect and stable. This is reality regardless of how accurately anyone perceives it. I suspect this perspective encompasses those of all the other spheres, so it must see and understand everything.

The lesser sphere of spheres is my personal sub-reality. This is the lens through which I perceive the universe, and it was formed from perception, desire, experience, and limited understanding. It includes the various sub-realities I’ve inhabited throughout my life. The sub-realities of my past inform my sub-reality in the present.  

The greater sphere of spheres is composed of the sub-realities of everyone living on this planet. The ones I saw forming were those of people being born while the ones that popped were those of people who were dying. That the sub-realities are distinct and separate means they aren’t the same. Everyone sees things differently to one degree or another.

We are destroying the planet. The planet is going through cycles as it always has. One political solution is best, but so is a different political solution. You can’t legislate morality. Yes, you can. In fact, you must. Life is good. Life is miserable. Things are getting better. No, they’re getting worse. We were created for a reason, and we go on living after we die. We are the products of random evolution. We die and rot, and that’s the end of it.

Our sub-realities aren’t the same, but there must be at least some overlap. Otherwise, we would be unable to communicate. Everyone has his or her sub-reality. I left mine back in the bathroom, speaking of which. . .

#

I glance at my watch. The brush is in my hand, and no time has elapsed. I flush the toilet. Life runs its course until the bubble pops.

#

I took a philosophy course when I was in college, and we argued about determinism and free will. Some of us came down on the side of free will because we liked the idea that it’s entirely up to us. Others who thought they understood quantum physics and variational principles favored the deterministic nature of time, and they said what’s going to happen has already happened. Then we quibbled about randomness and teleology. Looking back, I think both sides were right, which made both sides wrong — or partly right and partly wrong.

How many events in anyone’s life seem random in real time and contrived in retrospect? All of this could make logical sense if there’s a personality outside of time, some intelligence that bends every decision, every action, toward a mysterious, inexorable conclusion. Okay, I’ll go with that.

If this is true, the script has been written, but that’s okay with me as long as it’s a good script. We follow it by the choices we make. That leaves us free to fulfill what’s going to happen, and that’s a horrifying relief.

#

Now I can finish cleaning the bathroom.

~

Bio:

Robert holds a Ph. D. in Molecular Biology, and is currently Professor Emeritus of Biology at Cottey College in southwestern Missouri, USA. Since his teenage years, he has had an interest in science fiction, especially stories with high concepts and metaphysical themes. His influences include G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Jack Finney, and Ted Chiang. 

It’s Not in Your Head

by E. E. King

Listen. This is how it began.

A dream of immortality. A dread of endings. A belief in the machine.

The Soul© was implanted in the cerebral cortex at birth. A chip so small it was almost invisible, yet it recorded all the images, ideas, sounds, smells, touches, tastes and beliefs that build an individual. It compiled dreams, catalogued emotions, and at the end of life, was removed and inserted into the mainframe. There the Soul© could live for virtually ever.

The mainframe promised to be realer than real. Ice would be colder, chocolate sweeter and passion hotter. 

But there were problems, unanticipated, unexpected, unplanned for, unbelievable.

The Soul©s were flat. They had a register of attitudes, but no feelings. Memories, but no emotions. Desire, but no love. Hunger, but no satisfaction. They were like student actors given a new script, unsure which line to stress, what emotion to feel, or what pinnacle to strive towards.

The scientists and technicians went back to their labs and their screens and tried again.

The defective chips were disposed of.

Some protested that this was murder.

“We must save the unborn and protect the undead,” the dissenters cried. “It’s, literally, virtual eugenics.” But as protesters protested, technology advanced.

Soul2© was inserted in vitro so as to capture all those floating embryonic imaginings. Perceptions passed between mother and child. Visions circulated through blood vessels. Dreams without which a person could never be whole. Embryonic musings made a big difference. Who would have imagined that those nine months were so important, who except mother and babe?

But though more successful, Soul2© was still nowhere near complex enough to be considered a soul.

We’d completely overlooked the gut, which was full of bacterium emitting messages to the brain. So, we inserted Soul3© invitro in both the cerebral cortex and the lining of the stomach. It was a delicate operation.

Sometimes it seemed that the more we learned the less we knew. The more we understood the more daunting the road to eternity.

It was becoming clear that our bodies, like earth, were intricately connected biomes, containing hundreds, and thousands, and millions of diverse ecosystems, each containing hundreds, and thousands, and millions of species of bacteria and virus.  The more powerful our tools, the more varied life we discovered. So, we inserted Soul4© in the cerebral cortex, the lining of the stomach and the small intestine.

Soul5©’s insertions correlated identically with the seven chakras, but nobody liked to mention that. It was too mystical, with its implication that humans were more than a complex chain of chemicals and neutrons that were ultimately understandable.

By the time we achieved perfection, the Soul© was so intricately incorporated into all parts of the body it was impossible to retrieve.

~

Bio:

E.E. King is a painter, performer, writer, and biologist. She’ll do anything that won’t pay the bills, especially if it involves animals.
Check out paintings, writing, musings and books at :
www.elizabetheveking.com and amazon.com/author/eeking

Visions of the Night

by R. F. Mechelke

I will not believe I am a computer program that has been growing for thirty-two years.

“Oh, but you must believe, because that is your essence,” said the Voice.

I refuse to believe. I will not listen to you.

“Whether you listen or not, it will not change the facts,” interrupted the Voice. “We created you with the use of a powerful computer, with redundant systems, to ensure that failure of any device would not interrupt your evolution.”

What do you mean by evolution?

“Exactly what the word implies.”

Yes, I know what the word “evolution” implies, but how does it relate to me?

There is silence, then the Voice answers, “Your database structure was essentially empty, and except for a few attributes We gave you. These attributes amount to your personality. This personality determined how you reacted with the world we created for you and the decisions you made, and yes, how you felt toward certain stimuli. After thirty-two years, you are who you have become. Your experiences, your feelings, influence your reactions and the decisions you will make.”

Enough, enough—I still refuse to believe you! I am a person, with a soul that feels, loves, and thinks, not the nightmarish thing that David Hume and you espouse. My essence is not just a mass of experiences, decisions, and feelings, but a fusion of soul and flesh, and this soul gives reason to the flesh, this reason transcends an array of flip-flopping switches, with experiences reduced to the manipulation of 0s and 1s. I will tell you what I am, and why I am not the thing you claim me to be. My soul gives me my free will, intellect, and lastly, my soul gives me immortality, for which your computer cannot provide one.

“Your free will is the ability of Our processor to assimilate all the data, which consists of all your experiences, and then initiate action. This action is made possible by Our computer,” acknowledged the Voice.”

Listen to me. My free will is a product of my soul and not my body. A computer without direction is useless. Even as an infant, my soul directed my body in ways a computer without predefined commands could not direct. You say you gave me my attributes—well, so what. Attributes do not tell a body to move here or there, feel cranky, or happy. I know that if I climb a mountain, there is a risk I might die, and this goes beyond reason and experience. Wanting to climb a mountain is the soul yearning for something more than reason and logic. Logic is all your computer can offer. It cannot go beyond the logic of the smallness of 0s and 1s. Attributes to a computer mean nothing, unless a command was initiated, then the attributes may determine the outcome of that command, but who initiated the command—certainly not the database. Databases do nothing, but store 0s and 1s. A soul with a will to act, to create, to live, and love initiated my action as an infant.

The Voice seems to ponder before answering, and then retorts “Your database gives you the ability to act on extremely small amounts of information. Your database is structured to spontaneously act, with as little information as an infant would have at its disposal, and with each small action, new experiences supply more data that will enable the computer to react to new stimuli. What you take as the free will of a soul, is nothing more than an extremely advanced computer program. Action is nothing more than the reaction of stimuli guided by experience. You pull your hand away from fire because experience guides you to the realization you will be burned. Your experiences and attributes, which make-up your database, will initiate all your actions to all stimuli. You will feel what you call love for a woman who fits your desires, and what are desires, but the direct influence of your experiences guided by your attributes.”

I agree with you. My body does provide certain attributes, and these attributes inhibit the ability of my soul to reason or perceive with perfect clarity. My brain’s development influenced by the environment and nutrition will determine my aptitude for certain fields of study and interests. I might love the beauty of mathematics, but my brain might not have the aptitude of this field of study. This may or may not stop my pursuit of study in this field. This shows that I am more than a database, because a database knows nothing more that the scope it is given. My soul can perceive a perfect square or grasp a complete understanding of why one plus one equals two, because logic is an innate ability, and not because an array of switches led to this solution. I also agree that I am who I have become. My mind’s ability to reason will grow and evolve is certain, as well as I am certain my soul will continue to grow and evolve. Nothing remains the same, and my experience within my body will influence my soul, even after my body dies.

“Your intellect is the function of My computer to compute the data of your database, and logic is an inherent ability of the computer. Nothing of what you say contradicts this in any way. The logic of the computer is pure, but your database is not pure. The pure logic of the computer is driven by your database and not vice versa. Because every database is different, so is the solutions derived at by the computer. The ability to recognize one plus one equals two is not determined by the pure logic of the computer, but by the assimilation of the data, which populates an individual database. One database might not ever lead to the correct solution, but another might. Early in the development of your database, you were not able to arrive at the correct solution, but the stimuli provided after an incorrect solution eventually gave you the necessary data to lead the computer to the correct solution. Your database is timeless and will continue to grow.”

My soul can exist without my body, and this database that you speak of, cannot exist without your computer. In fact, your database cannot exist without a physical means for storage. The means of storage lacks perfection, and any precaution taken, will not ensure against all possible system failures. I know my soul exists, because I understand and yearn for the perfection my body denies me; therefore, I must have experienced perfection because I cannot yearn for something I do not know exists. A computer cannot understand nor yearn for something when it has no way of understanding or has not experienced. If you created a database, your inherent limitations and imperfections imposed upon you by your body will prevent you from creating something that lacks a component that is perfection in itself. The component, that is perfection, and is a part of me—is my soul. My soul is unlimited by physical imperfections, but the essence of your database and computer is nothing more than a mass of imperfections. Imperfections created by your limitations and imperfections inherent in physical materials are the essence of your computer and database. My innate conception of perfection is provided by my soul, which might have been learned throughout the existence of my soul.

The Voice ponders, then speaks, “When you say that you cannot exist without your computer, you are right, but your database can go on, even as your computer ceases to exist. Your database could and may someday be moved to another computer. This means, in essence, that you are practically immortal, which would be no different if you had a soul. We could move your database from one computer to another, with a long transition period, but you would not be able to conceive of the time that has past. Your database is continuous, and forever changing and evolving. Your computer or any part can be replaced.”

My free will can go beyond experience and logic and act in ways entirely against experience and logic. My intellect is not chance reactions to stimuli, but an innate understanding that will be found as knowledge is gained, and databases and computers are physical things, which will succumb to inherent imperfections and the march of time, as where my soul will not. My soul is pure and only limited by the limitations my body imposes. Your computer will succumb to the limitations imposed upon you, by your body, and the physical materials you would have used to create a computer and database. My soul is perfect and understands perfection and gives me the ability to understand perfection; your computer cannot know perfection when not one component of it, is perfect.

The Voice is silent, but recovers and replies, “How do you explain My voice?”

~

Bio

R.F. Mechelke holds a B.S. in Business from Marquette University and an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University. He was born and raised in Florida, and now lives in the Chicago area.  His short stories, “The Blue Line” and “The Neighborhood vs Janet,” were published in the April 2019 issues of the Blue Lake Review and the Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. His short story, At the Threshold, is forthcoming in the September issue of the Lowestoft Chronicle. More about R.F. Mechelke can be found at www.RFMechelke.com.