My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sun, 19 Feb, 2006

A Myriad of Identities

Name it and it exists. This has been a cultural belief ever since prehistoric times, and it continues to function, even subliminally, in our own culture. In even the most atheistic, rational, and enlightened scientific mind, to name it is to bring it into being: virtual particles, virtual names, virtual existences. Instantons, superparticles, gravitons, tachyons, neutralinos…. these things exist, for now, only because theorists say they might or should exist. They are not living creatures, they don't have consciousness, they don't answer any questions, but they do have existence, at least until some experiment proves they don't.

The multiple-universe theory currently popular among the more daring theoretical physicists proposes a vast myriad of universes parallel to this one. Each one of them has different original properties and turns out somewhat different, or even radically different from ours. Some collapse almost as soon as they are born. Some are too light, never form stars or galaxies, and drift on in an amorphous cloud until they dissipate. Others form stars that are too massive to survive for long, and they implode, overcome by their own massiveness, into black holes, so that unfortunate universe is a lightless collection of gravitational sinks. And others may be just like ours, except for perhaps one or two details, for instance, that the Baltimore Orioles have a great pitching staff, or that vegetables taste good.

Here in the virtual world of Netland it is almost spring, and the fall of spam e-mail snowflakes has turned to a fall of spam raindrops. The territories on the edge of madness are still populated by the eerie crowd of virtual names, created by spammers with name-generators which search census records and recombine them in a near-infinite set of possibilities. I have received e-mails from Florenza Markmeyer, Ulysses Kaldas, Waldemar Fullager, Maximo McGehee, Heinrike Talmadge, Fanny Kennedy, Phrixus Vivas, Demeter Foote, Briggs Tetreault, Martin Lubikowski, Emmanuel Roper, Adah Cormier, Kaycee Kipnis, Hupprecht Clagon, Maribel McDowell, Milka Mihan, as well as the redoubtable Dagfinn Moroney, the mysterious Yanaton Pawliw, and one of my all-time favorites, Zosimus Brickhouse. What do you mean they don't exist?

They are hungry ghosts, uncounted trillions of them, all hungry for my money, trying with unreal desperation to sell me mortgages, sex aids, penny stocks, and drugs, drugs, and more drugs. In the physical world as well, I receive endless solicitations for my donations, all for worthy causes: animal rescue, impoverished children, sufferers from diseases, women's rights, care for the homeless, schools and colleges I may have attended, or politically correct campaigns. The papers pile up, each one hungry and needy, picking at me with a whole earth's full of un-slakeable want. My entire life savings could be thrown into the neediness of the world with less effect and less splash than just one or two of those virtual raindrops. In the late winter darkness, the hunger of this world's creatures draws me downward like the gravity of that black hole.

I did give a pittance to one or two of these charities, overwhelmed by guilt and by the photographs of neglected kittens and starving children. But that only brought more need to my door, more mailings from more charities, since once a charity has received a donation, they know that I am a "live one" and possibly good for more, so they "share" my address and data with a dozen other ones. I do not feel better for having given anything to them, because for every one I gave anything to, I denied contributions to ten others just as worthy.

And what do they send back to me? In this case, not a kaleidoscopic flow of combinatoric names, but re-iterations of my own name and postal address, printed on decorative stickers to be used as return addresses on envelopes. I have, in the last year or so, received page after page of these stickers, most of them correctly spelled. They are pathetically cheerful, adorned with pictures of colorful flowers, cute puppies and kittens, bright patriotic symbols, tasteful leaves, or kiddie cartoons. Sometimes they are typeset with the first letter of my last name in an Old English script, as if somehow I were a member of a noble family whose ancient and honorable name's initial was etched into the family silver, inscribed on the porcelain table settings, and engrossed above the heraldic arms over the great fireplace.

I counted them. (It was a slow night.) I have, at current count, 943 name and address labels. That's nine hundred and forty-three copies of my name, which, in the virtual world, means nine hundred and forty-three copies of me. I am multiplied by the hundreds, cloned approaching the thousand, all ready to go out in mass mailings for charity. What if each one of them also cloned my give-able money, so that instead of just one grudging contribution, I could give nine hundred and forty-three contributions, flooding the needy world with virtual donations? And then, for each one I sent out, the recipients would then send my name and address to many more, who would then send me back their own requests for aid along with their set of name and address labels for me. The name and address labels would multiply exponentially, until the entire world was filled with nothing but me, me, me, the greatest giver in the world, at least until that universe crashed down under its own weight into a black hole. And even then, the solicitations would not stop, and the ghosts would still multiply, hungrier than ever, as charitable donations swirled out of sight into the endless gravitational maw of the world's need.

Posted at 3:48 am | link

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