The following is an excerpt from David Clements’ “His Final Experiment,” the feature story of One Weird Idea #1. OWI#1 will go on sale within the next twenty-four hours. Until then, enjoy…
The college canteen will make a welcome change from the winter outside. Willis will rub his hands as he awaits his coffee. Perry will sit beside him, his notebook at the ready, with Welch across the table. Welch will close his eyes for a moment of preparation, then will say, “I wondered what the professor was going to do.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Welch, I’m not sure I get your meaning,” Willis will reply.
“It is suicide, isn’t it? He killed himself?”
“Our investigations are progressing, Dr. Welch, but we have no conclusions. Do you have any information that might help us? Why do you think it was suicide?”
A deep breath. “It was his only logical choice. He’d painted himself into a corner, but the results were incontrovertible. He had only one possible escape route.”
“What results, Dr. Welch? Some calculations you were doing?”
“It was the collision of his philosophy with reality. He couldn’t see a way out. His only choice was to try one last dangerous experiment. To face inevitability head-on, to see if consciousness could break through… It was a desperate measure to save himself, his ideas. But… he was wrong.”
Perry will look up from his note taking, giving Willis a deep frown of incomprehension. At that moment, their coffees will arrive, along with sandwiches for Willis. He will pass a mug of coffee across the table to Welch.
“Maybe you should start at the beginning, sir.”
Welch will take a swig of coffee. “The beginning. Where is that? It’s rather an open question if cause and effect are bogus.” He will look at the two policemen opposite him, glancing from one to the other, and see that he’s losing them again.
“I’m sorry. This has all been quite a shock and I still don’t know how to deal with it. But the beginning, yes… you’d have to know something about the professor and his work, to start with. He works… worked… on the philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics — what all that quantum randomness means. There are several schools of thought. The good old Copenhagen interpretation essentially says that it’s just a way of calculating things, and all the randomness, the probability of electrons jumping from here to there, is just an artifact of our calculations, and don’t have any real meaning in the universe. Only measurements matter.”
Perry will be writing notes on all this, but he will give Willis a look that says, Is this something we should bother with? Is this guy a loony? Willis’ raised hand will reply, Keep on, let this play out and we might learn something about the case.
“Then there’s the many-worlders who would say that all possibilities happen, that the probabilities show the number of universes where one thing happens rather than another, but that anything that can happen, will. The professor was somewhere in between. He saw the observer as the key, saw the act of conscious observation, with free will and the ability to make choices behind it, as being what makes the universe real, rather than virtual. That would make us – real, thinking, choosing beings — in some sense masters of the universe. We make it real by observing it. That was what we were trying to prove when we built the experiment.”
“An experiment? The professor’s work was entirely theoretical though,” Willis will say.
“Until recently, yes. But we had some ideas for something radical — well, he did, anyway. I helped a bit. It wasn’t that difficult an experiment, and all the material and equipment were already available.”
“And this produced the results that you think made him kill himself?”
Welch will nod. “In a sense, yes.”
Willis and Perry will exchange glances — not your usual motive for suicide.