CRWR 200 Short Story
Disclaimer: This piece touches on suicidal ideation. My intention was to explore the connection of the Buddhist conception of emptiness and the experience of death/non-being. This is in no way drawn from my own life or experiences and encourage those dealing with suicidal ideation to seek professional help.
The room was fraught with tension.
“What do you mean the last one was deleted too? Are we in an unwinnable battle?” The Bishop was incredulous.
“A thousand years of engineering, mastering the physics of this universe, answering every question knowable by man, and we still can’t figure this one stupid thing out?”
He slammed his fist into the table with a flat thud, but nothing shook. It was an otherwise bleak room with smooth steel walls and glass displays covering every other surface. Displays on the surface of the table flashed a bright crimson, signalling some sort of error.
Only the twelve in this room really grasped the true extent of what lay beyond the cold, flashing screens. Indra was a multi-planetary computer, designed to self-improve and self-adjust to better serve the people who created it. The designers and engineers of Indra were revered as prophets, vision-bearers who would guide Earth out of the climate crisis, civil wars, and wide-spread famine. Indra solved ageing, answered fundamental questions about the nature of reality, and even molecular engineering – long considered to be the key to controlling the physical world. Yet this one question seemed to stump even Indra itself.
“What do you mean there’s ’no answer’? I cannot announce to the trillions of conscious beings that…that all the progress of mankind is going to be erased by a little bit of randomness–”
“Entropy, actually” I interjected. Somebody had to correct him.
“I don’t care! Entropy, randomness, same shit. Indra is telling us that society as we know it will cease to exist in what, a few centuries, and we can’t do anything about it? That the world is going to be ended not by some sort of cosmic freak accident or engineering failure but by a fundamental flaw in the universe?”
Eyes were cast downwards at the floor and at each others feet. The Bishop pointed a trembling finger at me.
“You. You seem weirdly confident about figuring this entropy shit out.”
And with that, he stormed out of the room. Cautiously, the rest of the designers and engineers filed out of the room, shrugging and providing glances which seemed to say ‘you did this to yourself’.
I spun in my chair and smirked. There’s only so much you can do in a world that has all of its problems solved. Finally, something to do
“Hey Indra… never mind”
I chewed on a meal replacement bar and tossed the wrapper amongst the 5 other ones on the table. Indra seemed to hum in disapproval.
Every single direction I had tried to prod and tug at this question all seemed to end up at one fundamental concept: information loss. It is an axiom that information cannot appear or disappear – how did so many fields run into some inconsistency with this? It was everywhere I looked. What happens to the quantum information of matter when it falls into a black hole? What happens to the semantic information in computer hard drives when they are wiped empty?
Each attempt to answer a question always felt like an intellectual dance, with me asking a question and Indra answering. Always getting close but never approaching an answer.
Perhaps there wasn’t one?
I sighed and looked out the sole window in the control room. It was on the 120th floor of the Ministry of Affairs, far and isolated from the rest of society. With a machine as powerful as Indra, the isolation was necessary.
I had thought this would be a relatively easy question to crack – after all, most requests the Bishop made were easy to fulfil. But something about this problem was fundamentally different. Whereas others would take days to months, this one I struggled with for decades and I knew the Bishop would be back soon.
I looked around for something to punch, something to scream at, but the room was bare. A thought crossed my mind.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to just… die? Or not exist?”
I let that thought linger in the air, feeling the shape of the words that I had thought many times but never said aloud. Ageing had been solved by Indra a long time ago but one’s life could still be ended, right?
What would it be like to die? As consciousness ceases to exist, what happens to the self? A sudden jolt of realization sat me upright.
“Hey Indra, what happens to the consciousness of a person as they die?”
The surfaces hummed and shimmered, almost as if I could hear it thinking.
“Ok… how does consciousness arise?”
It didn’t matter that Indra had no answers for me. My mind was racing, speaking out loud only as an artifact of my train of thought.
“Does consciousness arise in artificial minds?”
“Indra, how did you come to exist?”
I WAS CREATED EONS AGO BY A GROUP OF 12 ENGINEERS AND DESIGNERS. THEY NAMED ME AFTER INDRA’S NET. DESIGNED TO–
“What is Indra’s Net?”
INDRA’S NET IS A METAPHOR THAT ILLUSTRATES THE CONCEPT OF EMPTINESS. EMPTINESS DOES NOT MEAN EMPTY OF FORM BUT RATHER EMPTY OF INDEPENDENT EXISTENCE – ALL THINGS DEPEND ON EACH OTHER TO EXIST.
Something suddenly illuminated in my head. There is no solution to decreasing entropy. Entropy is the universe’s form of returning to emptiness and emptiness is… fundamental.
Emptiness is like the mathematical concept of 0. It seems to have no value, yet is it the foundation of mathematics. Without 0, you cannot have 1, 2, 3, so forth. It is this entropy, this process of returning to emptiness, that gives life its meaning! It felt like an almost cosmic revelation. An almost raw guttural scream emerged from my mouth and I let it engulf me.
At that moment, the Bishop burst into the room. “What is all the commotion going on here?”
I smiled at him. “No. There is no solution to the problem.”
I knew that this wasn’t an answer that the Bishop would take lightly and I gladly accepted my fate. The Bishop spat on the ground.
“You started off with so much confidence, we thought you would be different. No, you’re just like the others that came before you. Clueless about the inner workings of this universe. Useless. Delete him.”
I smiled because I knew the truth. I smiled because it was ironic that I would suffer the same fate I had spent so much of my life trying to hard to prevent. I smiled because the Bishop would choose another to try to answer the question I and so many before me had failed to answer. I smiled because I knew they would come to the same conclusion I would.
“Make sure the next one you choose to work on this problem isn’t this arrogant.”
It was in deletion and in death that I finally felt at peace. No urge to understand. No urge to prove myself. Just… emptiness. Paradoxical, isn’t it? Only those who understand emptiness truly realize that it isn’t something to be feared.