13 December 2001
Look at me. Look at us. Look around. I'm awed. I'm struggling not to hug the people around me, to press my cold hands on their cheeks and swivel their head upwards, to force their eyes open. Look!
I'll begin again. I'll begin again.
Look at me. Look at everything we've made.
Let me tell you about: Computers.
About electrons in atoms and how they're like water, each solid a beaker filled to a different level. About how putting two beakers together makes the electrons pour between them, and by putting a third substance in there we can make tiny switches, half-empty, half-full, on or off, up or down, 1 or 0. The choice is yours!
About putting these little switches together so that if one is switched on, another switches off, and in combinations so we can make little tests: on and on, or off and off? Truth tables. Little questions and answers, a million or more in a space as big as your thumbnail.
About hooking these switches together to remember things. A list of things. A register of bits of information. About making the switches switch according to what is kept in the memory. Commands. Put anything in there you like. The choice is yours!
About making shortcuts to these commands. About joining the wires together to catch signals, to redirect them, to display on a screen. About all these levels.
About me pressing the key to end this sentence so that a keypress becomes an event becomes a sequence of commands about memory emptying and filling and being read; about cascading switches, a ripple across the fabric of the Pentium, a trillion yeses and a trillion nos spreading out; about electrons flowing like water; about this keypress becoming a torrent, a foam, a bubbling churning mass of electrons, dashing and falling; about this keypress
Let me tell you about: History.
And I say again: Look at us. Look at us! Humanity never left the savannah, we just extruded reality from our ears, made our dreams concrete and real, and the plains are hidden now, hidden under life.
We've been this intelligent for tens of thousands of years. The universe hasn't changed. We haven't changed. The environment has. Those things around us. That's our reality! That's what we've made! Be proud. There's only one of these realities, and we made it.
I've got no time to think about What If what we see isn't real; What If you don't really exist and it's all a dream; What If we're a computer simulation.
What? What? Didn't the computer teach you anything? We're keypresses. Who cares if it's electrons or mangos? What matters, what really matters is us. You and me. You in particular.
What If it is mangos, anyway?
I've got no time for that. Label an electron Love, and I'll talk to you. Point to where Tears are, in the fabric of Objective Reality, and maybe I'll give you the time of day. But until then: Enough of your What Ifs and check this out:
[Cue: The manufacture, the factories, the people, the ideas. The discovery of plastic. The thinking. Greek dualism. The struggle for science. The first word, spoken, tongue shaped in unfamiliar ways, a torrent of information, ons and offs, good and evil, love and tears through history: The baton of intelligence, grasping our way across the rugged hills of idea-space. The cascade of personalities, of drives, of agony that went to making the words, the concepts, the plastic, this key, this key that I press right now.
What If the first words were I Love You?]
And everything around us. Everything I see echoes with a million smiles, a million glances. You couldn't take anything away from this world. I need it all. And history! A thousand years hence a person will sit in this space I occupy, and I can feel my lifeline quiver. Looking at a building is like picking at a rug. The city! The lights!
I wallow here, surrounded by humanity.
Let me tell you about: Love.
I live off you, you live off me. I touch this key and there's energy there. We eat to live and there again there's a cascade. Eat, and feel the sun flow into the greenness of the earth, consumed and re-consumed, digested, looped, refined. I eat and the whole of nature telescoped into a mouthful enters me.
Look at the sun! I turn your head up and we complete a loop, feel the energy that has driven humanity for four billion years bounce off our skin. I turn around and I see the sun cover my fathers who built this city, bounce off the buildings, dark and light, bright and shadow.
And love: When me make love we can't label those electrons. I can't point to a single hair on your head that would encompass the way I feel about you. I hug you completely, hold as much of you as I can but I can't get all of you.
I come inside you, and there are ripples through history, I feel the Big Bang, the cosmic background tremble through me, a cascade of electrons, of ideas, of light and I can never hug them all. But I can try.
And those sperm racing towards the egg, to bring it to life: another waterfall in the eternal cascade. Millions of them.
But actually it's not that, I misunderstand. It's photons from the sun, tumbling towards earth, hurtling towards me, insistent on illuminating us, endowing our dreams with reality, photons pointed through space.
And I turn my head to the blue, blue sky. And that photon forged in nuclear fire, as cold as cold can be from the vacuum of space, I see it fly in the straightest of lines towards me.
And I open my mouth.
And I swallow.
And I'm fertilised.
And in my belly I can feel a new sun, blooming, ready to be born, inside of me.