10 March 2003
The smartly dressed woman sitting on the opposite side of the tube carriage announces that the government are taking away her freedom with what they're doing, that the colour of her skin has nothing to do with what's in her head. The girl in the next seat carefully doesn't look in her direction.
Tugging my suitcase along the pavement in the rain, overtaken by a hundred people I'll never see again, it doesn't feel like I've spent the last six months in Chile looking at the stars.
After we release the paper, "Measuring the deviation from zero of information efficiency in climax state systems", I tab through emails, responding to requests for mathematical clarification and ignoring the others. Over the next two weeks the frequency of their arrival in my inbox increases, matching exactly the curve I sketched out on the plane back to London. Simple network theory, an announcement rippling through the community.
Over the top of my laptop I look out the window, trying to think whether the people walking down the pavement in ones and knots of twos and threes look like the pattern of buses arriving, birds settling on a wire, the global tempo of earthquakes. Or maybe just people, walking.
Approaching the park I idly create parallel universes by randomly deciding whether to dodge left or right around universes. A whole other cosmos pops into existence when I, at the last minute, go to the left of a bollard (in the other universe, I went right). A parked car means another forked decision, another doubling of the universes (I go down the left branch again). By the time I've woven my way out of the streets, I've made dozens of such decisions and created millions of universes.
At the park itself my run of bifurcations comes to an end as there are only three gates from which to choose. Taking the middle one, I wonder what happens to all the other possible universes, all the other approaches. To evitability. I shiver even though the sky is blue, put my hands in my pockets and find a packet of cigarettes despite not smoking for years.
What the paper took as its starting point was that complex systems seem to act in the same ways. The Milky Way will spiral into the central black hole in much the same way as the soap bubbles disappear down the plug hole after my bath. The way a shell spirals matches the unfurling of the history of a population of rabbits: the Fibonacci sequence. There's complications, sure, because the soft shell is pushed by the currents of the ocean (encoded in that tiny aberration is a whale twisting her tail in the Pacific); because I stand up in the bath and give the water movement.
But if you take the entire system... Not just where everything affects everything else, because that's just noise, but where there's maximum variation in the size and connections of things. Not just sand in other words, but the whole world of rock: from mountains to dust, all interacting, all changing into each other. Maximally complex.
The climax state.
Like: rainforests. Like: the brain.
What the paper says is: as the amount of complexity increases, the amount of information in the systems grows enormously. What the paper says is: this amount of information is very close to how much the universe can hold, so the room to manoeuvre shrinks accordingly. What the paper says is: all climax state systems encode exactly the same information, in exactly the same way.
"What this means," I say waving a glass of wine at a faculty colleague, "is that I spent six months in Chile reading the London Tube Map in the constellation of Aquarius."
Continuing, when he looks bemused, "Not really. But we did predict galactic size distribution in the Local Group from urban growth models."
What the paper means is something we never specifically say. It means that the maths behind all climax state systems, human social dynamics, the early universe, the history and future pattern of global prosperity, the political situation, the maths is identical. Not the ideal model behind them, that pretend mathematics we do when we're simulating a system. The actual things themselves.
It's a cheat on the part of reality. It's why there never looked like there was enough variation in the Big Bang to account for all there is now. Because when a system reaches the climax state, it doesn't add to the amount of information there is -- it copies it. Wholesale.
Looking at the cosmic background radiation map, the picture of the birth of the universe, I try to think what the world will be like when we figure out how to read it.
There's a speck of that map that represents right now, this peculiar moment in the whole of human history when we discover that the pattern of the long life of Homo sapiens is the exact same unfolding pattern as the one frozen on the computer screens of our telescopes. We'll know which---
Once we can decode the map.
That speck is me sitting here looking at the map itself. That same speck is a wolf population crashing on the Russian steppes. Is the European distribution of the money supply in one given second some time in the eleventh century. Is the whorl on the fingertip of a human stranger, millennia into the future. Or that same human's lifelong emotional rollercoaster. Doesn't matter. Is an event or frozen feature in any number of climax state systems.
All following the same script, all obeying the same eternal sequence.
What will people do then, being able to read their love lives, the stock market, war and peace all in the stars? Aware of their fate, powerless to do otherwise.
The study will take a long time. It'll take years before the glare of unstoppable fate and infallible prophecy is brought to bear.
Meanwhile I walk the streets on London, through nostalgia for ignorance and imagined free will. Here, a swarm of tourists flows around the Eros monument; and I see the expression of a lioness gathering her cubs beneath her. Another step and here instead, I see the pattern a bad mood takes as arguments get passed on and on across the American continent.
Soon we'll be able to predict exactly what we'll think, exactly how we'll act, know what has happened throughout history, just by reading the map. The rock solid inevitability of it all is deafening.
I sit on a bench and watch the beauty in people's faces. Deep wrinkles on old men, and bright eyes with keen faces walking by. Above the people and the concrete is a slate blue sky, cold, impassive and clear. I can feel the pace of my heart beating. In glorious London around me, it's reflected, and I can feel also the pulse and energy of London inside; London is my brain, in society, reflections of crowds in our turmoil, of its variety in the rainforests, in the cosmos. One and the same, infinite recursion.
Then, a supernova.