Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Quantum Fiction and the Suspension of Disbelief

The following article was originally published in the December issue of 24*Seven Magazine, which is available all over Taiwan in all the more interesting places. This article deals with a new phenomenon, quantum fiction, and is completely true in every way. Grains of salt will be available on your way out.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1816.

In 1816, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his famous romantic poem, “Kubla Khan, or a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment.” A year later, he coined his famous phrase, “…that willing suspension of disbelief,” which describes the ability of readers to put their skepticism on hold and enjoy something that they know to be a work of fiction. Thus, in the last 200 years humanity has gone from needing instructions on how to enjoy romantic fictions all the way to comfortably living in a nearly permanent state of fiction.

In the modern world, we are asked to willfully suspend our disbelief so often: by Hollywood, advertisers, public relations firms, politicians, network news channels and high school history books, that it’s easy to forget to turn our skepticism back on. It stays in this unnatural position like a colon that refuses to reset after a particularly bad flu. The temporary suspension of disbelief has become a permanent state. At this point, we will believe any codswallop, and codswallop becomes that which we deserve. We should be more careful, because fiction can cause real blood to flow.

In these fictional times, a truly unbelievable story is not so easy to come up with, and trying to tell the most unbelievable story leaves me in a cold sweat of indecision; hypnotized by a blinking cursor that doesn’t want to move. The competition, from every quarter, is simply intimidating. Bill Clinton told some whoppers, to be sure; “I didn’t inhale,” and “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” race to mind, but nothing in the Clinton presidency prepared the world for the Bush years; Bush pioneered quantum fiction.

First of all, Bush’s claim on the presidency is farcical and stronger claims can be made by Al Gore, John Kerry, or Dick Cheney. The idea that the US was attacked solely because people are jealous of American freedom; the idea that 19 men could do that kind of damage, the idea that skyscrapers neatly collapse when airplanes are flown into them; (never before, never since) that Afghanistan was blown to pieces because of 911 and not because of oil pipelines or that Iraq was decimated because of 911, uh, Weapons of Mass Destruction, uh, regime change, I mean to stop a civil war. That’s it; Iraq was invaded in 2003 to stop a civil war that wouldn’t be taking place in 2006 if they hadn’t invaded in the first place. It’s the sort of quantum fiction, which now passes for fact on the six o’clock news.

That said, at the tender age of four, I was abducted by either aliens or Jehovah’s witnesses; I have never discerned which. As I say, I was four and the memories of childhood do begin to fade with the passage of time and blue smoke. I was playing with the cows on a farm owned by friends of my family one night when all of the sudden the beasts all began to low at once and the pasture went awash with a soft blue light. The cows and I were beamed up into a comically-oversized Ford Escort and asked questions for what seemed like weeks. The cows were able to provide most of the answers, I couldn’t even understand the questions; I felt like an idiot.

In the morning, I was roused by my nervous parents and their equally shaken friends and asked another battery of questions that I didn’t have the answers for: “Why was I laying on top of a pile of blissed-out, sluggish cows.” “Why wouldn’t they wake up?” and “Where were my clothes?” This time the cows didn’t help out at all. One of them gave me a look that said, “We’re not saying anything, and neither should you.” Then he winked at me, I swear, before his eyes rolled back up into his skull, and left me to do the explaining. We never went back to that farm, or any farm and my parents lost touch with those friends.

Then when I was five, we were vacationing beside Lake Okanagan, in BC. This is the lake where many deluded souls have seen Ogo-pogo, which is Canada’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. I took one of those paddle-wheelers out on the lake at about five in the morning with my new Black and Decker folding fishing rod. Everyone else was asleep as I baited my hook with black jujubes and cast into the warm volcanic waters. I got a nibble right away and my little paddle wheeler was dragged out into the middle of the lake.

Something big popped out of the water, I could feel it, but I couldn’t see it because my eyes were clamped shut in terror. I could smell black jujubes and hapless small children on its breath. I fastened the rod to the seatbelt of the paddle wheeler, lunged overboard and swam as fast as I could towards the shore with my eyes still glued-shut. As I climbed onto the sands, I looked back to risk a glimpse of the monster. All I saw was the last corner of the paddle-wheeler being dragged below the surface of the water and then bubbles and then nothing.

I had accidentally swum to the wrong shore and it was a long walk around the lake back to the hotel. I was blamed for losing my new rod and the hotel’s slightly more expensive paddle-wheeler. Nobody believed my story about my serpentine brush with death, not my parents, nor my sister, nor the hotel staff who said they had heard much the same story every time something went missing down by the lake. Oh, they wanted you to believe in Ogo-pogo when you were booking your vacation, but they had no such inclinations when you were trying to explain where their brand new paddle wheeler had gotten to.

However, the single most unbelievable event of my life took place when I was six. I have never told a soul about this, because by this point I had wised up to keeping my mouth shut about bad craziness. I was at Gull Lake, on a sandy path between my uncle’s cabin and the water. I decided to learn how to golf, so I dragged an old set of clubs from the storehouse and mapped out the first hole. I made the green on a part of the path that was quite wide and then walked for about thirty yards and dug a small hole in the sandy path. The hole was two inches wide and two deep, and could not be seen from the ‘tee.’ The sand started to collapse under the hole, but I was so excited that I didn’t really take notice and instead happily ran back to the ‘tee’ to take my first shot.

I lined up on the ball and, crack, what a sound it made. The ball was long gone. I spent the next half hour looking around in the sand and tall grasses with no luck. How far could I have sent it? Maybe in had sailed the two or three hundred yards into the swamps that surrounded the lake at that time of year. Then another thought struck me. Maybe it had gone in the hole, the last place I had thought to check. I quietly walked up to my makeshift first hole and you will never believe what I found…

Now, at this point, I really have to break away from these childhood narratives and talk a bit more about believability. These stories never sounded very credible in my youth. People would stop me upon first mention of cow abductions or lake monsters, but these days, in George Bush’s sad world of quantum fiction, they don’t even raise an eyebrow. Now, is it really so difficult to believe that a six-year-old kid could hit a golf ball, I don’t know, twenty, thirty yards directly into a hand-dug hole maybe two inches wide, on his first go? No, that’s not the whole story; I wish it were.

With trepidation, I approached the ‘green’ and cautiously peered into the little hole. There it was; my ball, my Top Flight 3 gently perched on top of what looked like 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard, and VX nerve agent, a number of high strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production, 1.8 metric tons of "yellow cake" and 500 tons of unrefined uranium with Beautiful Nigeria tourist stickers all over the crates...

In short, I had found the WMD’s that Bush would send his warriors into the desert to look for (against the better judgment of the world) 26 years before they were missing. This simply wouldn’t have been possible before quantum fiction. Akin to the powers of Houdini, who could make an elephant disappear in front of a thousand people, but on a much larger, and far deadlier, scale. That which makes everything look and seem okay while so many quietly die and suffer, off camera. How might Coleridge describe this new heightened sense of fiction?

It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !


Anonymous said...

Of course I believed you. t

Anonymous said...

Heh. I don't know if Coleridge would have been aware of it. I liked Anton's dissertation on it. You might dig this: quantum fiction

Emile said...

If I don't perceive, will it exist? ;) Thoroughly enjoying reading about "quantum fiction".