Paul Atreides’ prescience, the ability to see future events, in Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ is both a literary device and commentary on science throughout his novel. As a literary device, Herbert uses Paul’s ability to see the future as a way of foreshadowing events in the book. In Paul’s visions, the reader sees the destruction of the House Atreides, Paul meeting Chani and the Fremen, and his rise as a messianic figure. The author also shows how Paul may be the long-anticipated hero of this messianic story, the Kwisatz Haderach, as hinted in the scene with the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam and the Gom Jabbar test. But Herbert also tells the reader another story, one about the danger of living in a deterministic society where freedom gives way to absolute predictability and control. The trap of the prescient as he calls it.
To understand Frank Herbert’s fear of a world where everything is determined and predictable you have to understand the times in which he lived. From the 1940s through the 1960s science was both the boon and a bane of human society. Through science, human beings could increase lifespan, end hunger and disease, and promote peace. Science could also make more devastating weapons and introduce the threat of a technocratic despotic state. Computers, or thinking machines, could orchestrate all aspects of human life and, with their ability to predict future events, create a static society where everything is determined and controlled. Herbert hated this idea, of the loss of free will, so much that in his book he had the “thinking machines” destroyed in a Great Jihad. He also postulated that this folly by the people who wanted to predict the future, to control the fate of others, would not end with that. So in ‘Dune’, Herbert introduces the reader to prescience, and Bene Gesserit’s eugenics program to achieve this goal, and how this could lead to the extinction of humankind.
The creation of the Kwisatz Haderach by the “witches” in the narrative gives the story both the reason for the central character, Paul Atreides, to be the messianic figure in this story and the theme which is the folly of predictability. Paul’s abilities set him apart from those around him through his visions of the future and foreknowledge of things he shouldn’t know. For example, when he knew how to wear his stillsuit for the first time or of his mother’s pregnancy with his sister. His visions of the future weren’t perfect, though. They were not always accurate and could even be open to interpretation as to when he failed to predict Gurney Halleck’s attack on his mother and the death of his first son, Leto. Paul himself described his prescience ability as a man traveling through the desert. When the traveler reaches the crest of a dune he can see for miles in the direction of his destination. It is only when he begins his journey, and climbs down to the lowest part of the dune, that his vision and sense of direction become obscured. Paul could see the future but once he attempts to move in that direction “his vision becomes obscured.” This is an analogy of computer efficiency in Herbert’s day. Computing technology was good at making short-term trend predictions but for predicting anything long-term with any accuracy it was virtually impossible. Like the traveler, the scientists could see their answers on the horizon but couldn’t see how to get there. In the novel, Paul saw an infinite number of scenarios, all equally valid, with the only difference being choosing the one least unfavorable. Instead of leading a conquering army on a bloody crusade under the Atreides banner, he chose the part of the messiah for the Fremen Jihad and Emperor of the Known Universe. Statistical analysts had the same problem, but not so dramatic. They also could see an infinite number of scenarios through the data they accumulated and from those chose the most plausible. If, they thought, you could build a better, faster thinking machine, a computer able to handle more data, then you could eliminate the uncertainty and make a better forecast of future events. Paul in his frustration in not being able to “see” Gurney Halleck’s attack on his mother echoes the same indignation futurists had with computing systems. They, like Paul, wanted a better way to improve their vision of the future, to make trends more predictable, and that is what Frank Herbert saw as dangerous.
Herbert wasn’t the only science fiction author writing stories about “science going amok”. If scientists were to create machines that controlled human society it would mean the extinction of humankind. It is an old trope with countless examples (it is still in use today with the fear of AI and life under the control of the machines!). In ‘Dune’, the electronic machines were replaced by “human computers”, the mentats. Mentats were human number crunchers which is what computing systems were at the time Herbert authored his novel. They perform copious amounts of numerical computations quickly so that the data can then be analyzed and propose workable solutions to problems. It was making short-term predictions by following the trends in the data. The more data that could be accumulated the more accurate the predictable outcomes. A mentat is only as good as the information it was given. It is no surprise that mentat training was part of Paul’s education through Thufir Hawat. Making reliable predictions, to see into the future, was the goal for developing supercomputers. Once you had such a system you can control multiple aspects of functionality, control the fates of others, and eliminate randomness. Control, and the end of free will, is what scared writers, like Frank Herbert, in this genre. But there were limitations in building such a system. There was a need for new programming algorithms and the miniaturization of transistor electronics. An intuitive leap in technology was necessary to create the kind of control in trends for long-term predictions. There was a need to shorten the way.
In the novel, Paul takes the “Water of Life” and makes his ascension to the level of the perfect seer. Computing technicians were doing the same in a way, through innovations in microchip technology and software, by building bigger and faster computing systems. To Frank Herbert this acquisition of technology was equivalent to Odin drinking from the Fountain of Wisdom and, as with Odin, it would come with a price. Paul drinks, pick the path of lesser evils (according to trend analysis seen as the possible scenarios in his visions), vanquishes his enemies, marries the princess, and becomes the new emperor. But what then, Herbert leaves us to ask? How will history judge us for following the words of the seer and ignoring the warnings of common wisdom (for Chani was wise!). Is the future a paradise of peace and plenty under the rule of the Perfect Prophet? Can a pre-deterministic controlled society, with no free will, end humankind’s problems? Frank Herbert continues his treatise on the scientific folly of predictability in his next three next books culminating with ‘God Emperor of Dune’. (To continue in Part Two)
They are both wrote about the decline and fall of an empire but observe how this comes to be through different eyes and resolutions.
Asimov’s approach in ‘Foundation’ is one of a historian. He describes how bureaucratic inefficiencies and a disconnected oligarchy caused the end of the Galactic Empire. He does so analytically and logically throughout ‘Foundation’ and ‘Foundation and Empire’. He changes in ‘Second Foundation’ when he introduces a proper protagonist/antagonist narrative. He had to. The first two books were an amalgamation of published short stories with a common theme. To continue the story beyond the first two books he had to shift style and construction. From ‘Second Foundation’ to his last Foundation book he continues the narrative in this way but never abandons the logic (as questionable it becomes) of the events to the end.
Herbert tells the same story but from a more traditional mythological saga approach. The story of how the empire falls and rises again is the story of the hero’s journey. It begins with Paul Atreides and ends with Duncan Idaho, the last “true Atreides” (I do not include those works by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson because those books were not part of the original vision). Herbert tells the story as a storyteller. Where ‘Foundation’ stresses the “Science” ‘Dune’ is all about the “Fiction”. AppleTV failed with its version of ‘Foundation’ because David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman tried to make it into something it wasn’t, a mythic saga. Nothing in the first book lends itself useful for this kind of format. Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ is systematically logical and few on character development. To adapt it, Goyer and Friedman used a familiar narrative, and it is the reason it feels more like a bad imitation of the worst ‘Star Wars’ tale. This is not the same for Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’. Herbert’s ‘Dune’ is a mythic saga. Other than changes by the director for running time and artistic interpretation it is the same story by Frank Herbert. ‘Foundation’ failed with audiences because it tried to be something it wasn’t, and ‘Dune’ succeeded because it was what people expected.
I picked Jessie up from her parents’ house in my Nova at eight. Sitting with my car running on their driveway trying to keep warm. It was uncommon in December for it to be this cold in Michigan. I could hear the snow crunching under Jessie’s feet as she walked up to the passenger side. Without saying a word she opened the door and got in and I shifted in reverse to pulled out of the driveway.
“I told my parents I wouldn’t be out late,” she finally said to me as I drove down the dark, lonely road. I could tell something was bothering her, but she wouldn’t tell me what. Maybe it was another argument with her parents. I didn’t know. There were times I found it hard to understand what she was thinking. It can be that way with couples.
“Don’t worry, we won’t be out long. I was thinking maybe we’d go out to Rick’s and hang out.”
Rick Lang was a friend of ours who lived with his parents just outside of Jackon’s city limit and a couple of miles from Jessie’s. We both knew him from Mickey D’s, a fast-food restaurant all three of us worked during the summer before I left for college in Ypsilanti. All three of us were part of the fast-food restaurant’s closing crew and used to party after work together. All that summer we’d spend hours sitting in the restaurant’s parking lot late at night drinking wine coolers and smoking the joints Rick would roll. Me and Jessie would sit in front seats of my blue ’79 Chevy Nova messing with the radio while Rick would sit in the back. He would use one of the store’s dining trays to sift the seeds out from the crumbled weed before putting it into the crease of the thin cigarette paper and rolled it into a joint. Jessie would tune in from one station to another until settling on one that was playing a song we all liked.
“Stop there,” I would say when she came to a station playing Led Zeppelin.
“This one? Okay, maybe this one song but only because I like it.” Jessie began singing along with the music as I took a drink from my wine cooler. “I saw a liar standing alone with a tadpole in a jar.”
I burst out laughing and almost spilled my drink. “I saw a lion, not a liar.”
“What?” She stopped singing and looked over at me with irritation.
“It’s lion, not liar. I have the album and it’s got the lyrics.”
“That doesn’t make sense. What would a lion be doing standing with a tadpole in a jar?”
“And a liar makes more sense?”
She punched me in the arm, and we settled to the jams as we listen to another one of Rick’s stupid jokes.
“What do you call a fake noodle? An im-pasta. What do you call a guy who never farts in public? A private tutor.”
Rick would go on and on like this as he rolled another pausing only to lick the adhesive on the rolling papers to seal it. Jessie would laugh, so would I, and she would tell Lang how lame he was. Rick would just look up with that famous shitty grin of his, pop a freshly rolled joint in his mouth, and light it. They were fun times, and we enjoyed each other’s company as we drank and got high. After a couple of hours, just before the cops made their rounds to our part of town, Lang would crotch-pocket his sandwich bag full of weed and joints and climb out of the car. Before getting into his Ford Ranger Rick would always do this wink and clicking sound with his tongue as he waved goodbye. I think he thought it looked cool when he did it. I just thought he looked like a big dork, but it always seems to make Jessie laugh. Another thing he would do that he thought was cool was knock on my driver’s side window and hand me a joint before he is driving off. Other times, well, he left us with yet another groaner. After he pulled away I’d start the car, went, and dropped Jessie off at her house after a kiss, and I drove home to my parent’s house in town.
None of us had met before working at Mickey D’s because we went to different high schools in town. I went to Denton High in the subdivision on the south side of Jackson while Rick and Jessie went to Jackson High on the city’s west end. They said they had never met before because they hung around with different crowds. High school was like that back then in the eighties. Our whole lives revolved around groups you fitted into. If you were into the sports you were a jock, primps were the rich kids, drug-users were burnouts, book readers with good grades were nerds, project housing kids were slums. You also had your black wearing goths, avant-garde weirdos, and the misfits who didn’t fit anywhere. It was social suicide to ever drift outside your circle. Rick played in both football and basketball teams so he was a jock. He got his dope from the burnouts and that was all right because that was just business. He would share what he toked so that made him cool. Jessie’s dad was a regional distribution manager for one of the automotive associated companies and made enough money to live comfortably in one of the nice homes outside of town. She worked at the fast-food to save up so that when she goes to college she would have spending money. So, Jessie, the primp, would never have known Rick, the jock, even though they went to the same school. My parents were part of the working middle class that lived in one of Jackson’s subdivisions. Dad worked the night shift in a plant that Jessie’s dad managed. In high school, I was a nerd because I read a lot and had been pulling a four-point-o since the sixth grade. Graduation changes all that, at least, it did for some.
Jessie and I had been dating since April and a couple throughout that last summer we were all together. At first, it seemed like we were an odd pair, me being who I was and she, well, her dad was technically my dad’s boss. But after I mustered enough courage to ask her out, and she agreed, we found we liked each other. One date followed another and pretty soon we became a twosome. We did what most couples did back in the eighties. We wasted quarters on video games at the arcade in the mall and go out to the movies at the cinema plex. I had the Nova at the time and some nights we would just cruise around all night going from the mall to Cascade Park and back wasting gas. That summer was the best. Someone always knew somebody who was having a bonfire and kegger and we would go there to party. When we felt like being alone we would park at the Cascades and make out. We were each other’s first and, as such things go, we thought we were in love. Well, at least I did.
Sometimes we would just sit in my car and talk. At Carl’s Liquor Mart I would get someone old enough to buy beer for us and we would drive out to Cascade Park to drink and smoke cigarettes. I would park the car, me in my denim shorts and printed t-shirt, and she in her designer jeans and tank top, and we would sit listening to the music playing on the WRIF radio station. We’d talk about our stupid parents, or how dumb our teachers were, and of how shitty friends can be. She had feathered her hair for her graduation pictures and had been playing around applying more makeup to make herself look more mature. The eye shadow she wore brought out her blue eyes which, framed as they were by her dark, curly hair, made them look beautiful. Sometimes we sat there in silence, and I would just look at her. She would turn and look at me and say something like, “What are you looking at?” I would answer, “You”. We would laugh, fall into each other’s arms and kiss. It was one of those warm summer nights when we talked about leaving town for college.
“When are you leaving for Ypsilanti,” she asked as she lit her cigarette using the car’s lighter.
“The last week in August,” I answered as I took the lighter to light my own. “And you?”
“I don’t have to be there until after Labor Day.”
I was going to Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti to study teaching. Jessie had been accepted at Grand Valley State in the west part of the state on a fine arts scholarship.
She took a puff from her cigarette. “Are you going to call me when I get there?”
“You know I will.”
We had talked often about how hard it would be to stay together. We figured that we would stay in touch by calling each other every week, every day if we could and that we would see each other during the holidays.
“Could you, maybe, drive out to visit?”
‘I don’t know, Jessie, Allendale is pretty far.”
At this point, she would start crying and say how alone she was going to be and how she was going to miss everyone. Looking at her like this made me feel like a real jerk. I still loved her and knew I would continue to do so even if we were on the opposite side of the state. I felt helpless and did the only thing I could think to do; I reached out and cradled her in my arms. I still remember the smell of her perfume as I would rest my chin on the back of her neck.
August came, we continued to do what we had done all summer until it was time to say goodbye. Jessie and I made love one last time at the Cascades before going out to Rick’s for a bonfire party. When we had arrived the party was going full blast with the music playing, everyone drinks, and having a good time. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dancing Days’ from their ‘House of the Holies’ was blaring in the background. We got our cups of beer from the keg and sat in a couple of lawn chairs by the fire pit. There were lots of people there, some we knew and others we didn’t and we sat alone. This was an all-in-one graduation and going away party for Rick. The Langs were pretty cool in that they didn’t mind if you weren’t old enough to drink. They also didn’t mind us smoking pot as long as Dave didn’t make it so obvious.
I remember spending most of the time asking Jessie if there was anything wrong. She would stare at the fire pit and say nothing as she drank her beer. Lang would occasionally pop in on us and do this “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” thing as he pointed to his parent’s house. We’d catch on followed him to the house and then the basement where he would pull a joint out of his pocket, light it, and we’d catch a buzz. After the joint was gone the three of us would go back to the party and grab some of the food that Rick’s mom had laid out. Again Jessie and I sat down by the fire but this time she seemed to be in a better mood. By now Jessie was laughing and looked like she was beginning to enjoy herself. At three in the morning, things started to wind down and everyone was leaving. Jessie and I said our goodbyes, got into my car, and left. Again she went into her solemn mood and remained silent the entire way to her house. I dropped her off after we kiss, and I drove home. Two days later I left for Eastern.
It was in the same basement from the bonfire party five months ago that Rick led us down to when we arrived at his house. As we climbed down the stairs I noticed things had changed. Gone were the boxes of old toys, books, and picture frames. In their place was a raggedy old couch, a bed, and an old nineteen-inch television. Concert posters of Zeppelin and Pink Floyd covered one side of the walls and on another was a giant velour, neon green painting of a marijuana leaf. A lava lamp sat on a small table in one corner giving the room an eerie glow. It was apparent that Lang had moved out of his room upstairs and was now living in the basement. Rick pulled out a chair from under an old desk and sat in it. He then took a rolling tray, a Mickey D’s dining tray he must have stolen, and began sifting through the pot as he had always done before. Jessie and I sat next to each other on the couch as we watched him in silence. We still hadn’t said much to each other since leaving her house. Rick was the first one to speak.
“So, what’s shaken, bacon?” he said as he pinched some of the pot to put on the cigarette paper.
Thinking he was talking to me I answer, “Not much. What’s new with you, gnu?”
Rick licked the joint to seal it and smiled as I’ve always seen him do hundreds of times.
“Not much over here, partner. You know, same thing, different day. I’m working for my dad now. Business at the dealership is picking up and he said if sales continue to look good he might need another salesman. That might be me if I play my cards right.” Rick’s dad owns Lang’s Used and New Ford Auto Dealership in Concord. He did pretty brisk business. The news caught me by surprise. The last time I talked to Rick he was enrolled at Western State University.
“What happened to Western? I thought you were going there?”
“Nah, change of plans. Got a job with my dad. Making good money working at the dealership running around making coffee and picking up things. Did you check out my sweet ride outside?” I had noticed the used Mustang parked in the driveway. “Dad got me a deal on it.” He lit the joint and passed it to me.
I took a quick hit and passed it to Jessie. She waved it off not wanting any and I passed it back to Rick. I didn’t want to say anything, didn’t want to start anything, but the silent treatment was really getting on my nerves. Rick took another hit and I looked over at Jessie with a pleading expression on my face.
“I don’t feel like it, okay?” she responded angrily not looking at me.
“Okay. Okay. But what’s the matter?”
Rick and I took turns from the joint a few more times before it was gone. Whatever was going on was driving with Jessie was making me nuts. I was high from the pot, frustrated, and I couldn’t take it anymore. Something had changed between us and I couldn’t figure out what. Jessie and I started pretty well after we both left for college. We called each other every day when we first arrived from the phones in our dorms, me from Eastern and she at Grand Valley. But soon it became every other day and then once a week as classes started and the expense of calling made it difficult. There were a couple of times she missed my calls. She was out and I left messages with her roommate. I thought she was studying or making friends, joining a sorority, or something. I didn’t expect her to be waiting in her dorm room for my phone calls. But there were times I just wished she would call me back. Then there was Thanksgiving and she said she wasn’t coming home. Yes, I was upset, but I didn’t hold that against her. She told me finals were coming up and I told her I understood. But this? The cold shoulder? What was going on?
Rick sat and watched the exchange between us, sifting and rolling, sifting, and rolling until the entire bag of pot was rolled.
“We got two weeks before we have to go back! Is this how it’s going be?” I said as I got up from the couch out of frustration.
“I’m not going back! I’m pregnant!”
Rick sat with his head down looking at the tray full of joints. I stood there in silence.
“What? Pregnant? How?”
She looked up at me from the couch with angry tears before she said, “You know how. How does anyone get pregnant?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. How? How? HOW? NOT WITH YOU! Is that what you want to hear? It’s not with you! Three months! There, you know now!”
I lost my buzz as the floor from under my feet gave out. The last time Julie and I had sex was before we both left for college. Unless she was lying to me that would mean she got pregnant in September. I looked to see if she is showing. I couldn’t see the bump she may have been hiding under her coat.
“Yeah, it’s there, dumb ass! I missed my period a couple of months ago and took the test. I’m pregnant. You happy now!”
I don’t know why but I started to apologize. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I repeated over and over as I sat down on the couch my head between my knees.
“And YOU! You’re not going to say ANYTHING?!”
I looked up as her rage was focused on Rick. Why Rick? Then it hit me.
“Yeah, college guy, Rick is the father.”
Rick wouldn’t look up at us least of all me. He stared at the joints rolled on the tray in silence. Jessie got up and crossed the room. In her tear-filled anger, she smacked Rick several times on the shoulder. Rick closed his eyes and took it hunched over the tray of the pot.
“I hate you! I hate both of you! You!” she said pointing at me. “You said you would never leave me! But you went and I was alone. You left me!” “I called,” I retorted back in anger. “But sometimes you didn’t call me back!”
“So what did you do when I did? You acted like everything was okay. You didn’t ask where I was. You didn’t even ask if I was alright? It’s like, like you didn’t care. YOU DIDN’T CARE!”
“But I did care! I do care!”
“Then, why didn’t you come and see me? Because it was too far away. Yeah, that’s your answer, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Well, Rick drove up to see me. I called him and he came but you didn’t. You wouldn’t come to see me, and I felt so alone, and he came but you didn’t. Rick came to visit me three times and not once did you ever think of driving up to see if I was okay. Not once!”
I didn’t know what to say. She was right. Not once did it ever occurred to me to ask if everything was fine. I once thought about driving across the state to surprise her but talked myself out of it thinking, as she said because it was too far away. Now I thought it may not have been a good idea because of what I might have found. Rick with my girlfriend.
I got up, walked up the stairs, and left the house slamming the screen door behind me.
It had just started to snow as I made for my car. It was that fluffy stuff that came down like little balls of cotton. The air was cold, and it was silent. The countryside was so quiet you could hear the interstate a couple of miles away. I fumbled through my pockets for my keys, but they had gotten stuck in the loose threads of the lining of my coat pocket. When they finally came out I dropped them into the loose snow, and I had to dig them out with my hands. When I found them I put them into the keyhole, turned them to unlock the door, and climbed in. I sat in the driver’s seat staring out at the screen door as it swayed unlatched in the wind. I hadn’t noticed that Lang had followed me on the way out until he rapped on my passenger side window. Startled from my inner thoughts I looked over before reaching the handle to the passenger side window. I rolled it down a crack, just enough to see Rick’s breathe blowing through it.
“You okay, dude?”
“Yeah, I guess I’m okay. How’s Jessie?”
“You know, crying, angry.” He shrugged. “You are coming back in?”
“Nah, I think it’ll be better if I just go home.” I was still angry at Rick, the both of them. But mostly I was angry with myself for being so stupid.
“I hear-ya. I’ll take Jessie home.”
“Could you? Thanks.” It sounded lame after I said it. Of course, he would take her home. I was the last person Jessie wanted to see right now.
A long minute passed before Rick said, “I guess I should go back in.”
“Yeah, you should.”
I started the car as I watched Rick make it back to the house.
I didn’t talk to either one of them for the rest of the two-week Christmas break. I spent my Christmas with my family trying not to think of what had happened that evening. Once I thought I’d give Jessie a call, to see if she was okay and if she needed anything. But I thought the better of it. I even thought about visiting her house. You know, drive up, knock on her door. She would answer, give me a big hug as if things were okay, and we would laugh about it. I even entertained the idea of marrying her if Rick wouldn’t do the right thing. That was all a dream. I never drove by her house ever again. When Christmas break was over, I said my goodbyes to my parents and drove back to college.
I haven’t spoken to either one of them since that night forty years ago. Never heard from either of them or what eventually happened. Did she have the baby? Did Rick and Jessie get married? I don’t know. What about the child? They are all grown up now and maybe with teenagers of their own. There are times when I sit at my desk typing, times like this when I hear Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dancing Days’ playing on a web station, and I remember that last summer when we were together.
Millions, Billions, Trillion; we hear these terms used about large values so often people have become numb to their actual meaning. I heard a fellow employee asked one time what he would do if he won a million dollars in the lottery. He replied, “a million isn’t enough to do anything.” He had no clue how much a million is. So, let’s take the most common object and use it to illustrate what these values are.
A dollar bill is .0043 inches thick. A stack of 1000 one-dollar bills would be 4.3 inches which are also 109.2 millimeters. For the sake of mathematical simplicity, I will be using the metric system from here on. I will convert the here and there so people using “Standard” and are not familiar with the metric system can understand. I will also round-up from 109.2 cm to 110 mm because by the time we get to billions, trillion, and beyond that small difference becomes negligible (if you’re picky, you can go back and use the precise value I’m just too lazy to deal with it).
Back to our stack of a thousand one-dollar bills. A 1000 one-dollar bills are 110 mm. A million, which is one thousand, thousand one-dollar bills (1000 x 1000) on top of each other would be 110,000 mm tall, or 110 meters high (see why metric is easy? 1000 mm = 1 meter). 110 meters is approximately 120 yards, longer than the length of a football field. That’s a million one-dollar bills stacked one on top of the other. So much for my fellow employee’s statement.
A billion is one thousand million. 110 meters is .11 kilometers and when you multiply that by a thousand, to get one billion, (.11 kilometers x 1000) you get a stack of one dollar bills 110 kilometers (approximately 68 miles) tall. Mount Everest is 8.85 km (5.5 miles). 110 km is almost 12.5 times the height of Mount Everest. Twelve and a half Mount Everest mountains on top of each other would equal a stack of one billion one-dollar bills. Presently, there are 7.5 billion people in the world. What if each dollar bill represented one person alive today that stack would be 825 km (approximately 513 miles) tall or 93.75 times the height of Mount Everest! This is the height most low orbiting satellites travel at.
Take a moment to think about this. A stack of one billion one-dollar bills stacked on top of each other representing each person would be tall enough to reach space. I’ll wait.
That’s a lot of people living on Earth today.
This is why I find apocalyptic scenarios that speculate the complete extinction of human being so far-fetched. One billion is a large number and seven and a half, well, you see. Even if you were to kill off 99.99% of the human population there would still be 750,000 people alive. 750,000 is the estimated number of humans alive 10,000 years ago at the dawn of agriculture and city-states. From 750,000 to 7.5 billion in just 10,000 years, a blink of an eye in geological time! Hardly an extinction event in human terms. Nothing human beings have created thus far can kill every man, woman, and child on this planet. Yes, the human loss would be devastating but not complete. We are as indestructible as the worst of any infestation. Considering the number of species that have become extinct by our hands, beginning with the megafauna around 12,000 years ago, animal life on Earth has more to fear by our presence than any other natural event. By the end of the 21st century, if present trends continue, the human population on this planet will reach 10 billion! Not even climate change will kill us all off but the human suffering will be incalculable. Now, let’s take it up a notch and see what a stack of one trillion one-dollar bills would look like. That is if we can.
A trillion of anything is thrown around these days with as little true meaning as a billion was decades ago. A trillion is, in fact, a huge number. We just saw that our stack of one billion one-dollar bills would reach outer space. Doing the math as we have done before, multiplying by one thousand, our stack is now 825,000 km tall (512,630 miles). The distance to the moon is 363,100 km (238,900 miles). That would make our stack a little over two and a quarter-time the distance from the earth to the moon. Another way to think of it would be to make two equal stacks reaching the moon with a lot of change leftover. The stack laid on its side would circle the Earth a little over 33 times! The United States’ national debt is now at $28.3 trillion and growing every year.
I’ll give you another minute to think about that one.
$28 plus trillion dollars is an amount in debt your great, great, great-grandchildren would barely make a dent in paying it off. And like I said, it grows every year. The United States would have to run on a balanced budget up to its quadricentennial to pay it all off. It’s just impossible. Yet, politicians are always talking about how cutting a million here, or a million there makes them fiscally responsible. Who are they kidding if it’s not their constituents? Quibbling over a billion dollars, and cutting vital programs in the process, seems a little like trying to empty an ocean with a teacup.
Now, I’m going to skip a great deal of order of magnitude and discuss another term widely used but little understood by the general public, infinity. Just what does infinity mean? To most people, it means “something that goes on forever”. But can anybody truly picture what “forever’ means? Is it to the end of time? Well, no. Because the universe has a beginning, the Big Bang and, if physicists are correct, there is an end. One theory states that the “End” will come when the universe has expanded so far that star formation will come to a complete halt because the matter will be so thinned out no material could clump to make new stars a quadrillion years in the future. That’s one followed by fifteen zeros. What stars are left would form black holes that would eventually, due to the escape of Hawking radiation, will slowly fade away in ten to hundred quintillion (one followed by nineteen or twenty zeros) years from now. The only thing left at this point is a thin soup of basic particles that too will eventually lose energy and decay after a huge amount of time (1 followed by 200 zeros years from now). At this time, in the far, far future, with no movement, no particles, not even enough energy to register, time cannot be said to have any real meaning, and, so, it can be considered the “End of Time”. But this is not infinity for it goes on forever. This is why physicists hate infinity for to them it means simply “I don’t know”.
There you are, working on equations that will solve the Grand explanation of Everything and after years of work your answer comes out as “infinity”. Talk about frustration. Yet, the general public throws it around like it’s a household word. There are Infinity Stones, infinite multiverses (redundant, really), infinite possibilities (but, really, only a few possibilities). Infinity is, in human terms, an unknown and one that, by definition, can never be known.
-A. M. Holmes
Author’s Note; I’m not going to include any citations for the piece because I went to Google for such things as “how tall is Mount Everest” and “how far is the moon”. If I could do this, so can you if you have any doubts. I do think my math is pretty sound but if I did make mistakes please point them down in the comments along with the correct answer. -A. M. Holmes
I just listened to an intriguing podcast on Science Fiction with Damien Walter where he tries to answer, ‘What is Science Fiction?’ (https://damiengwalter.com/2021/07/20/what-is-science-fiction/). In it, Walter brings up what he calls the three fallacies concerning science fiction. He says science fiction is not a genre as it is more like an artistic movement, it is not just “speculative fiction”, and not entertainment. I agree with what he said about two of these fallacies and slightly disagree with him on one.
First, what I agree with. Having viewed and read science fiction since I was a small child I have been inspired to write science fiction stories. For most of my life, I’ve done this as a hobby, something I did as a form of expression, to tell stories to myself. Now, encouraged by my wife’s publications, I wish to take this hobby and turn it into something that I can share with others. One of my wife’s questions, she writes epic fantasies, was what specific subgenre I was writing in. Well, I never considered that because to me science fiction is just that, and to break it down to a subgenre, or a sub-sub-genre seemed to me to be a ludicrous idea. Why would I want to pigeonhole myself into a specific slot and limit my creativity? Why does a story need to be limited to a specific arbitrary group when it can be more than that? “Who’s your target audience?” she answered. So the idea is a marketing tool and not a real literary definition. I agree with Damien Walter in that science fiction, with its crossover into many media forms and influence is more of an artistic movement no different than, say, post-modernism. It is only defined into its narrow literary definition of “genre” and all its “subs” to make it easier for the people who market it. So, the difficulty in defining it comes from it not being a specific product.
Is science fiction speculative fiction? Yes, it can be. But is it speculation? Not necessarily so. If you take science fiction out of being a genre you can do so much more with it along other avenues of thought. Rod Serling’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ did this in many of their stories. It wasn’t always about the “if this now, this is where we’ll end up” but at times about “here we are, now take a good close look at it”. Science fiction is storytelling with one foot in reality and the other in fantasy. It is the combination of the imaginative and the rational into one narrative. Technology, physical phenomenon (e.g. time travel, black holes, etc.), and non-human encounters are aspects of the setting unless they are the protagonist/antagonist of the story. They do not define science fiction but are part of the framework. I think Damien Walter’s explanation of science fiction as the melding of the “Mythos/Logos” is very much true. It is storytelling using the abstract notion of creativity with the rationality of realism. It is a form of expression distinctly unique as in any other artistic movement, for a movement it is.
Is it entertainment? Now, here is where he and I disagree. The reason I want to be a published writer is not that I want fame or notoriety, or to make a butt-load of money but to tell a good story. Storytelling is one of the oldest endeavors that first evolved in humankind. Our ancestors told stories around the campfire to educate and, depending on the manner it was told, to entertain. You can make the daily hunt more interesting if you tell it in a certain way. Storytelling is entertainment and science fiction is or should be, about the story.
The future is the undetermined existence, space/time in a flux. The present is the coelising of the future into a fix point becoming the now. The past is those fixed elements existing as would a string within a tapestry. To pick the future is to fix it and so make it the present. To choose the past is to live within it like an insect trapped in amber. I would choose the present, because only there am I the master of both the future and the past.
I love all sci-fi from books to movies to tv series so there are times like these where I can step back and watch what makes a “true fan” of a particular franchise.
As an observer, I find that ‘Star Wars’ fans fall into 4 categories that have a similarity to religious divisions. They are as follows,
1. Those that love the original 3 (as shown in the theater) movies and read the books as canon. They don’t like the later movies (especially the ‘Phantom Menace’ and ‘The Last Jedi’) and had a stroke when “The Mouse” took over.
2. Those that love all 6 movies from Lucas (including the digitally remastered), read the books as canon. They feel a little weird about ‘The Phantom Menace’ and hate ‘The Last Jedi’. They feel apprehensive about “The Mouse”.
3. Those that love all 9 movies plus the side stories (‘Rogue Squadron’ ‘Solo’), love ‘The Mandalorian’, have never read any of the books, feel J. J. Abrams has done okay, and are open to see what “The Mouse” does as long as they don’t ruin it (whatever that means).
4. And those that love all things ‘Star Wars’ -the movies, the t.v.shows, the games, the merch, EVERYTHING. They have even gone to Disney World to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Of course, there are those that overlap and just like religious fanatics, the most conservative of zealots are the most vocal.
And don’t get me started on the ‘Star Trek’ fans and their Paramount/Bad Robot/CBS divisions.
The title of this article almost made me throw-up. The report was about an interview CNN conducted with five women from Florida about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She says that when they both attended the high school he had pinned her down and “tried to remove her clothes at a high school party in the 1980s and covered her mouth to muffle her screams.” These women defended Judge Kavanaugh because of his impeccable record on the bench and, as one woman put it, “How can we believe the word of a woman of something that happened 36 years ago… There is nobody that has spoken ill will about him.” I just stared at my computer monitor and shook my head. I read the rest, read through the history, the comments from the Democrats and those defending Doctor Ford’s statement and more of what the GOP and these women had to say. It left me deeply disturbed but not totally in disbelief for a good reason.
By now most people following the news knows of the reactions from both political parties and of the President’s comments. On Twitter, one woman commenting on the article said, “Imagine hypothetically if this happened at the school where these women’s had girls attending. What would they tell their daughters? “Boys just do those things.”
My wife, daughter and I don’t have to think hypothetically we know first hand what can happen because it happened in our high school. For reasons that will become apparent to some, or at least its implications, I can not name the school district or the high school where this happened. I can not name the individuals involved nor those who investigated the incident without facing legal retribution. All I can do is relate the basic facts.
5 girls tried to file a complaint against a boy who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. My daughter stepped up to encourage these girls to come forward. What happened next floored us. The girls were interrogated separately by a police officer and school administrator and were repeatedly asked if this was made up. Afterward, the boy was “severely talked to” but no police report was filed, and nothing noted into his school record. We were told “kids will start things and not mean it”, “the boy was just messing around”, and, love this one, “you don’t want to ruin a young man’s reputation just on what a bunch of girls says”. The girls never talked to anyone further about this and my daughter was bullied through social media by the boy and his friends.
My daughter finally had to leave the school district but not before we found out two things. 1. the police officer who took the statements was already criticizing the credibility of the young women BEFORE he talked to them and 2. the boy’s father worked for the school district. I also learned from my oldest two children who had attended this high school, and from others, that it had the reputation of being “The Rape School” of the district.
This is the society we live in and the culture that must change. This is America now where boys will be boys only if you let them.
Exciting news! Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) is coming back and so is Sir Patrick Stewart. It was announced by Alex Kurtzman, Executive Producer of Star Trek: Discovery, and Stewart at Star Trek Las Vegas (Capt. Picard in New ‘Star Trek’ Series for CBS All Access). In an article earlier this year, also from Variety, I think, Kurtzman had suggested that an animated Star Trek series was in the works and that it would be a continuation, or reboot involving an alternate timeline TNG. I doubt it will be a live action because either all of the actors have aged too much for the roles (Brent Spiner, for example, can not be the age-less Data) or are involved in other projects (although, with Jonathan Frakes directing on DISCO, he could be available for voice roles). One more thing, animated series have worked really well for the Star War franchise so it’s only logical that Star Trek should do the same.
As President Trump continues to lie, manipulate, and bully his populistic policies his nationalist followers continue to mistaken it for effectiveness and ignore the folly of it. In the meanwhile, our country continues on its chaotic course creating trade wars with stronger economies than our own and alienating allies. To stop Trump the majority that opposes him has to unite under one movement and one party. This could be the Democratic Party. Trump himself today said that if the Democrats wish to determine who becomes Supreme Court Justice they need to win elections.
If that’s the case then let’s do it! Let the “Blue Wave” overwhelm the Republicans in the November Elections! But in order to do that the Democrat Party has to pick their fights skillfully and escape the label of “liberal obstructionist” the Republicans have put on them. They have to embrace those issues the GOP have shown to be least effective and win on issues like immigration; trade; gun control and healthcare.
Let them have their Supreme Court Justice pick, let Trump have Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice. Battles are not won by skirmishes and wars are not won without wins! To win in the 2018 mid-term elections the Democrats must be the Progressive leadership Millennials and Gen-Z are looking for. Only they have the numbers to effectively overwhelm Trump Boomer support.