Jason wasn’t a religious man, but when people asked him if he believed in God, he usually said that he did. There were some days when he wasn’t sure, and if an attractive woman who he suspected of atheism had ever asked him he would have said, “no.” His faith, such as it was, didn’t drive him to participate in practices that might be considered overtly religious. The thought of going to church horrified him, and for Jason a prayer was never anything but a last-ditch effort to avoid some imminent harm. “God-please-dont-let-that-bus-hit-me!” for example.
One bright October Saturday, however, things felt different. He was hiking in the hills of the Sonoma Coast and somehow the world was extra beautiful. There was something about the quality of the light, the cool ruffling of the wind through his hair, and the way the immense Pacific Ocean seemed to symbolize eternity that shouted into his soul, “GOD EXISTS! GOD LOVES YOU! GOD CREATED THIS BEAUTIFUL UNIVERSE FOR YOU TO ENJOY.” What made this sensation of ecstasy particularly strange was the fact that Jason had gone on this hike because he wanted to wallow in his feelings of rejection after having been dumped by his girlfriend, Deidre. Almost as soon as he pulled up to the trailhead, however, Deidre had disappeared from his mind, replaced by redwoods and lush ferns dappled with sunlight. And when he crested a grassy hill and suddenly saw the white capped ocean spread from the gray cliffs below all the way to where the Earth curved away at the horizon, he suddenly felt loved as he never had before. Where could this feeling have come from? he wondered. It had to have come from God!
Even though he would have usually told you that he believed in God, one thing Jason would have never done is say that he was a spiritual person. But in that moment he felt an undeniable closeness with the Supreme Being. He became aware of his spiritual self tingling away inside his body, and for the first time in a very long time he uttered a prayer that was not an attempt to avoid an immediately threatening catastrophe. He shouted, “God! I know you’re there! I can feel your presence!”
If he’d truly had faith, he wouldn’t have been surprised by what happened next, but he was surprised. Everything froze. The wind stopped blowing through his hair, the ocean ceased its endless restless motion, and all sound was muted. Such a stillness had never been felt upon the Earth since the creation of the world. Then the silence was broken by a low and thunderous voice that sounded exactly like you would expect God’s voice to sound.
“JASON! IT PLEASES ME THAT YOU HAVE FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGED MY ETERNAL GOODNESS AND BOUNTY!”
For a moment Jason froze like the rest of the planet, speechless with an overwhelming sense of awe tinged with fear. “Is that really you, God?”
“YES. I AM YOUR GOD!”
“What do you want from me?”
“I WANT TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT LIFE, ABOUT EXISTENCE. I WANT TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH OF WHO YOU ARE AND WHY YOU ARE HERE. I WILL COME INTO YOUR WORLD NOW. DO NOT BE SHOCKED BY MY APPEARANCE.”
Jason didn’t think that a command that he not be shocked by God’s appearance would have much of a practical effect. Obviously, the Supreme Being would descend in glory, on a pillar of light never meant to be seen by the mortal eyes of man. Nothing could prepare him for what was about to come, but he squinted in anticipation, hoping that this would at least partially reduce the glare of celestial illumination.
And then God was there, and Jason was shocked. He was not surprised by the overwhelming glory of the being who presented himself, but by the complete lack of it. Before him stood a man in his early thirties, instead of the ancient being with a white beard he had expected. The being had a beard of sorts, but it was short, scraggly, and dark brown. It wasn’t at all godly. Jason had also expected the Creator to be dressed in a flowing white robe and shod in golden sandals. There might also be a crown and maybe even a cape. But the being in front of him was wearing a blue short-sleeved dress shirt tucked into a pair of pleated khaki pants. He was also wearing gym shoes. They were New Balance. God, and this made no sense at all, was wearing glasses, and, not only that, they were the glasses of a nerd with cheap metal frames and thick lenses. And he wasn’t even floating in the air on a small glowing cloud being held aloft by chubby cherubs with wings that, like those of a bumble bee, appeared inadequate to permit actual flight. He was standing on the ground like a normal person. God was all wrong.
“You’re not God!” Jason stammered, “you can’t be!”
“I am,” the being said, his voice no longer booming with that resonant godlike quality, “Look around you, the world didn’t freeze itself.”
“Watch this,” the being said before pointing at one of the fluffy white clouds frozen in the unmoving sky. A thick, purplish bolt of lightning broke from the cloud and slammed into a tall redwood tree about 300 yards downhill. The light was eye-scorching and the tree exploded with such concussive violence that it nearly threw Jason off his feet. He was stunned, too stunned to stop the being who pointed to the sky again, bringing down another brilliant bolt of lightning and incinerating another redwood tree, this one slightly closer than the first.
“Okay!” Jason shouted, “I believe you!”
“I thought that might do the trick. I could show you more, much more, but I don’t want to devolve into a magic act in your eyes.”
“It’s just that you… you don’t look like what I expected.”
“And what did you expect? White beard? Robe? Sandals? A Jovian demeanor?”
“Well,” suddenly this conception of God seemed silly to Jason, but he admitted, “yes.”
“I can take any form I wish. What is ‘God,’ in your opinion? Is he a robe? Is he a beard?”
“He’s the Creator of the universe.”
“Then rest assured that I am God. Look around you, I created all of this. The mountain we are standing on, the ocean rolling away for thousands of miles below us, the worms that crawl unseen in the soil beneath our feet, the stars, even you. I am the creator of this universe.”
“What do you want from me?”
God paused, “I was going to ease my way into the topic of what I wanted from you, but since you asked, I’ll skip ahead and tell you: I want you to kill your nephew, Kayden.”
Jason thought he couldn’t possibly have heard correctly. “What? I’m not going to kill anyone!”
“I, your God, I command you to sacrifice him to me.”
Something about this situation seemed familiar to Jason, and even though he had never read the Bible, he sensed that he had encountered this scenario somewhere before. “Isn’t,” he hated to lay his ignorance bare before his God, but he had to ask, “Isn’t this. . . didn’t you do this before? In the Bible?”
“Sort of. In that case I asked a man named Abraham to kill his son Isaac.”
“As a test of his faith and fidelity.”
“But . . .”
Suddenly the light and glory that had been noticeably lacking at the beginning of Jason’s encounter with God appeared with a glaring brilliance. The coming of this celestial light was accompanied by a sound like a clap of thunder that knocked Jason to the ground. “DO NOT QUESTION MY MOTIVES! I AM GOD, YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY HOPE TO COMPREHEND ME. YOU MUST HAVE FAITH, AND YOU MUST DO MY WILL.” And then he returned to his previous form.
Jason stammered and remained on the ground as he said, “Okay, okay, I’ll do it.” A moment later God winked away, and the world was unpaused. The wind went back to playfully ruffling his hair, and the ocean continued to symbolize eternity, but Jason no longer interpreted this symbol in the light of hope. He was scared, and he regretted his agreement to kill his nephew, even if the kid was a rotten little shit.
Jason’s sister, Janice, lived in Mill Valley in a small house tucked back in the hills. Jason had always been fond of his sister, a sweet and motherly woman who had married a man who sold medical equipment and traveled frequently. This left her at home alone for much of the time with her unbearable son, Kayden.
Since Mill Valley was on the way home, Jason stopped in to say ‘hi’ and to take a quick look at God’s intended victim. He rang the doorbell and heard his sister’s voice call out, “Kayden, could you get the door? I’m cutting raw chicken.”
There was no response and Jason tried to open the door because he could feel a scene developing and if he could just get into the house, he could short-circuit it. But the door was locked.
His sister’s voice came again, somewhat muffled, but audible, “Kayden, can you get the door please?”
“I know you can hear me, honey; please get the door.”
“Just pause it, please,” Janice was exhibiting more patience than Jason had ever possessed. He knew that if he were this kid’s mother, he’d already be slapping the brat with his chicken juice covered hands.
“MOM! I can’t pause it! Stop being a bitch! It’s the kind of game you can’t pause! Shut up! You’re making me lose! I hate you!”
About 30 seconds later Janice herself answered the door. She smiled at Jason as if the exchange he had just overheard had never happened, “Oh hi! What a nice surprise!”
“Hey. I was just hiking up the coast from here and thought I’d drop by on my way back to the city. I hope that’s okay.”
“Of course! You know you can drop by anytime and I’m sure you don’t want to be alone after, you know, Deidre. I was just cooking some chicken fajitas. Corey’s out of town. Why don’t you go play Xbox with Kayden while I finish up, and then we can eat dinner together? Believe me, I’ll be glad to have some adult company.” The thought of spending time alone with his nephew was not appealing, but Jason agreed.
The boy was playing Xbox in a room that used to be his father’s home office but had been taken over by a metastasizing collection of gaming equipment over the past couple of years. Kayden was an ordinary looking kid, slightly freckled, his red hair contained by an Oakland A’s baseball cap. His beady little blue eyes were focused with intensity on the television screen where his character, some kind of ogre, was smashing elves with an enormous hammer. “Hey Kayden,” Jason said.
There was no reply.
“Your mom said I should come in here and play Xbox with you a bit.”
“Get in some quality uncle and nephew time.”
Finally, Kayden spoke with the ugly sort of squawking voice that can only come out of the mouth of a boy who is just entering puberty. “That sounds gay.”
Now it was Jason’s time to be non-responsive.
“You probably want to play something gay too. Like Halo. Gayest game ever.”
“Kayden, I don’t think it’s very nice of you to . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, I know! I shouldn’t call everything ‘gay’ all the time. That’s what my mom says. But telling me not to say things are gay is super gay.”
“How about some Halo though?”
“As long as you aren’t super gay about it.”
A couple minutes later the latest version of Halo was loaded up on the Xbox and the match was about to begin. Jayson and Kayden were on the same team, which relieved Jason somewhat because there was nothing he hated more than being killed by his nephew, and if they had been on opposite teams, his nephew would have done nothing but murder his less skilled uncle.
The game started and Jason was killed immediately. It was Kayden who had killed him. Being on the same team had not helped. Now Kayden’s player was crouching in a way that brought its butt as close to the face of Jason’s now dead player as possible, and Kayden was gleefully chanting, “Smell my butt! Smell my butt! I killed you with my smelly buuuuuuuuuutt.”
Jason lived in a small apartment in the Marina and as soon as he got home, he walked a few blocks to a used bookstore just off Union Street and bought a Bible. The Bible was a King James edition, bound in faux leather and clearly never read. Jason imagined that some grandmother must have bought the Bible as a hopeful sort of gift for a wayward grandchild. The Bible had spent a year or two on a shelf and then been sold for a dollar to the used bookstore. He paid five dollars for it and brought it back to his apartment.
A quick internet search informed Jason that the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac could be found in Genesis Chapter 22. Ever since his encounter with God he had been very agitated. Visiting his sister and her doomed son had only made things worse. He didn’t have any idea how he could possibly carry out God’s order no matter how big a pill his nephew was, and at the same time, he knew that you couldn’t just say “no” to God, or ignore him in the hope that he would go away. Jason hoped that the story of Abraham would have some answers for him, so he opened his Bible, found the correct chapter, and started reading.
And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham and said unto him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Behold, here I am.”
“So far so good,” he thought, “although saying ‘behold here I am’ seems like a silly thing to say to God. God knows where you are, that’s part of being omniscient.” Jason didn’t judge Abraham too harshly for this response, however, because he knew from personal experience that meeting God knocked a man off-balance.
And He said, “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
“Brutal,” Jason thought, “a burnt offering. Am I actually expected to burn him too?”
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand and a knife, and they went both of them together.
And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” And he said, “Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.”
And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.”
And He said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.”
“What! He didn’t actually even have to kill the kid?” And immediately a great weight was lifted from Jason’s shoulders. Of course God wouldn’t make him go through with it! It was just a test. A cruel and inhumane test, it seemed to Jason, but a test that wouldn’t actually require him to murder anybody.
The next day was Sunday, and Jason decided to return to the place where he had first found God. He put on his boots, grabbed a water bottle, and drove up the 101 towards Sonoma. After a mile of hiking through redwood forest, fern packed ravines, and grassy hillsides, Jason stood on the spot where God had descended the day before. The marine layer was thick and cast an unusually heavy midday darkness over everything in sight. He had to wait for a group of hikers to clear the area before he called out, “God! I know you can hear me! Please talk to me!”
And then he was there, dressed exactly as he had been the day before and smiling slightly. The world had frozen in the moment before his arrival, and about a hundred feet over Jason’s head a hawk had been stopped in mid-flight. “You know,” God said, “I’m not some servant who comes every time you tinkle a bell. That’s not how prayer works.”
“I get that, but I really needed to talk to you face to face.”
“You had faith that I would come. That’s a good thing and I wanted to reward it. So here I am. What do you want to talk about?”
“A couple things. First of all, when we met the first time, before you came down from heaven or wherever you were, you said that you would reveal the meaning of life to me, the truth of who I am and why I’m here.”
“Ah! You’re right! And I never did quite get around to it did I?”
“I prematurely launched right into that ‘kill your nephew’ bit.”
“Yes. And I want to talk about that too, but I think it might help me to understand if you would tell me all that other stuff you promised first.”
“Alright. This is going to be, I think, a difficult discussion from your point of view, but if you’ll just bear with me and trust me a little, you’ll see that things are going to be okay.”
Jason nodded, but at the same time realized that he didn’t trust God, which was a horrible theological discovery.
“Have you read much philosophy?”
“You’re the omniscient one; shouldn’t you know that already?”
“Right, I am omniscient, but it would just be easiest if you answered my questions when I ask them, even though you can assume that I know the answers already. It’s just how conversation works.”
“In that case, no, I haven’t read much philosophy. I took an ethics course in college; it was a required class.”
“Okay. No biggie. But I’ve been dropping hints about the true nature of reality to certain people over the years and it would be helpful if you had a little background. You’ve at least heard of Descartes I assume.”
“I think just about everybody has. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ right?”
“Exactly! Well done! Descartes did a famous thought experiment where he asked himself what he could know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was true. It was an exercise in radical skepticism and he realized right away that he should be doubtful about the existence of the physical world.”
“Because people are so often wrong about the physical world. There are optical illusions, mirages, et cetera. For example, this moment you are experiencing could be a dream.”
“That had occurred to me.”
God chuckled, “I assure you that you’re not dreaming. But you could be, there’s no way to be sure that you’re not. And if you were dreaming, then that tree over there would merely be a product of your imagination, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t have a physical reality as you understand it?”
“So, what can you be sure is true when you realize that the whole world might be a dream? In fact, it could be something stranger than a dream. Descartes asked us to imagine a demon with supernatural powers who projects a false reality into our brains. This demon has the power to artificially render every one of these trees, every person you see, and even that ocean out there relentlessly beating itself against the cliffs. Theoretically, some outside force could be projecting all that you perceive into your brain.”
“Is that what’s happening? It would explain a lot.”
“No, but I think the concept might be helpful. You need to open your mind to the idea that reality may be different, in a very fundamental way, from what you have hitherto imagined it to be.”
“Alright, given the demon projecting images into your brain scenario, what could you still know is true?”
“Well, ‘I think therefore I am’ is what Descartes said. So even if a demon were projecting my conception of reality into my brain, I’d know that at least I existed. Consciousness equals existence.”
“I hope this doesn’t end with you telling me that I’m just a brain in a jar somewhere, and all this ‘reality’ is just a bunch of electrical impulses that are being pumped into me.”
“Don’t worry. Reality isn’t nearly so creepy.”
“Okay, so what is actually happening?”
“I just want to ask you about one more person. Have you ever heard of George Berkeley?”
“I don’t think so. Is the college named after him?”
“Yes, and the city too. Both of them are practically in your backyard and it’s a shame that more people don’t know about him, because he was really onto something.”
“Okay, what was his deal?”
“His ‘deal’ was a point of view known as ‘idealism.’ Have you ever heard of it?”
“You mean, like, believing in something and standing up for your ideals?”
“No. His was a different kind of idealism. There are two basic views of existence and then, I guess, some middle ground between those two views. The first is materialism. This is the belief that everything is material. All your perceptions are of actual physical entities. You yourself are an entirely material creature, and your thoughts aren’t the product of some imaginary spirit or soul, they’re just electrical impulses that are moving through the soggy meat that is the human brain.
“Idealism on the other hand, holds that the universe is, at least to some extent, composed of immaterial objects. If something that has no material existence can even be said to be an object. Berkeley took perhaps the most extreme position of all the philosophers on this issue; he said that physical objects didn’t exist at all. He argued that the things we perceive, that tree, those rocks, that bird over there, all of them are in some way brought into being by the act of perception. They have no physical existence, and are the creations of our perceptive organs, existing only in our minds.”
“But that’s insane.”
“Is it? We have already established that the only thing you can know really exists is yourself, but even there you can’t be certain that your image of yourself is entirely real. Descartes’s cogito didn’t prove, for example, that the hat he was wearing was real, or his arms, or even the eyelids that covered his eyes when he blinked. All he could know is that his mind existed.”
Jason kicked a rock lying by the side of the trail. He had kicked it hard and winced in pain. Then he announced, “That rock is real, my foot is real. This pain has proved it.”
God chuckled. “A smarter man than you once made exactly that same argument against Berkeley, but he was wrong for the same reason you are. Pain, like all perception, is nothing but electrical impulses in the mind. It can be counterfeit. Pain can be felt without real physical damage. Berkeley would just say that the pain, like the rock, is nothing but the product of your mind at work.”
“But that’s ridiculous! You and I are both seeing the same rock! If that rock is being created by my mind, why are you seeing it too?”
“Ah, now that’s a better objection. One way I may counter it is to point out that maybe the reason that you and I are both seeing the same rock is because both the rock and I are creations of your mind. If I were a creation of your mind, then of course I would see the world the way you do, more or less.”
“In that case, everybody in the world would have to be a creation of my mind, since as far as I have been able to tell, in my entire life everyone I have met has perceived the world in roughly the same way I have. Is everything a creation of my mind? New York City, Pop Rocks, panda bears, the nephew you want me to murder?”
“I don’t want you to ‘murder’ anyone. It isn’t murder when it has been commanded by God. But before you fall down the rabbit hole of solipsism, let me assure you that I am not a creation of your imagination, and neither is anyone else you have ever met. You did not create us with your mind.”
“I didn’t think so, but if all the stuff you’ve been telling me is true, how is it we are all perceiving the world in the same way?”
“Berkeley said, essentially, that we all perceive the world the same way because God holds all the universe in his mind and his perception instructs our own. This is also why when you look away from an object it doesn’t fade out of existence just because you are no longer observing it. God, Berkeley said, can contemplate all existence in his consciousness at the same time, this is what his omniscience consists of, and he guides our minds to perceive the universe the same way that he does.”
“You’re speaking like you aren’t actually God.”
“Just paraphrasing Berkeley.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“But it’s true. The only piece that he didn’t understand is that the mind of God is mechanically assisted.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean that the computer that I use to generate existence is essentially an extension of my mind.”
Jason pondered the implications of this statement for a moment before saying, somewhat exasperated, “So, you’re saying that the Matrix is real!”
“Sort of, I guess.”
“Why didn’t you just say that in the first place? I would have understood that immediately!”’
“I wanted to give existence a more respectable pedigree than the Wachowski brothers. Plus, the Matrix isn’t real. There are important differences between that movie’s vision of the world and the reality. In the Matrix there were physical humans, naked and floating around in these big sacks of goo with fiber optic cables plugged into their spines. That’s not happening here. You exist entirely in this simulation; you have no physical body outside of it.”
“This is just a simulation? You told me you were God! You aren’t God!”
“Of course I am.”
“If what you’re telling me is true, you’re just some computer programmer. Or maybe not even that, maybe you just bought this whole thing” Jason gestured towards the wide world, “off the shelf at Best Buy.”
The programmer chuckled, “No, I built it. It’s true that I used a lot of preexisting code, one man can’t really build a thing like this from scratch, but for all intents and purposes, I built it.”
“You’re just a human.”
“You should treat your God with more respect than to call him human. Think about the nature of God. What is he? You yourself said he is the Creator.”
“You aren’t the Creator. You admitted that you used software other people developed.”
“Nobody ever said God wasn’t God if he didn’t create everything ex nihilo. As far as you and everybody else is concerned, I created this world. I rule over you. I have the power to kill and to give life. I can work miracles. I can send catastrophes. I can answer prayers. Mostly I don’t do these things; I’ve created an AI to handle day to day God functions, mostly doing nothing, which seems to be standard operating procedure for a God. But I can act when I want to. Explain to me, how I am not God?”
“But the real God exists, the God of the non-software world.”
“If you say so.”
“I’ve met God, and it turns out he’s an atheist.”
“Agnostic, actually, but even if your God does exist, how does that change my relationship with you? I would still be your Creator. I’m still the one who carved the ten commandments on your Mount Sinai, even if someone had done it once before me in a previous universe. I kept the ten I’d been given as a child, but I could have changed them if I had wanted. I’m still the arbiter of right and wrong, and still the one who metes out punishments and rewards.”
“Mount Sinai? How is it possible for you to have done something that happened thousands of years ago if you’re just a human?”
“Again, as far as you are concerned, I am not human. I am your God, and I stand outside of time. Remember that time is relative, and that you and I don’t necessarily experience it in the same way. I’ve had this program running for three of my months. I began it 5,000 years before Adam and Eve. I can speed it up or slow it down, but everyone within the sim continues to experience it the same way. I get bored once in a while and wander away, letting the program run, but then my interest comes back when big events are about to happen. World War II was fun. I can enter this world, using this avatar or others, whenever I want, and when I do I match your time relative to mine.”
“We’ve gotten away from my original point, the real God is out there, even if you don’t believe in him.”
“Let’s assume that this God of the physical world exists. I don’t want to call the physical world the ‘real world’ or anything like that, because it would imply that the world I have created, and that you inhabit, is somehow not real, and I maintain that it is every bit as real as the world of bone and meat. Let’s call the physical world the ‘First World’ and let’s assume that the First World was created and is presided over by a God similar to the God put forward by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Do you think he cares about electronic beings such as yourself? Do you think he’s angry when people play video games where they slaughter electronic beings by the hundreds? No! And not because they aren’t real, but because they don’t exist on a level that concerns him!
“And what’s so great about First World existence? In a flesh and blood world man has been defined as ‘an alimentary tube with a sphincter at both ends’. In that world man is just a machine that turns bread into shit, and a brain is nothing but an organ that excretes thought the same way ‘the stomach secretes gastric juice, the liver bile, and the kidneys urine.’ Is there something appealing in the belief that you are a skeleton covered with muscle? Basically, a Halloween decoration wrapped in hamburger and skin? I wish I knew I lived in a world where existence means that I am a creature of electricity, a creature of science, of light, of energy! I have given you a great blessing by revealing your true nature! Can’t you see that?”
It took Jason a moment to digest all this, and then he asked, “What do you mean you wish you knew?”
“I mean that I don’t know what kind of being I am.”
“You don’t know if you’re from the First World?”
“I don’t. How could I without some kind god to reveal the truth of existence to me? Once you know that it’s possible for man to create a simulation of the world, there is no way to know for certain whether you live in the First World. In fact, when you realize that there are a million simulations running in the world for various reasons – to study alternate historical outcomes, the effects of tax policies, or simply the desire of a man to be god of his own universe where he can exercise his will to power – all you need is to do a little math. If there are one million simulations running, and each of these simulations contains seven billion simulated individuals, that means that the possibility that you are actually one of the original alimentary tubes with a sphincter at both ends drops down to essentially zero. And remember that these simulations may have simulations of their own. I am probably electronic just as you are, but I don’t know for sure. I could be a thousand universes down from the original for all I know. The multiverse is a sort of electronic pyramid scheme.”
This thought made Jason feel almost dizzy, but he collected himself to finally say what he had really come to say. “I read the story of Abraham in the Bible. I know that this is just a test. There’s no reason for me to pretend to go through with it when I know you won’t make me actually do it.”
“Hahaha. No. This time I am going to require follow through. An empty feint at fidelity isn’t enough. I couldn’t pull the trigger on Isaac because he was a good kid. You read the bit in there about him carrying the wood for his dad? Can you imagine your nephew doing that? Traditionally, God demands a sacrifice of the best and purest. I’m making things easier on you by demanding only the sacrifice of the most irritating. And if you don’t do it, there will be consequences. Have you heard of hell? I can load up the Dante’s Inferno program, it’s something that, I’ll admit, I can buy off the shelf, and I’ll make you suffer each and every level of hell. You should go pick up a copy at the bookstore where you bought your Bible. I’ll give you two weeks. And don’t worry about the police or anything like that, I will make all the legal consequences disappear. Just do the deed and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“But. I can’t. I don’t have it in me to kill someone.”
“Are you killing someone? He’s only a computer program according to you, and an annoying one at that. I should think you’d have no trouble terminating an electronic non-person without any existence in the meat world, especially when you consider the consequences to yourself.”
The week was a tough one for Jason. He went to work on Monday as if his overwhelmingly bizarre weekend had never happened. He worked at a small PR firm, and he advised his clients as he always had. Jason was professional enough to give good advice on matters that to him now seemed profoundly unimportant, but his clients could sense that he was going through his work mechanically. His boss, Nadine Watanabi, sensed the same thing, and she probed him on the subject in his office on Thursday afternoon.
“Jason,” she said as she closed the door behind her, “I have something to talk to you about, if you have a moment.”
“Of course, have a seat.”
“I wouldn’t pry into your personal life, normally, but I’m afraid I’m about to do just that.”
“You know what I’m about to say?”
“I think so. I haven’t been myself this week, have I?”
“No, and I’m not complaining as a boss or anything; you’re still doing your job, but I’ve been worried about you. It’s almost as if your personality has undergone a change overnight.”
“I know. It’s. . . I’ve had a lot on my mind.”
“Is it anything you want to talk about?”
He considered telling her everything that had happened to him over the previous weekend, about the true nature of reality and about what the programmer had commanded him to do to his nephew. But, of course, he couldn’t. How could she react to such a story other than to assume that he had gone insane? “No. I don’t think I want to talk about it. It’s very, very personal.”
“Is there any way I can help? Do you need some time off? Do you need to talk to a professional?”
“I don’t think I need to talk to a therapist or anything, although, maybe I will if the situation persists, but I think your suggestion that I take some time off might be right. Can I take a week?”
“Absolutely. Get better. Don’t come in tomorrow, and stay away through next week. Find a beach. Relax and meditate. Get healthy.”
“Thank you. I will.”
He left his office in the Financial District an hour early and simply wandered. He stopped at a bar in North Beach, drank a beer and then moved on. He walked up Russian Hill, hoping that the exertion of climbing the steep streets and the long stairs would tire him enough to calm him down, but it didn’t work; he was as agitated as ever. He wandered into the Tenderloin as the sweat from his climb dried in the breeze.
Dante’s Inferno was weighing on his mind. It was a book that he had been hearing about his whole life, but had, of course, never actually read. It was a poem after all, and who reads poems? Jason did, finally, and the book sent shock waves of fear through him.
Things started out okay. The virtuous pagans and the unbaptized children seemed to have things pretty easy, but when he descended deeper into the circles of Hell things just got worse and worse. In Hell Jason would have to burn, obviously, but he would also be dashed against rocks by a great wind, he would be frozen, he would be terrorized by demonic creatures, he would have to stand up to his neck in boiling blood and be shot at by centaurs armed with bows and arrows. He would have to wallow in a sea of excrement. He would even have to be jammed into Satan’s mouth in the very bottom pit of hell where the Dark Lord would chew him up with razor sharp teeth, forever.
He was sitting in the dark in a nearly deserted park, thinking his morose thoughts, when somebody sat down at the other end of the bench. He glanced over and saw a man, dressed in denim from top to bottom, wearing a cowboy hat (denim), and smoking a cigarette. The man was holding a gravity knife that he flipped open and then snapped shut repeatedly. For a moment Jason wondered if he should be worried, but he decided that this man was no threat. The knife seemed to be nothing but a tool for relaxation, like a pair of stress balls.
The man noticed Jason looking at him and he spoke, “You look like you got trouble on your mind.”
“Yeah, well, welcome to the human condition.”
“I think . . . I think my trouble is unique.”
“Everybody thinks their trouble is unique. If trouble was more photogenic everybody’d take pictures of it and slap it on Instagram to show how they’re different from everybody else. But it would all be the same, just like their beach pictures.”
“This is different.” Jason realized that he had been looking for somebody who would listen to his problems. He couldn’t tell Nadine, but why not tell the man sitting next to him? This man was somebody he would never see again, so he didn’t have to worry what he would think. “Do you mind if I tell you about it?”
“No. I got time. And I like to hear people tell their stories.”
Jason told him about his problems, omitting nothing important. When Jason had finished, the man was silent for a few seconds and then lit a fresh cigarette and sucked in some smoke before responding, “So, you’re saying we’re all robots?”
“Well, computer programs.”
“Me, you, the president, Rita Hayworth, all robots? That’s a trip. The thing is, I believe you. It feels right to me. What are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it wrong to kill a computer program?”
“I want to say no.”
“But then you remember that you’re a program, and so is your mother?”
“Yes. Plus, you say that the programmer’s story feels right to you, but I’m not sure that it does to me. And even if Kayden is only a mass of electronic ones and zeros, I will experience his death as a very physical thing.”
“Yeah. I think you will. As long as we’re admitting things to each other, I might as well tell you that I killed a man once, and it was like you say, very physical, blood and sweat and screaming and nightmares for days after. Of course, he was a full-grown man, a bad one who was trying to stick a knife between my ribs. It was hard to put him down.” He snapped his knife open, “I used this knife to do it,” and he snapped it closed again. “At the start of the fight it was his knife . . . Your nephew will be a lot easier from one point of view, and a lot more difficult from another.”
They were silent a moment, and then the man spoke again, “That programmer guy says that he’s God, and that’s why you should do what he says. Well, depending on how you define God, he may be right, and he may not. But the question you really have to ask yourself is a very old one. Is a thing right because God says it is, or does God say it’s right because right and wrong are pre-existing in any action, and he can tell the difference?”
After his conversation with the man with the knife, Jason continued to wander, and he kept turning the same thoughts over and over again in his head. These thoughts crowded out any awareness of other things around him. At one point in the evening he passed a stinking ally outside a bar where the stench left by a thousand drunk urinators reached out and grabbed him by the nose, and for a moment he wondered how that smell could possibly be electronic. It was such a real, earthy, dirty thing. Knowing the truth about the smell of old and rotten urine didn’t make it any more pleasant. The odor reached into his brain and disturbed his thoughts only for a moment; this distraction itself had the effect of turning Jason’s mind back to the problems he was wrestling with.
At around eleven he realized he was hungry, and he could not talk himself out of his hunger pangs by reminding himself that they weren’t real, that any food he might eat wouldn’t be real, and that, in fact, even his stomach wasn’t real. He had an image of himself as a brain floating through space, feeling things. Mostly unpleasant things like hunger, thirst, confusion, loneliness, despair, and aching feet. He was just a turbulent mind that absorbed pain.
He walked into a small late-night pizza place and after ordering he sat alone at a table for six. He was the only person there besides an employee working the counter and another he could hear in the back somewhere, cooking presumably. As he waited for his slice of pepperoni to be heated his mind filmed over with a comfortless blankness. He stared at a kitschy poster of Italy that highlighted the regions where specific meats and cheeses had originated. A harsh voice shook him out of his stupor.
“Just grab whatever cash you have and give it to me.” The voice said. It was a man speaking to the girl working the counter. She was a small Filipina and Jason hadn’t really noticed her when he placed his order. He could see her clearly now though. She was a waif of a woman, plain but with lovely dark eyes and black hair. Her face was contorted with fear as she stared past a black handgun and into the face of the man who was threatening her with it.
Jason glanced at the robber, he was a young man in a hoodie, the signs of meth addiction were carved into his wasted face. The hood on the sweatshirt was pulled up to hide the man’s head, but it seemed sort of pointless to bother with a hood when his face was still visible. Jason unthinkingly shared his opinion, “The hood is useless; we can all see your face. So why bother? When people give descriptions to the police they never say ‘Oh, you know, his head was shaped like a coconut’ or whatever, they go right to the facial features. ‘He was an emaciated junkie with green eyes and a nose like a raven’s beak,’ that sort of thing. You should be wearing a mask. The hood isn’t helping you as much as you think it is.”
“What did you say?”
Jason realized that he had put himself in danger. He also realized that he didn’t care. “I said that it seems sort of dumb to bother with putting the hood up. I mean, maybe if your head is cold, that’s one thing. But if you’re trying to hide your face. . . that would be stupid. We can all see your face. It’s not like it’s hidden in the impenetrable shadows of a monk’s cowl. That’s a knockoff Golden State Warriors hoodie and we can all see your face. Do you not know that?”
Now that gun was pointed at Jason’s head. “Do you want to die, asshole?”
“Kind of. Yeah. A little bit.”
“I’m going to send you straight to hell if you don’t shut your mouth.” The man had his cash in hand now, but he seemed to feel that he couldn’t leave until he had put Jason in his place.
“Are you really going to send me to hell? I wonder. I wonder what would happen if you shot me right now. It wouldn’t be my fault that I didn’t do what I’ve been told to do. Would I just disappear? Just blink out of existence forever?”
The man stepped closer and raised his revolver to shoot Jason, but when he pulled the trigger the gun didn’t fire, it exploded. The bullet simply stayed right where it was, somehow stuck, and the shell burst around it, followed by the gun. The man screamed and dropped the broken weapon from his bloodied hand. He was still screaming as he ran out.
Jason stood there, as dazed as he had been all evening, staring into empty space and bleeding from where a piece of metal had struck his face.
“What’s wrong with you?” the woman behind the counter asked.
Jason didn’t answer. He noticed a slice of pepperoni sitting on the counter, and he asked, “Is that mine?”
She nodded. He took the slice, thanked her, and then walked out into the night. He took a bite and was surprised that electricity could taste so good.
The girl called out, “Don’t you want to wait and talk to the police?”
“No thank you.” He answered without turning around.
“You’re a lucky man!” she shouted after him, “You should be dead!” But he knew that luck hadn’t been involved. The whole thing had been staged by the programmer, to teach him some kind of lesson.
Jason didn’t get much rest that night, and it felt like he had only been asleep for seconds when he awoke to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He picked the phone up from where it had been sitting on his bedside table, answered, and placed it on the side of his face that wasn’t enveloped by his pillow. “Yeah?”
It was his sister, Janice, “Hi Jason! I hope I didn’t wake you.”
He glanced at the clock to see if it was too late in the day to admit that he had still been sleeping. It was 7:30 AM. “You did, actually. It’s Saturday, the traditional day to sleep in. At least for those of us fortunate enough to have no children.”
“I’m sorry! Especially because I don’t want to irritate you when I’m about to ask you a favor.” He knew what it would be. “Corey won this radio contest for a free weekend away in Miami! But we have to go this week. I know this is short notice, but do you think you could watch Kayden for me? He’s super low maintenance; basically all you have to do is crash at my place and eat my food for a few days. Could you do it?”
He thought of demurring, but he knew that it would be useless. Clearly the programmer had made this happen. The programmer was creating a sort of fate that he couldn’t escape, a sequence of events that would inexorably end with the sacrifice he demanded. “Yeah. I can do it.”
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
The days passed. He tried not to think about his situation. He tried to distract himself with television, alcohol, movies, and sports, but nothing worked. His mind kept bending itself back to what he had learned about reality, and, worse, what the god of this world had directed him to do, and what would be done to him if he didn’t do it.
On Wednesday night, the last night before he would begin his babysitting stint in Janice’s house, he went back to wandering the streets. He had his eye open for the man with the knife who he had revealed his problems to a few days earlier. He knew that it was unlikely that he would find him, but he wanted to talk about his situation so badly that he looked anyway.
In the late evening he stopped to sit on a bench in Union Square and suddenly the programmer was there, dressed as before in his pressed khakis and New Balance sneakers. And again everything in the world was paused, the cars, the people, the noise. It was as if the programmer and Jason existed alone in a movie set packed with mannequins. “You look like a man who’s really struggling with some grave theological questions,” the programmer said, “Let’s go somewhere we can talk.” The two blinked out of existence in Union Square, and then blinked back in ten miles away on the peak of Mount Tamalpais. They were standing on the roof of the forest fire watch tower that crowns the summit of the mountain. “Look at that city,” the programmer said, “I have always loved it. And I’ve always loved this spot, watching ships come and go, hearing the hum from San Francisco, even at this distance. Beautiful.”
“You turned the hum off.”
“You’re right! And I suppose I don’t really need to pause the world right now.” The programmer snapped his fingers and the hum could be heard again, boats began to move on the bay, and the cars down on the 101 streamed endlessly north and south.
“It isn’t real.”
“No more of that! We’ve been through this. It’s real. As real as you or me.”
Jason was not comforted by this, and he remained silent.
“You must be hungry. I’ve been watching you wander around for hours and you haven’t eaten anything. Why live in San Francisco if you aren’t going to eat?”
The programmer held out his hand, and when Jason glanced down at it, he saw a stone in the open palm. “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” the programmer asked before chuckling to himself. “You have to understand that I’m offering you my friendship, and power inevitably follows my friendship. I saved you from the gunman in the pizza shop, but I can do much more than that. Command this stone be made bread, and it will happen.”
Jason stared at the rock.
“Come on! Do it.”
“Turn into bread,” Jason said, and in an instant the programmer was holding a small loaf of warm, freshly baked bread. The programmer handed it to him, and Jason took it, but he didn’t eat it. “Bread isn’t what I need.”
“No. Hungry or not, you don’t seem to have much of an appetite. But you must see bread for what it is. It’s power! If you do what I want, you’ll be able to do more than just turn rocks to bread! Look down. We’re up here pretty high, aren’t we?”
“Yes we are.”
“Does it make you nervous?”
“Take a leap of faith, right now. Step off the roof of this tower, off the peak of this mountain, and God will catch you.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Take a leap of faith! I’ll bear you up! I promise that you won’t so much as dash your foot against a stone.”
Jason didn’t budge, so the programmer pushed him. He screamed and dropped his bread, but he only fell for a moment before he felt himself begin to glide parallel to the mountainside instead of falling towards it. The programmer was flying next to him. After the initial terror of falling had passed, and Jason had a moment to adjust to the new reality that unassisted flight was possible, he began to enjoy himself. He was surprised at how quickly his fear, confusion, and anger could dissolve in the mere act of flying and Jason found he had an intuitive knowledge of how to do it. The programmer followed where he led, gliding through the air next to him. They flew over the freeway and swooped low over the bay before taking a long and lazy westward loop and gliding between the uprights of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Then Jason found that he was no longer in control as they turned back around and headed into the city. The programmer was in charge now, guiding them into the heart of the Financial District. He led Jason to the Transamerica pyramid and they stood side by side on top of it. The programmer gestured out towards the city, “Can’t you see that I’m offering you all this, if you’ll just treat me as I deserve, as the God that I am? I know you think of me as a programmer and that’s okay, because that’s all the original God is, assuming he exists. He’s a programmer.’
“What’s your world like? The one you came from originally?”
“It’s a lot like this one. Building a detailed world from scratch is a pain. Think of all the rivers, mountains, oceans, and the near infinite number of details that go into creating the geography of an entire planet. Think of the animals and plants, both existing and extinct. Think about humanity in all its variations, languages, races, cultures, and religions. I didn’t have the time to go around making up a lot of religions! Christianity, Buddhism, Islam . . . all these exist in the world I came from. Historical details are different here and there, but in general we are very similar. I think the next time I make a world I’ll add more variables to make it diverge a bit more.
“And you are a computer programmer in that world?”
“Look, this isn’t about my world. God ceases to be God when there isn’t an air of mystery about him, so I’m going to maintain my air.”
“Why do you want me to do this?”
“I want to firmly establish that I am the God of this world. God is also only God when people are willing to do things for him that they don’t comprehend. That is what I’m asking of you. This is what faith is. Do this thing that you don’t understand. Trust me that there’s a reason for it.”
“Do you mean that if I kill Kayden it will prevent him from becoming a second Hitler or something?”
“I’m not going to tell you what I mean. That’s the whole point. But I’m going to do you a favor right now, to demonstrate my benevolence, I’m going to give you a good night’s sleep. Your first in quite a while.”
Jason awoke in his own bed twelve hours later feeling completely rested. It was a slow, pleasant, and warm return to consciousness. When he opened his eyes he enjoyed several seconds of forgetfulness before the darker details of his present predicament returned to him like a wave of nausea.
Janice and Corey had a flight out of Oakland that morning at 7:00 AM, but they had told Jason that there was no need to wake up early and hurry up to Mill Valley, Kayden would be fine by himself for a few hours. As they said this Jason could tell that they were secretly hoping he would offer to drive up early anyway, but he didn’t make the offer. He knew that Kayden would be safer without his uncle around.
An hour later Jason was sipping coffee out of a stainless-steel thermos as his Prius crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, headed north. It was Friday morning, and he had until Sunday to “sacrifice” his nephew. He didn’t like the word “sacrifice” at all. It sounded overly dramatic. It sounded insane. He preferred plain old “murder” instead.
When he got to his sister’s house, the door was locked. He rang the doorbell but there was no answer. He rang it again, and again no answer. He knocked. He knocked harder. Finally he yelled, “Kayden, I know you’re in there, I’m supposed to be watching you, so let me in.”
“I don’t need a babysitter!”
“What you need or think you need doesn’t matter. Your mom wants me to stay with you while she’s gone, and that’s what I’m going to do, even if I have to break a window.”
“Doing what your sister asks you to do is so gay.”
“Please don’t call everything gay. It’s 2019, ‘gay’ is not pejorative.”
“Then why do you care if I call you gay? I’m going to call the cops and tell them my creepy uncle is trying to break into my house.”
“And they’ll call your mom to ask about it. Just let me in; I’ll keep out of your way and you can keep out of mine. Everything will be fine.”
Kayden unlocked the door.
An hour later Jason spoke to his nephew. “You’re not going to just play video games the entire time your parents are gone, are you?”
Kayden didn’t look away from the screen for even a moment, but at least he answered his uncle, “I don’t see why I’d do anything else.”
“Don’t you ever go outside? Ride a bike? Play ball with your friends?”
“All my friends are online. If I went outside I’d be by myself. Only losers are by themselves.”
“Well, I feel like kids should spend some time out in the fresh air, doing outdoor things.”
“Hooray for your kids if you ever have any which I don’t think you will because nobody will marry you because mom says that all your girlfriends dump you.”
“Whether I ever have any kids or not is irrelevant. What I’m trying to say is that I’m in charge of you right now, and since you’re my responsibility, I’m going to see to it that you get some time in the sun.”
“Good luck with that. I’m not going to go anywhere. What are you going to do, put me in one of those backpacks for babies and hike around with me? Because I’m not moving and you can’t make me.”
“I could turn off the Wi-Fi. I could take away your Xbox.”
“You don’t want to do that. Do you really want me to have nothing to do but get on your nerves?”
“Well, if the stick won’t work, how about the carrot?”
“What I’m saying is that I’ll buy you a video game, any game of your choice, if you’ll go hiking with me tomorrow.”
“Why do you care so much?”
“Do you want the video game or not?”
“How long is the hike?”
“How long does it take to hike three miles? Like eight hours?”
“More like one hour.”
“Hiking is so gay,” Kayden said as they started up the trail. He was dressed in inappropriate clothes, the glossy wingtips and black suit that he had worn to his elementary school graduation the year before. He was wearing the suit for three reasons: as an act of protest against hiking, to irritate his uncle, and to be able to tell his mom when she returned that his nice clothes were all ruined and it was Jason’s fault. Jason intuited all three of these reasons, but he wasn’t bothered by them. He had other things on his mind.
Kayden’s father had always seemed like the kind of person who might own a gun and Jason had been relieved to find it. Relieved, then troubled, because again it seemed like the way was being paved for him. Fate had put him into Kayden’s house, fate had put him in charge of his nephew, and now fate had given him a gun. And fate, of course, was just another name for programmer.
He had found the gun in his brother-in-law’s closet. It was a 9mm Beretta and looked like a lot of the pistols he had seen in movies. The box with the gun also contained a box of bullets. These bullets fit into the gun, and now the gun was sitting in Jason’s backpack and digging into his back a little. It was as heavy as a brick, loaded with ten bullets, and ready to kill.
Jason walked in front while Kayden lagged about twenty feet behind, complaining that it was too hot, that it was too cold, that there was too much wind, that he was hungry, that he was thirsty, that he was tired, that he was itchy, that there were too many bugs, that his legs hurt, that his eye hurt, and that his feet hurt. Jason hoped all the complaints were true.
The programmer hadn’t provided any details about how the murder was supposed to happen. He hadn’t specified the weapon to be used, the location, or whether there was to be any ritual involved. Jason thought about this as he walked. Modern man wasn’t good at ritual, he realized. A little ritual can make a thing seem normal. Abraham had no doubt sacrificed dozens, if not hundreds, of doves, sheep, goats, and whatever else before being asked to sacrifice Isaac. He may have had theological questions about the act, and he was doubtless upset that he had to kill his own child, but at least Abraham had known what to do in the purely mechanical sense. The man had cut a throat or two before, while Jason had been left on his own.
They were nearing the spot on the trail where Jason had twice spoken to the programmer. It seemed like the appropriate place for the act. It was a natural temple, with its view of the ocean and its columns of redwood tree trunks. There had been no cars in the parking lot, and there appeared to be no other hikers on the trail. The path had been cleared. The programmer had made sure they would have privacy.
After a half hour of hiking they arrived in the high clearing with its view of the Pacific Ocean. At least, Jason arrived in the clearing. Kayden was nowhere in sight. Jason sat on a rock by the side of the trail and waited for his nephew, who soon slogged into view, puffing out complaints like an old-time locomotive puffing out steam.
“This. Is. So. Gay. Hiking. Is. So. Stupid. You are. . . so stupid . . . for making me come. A video game . . . is not. Worth. This. Nightmare. You. Better buy me beer too . . . don’t be . . so gay. Also, you . . . better . . . carry me . . . back down. Or. I’ll. Die. And. You . . . you will go to jail.”
Kayden’s red face was substantially redder than normal, and Jason hoped that he would have a heart attack, which would let him off the hook. But children didn’t have heart attacks, did they? The boy lay down in the middle of the trail, spread-eagled in his black suit. “I need a Twinkie. I know you brought Twinkies.” Jason had brought Twinkies; he thought they might be useful in luring his nephew up the hill. He pulled one out of his pack and began to hand it to Kayden when his nephew said, “No! You unwrap it! I’m too tired!” Jason took a breath, reminded himself that it was the kid’s last meal, and unwrapped the Twinkie for him. Kayden shoved the whole thing into his mouth without biting. This gave Jason a reason to hope the kid would choke to death, but again, he knew that he wouldn’t be so lucky.
He pulled the gun out of the backpack and checked to make sure it was loaded. It was. Who would have unloaded it? He looked down at his nephew, and then out at the ocean, and then at the gun again.
“Is that my dad’s gun?” he heard Kayden ask.
“What did you bring it for?”
Well, that was an awkward question. When Abraham had been asked a similar question, he prevaricated; Jason now did the same, “Oh, I thought I might shoot something.”
Kayden was on his feet now. Excited. “Like what?”
And that was the moment Jason realized that he wasn’t going to shoot his nephew. Dante’s Inferno or not, he just couldn’t do it. “I guess we could shoot that tree stump over there.”
“We? Can I shoot it? My dad never lets me shoot his gun!”
He handed the gun to his nephew and the world froze. The programmer appeared. “Couldn’t go through with it, eh?”
“Life is life, I guess. Electronic or not. And you don’t determine right and wrong. I do.”
“You’re not mad?”
“Naw. I just wanted to see if you’d do it.” And then the programmer disappeared.
Kayden was holding the gun and he had been unfrozen. “Let’s go kill that log,” he said.
Jason squinted at the boy as if trying to discern whether he would one day turn into a Hitler. Then he sighed and spoke, “Yeah, let’s go drill that wood.”
“That sounds super gay,” his nephew said.
(If you want to read a story about George Berkeley’s ideas that’s actually good, you need to read Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, by Jorge Louis Borges.)