Ethereons

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The apparatus was impressive. Like a particle accelerator, it was a massive machine employed for the probing of life’s deep mysteries. As the apparatus strained and groaned, a cloud began to form at its center. It took several hours, but finally the first ethereon known to mankind was brought into being, wrenched from god knows what dark abyss of the universe. It floated in its prison, barely perceptible, and yet of definite substance. As the scientists stared at the ghostly visitor in astonishment, it spoke. There were no words, yet the scientists all understood that it had spoken in their heads. And with that, it disappeared.

The scientists had recorded every single detail of the experiment, but none of them could remember what the ethereon had spoken. Decades passed before progress was made. Many more machines were built, many more ethereons were brought into momentary existence. They too spoke and their thoughts also were forgotten. Then finally, by linking up all their minds in a telepathic bond using the latest brainscanning technology, scientists were able to have a somewhat objective conversation with the ethereons. Much effort was put into the precise wording of the transcript that was made from memory afterwards.

 

Human:    It has been a long time waiting for this moment.

Ethereon:  Yes, it has.

Human:   We have many questions to ask.

Ethereon: We have many answers.

Human:    What are you? Did we make you, or did we discover you?

Ethereon: We began with a thought. You thought that we might exist, and you began searching for us. You built big machines for this purpose. These machines spun us from particles that you presumed to exist.

Human:    Like candy floss.

Ethereon: Something like that.

Human:    But do these particles really exist?

Ethereon: We are made of them.

Human:   Can you exist independently of us?

Ethereon: We no longer need the machines. Our kind is capable of self reproduction. We thank you for bringing us into existence. Good bye.

Human:   Wait.

Ethereon:  For what?

Human:    We need to know. Are you real, or just a figment of our imaginations.

Ethereon:  We are as real as a figment of your imagination.

Human:   That doesn’t explain anything for us.

Ethereon: We cannot give explanations. We can only give answers.

Human:   Are you the same thing as our thoughts? You must answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Ethereon: And if we said yes or no, would that explain anything for you?

Human:    Yes.

Ethereon: We like your answer. It is suitably ambiguous. We will use it. For every question you ask, we will answer yes.

 

The scientists tried a few more questions after that, but the ethereons, true to their promise, replied yes to every one of them. This was bitterly frustrating for the scientists. In the end, the ethereons disappeared without a trace, leaving no substantive answers. Eventually, the world ceased to be interested in ethereons. They were considered the most esoteric of research subjects. It cost so much to produce even a glimmer of an ethereon, and most people doubted that ethereons would ever amount to anything. The ethereon lab was in shambles. The log book of conversations contained nothing but meaningless snatches of dialogue. A grizzled old scientist was the only person in the room when the ethereons ventured out of the lab. He was having a snooze at the time, so he didn’t notice anything.

The ethereons wandered the world of men, and eventually found themselves in the strangest of environments. They had wandered into World2. This was a complete virtual replica of the world, launched by an enlightened world government, in which citizens could exercise their needs for social reform and political choice, things they were not generally allowed in the real world.

The ethereons noticed a considerable amount of immorality occuring in World2 and felt that they should step in and do something about it. By hijacking several Internet entrepreneur’s minds, they were able to set up an online ethics database for World2. Every deed in World2 was scored according to a broad spectrum of metrics. Everyone’s score was publicly available, and given the near perfect surveillance in World2, no deed would disappear uncategorized. It was all captured in the database, which the ethereons called God, since it was easier that way. People would consult God for everything; who to marry, who to do business with, who should be victims of random vigilante attacks.

Despite this scoring system, there were many individuals in World2 who continued to perform so-called evil acts. Eventually, citizens of World2 campaigned effectively for the collective control of personality. Since more and more humans were identifying themselves with bits of data, it was a simple enough matter to change people simply by changing their data. The primary mechanism for doing this was Wikipedia, which had over the past half-century built the most democratic cross-editing platform on the planet.

People started using Wikipedia to edit each others’ personalities, all guided by a rigorous and completely transparent system that met all Popperian Open Society criteria. Very soon, things started getting better. There was more co-operation among various interest groups. People were friendlier.

So now the ethereons could sit back and enjoy the paradise they had created. But there was one thing they were still dissatisfied with. Their Wikipedia entry. It was too dry, as are most Wikipedia entries. There were strict stylistic guidelines to follow. Everything had to sound as if it came from the same source, spoken by the same voice.

The ethereons saw themselves differently. They were special. Shouldn’t they be entitled to a jazzier story? They hired a science-fiction writer to re-write their Wikipedia entry, and this is the result. It has been the only known violation of the Wikipedia style guide, and yet is tolerated grudgingly by the Central Committee. Some conspiracy theorists argue that there is a secret society, with the ethereons at the helm, pulling all the strings.

 
About the Author: 
Unsu Lee is a Singaporean filmmaker and writer. He is a founding partner of Hotbed, a film production company. He is passionate about finding new ways of bridging the worlds of art and science.

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