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Class Project

“Do as well as Einstein?” Jeffreyssai said, incredulously. “Just as well as Einstein? Albert Einstein was a great scientist of his era, but that was his era, not this one! Einstein did not comprehend the Bayesian methods; he lived before the cognitive biases were discovered; he had no scientific grasp of his own thought processes. He was too caught up in the drama of rejecting his era’s quantum mechanics to actually fix it. And while I grant that Einstein reasoned cleanly in the matter of General Relativity—barring that matter of the cosmological constant—he took ten years to do it. Too slow!”

Too slow?” repeated Taji incredulously.

“Too slow! If Einstein were in this classroom now, rather than Earth of the negative first century, I would rap his knuckles! You will not try to do as well as Einstein! You will aspire to do better than Einstein or you may as well not bother!

Jeffreyssai shook his head. “Well, I’ve given you enough hints. It is time to test your skills. Now, I know that the other beisutsukai don’t think much of my class projects…” Jeffreyssai paused significantly.

Brennan inwardly sighed. He’d heard this line many times before, in the Bardic Conspiracy, the Competitive Conspiracy: The other teachers think my assignments are too easy, you should be grateful, followed by some ridiculously difficult task—

“They say,” Jeffreyssai said, “that my projects are too hard; insanely hard; that they pass from the realm of madness into the realm of Sparta; that Laplace himself would catch on fire; they accuse me of trying to tear apart my students’ souls—”

Oh, crap.

“But there is a reason,” Jeffreyssai said, “why many of my students have achieved great things; and by that I do not mean high rank in the Bayesian Conspiracy. I expected much of them, and they came to expect much of themselves. So…”

Jeffreyssai took a moment to look over his increasingly disturbed students. “Here is your assignment. Of quantum mechanics, and General Relativity, you have been told. This is the limit of Eld science, and hence, the limit of public knowledge. The five of you, working on your own, are to produce the correct theory of quantum gravity. Your time limit is one month.”

What?” said Brennan, Taji, Styrlyn, and Yin. Hiriwa gave them a puzzled look.

“Should you succeed,” Jeffreyssai continued, “you will be promoted to beisutsukai of the second dan and sixth level. We will see if you have learned speed. Your clock starts—now.”

And Jeffreyssai strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

“This is crazy!” Taji cried.

Hiriwa looked at Taji, bemused. “The solution is not known to us. How can you know it is so difficult?”

“Because we knew about this problem back in the Eld days! Eld scientists worked on this problem for a lot longer than one month.”

Hiriwa shrugged. “They were still arguing about many-worlds too, weren’t they?”

Enough! There’s no time!

The other four students looked to Styrlyn, remembering that he was said to rank high in the Cooperative Conspiracy. There was a brief moment of weighing, of assessing, and then Styrlyn was their leader.

Styrlyn took a great breath. “We need a list of approaches. Write down all the angles you can think of. Independently—we need your individual components before we start combining. In five minutes, I’ll ask each of you for your best idea first. No wasted thoughts! Go!

Brennan grabbed a sheet and his tracer, set the tip to the surface, and then paused. He couldn’t think of anything clever to say about unifying General Relativity and quantum mechanics…

The other students were already writing.

Brennan tapped the tip, once, twice, thrice. General Relativity and quantum mechanics…

Taji put his first sheet aside, grabbed another.

Finally, Brennan, for lack of anything clever to say, wrote down the obvious.

Minutes later, when Styrlyn called time, it was still all he had written.

“All right,” Styrlyn said, “your best idea. Or the idea you most want the rest of us to take into account in our second components. Taji, go!”

Taji looked over his sheets. “Okay, I think we’ve got to assume that every avenue that Eld science was trying is a blind alley, or they would have found it. And if this is possible to do in one month, the answer must be, in some sense, elegant. So no multiple dimensions. If we start doing anything that looks like we should call it ‘string theory,’ we’d better stop. Maybe begin by considering how failure to understand decoherence could have led Eld science astray in quantizing gravity.”

“The opposite of folly is folly,” Hiriwa said. “Let us pretend that Eld science never existed.”

“No criticisms yet!” said Styrlyn. “Hiriwa, your suggestion?”

“Get rid of the infinities,” said Hiriwa, “extirpate that which permits them. It should not be a matter of cleverness with integrals. A representation that allows infinity must be false-to-fact.”


“We know from common sense,” Yin said, “that if we stepped outside the universe, we would see time laid out all at once, reality like a crystal. But I once encountered a hint that physics is timeless in a deeper sense than that.” Yin’s eyes were distant, remembering. “Years ago, I found an abandoned city; it had been uninhabited for eras, I think. And behind a door whose locks were broken, carved into one wall: quote .ua sai .ei mi vimcu ty bu le mekso unquote.”

Brennan translated: Eureka! Eliminate t from the equations. And written in Lojban, the sacred language of science, which meant the unknown writer had thought it to be true.

“The ‘timeless physics’ of which we’ve all heard rumors,” Yin said, “may be timeless in a very literal sense.”

“My own contribution,” Styrlyn said. “The quantum physics we’ve learned is over joint positional configurations. It seems like we should be able to take that apart into a spatially local representation, in terms of invariant distant entanglements. Finding that representation might help us integrate with General Relativity, whose curvature is local.”

“A strangely individualist perspective,” Taji murmured, “for one of the Cooperative Conspiracy.”

Styrlyn shook his head. “You misunderstand us, then. The first lesson we learn is that groups are made of people… no, there is no time for politics. Brennan!”

Brennan shrugged. “Not much, I’m afraid, only the obvious. Inertial mass-energy was always observed to equal gravitational mass-energy, and Einstein showed that they were necessarily the same. So why is the ‘energy’ that is an eigenvalue of the quantum Hamiltonian necessarily the same as the ‘energy’ quantity that appears in the equations of General Relativity? Why should spacetime curve at the same rate that the little arrows rotate?”

There was a brief pause.

Yin frowned. “That seems too obvious. Wouldn’t Eld science have figured it out already?”

“Forget Eld science existed,” Hiriwa said. “The question stands: we need the answer, whether it was known in ancient times or not. It cannot possibly be coincidence.”

Taji’s eyes were abstracted. “Perhaps it would be possible to show that an exception to the equality would violate some conservation law…”

“That is not where Brennan pointed,” Hiriwa interrupted. “He did not ask for a proof that they must be set equal, given some appealing principle; he asked for a view in which the two are one and cannot be divided even conceptually, as was accomplished for inertial mass-energy and gravitational mass-energy. For we must assume that the beauty of the whole arises from the fundamental laws, and not the other way around. Fair-rephrasing?”

“Fair-rephrasing,” Brennan replied.

Silence reigned for thirty-seven seconds, as the five pondered the five suggestions.

“I have an idea…”

Einstein’s Superpowers




Interlude: A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation