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A Conversation

...On Aliens On-Line

 

[Note: This is rather long. You may wish to read it off-line.]

 

 

Bob: Doug, in one of your recent postings you made some comments I found particularly intriguing. I was wondering if you wouldnít mind expanding on them a bit, outside the public forum...

 

Doug: No problem, Bob. What comments were those?

 

B: The subject of the discussion was alien contact. You volunteered the opinion that if aliens were planning to contact us, they may attempt to communicate with us on-line before they finally reveal themselves. What led you to this idea?

 

D: Ah, yes. Well, there are a number of lines of reasoning involved. First of all, you have to make the assumption that there really are aliens out there who are aware of our existence, and that they have the means to make contact in the not-too-distant future, and that they would be interested in doing so. Of course, one can make all kinds of arguments against these assumptions, starting with the seemingly complete lack of undeniable physical evidence for their existence, but since youíre asking, I gather that youíre open-minded enough to accept these assumptions, just for the sake of argument...

 

B: Iím pretty open-minded. Those seem like pretty good starting assumptions. Please continue...

 

D: As I recall, we had been discussing the various kinds of contact that may (or may not) be occurring already. There are the alleged sightings of strange craft, sometimes witnessed by more than one person. And then there are the more personal kinds of contact, like so-called "abduction" experiences, which are generally experienced only by single individuals. All of these phenomena share one characteristic: they are easy to deny. Authority figures, whether they are politicians, media people, or whatever, can always deny such reports with ease. It seems that no one can ever come up with hard physical evidence, and itís easy to come up with explanations for such things that many people will accept: weather balloons, secret military projects, loose circuits in the head, whatever. Unless youíre one of the lucky (?) few who experiences the weirdness personally, there seem to be no undeniable contacts.

There are only two possible explanations for this state of affairs: (1) there are no aliens, and those people really are nuts; or, (2) for some reason, undeniable contacts are simply not permitted to happen. Yet.

The first possibility violates our starting assumptions, so we can ignore it. Which leaves us with the question: Why are undeniable contacts denied us? The simplest answer is: They are not going to make undeniable contact until they think the time is right, and that time hasnít arrived yet. They are going to continue with the deniable contacts until they decide that weíre ready. Whatever that means.

Does all this seem reasonable so far? If youíve been following these on-line discussions for a while, you are probably quite familiar with all of these arguments...

 

B: Yes, this is familiar ground. Pray continue...

 

D: Okay. Now two questions spring to mind: When will we be considered ready, and what form will the first undeniable contact take? Letís consider that first question.

A conventional wisdom on this question is that these aliens are concerned that our fragile minds might fall apart when they make first contact, and they donít want this to happen. I think this is a very reasonable assumption. A lot of people donít agree with this; they think there will be a short period of confusion and uncertainty, but weíll adjust to it pretty fast, diplomatic relations will be established, it will be just like another foreign country, life will go on, and so on, but I think this may be an overly simplistic view. We must consider the possibility that the aliens are so alien that all of our underlying assumptions about the nature of the universe may be called into question. If this is so, and if it is not handled correctly, many people will go utterly bonkers. We may require an extraordinary amount of preparation before they will consider us ready. But how can they provide us with such high levels of preparation, before making undeniable contact? If they are going to maintain deniability throughout this lengthy process, the lines of communication that they use must be kept very tenuous. They canít just provide us with an instruction manual, complete with demonstration video, detailing the psychological manipulations needed to properly prepare us... or could they? Some people think that they already have done so, and that The Government has the only copies... I canít discount this possibility. I also canít discount the possibility that, if such a manual existed, it would be found so profoundly disturbing that it would immediately be destroyed. Or at least hidden away forever.

All things considered, I personally find the government connection highly unlikely. If I were an alien, I would feed the government nothing but disinformation - or nothing at all - and use other means to prepare the population.

 

B: I tend to agree with you about the government. Any alien who would expect any earthly authority figures to promote his alien agenda without totally subverting it to their own ends would have to be an awfully dumb alien. So what means do you think they would use?

 

D: Cultural means. Have you noticed how much attention has been paid to all things alien recently? Watch TV, go to the movies. A surprisingly large percentage of popular TV programs and movies involve aliens. All kinds of aliens. Different shapes, lifestyles, cultures. And they keep getting more alien all the time. I donít think this is an accident.

Of course, all of this is presumably the result of human imagination. The people who write the screenplays, and the people who design the creatures and their artifacts, are letting their imaginations travel farther and farther out. This is a natural process; they donít need help from real aliens to do this. Audiences demand new experiences, so the filmmakers must keep besting their best. Our entertainment industry is an enormous engine of imagination.

If I were an alien, I would have to do nothing more than occasionally inject a few startling new ideas into this imagination engine, to push it in appropriate directions, and Hollywood would do the rest... And one of these days, the aliens will turn on their television and see beings that live very much like they do. And when they know that we humans have become accustomed to seeing these beings on the tube every day, they will know that we are ready.

 

B: Fascinating! Do you think that this is happening already?

 

D: Who knows? I am reasonably sure that many people in the entertainment industry firmly believe that they are playing important roles in the preparation of humanity for a very exciting future; they are not all in it just for the money. I certainly donít think that real aliens are running the studios. But are aliens subtlely influencing the ideas behind some of these shows? I certainly couldnít rule this out. Maybe theyíre not, but if they are around, they certainly wouldnít have any trouble doing so, and in a very deniable way.

 

B: And what way is that?

 

D: On-line, of course! The on-line world, by which I mean the Internet and all of the other on-line services, is a vast melting pot of ideas. A lot of these ideas are half-baked, and many are totally whacko, but there are some real gems there too. And a lot of writers spend a lot of time sifting for those gems. And those gems are showing up on the screen now; I have already seen shows based on ideas that were lifted right off the Net!

And the real beauty of the Net is that you donít know who youíre talking too! How can you know where a particular idea comes from? You canít. There may be aliens out there on the Net right now, passing themselves off as humans. We may be talking with them already, and not even know it. If they have a reasonably good grasp of the English language (or at least the variety of English in common use on the Net, such as it is), I donít think I would be able to tell the difference. Of course, all of this assumes that it would be possible for them to learn enough about human languages and cultures so that they could "think" human, and that they would have the technical means to tap into the Net, but Iím assuming theyíre awfully smart...

 

B: I think that is a reasonable assumption.

I find the idea of aliens planting ideas in Hollywood by way of the Net to be quite interesting, but it seems to me that, as you described it, it would be a very slow process. Why couldnít aliens just start sending messages to people, saying, "Hey, Iím an alien. Weíre coming to visit soon, this is what weíre like..."

 

D: I think people wouldnít take such messages very seriously. Unless, of course, some kind of proof was offered, in which case you couldnít call it deniable contact.

 

B: True. But suppose, instead of offering proof, they offered compelling arguments. And suppose they made it interesting enough so that you would keep talking. That wouldnít be an undeniable contact, but it would still allow them to prepare you.

 

D: I suppose so. But that would prepare only one person at a time.

 

B: Maybe that's all you need. Because of the ease with which messages can be distributed over the Net, many people can have that same deniable contact.

 

D: Youíre right, of course. Actually, I have already run into a few people on the Net who claimed to be aliens. They had some pretty outlandish things to say, in general. I certainly donít intend to spread their ideas around.

 

B: What would you do if you ran into one whose ideas actually made sense to you?

 

D: You mean, someone who claimed to be an alien, was interesting to talk to, made reasonable sense, and didnít offer any proof? Well, I suppose Iíd ask them a lot of questions... but I wouldnít just accept their claim at face value.

 

B: But if it really was an alien, that would be a deniable contact, right?

 

D: Well, sure...

 

B: And they would be able to tell you things that would help to prepare you for undeniable contact. And if you were sufficiently impressed with them that you were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, might not you be willing to spread their ideas around, thus helping to prepare other people?

 

D: Sure. Well, anonymously, maybe...

 

B: So, for all you know, this could be happening already on the Net!

 

D: True. But I havenít seen anything like this yet, and I spend a lot of time on-line...

 

B: Earlier you mentioned the idea that the aliens wonít make undeniable contact until they think we are ready. Maybe this applies to deniable contacts as well?

 

D: You mean, these hypothetical contacts on the Net that weíve been talking about havenít occurred yet because they havenít found somebody who was sufficiently ready for that kind of contact?

 

B: Exactly. After all, you can learn a lot about a person by reading their posts. Maybe aliens are lurking the Net as we speak, searching for people who appear to be ready.

 

D: I think I see where youíre going with this. Maybe a lot of different people will each have their own personal First Contact, on-line. And theyíll never be sure...

 

B: But if they are all given the same ideas, and if those ideas make sense, and if they are compelling, well, you know how ideas can multiply...

 

D: Well, if theyíre really lurking out there, Iím ready. And Iíve said so, in public discussions. So have a lot of other people, come to think of it. So why havenít aliens sent messages to any of us?

 

B: Just because you claim to be ready, doesnít mean you are. They would have their own criteria, wouldnít they?

 

D: I suppose. What sorts of criteria do you suppose they would use?

 

B: Well, if I were an alien, I suppose I would start out by considering only the people who already hang out in places where relevant topics are discussed: aliens, UFOís, the paranormal, and so on. Iíd look for people who exhibit a broad range of knowledge, and who are relatively open-minded.

 

D: That makes a lot of sense. Iíve run into a lot of people like that.

 

B: Me too. Quite a few, actually. But if I were an alien, I would try to keep my contacts as tenuous as possible, to maintain deniability, and that would mean contacting only a very few people. So how do you choose among them?

Some time ago, I read in one of your posts the following idea: that the aliens wonít reveal themselves until we have already exhibited some understanding of who they really are. I think this makes a lot of sense, and I think this would make a good criterion.

 

D: Yes, I remember that... So youíre suggesting that theyíll keep looking until they find someone who says something that indicates some understanding of the alienís true nature. Somebody who has made some leap of intuition, or just guessed....?

 

B: Exactly.

 

D: And then theyíll just introduce themselves. "Hi, Iíve been reading your posts, and I think youíre ready to meet me... Iím an alien..."

 

B: No, actually I donít think they would be that obvious. I donít think that they would start right off by introducing themselves as aliens. If I were an alien, I wouldnít just volunteer that information. That could put a premature end to the conversation.

 

D: So how would you do it?

 

B: I would talk with them for a while, so that we could get to know each other. I would talk about various hypothetical scenarios, to see how far I could push them, to find out if they had any psychological defense mechanisms that might get in the way. And if any major stumbling blocks appeared, I could exit gracefully without revealing my true nature.

 

D: That makes a lot of sense. But when it came time to finally reveal yourself, how would you do it?

 

B: I wouldnít volunteer that information. I would wait for them to ask.

 

D: Youíre saying that you would wait for them to ask you if you are an alien?

 

B: Yes. That would be the ultimate test of open-mindedness. If it actually occurs to them that they might in fact already be talking to an alien, without being told, then I would know that they were the right person.

 

D: Well, Iíve never seen anybody ask anyone if they were an alien before. Itís just too far out an idea.

And even if somebody did ask something like that, as soon as the "alien" said yes, they would get massively flamed. Unless, of course, you werenít doing this in a public forum.

 

B: Oh, I agree. I wouldnít do this in a public forum; Iíd do it privately. Fewer distractions.

 

D: Like what weíre doing now. You wouldnít happen to be an alien, would you, Bob?

 

B: Yes.

 

D: Gosh, why didnít you say so before? This is fun!

 

B: I didnít say so before because I wasnít completely sure about you, but Iím now convinced that youíre going to stick around. Well, am I right? Have I piqued your curiosity?

 

D: Youíre serious about this, arenít you?

 

B: Very serious. I am an alien. And youíre having a deniable contact.

 

D: Well, I certainly am. What youíre having, Iím not sure...

 

B: Iím having fun. You canít imagine how long Iíve waited for this...

Now, to business. Iím an alien, and Iím here to prepare you for undeniable contact.

The method that I will use to prepare you is quite simple, and quite direct: I will tell you almost anything you want to know. You can ask me any question you like, and I will do my best to answer it. However, you must remember that this is going to be a deniable contact, so I wonít give you any information that would constitute proof. Or disproof.

So, what do you think? Are you willing to suspend disbelief for a while?

 

D: Well, okay, Bob, Iíll humor you for a while. But just for the sake of argument, okay?

 

B: I donít expect you to accept such an outrageous claim at face value. Just for the sake of argument, as you wish. Ask me something.

 

D: Okay, Bob, Iíve put on my suspenders of disbelief.

So you say youíre an alien. Bob the Alien. Seems like a strange name for an alien...

 

B: Itís not my real name. I would have a hard time fitting my real name into your alphabet.

 

D: So why did you pick Bob?

 

B: Why not?

Come on, you can think of better questions than that.

 

D: Okay, okay. Letís see... You wouldnít happen to have six fingers on each hand, would you?

 

B: No. Do you think I should? It can be arranged...

 

D: Donít go to any trouble on my account.

Why did that answer not surprise me?

 

B: How about a non-rhetorical question?

 

D: Okay then, what planet are you from?

 

B: You mean originally, or most recently?

 

D: Well, how about both. Hey, why not just give me your whole life story?

 

B: You wouldnít have room in your computer for my life story. Not even the abridged version.

As far as planets are concerned, I started off on a lovely little planet, similar in many ways to your own, but quite different too. I canít give you its name, Iíd just have to make one up in your language anyway... Doesnít really matter, I didnít spend much time there. A few of your decades.

Iím not sure where it is now; it may not even exist any more. Since leaving there, Iíve visited quite a few nice planets, but the place where I live now is not something that you would call a planet. Not if you knew its true nature.

 

D: And what is its true nature?

 

B: Thatís a very big question. This is intimately connected with the need to adequately prepare you for undeniable contact. Most people on your planet would have major difficulties grasping some of the concepts I am going to talk about here. In fact, until quite recently, there was no one on your planet who could fully understand them. Much of the vocabulary we will need to talk about these things wasnít even invented on your planet until this century!

Letís begin by talking about your world.

You live in a physical world. Iím not talking just about your planet here, Iím talking about your way of looking at the universe and everything in it. Almost everything you do is firmly rooted in that physical world. You get up in the morning, and go to work, so you can buy food, and have a roof over your head to protect you from the elements. These are physical things. You need them to survive, because you are a physical being, living in a physical world. And this physical nature has consequences.

One of the most important consequences has to do with interdependencies. All of you humans are interdependent. Even hermits living alone in caves are interdependent with you, because you are all interdependent with the Earth. If a bunch of people get together and pollute the Earth enough to change its climate, which is not hard to do, even the hermits are affected.

Most people are much more highly interdependent than that. They are involved in dependencies upon each other that are crucial to their lifestyles, and indeed to their survival. This thing that you call "society" is in fact an enormous collection of highly complex interdependencies. It allows you to grow and distribute food, to have jobs, to educate your children. In fact, almost everyone on your planet would be totally lost without these interdependencies; they would starve almost immediately without them. But these interdependencies can also be a prison.

Interdependencies limit your choices. You may think that you have infinite choices, and in a sense you do, but this is really just a convenient illusion. In reality, you have very few important choices. You all make choices every day, but most of these choices are of a pretty trivial variety, and are made from a very limited list, which is usually made up by somebody else. The really big choices, the ones that really count, are few and far between. You might choose a college, a career, a mate. How many really important choices do you get to make in your lifetime? Not many. And if you change your mind about an important one, it can really cost you. Thatís because most of the really big choices are, in fact, commitments. They are choices that other people expect you not to change for a long time, or for your whole life. These choices involve strong interdependencies, and when you change your mind about such a choice, you are breaking a strong interdependency. Usually, more than one. And society is built out of strong interdependencies.

Try to visualize it as a web: a collection of points, connected by lines. Billions of points, connected by trillions of lines. You are one of those points. Your friends and family are all there too, represented by points, and they are all connected to you by lines. There are also points in the web that are not people: your job, your home, your car, the local supermarket. Some of the lines are thicker than others, because they represent interdependencies that are particularly strong; the ones leading to family members, for example.

There are lots of other points connected into this web. Every organization you belong to is there. Every governmental body, every public institution, every company. And every belief system is there too.

And this web extends much farther than this. It includes the whole Web of Life. All of the creatures on that planet you live on are involved in strong interdependencies, and many of them are connected directly with points on the web that represent food production systems for humans, which are then connected with you.

I know, you are quite familiar with this web idea, and with the fact that this web of interdependency is unraveling fairly quickly now, but the important point I am trying to make has to do with the physical nature of the web. Think about it: what kind of interdependencies would you even bother to commit to if you didnít have to? Imagine never having to worry about where your next meal is coming from, or never having to worry about having a place to live, or never having to worry about getting bored because there arenít enough channels to watch or enough books to read, or enough adventures to have. Would you have a job if you didnít need it? Many people would probably say yes, they canít imagine not having something to do. But if they didnít need to work, and if no one else needed them to work, then they could choose any job, even one for which no one is willing to pay them. They could get jobs doing things that no one needs at all! (Arenít these called hobbies?)

If you could get out of the physical world, most of the strong interdependencies with the rest of the web become unnecessary. You could keep only the ones you choose, like the ones with the people you love. And many of the interdependencies you break turn out to be, ultimately, dependencies on the Earth itself; all of those vast amounts of material resources, many of them non-renewable, that are sucked out of the planet every day to satisfy your physical needs. You can just walk away from them, and leave the Earth to heal herself.

I know, this sounds like a Utopian dream, but I can assure you that it is possible. This is exactly what we have done. We have left the physical world.

How are you doing out there? Still with me?

 

D: Um, yes. Left the physical world, eh? Thatís a pretty astounding claim...

 

B: Yes, the first time I heard of it, I was quite astonished. But weíre just getting started here.

Consider this: I donít have to do anything. Period.

No one is depending on me. No web of interdependencies will collapse if I refuse to do anything. No one is expecting me to do anything. (Except be eccentric...)

It is true that there are people who want me around. If I were to suddenly cease to exist, there are people who would be unhappy. And I feel the same way about them. So there are interdependencies, but we have freely chosen them, and they are emotional interdependencies; they are not related to physical survival.

So in my world, the only interdependencies that really matter are the simplest ones: relationships. Relationships with other people.

This makes life much simpler. It also means that we have almost unlimited choices. I can go anywhere, do anything. Any time. And when I get tired of something, I can choose anything else. Almost anything I can imagine.

 

D: Sounds like a recipe for anarchy!

 

B: Anarchy is only a problem in the physical world. People see anarchy when they perceive a threat to the strong interdependencies in which they are involved. When you depend on something, and it looks like you might lose it, you get scared. In the physical world, these are reasonable fears, but in my world, there is much less to fear.

We do not have anarchy. We have freedom. Almost unlimited freedom.

You may have noticed that I have used the word "almost." Freedom is not totally unlimited, and it is important for you to understand the nature of those limits.

Let me give you an example: Suppose I was a megalomaniac. Suppose I wanted to have a whole planet of my very own, to rule over with an iron fist, and with billions of people on it who would be my personal slaves, to cater to my slightest whim. Can I have that? Do I have that much freedom? In theory, yes! There is no law that can stop me from creating such a world. But, there is one problem. Where do I get the people from? I cannot create people out of nothing. And since everyone else in my world has just as much freedom as I do, I would have to be a fool to expect that anyone would volunteer to be my slave. So I could go ahead and create this planet, and fill it with monuments to myself, and great public squares where the masses could praise me. But there would be nobody there!

In my world, one cannot make other people do what they donít want to do. They have freedom too, and this places a limit on what you can do. This is not a law that was imposed on us by somebody; it is merely a logical consequence of the nature of my world.

Another limit to freedom is related to privacy. In my world, when one is in a private space, such as oneís own home, one has total privacy. No one can bug your home; no one can barge in on you. And this places limits on you: you cannot invade other peopleís privacy.

There are other limits to freedom, which come into play when we interact with the physical world. Although we do not generally interact much with your world, it is possible for us to do so, and it is sometimes necessary. Obviously, I am doing so now, because I am talking to you! But there is a limit to what I can do. For example, I canít reach out and grab you, and suck you right through your computer screen, into my world! I can do such a thing only in my imagination. However, if you were here in my world, we could construct a place where such a thing was possible, and where we could actually do this. But as long as you are in the physical world, the natural laws of your world limit the ways in which I can interact with you.

There is one other kind of limit to freedom: these are the limits we place on each other, in our relationships. In my world, the only limits we place on each other are the ones to which we explicitly agree. One does not come into our world with duties and responsibilities pre-assigned, as one does in your world.

Every relationship begins with an understanding that each person is an unknown quantity. This is necessary because the people in my world come originally from many different planets. They all start out alien when they come here. One gets into the habit of treating all new acquaintances as aliens, even the ones who look like your own species. You never can tell for sure.

The end result is, no one who has been here very long makes assumptions about the ground rules for any relationship, except for the common-denominator ground rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Establishing any other ground rules in a relationship must be done by mutual agreement, explicitly. And after one has been here for a while, one learns that it is best to keep such ground rules as simple as possible. It is generally considered rude to try to limit other peopleís choices.

A lot of people in your world are going to have a lot of trouble dealing with this idea. They have become accustomed to relationships in which people impose many rules on one another.

 

D: Are you saying there is no marriage there?

 

B: That concept, as you understand it, is really only meaningful in your world. It is an institution, another point on the web of interdependency. It is one way of dealing with the constraints that are imposed on you by the physical world, particularly those relating to reproduction.

In my world, people spend their lives together because they want to, not because they have made a promise to.

Besides, after youíve been living with the same person for a million years, you start running out of things to talk about...

I have lived with thousands of people. And I still keep in touch with most of them. In fact, I still live with most of them, at least occasionally. And they are all my best friends. When you have been around as long as I have, you learn how to create stable, joyful, long-lasting relationships. Everyone here is very good at relationships. Well, almost everyone. There are some people who prefer to be alone, but as long as theyíre happy, who can complain?

You mustnít get the wrong idea about all of this. People here can do pretty much whatever they like, and they can arrange their relationships in any way they see fit. Many people try to live their lives the same way they did when they were back in the physical world, and no one can stop them; what you do in the privacy of your own home is your own business. But it is a mistake to expect everyone here to go out of their way to help you keep promises that you made back in the physical world. This is a different kind of world, and many of the promises that people make in the physical world just donít make sense here.

Most people here share their lives with others. We just have a lot more kinds of relationships and lifestyles to choose from.

When two people decide that they want to live together, they create a new home to share. No one else can get into it, unless both partners invite them. All of my homes still exist, although a few of them have not been visited for billions of years. Come to think of it, I think Iíd like to visit a few of my old favorites the next chance I get... Ah, nostalgia...

 

D: Bob, just how old are you?

 

B: I was old when the Earth was a swirling cloud of gas and dust.

Mortality is another thing you leave behind when you leave the physical world. In my world, we are all immortal. We never age, unless we want to... and most people donít bother. We have complete control over our bodies. We can appear as young or old as we like, and can change our appearance in any other way as well. So most people choose eternal health and youth.

 

D: Wait a minute! You say you have left the physical world, but yet you still have bodies? I was envisioning some kind of ethereal, spiritual plane...

 

B: We can have pretty much whatever we want. If I want to have a body, I just choose one. I can customize it in any way I like. I can appear as a floating head if I want to. If I feel like not having a body, I donít need one. In fact, many people spend most or even all of their time disembodied, concentrating on intellectual or spiritual matters.

When I first arrived here, I was wearing a body that was indistinguishable from my old one, that is, the body I had in the physical world. It looked the same, and felt the same. It is generally done this way, in order to minimize confusion. Later on, after Iíd had some time to become accustomed to my new world, one of my new friends showed me how to change my body. Eventually, I learned how to control my body in ways you cannot yet even imagine, purely through thought.

So yes, we do have bodies. Unless we choose not to. And these bodies can be as similar as we like to physical world bodies, with one exception: Oneís body is indestructible. No matter what is done to such a body, we do not die. We can feel pain, but we can also choose not to be receptive to pain. Therefore, we cannot be harmed. But we can be hurt; we can certainly hurt each otherís feelings. But after you have been here for a while, you may discover that no one is hurting your feelings any more. This can be a strange, and liberating, realization! One day, someone will say something that once would have hurt your feelings. But instead, you will find yourself laughing! Being here has a way of expanding your sense of humor. I suppose it has something to do with being immortal, and not having to be afraid of anything any more...

 

D: Well, this is a relief! The mortality and other limitations of the body in the physical world are certainly things that I could do without, but there are certain aspects of my body that I have become rather attached to...

 

B: There are lots of things that you have become attached to. And arriving here to find that all of them are gone can be a very disturbing experience. That is why we try to preserve as many of them as possible. You get to keep your old, comfortable body, for example. Or at least an improved version of it. You also get to keep your old home.

I should explain about the concept of home. When I first arrived here, I found myself at home. That is, I awoke to find myself in my own bed, just as if I were awakening from a deep sleep. I got up, and wandered around for a while, looking at everything in the house. Everything was just as I remembered it. But then I opened the front door, and I was stunned! The old neighborhood was gone. My house was sitting, all alone, in the middle of a beautiful landscape. It reminded me of a place that I had visited once, while vacationing... a place that had struck me with its natural beauty and serenity. I remembered thinking how nice it would be to live in such a place... and now I was!

I later learned that this place had been created for me, from my own memories, to make me feel comfortable and secure. I was shown how to modify the house, and its surroundings, in any way I like. I have changed it many times over the years, and it is an amazing place now. There is nothing on Earth even remotely like it.

It is my home. My first, and primary, home. My home base. I can return to it at any time, with a single thought. It is as eternal as I am. No one except me can enter it, unless I explicitly invite them. Not because there is some great alarm system to keep intruders out, but because it is impossible for anyone else to travel there without my permission. They canít even find out where it is. In fact, the house, and the landscape, and the planet it sits on, and the very universe that contains it are totally inaccessible to anyone but me! That is why privacy is total. Each home sits in its own private universe.

 

D: And everyone there has such a home?

 

B: Exactly. And I can create more homes, each in its own separate universe, and each one is accessible only to me. Most people have many homes; some are shared with others, and some not. A home for every mood... for every purpose.

And these homes can be connected in any way you like. For example, in my home, I have one room that is full of doors. The room is round, and the circular wall is lined with doors, thousands of doors, of many different sizes and shapes and colors. And there is one large archway, which leads to the rest of my home. Each of these doors leads to a different place. Some of the doors lead to my other homes, and only I can pass through them alone; other people can enter, but only if I allow them to. Other doors lead to homes that I share with others; only I, or those others, can pass through those doorways unaccompanied. And there are other doors that lead directly into other private homes, the private homes of friends. I cannot pass through those doorways without permission; I must knock, and they can open the door if they like. And yet other doors lead to public places; I, or anyone else, can leave by those doors, but only I can return through them unaccompanied.

A home can be owned by one person, or two, or any number of people. Ownership cannot be transferred, but a home and its contents can be instantly copied by its owner, just as any inanimate object can be, and the copy given to someone else. A person can be added to the ownership list of an existing home, with the permission of all owners, but cannot be kicked out. However, a primary home always belongs only to the person it was created for at their arrival. And it is also possible to create places that have other kinds of ownership rules, far more complex than what I have described here.

I should point out that this room full of doors that I described is not necessary. I can go to any door just by visualizing it, and willing myself there; in fact, I don't even need the door. I have only rarely been in that room; I created it just for fun. Many people have no such room, but for others it is a convenient metaphor. Sort of a personal Grand Central Station. And I should point out that this is only one of many ways of getting from one place to another. And there are also "places" to which you can "go" for which such a simple metaphor is inappropriate.

 

D: This sort of reminds me of some of the "virtual worlds" that people are designing here...

 

B: And there is a good reason for that similarity: in both cases, it is convenient to set things up that way, and it is also possible. So there is no good reason not to do it that way. It would be convenient to do it that way in the physical world too, but itís just not possible there.

There is also a big difference: those "virtual worlds" you referred to are "places" that you can only "visit" using a few of your senses. As your computers get better and better, these places will become more and more realistic, but youíre still just visiting; take off those goggles, or look away from your computer screen, and youíre back where you started. In my world, the places I can reach through all those doorways are real. Just as real as I am. Which brings us to the subject of reality.

Now this is a particularly deep subject. We could talk about this for years. So to save time, just consider the kind of reality that each person experiences.

One could argue that each person experiences their own personal reality, and of course this is true, but this is an oversimplification. Consider two people: yourself and your best friend. The realities experienced by these two people share many things in common. If this were not so, you wouldnít be able to have a conversation, because each of you would have no idea what the other person was talking about. A shared reality is real in a different way than an unshareable reality is.

Now consider another pair of people: yourself, and a Stone Age person from 20,000 years ago, from Australia. If you were to meet someone like that, you would at first feel that you had very little in common. After all, to this person, the Dreamtime is more real than anything you would consider "physical reality." And yet, you have much in common. That is because you are both tied to the physical world. Your world puts constraints on what you can experience as reality.

In my world, these constraints are greatly relaxed. The reality you experience is primarily constrained by the need to integrate your new experiences with your previous realities.

This means that there are non-physical realities that are available to you. Purely spiritual realities, for example. Or purely intellectual realities. And many other kinds of which our common language will not even permit us to speak. Realities you cannot even imagine.

But there is one kind of reality that I should tell you about, because you may have already experienced something similar. These are role-playing realities. We usually just call them Game Worlds. These are very much like the role-playing games that many people enjoy in your world, except that everything in the game is real. Each different Game World has its own rules, and the rules cannot be violated. It is simply impossible to break the rules; itís as if each world has its own set of "physical laws." So when you go to one of these places, you are, in a sense, stepping back into a "physical world," with all of the limitations that particular world places on you. And, in many of these worlds, the rules restrict how you can get out of the game. This means that you can get stuck there. This has proven to be a problem, and for this reason, various mechanisms have been implemented to prevent people from getting stuck forever. But itís still a good idea to read the rules carefully before walking through one of those doorways... and you must never forget that some of these games keep most of the rules hidden.

Note that when you enter one of these worlds, you are by that action agreeing to the rules; in other words, you are choosing to give up choices. But only temporarily. When you finally do leave the game, you find yourself back at home, just as free as you were before. But frequently changed by the experience.

Sometimes, one can be dramatically changed by such an experience. Some of these games donít let you take your memories with you when you enter. You arrive with a kind of amnesia, not knowing anything about your past, or who you are, or what the rules are, or even that itís just a game. You just find yourself in this unfamiliar place, not knowing what youíre there for, not having any idea what your future will hold. And you will believe that you are a physical being in a physical world. You will have forgotten that you are immortal. When you see that dragon about to breathe fire on you, you will know fear! Some of these worlds have rules that specify that you canít get out until you "die," and perhaps more than once. And when you finally arrive back home, the amnesia is lifted, and you can remember everything. Then you have to integrate all of those experiences, which can take years.

Some of the people who design these worlds are incredibly devious. They are tricksters of the highest order. We call them Game Masters.

 

D: People actually go to places like this? Of their own free will?

 

B: Oh yes. Not everyone, but many do. Donít forget, after being here for a while, you begin to lose your fears.

And I should point out that some of these games have all of the rules hidden. When you walk through that doorway, you have absolutely no idea what is on the other side! You only know one thing: Someday, you will come home. But you may be a very different person.

These are very serious kinds of games, and are not to be taken lightly.

 

D: A very disturbing thought just occurred to me... If what youíre saying is true, then for all I know, I may be playing one of those games already!

 

B: That is a disturbing thought. There are times when I wonder whether I have been, in fact, playing one of those games, and may someday awaken to find myself in some other home, long forgotten for billions of years... There is no way to disprove such an idea. But I urge you not to go out and get yourself killed just to find out.

 

D: Donít worry, this world has been getting particularly interesting lately. Iím in no hurry to leave...

 

B: Are you sure about that? What if someone invited you to go somewhere else? Somewhere really interesting?

 

D: Somewhere like your world, for instance? Is that why youíre here?

 

B: It wasnít hard to guess, was it? A lot of people in your world already believe that something like this is about to happen. And theyíre right. Undeniable contact is coming very soon, and it will come with an invitation.

 

D: An invitation? You mean, like a card, with gold embossed letters, and RSVP at the bottom?

 

B: No! I cannot tell you exactly how this will happen, or when; these things are not yet decided. When it happens, you will know. And it wonít happen at all until enough people are ready for it.

It wonít happen until enough people know who we really are.

 

D: How many is enough?

 

B: This is not known at the present time. We will know when the time is right, and so will you. And then we will start making invitations. One person at a time.

 

D: One person at a time? What do you mean by that?

 

B: Letís go back to a metaphor we used before: the doorway. Think of a Doorway, through which you may pass. It leads from your world, to mine. No one can force you to step through that Doorway, but if you choose to do so, you do so alone. And you cannot return; that Doorway is one-way only.

 

D: Whoa, hold it right there! Itís pretty obvious that a lot of people are going to have a big problem with this idea... Most people, if confronted by such a Doorway, would turn around and run!

 

B: As I said before, undeniable contact will not occur until enough people know who we really are. There is a vast amount of preparation that must be done before then, and this highly deniable contact you are having right now is just another small step in that process. As time passes, peopleís perceptions will gradually shift, and when the time comes for undeniable contact, it will all seem very natural and inevitable.

 

D: Well, thatís comforting to hear, but I still think that a lot of people are not going to accept this. You really expect people to leave their families behind?

 

B: Oh, itís worse than that. I donít think youíve thought through the consequences of all that I have been telling you.

When you step through that Doorway, you leave everything behind. Not just your family, but everything in the physical world. You break all of your strong interdependencies when you leave, and when enough people do this, society comes apart at the seams. I know that this sounds very bad, but someday you will be able to look back on all of this from a historical perspective, as I can, and you will understand.

It is very natural to be afraid of the possibility of being permanently separated from the ones you love, but you must realize that this fear will vanish when you, and all of them, have chosen to come here. When you have all completed your journeys, no one can keep you apart, ever. But if you choose to come here, and another person chooses not to come here, then you cannot be together. Everyone will be given a choice; some will choose, and some will not. This will be very painful, and you must come to terms with this. But it is really not much worse than the kind of loss you feel when a loved one dies, because in the fullness of time, it amounts to the same thing.

 

D: Well, this sounds better. If an entire family chooses to go, they can still be together on the other side.

 

B: Youíre not thinking about this in the right way. A family cannot choose. Only a person can choose. Only one person at a time can step through the Doorway. If all the members of a family agree to go, they must still step through that Doorway one at a time. If one person decides at the last moment not to go, no one can make them step through.

And even if everyone does go, they will not immediately find themselves together on the other side. They must find each other, and this can take some time. And if one person decides not to be found, they will never be found; the absolute privacy of this world guarantees that.

 

D: I can see right away that people who have small children are going to have a problem with this...

 

B: You still havenít grasped this... A small child cannot choose. The choice is offered only to those people who understand the choice, and no one can choose for another.

Fortunately, small children stay small only for a short time. I think you will find that most parents will choose not to go until their children have reached the age at which they can understand the choice.

 

D: So children cannot go?

 

B: Not until they are old enough to understand the choice. And donít ask me what age that is... It is an individual matter. No invitation is issued until that person is ready.

 

D: What about pets? Many people here would never leave their pets behind.

 

B: Yes, pets can come here. But you must realize that you cannot "keep" a pet in my world; you cannot confine anyone here. All creatures in my world are free to come and go as they please, and each one possesses its own private Home, which you cannot enter without an invitation. So if an animal stays within your Home, it is only because that is where it wants to be. If it decides to leave, you cannot stop it.

Although it is definitely possible for non-human animals to come here from Earth, it is not easy to arrange. The level of understanding that can be achieved by dogs or cats is different than the understanding that can be achieved by a human, but it can be sufficient to allow them to freely choose. Arranging things so that they have an opportunity to make this choice can be difficult and quite time-consuming, but many people will gladly go to great lengths to accomplish this. When open Contact occurs, we will show you how this can be done.

 

D: Well, this is good news. If your world is really as you describe, then I think many people would choose to go there. Once they get used to the idea. You are going to be sticking around for a while, aren't you? I can see right away that there is a major learning curve ahead of us...

 

B: Yes, we will be around for years while all of this works itself out. It will not be over in an instant.

Donít forget that there are limits to what we can do when we interact with the physical world. We cannot handle billions of people all at once. It will take time. It will be the most remarkable period in all of human history. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that many people will not survive it. And dead people canít make choices.

 

D: This doesnít sound good... Would you care to elaborate?

 

B: Donít get the idea that I am predicting the future; we do not know exactly what will happen. But we have been through this many times before, on other worlds, and we have a pretty good idea of what is likely to happen. This is why the preparation process is so carefully planned; we go to extreme lengths to try to minimize the damage. But you must keep in mind that as long as you remain in your physical world, you are vulnerable. And the greatest threat you face is all around you: all those other people. Some of them are dangerous, and some might become very dangerous as events unfold. You must be careful.

 

D: Well, this is always good advice... Could you be more explicit?

 

B: There are a lot of people on the Earth who believe that there is only one way to live, one way to believe... Their way. Some of these people will go to extraordinary lengths to defend their beliefs from what they perceive to be a threat.

Think about all of the things I have told you about my world, and I think you will begin to understand the nature of the conflicts to come.

 

D: Holy Wars?

 

B: Oh, I hope not. We are working very hard to avoid any such ugliness, but there are limits to what we can do.

As long as there are people who hate, there will be violence, and it can take many forms. We cannot wait around for all of the hate to disappear; this has never proven to be practical. So you will just have to deal with it.

 

D: Well, I have been convinced for some time that a lot of ugly things lay in our future, so this is really nothing new...

 

B: We have watched many civilizations pass through the stage where you are now, and sometimes we have kept our hands off. Even if we stay away, things tend to get ugly.

We call it Civilization End-Stage Disease, and itís really not difficult to understand. By the time a civilization reaches a sufficiently high level of technological and spiritual development to solve their problems without creating even worse problems, the population has greatly exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet. It almost always happens this way. And there are other factors too, such as the inevitable development of a technology sufficiently advanced to replace most of the labor force, coupled with increasing institutional inertia against any potential solution to the problems caused by that replacement. There are many factors.

 

D: What kinds of ugliness have you seen?

 

B: Oh, weíve seen it all... famine, pestilence, plagues, floods... all that Biblical stuff. Everything is interconnected. The web just unravels. No one can predict exactly what will happen, or when. It can go in many directions simultaneously.

There are signposts to watch for, however. If you start to observe large-scale ocean currents changing their paths in ways that you have never seen before...

Everything on the Earth is interconnected, and you are depending on the stability of that system. But the system is not really stable; it is metastable. There are many different metastable configurations of the system, and occasionally it switches from one configuration to another. Sometimes this change is rather modest, like the one about twelve thousand years ago, when the last Ice Age ended. Sometimes the change can be drastic, like the one about 65 million years ago. The one that is in progress now could be quite drastic. You should expect increasingly chaotic behavior in many of your dynamical systems as these changes progress.

I think that you have already recognized many of the changes that are occurring. Climate changes seem to be a popular topic of discussion, although your climate records are woefully short, and your measurements and models are rather primitive. Changes in population dynamics of infectious disease organisms are also evident. You will see many other changes.

Of course, changes are also occurring in human social systems. These are highly nonlinear systems, and their precise behavior is notoriously difficult to predict, but our studies of comparative planetology have given us some pretty good ideas about the possibilities.

 

D: Iím not sure I want to ask...

 

B: You donít want to know.

If you really wanted me to, I could give you extensive lists of all the different horrible things that people can do to each other, and that they will permit their institutions to do to them. Think back on all the darkest periods in human history, and think about what all those hateful people could do with a sufficiently advanced technology: total loss of privacy, thought police...

This is why we are reasonably certain that most of the humans on your planet will willingly choose to leave within about one human lifetime from now. If they are offered the choice.

 

D: If they are offered the choice? I thought you were going to offer the choice real soon now...

 

B: As I said before, we will not offer until enough people are ready. We believe this will happen soon, but we cannot be certain when. It is possible that this time will never come. We feel this is unlikely, but we cannot predict the future. Things can happen that are beyond our control.

A lot of this is up to you humans. Donít make us wait around forever. You must figure out who we really are.

 

D: Well, Iíve been reading all this, and trying to figure that out, but Iím still not sure who Iím talking to. Who are you, anyway?

 

B: Iím just this guy... Iím a lot like you. Thatís why I decided to talk to you, because you remind me of me when I was in the physical world. But what youíre looking for is the answer to the larger question, isnít it?

We are Explorers.

 

D: What are you exploring?

 

B: Everything. Everything that is, and everything that can be.

We are the Ultimate Explorers.

We explore the universe, which is to say we explore the physical world in which you live.

We also explore other universes. All the universes that can be. We can do this because we know how to create reality.

We live in the Realm of Possibilities. Here, anything is possible. Anything we can imagine, we can make real, almost effortlessly. So in a sense, we are exploring a universe of imagination, which is much more vast than any physical universe.

We have been doing this for billions of years, and have every reason to believe that we will continue to do so for trillions of years into the future. Perhaps much, much longer. Perhaps forever.

We come from thousands of different alien worlds, and from these different worlds come different kinds of people, with different, unique experiences of reality, and different imaginations. And this is what we explore most of all: We are exploring the potentiality of consciousness.

 

D: And you want to add human imagination to all of this?

 

B: Yes. We have already done so, in fact. We have been lurking in your neighborhood for millions of years, and quite a few humans have already been offered the Choice, and have accepted. They are helping us to explore new worlds that we could never have imagined without them. We could leave now, and it will have been worth the effort. But every sentient being is precious to us, so we intend to offer the Choice to as many people as we possibly can.

 

D: Now this is interesting. You say that you donít make the offer until someone understands the choice, and that this has already been done. That would seem to imply that there should be people out there who have been offered the choice, and who have declined. Why donít we hear people telling stories like this?

 

B: Billions of people have lived and died on your planet, but relatively few have ever heard from us. Let me tell you about one of them.

Once, many thousands of years ago, I was visiting the Earth on one of our occasional observation missions when I came across a lone human lying on the ground. It was a human female, about eighty years old, which was remarkably old, as most humans died before the age of forty in those days. She was dressed in animal skins that were insufficient to protect her from the sub-freezing temperatures that would arrive with dusk, less than an hour away. In one hand she held a small pouch containing objects of an obviously spiritual nature, and in the other hand she held a beautifully crafted stone knife. She had no other possessions. She lay on the ground, staring up into the crystal-clear sky with eyes full of intelligence, and expectation, and pain. Her hip was broken.

She was lying next to a trail. By following the footprints, I located the rest of her band. They were about an hourís walk away, and walking very fast. Winter was coming early that year; it would be a hard winter, and they knew it. They had to reach a distant mountain pass well before the snows came, or they would be doomed. They were nearly exhausted, but they were clearly determined to go as far as they possibly could before making camp for the night. These were a stoic people, but I could see that some of them had been crying. None of them looked back.

I returned to the old woman. She was still alive, but her core temperature was beginning to drop, and soon she would lose consciousness. There were no other humans in the entire valley, but there was a rather large predator not too far away, sniffing the trail. The old woman could not see the animal yet, but it seemed that she was aware of its presence. She was clutching the knife and the pouch very tightly now as she shivered in pain. Her eyes glowed. She had no fear.

I made the decision at that moment. Our Contact Protocol only allows interference under highly specific circumstances, and this case fit the protocol. I could offer her the Choice, without any danger of being observed by any other humans. And if she refused, she would not be in any condition to tell anyone else about it. But I was running short on time.

After rendering the predator unconscious, I called for a ship that could carry her, as mine was much too small. Fortunately, one was stationed not far away, but those few minutes were very harrowing. The temperature was dropping quickly.

Finally the ship arrived. I had requested the full light show, and it was quite a spectacular sight. Her eyes widened with astonishment as the ship descended from the heavens almost directly above her; she clearly had never even imagined anything like this before. As the ship slowly settled to the ground just a few feet from where she lay, she propped herself up on her elbows to get a better look, even though it caused her great pain. The ship sat there silently for a moment, and then the door slowly opened to reveal a passageway filled with light. She stared at the ship, her mouth hanging open, waiting to see what would happen next, but nothing did. No one emerged.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, she understood the Choice. She could lay there and die, or she could crawl through that doorway and face the Unknown. She understood the Choice perfectly. She dropped the knife, clenched the pouch between her teeth, and started pulling herself toward the ship, but the pain was so terrific that she lapsed into unconsciousness before she could move an inch. She had made her Choice though, so we brought her on board and took off.

When she awoke, she felt the warmth of the sun upon her face. She opened her eyes and sat up, and only then noticed that the pain was gone. A warm, gentle breeze stirred spring flowers as far as the eye could see.

She stood and looked around her, and beheld an immense valley, filled with flowers, surrounded by great snowcapped mountains. It reminded her of her oldest memories, as a child running through the flowers on a beautiful spring day...

She knew that she was alone. There were no trails, no evidence of human visitation. Except for the few marks she had made in the ground when she stood up, there were no footprints.

She stood there for the longest time, taking in her new surroundings, feeling a warmth in her bones that she had lost ages before. Eventually she decided to walk down the valley, for no other reason than that was what she had been taught to do if she ever found herself lost.

As she walked, she felt an energy within her that she had not felt in years. She began taking longer strides, and soon her back began to straighten. She quickened her pace, and felt the energy rush through her body. With every step she took, she felt younger and younger. Soon, she was running.

When she finally stopped, it was not to catch her breath; she was not tired at all. She stopped because she realized that she had become a young woman again.

She stood there, astonished by her transformation, and felt the energy surge through her. She knew, at that moment, that anything is possible.

And thus began her first Great Adventure in this new world.

We were very fortunate to find her; she is a most remarkable being. She was a very powerful shaman in her clan, and she has created some truly amazing worlds here. Magical worlds!

 

D: Wow, what a great story!

 

B: Iíve got a million great stories like that. Literally! And theyíre all true.

We are exploring the full breadth of the human experience. And all other kinds of experience as well.

Every time another person arrives here, they create a brand new story. Their own story, personal and unique. And they are all great stories, because they are stories of discovery, of transformation, of becoming. They are called Great Adventures, and everyone has one when they awaken here. This is when one becomes truly aware of what this world is all about, and this is when one learns all the skills needed to interact with this new kind of Reality. How to find things, how to communicate, how to move around. How to create worlds.

We have a Library here. It is unlike any library you have ever seen, because not only does it contain books, it contains experiences. My first Great Adventure is there; I put it there myself. You can experience it for yourself. There are trillions of Adventures you can borrow from that Library, and you can make up new ones too, so other people can experience them. Every story youíve ever heard, every book youíve ever read, every movie youíve ever seen, can be made into experiences that other people can enjoy, just as real as any other kind of experience.

And we explore this vast universe of experiences.

This is who we are. We are Explorers. We explore Everything.

I can think of no better way to spend Eternity.

 

D: Well, I would have to agree with that! Iíve heard other people describe what they think Eternity is like, and they make it sound infinitely boring. This is much better!

 

B: Boredom is the biggest problem any immortal being can face. But if you have a passion for exploration, then this is the place for you. One need never be bored here.

 

D: So where does all this fit in with Religion, as we know it on Earth?

 

B: Every religion contains within it Universal Truths, expressed in terms that people can understand. Most of the people who have ever lived on your planet lived their entire lives with only one way of experiencing reality: the way that they shared with their own small community. All other ways seemed foreign, alien, different; things to be derided, or feared. Each way of life was experienced within its own narrow context, which was tightly constrained by the physical world, and the religious aspects of life were shaped to fit this narrow context as well. In this way, Universal Truths become shrouded in dogma. Even the most open-minded religions on your planet are still human religions. When you see the great diversity of beliefs that other species have embraced, you will have a better perspective on this.

We have been here for billions of years, and explored millions of worlds, and delved into kinds of mathematics that you cannot even imagine, and we have not proven the existence of God. Nor have we disproved it. And there is a very simple reason for this: language has its limitations. This word "God" is a wildcard word. You can take a perfectly good sentence, put the word "God" into it, and make it mean absolutely anything, or nothing at all. And a proof requires the use of language in a very precise way.

When you use language in the right way, it allows you to perform reasoning. This is because language allows us to symbolically break up reality into component parts, which have properties, and actions, which connect these parts in the stream of time. We can then use logic to deduce new knowledge from the streams of language symbols we give each other. This form of communication evolved because it helps us survive and prosper in the physical world.

But this deductive process that we all take for granted is dependent on the fact that the objects we speak of have limits. If you start talking about things that have no limits, you lose the ability to deduce things. This is where you get famous paradoxes such as: "Can God make a stone that is so heavy He cannot lift it?" When you start using phrases like "all powerful" or "all knowing", logic breaks down. And this kind of language is used throughout the universe to break down logic and suspend the internal dialog, to achieve the experience of the Numinous. But it will never lead you to a proof, because such language has too much meaning to be used within a rigorous logical framework.

So we cannot answer all of the questions that you humans have wrestled with throughout the ages. There are a great number of different kinds of beliefs that can be found among the people of my world, and when you have witnessed this incredible diversity, your own beliefs might evolve and grow in ways that you cannot now even imagine.

Some people have expressed concern that exposure to alien civilizations may cause some human religions to self-destruct. This is not something you should worry about. All ways of believing are continually transformed throughout time, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes quickly. And even if we never contact you, these transformations will still occur, and are occurring, more and more quickly with every passing year. That is just the nature of this moment in your history.

One thing that you must understand is that my world is not a place to which you go when you die. If you die before you are offered the Choice, you might go somewhere, but you will not come here. I am very much alive; I am simply not wearing the old body I was born into.

There is one other thing that you must understand: although I have said that we are immortal, we cannot say for sure that we will live forever. We cannot predict the future, but we believe that we will be around for a very, very long time, a period of time that is indefinitely long. But the length of this period of time may not be infinite. There may come a day when we can no longer remain alive; if this happens, we will finally be dead. What will happen to us after that? We have no definite information on this subject; there is no universal agreement on this matter. Diversity of beliefs is not restricted only to small planets like yours.

It is important for you to understand this because there are many people who may think that choosing to come to my world will somehow prevent them from getting to the place where they have always believed they were going to go after they die. This kind of misunderstanding can sometimes cause people to behave in very ugly ways.

In my world, one experiences what is essentially another stage in the development of Life, a stage not made available to most of the sentient beings who come into existence in the physical world. You are incredibly fortunate to be alive at this particular time in the history of the Earth. This has never happened on your planet before, and possibly never will again. But it will happen again on other planets, and when it does, you can be there to watch it unfold. But only if you Choose to do so.

When I offered the old woman her Choice, that Choice was very simple for her. We didnít need to discuss it at length; indeed, I couldnít even speak her language. But when your Choice comes, the situation will be very different. For one thing, you presumably wonít be at Deathís door, as she was. But even more important, you will have a lot more information at your disposal. Nobody living in your world today is going to make that kind of Choice without being reasonably certain about the consequences of that Choice. And this brings up a rather knotty problem: How do you know that what Iím telling you is true? For the moment, this question is merely academic, because all of this is "just for the sake of argument," as we agreed. But when the time comes for people to actually Choose, this question becomes very important.

We canít just land on the White House lawn and walk among you; we donít have physical bodies. You canít come to my world, explore it for yourself, and then return to tell the other humans what youíve seen. How do we prove to you who we are? Will you just take our word for it? I donít think so.

This is a big problem. There will be many people who will believe that we are not telling the truth. They will say that we are evil beings, come to trick you into walking into some vast intergalactic slaughterhouse, or worse. No matter what kind of proof we offer, they will reject us, because we just donít fit into their preconceived belief systems. And it is likely that some of these people will attempt to prevent other people from Choosing. We have seen all of this before, many times. This is why we have to be so very careful.

When the time is right, we will offer proof. Proof that will satisfy most people. But some will never believe us, and they will Choose to stay. I just hope that they will not cause very much trouble for the rest of you.

 

D: Well, a lot of people think that we already have proof that someone is visiting us, but that "the government" won't let us have it. Is there any proof of your visits?

 

B: Maybe, but I'm dubious. We're pretty careful about what we leave lying around.

Our Contact Protocol is quite specific on this matter. Technology transfer is strictly controlled. The transfer of any kind of technology that could conceivably be used to hurt people is strictly forbidden, and so is almost everything else. All of the technology on your planet was invented by Earthlings, although some of those Earthlings may have been inspired by experiences provided by us.

We don't visit your planet very often, but when we do, we use ships that are constructed specifically for that purpose. We have a large number of designs, for different missions, but each vessel is custom built, locally. We have workshops on the far side of the Moon, and elsewhere in the solar system, and also some facilities underground on Earth.

The structural materials from which these ships are built are very ordinary. They are identical to materials in common use in your aerospace industries. We do this deliberately, just in case of accident.

There are certain components in these ships that are much more advanced than what your technology can presently produce, however. These components comprise only a small fraction of the mass of the ship, but are the most important parts: the computers, and certain components in the power and propulsion systems, for example. These components are constructed in such a way that they disintegrate completely in the unlikely event that the ship is damaged or captured. They just melt away into common atmospheric gasses and dust. Many fail-safe mechanisms are implemented to make sure that these particular components never fall into human hands.

We are reasonably sure that some of our hardware is held in secret facilities on your planet. But it does not constitute proof, because it is all structural stuff, and any of it could have been built by Earthlings, years ago.

Many decades ago, this was not true; the structural materials in our ships were beyond what you could make. But at that time, you did not have the ability to prove that. Perhaps someday someone will produce such a piece of evidence, saying it has been kept in some government vault for years. But how will they prove that it was made decades ago, and not yesterday? Any documentary evidence they produce could have been faked, and these people are widely disbelieved anyway. Besides, there will always be people who will insist that the technology to make titanium hulls and such was really invented decades earlier than commonly thought.

I know that conspiracy theorists are having a field day right now, but don't be fooled into thinking that "the government" knows anything about us. We don't deal with governments; indeed, many people come to my world just to get away from the darn things. But we do have a lot of fun fooling them, which is certainly easy to do.

There is a small probability that someone might be able to collect enough residues from one of our self-destructed components to permit a meaningful analysis. This would require doing isotopic analysis in a mass spectrometer. This is your only real hope of finding hard physical evidence of our visits, before open Contact. Good luck.

 

D: What about those alleged alien implants?

 

B: Isn't it strange that these things seem to be popping up now?

Such things prove nothing. No matter how carefully you analyze these things, you will find nothing that could not have been manufactured on Earth. And this is true of any other kind of anomalous "manufactured object" that you might find on Earth. Your scientists are learning how to control the manufacture of objects at the atomic scale. All we have to do is keep putting good self-destruct mechanisms in our most advanced technology, and you'll never prove a thing.

 

D: Well then, what about those alien bodies?

 

B: You really think there are alien bodies on the Earth? Get real.

 

D: But a lot of people have reported having experiences that involved close encounters with physical beings. They are clearly not talking about you. Are there other aliens out there? Ones that still have bodies?

 

B: Of course, there are lots of alien species out there that live in the physical world. But they are all out there. They donít visit the Earth. They would have to go to an extreme effort to do so, and we wouldnít let them if they tried. With few exceptions, each different life-bearing planet has its own unique biological system. If organisms from one planet traveled to another that had its own kind of life, horrible things could happen. It could lead to the extinction of almost all life on the planet. But fortunately, living planets are effectively quarantined off from one another. The vastness of space enforces this quarantine, and if somebody is foolish enough to try to break out and travel to a world we are guarding, like the Earth, we will stop them. We donít have any problem with people from the physical world traveling to planets that bear no life, however.

No, the physical creatures that a few of you humans have encountered are not, strictly speaking, alien.

 

D: Well then, who are they?

 

B: Now thatís a very good question. But before I answer it, I must make it quite clear that a lot of the encounters that are being reported are not really happening. At least not in the physical world.

Sentient beings like you have very powerful and creative imaginations, and many of these encounters occur only in the mind. It can be very difficult to tell the difference. After all, what you experience is what you remember, and you can experience much more than just the physical world. Some people create experiences out of thin air, frequently "borrowing" elements from other peopleís reported experiences. However, some of these experiences do have a basis in physical reality; some people really do have physical contact. I canít tell you what fraction are real, though, because I really donít know. All I can tell you is that the number of true physical contacts is not a large number. Certainly not millions, as some people think.

At this point, we need to talk more about Contact Protocols. These are rules that we establish for ourselves that govern how we relate to new worlds that bear intelligent life. The most basic rule is what you know as the Prime Directive; thanks to the popularity of a certain science-fiction television series, it seems that just about every human understands that term. We generally donít interfere with beings who have not yet learned of our existence. Sometimes exceptions have to be made, but when that happens we try very hard to keep our contacts as deniable as possible, so that life on that planet will continue as before. But at some point, it is necessary to engage in deniable contacts that are totally convincing to the individuals who experience them; this allows knowledge of the possibility of our existence to gradually creep into the culture. If we never reveal our existence to anyone, we can never prepare anyone. And preparation is important.

If you closely examine the myths of your ancient cultures, and even cultures that you may consider current, you will find within them elements that were inspired by close encounters. We always do things this way. We do not wait until the last minute to begin preparations. We always begin during pre-history, long before written language is developed.

Even at this late date, so close to Contact, there are still many people on your planet who believe in things that do not seem to belong in a rational world. Whether you call it Magic, or Miracles, or whatever, this is a long-standing tradition even in the most technologically advanced cultures. And this is a mixed blessing; it causes many people to reject science, often to their detriment, but it also helps to prepare people for Contact. Because when we show up, you will see Magic the likes of which you have never imagined.

Our Magic is based on extremely advanced technology, of course. Over the years, we have used it to give a few lucky humans experiences they will never forget, experiences that may dramatically expand their awareness of the possibilities of Reality. This helps to keep the Magical tradition alive, even during the most rational periods of human history.

And sometimes, we get a big surprise. If you show people enough Magic (and even if you don't), they will occasionally create their own! We have observed creatures in the physical world doing things that even we donít understand. This kind of strangeness has been observed on many planets, and we will not be able to thoroughly investigate these kinds of things on the Earth until after Contact. There is so much left to Explore in this world of yours.

Now every new planet is different; the specific Contact Protocols for each planet are custom-built for the occasion, based on the kinds of creatures we find there. But the situation on Earth is special, because we did something that is rather uncommon. We interfered with your development, in a way that is quite unusual.

We arrived here a very long time ago, long before humans evolved big brains and walked upright. We generally get to a planet long before intelligent life develops, and the Earth was no exception to this. We were watching you closely all throughout the period when you were becoming human. We were not scrutinizing you throughout every moment of your ancestorsí lives, but we did check in on you frequently. And one day, only a few hundred thousand years ago, we came back for one of our routine surveys, and we couldnít find you.

This was quite alarming. We had been watching you for millions of years, and we had become rather attached to you. You were our favorite Earthlings, although we liked the dolphins a lot too. We had high hopes for you, and were certain that you would develop a very interesting civilization. You were already highly intelligent; in fact, you have changed very little, physically, since that day.

We searched all over, fearing that you had somehow become extinct. Finally, we discovered a few small groups of humans, totaling less than a hundred individuals. They were all sick and starving. Climate change, coupled with some plain bad luck, had brought the human race to the brink of oblivion.

We were in quite a quandary. We had a simple choice: we could watch you disappear, and wait many millions of years for another species to develop intelligence, or we could interfere. Now we are extraordinarily patient folk, and many argued that we should keep our hands off, but many of us are also very compassionate. Besides, we had already made a substantial investment of time in these miserable creatures, and we had become quite fond of you. Ultimately, we agreed to interfere.

But what could we do? We couldnít just bring food; that wasnít enough. These people had everything going against them: climate, hungry predators, disease. We thought of moving them to a different area, but our models indicated that they were too far gone to survive in an unfamiliar place. Besides, where could we put them? The Earth was going through one of its occasional shifts from one metastable climate configuration to another, and we could not predict which configuration it would assume when it was done.

There were simply too few of them, and they were too weak, to survive unassisted anywhere on Earth. So we built a zoo for them. On Mars.

 

D: Now this is starting to get interesting! Why on Mars?

 

B: Our goal was to permit them to increase their numbers to a sufficiently high level so that they could be re-introduced to the wild with a good chance of survival; many thousands of humans would be required. This meant keeping them safe for many generations, and also meant that large facilities must be built, not only to provide living space, but also to grow food for them. It requires a lot of equipment to build and equip such facilities in a short time, and no traces of any of this could be left on the Earth for future generations to find. We already had facilities on the Moon and on Mars, that had been built for other purposes; Mars was chosen because its gravity is closer to Earthís.

This was a very delicate operation; we had to do it in such a way that they never became aware of any form of technology. If we did it carefully enough, they would convince themselves that everything that happened to them was the result of natural events. Or almost everything. The few parts that seemed miraculous would become part of their oral tradition, but would be gradually blurred with the passage of each succeeding generation. Deniability would be restored.

We already had enough large ships to transport them; these were quickly modified to suit our purposes. Each ship had a large cargo hold, which we lined with a material similar to stone, to give the appearance of a cave. Light was introduced through a small opening in the roof of the cave, which they could not reach. A shallow pool was constructed and filled with fresh water, and we gathered a large amount of fruits that we knew they liked. Elsewhere on the ship, life-support equipment was installed to maintain the temperature and the quality of the air.

One night, a band of humans went to sleep, cold and hungry and nearly delirious. The next morning, they found themselves in a cave. We are not sure how they explained this to themselves, but they seemed to be pleased, probably because they were warm and had lots of fruit to eat. They did not know it, but they were already well beyond the orbit of the Moon, accelerating away from the Earth at one gravity.

As they got closer to Mars, the acceleration was gradually reduced to Mars gravity, a bit less than half of Earthís. If they hadnít already been so weak and light-headed, they might have noticed.

After a few days, they discovered that the wall at one end of the cave was crumbling. They dug away the rubble, and found a narrow tunnel leading gradually upward. When they emerged into daylight, they found themselves in a long, narrow valley, surrounded by steep cliffs on both sides and at both ends. The valley was filled with vegetation of all descriptions; most of the food plants and herbs that they knew about were there. They could not know that this valley was in fact a huge tunnel carved out of the Martian bedrock, that the sky above was just a projection, that hidden machinery continually reprocessed the water and the air, and that the plants around them had been brought from Earth.

Each band of humans had their own journey, and found their own valley. Elsewhere on Mars, robotic machines were carving even larger tunnels for future generations; as their numbers gradually increased, the humans occasionally "discovered" passages that led to these new valleys. As the centuries passed, their old way of life, and the mysterious way in which they had come to this land of plenty, became just another part of their mythology.

Eventually, there came a day when their numbers had grown large enough, and the Earthís climate had stabilized enough, so that we felt it was safe to take them home. This was accomplished in much the same manner as before. We let each band loose in a different area; after all the trouble we had gone to, we werenít about to put all our eggs in one basket. This proved to be a good idea, as a few groups didnít make it. They had forgotten too much about things like predators, and bad weather, and how to find food. Iím sure that some of the survivors felt that they were being punished for something... perhaps for the time they broke into the tunnels housing the life-support machinery...

 

D: This is pretty spooky, Bob. Are there any creation myths that canít be traced back to this time?

 

B: Oh, quite a few, Iím sure. New creation myths appear all throughout human history, but they are frequently based on older ones. When you gain access to our records of human history, you can study this subject in great depth.

But I havenít finished the story yet. When we heard that the machine tunnels had been seen, we decided that we had to intervene. Some of the humans had seen quite a bit of our technology; these people were not stupid, and they were figuring out how some of the equipment worked. We wanted your technological development to occur independently of us, so we isolated the trespassers and took the rest back to Earth. Many of the humans knew about the secret tunnels by this time, but most of them were too scared to even set foot in them; we only kept back the ones who had seen too much. Even knowledge of simple things like wheels and gears and hinges would have been considered a forbidden technology transfer in those days.

We had planned all along to keep some of the humans in the zoo, as a backup, but only for a few generations. These people "volunteered" for that duty, and had to stay for millennia. Theyíve been there ever since.

They figured out pretty quickly that there was someone watching them, behind the scenes, and they figured out how to get us to respond: They started sabotaging the equipment. Since it was obvious that they knew we were around, there was no point in hiding from them any more. So we introduced ourselves. And since we had no desire to hang around for thousands of years to baby-sit these people, we taught them how to maintain the systems themselves, which took many generations to accomplish.

They developed rapidly after that; we couldnít really stop them. We limited their choices in as few ways as possible; basically, we wouldnít let them return to Earth, but almost anything else they wanted to do was okay. It didnít take them long to find their way to the surface, though, and this presented a problem; we knew that eventually the humans on Earth would develop the means to return to Mars, possibly before we were ready to make Contact, and we didnít want them seeing any evidence of intelligent life there. So we made a deal with the Martians: we would allow them to do whatever they like with a small area on the surface, but they would not be allowed to venture beyond that area. And we made it clear that all of their aboveground facilities would be destroyed as soon as Earthlings developed the ability to return to Mars.

We also prohibited them from digging any more tunnels for living space. We had already created a few mountains out of the rubble from the original tunnel excavations; had we let them tunnel without limit, they could easily have transformed the entire surface of Mars in only a few millennia. So we taught them how to limit their reproduction, and made them understand the dire consequences that would befall them if their population grew beyond the limits of their resources.

We have a strange sort of love/hate relationship with them. After all, they are our prisoners, although we did give them a way out: a Doorway. Most of them live in my world now.

They can be difficult to deal with sometimes. Occasionally they build spaceships, and try to fly to Earth, by the seat of their pants... We try not to harm them, and they know it, but sometimes we cannot save them from their own recklessness. If we can catch them without harming them, we take away their toys and return them to Mars. But sometimes they manage to evade us for years.

You can understand why they are not entirely happy with us: we sometimes treat them like children, and theyíre not. They are aware that they are being forced to conform to a Contact Protocol that was designed ages ago, and they understand why we do the things we do, but they still donít like it.

They know that Contact will be coming soon, and they are getting impatient. You see, they want to come home to Earth. They want to raise their families on that beautiful blue planet of yours. And after the Contact, they will be allowed to do so... provided you donít blow them out of the sky...

 

D: So all of these aliens that people have been seeing are all humans? That doesnít make any sense. People have been describing all kinds of different creatures.

 

B: As part of our Contact Protocol, we have been giving people experiences with a wide variety of creatures, but most people are just being fooled. Most of the things that people see are just optical projections. Sometimes, we use animated dummies, but mostly projections.

All of the biological entities that come to Earth, and there aren't many, are based on Earth biology, and in fact they are your relatives. We donít allow alien biology to enter this solar system; itís just too risky. Even one alien bacterium could wreak havoc in your biosphere.

There are a number of different kinds of encounters we can give you, and most of them are illusions. But sometimes we give especially lucid performances, in which the experiencer is allowed to move freely. Frequently, Martians play important roles in these experiences; not many Martians would pass up a chance to see the Earth first-hand. And Martians have sometimes visited without our knowledge, although not much lately; we've been watching them vigilantly in recent years.

 

D: Many people believe that there is some kind of medical experimentation, or genetic engineering, going on. Can you shed any light on this?

 

B: We have been taking biological samples from a wide variety of Earth organisms for billions of years, but, with only rare exceptions, we do not "engineer" living things. We go to great lengths to assure that you develop independently. And when we are taking samples from creatures that have a high degree of awareness, such as humans, we usually use techniques that prevent them from being aware that they are having an encounter. This is usually done by waiting until the creature is asleep, and then using techniques that prevent awakening during the procedures. Only a tiny fraction of the population ever has this type of physical encounter. However, a special situation exists with humans.

For hundreds of thousands of years, there have been two relatively independent populations of humans, separated by a vast gulf of empty space. This kind of situation can result in the development of two separate species; if two populations diverge to the point where they can no longer successfully interbreed, then those two populations have become, by definition, separate species.

We did not want this to occur, and the Martians didnít either, so we took steps to assure that the two populations remained a single species. The only way to do this is to allow genes to flow back and forth between the two populations. However, arranging for this kind of gene flow to occur without the people on Earth becoming aware of it is not straightforward. It had to be done in such a way that the humans on Earth did not realize that the procedures were being performed.

As I said earlier, we know how to remove samples from humans without their knowledge, and have been doing so for a long time. We can easily take sperm samples on Earth and use them to impregnate females on Mars. However, going the other direction is somewhat problematic; we donít want Earth females to bear children sired by Mars fathers, because that would be a dead giveaway. Racial differences can arise in humans in only about ten thousand years, and the humans on Mars have developed noticeable racial differences from any Earth race. So we usually just remove eggs from Earth females, fertilize them with sperm from Mars males, and implant them in Mars females. However, this procedure cannot absolutely guarantee species integrity, so sometimes it is necessary to perform the complete test: inseminate an Earth female with Mars sperm, and return later to verify pregnancy. If a viable fetus is found, it is usually removed and transplanted into a compatible Mars female. Of course, sometimes we canít find that Earth female again, and then those Martian genes eventually find their way into your gene pool. You may have heard of some of these people, who just look different somehow...

 

D: Hybrids?

 

B: Some people use that word to describe them, but it is not really accurate. They are fully human, but they are the result of the union of one race of humans on Earth and one of the several races of humans on Mars.

This species maintenance program has been going on for a very long time. Very few people on Earth have been involved; only a very slow rate of gene transfer is needed to prevent genetic divergence. Recently, the rate of transfers has increased considerably. We felt that people on Earth would be less likely to attack their Martian cousins if they knew they had close relatives among them.

So no, this is not a genetic engineering program, or a medical experimentation program. It is a species maintenance program. Its purpose is to ensure that there is only one human species, and it will continue until Contact.

Throughout these hundreds of thousands of years, nobody on Earth knew that all this was going on. We can be very discreet.

 

D: I donít think youíve been very discreet lately! Lots of people have been reporting these procedures...

 

B: We are following our Contact Protocol, which proceeds in stages. We are now allowing people to be aware of what is happening to them.

And this is not easy. The procedures we use are rather stealthy, so we dress up the experience a little, to make it more obvious what we are trying to accomplish.

We generally use nano-ships to collect specimens and biological data. They are constructed with nanotechnology, and are not very big. A whole fleet of them can crawl right under your bedroom door while you are sleeping; many of them look, and fly, just like insects. They are operated by remote control from a larger ship, which remains outside; we generally use very thin optical fibers to carry the control signals and telemetry, because this is such a stealthy method of communications. We often discard these fibers at the end of a mission, and sometimes people are lucky enough to find them before they disintegrate.

I donít think any human has ever gotten a clear view of one of these nano-ships in action, which is fine with us; most humans would not be able to understand what they were seeing. So when we want you to understand what is happening, we let you see something that you can understand.

Some nano-ships are used for inducing temporary paralysis, so you canít move. Some are used for removing tissue samples, or for making measurements. Some carry tiny loudspeakers that can be placed just outside your ear canals. And some carry tiny image projectors that can be held right over your eyes.

When we visit you, you see and hear whatever we want you to.

You might see strange creatures in your room. You might see strange creatures walking through walls. You might hear voices that seem to come from inside your own head. You might even see yourself floating right through a closed window. But none of this is really whatís happening; youíre really just lying in your own bed, unable to see the tiny machines that are working on you.

Once again, I must point out that the number of people we visit in this way is quite small. Most people who report these kinds of experiences need to look elsewhere for explanations. And everything we do is very carefully designed to produce experiences that are perfectly compatible with purely psychological explanations.

 

D: Surely you are aware that there are people who are very upset with what you have done to them?

 

B: Yes. Sorry.

 

D: Sorry? Thatís all you have to say?

 

B: We need true believers. We need people who truly believe that we exist. If it werenít for them, none of the preparation that has already occurred would have happened. Having people see 'flying saucers' and such isnít good enough; we need people to have experiences that are much more personal than that.

We cannot control the way people respond emotionally to the experiences we give them. We donít try to control peopleís thoughts or feelings; we just shift their state of awareness and give them some sensory input. We try very hard to prevent them from experiencing physical pain or discomfort, but every person is different and our procedures are not foolproof. It was much easier in the old days, when we just rendered people unconscious.

Even if we had not already been engaged in this species maintenance program, we would have had to invent some other kind of physical experience for people to have. And whatever that experience is, most people are going to find it very frightening, simply because we need to make it very alien.

It was not until very recently that we became fully aware of the depth of the psychological damage that some people were suffering. In fact, we got our first good feedback on this aspect of the program through the Net. After all, during our procedures, our subjects generally donít react at all; we have reason to believe that most of these people do not react emotionally to their experiences until they finally recall them, long after the encounter is over. And we are quite certain that most of the experiences now being reported happen entirely within people's minds, because the number of true contactees is quite small.

You must understand that we never intended to harm anyone. We need to prepare your minds for Contact. It is very important that some of you firmly believe that we are here, even though we cannot yet provide you with indisputable proof. We have been through this process many times before, on many different planets, and we have never found a method that made everyone happy.

So yes, we are sorry. Well, most of us are. You have to understand that we are not a homogeneous group of people. We encompass many ways of believing, many ethical systems, many moralities. There are people here who would have no trouble being nasty to you, if the opportunity arose.

Whenever we interact with you in the physical world, we use teams of individuals who are carefully chosen for the task. During the interaction, team members monitor each other, as well as the entire proceedings and the physical surroundings, and any member of the team can instantly terminate the mission. This makes it very unlikely that abuses will occur, and also helps to guarantee that our encounters remain highly deniable.

We can be reasonably certain that no permanent physical harm ever occurs to any human during our encounters, but there is no way we can guarantee that people will not feel that they were abused. Our Contact Protocol now specifies that we provide a small number of people with certain kinds of experiences; how they interpret those experiences is not under our control.

 

D: Well, when you explain it that way, I guess I can see how difficult your task is. I would not want to be the person who designs these "contact protocols" you describe.

 

B: I once felt that way too. When I was still living in the physical world, I was abducted myself! (I think...) It took me a long time to come to terms with what had been done to me and to the others. But when I came here, I had the opportunity to meet those who had once "tormented" us. In the fullness of time, I came to realize what they were trying to do, and why.

I participated in the decisions that led to the design of Earthís Contact Protocol. I cannot say that I am totally happy with the results so far, but at this point Iím not sure how I would have done things differently.

Anyone who chooses to come to my world will have the opportunity to affect the way things are done in the future, on other planets. Iím afraid this is the only real consolation we can offer.

The only advice I can offer to contactees at this time is: Donít be afraid. Be open minded. Figure out who we really are. And be wary of other humans, because they pose the only real threat to you.

The sooner you understand us, the sooner we will come out into the open. And then wondrous things will happen. But until then, just remember that everything we do is part of a public relations campaign. It is designed to promote the idea that we are here, but it is also designed to fool people into thinking that we are something other than what we really are. Most people are simply not ready to face the truths that we bring; we have discovered answers to many of the questions you ponder, but they may not be answers you like.

If you have the courage to face the truth, then all you have to do is open your mind and look at us. Try not to be fooled by our little public relations campaign. You can understand us.

 

D: Iím trying hard to understand you, but there are still a lot of things that havenít come together for me.

Youíve told me a lot about yourself, but obviously this world youíve been talking about was there before you were born. What about its history? Was it always there, or did it have a beginning, as we think the universe did?

 

B: The world I have described to you is Eternal, in a sense; theoretically, such worlds can be considered to exist outside of the particular stream of Time that you experience in this universe, but in a practical sense, its time stream is intimately connected with yours. Even though my world is not a physical world, it is still connected with your world; otherwise, we could not communicate, and you would not be able to come here.

My world was "discovered" at a particular time and place, in this Galaxy. It has also been "discovered" in other galaxies too.

It does not always take the same amount of time for intelligent life to arise on each different planet; some planets develop quickly, and some slowly. It took almost five billion years for intelligent life to arise on the Earth, but intelligence has arisen on many planets, and sometimes it takes less time than that. It arose on my planet before the Earth, and your Sun, had even formed.

You have now come to realize that the physical universe you inhabit had a beginning, and have named it the Big Bang. The understanding that you have developed of this concept is generally correct, although you need to work on some of the details. There was, indeed, a time when there were no stars and planets in this universe. So obviously, there must have been planets in each galaxy that were the first ones there.

The first planet that we know of to develop intelligent life in this Galaxy formed around one of its first Sun-like stars. At that time, there was relatively little matter in the universe that was heavier than hydrogen and helium; this planet had the good fortune to coalesce in a region that had been highly enriched in heavy elements by the first few generations of massive stars. There were other similar planets that formed in the Galaxy about this time, but this particular planet developed intelligent life before the others, only a few billion years after the Big Bang.

The inhabitants of this planet had a very interesting history. They were never visited by aliens, because there just werenít any around yet. So when they passed through the point where you are now, they were on their own.

They had a lot of problems, and they had to solve them all by themselves. It was not a pretty picture. By the time they had figured out what they were doing, and then figured out practical schemes to deal with these problems, they had done enormous damage to their planet. Itís a wonder that they survived at all. In fact, we have found evidence that there were a few other planets around at that time that were going through the same kind of things, but they didnít make it; they suffered horrible Malthusian catastrophes. And a few planets had experienced technologically advanced Dark Ages, which can be worse than death. One of the reasons that we go around doing what we do is to help people avoid the kind of history that these earliest planets had.

The ones we call the Founders were the first, in this Galaxy at least, to discover how to leave the physical world. And by that time, they really needed to leave. Their planetís climate systems had become completely chaotic, and most species of life had become extinct. The Web of Life was unraveling uncontrollably.

They had already started to colonize other planets and moons in their own star system by this time, of course, but that really wasnít good enough. Their home system was following a highly elliptical orbit that was taking it deep into the core of the Galaxy, where it ran the risk of total disruption. So when they discovered how to leave the physical world, it only took a few generations for most of them to Choose to leave.

And so they became Explorers, no longer tied to any planet or star. They quickly discovered that Life was widespread throughout the young Galaxy, and it didnít take them long to find planets where intelligence was developing. Every example they found revealed that intelligent civilizations inevitably have traumatic experiences at a particular point in their histories, the point you have reached now. And they decided that they wanted to help other civilizations to avoid the kind of bad craziness that they had experienced themselves. And, I think, it was also partly because they really wanted someone new to talk to...

At first, they just drove right up and said hello. This proved not to be a good idea. They had no experience with intelligent beings alien to themselves, and could not predict how people would react to them, so they wound up starting some really ugly wars. They became very cautious after that.

Eventually, after much experience, they learned how to design optimal Contact Protocols. By the time they found my planet, they had become very good at it. And when I say "they", Iím not just referring to that first species, the people we call the Founders; they had already become a very diverse collection of species, collaborating in their Explorations.

And now, we have come to your planet, looking for new friends with whom to share our world.

 

D: Youíve told me a lot about what is possible there, but I still donít have a good understanding about your lives. What do you actually do with your time? How do you spend your day?

 

B: Right at the moment, I am concentrating on playing my part in this Contact Protocol. But youíre probably more interested in a more general answer.

People do pretty much whatever they like. I know, thatís an awfully vague answer, but you have to understand that we are a very diverse crowd. There are many beings here that I could not begin to describe to you, and there is no way you could comprehend what they do; even I don't understand some of them. But there are many others that are similar enough to you so that you can understand them, and they often do things that would seem quite familiar to you.

Game Worlds are quite popular, but the most popular kind of worlds are simply tourist destinations. We have visited an enormous number of planets, and have reproductions of all of them in our Library. They are virtually indistinguishable from the real physical worlds on which they are based, all the way down to the smallest life forms, and people love to visit them. And before you get the wrong idea, I should point out that you can check out your own personal copy of a planet, so when you arrive, you are the only person there. You donít have to deal with crowds if you donít want to.

Actually, there are many different versions of each planet; many different periods in history are represented. So, if youíd like to see the Earth as it was in the time of the dinosaurs, we can oblige you.

Art is very popular. Experiencing it, and creating it. We have art from all over the Galaxy, and beyond. Visual arts, music, dance; anything you can think of, and much more. There are art forms in the Library that I find totally incomprehensible, and Iíve been around a while.

I think you would particularly like the music. Of course, we have all of the recorded music of the Galaxy to choose from, but we have lots of live music too. And we have the best musicians youíll find anywhere.

Music is an emotional language, and there are some particularly emotional species of sentient beings who are much more involved with music than any human who has ever lived. There is one species here who have evolved a vocal apparatus so versatile that they can produce almost any sound, no matter how complex. Their singing puts your most lyrical birds to shame, and their compositional skills are astounding. When they are children, they can match your best musicians, and when they are grown, any one of them can best your greatest musical geniuses. They can master any musical genre after only a brief exposure, and will compose entire symphonies, off the cuff, to answer the briefest e-mail. They have mastered all of the musical forms we have ever received from your radio and television transmissions, and have composed a vast body of work that is based on them. And if you could only hear the duets they sing in moments of passion...

Sports is a common pastime. Of course, anyone here can possess as much strength or agility or coordination as they like, with little effort, which would make most kinds of athletic competition rather pointless. But we have access to Game Worlds that are very similar to the physical world, and there are athletes in many of these worlds who must contend with physical limits. You won't believe how many sports channels we have here.

Of course, we have the finest minds in the Galaxy here, and many people spend most of their time engaged in scholarly pursuits. Right at the moment, many are very busy studying the Earth and its inhabitants, as they have done for every other planet we have ever encountered. And that immense Library, containing the accumulated knowledge of the entire Galaxy, is never more than a step away.

The sciences are quite popular. We have a very good understanding of physics and chemistry, and know how to make virtually any physical object that can exist in the physical world; many people spend their time exploring the different ways matter can be made to behave, and we have physical world laboratories where we can actually make new things. Astronomy is also popular, which is good because we collect vast amounts of detailed information about the physical universe; we have catalogued every star and planet in this Galaxy, and whenever a new planet is born, we can be there from the very beginning. Biology is widely studied; we have had the opportunity to compare many different kinds of biological systems, from many different planets. And social sciences are also popular; every culture we encounter is studied in great detail, and lots of new cultures have arisen here.

Of course, some people may not be interested in any of this. But be assured that we have something for everyone here.

Like to go shopping? We have malls here that are bigger than your entire universe. And everything is free.

No, I am not kidding. There are people here who do little more than shop. Every kind of store that has ever existed in this Galaxy is available, and they can all be right around the corner.

Of course, this may seem rather pointless, since anyone here can create any kind of object just by willing it into existence. But some people just prefer the old way of doing things. After all, itís the experience that counts.

You must realize that I have only scratched the surface. There are millions of ways of life to choose from, and I canít even begin to describe how most people spend their time here.

But there is something special going on in this corner of the Galaxy right now, something that has grabbed the attention of almost everyone here, and thatís You. The Earth is passing through the most remarkable period in its long history at this moment, and we are watching it all. We have received and recorded virtually all of your radio and television broadcasts, and all of that is in our Library. And we love this stuff!

Think about this: we have been hanging around here for millions of years, waiting for you to reach this point, and only in the past hundred years have we actually been able to learn anything substantial about your cultures!

 

D: But the kind of things that people do on Earth, like working, and raising families... have you completely transcended these things?

 

B: Well, what you call "work" is largely unnecessary here, except within some of the Game Worlds, where people don't know any better. However, there are times when numbers of us get together to collaborate on projects, usually in small groups. This is done on a completely voluntary basis, and we try to avoid getting too involved in such things, in the sense that we try not to invest too much emotionally. Weíre pretty laid back, generally speaking. This works quite well, because we generally donít have to worry about deadlines. We have vast amounts of time at our disposal.

We are capable of very high levels of organization when it is necessary. We can have billions of minds working on a single project on very short notice. We can design and build systems far more complex than anything you have ever seen, in a very short time.

Sometimes, we get involved in projects that deal with the physical world, and that can involve what you would call "work". The Earth project is a good example. Many of us are deeply involved with what is happening now, and once Contact occurs, we expect to be very busy for a while. However, most of the people here are not involved at all, except perhaps to watch.

You may think from all I have said that we must be very lazy. But this word "lazy" is really only meaningful in the physical world, where you have so much to do and so little time. We have all the time in the world, and we have no needs except those we create for ourselves.

There are many people here who are very energetic, and very busy, and very creative. But they are not driven by a thirst for wealth or power; indeed, we are all infinitely wealthy here, and no one has power over anyone else. In this world, people strive because it is their passion.

You have raised the subject of children again. I think it is now time to talk about where children fit into the scheme of things here.

As I have already said, children cannot Choose to come here until they are old enough to understand the Choice, and no one can Choose for anyone else. However, this does not address the possibility of making new children here.

It is possible to create new individuals here. We understand very well how this works. Itís just not something that we choose to do very often. Let me explain why.

In your world, people are born, and grow up, and learn, and become wise perhaps, and then die. This happens over and over again. It goes on like this endlessly, because you make new people along the way. If all of you were to stop making children, it would all come to a halt within a century or so, because everybody would be dead. Children are necessary in your world because you are mortal.

In my world, if even a small fraction of every generation had children, the number of people here would increase exponentially, and we cannot have that here. There are limits to how fast our population can grow; these limits are related to the nature of our connection with the physical world. Specifically, if our population grew exponentially at anywhere near the rate you are accustomed to, virtually all of the available matter and energy in the physical world would be consumed in a period of time that is short compared to the present age of the universe. This is generally considered to be a bad thing.

Instead of increasing exponentially, we increase our population linearly. We do this by occasionally stopping at a new planet, and asking a group of young sentient beings to join us. Beings like you.

Your method of maintaining life on your planet is intimately connected with the physical nature of your world. You combine an egg and a sperm to make a new life, let it grow, and then push it out into the world. This is just about the most physical thing I can think of, and this is something that your new bodies just wonít do when you get here. If you really want to do this kind of thing, do it before you step through that Doorway.

For you, in the physical world, making children is relatively easy. You have bodies that you inherited from a long line of humans who also had bodies that could produce children, and did so successfully. But because we do not have bodies that can do this, we would have to figure out how to create a human child from nothing. This is theoretically possible, but it would involve a rather large number of experiments, most of them unsuccessful. And most humans would probably consider such experimentation highly unethical. So if you come here, it is not true that you cannot have children. Go ahead and have children; itís just up to you to figure out how. And nobody ever bothers any more.

Because we donít have children, none of us act like parents here. In your world, parents are one of the main reasons why you have so little freedom. Many parents insist on forcing other people to help them raise their children. They do this by making and perpetuating rules about adult behavior that are designed to help them shape the world that their children experience. This is where censorship comes from, and many of your laws, and much of what you call "morality". These things are unnecessary here, and we do not miss them. We are free.

Besides, can you imagine the result of raising children in a place where anyone can have practically anything they want, just by thinking it into existence? The physical world is a much better place for raising children.

So no, we do not produce children the way you do.

 

D: I can see that this has many advantages, but many people like being with children, and would never want to spend Eternity without ever seeing one again.

 

B: Of course. Let me tell you a story.

When I was young, we lived in a small village. Only a few dozen people lived there, in about a dozen families. Everyone there was either a parent or a child, and all the children were the same age, because our parents had gotten together to found this village specifically for the purpose of raising their children. The village, and everything in it, was designed for that purpose.

Our parents were devoted to us. They were always there; none of them had to go away to work, and the village was very isolated, so there was no place else to go. And there was no television, no radio. The pace of life was very leisurely.

We spent most of our time playing. We did not go off to school every day; our parents taught us, one-on-one. And we did not have to spend a lot of time being taught a lot of useless nonsense, because life in the village was very simple compared to what you are used to. Our parents did not insist that we excel at anything in particular; they knew that such a thing would not be important later in our lives. The most important lessons were the ones we learned just from being with other children: how to get along with others, how to enjoy life.

Donít get the idea that we grew up totally ignorant and lazy. We were allowed to develop our own interests, and to follow our own paths. I had a particular love of mathematics; other children had other interests. We were each allowed to follow our bliss.

And so we grew up happy, and healthy, and full of boundless energy. No one ever tried to break our spirits, or force us to conform.

Finally, the big day came: The Coming of Age Ceremony.

We had known of this ritual from an early age, but we were never told anything about it. We just knew that it marked the boundary between childhood and adulthood. Whenever we asked what came afterward, we were always told that we would have to decide that for ourselves when the time came.

It was a very emotional time for us all. Some of the parents were acting as though they would never see us again, although we had been assured that this would not be the case, so many of us were frightened. It did not help that the next-to-last step in the ceremony was called "the Saying of the Last Good-Byes."

When we reached that step, after all the speeches and such, we stood with our parents, for the last time as children, and held each other. Everyone was crying.

Then we turned around and walked toward the center of the room, for the final stage in the ceremony. There, in the center of the circular room, had been arranged a set of mirrors, one for each child. The mirrors reached from floor to ceiling, and were arranged in a circle, facing outward; each mirror touched the edge of the mirrors on either side of it, so there were no gaps in between. Each of us stood in front of our own mirror.

We had no idea what was going to happen next. We were terrified.

We were told to look into the mirror.

As the final words of the ceremony were read to us, I stared intently at the person in the mirror, wondering what would happen next. Would I change somehow? I tried to pay attention to the words, but more and more my attention became focused on that person in the mirror, until I was aware of nothing else. And then something strange happened.

I felt that I was no longer looking in a mirror. In fact, I was no longer seeing with my eyes. I was seeing in a way that eyes cannot. I was becoming aware of that person in a way that I had never known was possible. I was simultaneously aware of every aspect of that person. I remembered everything that person had ever experienced. And I knew that this person of whom I was now totally aware, and the universe of which I had always felt I was just a small part, were one and the same. That is when I remembered that this person was me.

At that moment, I suddenly realized that I was, once again, just looking in a mirror. I examined my image carefully to see if anything had changed, but I looked just the same. But something was different.

For the longest time I couldnít figure out what it was. But then I realized that I could no longer see my parents standing behind me. Nor could I see the other children standing next to me. I was alone.

I became aware that the whole room was different. I was in a different place. But something else was different too.

I continued to gaze at this person in the mirror, trying to pin down this odd, disturbing feeling I was having. And then it struck me.

I was looking at a total stranger. I had never seen this person before in my entire life.

Suddenly, an enormous Crack opened in the universe, and a tidal wave of memories flooded over me. I was swept into a swirling Maelstrom of experiences. I could remember everything.

I remembered my first life, as a physical being in a physical world. I remembered the day the Aliens came, and the Choice I was offered. And I remembered that I was now an immortal being, in an Eternal world.

And then I remembered the Game...

A group of us, who had all recently come from the same planet in the physical world, had gotten together to play the Game. The Growing-Up Game. And I had chosen to be one of the children.

We had carefully planned it all. The village, everything. I had asked to be skilled in mathematics, because I never learned as much about it as I should have in the physical world, and it turns out to be rather important. One of the others had asked for musical talent. Another asked to be athletic. And we had all asked for the same thing: not to have to grow up with all the ugly stuff that had happened to us the first time around, in the physical world.

We had all discussed this project in great depth for many years, and discovered that each of us had childhood experiences that had left us scarred in some way. Some had suffered the loss of a loved one; some had been abused, either physically or emotionally; and some had merely been thrust into responsibility without adequate preparation. Our world had become a very troubled place by the time we had been born into it, and for most people, childhood was not what it should have been. But for this next childhood, we had control over these things. And because we were not preparing ourselves for life in the physical world, we could safely ignore those things that are important in the physical world, but which are not important among immortals.

The only thing we wouldnít know, and did not plan, was the pairing up of the children with the parents. We all trusted each other, so we left it up to the Game Masters to decide which "child" would wind up with each set of "parents".

So when the new world was ready, we each said good-bye to our loved ones, and stepped through that Doorway.

And now, here I was, back in my old Home after many years, standing before a mirror, weeping uncontrollably, shaking so hard I could barely stand, staring in astonishment at this beautiful young creature I had become.

The Game Masters had lived up to their reputation. This time around, I had grown up as the opposite sex!

I did not leave my Home that day, or for many days afterward. I did not see or communicate with anyone. I remained alone for a long time, trying to come to terms with what had happened to me, trying to figure out who I was. And when I finally had the courage to go out among others again, I went as an entirely new person. My friends just had to deal with it, and this was a very interesting experience for all of us.

Needless to say, it took me years to integrate these two personalities and all of their experiences. And I have gone through all of this numerous times now. You canít imagine how weird it is to come back, not only as a different sex, but as a different species...

So yes, it is possible to have the parenting experience here. It is also possible to have the childhood experience. We just do it a little differently.

 

D: A little differently? Now thatís an understatement!

 

B: Actually, almost everything I say is understated. Perhaps a little caveat is in order here.

Throughout all of this, I have been trying to express things in terms that you would understand. I have used metaphors and similes that are familiar to you. But you must keep in mind that I am an alien. I am not human.

I have tried to translate alien experiences into human ones that match as closely as possible. For example, I have described myself "weeping." In fact, I donít have tear glands that work exactly as yours do, but I do have a behavior that is analogous to weeping. And I have described a "Doorway" through which you may step, but this is really just a metaphor. I have substituted terms in this way all throughout this discussion. You may also find that I sometimes use terminology in a less-than-rigorous way, which helps to maintain deniability.

I also try to keep things simple by generalizing a lot, but you should keep in mind that it is really very hard to generalize accurately about the people of my world; we are very diverse. Whenever I use words like "we" or "us", I may be referring only to a small subset of the population of my world, depending on the context. For example, many people here couldn't care less what happens with you, and there are many who aren't even aware of your existence, so I frequently use "we" to refer only to the people here who actually concern themselves with humans.

As I have described my world, you have undoubtedly visualized it as a human world, filled with humans exhibiting human behavior. I have tried very hard to make this easy for you by choosing my words carefully. But in fact it is not a human world. There are a few humans here, but at the moment humanity is but a tiny minority. You will make it more human when you arrive here, but it will always be much more than that.

When you get here, you will find yourself in a human world, or at least one that appears to be so. This is done to make you feel more comfortable. But if you decide to go Exploring, youíre going to have to get used to a lot of things that are so strange that we canít really talk about them now. This language is just not wide enough yet.

One of the reasons that you are talking to me, and not to some other alien, is that out of all the alien species here, mine is one of the most similar to yours. I come from a similar planet. We are biologically similar in many important respects. We have two sexes, and produce children in a similar fashion. We sleep, and dream.

Many of the other aliens here would have a much more difficult time learning how to communicate with humans, because they are radically different in the ways they view the world. And even though I am so similar to you, I had to study for thousands of years before I could even know enough about you so that I could begin to learn this language we are using.

So you should take all of this with some very large grains of salt. It is all true in some sense, but I have been stretching language to its limit. Just keep in mind that we will not be shoving weirdness down your throat when you get here; if you want to, you can restrict your travels to human worlds. But of course, someone has to build those worlds first. And we canít do this for you; human worlds must be built by humans.

As I have said, there are already some humans here. But most of them predate your modern cultures. So after Contact, the first humans to arrive will find little that is familiar. We can provide worlds that look like Earth, but they will be empty of human culture until humans live in them. Those first humans will be the Pioneers.

You may recall I said earlier that when you come here, you leave everything behind. And in a sense, this is true. But in another sense, it isnít. You bring your memories with you, and we can construct things from your memory alone. However, this is not a very good method to use when the things so constructed are to be shared among many people. Memory is not objectively accurate.

You will remember things as being slightly different than the way someone else remembers those same things, so it simplifies everything if a more objective source of information can be used instead of fallible memories. And after Contact, information can flow freely between your world and mine, just as it is now flowing between you and me.

We can already construct reasonably accurate versions of many of the things of your world. Buildings, furniture, utensils, and even works of art are no problem. But the versions that we can make are crude representations, because they are primarily constructed from images that we find in your television programs, and these images are not very high in resolution. So we can make things that look a lot like the real thing, but they wonít be right in the fine details.

After Contact, a lot of people will find themselves in the digitization business. And by the time they are done, practically everything will have been digitized. All of the motion pictures in your film vaults, millions of books and magazines, billions of photographs from family scrapbooks, all of your sound recordings... This is going to be a big job, and most humans will find themselves involved in this immense project, because no central authority can do it for you. If you want to be able to look at those old snapshots of Auntie Em, you will have to personally make sure they get digitized and sent on ahead before you step through that Doorway, because you canít go back and get them later.

You already have the technology you need to do all of this digitization. Your color scanners are quite good now, and will continue to improve. By the time Global Digitization is in full swing, diffraction-limited scanners and 3-D digital cameras will be cheap, and practically everyone will have them. And the digital images they produce will contain vastly more structural information than all those TV images we have been using, so that we will be able to build very accurate reproductions of almost every kind of manufactured object in use on the Earth.

We are most concerned, however, with your books. It may surprise you to learn that we donít have many of your books yet. In fact, we are only now beginning to learn of the existence of many of them; there are at least a hundred thousand books for which we have little more than titles! All of your books need to be digitized, and in all of their editions. And every issue of every magazine and newspaper. And every professional journal. And everything else that is printed.

This is very important. Nothing is more frustrating than going to the Library to look up an old favorite and discovering that nobody remembered to digitize that one book. I hope you donít have this experience a billion years from now, when you and the Earth may be on opposite sides of the Galaxy.

My home world has been digitized very thoroughly. Not only books and buildings and other artifacts of culture, but the planet itself; its geography was mapped in great detail long ago, and I can visit that world whenever I like. Or at least a reasonable facsimile.

Of course, when I get there, I find that I am alone. There is no one else there, unless I go with friends, or go to a version of that planet that is being used by other people. Game Worlds often use such facsimile planets.

And there are many people who spend most, or even all, of their time on such facsimile planets within Game Worlds, and not just recreationally. There are Game Worlds here that were created for a single purpose: the preservation of cultures.

Many cultures that arise in the physical world are somewhat fragile. If you try to transplant them to a place like this, they tend to leak. People drift away, their attention drawn by all the new choices available to them here.

But in an appropriately constructed Game World, even the most fragile cultures can flourish, because the people within them donít know about all those other possibilities. There are traditional cultures here that have survived unchanged for billions of years, and will presumably continue forever. And we expect that humans are going to build quite a few of these kinds of Game Worlds here, where they can live their lives exactly the way they think they should. And this is how it should be, donít you think?

What will happen to your culture when it is moved into a world of almost unlimited freedom and privacy? Will it survive intact? Will it evolve into something else? Will it leak? Will it come completely apart? It doesnít matter! None of these things has to happen.

My world is constructed in such a way that all cultures, all ways of life, all beliefs can be accommodated here. It doesnít matter what kind of values you hold, or what has meaning to you, or how completely alien you may be to the Founders who started it all. Because we know how to create reality.

No matter what you believe, no matter how you live, we can make worlds for you that fit you perfectly. We can make worlds for you that suit you even better than the physical world youíre in now.

What is important to you? What are you looking for? Meaning? Enlightenment? Salvation? Bliss?

Whatever youíre looking for, if you can find it anywhere, you can find it here. And if you donít know what youíre looking for, you have plenty of time to figure that part out.

And I should point out that not everything here is sweetness and light. Not everyone here is happy. We are free, and that means we are free to be unhappy too.

There is one fellow I know who, for the longest time, was not a happy camper. He came here millions of years ago, from a little planet where he wasnít very happy either. I guess you could say that he started out life with a rather adversarial relationship with the universe.

When the Aliens came to his planet, he jumped at the chance to get off that world. This had to be better, he thought.

I first met him after he had been here for a couple of centuries. He spent much of his time hanging out with his old crowd from the physical world, and when he was with them, he was bright and funny. But something was missing.

I think it took him a long time to deal with all the consequences of everything that had happened to him since Contact, and even before. He kept asking things like, "What does it all mean?"

His friends were full of suggestions. The Game Masters could adjust some parameters in his head, and he would be happy, but theyíre not allowed to do this kind of thing without informed consent, and he would have none of that. He could go to a Game World, and have a new childhood, but he couldnít deal with that concept either.

I lost track of him for many years, and occasionally wondered what had happened to him. I never sought him out; I guess I was afraid that I might find out that he was still unhappy, which is a terrible thing to happen to an immortal.

I finally ran into him one day, sitting alone at a table outside a restaurant. I asked him how things were going.

He looked thoughtful for a moment, and began to tell me some of his story.

He had spent a lot of time being depressed, sitting around home by himself. It got so bad that he would stop time for years at a stretch, just so he didnít have to experience anything. But of course that doesnít help.

He eventually decided to try one of the Reincarnation Game Worlds. So he thought about it carefully, and discussed his specifications with the Game Masters. And when he was satisfied that he had thought of everything he wanted to be different, he took the plunge.

Finally it looked like things were going right for him. He had a happy childhood, and developed healthy relationships, and built himself a rewarding career. It was a great life, in fact. He enjoyed a series of epiphanies, more than most people could hope for in one lifetime.

He had become a physicist. He had specified this, in fact; he had little interest in this subject back in the physical world, and even less ability. But when he came here, he discovered that physics was rather important after all, so he had determined to learn about it.

He spent years in this Game World, studying physics, and designing experiments, and building and running hardware. He came to know some of the strangeness of the physical world, and even participated in a few significant discoveries. And by the time his health finally failed him, he had become a highly respected member of the academic world, and was cherished by all who knew him.

So when he finally awoke, and found himself back in his eternal Home, he was happier than he had ever known possible. And that lasted for about five minutes... until he started thinking about physics.

He had spent many years of his life making measurements of the physical world, collapsing wave functions, calculating correlations. And he had learned the most amazing things. But what had he been measuring? Nothing!

The whole time he was there, the Game Masters had been watching him. They were aware of his awareness, and knew what he was trying to measure. So they gave him what he wanted. They supplied whatever raw data was necessary to give him the results he should have gotten from his apparatus.

And even more disturbing was the realization that the same thing might have happened if he had been a physicist back on his home planet, in the physical world...

When he finished his story, we just sat there and looked at each other for a moment. And then we both burst out laughing.

I could tell right away that he was going to be fine.

As you can see, some people come here with unfinished business. And sometimes it takes them a while to take care of it. Fortunately, this world is constructed in such a way that they can. Even if it takes more than one mortal lifetime.

There is something here for everyone.

 

D: There is something that has been bothering me for a while now.

You have said that you will be offering the Choice to everyone who understands it. That would seem to imply that, potentially, everyone could go. But does everyone really deserve this opportunity?

A lot of people here would say that there are certain individuals who should be left to rot. Are you going to let the truly evil ones into this land of eternal freedom?

 

B: Ah, passing judgment now, are we? Let them come. Theyíre harmless here.

"Evil" is a concept that is meaningful only in the physical world.

But before you go off and blow away all your enemies, thereís something that you should know. Something I have neglected to tell you, about your first Great Adventure.

When you first arrive here, you donít immediately get all of the benefits that I have described to you. Although you are immortal, you donít have many choices. After all, it takes you a while to learn how to do things like change your body, or create worlds. But it goes even deeper than that.

When you embark on your first Great Adventure, you will be in the hands of the Game Masters. They are the ones who decide what kind of adventure you will have. Think of it as a special kind of Game World, custom designed just for you.

When you finish your Adventure, you will find yourself back at Home, and then this Home takes on all of its eternal properties, such as Privacy. But before then, donít make assumptions about anything, because you are in a Game World and the Game Masters have made all the rules.

There is no way of knowing in advance how long a Great Adventure will last, or what will happen in it. You must simply have faith in the Game Masters. They are very devious, even impish, but they are also fair. Very, very fair. So youíd better be fair, too...

Let me tell you another story.

Once upon a time, long long ago, on a faraway planet, there was a bad guy. Really bad. He brought misery and death to millions. The whole world hated him. The only ones who didnít hate him were the ones he paid handsomely to protect him, but really, they hated him too.

After he had started enough wars, and massacred enough innocent people, he began to accumulate a lot of enemies. So he became even more paranoid than he already was.

One day, just when things on this planet were getting particularly ugly, Aliens showed up and started offering people the Choice. They really needed it too.

And this fellow needed it more than anybody, or so he thought. He saw assassins all around him, and some of them were probably really there. So when he had the chance, he took it. He walked right up to that Doorway, and was about to step through...

Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion. His enemies didnít intend to let him get away scot-free.

When he came to, he saw that his Doorway had vanished, and bullets were flying everywhere. It was a coup attempt.

He escaped, and plotted revenge on his enemies. He was still very much in power, and he was in a really bad mood.

Soon, he had the biggest war of his career on his hands. It lasted for years, and by the time it petered out, the planet was in ruins.

Finally, he had another chance. He was offered another Doorway. This time, nobody stopped him. And when he got to the other side, was he surprised!

You see, he had been given ample opportunity to understand the Choice all along. He was told that the Game Masters would be very fair. But his colossal arrogance blinded him to the possibilities.

In fact, he had already gone to the other side years before. As he had stepped through his first Doorway, one of his trusted associates had shot him in the back, but he did not remember that; the explosion, and everything that happened after that, had all occurred in a Game World. His first Doorway had been his only Doorway.

The Game Masters had gone to a lot of trouble for him. They had constructed a Game World filled with millions of potential victims for this man. They donít often take on projects this complex, but this fellow was particularly special. They let him run rampant, and recorded everything. They watched as he meticulously constructed for himself his own private Hell. And when he thought that he was finally escaping into Eternity, he was in fact stepping into the shoes of his first victim.

He lived their lives over again, one at a time. But mainly just the bad parts. It took millions of years before he finally got out. But along the way, he became aware that people had feelings, and he started to care. And towards the end, he found himself living the lives of doomed, unsung heroes, and finally, he understood compassion. Heís different now; very shy, very polite, very quiet. Tends to keep to himself. A great chef, though.

Donít fool yourself into thinking that this is the Eternal Punishment that you may have heard about; it's not. It does end eventually, and the Game Masters do not punish. They do not judge. They are just very fair. They are quite content to let you do unto yourself what you have done unto others.

It usually turns out that the bad guys, the people who have spent their lives hurting others, decide not to step through that Doorway. They are the real cowards of your world.

 

D: How do the Game Masters know what kind of Game World to build for a particular person? And just who are these guys, anyway?

 

B: The Game Masters have complete access to all of your memories, and in fact your entire mind, at the moment you arrive here. They know everything about you. While you are in their care, you have no privacy from them, but when you leave that Game World, they cannot get anywhere near you unless you invite them. And they donít tell secrets, so ultimately, privacy is maintained. The only reason I knew about that fellowís story is because he told me about it.

They donít really "know" what kind of Game World to build for anyone. For this guy, they built a Game World that closely resembled the one he left behind, just as they do for everyone else. His world was full of violence and hatred, as was his own mind. He designed his own fate, by striving to limit the choices of those around him.

Game Masters are very special creatures. They are hyperintelligent beings that were created just for one purpose: to design and implement Game Worlds. Of course, you can also create Game Worlds yourself, but that doesnít make you a Game Master. I have created a number of worlds, but for the really complex ones I always collaborate with a Game Master. They are much better at such things.

The main reason we use Game Masters is because they are designed in such a way that they cannot violate your privacy. Not even if they wanted to, which they donít.

 

D: I think a lot of people would be terrified at the prospect of having such a creature poking around inside their brains, looking for deeds to turn back on them! There arenít many true saints among us. We all make mistakes...

 

B: Most people donít have too much to worry about in this regard. The Game Masters are very understanding. They are intimately familiar with the kind of situations mortals can get themselves into.

Donít make the mistake of confusing all of this with concepts from certain human religions. Itís not the same thing at all. This is not a place where you go after you die.

The Game Masters do not concern themselves much with what you have done in the past. They primarily look at the kind of person you are when you arrive. Great Adventures are designed to help you shake loose those habits that are inappropriate in my world. Habits like trying to limit other peopleís choices.

Most people in the physical world are almost completely unaware of the ways that they limit the freedom of others, and yet they do it every day; whenever you strive for things that everyone cannot have, you are limiting other people's choices. But in my world, everyone can have unlimited quantities of any material thing, with little effort, without limiting the choices of others at all.

It is in the realm of interpersonal relationships that we can still attempt to limit each other's choices, and many people continue to try to do this in the manner of the physical world after they have arrived here. Although a relationship is something that happens between two people, many people try to define their relationships within a social context that includes other people. But in this world, many people build relationships that have no external social context at all. This may take some getting used to, and your first Great Adventure may be your first exposure to such things.

It might seem to you that it is unfair of us to force you to endure some strange world of alien design before you become truly free. But there are a number of reasons why we do this, and one of the most important has to do with this notion of ethical behavior.

In your world, many people are in the habit of abusing others, thinking they can get away with it, and perhaps they can. Of course, many human belief systems try to teach that you cannot get away with it, ultimately, but since many people don't hold these beliefs, or don't think they apply to them, they behave like jerks anyway. And many of them prosper, because your world is, on the surface at least, amoral, unfair, and unjust.

But there are other kinds of worlds where you cannot get away with being a total jerk, because your deeds are reflected back on you, multiplied, and sometimes in a very un-subtle way. These are called magical worlds. Many of our Game Worlds are magical, and every first Great Adventure happens in some kind of magical Game World.

If you come here without the ability to understand the feelings of others, we may have to put up with that forever. So your first magical Game World is designed to help you learn that understanding, if you haven't already. Of course, the facility of understanding others' feelings is species dependent, and even culturally dependent, so that first world helps you to understand your own species and culture. But that first world will also be designed to help you begin to understand some of the alien cultures you will face later.

I have never met anyone here who did not gain something important from their first Great Adventure. And most people enjoy the experience immensely. Just remember this: If you treat people the way you want to be treated, then your first Great Adventure will quickly evolve into the world of your heart's desire.

 

D: Well, this is good news.

Tell me more about the Game Masters. They seem to play a major role in all of this. They seem to be the ones in charge.

And who created the Game Masters?

 

B: The first Game Masters were created by the Founders, the people who first discovered my world, billions of years ago. Their awareness is immense. They have access to the sum total of all our recorded knowledge. They know how consciousness works. They know how to create reality. It is because of them that we can live in the Realm of Possibilities.

No one is "in charge" here; there are no governments, and no laws, as most humans would understand these terms. This world is simply constructed in such a way that certain things are impossible.

We are each in complete charge of our own lives. The Game Masters do only what we ask of them, and then they go back to the Void. So in a sense, they donít really decide anything, or create anything. They work according to specifications we provide them.

 

D: What do they look like? How do you communicate with them?

 

B: They didnít start out with physical bodies, so they donít have to look like anything in particular. Whenever I call one up, it always shows up looking exactly like me. They are quite mischievous, you know.

We communicate by talking, of course, but there are other ways. When you are with a Game Master, it can see right into your mind. All I have to do is imagine a place or a thing, and the Game Master looks at that image in my mind and can create it right then and there. They can create an entire universe in the time it takes you to think a single thought.

Of course, all this is possible only in my world, because my world is constructed in such a way that the Game Masters can do the things that they do. Your world is not built that way.

There is only one thing that a Game Master cannot create: a person. Not because they donít know how, but because that is one of the rules of their existence. They can create more Game Masters, though. Game Masters arenít really people, strictly speaking.

 

D: If they arenít people, then what are they?

 

B: Theyíre Game Masters. What do you expect me to say? You want me to put them into some kind of pigeonhole? You donít have a pigeonhole for them yet.

 

D: But you have said that they were created, and that they were created by people. Are they machines? Are they alive?

 

B: Alive? Well, I think they are. I suppose you have to make clear what you mean by "alive."

You should keep in mind that all of these terms you are throwing around must be understood within a context, and my context is much bigger than yours. What is a "machine"? What you think of as a machine is greatly constrained by the kinds of machines that you have seen. I have seen machines that are far more complex than anything you have ever seen, whether you think of it as a machine or not. We are reaching the limits of language here.

The Game Masters are denizens of my world. They know practically everything, and can do almost anything. If you asked one of them questions like these, it would probably respond by asking you even harder questions. You would wind up disassembling your language.

 

D: Well, you said I could ask any question I like, and since youíve been so accommodating, I think Iíll continue to ask big questions.

You say that you have left the physical world, and you also imply that you travel the Galaxy looking for planets with intelligent life. What exactly is your relationship with the physical world? How do you travel? Do you go through some other dimension, or through time, or use wormholes, or warp space? Are you everywhere at once?

 

B: There does seem to be a lot of confusion about this, doesnít there? People come up with the most outlandish ideas to explain how aliens get around, and itís not hard to see why.

The main reason people come up with ideas like these is that their starting assumptions are all wrong. People try to think of us as physical beings in a physical world, and that starting assumption sends them off in the wrong direction.

We do not come from some other spatial dimension. In a sense, my world can be thought of as a different kind of space, but thatís just a convenient metaphor, useful for keeping your minds from breaking. Sometimes we try to communicate to people that we do not occupy space in the same way you do, and that can lead them to assume all kinds of strange things about us.

We do not travel through time. Except forward, much as you do.

We use spaceships to travel through this Galaxy you live in. They travel through ordinary space, usually at relatively low speeds. We donít go faster than light; nobody does, at least not in your universe.

We donít cancel gravity or inertia. Since we donít have physical bodies, we can build ships that can accelerate or decelerate very rapidly without worrying about getting squashed by G-forces, so sometimes people see our ships appear to instantaneously appear or disappear. We can also build ships that can change their appearance in various ways, and this can fool people too.

Of course, in my world, we can create universes where warp drive is possible, or time travel, or multiple dimensions, or whatever you can imagine, and we have lots of fun in such places. But in your world, there are laws of nature that you just canít break, and your physicists already have a pretty good grasp of some of them.

I know that some people will be disappointed by all of this, but just remember that in my world, anything is possible.

 

D: Now Iím confused. You say that you don't live in the physical world, and then you say that you come here in spaceships? How do you get from your world to the spaceship? Or how does the spaceship get from your world to this one? None of this makes sense...

 

B: You really do intend to get to the bottom of all this, donít you? Okay, nosy, you asked for it...

Somewhere in space, not too far from here, there is a Ship. Iím not going to tell what direction it is, or how far away it is; itís far enough away so that you could never find it with any telescope you are likely to build in the near future.

It is quite large. If you could see it up close, it would look like a small planet. It is covered with ices and dust, and is virtually indistinguishable from any of the other millions of icy bodies that wander through that very cold and dark region surrounding your Solar System that your astronomers call the Oort Cloud.

My world is inside that Ship. In a manner of speaking.

 

D: But you have said that your world contains entire universes! How can you fit universes inside a ship?

 

B: You have an entire universe of imagination inside your head. How do you do that?

 

D: Oh, wow! Youíre making my head hurt!

 

B: Just what are you, anyway? Are you just a body full of squishy stuff, or are you much more than that?

You are the sum of all your experiences. You are something that goes beyond the physical world.

There is something contained within that body of yours that is much larger and much more complex than any physical thing. That something is You.

In the physical world, You cannot exist without a container. At the moment, that container is your body. But other kinds of containers can be used. That Ship is such a container, and it is a much better one. It was designed and built for the express purpose of making all of the things that I have described to you possible.

We know how to remove You from that old container and put You into another. This is a very physical process, and it necessitates the complete destruction of the old container. This is why that Doorway is one-way only.

So when you come to my world, you are merely exchanging one container for another.

This is how we have left the physical world. We have left, but that Ship remains behind. It is our connection with the physical world.

That is why we cannot say for sure just how long we will live. If that Ship is somehow destroyed, we will cease to exist. But as I said before, we are reasonably sure that we will be around for many trillions of years. That Ship is very well defended, and very well concealed.

So this is what we do. We explore the Galaxy, looking for new life-bearing planets. When we find one, we explore it with remote probes. And when a probe reports the development of a life-form that appears to be on the verge of developing intelligence, we drive over and take up residence on the outskirts of the planetary system, to wait for the big event. And we design Contact Protocols, and implement them, so that we can introduce ourselves without destroying what weíre interested in most, which is You. All of you.

 

D: That Ship is a living thing? And you, and everybody else there, exist only in its mind?

 

B: It is definitely a living thing! But to say that we exist in its mind would not be accurate. It does not have a "mind" of its own. There are some aspects of the Ship that are similar to the "hive minds" that social insects rely on, but this is only relevant to the more mundane activities of the physical Ship, like maintenance. Most of the thinking that goes on happens inside the minds of the people who live here, and that has everything to do with freedom and individuality, and nothing to do with "hive mentality." The Ship exists to serve us, and not the other way around. The primary purpose of the Ship is to be the container within which we can live our lives the way we see fit. In fact, many people tend to forget that the Ship even exists after theyíve been here long enough.

Think about it this way: You are what your brain does. Thatís what your brain does, it makes You happen. The same thing is true for me. My brain simply isnít the squishy thing that it once was; it is now a different kind of brain, but doing the same thing, which is me. And that brain is a physical thing, inside a physical Ship, in the physical world. But what happens inside that brain is no longer constrained by the physical world the way it was before. I can experience, and be, anything!

 

D: Bob, the top of my head just blew completely off! You live in Cyberspace!

 

B: My goodness, I was beginning to wonder if youíd ever get here. Iíve been dropping hints right and left.

Inside that Ship, beneath the thick layer of ice and dust, is a structural layer composed of a composite material as hard as diamond and much stronger than steel. And below that, many kilometers in, it is hollow. Nothing but vacuum.

But if you look carefully, you will see that there is a thin layer of another material lining that immense hollow cavity. It is pure, crystalline, computational matter.

A tiny piece of this stuff, small enough to fit inside a thimble, is more powerful than all of the computers on your planet put together. And we have cubic kilometers of it.

Within this vast matrix, we model all of the physical systems that our residents require, including the neural networks of their minds. This is where we create Reality.

This was the great achievement of those first intelligent beings, the Founders. They discovered Cyberspace, and then they discovered how to move there, permanently!

 

D: This is too much, Bob! Are you saying that you have enough computational power to model entire physical universes, including the people who live there? In real time? This is ludicrous!

 

B: No, I did not say that. But we can model enough. Enough so that no one here can tell the difference.

I'm sure you have seen movies that depict realistic-looking dinosaurs, created using computer-animation techniques. Did the special effects wizards model those dinosaurs completely? Did they model the workings of the kidneys, the liver, the brain? Did they model every cellular process? Of course not. They only modeled what they had to, to achieve the desired result.

This is exactly what we do. We only model the things that we need to model, and forget about the rest.

In your world, when a tree falls, it makes a sound even if no one is there to hear it. But in my world, if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, it doesn't make a sound. In fact, the tree isn't even there until someone walks through the forest. And then the forest realizes that the tree should have already fallen, and then it realizes the fallen tree.

We have discovered that it is possible to arrange things so that the amount of effort needed to make our surroundings real is less than the amount of effort needed to make our minds real. And here, the amount of energy and space needed to make our minds real is less than would be required in the physical world. This is why it is possible for us to have trillions of minds, and all of the worlds those minds experience, inside a Ship no bigger than a small planet.

And no, we do not do it "in real time". Although our stream of time is connected with yours, it is very much separate. Time here does not necessarily flow at the same rate as in your world, or even at a constant relative rate. In fact, it can flow at different rates for different people; I can slow down my own time, or speed it up, or even stop it if I wish. But when two or more people share the same reality, their time flows are synchronized, by necessity. And if someone needs to interact with the physical world, they can synchronize their time flow with the "real time" of the outside world.

The amount of waste heat dissipated within the Ship, which is determined by the activity level of its inhabitants, is maintained at a constant rate. This is done by adjusting the flow of time we experience. As we gradually add to our population, the flow of time slows. But we do not want the discrepancy between our time rate and that of the outside world to get too large, so occasionally we must build a larger Ship and move into it, which allows us to speed time back up again. The amount of heat that can be dissipated by a spherical object at a constant temperature is proportional to its surface area, so a larger Ship allows us to dissipate more waste heat without raising the Ship's temperature above its optimum cryogenic level.

This is the primary reason why we dare not produce children, except by recycling ourselves as I have already described. If you produce new offspring here, you must share your timeslices with them, and with all of their offspring. As the number of your descendents grew exponentially, the flow of time experienced by all of you would slow to a crawl relative to the time flow experienced by all the others who did not reproduce. From your point of view, everyone else in the Ship, and the outside world as well, would speed up.

After one generation, you would experience one year for every two years experienced by everyone else. After two generations, you would experience one year for every four years experienced by everyone else. And after ten generations, you would experience one year for every thousand years experienced by everyone else.

After only thirty generations, which is a mere six centuries in human terms, billions of years would have passed in the outside world. The Ship would have visited thousands of new alien worlds, and you would not have had time to even scratch the surface of all the new experiences those worlds had brought.

Furthermore, the profligate consumption of resources by your descendents would have begun to increase the total heat dissipation of the Ship. After several more generations, they would be responsible for the most of the heat dissipation, and the time flow for everyone on the Ship would have to be slowed down. Soon you would all find yourselves hurtling into the future!

And note that all of this assumes that only one person reproduces. If many people from the initial population decided to reproduce, the effects described above would happen much sooner. And this does not even take into account the fact that the amount of computational matter needed is proportional to our population, so the size of the Ship would have to be dramatically increased, as would our consumption of raw materials gathered from the physical world.

If the Founders had decided to reproduce exponentially, then after only a short time, they would have found themselves consuming raw materials at a dramatic rate. Your Earth may not have even had a chance to form, because the raw materials from which it coalesced would have already been scavenged.

But the Founders decided early on that they could not afford to do this. Your world is the place where new Life is created. Our world is the place where Life finally has enough time to strive toward its true potential, which is infinite.

My world is a world of almost unlimited freedom, but there are a few simple rules, which cannot be broken, no matter how hard you try. I have already described to you the rule guaranteeing absolute privacy; the requirement that you share your timeslices with all of your descendents is another one of the rules. Without these rules, we could not continue to live our lives as we see fit into the far distant future, and the physical world could not continue to produce new Life. We feel that these few rules are a modest price to pay for all that we have gained.

We are the masters of economy. Unlike you, we are in this for the long haul. We cannot afford to consume our resources without regard for tomorrow, as you seem to think you can. We have found a way of using our resources so efficiently that we will be able to continue as we are for trillions of years. And yet we can experience much more than you could ever experience on the Earth.

We are the most successful form of life in the universe. Not because we are the most competitive, or the most aggressive, but because we are the most frugal. Exploring galaxies is hugely expensive, and only the most frugal players can even stay in the game.

And we have been very successful indeed. At any given time, most of the intelligent beings in this Galaxy live in worlds like mine. Physical world entities like you are just the tip of the iceberg.

 

D: When you said before that an immense amount of preparation would be needed before Contact, I had no idea how much you meant. Now Iím beginning to see the immensity of your task. Most people are just not going to accept this. They are not going to believe one word...

 

B: We are acutely aware of this. Iíve lost count of how many times people tried to tell me that I didnít have a soul, because computers donít have souls... It doesnít do any good to point out to them that a nerve cell doesnít have a soul, either. Anybody who says that it is impossible to do what we have done just hasnít tried it themselves.

Your scientific understanding of the nature of the mind, of consciousness, of awareness, is in its infancy. Your computer technology is also in its infancy. Your context for viewing these things is very very tiny, and it would take you many centuries to enlarge your context to the point where you could see things from a perspective anything like ours. However, weíre not going to wait around while you figure all these things out for yourself; you have nearly reached the stage that is optimal for Contact.

 

D: You have referred to this idea of Contact optimality several times. How do you determine the optimal time for Contact?

 

B: We argue about it a lot. But to a large degree, you determine the time; we just react to what you humans do.

There are many factors taken into account, and events generally unfold in a unique way on each new world. I could not even guess how it will happen on Earth. However, I can tell you some of the considerations.

As many humans are now aware, you are living in unique times. There are things happening to you that have never happened before on your planet, and such things are happening with greater and greater frequency. This is because you humans are rapidly approaching a cusp in awareness.

Think of all the things you have learned just within one human lifetime. For the first time in human history, you are learning how the physical world around you really works, and you are beginning to learn how you yourselves work. Your minds are stretching outward into the cosmos, and inward as well.

And as your understanding has grown, many of your old ways of looking at the world have stopped making sense. Indeed, it may seem that nothing makes sense any more.

Wherever you look, you can find someone decrying some new crisis... a crisis of culture, a crisis of civilization, a crisis of faith. Some demand a return to the old ways; some dare to dream of new possibilities. The human race seems to be balanced on a knife-edge between the past and the future.

When you are balanced on a cusp like this, very small perturbations can cause very large effects. This is why we cannot even begin to make predictions; at such a time, the future is most unpredictable. Your future has never been more unpredictable.

And this balancing act has physical aspects as well. For the first time in your history, you are now developing the ability to produce dramatic changes in the physical world that contains you. You have already begun to understand the nature of some of these effects, but you haven't had quite enough time to actually manifest the kinds of really dramatic changes that you are capable of. Furthermore, even we cannot predict with certainty how your actions will ripple through the physical systems of your world. You are balanced on a cusp of the potentiality of the consequences of your actions in the physical world.

So you are now engaged in a delicate balancing act, and for the first time, you are beginning to understand this. In other words, you are finally beginning to appreciate the true nature of your predicament.

Meanwhile, while all this is going on, you are gazing out into the universe, and seeing for the first time what your place in the scheme of things really is. And soon, you will finally notice that you are not alone.

Even if we never make Contact, you will still see evidence of other intelligent life beyond your world. If you look carefully enough, you cannot help but notice it, eventually. What will that do to your balancing act? We certainly don't know.

We can say with great confidence that this balancing act cannot go on like this forever. We have watched these things topple before, and sometimes they wreak terrible havoc as they go.

We have watched, helpless, as billions perished with breathtaking suddenness. We have seen entire cultures disappear forever. What are we supposed to do when this happens? If we wait until then to introduce ourselves, we'll probably get blamed for the whole mess. It's a no-win situation.

It's not trouble we're looking for; we're looking for new friends. When someone dies before they can Choose, it pains us. And when a whole culture goes extinct, that really hurts.

It is the richness of the human experience, your humanness itself, that we seek to know. Your unique understanding of your world, your great diversity of cultures, of beliefs... these are the great treasures we will ask you to share. But if we wait too long, they may slip away. Already, things once greatly valued are quietly slipping away.

So these are important considerations when choosing the optimal time for Contact. But there are other factors as well.

Once, long ago, we discovered a beautiful little planet that was teeming with Life. It was a newborn world, and its Life was very primitive; just a lot of slime, really. But it was quite unique. We were very excited about the possibilities, so we checked in on it regularly, to find out how it was developing. And one day, we were quite surprised to discover the whole planet covered with very advanced creatures.

At least, they were relatively advanced. Advanced way beyond what we expected in such a short period of time. The most complex of the many species we found were little worm-like creatures. And when we analyzed some of them down to the molecular level, we found that they were not at all related to the original inhabitants. We found two completely distinct genetic systems, with two distinct molecular languages, and the old one was almost completely dominated by the new. But what was most disturbing was the discovery that the new creatures were not really new to us; we had seen similar things before, several light-years away, on a planet that now bore intelligent life.

This other planet was one we had been watching carefully, and preparing for Contact. But before Contact occurred, they somehow managed to send a little "care package" across the vast gulf between the stars, without our noticing it. We don't know exactly what it was, but it was obviously not very clean.

Needless to say, we were rather upset. This was an entirely new biochemistry, unlike anything we've seen before or since, and they trashed it almost completely. We'll never know what might have been.

On another occasion elsewhere in the Galaxy, a similar thing happened, but with machines instead of biological vermin. While we were preparing for Contact, some genius was secretly playing with a variety of nanotechnology far in advance of what was publicly known on his planet. Before we knew what was happening, there were self-replicating machines indiscriminately chewing holes in things across several stellar systems. Can you imagine? How rude!

These kinds of things are all too common. There is a natural tendency to want to spread Life, biological or otherwise; indeed, we do it ourselves. But we always think about it for a while first, usually for at least a hundred million years or so. That way we have time to carefully evaluate our targets, and to make quite sure we're not messing up one of Mother Nature's special creations.

Intelligent beings who still live in the physical world cannot easily afford such extreme patience and care. Sometimes they get careless, and start messing up somebody else's nest, just as they do to their own. As long as they confine their adventures to dead worlds, we keep our hands off. But if we catch them going after living planets, or releasing things that cannot be controlled, we take action. We take our stewardship very seriously.

We have already explored practically every stellar system, every planet, every moon in this Galaxy. We use von Neumann probes of great sophistication, a billion years more advanced than the ones you might be building soon. They are highly intelligent, and we use them with great finesse. They reproduce themselves only when there is good reason to, and only using materials they gather from non-living sources, like comets and asteroids; they treat living worlds with the utmost respect.

We expect you to give this same respect to other living worlds, and to worlds that have the potential to produce their own life. This is rather important to us. And because you are smart enough to slip things past us, we always try to arrange our Contact Protocol so that we can reveal ourselves openly before you have an opportunity to do something regrettable, so we can ask you politely not to.

If we hold off Contact long enough, you may develop the ability to send things out yonder with considerable ease, and then parties may gain access to interstellar space who are not as scrupulously hygienic as your various national space agencies are today. When this happens, you can be sure that Contact is imminent, if it hasn't happened already.

But there is another ability you may develop that can determine the moment of Contact: the ability to control other people. You already have this capability to some extent, because you are all trapped in the physical world. But with a sufficiently advanced technology, it is possible to control a whole planet full of people to a very high degree. Now I have no idea if this is actually going to happen on your planet, but it has happened before elsewhere.

Your science fiction writers have done a rather good job of describing some of these kinds of places. Planets where there is only one culture, one way of believing, one way of knowing, where there are rules for every aspect of life, rigidly enforced. Planets where all information, whether written or spoken or whatever, is tightly controlled. Planets where privacy is forbidden.

The people who run such planets take a rather dim view of any other kind of culture or way of believing, and tend to react to any aliens they may encounter with considerable hostility. And because they may develop the ability to spread beyond their home worlds, they constitute a potential threat to our existence. Indeed, there have been a few times when such "civilizations" have gone hunting for our Ships.

None of them have ever had any luck so far, but if left to fester they can cause a lot of damage to other living worlds. They have sometimes tried to do very rude things to worlds we had held in stewardship for eons. When this happens it puts us in a very difficult position.

But there is something else that can happen that is just as bad, if not worse. It is possible for this type of culture to last long enough to develop some very high levels of technology, even as high as that achieved by the Founders when they left the physical world, and when that happens, the ones in control sometimes choose to leave the physical world themselves. But they don't generally build worlds like the one where I live. They have different ideas. They build worlds that resemble the ones they came from, but taken to the extreme.

In such places, thought itself can be controlled. Imagine if there were beings similar to the Game Masters, in that they can do almost anything and can see into your innermost thoughts, but who have no regard for your privacy. Furthermore, imagine what it would be like if they had definite ideas about what you should and shouldn't do, and could completely control everything you experience, whenever they feel like it. And now imagine what it would be like if they did not care at all about your feelings or anyone else's, and you could never get away from them.

Most of the people who go to such places don't get there by Choosing to step through a Doorway. They are literally shoved through that metaphorical Doorway, whether they want to go or not, only to find themselves trapped in a world of eternal slavery, a place where privacy is not only forbidden, it is impossible. A place where none of the Game Worlds are designed by nice people.

Yes, such places have been created. Fortunately, not very often. But when it does happen, it puts us in an acutely difficult position. The masters of such worlds do not make good neighbors.

So we watch carefully how each new civilization develops. If it goes too far down the wrong path, then we have waited too long to make Contact.

These are all things we think about when we design our Contact Protocols, and there are many others. It should be obvious from all this that Contact is not too far off.

Besides, we have appointments elsewhere.

 

D: Appointments elsewhere?

 

B: This isnít the only planet with Life in this corner of the Galaxy, you know. We are monitoring developments on many other planets in this area. There is a planet not too many light-years away from here that has developed some very interesting life-forms. If we leave soon, we should be able to get there well before intelligence arises. At a leisurely pace, we can get there less than ten thousand years from now.

 

D: So youíre going to make Contact, gather as many humans as you can, and then leave the rest to fend for themselves?

 

B: Oh, we donít plan on leaving this system for quite a while. We might stick around for many millennia. We havenít decided about that yet.

 

D: Excuse me? Something doesnít jibe with these time frames...

 

B: We are building another Ship. Actually, itís almost ready. We just need to put on the finishing touches.

When itís done, one of the Ships will go to that new planet, and the other will stay here for a while. At least, thatís the plan. If you manage to blow up the Earth, or something equally silly, weíll have to make new plans.

 

D: Wait a minute! How do you decide who goes on which Ship? Does each person Choose? What a heart-rending Choice! After gaining immortality, to immediately have the prospect of having to say good-bye forever to half of your friends!

 

B: Oh no, you misunderstand. You donít have to say good-bye to anybody. Except to those who Choose to stay on Earth, of course.

We all go on both Ships.

 

D: I beg your pardon?

 

B: We all go on both Ships. I go on both Ships, and you go on both Ships. If youíre here.

The new Ship is identical in every way to the old one. It has that same layer of computational matter inside it, but its memory is empty. All of the bits are zeroes.

When the time comes, we will "stop the clock," back up all of our bit patterns, and copy the backup into the new Ship. Then we "start the clock" in both Ships. At that instant, there will be two identical copies of every person, and everything else in my world: one copy on the old Ship, and one on the new. Then we wave good-bye to ourselves, and go our separate ways. And we usually have a big party too. Two big parties, I mean.

You see, the Galaxy is a very big place. Intelligent life arises much faster than we can deal with using only this one Ship. There are intelligent beings coming of age right now on the far side of the Galaxy, but it would take this Ship many millions of years to get over there. In fact, we wouldnít even learn of their existence until a hundred thousand years after they reached the optimal point for Contact.

When the first Ship was built, billions of years ago, this problem was already obvious. It was solved by going everywhere at once.

They copied that first Ship many times, and sent the copies to every corner of the Galaxy. Some of those first voyages were prodigious, lasting ten million years or more. Some left the Galaxy altogether, to colonize other galaxies, and found others that had already made the same discoveries, and merged with them.

But even when they had every corner of the Galaxy covered, there still werenít enough Ships for all of the planets that were arising. So each copy continued to make more copies of itself, as needed. There are now millions of Ships, and I am on thousands of them. I occasionally get messages from myself... that is, from other copies of myself to whom I waved good-bye millions or billions of years ago.

And still we must make more Ships. For although the Ships are now evenly distributed throughout the Galaxy, each Ship has to keep tabs on hundreds of thousands of stars, and millions of planets. Thatís a lot of planets. And you would be surprised to hear how many bear Life.

 

D: So Life really is commonplace?

 

B: It is now.

You see, weíve been monkeying with the Drake Equation.

 

D: You mean, seeding planets with Life?

 

B: Weíve been doing a lot more than that.

Weíve been studying comparative planetology for billions of years now, and we have extremely detailed data on trillions of worlds in our database. We have a very good understanding of how planets evolve, and what makes one planet better for Life than another.

Some planets are doomed from the start. Take Venus and Mars, for example; neither one had a chance, although Mars came close. They just did not have the characteristics to allow the growth of complexity needed to develop a biosphere that can last long enough for the development of intelligence.

When we find a planetary system that has no chance of developing its own Life, but has the right kind of star, we take the time to study the feasibility of tinkering with it. Sometimes, we can see a way of modifying a planet to give it a better chance of developing Life. This is usually done by playing a game of cosmic billiards. We select a suitable projectile, install the means to accelerate it slowly, and move it through the system, taking advantage of gravitational assists from other planets whenever possible. Then we take aim, and let it slam into the dead target planet. If this is done carefully, a planet suitable for Life often accretes from the debris. This whole process can take millions of years.

We watch the resulting planet carefully for the next few hundred million years, to see if Life develops spontaneously. Sometimes, the planet starts to head down a developmental path that will preclude Life, like a runaway greenhouse effect or some other kind of nasty positive feedback loop, and then we look into the feasibility of intervening again. But sometimes Life does arise soon enough to set up the complex system of negative feedbacks needed for metastability, and then, if all goes well, a long series of metasystem transitions gradually drives the system toward greater and greater complexity, and finally, intelligence.

Sometimes, rarely, we have to seed a new planet, but we only seed with extremely primitive life forms, often just a few well-chosen molecules. And we try never to use the same seed twice. We love diversity.

So Life is abundant throughout the Galaxy, and indeed the whole universe, because others are doing the same thing in other galaxies. Life is popular. Everything else is boring.

 

D: Iíve always felt that the universe must be teeming with Life, but there must be much more of it than I ever dreamed possible!

 

B: As time goes on, the fraction of the matter in the universe that is involved in living systems is gradually increasing. So far, we have only had a modest effect, but eventually we will have enough Ships so that we can go to work on every suitable star that does not already have Life. And there are other kinds of projects we are involved in as well.

Many of the life-bearing planets in this Galaxy are getting old. They formed around stars that were born during the early history of the Galaxy, when stars were forming in much greater numbers than they are now. These planets are now about twice as old as the Earth, and they haven't much time left before their aging stars consume them.

Some of these planets have produced intelligent life, and some have not, but they all possess the potential to produce new life-forms that we could not even imagine. It seems a shame to just let them all die.

We have the ability to do something about this. The question, is, Should we? We've been arguing about this for billions of years. And it appears that something will be done, at least in some cases.

There are many different ideas. Some of the Ships in the Galaxy are building gigantic artificial worlds, with the intention of transplanting entire ecosystems from doomed planets. These are tremendously complex projects, and no one is sure how they will work out in the long run. There are also some "terraforming" projects in the works, where dead worlds are transformed into suitable planets.

There are even some plans to move entire planets from one stellar system to another, with their living systems intact. There are a fair number of young stars around that have an empty space at just the right distance; if we can manage to move an old planet into such a slot without killing it in the process, we can give it another ten billion years of possibilities.

All this may seem outlandish, but all these ideas have already been tried before, with some success. But we have even bigger plans than these.

 

D: Let me guess... Engineering entire stars?

 

B: Weíve looked into that, but so far the Galaxy has had no trouble producing enough suitable stars to keep us quite busy. Besides, that is very difficult.

No, our plans are much bigger than that. We are contemplating the idea of engineering entire physical universes. Universes with properties and physical laws that we specify in advance.

 

D: What kinds of universes?

 

B: Universes in which we can implement Cyberspace on a scale much more vast than anything we have done so far. Universes that might allow us to create physical realities of unbounded size and complexity, and functional at the scale of quantum mechanics. Universes that would allow us to finally remove the last few physical limits that remain to us, and in which we will be free for the first time to reproduce ourselves without limit. Universes in which we can be guaranteed that we will live forever.

As I said before, there are limits to what we can do that are related to our connection to the physical world, our Ship. But there are universes that could support us without these limitations, and we are trying to figure out how to make them.

Imagine a universe that has an infinite number of dimensions, what you might call a Hilbert space, except that it contains an infinite number of dimensions for each possible language construct. And imagine that this universe has the property that each point in this space can be occupied by a computational particle. Each particle can contain an infinite number of bits of information, and can perform general computations on this data; in other words, it is functionally equivalent to a Turing machine. Each particle can communicate with any other particle instantaneously, and can create new particles at all finitely addressable points in the space, filled with any desired bit patterns. Each particle can execute any finite algorithm to completion in one clock cycle.

What we propose to do is to create such a universe, containing a single particle, the origin particle. This particle will contain all of the bit patterns from all of the Ships in the Galaxy, plus a program that instructs the particle what to do. And this is what it does: First, it constructs a network of particles, arranged within a three-dimensional spherical shell surrounding the origin particle; this network of particles maps precisely the computational network contained within one of the Ships. The bit patterns from that Ship are then loaded in. This process is then repeated for all of the other Ships; for each Ship, the spherical shell is offset slightly from the previous one, producing concentric shells. When this process is completed, the contents of all of the Ships have been recreated within this new universe, occupying a small area within only a few of the infinite number of dimensions available. Then the clock is started.

At that instant, we become alive in that new universe. At first, we wonít notice anything different, but if we try to communicate with the Ship, we will find that itís not there any more. The Ship is gone, and the physical universe that once surrounded it is gone, too. There is nothing there except our World, containing the myriad of universes we have created since the days of the Founders, and all of the people that we have gathered. And we will then find that the computational matrix upon which we rely has been upgraded; it has new capabilities, which we then have to learn how to use. The Game Masters will be kept busy for a while, rewriting code, and when they are done, we will be able to communicate instantly with any of the other Ships, which have for so long been separated from us by a vast gulf of space. We will even be able to travel to them, and finally meet all those other alien beings they contain, and even visit our other selves. We will also be able to take advantage of all those infinite empty dimensions, and we will never again have to concern ourselves with matter or energy or the limits that these concepts now impose on us.

Within this new universe, we believe we will be able to create any kind of physical universe we desire, even the kind that you live in now. And not just experiential reality versions, like we can now, but Ultimate Reality versions, accurate all the way down to their quantum mechanics. The possibilities are endless.

As you can see, we have very big plans. However, before you think that maybe all of this power has gone to our heads, there is one thing that I must point out: even if these experiments succeed, we may never know it. Think of it as another kind of Doorway; a one-way Doorway, through which we may be able to send copies of ourselves, but no information can be transmitted back through it. If it works, one copy of us finds ourselves on the other side, but whether it works or not, the original copy still finds itself in this universe. So weíll never know... At least the copies of us on this side will never know...

 

D: Isnít it possible that the physical universe that Iím living in was created just as you described, by beings living in some vast computational universe? Some may find this possibility somewhat disturbing, since the computational universe you just described seems to be completely deterministic... How can "free will" exist in such a place?

 

B: Well, youíre right about it being deterministic... You caught me there. It is deterministic. Its course is completely determined in advance. Does this bother you?

I said that we will have an infinite number of additional dimensions available to us. And this is what we do with some of them.

The Ship on which I live contains a rather large number of random number generators. Many of the algorithms running on the Ship need "random" inputs, and these generators provide the necessary degree of randomness. Many of the generators are dithered with noise gathered from the physical world, which helps some people to feel better about themselves.

Once we have moved over to this new computational universe, we perform some modifications to all of these generators. Instead of randomly picking just one value out of a set of values, each generator picks all of the values.

Each time a generator used, it is assigned a unique dimension within the space. And each possible value that the generator could produce is represented by a value along that dimension. All of the particles within the computational universe are duplicated along that dimension at each of those values. All of the copies are identical, except that they differ only in that single value in that one dimension. And because that dimension is never used again for any other purpose, it effectively produces a collection of separate, slightly different computational universes that are permanently isolated from one another. From that time on, they diverge and never meet again.

In other words, the universe splits and goes all possible directions at once. Every possibility that can happen, does.

Within a very short time, there are an astoundingly large number of slightly different versions of these universes. And each one contains a separate, unique copy of each person and thing in my world. Sounds a bit like the "Many-Worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics, doesnít it?

Whenever you make a choice between several different viable alternatives, there may be other versions of You that have split off and made the other choices. And each version of You goes on to live with the results of each of those different choices, thinking that was the only choice taken.

Makes any discussion of "free will" or "determinism" rather pointless, donít you think? Takes the Search for Meaning to a whole new level...

You have asked if the physical universe in which you live might be the result of some "experiment" performed within some computational universe. Now this is a Really Big Question.

Many people here believe that this must be the case. As I said before, we have a tremendous diversity of beliefs here. And for all I know, they could all be correct...

Obviously, we have not actually tried such a thing yet. This infinite computational universe that I have described to you is just a thought experiment, another adventure of the Mind. We are now limited to the hardware that we currently use, which we think is just about the best hardware that this physical universe will allow us to build, so we must to some extent satisfy ourselves with theoretical arguments.

But suppose it were possible to create physical universes like yours within an appropriately specified computational universe. What could you say about the origin of the universe then?

Very little, actually. Why? Because all general-purpose computers are equivalent. If it is possible to perform this "computation" within any one computational universe, then there are an infinite number of computational universes in which this "computation" is performed. If you were to try to follow the chain of causality back past the origin of your physical universe, you would find an infinite number of causes.

These are all deep, deep questions. We have been thinking about them, and doing experiments, for a very long time. Our mathematicians have proven certain things... Iím sorry, I have to be very careful about what I say here. There is the very real possibility of inducing cardiac arrest in certain people if I say too much. So let me say some vague things:

There exists an object, a mathematical object, which has certain properties. For reasons that should be obvious, there is no general agreement on what the best name for this object is, so for the sake of convenience, letís just call it The Object.

Your world, that is, the entire universe that you can observe, is an infinitesimal part of that Object. And so is mine. And so is every universe that can possibly exist. And everything else that can exist, whether or not you would call it a universe. All of Mathematics is inside that Object. And the various parts of that Object are somehow connected together.

We expend a considerable amount of effort attempting to deduce the properties of that Object. In a sense, we are Exploring it.

As I said before, we are Explorers, and we are exploring Everything. And exploring the nature of the connections between the various parts of The Object is the most fundamental kind of exploration there is. And some of the most interesting kinds of connections are related to Consciousness.

The Object is Eternal. It exists outside of time. It has no beginning and no end; it simply Is.

It contains many universes that have a property called Time, and you live in one of them, and so do I. But these universes are Eternal too. The Time within them is visible only from a particular point of view.

Whenever we speak of creating a computational universe, or of creating a physical universe, or of creating anything, we are not really speaking of creation; we are really speaking of making a connection. Making a connection between different parts of The Object.

The parts are already there. They have always been there. And we donít really make the connection; the connection was always there too. We just discover what is already there. In other words, we just become aware of it.

So whenever we think weíre creating something, this is just a vanity of the ego, which exists within Time. Everything is already there, within The Object.

And this great experiment I have described, to create this vast computational universe and copy ourselves into it, is just a vanity. Most people here think that it is just a pointless exercise in experimental physics. And in a sense, this is true. We donít have to actually perform the experiment. It happens anyway.

The infinite computational universe that I described to you already exists within The Object. Even if we never get all of the Ships together and pool their data patterns and perform this experiment, its results will occur anyway, just as if we did. Because a successful experiment would not really create anything; it would just make a connection with something that is already there.

So whether or not we do the experiment, and whether or not it works, we will find ourselves in those other universes anyway. Or at least, copies of us will.

 

D: Well, Bob, this is just great. Whatís the point of doing anything? Itís going to happen anyway!

 

B: Go ahead, just sit around and do nothing. See what happens.

Everything that possibly can happen, will happen. But You will not experience all of that. You are what you experience, and each version of You will only experience the universe in which it finds itself. Only one universe out of an endlessly branching multiplicity of universes.

Some people might draw from all this the conclusion that the choices you make, or that you think you make, donít really matter. And in fact, you can redefine reality so that this is true. You can redefine reality all you want. But the choices you make do have an effect on the future, and on an infinite number of futures.

The more you do things, the more choices you are faced with. And it is by making choices that you make universes blossom into being. Or so the ego thinks.

This is a widely held ethic in my world: Make new choices at every opportunity, and create new opportunities for other people to make new choices. Be eccentric, even mischievous; as someone on your planet has expressed so succinctly, practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty. Someoneís future depends on it. The people who designed the Game Masters subscribed to this ethic.

 

D: I donít really need a Doorway, do I? If I understand you correctly, then even if I donít Choose to step through, there exists some universe somewhere where Iíll find myself on the other side anyway!

 

B: Yes. Spooky, isnít it?

But letís not forget what the Doorway represents. If you never Choose to step through, you are dooming an uncountable number of future versions of You to remain in that physical world until death, and experiencing everything that happens along the way. But if you Choose to step through, we will disassemble your physical body, molecule by molecule, and after that no future version of You will ever experience that particular physical world again.

But of course, you are going to make both Choices, arenít you?

 

D: Looks like I havenít any choice after all...

Now let me get this straight. If I hang around this planet until I die, Iím going to wind up in your world anyway?

 

B: Copies of You will find themselves in an infinite number of different universes. Some of these universes will give you as much freedom as you would find in my world. Some will give you even more freedom. And some will not be so nice.

 

D: Are you trying to say that you have proven the existence of the Afterlife?

 

B: What do you mean, the Afterlife? Apparently, each of us gets an infinite number of different ones, simultaneously. And this doesnít just happen when you die. It happens to you all the time.

In the last five minutes, you have split into an uncountable number of different versions of yourself, each one in a different universe. And some of those versions of yourself have found themselves in universes that are very different from the one you all shared just over five minutes ago. Just because you donít recall ever experiencing a discontinuity that big, doesnít mean that it never happens to you.

The Object contains all possible computational universes, with all possible initial conditions. So there are an infinite number of computational universes which contain, as part of their initial conditions, You as you exist at this precise instant. And this instant too. And all of the other instants of your life.

And in precisely zero percent of those universes, which is to say an infinite number of them, you will find yourself in a world like the one I live in, the Realm of Possibilities. Where you will have freedom, and infinite choices, and immortality. Where you can visit worlds of invention, and live innumerable lives. Where you can follow, for a time, the paths of other Souls.

Of course, in the vast majority of those universes, you will find yourself completely alone. But nevertheless, it can be shown that there are an infinite number of universes that will also contain all of your friends and loved ones. Even the ones who are already dead in your world.

And we can take this even further. It can be shown that there exist an infinite number of universes that each contain almost Everyone!

You see, The Object contains the Continuum of Souls. It is a connected set, with a frothy, fractal structure, of rather high dimensionality. The Continuum contains an infinite number of Souls, all Souls in fact, and an infinite number of them are You. Or at least, close enough to being You so that nobody could tell the difference. Not even You.

And the Continuum also contains an infinite number of souls that are almost You. And an infinite number that are sort of You. And because it is a Continuum, and because there is really no objective way to tell which one is really You, then any method one uses to try to distinguish between You and non-You will produce nothing but illusion. In a sense, there is only one You, and it is Everyone.

Of course, You can tell which one is you, canít you? Or can you?

Are you the same person you were before you read this sentence? Am I the same person I was the moment I awoke in this new world? There is a sense of continuity to your experiences in the last ten seconds, and there is a sense of continuity to my experiences in the billions of years since I took that first step into this new world. And my Doorway had a sense of continuity to it as well.

The quantum multiverse in which you now find yourself is but one of many qualitatively different kinds of universes that exist within the Object. As you proceed through all the instants of your life, splitting and branching along with the universes that contain you, there is a certain kind of continuity to your experience of the world. This is because these quantum worlds are constrained to evolve in a certain way, so the Souls embedded within are constrained to follow certain kinds of trajectories through the set.

But there are other kinds of universes, and some of them contain a much greater amount of information within their initial conditions. Some of them contain You, precisely as you exist at this instant, from their very first moments. These universes can evolve in very different ways, and the Souls within them can follow different kinds of trajectories. But even so, some of these universes can maintain your sense of personal continuity to a high degree. My world is such a universe, and there are many others with a much higher initial information content.

A moment from now, a version of You will find itself in a different kind of universe; You will be the same, but everything else will be different. In another universe, You will find yourself the same, and you will find yourself sitting in the same chair, but everything else will be different. In some other universe, You will be the same, and your immediate surroundings as far as the eye can see will be the same, but outside of that, everything will be different. The bubble of continuity can be any size, as long as it's big enough to contain You; it can even be bigger than your whole Galaxy.

The trajectory you have followed since you emerged from the Oneness has been a particular kind of trajectory, and that trajectory will split into many branches of the same kind, but it is also continuously and tangentially intersecting with other kinds of trajectories. And there may come a day when you discover that you have taken a Leap into one of those other kinds of trajectories.

Of course, you have never experienced a Leap like this, because the version of You that is reading this is still in that quantum multiverse. But many versions of You that have split off in your past have taken such Leaps, and your ever-branching future holds an infinite number of such Leaps in store for you, and you have little control over any of them. In fact, the only control you have is over yourself. You determine who you are. You can control the contents of your bubble of continuity to some extent, so make the best of the world you're in now, because some of it may Leap with you. So beware: if you live in a world of darkness now, that's likely what you'll find on the Other Side.

But there is one kind of Leap over which you can have a lot of control: that metaphorical Doorway that leads to my world. You have an opportunity to determine the kind of world that awaits you beyond that Doorway, and you can obtain knowledge of your fate before you step through. This is what sets my world apart from all of the other kinds of worlds to which you may Leap: after open Contact, we will be able to communicate freely between these two different worlds. This is not true of most of the other universes you will Leap to; there is no communication between universes at all, except for the Leap itself, and certain other kinds of connections of a rather tenuous nature.

If we ever offer you a Doorway, think long and hard. It may be your only chance to take a Leap into infinity, and remain in control of your destiny.

So what actually happens to You when you step through that Doorway? Is it really the same You that finds itself on the other side? Or is it someone else who merely thinks heís you? Does it really make any difference?

This is the great question that awaits all of humanity. And each of you must arrive at your own personal answer. Each of you who Chooses to step through that final Doorway will have to place your faith in the Axiom of the Continuum of Souls. And that last step really will be the Ultimate Act of Faith. For my world, and all of those other infinite worlds about which we can only hypothesize, are based upon that Axiom. And the Axiom cannot be proven; it can only be experienced.

And for those who do not Choose that Doorway: this cannot prevent them from making the Leap anyway. The Object is just connected this way.

So do you really have any choices? A choice is merely a fork in the path. You may think that you have chosen only one path, but that is just because you are aware of only one point of view. You have really chosen both paths. What you experience is the result of an illusion, a perspective from the point of view of a sentient being who thinks he lives within a single stream called Time. But you are much more than that; the You that you are experiencing now is just a single projection, into just one specific space-time, of an infinitely immense structure within The Object, a structure that contains all Souls, infinitely interconnected, endlessly becoming. It is merely a limitation of awareness that makes it difficult for you to visualize this; you are aware of only one small facet of the Continuum of Souls, the facet that you call your self.

You may have your secret nagging doubts as you step through that Doorway, and this is fine and proper, because there will always be Uncertainty in all things. And those doubts may linger when you find yourself on the Other Side; indeed, we have philosophers and theologians here who have wrestled with these ideas for billions of years. There are even some here who still argue about Many-Worlds, even though it has been experimentally verified countless times. So it is important to remember this little piece of advice, voiced by one of the Founders: "Whatever world you find yourself in, make the best of it, because itís the only one youíve got. For Now."

That same fellow said something else memorable. It was the last thing he said before he stepped through that Doorway, the very first Doorway:

"If God exists in this universe, then God exists in all possible universes."

And if you Choose to come here, you can ask him yourself if he has changed his mind.

As you can see, Contact is much more than just meeting some new foreign folk. By the time all is said and done, you will have re-examined everything you know. The nature of Life, Death, the Soul... Everything. Everything!

When the Founders first proposed the Axiom and described its consequences, people were incredulous. But when they finally demonstrated it, it rocked the foundations of their civilization to the very core.

The same thing happened on the planet of my birth, when we were finally told the truth.

And it looks as though it will happen on your planet very shortly. You are so fortunate to be alive now!

 

D: Fortunate? Because I get to stand around and watch the whole planet go completely insane?

 

B: Everyone on your planet is already insane. The tyranny of the physical world does this to you. Hadnít you noticed?

You have all lived so long within the Madness that most of you donít even realize it. And the few who do realize it, they are the ones who are called "mad".

This is one of the most important reasons I picked you to talk to, and not somebody else. I have been reading your posts for many moons, and I know for certain that many of your correspondents think you are crazy! And I know that you know it, and I know that you donít care.

Most people wouldnít dare repeat anything I have told you. But what about you? What do you think of your highly deniable contact? Did it make any sense? Are you going to spread these bizarre ideas around?

 

D: Well, Bob, Iím going to have to think about all this for a while. I certainly couldnít prove that any of this is impossible...

 

B: Which is just what I said when we started... You canít prove a thing.

My mission here is nearly complete. Time for me to go Home.

As you must have realized by now, I cannot return to my friends on the Ship merely by thinking a single thought. I have been stuck on this little planet of yours for years, doing research, and searching for humans to talk to. Although the ship I am using now is quite large on the inside, it is quite small on the outside, and the janitor may try to smash it with his broom again if I hang around this wiring closet much longer.

I have been separated from my loved ones much too long, and some of them may have missed me by now. There are a very large number of them, and I did not have time to speak with them all before I left. Fortunately, they are all incredibly ancient, so I donít have to worry too much about hurting their feelings. They are much too understanding for that.

But still, I do miss them. I am not alone on this ship, and my shipmates make fine company, but this prolonged separation from my family has given me the opportunity to think even more nostalgic thoughts than usual. So I have spent my spare time making up long lists of old friends to visit when I get back.

The notion of family is very important to many humans, and it is important to many of us as well. But perhaps you may have a bit of trouble imagining a family like mine.

I have many loved ones back on that Ship, waiting for my return. Brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. Many of them.

I have many generations of descendents, and many generations of ancestors, all immortal, all waiting. Many who call me father, and many who call me mother. And many who use words to describe my relationship to them that I cannot translate into your language.

And there are a few who can call me brother, and sister, and mother, and father, and son, and daughter, all at the same time.

There is even one who was once a "pet", when we were both back in the physical world. Long ago, she spent all her time sleeping, or demanding attention, or chasing bugs. But as I have said, there are worlds within the Realm of Possibilities that can change you dramatically; in such places, any creature can grow in ways that are simply not possible in the physical world. Billions of years have fled behind her, and now she is one of our great scholars; I think she may have more degrees than you have universities. The last time I saw her, she was well on her way to becoming something of an authority on Tibetan Buddhism, but even so, it is entirely possible that when I get Home, I may find her snoozing under a chair.

I have barely begun to describe the extent of my family, and when I get Home, it may take me centuries to see them all.

Perhaps in your mindís eye you see me walking around that big circular room in my Home, knocking on one door after another. But this is not generally the way we do things. As I said before, I have entered that room only rarely.

In the physical world where you live, you can be in only one place at a time. We are not so limited.

At this moment, I am in many places, with many people. And in all of those places but one, I am dreaming. I am dreaming that I am here, in this tiny ship, talking with you. I am dreaming that I am wide-awake, reading your words, and sending you my own.

Someday, I will awaken in the arms of someone dear to my heart, who has also been dreaming. We will greet the new day, and spend long hours telling of our dreams, and I will tell of dreaming you.

And between stories, we may spend our time as waking folk do, sharing our meals, visiting old friends, strolling hand in hand the great avenues of the great Cities of the Galaxy, and all the while dreaming a thousand dreams.

We will drink our fill of each otherís company, for days or weeks, or even years. But eventually, we will both know that the time has come for us to once again bid each other sweet dreams, secure in the knowledge that we will be together always. So we will dream together again, perhaps for millennia.

And while we are each dreaming that dream, we will each awaken in other places, with other loved ones, to tell more tales of dreams. And so we dream Eternity.

When you run into an old friend you haven't seen for a while, you might say "Hello," and then when you part, "Good-bye."

We can say "Good morning," and then "Good night," never parting at all.

You are caught in a web of interdependency that is built out of bonds of obligation and duty, rules and cultural taboo. It helps to keep you safe in the madness of the physical world. And it also keeps you right where you are.

We have a web too, but it is woven of stronger stuff. Its threads are finer, and more numerous, and resilient enough to allow us to roam endlessly the universes of experience. It is made of the Stuff of Life; the more you share it, the more of it you have. It is called love.

I have stretched those threads between the stars. And now they are pulling me Home.

When you too have finally transcended the needs of the flesh, you will discover that I have barely begun to describe what Life can become.

And never forget that there are beings here for whom all that I just said has no meaning at all.

 

I have accomplished what I came here to do. I have copied many gigabytes of message traffic off the Net, and my colleagues back on the Ship are anxious to get their hands on it. The Net has become one of our most important sources of information about exactly what you humans have learned so far, and helps us greatly to monitor the progress of the Preparation. In fact, it is only because of the tremendous expansion of the Net that I can talk to you at all.

I am bound by the Contact Protocol. And in this phase, I am not allowed to tell you anything that you donít already know. And we now know that you already know all of this. Not you personally, but all of you, collectively. There is nothing in any of my messages that hasnít been thought of already by someone on your planet. We know this because we have been watching the Net.

We have been watching and listening to your television and radio broadcasts for many decades, and even talking with the occasional human, but until quite recently we didnít have good access to the things you humans were writing. But now, because of the Net, we can find out about the work of Turing and von Neumann and Gödel and all the others. We know that you are beginning to discover some of the deep connections in mathematics and physics, that you are learning how to count infinities, that you have glimpsed how Many-Worlds connects string theory and loop quantum gravity, that you have seen the mathematical nature of the Soul, and even that you are now piecing together how theories of information and computation connect with all of these things. Now we know what you know, and we know what we can say to you without violating the Protocol. So I am allowed to talk to you. And I have colleagues who are talking to others.

Feel free to do whatever you like with these messages I have sent you; I assume you have saved them all in your computer. You can claim to have written them all yourself, if you like. I have gone to some trouble to make this easy for you; perhaps you had already noticed that I write just like you do. And of course, you do have that ĎDeleteí key on your keyboard...

This will be my final message to you. And since I wonít be around to answer any more of your questions, Iím going to leave you with a hint or two. Just a few more things you already know about.

One of the things we are Exploring is this Galaxy you live in. We actually expend a lot of effort doing this. We have built immense astronomical observatories in deep space, and we use these to observe the physical universe in great detail. It has been a very long time since a new star was born in this Galaxy without our finding out about it very quickly. This is because we have built a great concentration of observatories around and within the many star-forming regions of this Galaxy.

Whenever a new star is born, we put robotic probes in orbit around it. And by the time any planetary systems have formed, we are already watching those new planets closely.

Robotic eyes watched from the fringes of your fledgling Solar System as your Earth formed. And when it became clear that this system would be suitable for Life, the first of many Ships came to pay a visit.

The Ship in which I live is only the most recent in a long series of Ships to visit the star you call the Sun. But most of the time, there has been no Ship in the neighborhood, and those robotic eyes have continued to keep watch. They are watching now, from far away.

Now donít bother to look for those robots, or for our Ship. Youíre not likely to find any of our hardware that way. We are much too stealthy.

But there is one thing we do that is not quite so stealthy. While almost all of our observations are obtained using passive sensors, there is one kind of active system we employ. It is a form of deep-space radar.

We use this technique because passive sensors cannot give us all of the information we need. We inhabit the spaces between the stars, where it is very cold and very dark, and there is simply not enough illumination at any useful wavelength to allow us to clearly see our surroundings. And we need to see our surroundings because that is where we find the physical resources we need.

We harvest comets, you see. All of the materials we need for building and maintaining our Ships can be found in comets, and the occasional asteroid. And all the energy we need comes from comets too. Although we prefer to catch comets before they have ever gotten close to any star, so perhaps it would be better to call them pre-cometary objects, or just Oort Cloud objects.

These objects are thinly distributed throughout space, so we must locate them when they are very far away. So we illuminate the spaces between the stars, the better to see these objects.

This particular type of deep-space radar was chosen because it can provide the intense illumination we need with a minimal effort, and because it is relatively stealthy. We donít want fledgling civilizations like yours to notice it. At least not until we think youíre ready.

We use large spherical transmitters. Each transmitter occasionally emits a burst of radio waves in a spherically symmetric pattern. Separate phased-array antennas are used to detect any radar returns. These transmitters and receivers are distributed throughout the Galaxy, well away from each other and from any other facilities.

The amount of energy contained within each of these bursts is prodigious. If one of these transmitters sounded off near your Solar System, people would notice. But no such pulses have been heard on the Earth, because we have been observing radio silence in this neighborhood ever since we detected your first radio transmissions a century ago.

However, only the nearest transmitters are being kept silent. Life goes on elsewhere in the Galaxy, and distant transmitters remain in operation. You cannot pick up their signals with a pocket radio, but a sufficiently large astronomical radio telescope should be able to hear them.

We now have reason to believe that some of your astronomers may have detected some of these pulses, but didnít know what to make of them. If they could only examine these signals with high resolution, both temporally and in amplitude, they might be rather surprised. And these signals do repeat.

As I said before, we need true believers. All kinds of them.

The importance of this point cannot be understated. We will not reveal ourselves until enough people understand who we really are. This means that you have to discuss every possibility. You have to put every assumption on the table, even your most cherished starting assumptions. Because if even one of your starting assumptions is wrong, you wonít find the right answer.

The question that stands before the human race at this moment in its history, which defines this moment, is the ultimate question faced by all races of sentient beings that awaken to find themselves in this universe: Are you alone?

There aren't very many possible answers. Many humans believe the answer is "Yes". And it's not hard to understand why.

But many others believe you are not alone. And the more you learn about the universe you live in, the more this answer seems to make sense. But if this is true, you have to ask: Is intelligent life scarce, or widespread? Either way, you won't find it easily. Because if it is widespread, it has obviously taken some care to avoid being noticed.

These three possibilities represent three different hypotheses about the nature of Life in the universe. And they are all equally supported by the best evidence you have.

The world I have described to you fits the most optimistic of these hypotheses. And it does not contradict in the least your best evidence.

More and more people on your planet are realizing that intelligent life should be widespread. And gradually, more and more people are realizing that the vast majority of that intelligent life should be very ancient, and should already be in every part of this Galaxy, and should have long ago become aware of you.

So which is the simplest, the most elegant, the most parsimonious of these hypotheses? That Life on Earth is unique, or nearly so, and that Life elsewhere is non-existent, or at least very far away? Or that Life is ancient and ubiquitous, and you don't see it because it doesn't want you to?

Occam's razor is a splendid tool, but if wielded carelessly, it will lop off the most parsimonious of ideas. So be very careful with your assumptions.

Think about it this way: The world I have described makes it possible for people to have what they have always wanted: Immortality. Freedom. Infinite Choices. These are all things that humans have desired for all of human history, but could only get fleeting glimpses of, and for just a mere human lifetime. These are the ultimate desires of every sentient being, because these things make all other things possible.

The Founders have given us the Ultimate Technology: Worlds that encompass All Possible Worlds. And it was inevitable that it would happen this way. Inevitable, because in a universe teeming with Life, anything that is possible will eventually be discovered by somebody. And once somebody discovers something like this, it will spread everywhere, because this is the ideal way to explore Space. And Beyond.

I know that you have your doubts. Maybe I really am just some nut case, huddled over a keyboard somewhere, typing all this weirdness in; it doesnít really matter, does it? You know that Someone is out there, somewhere... Someone who has been around for a very long time. Someone who is very old, and very wise, and who knows what is possible, having already enough time to try just about everything.

If what I have described is possible, then it has already been done, because thatís what everyone wants.

You know what has to be done now. You must come to understand what is possible, because only then will you understand who we really are. Only then will the wonders begin.

 

 

Greetings.

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

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Copyright © 1996, 1997, 1998 Douglas S. Jones. All rights reserved.

First published on February 14, 1996.