Waiting for Gödel

a story by J. Orlin Grabbe

She had a way of ruining the best of moments.

--What are we doing here?

--Having fun, of course. It's a trendy place. Good food, good service, lots of attractive people. What more could you want?

--You're right. I don't know. It's just an eerie feeling. I mean, what if we're not here by choice?

--Of course we're here by choice. Why else would we come here? We're here because we like it here.

--I know that. It's our customary routine. We work out, feed the cat, then come here. But what if, say, we were just characters in a story, and had to go where the author made us go, and talk like she made us talk?

--Are you paranoid? We do our own thing, right? Of course we have independence, free will. Anyway, who is to say your author, your hypothetical God, is a she?

--I didn't say God.

--Religion, literature--what's the difference? You are postulating someone outside the story, outside the universe, looking in. An external observer in another hierarchy.

--No. Not an observer. Someone in charge.

--Control again. Okay. Suppose someone were in charge. Just for argument's sake. So what?

--Well. The story is in her hands. What if she is crazy or evil? She may make us do things we don't want. We may have to lead horrible, disgusting lives.

--Paranoid. Paranoid.

--No. Say she's just a novelist. Novels thrive on tension and conflict. Man against man. Man against woman. Woman against woman. Woman against herself. Man against nature. There'll never be any peace.

--Well, nothing wrong with that. Think about it. Imagine the alternative: a world without the tension that arises from contrasts. A world where it is always 68 degrees and sunny. A world with just one sex, or maybe no sexes. People all one color, say light purple. And everyone equal. They all have managerial jobs, earn $50,000 a year, and drive the same model of BMW. Let's see, what else? Give everyone a restaurant on top of all that. What then?

--What indeed?

--You would never be able to go out to dinner, because no one would work as a waiter. Unless, of course, you just dined at the automat. That's what all the restaurants would have to be, automats. No one would have anything to talk about. All would have the same job, so you couldn't ask what kind of day someone had. You would already know. There would be no rich folks whose exploits and tragic lives you could read and gossip about, and feel superior to. Not many possibilities in the romantic sphere.

--And not much literature either. Which is what I said. So you have to introduce distinctions. Different colors. Different sexes. Inequality. Something to strive for. Highs and lows. Pain and suffering. Otherwise it wouldn't be life, and it would be boring as hell.

--Okay, I'm not going to argue. In the calculus of The Laws of Form, Spencer Brown showed the first logical act required to create a universe was, "Draw a distinction." That's just what someone or something did, and here we are. Lucky us.

--Lucky, you say. What if there is some catastrophe, some plot complication, waiting for us just around the corner?

--You're paranoid and pessimistic. Unnecessarily so. How do you think we ended up here, in this happy, trendy place with good food and good service?

--I don't know, but something about it bothers me.

She took a pin out of her purse and pressed it into his forearm.

--Ouch! What the--. Why did you do that?

--The devil made me do it.

--What are you saying? You didn't do that voluntarily? The author, the (capitalized) Author, made you do it? Jesus, you're possessed.

--Right. Paranoid, pessimistic, and possessed.

She laughed gaily.

--Look. There are rules for figuring this out. Ways to discover the existence of your elusive Author. Let's just call her, or him, or it, an A-Being.

--What kind of rules? Literary rules?

--Rules of inference.

--Such as?

--Presumably the A-Being is superior in some way. Superior knowledge or superior power. So we can use that fact to detect the A-Being's presence, through the outcomes of games of strategy.

--What games?

--Games between us and the A-Being. Or between you, me, and the A-Being. The A-Being, through her total or partial omniscience, omnipotence, or immortality will be able to force certain outcomes that would not otherwise occur. This will reveal her presence.

--Can we communicate with the A-Being?

--Obviously if the A-Being exists, we can communicate with her.

--What if she lies, or uses deception?

--That's a possibility.

--What if one of us is the A-Being?

--That just makes the game more complicated.

More complicated than you suspect.

--And what if I'm wrong and she isn't in charge? Or I'm not in charge.

--Maybe no one is.

--Then our lives are chaos and there is no way to explain what is happening. All our experiences are ontological Rorschach blots, and inferences from game theory are a futile attempt to impose apparent logic on inherent contradiction and randomness.

--Thus I refute your philosophy, he says, kicking her in the shin.

He kicked her in the shin with the point of his boot.

--Puto! That wasn't nice at all! Well, I was right. We are under the control of an evil, sadistic Author. And you're right: she is definitely a he, and has it in for females.

Either that, or she is using deception. Or his actions are meaningless. Who would think this?

--Ah, conspiracy theory. First we establish whether the Author, the A-Being, exists, and only then need we worry whether he or she is good or evil.

--I don't care if the Author exists unless she's in charge.

--If she doesn't exist she's not in charge.

--We talk therefore we exist. Are we in charge?

--I write therefore I exist.

--That doesn't make you the A-Being.

He poured mustard over the jello, placed an onion slice over that, and crowned the stack with a toasted bun.

--It's a sign. Revelation.

--What is?

--The onion. You never had onion on your jello-burger before. The A-Being is attempting to contact us in her own mysterious way.

--That's ridiculous. I just felt like onion today. A burger is a burger, onion or no onion. Anyway, the A-Being is a he, and he is me.

He had a way of denying the noumenal.

--Tell me about games of strategy.

--We each have our own goals, our own motives, our own methods. All these, however, are interdependent and conflict with each other.

--What goals would the A-Being have?

--Giving her characters motives, for one.

--What are your motives?

--To have a good life. To love a good woman. To have sex with several good women.

--Why are you telling me this?

--I wouldn't ordinarily, but I am under the control of the A-Being.

--I'm not enough? I don't satisfy you?

--It was just a joke.

--Now you're being deceptive.

--No, I'm telling the truth.

--You are now, because the A-Being is forcing you to.

Why is this happening?

--I'm sorry, events are taking this course because of something that took place a couple months ago. We had both had too much to drink. That's the only way I know how to explain it.

--What are you saying?

--I'm pregnant.

--You're not.

--Yes I am.

--You can't be pregnant because you're a he.

--Can you be sure of that, at this point?

--You're using deception.

--Don't you want to know who the father is?

--What did you say?

--The A-Being said he--, she was pregnant. Either that or she's complicating the plot..

--Which of us is the A-Being?

--Neither, someone lied.

He kissed her, then, with sincerity and passion.

The A-Being jabbed the fork deep into the back of one hand.

She had a way of ruining the best of moments.

J. Orlin Grabbe 's homepage is located at http://www.aci.net/kalliste/homepage.html .


from The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 46, November 29, 1999