Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Monday, March 1, 2010

After "Post-Singular"

I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Rudy Rucker at World Fantasy Convention, and had an opportunity to ask him about part of the book that had me confused, from a scientific perspective.

During the book, characters travel between dimensions, and encounter a barrier described as an ocean-like substance that is not to be crossed - the Planck barrier - below which, according to Dr Rucker, no life should be in existence. However, I did not know that until I had the opportunity to stop Dr Rucker in person and ask. In the book, there is life below the Planck Barrier, in these so-called "sub-dimensions", and people can travel down into those sub-dimensional universes. When I read the book, I did not know this.

As a hard scientist, Dr Rucker has an impressive resume in mathematics. He teaches mathematics at the University of California, in Berkeley. I read his book, about fictionalized speculations into the fabled singularity. I do not have any knowledge whatsoever of the mathematics involved in the singularity. I know only that Rudy Rucker is a very smart person, who has an understanding of reality that would make my brain ooze out of my ears if I attempted to try and keep up with his scientific knowledge. Thus, when I read the section of the novel where the inter-dimensional travel mentioned an ocean of the Planck barrier, and then a character went below into a sub-dimension, I assumed that such a thing was perfectly normal, rational, and possible. To me, it was no stranger than a dimension where everyone is bigger and slower than we are due to the math of existing at that turning of the quantum reality.

This sub-dimensional level, as a reader, is accepted as a kind of truth. Though I knew that there probably weren't hallucination-inspiring monsters present, when I read the book, I also assumed that such a place must exist in some form, if it were truly present in a story by such a well-respected mathematician.

And, as Dr Rucker explained to me, I was wrong. In fact, nothing at all exists below the Planck Barrier. Below that ocean between dimensions, nothing is possible. In the fictionalized version of the science, monstrous creatures rise up from their ominous oceanic boundary and hunt the interdimensional travelers like monsters from a B-Movie.

This posits an interesting dilemma for the science fictionist. An audience like the readership of Analog can possibly be assumed to have some intermediate science knowledge. But, at what point does the science fictionist need to reveal the veil of fiction over the science? Was there any point in the fiction where Dr. Rucker could have revealed his hand towards the fact that current science does not support the notion of a sub-dimension populated by hallucination-inspiring predators? Where does the science end and the fiction begin, and, more importantly, how is the audience to know the difference?

I didn't ask this question of Dr. Rucker, because I suspect he can't answer it, either. I don't think it's a question that has an answer that can be applied across the board as a sort of truism. I suspect the answer is wholly dependent on the audience in question. For me, and for my audience, I must assume that we know nothing, and we are easily fooled. Also, I must assume that the world of science will survive any falsities I slip into the subconscious.

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