Qualia the Purple
Arc 2: 1/1,000,000,000th of a Kiss
Chapter 5: The Person on the Other End, and My Ability
One line of attack that Alice had used to try and woo Yukari was to talk about the school at Jaunt.
Alice spoke with quite a bit of pride.
"If you come to Jaunt, Yukari, then you will receive the finest of educations. Not the standard education that the commoners receive. You will be able to study the things that you need. Did you know...? Thomas Edison, whom they called the King of Invention, was actually a problem child in school. Einstein, who formulated the Theory of Relativity, was also a school dropout. Of course, I do not even need to tell you that these two were geniuses. In other words, it was the school that was at fault. The school could not give them the education that would satisfy them. However, at the Jaunt school, you will not have to worry about such things.
Yukari, you will be able to learn about yourself.
You will be able to learn about yourself together with other geniuses who are just like us, and in the best possible environment.
... It may even be possible that one day we will be able to understand the mysteries of your eyes."
"Wah... do you really think so?"
"Of course. The school was erected for the sake of us geniuses, and the world is a wide, open place... have you not heard the Japanese proverb? A frog in a well does not know of the ocean and believes that its well is the entire world. Or no... was that a Chinese proverb? No, actually, I have a better example that fits Yukari perfectly. Have you heard of the Black and White Room thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson?"
What Alice described was the following hypothetical situation:
Mary is a genius philosopher, and from the moment she was born she lived in a black and white room.
The room has no windows, the television is also black and white, and she has never seen anything that would count as "color."
But she was a genius, and with that superb intellect of hers she already has learned all the scientific information there was to know about color. Her physical knowledge of how color works was perfect. However, she was stuck in this black and white room, so she had never seen color for herself.
Now, when Mary was released from that room and goes into the world overflowing with color outside, was there something that she could learn about color that she had not already studied?
"The main point of this thought experiment is to consider where the new 'something' that Mary learns comes from, but for the purposes of this discussion you need not concern yourself with that. The important point I would like to make now is that no matter what you may 'know,' you will not understand it until you leave your room and see it for yourself.
Yukari... the place you are in now is none other than a black and white room.
There is a world filled with color outside, and I am here to give you the opportunity to see that world. Do you understand, Yukari? Once Mary exits that black and white room, she realizes something. She realizes that there was a wide, open, beautiful world outside that she could never have understood from within her black-and-white prison cell."
Alice had approached this subject by starting from the perspective of the frog in the well, but I was interested in all this from a different angle.
I really wish Nanami had been here listening to this (but unfortunately, every single time Nanami was in the same room with Alice she would get goaded by Alice and end up shouting out something like "No, I'm seriously not Marii's friend!" so nowadays she generally tried to avoid Alice).
Nanami had told me once that our bodies... no, the entire world was made up of these probabilistic entities called quanta, and that it's possible our existences were only fully established when we were "observed." And that it's possible the basis for this establishing came from the qualia that emerged in our heads. That perhaps qualia was precisely the reason why Nanami's body was established as human flesh and not steel. That perhaps Yukari experienced different qualia when she looked at us, and that's precisely why she not only saw our bodies as robots, but to her our bodies were established as robot parts that she could repair.
However, exactly where did that qualia come from?
We can look at the same thing but feel different qualia. That didn't just apply to us and Yukari, but also to me and Nanami. But why was that?
After Yukari transferred away, I began to vaguely think about such things.
When I turned my thoughts to really specialized, uncommon topics like qualia, it just made me feel like I was still connected to Yukari in some way, and honestly it also made me more interested in what had happened to me.
So, I started studying a number of things.
Nanami and I had begun to grow apart around that time, so I had to study alone. However, I did have a reassuring ally in my endeavors.
When it became night, I sat down with some sugary juice and sweets, and dialed out with my left hand.
"Hello? Umm... I guess I should ask, but this is the first time we've met... right?"
"Not really? Well, I guess it is, but at the same time it's not... uwah... umm... hello, me?"
Dialed out to the me in another world.
I thought of the idea to call myself with my left hand because that incident the other night left me had infinitely curious about this mysterious phone.
No matter how I tried to think about it, I couldn't help but think that the person on the other line that night had been myself.
However, at the same time, it was an impossible notion that I had called myself on the phone.
So, that must've just been an illusion... I must've been just hearing things. But no matter how many times I told that to myself, I couldn't get that voice out of my head.
Suddenly, I looked down at my left hand. In my head, that warning about Yukari's life being in danger repeated itself, feeling more real than ever.
After Yukari had transferred away, I still managed to keep in touch with her via phone for a while.
But there were some issues with time zones, and before long we had switched to exchanging handwritten letters (my left hand should've had a text function installed, but I had no idea how to use it). In the first letter I got from her, she told me in a roundabout way that she probably wouldn't be able to stay in contact too frequently anymore. She said that she had a lot to do and it would be a while before things calmed down.
... Well, it was good that she was busy. I felt a bit lonely, but this was for Yukari's sake...
One night, I was turning the situation over and over in my head while looking at my left hand.
And then it hit me.
What would happen if I tried placing a phone call to myself?
Of course, I was expecting the call to go through. Yes, that call would obviously go through to myself.
It wasn't like I was seriously expecting to be able to talk to that girl from that night again.
No, I just suddenly wanted to hear my own voice over the phone again.
If I just heard my own voice again, then I could finally convince myself that the voice on the phone that night was not my own. And if I could convince myself of that, then I'd feel a lot better. ¬Then I could accept that the phone call that night had just been a misunderstanding, or that some wires had been crossed somewhere. So I wanted to make sure... and once that idea got into my head, I just couldn't sit still anymore and immediately tried it out. If I had just calmed down and thought about it for a second, I might've thought of the potential problem that calling myself would just give me a busy signal, but at that point I really wasn't thinking about that.
So, I dialed my own number.
"Hello, Yuka-... ehh? Who are you? ... Is this me?"
"... Uwah, this is just... wha-? Is this me?"
And quite literally, I found myself talking to myself.
This might sound hard to believe, but that's exactly what happened, so there wasn't much I could do about it. And just like the whole dismemberment business from before, I found that soon enough I had taken this in stride.
Almost every night after that, I would make a phone call to myself, and sometimes would get a phone call from myself, but I never managed to call the me from that first night. Actually, I never managed to call the same me - as strange an expression as that is - on any night. Every call I made was to a me I was meeting for the first time, but we also shared the same knowledge and experiences. Sure, there were some small differences - for example, the me I called today had talked with a lot more me's than I had - but the minute the call connected, any information about the me on the other line just seemed to melt into my head. Just like that first night, just like how I knew I was talking to me before any words were even exchanged, the minute the call connected I knew what the other me was thinking and what she wanted to say, almost like her thoughts and feelings were welling up in my own mind. Sometimes, I couldn't even tell whether it was me or the other me who was talking on the phone.
However, the words kept on flowing from our mouths, and we always talked to each other.
When we talked with each other like this, it was tacitly understood that we already understood each other - if not, things might quickly have devolved into chaos.
In the beginning, we were all a bit bewildered by this whole situation, but after we had come to accept it, I could talk to these other me's quite naturally.
And, once I came to accept this situation, I found myself only talking to other me's who had also accepted the situation... it seemed that the me from here formed the fundamental standard for all these me's.
So, all these me's came to accept the situation, and we talked a lot with each other.
Especially about this whole situation.
Exactly what was this "me" that I was talking to on the phone right now?
And how did everything get like this?
"It's probably that, isn't it? You know... that 'Multiple Worlds Theory' that Tenjou was talking about."
"Or maybe you're just me from a different spot on the probability curve. So do we accept the Copenhagen Interpretation or the Many Worlds Interpretation? Or maybe even the Pilot Wave Interpretation?"
This was the first time I've heard of this "Pilot Wave Interpretation," but the minute this other me said those words, I immediately understood it. Well... I understood it as much as this other me did, at least.
This other, more studious me continued.
"Well, those pretty smart scholars still haven't really come to any real conclusions about any of this, so it's not like we have any chance. More importantly, what we should be thinking about is why something like this is happening to us."
"Well, on that topic, the me I was talking to yesterday had the following hypothesis: maybe it's just all this left hand's fault? Umm... well, it's not like any of us are real scientists, so take all this with a grain of salt, okay? It's probably easiest if I explain this using the Copenhagen Interpretation, so... by that theory, by nature quanta are not determined until they are observed, right?"
"Also, Tenjou's body was repaired with steel. But Tenjou can't really observe that her body is anything other than her own body, so to put it plainly, all the repaired parts of her body seem like normal flesh. Everything okay so far?"
"However, in my case... well, Yukari said it, right? I'm an all-purpose robot, and I can handle a lot of peripheral devices to adapt to any situation. So unlike Tenjou, I can accept this left hand for what it is and actually adapt to it. It might be a left hand, but it's also a cell phone, because I've accepted it for what it is."
"Hmmm, I see..."
"So, if I want to put this in the language of quantum mechanics, then I might say that my left hand is right now a superposition of a normal hand and a cell phone. And I've completely adapted to that, so I can use it as a normal hand and also as a cell phone. Could it be something like that?"
Right now, if we were to go by the Copenhagen Interpretation, then my left hand was in a superposition of infinite possibilities. If we were to go by the Many Worlds Interpretation, my hand existed in infinite parallel worlds which were still interacting with each other, and thus the state of my hand was still not fully determined with certainty.
Or maybe it was more precise to say the state my hand was determined, but that state was just the state of being in all those parallel worlds.
Whatever the correct interpretation, the end result was the same.
Namely, beyond that left hand lay my body, and then my head, and ultimately the existence that was me.
In other words, through my left hand, I could connect to all the infinite me's that existed in these parallel worlds.
"So, it's all because of this left hand that we can talk to each other like this. So maybe without this left hand, our wave functions would have collapsed already, or the worlds we're in would have already stopped interacting with each other."
"... I see, I think? So... right now I can actually use my left hand as a cell phone, and that means I recognize it as not only my left hand but also as a cell phone, and in the other worlds, or in the other possibilities, there are also me's who have accepted it like that, and so we can talk to each other like this... am I in the ballpark?"
"I kind of understand this and don't understand this at the same time... wow, I'm getting a bit dizzy here. Seriously, what is going on with all this? ... If I really can use my left hand to talk with all the possible me's, then the minute I cut this phone call and this 'cell phone' stops being a cell phone and gets fixed as only a 'left hand,' then do you just disappear? And once this 'left hand' becomes a 'cell phone' again-"
"Hey, wait just a second. Why am I the one who disappears? Maybe you're the one who disappears?"
"No no no no, wait. I mean, I'm the one who made this-... huh?"
I suddenly realized that I had no idea anymore who had made this call.
Well, it's not like knowing that would have solved anything though...
"... Maybe we should just stick with the Many Worlds Interpretation... well, it's not like I understand that interpretation all too much better..."
"... Yeah, I know, right?"
I wished the other me a good night and ended the call.
And then suddenly I started disappearing... just kidding. No, instead I opened up a bag of sweets to replenish my stamina, and I thought about the me I had just talked to right now.
Had she disappeared?
Or, maybe she was in a different, parallel world, eating candy just like me?
No, even parallel worlds could be created and destroyed... well, I guess either way the result was the same, and I would never meet that same her again...
"Am I... really the same me as the me before the phone call...?"
Sure, I now understood the Pilot Wave Interpretation, something I didn't understand before that phone call, but that didn't really prove anything. And either way, it didn't really change anything.
I stopped worrying about it.
"Did you know? According to the research of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff, our very minds might be a certain type of quantum computer. They say that there are these 'microtubules' in our neurons that, through some quantum mechanism, give rise to our consciousness."
"Quantum mechanisms give rise to our consciousness? But everything in this world is made from quanta, right? By that logic, could it be possible that not only humans, but also robots could also have consciousness? I'm pretty sure Yukari would be happy if we asked her that question. By the way... I've been meaning to ask this for a while, but what's a quantum computer?"
"...... You know perfectly well I don't know, so why even bother asking?"
I might have been bewildered by all this in the beginning, but I have to be a bit proud of myself here. I have to say, I sure adapted well to the situation, and once that happened I realized that being able to talk to myself really wasn't bad at all.
In fact, it gave me a certain type of hope.
I mean... sure, the reason I could do this was mainly because Yukari had fixed me, but in a certain sense couldn't you say that this was my own "ability"?
At the very least, if I could talk to the me's in the other parallel worlds (or the other possibilities), then that means I'm not a commoner, right?
After that thought hit me, I began to study as hard as possible.
I wanted to somehow make this "ability" of mine useful. If they found out that this "ability" that Yukari had dubbed "adapting to anything and everything" could actually be useful, maybe they'd recruit me into Jaunt as well. Okay, I'll be honest... I was just a third year junior high student back then, and I really didn't realize how special I was. As long as I had the ability to do what I could do, even if I didn't study so hard Jaunt would probably have welcomed me with open arms. But I didn't realize that, and I began to read books with all my might. I justified it by saying I was studying for exams, and even completely stopped practicing the naginata. At home, I would always be at my desk, and during the day I would often be at the library. I would grab any book I could get my hands onto, expanding my vocabulary to include such words as 'the hard problem of consciousness' or 'the two-slit experiment' or 'quantum decoherence' (did I understand what they meant? Eh, just don't ask). I tried studying the wave equation, chuckling at the irony that Hatou Manabu was studying waves (for the Japanese challenged people out there, studying waves would be "hadou wo manabu"), but then I realized that I had no talent for mathematics. Equations became something like my mortal enemy. But alas, reality was cruel, and there were many, many things in this world that a third year in junior high just couldn't do... but that didn't stop me from trying hard, joining forces with all the other me's, and using almost all of my time to acquire knowledge that seemed like it might be useful (although, I admit that I was still me, and there wasn't a brave me in any of the parallel worlds who ventured to take another crack at the wave equation).
I thought that if I tried hard, then I could be with Yukari again.
I didn't pay any mind to the fact that the letters from Yukari had stopped coming.
"Hm, maybe she'll come back for summer break?"
"Yeah, she will. Maybe... maybe Alice will come back with her. Until then, I really want to work at it so something becomes of this."
"But honestly, this stuff won't really help for normal stuff, will it? I mean, leaving myself aside, it's not like it affects other people at all, and we can't even use this cell phone in front of other people in the first place... ugh, this is really annoying. I wonder if this is how Yukari felt back then...?"
In that case, I would actually be happy... to think I might be able to understand how Yukari felt...
When she comes back, I'll definitely ask her. Ask her about everything.
As I thought about all that, I continued talking to another me on the phone while writing down various words that might help me explain what had happened to me.
All the while, I looked forward to Yukari's return and the look on her face when I told her about my "ability."
But summer vacation came and passed, and Yukari did not return.
Not even her corpse.
I should warn you.
At this point, the story is about to take a sudden, drastic turn.