Katherine Solomon donned her white lab coat and began her usual arrival routineher rounds as her brother called them.
Like a nervous parent checking on a sleeping baby, Katherine poked her head into the mechanical room. The hydrogen fuel cell was running smoothly, its backup tanks all safely nestled in their racks.
Katherine continued down the hall to the data-storage room. As always, the two redundant holographic backup units hummed safely within their temperature-controlled vault. All of my
research, she thought, gazing in through the three-inch-thick shatterproof glass. Holographicdata-storage devices, unlike their refrigerator-size ancestors, looked more like sleek stereo components, each perched atop a columnar pedestal.
Both of her labs holographic drives were synchronized and identicalserving as redundant backups to safeguard identical copies of her work. Most backup protocols advocated a secondary backup system off-site in case of earthquake, fire, or theft, but Katherine and her brother agreed that secrecy was paramount; once this data left the building to an off-site server, they could no longer be certain it would stay private.
Content that everything was running smoothly here, she headed back down the hallway. As she rounded the corner, however, she spotted something unexpected across the lab. What in the world? A muted glow was glinting off all the equipment. She hurried in to have a look, surprised to see light emanating from behind the Plexiglas wall of the control room.
Hes here. Katherine flew across the lab, arriving at the control-room door and heaving it open. Peter! she said, running in. The plump woman seated at the control rooms terminal jumped up. Oh my God! Katherine! You scared me!
Trish Dunnethe only other person on earth allowed back herewas Katherines metasystems analyst and seldom worked weekends. The twenty-six-year-old redhead was a genius data modeler and had signed a nondisclosure document worthy of the KGB. Tonight, she was apparently analyzing data on the control rooms plasma walla huge flat-screen display that looked like something out of NASA mission control.
Sorry, Trish said. I didnt know you were here yet. I was trying to finish up before you and your brother arrived.
Have you spoken to him? Hes late and hes not answering his phone.
Trish shook her head. I bet hes still trying to figure out how to use that new iPhone you gave him.
Katherine appreciated Trishs good humor, and Trishs presence here had just given her an idea. Actually, Im glad youre in tonight. You might be able to help me with something, if you dont mind?
Whatever it is, Im sure it beats football.
Katherine took a deep breath, calming her mind. Im not sure how to explain this, but earlier today, I heard an unusual story . . .
Trish Dunne didnt know what story Katherine Solomon had heard, but clearly it had her on edge. Her bosss usually calm gray eyes looked anxious, and she had tucked her hair behind her ears three times since entering the rooma nervous tell, as Trish called it. Brilliant scientist. Lousy poker player.
To me, Katherine said, this story sounds like fiction . . . an old legend. And yet . . . She paused, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ears once again.
Katherine sighed. And yet I was told today by a trusted source that the legend is true.
Okay . . . Where is she going with this?
Im going to talk to my brother about it, but it occurs to me that maybe you can help me shed some light on it before I do. Id love to know if this legend has ever been corroborated anywhere else in history.
In all of history?
Katherine nodded. Anywhere in the world, in any language, at any point in history.
Strange request, Trish thought, but certainly feasible. Ten years ago, the task would have been impossible. Today, however, with the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the ongoing digitization of the great libraries and museums in the world, Katherines goal could be achieved by using a relatively simple search engine equipped with an army of translation modules and some well-chosen keywords.
No problem, Trish said. Many of the labs research books contained passages in ancient languages, and so Trish was often asked to write specialized Optical Character Recognition translation modules to generate English text from obscure languages. She had to be the only metasystems specialist on earth who had built OCR translation modules in Old Frisian, Maek, and Akkadian.
The modules would help, but the trick to building an effective search spider was all in choosing the right key words. Unique but not overly restrictive.
Katherine looked to be a step ahead of Trish and was already jotting down possible keywords on a slip of paper. Katherine had written down several when she paused, thought a moment, and then wrote several more. Okay, she finally said, handing Trish the slip of paper.
Trish perused the list of search strings, and her eyes grew wide. What kind of crazy legend is Katherine investigating? You want me to search for all of these key phrases? One of the words Trish didnt even recognize. Is that even English? Do you really think well find all of these in one place? Verbatim?
Id like to try.
Trish would have said impossible, but the I-word was banned here. Katherine considered it a dangerous mind-set in a field that often transformed preconceived falsehoods into confirmed
truths. Trish Dunne seriously doubted this key-phrase search would fall into that category.
How long for results? Katherine asked.
A few minutes to write the spider and launch it. After that, maybe fifteen for the spider to exhaust itself.
So fast? Katherine looked encouraged.
Trish nodded. Traditional search engines often required a full day to crawl across the entire online universe, find new documents, digest their content, and add it to their searchable database. But this was not the kind of search spider Trish would write.
Ill write a program called a delegator, Trish explained. Its not entirely kosher, but its fast. Essentially, its a program that orders other peoples search engines to do our work. Most databases have a search function built inlibraries, museums, universities, governments. So I write a spider that finds their search engines, inputs your keywords, and asks them to search. This way, we harness the power of thousands of engines, working in unison.
Katherine looked impressed. Parallel processing.
A kind of metasystem. Ill call you if I get anything.
I appreciate it,Trish. Katherine patted her on the back and headed for the door. Ill be in the library.
Trish settled in to write the program. Coding a search spider was a menial task far below her skill level, but Trish Dunne didnt care. She would do anything for Katherine Solomon. Sometimes Trish still couldnt believe the good fortune that had brought her here.
Youve come a long way, baby.
Just over a year ago, Trish had quit her job as a metasystems analyst in one of the high-tech industrys many cubicle farms. In her off-hours, she did some freelance programming and startedan industry blogFuture Applications in Computational Metasystem Analysisalthough she doubted anyone read it. Then one evening her phone rang.
Trish Dunne? a womans voice asked politely.
Yes, whos calling, please?
My name is Katherine Solomon.
Trish almost fainted on the spot. Katherine Solomon? I just read your bookNoetic Science: Modern Gateway to Ancient Wisdomand I wrote about it on my blog!
Yes, I know, the woman replied graciously. Thats why Im calling.
Of course it is, Trish realized, feeling dumb. Even brilliant scientists Google themselves.
Your blog intrigues me, Katherine told her. I wasnt aware metasystems modeling had come so far.
Yes, maam, Trish managed, starstruck. Data models are an exploding technology with far-reaching applications.
For several minutes, the two women chatted about Trishs work in metasystems, discussing her experience analyzing, modeling, and predicting the flow of massive data fields.
Obviously, your book is way over my head, Trish said, but I understood enough to see an intersection with my metasystems work.
Your blog said you believe metasystems modeling can transform the study of Noetics?
Absolutely. I believe metasystems could turn Noetics into real science.
Real science? Katherines tone hardened slightly. As opposed to . . . ?
Oh shit, that came out wrong. Um, what I meant is that Noetics is more . . . esoteric.
Katherine laughed. Relax, Im kidding. I get that all the time.
Im not surprised, Trish thought. Even the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California described the field in arcane and abstruse language, defining it as the study of mankinds direct and immediate access to knowledge beyond what is available to our normal senses and the power of reason.
The word noetic, Trish had learned, derived from the ancient Greek noustranslating roughly to inner knowledge or intuitive consciousness.
Im interested in your metasystems work, Katherine said, and how it might relate to a project Im working on. Any chance youd be willing to meet? Id love to pick your brain.
Katherine Solomon wants to pick my brain? It felt like Maria Sharapova had called for tennis tips.
The next day a white Volvo pulled into Trishs driveway and an attractive, willowy woman in blue jeans got out. Trish immediately felt two feet tall. Great, she groaned. Smart, rich, and thinand Im supposed to believe God is good? But Katherines unassuming air set Trish instantly at ease.
The two of them settled in on Trishs huge back porch overlooking an impressive piece of
Your house is amazing, Katherine said.
Thanks. I got lucky in college and licensed some software Id written.
A precursor to metasystems. Following 9/11, the government was intercepting and crunching enormous data fieldscivilian e-mail, cell phone, fax, text, Web sitessniffing for keywords associated with terrorist communications. So I wrote a piece of software that let them process their data field in a second way . . . pulling from it an additional intelligence product. She smiled. Essentially, my software let them take Americas temperature.
Trish laughed. Yeah, sounds crazy, I know. What I mean is that it quantified the nations emotional state. It offered a kind of cosmic consciousness barometer, if you will. Trish explained how, using a data field of the nations communications, one could assess the nations mood based on the occurrence density of certain keywords and emotional indicators in the data field. Happier times had happier language, and stressful times vice versa. In the event, for example, of a terrorist attack, the government could use data fields to measure the shift in Americas psyche and better advise the president on the emotional impact of the event.
Fascinating, Katherine said, stroking her chin. So essentially youre examining a population of individuals . . . as if it were a single organism.
Exactly. A metasystem. A single entity defined by the sum of its parts. The human body, for example, consists of millions of individual cells, each with different attributes and different purposes, but it functions as a single entity.
Katherine nodded enthusiastically. Like a flock of birds or a school of fish moving as one. We call it convergence or entanglement.
Trish sensed her famous guest was starting to see the potential of metasystem programming in her own field of Noetics. My software, Trish explained, was designed to help government agencies better evaluate and respond appropriately to wide-scale crisespandemic diseases, national tragedies, terrorism, that sort of thing. She paused. Of course, theres always the potential that it could be used in other directions . . . perhaps to take a snapshot of the national mind-set and predict the outcome of a national election or the direction the stock market will move at the opening bell.
Trish motioned to her big house. The government thought so.
Katherines gray eyes focused in on her now. Trish, might I ask about the ethical dilemma posed by your work?
What do you mean?
I mean you created a piece of software that can easily be abused. Those who possess it have access to powerful information not available to everyone. You didnt feel any hesitation creating it?
Trish didnt blink. Absolutely not. My software is no different than say . . . a flight simulator program. Some users will practice flying first-aid missions into underdeveloped countries. Some users will practice flying passenger jets into skyscrapers. Knowledge is a tool, and like all tools, its impact is in the hands of the user.
Katherine sat back, looking impressed. So let me ask you a hypothetical question.
Trish suddenly sensed their conversation had just turned into a job interview.
Katherine reached down and picked up a tiny speck of sand off the deck, holding it up for Trish to see. It occurs to me, she said, that your metasystems work essentially lets you calculate the weight of an entire sandy beach . . . by weighing one grain at a time.
Yes, basically thats right.
As you know, this little grain of sand has mass. A very small mass, but mass nonetheless.
And because this grain of sand has mass, it therefore exerts gravity. Again, too small to feel, but there.
Now, Katherine said, if we take trillions of these sand grains and let them attract one another to form . . . say, the moon, then their combined gravity is enough to move entire oceans and drag the tides back and forth across our planet.
Trish had no idea where this was headed, but she liked what she was hearing.
So lets take a hypothetical, Katherine said, discarding the sand grain. What if I told you that a thought . . . any tiny idea that forms in your mind . . . actually has mass? What if I told you that a thought is an actual thing, a measurable entity, with a measurable mass? A minuscule mass, of course, but mass nonetheless. What are the implications?
Hypothetically speaking? Well, the obvious implications are . . . if a thought has mass, then a thought exerts gravity and can pull things toward it.
Katherine smiled. Youre good. Now take it a step further. What happens if many people start focusing on the same thought? All the occurrences of that same thought begin to merge into one, and the cumulative mass of this thought begins to grow. And therefore, its gravity grows.
Meaning . . . if enough people begin thinking the same thing, then the gravitational force of that thought becomes tangible . . . and it exerts actual force. Katherine winked. And it can have a measurable effect in our physical world.