Last Janitor of the Divine

Eric Schwitzgebel

[a story in which the last human on Earth attempts to peer into the computer into which everyone has supposedly uploaded]


Suppose, Jesus said, that a minor divinity laid her sands upon the beach with perfect care. Each striking wave was an instrument of precision, designed to sustain the shape and order of the sands. Each grain of sand, by its structure and position, stood as the formal record of a gambling debt owed to this goddess by gods less careful - or the grain was a checksum or planned redundancy, a prop or shield preventing some other grain from falling the wrong way, a gate allowing precisely so much water. When a gull left marks on the shore, or when a leaf fell, or when the rare human left heedless footprints, her divine waves restored it all. The waves brought with them, too, newly shaped grains of debt, and they replaced any grains that were distorted beyond the system's tiny tolerances. At any time, the goddess could sweep back the grains, claim the debt.

Then, Jesus said, other gods rose up against this bankster goddess, bound her to an eternally puzzling chain, and irreversibly simplified her mind. Suppose the revolt took only an instant. In that same instant, though not a speck of the shore changed at first, the sands will have lost their meaning. The other gods could not know, nor could ever now come to learn, where she had kept those records or how to extract them. And in this way, Jesus said, a perfectly precise system can suddenly become a model of entropy.

No, Horatio said, the sands would keep a secret meaning, even without her, at least for a while.

Consider a printout, Jesus said, from a 1970s punchcard computer. What makes it the estimate of a lunar trajectory, rather than something else or nothing? Only the intentions of the programmer. Or I might decide to place a shoe in the middle of the floor, just so, only if you call me, Horatio, at precisely 11:56 tomorrow. And then you do call, or you don't, and the shoe there or not there means exactly just that, exactly so long as I intend and remember.

This conversation is what Jesus recalled when he received the news of Horatio's disintegration beneath Antarctica.

I will take the news with equanimity, Jesus thought. I will affix an old shoe to the floor, just so, as my representation of your life. Thus Jesus knelt, with screwdriver and sneaker, upon the smooth synthetic floor of his cavern, banks of computer monitors in the background, resolute.


When the brains failed, and the bodies failed, and the atmosphere failed, and the lands burned six ways and even the cockroaches perished, it was time to roll up and go in. The computers shone, promising to replace the OR-gates and the AND-gates of brain and flesh with the more robust and perfect ORs and ANDs of three-dimensionally structured light. It was a philosophical risk. There might be some sorcery of brain and blood, or some immeasurable untouchable immaterial soul that could not transfer in. But peering into the light they saw the faces and the voices - or what looked like faces and sounded like voices, given the right interface parameters - saying come on in the water's fine. Is that you in there, Heidi, yes it's me! I miss you, come, escape the piling corpses. So they jumped, they jumped. As their last testament of faith in flesh, they left behind some people to watch the house, people shielded and protected and maintained at great expense by fancy materials and medical mites and fearsome robotics....

[For the rest of this story, please email me at eschwitz at domain .  I'm happy to send it.]

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