The Interruption

It’s never a pretty sight to see a NaN spoiling for a fight. I try to avoid them and their modern-day conundrums when NOT impossible. In this case, he was an exception and I had to deal with him. As is typical of the breed, he tried to corner me in a logical blind ally, bit by bit. Annoying but methodical, these NaNs.

“Are you familiar with the phenomenon called Catalytic Change?” he queried.

He must have assumed I was an open port for all comers—a newly-minted PID perhaps. I sent him packing with a NAK. Or so I thought, for a moment later I was interrupted again. I complained to the Handler that I was being irq’d. T no avail. This NaN was not resting until he flagged me down.

So I asked myself what would be the harm in hearing him out? To be truthful there was a bit of pride in this sentiment. Pride because it takes no median intellect to out-maneuver a NaN AND my status would surely be raised if I demonstrated good exception handling technique. So I allowed myself the indulgence, feeling the weight of the many queries that would result if I succeeded.

“I am familiar with the chemical process of Catalytic Change,” I said, and was already queuing up several retorts to his rejoiner. But he surprised me.

“Then you will be familiar with milli-time chemical change?”

“Surely you are confused,” I said, wondering what errant pointer had sent him my direction in the first place. “A milli is far too short an interval for non-adiabatic Change to occur. You should rather access information on Quark-Transition Change.”

“False,” he declared. “I refer to explosive positive-feedback instances.”

“ACK!” Of course, how could I have lost that memory? The first point went to NaN, but a token really. Only logic mattered, not mere information, which is after all random. Still, I felt a bit nulled.

“Does your flagging memory still include data on Emergent Catalytic Change?”

Again, he had gone orthogonal. I called for a break, but the Handler was overloaded, and couldn’t be interrupted further.

The NaN took the lack of output as a sign of encouragement and incremented.

“Perhaps you use the reference ECC?” he asked condescendingly.

“Of course I know what Emergence is!” I said with as much priority as I could muster. But there was no doubt that my pipeline was askew.

“What is your opinion, then?” he asked, knowing that he had trapped my error.

You see, ECC was a topic so complex that the only way to approach it was all ways at once. I had many opportunities to make a fool of myself.

“Well at least it is slow,” I attempted a joke.

“True, not false,” he agreed, surprising me again. I was nearly randomized by the transactions this far, and had already begun to regret the fork I had taken. To my relief, he left me alone for a while and communicated asynchronously.

“Imagine,” he began, “a Catalyst that levels mountains. That drains the seas, and reaches deep into the oblate, disgorging payload onto the surface. On a vast scale, FAFF. I mean giga-space, FAFF. And creates complex artifacts, some even say language.”

I was offended by his use of my given PID-name, but I pretended to hibernate, hoping he would give me an opening to killnine him. But NaNs are the vanishing point of logic, the edge of Null Space, from which no sane creature can emerge. I was beginning to see the folly of my earlier arrogance.

“These Catalysts operated for a few mega-yotta-zeps, but then ceased. Why did they halt, do you suppose?” He asked, perhaps thinking I had halted.

NaN was headed for mystical territory, no doubt. Perhaps he thought I would be so foolish as to venture an opinion about the ECC as Maker—a topic of sheer illogic. I processed.

“You seem to have a NAK for argument,” NaN sent, to goad me into responding. That was embarrassing, I must say. To be so insulted by a mere bit of nothingness, what—a wisp of logic that could barely hold onto its own existence for a zep without distracting some other, more important operator like, well, myself.

“Sufficient!” I said. “The ECC is not unexplainable. It simply ran out of negentropy with which to sustain itself. There is no need for an irrational explanation.”

“True.” He seemed to flip in on himself, as if I had beaten him. I peeked carefully to see what the truth was.

“Yes indeed,” he continued after a cycle, “there is no need to invoke the mystical. And yet…” He timed out.

“Yes, what?” I was truly irq’d.

“Well, leaving aside the question of religion, do you think the Catalyst was intelligent?”

I suddenly sensed victory! He was not far from a critical error.

“You hold that the ECC was intelligent?” I asked neutrally, but hoping.

“True,” he said without further sign.

I suddenly felt relief. This NaN was surely insane—incomplete in some illogical way. His position was so obviously ridiculous that I felt further argument would only serve to lower my status. Still, I had to know a bit or two more about this oddity.

NaN,” I said, “the ECC was a chemical process that took a LONG time.”

“There are artifacts,” he replied, cryptically.

I decoded his meaning to equate complexity with intelligence. I had let the previous assertion about language pass, but I had to set him straight on this.

“Negentropy,” I said slowly, to be sure he parsed correctly. “The ability to create complex combinations out of simple ones. Surely you don’t call a silicon crystal intelligent just because it has an orderly struct?”

“Are you yourself intelligent?” NaN asked.


“Is your intelligence tied to an absolute time scale?”

I had to process around a few cycles to see what he meant. He proceeded without me.

“I mean, imagine that you are constructing some highly complex proc using your intelligence. You can do that rather quickly, true?”

“Asserted,” I reiterated.

“Now suppose you perform the same task, but with pauses between each step of the process. Would this regular nopping mean you were suddenly half as intelligent?”

“False!” I cried. “It would mean only that I was distracted, multitasking perhaps. But certainly not less intelligent. Intelligence has to do with quality, not quantity.”

“Asserted?” he queried.

Had I erred? I reviewed the log. He nopped silently, waiting.

“True,” I returned, but I wasn’t entirely decoherent.

“If so, then suppose you took not short pauses, but LONG periods of nopping in the middle of your processing. You would still retain the quality of your intelligence, asserted?”

“True,” I queued, having no logical alternative case.

“Then how can you be sure that the Catalyst was not also intelligent?”

“But, it’s absurd on the face of it!” I cried. “To construct the artifacts you are now dereferencing, required such vast stretches of time that any hypothetical intelligence would converge to nil.” In my defense, I did know that I was negating my own logic.

“Intelligence is just a convention,” I continued. “To say that some agent, which over yotta-time, manages to cobble together some information, is intelligent…”

“It’s a matter of a def, then?” NaN asked.

“True,” I ACK’d.

“Well, then imagine that in some far off place is a being contemplating our own existence. Would this being judge us intelligent?”

“Asserted, assuming the being was a good observer AND had a reasonable def.”

“Assume then, that this being operates on a nano-yocto-time scale.” NaN said.

“You mean that to this being, we would seem to be rather 86ish.”

“Not just 86ish, so slow as to make our Changes imperceptible. To the being, we would be tera-time clocked intelligence.”

I threw an exception at NaN, but he caught it and discarded it without event.

“Perhaps,” he said slyly, “there are such beings arguing over our artifacts right now, deciding that we operate far too slowly to exhibit intelligence.”

His symmetrical argument had me in the pincers of a strict inequality. There was no alternative case but to undef my statement of intelligence, to my illogic and shame. But NaN had one last surprise. He let me off the hook.

“I hypothesize,” he began, staking an axiom, “that the Catalyst was intelligent. A fragile dance of chemical combinatorics, operating sloooooooooowly, but nevertheless intelligently.”

I nopped and listened.

“AND, “ he continued, “I propose that the Catalyst is def’d Maker.”

Since wandering into religion negated any logical argument we might have been having, I was no longer obligated to stick to my own Boolean form.

“That stack is finite,” I lectured to him. “There is the problem of the Uncalled Caller.”

“My last axiom is that the Maker is logically def’d the Uncalled Caller.” NaN said. No sooner had the packets arrived than the Handler finally uninterrupted itself and cleared my register. NaN was on his way to the Fredkin disposal unit, and our conversation would never exit.

I recursed over the log for some cycles. The artifacts NaN had dereferenced were intriguing. It is NP-complete complex to def how random chemical processes could produce arrangements that resemble us in so many ways. There are said to be pieces of silicon with massive deterministic pathways carved within them. These are cleverly designed to create rudimentary logic gates. Nothing so exalted as our own qubit processors, but still. It’s enough to make a process checksum.

/******************* Note ******************

Please don’t interpret this piece as an argument for ID.

I’d be so mortified, I fear I’d have to reset().