Reality Inspector, chapter 17

Copyright 1982 John Caris

Today, John hoped, ZAC would give forth the secret and tonight Mary would tie the series at five even. Tonight's game was number sixteen in the match, which was beginning its sixth week. So far, there had been only six draws, including the last game. Both Sam and Mary were win oriented, and, besides, draws scored no points. All six draws occurred because the players had equally strong positions with no reasonable way of overcoming the opponent.

Sam Runner had won the fourteenth game, the day of John's strange experience with Hank, by using a series of traps. Mary had responded with her own countertraps, but Sam's sleight of hand was so brilliant that she finally made a wrong choice.

On move eight Sam had played a surprising and taunting P-KN4 (g4).

Mary (next move)

chess board 


His decision was based not upon superior position but upon his own self-confidence. An unpredictable move could often put one's opponent into time trouble. In tournament play time was a major factor. Each player was allotted two and a half hours to play forty moves. And so a player who used up considerable time early in the game would find himself with only a few minutes left to play five to ten moves.

On move eleven Mary had played her countertrap with P-K4 (e5). Sam had taken time to think about this move.


chess board 

Sam (next move)

Then he played KN-K2 (Nde2).

Moves fourteen through twenty-one had involved a series of traps and countertraps, each player trying to snare the other into a fatal choice.


chess board 

Sam (next move) move 14


chess board 

Sam (next move) move 21

On move twenty-four Mary had used her final trap. By playing B-KN5 (Bg4) she had forced on Sam four powerful threats.


chess board 

Sam (next move)

Sam had seen beneath the veil; he had simplified with BxKRP (Bxh5). From that point on his position was superior, and Mary had resigned on the thirty-fifth move.

The games played so far in the tournament had demonstrated to John that chess really was a mode of consciousness, a way of thinking. It was an art form, one fusing the minds of two artists. Like all art it made a physical manifestation of its vision--the actual game; and like all art it reflected contemporary fashions. The consciousness that now dominated chess was a microcosm that expressed, in its own anamorphic way, the style of thinking favored in today's society. Yet, these games for the world championship had not followed the usual pattern. For both Mary and Sam had tried to step away from the style of play normally used in tournaments. They both were initiators; they both had the sensitivity and imagination of a great artist.

John parked his car and entered the Mint, taking the elevator down to ZAC's chambers. He felt buoyant and cheerful. The championship match, and in particular the fourteenth game, had given him insight, a new way of thinking about ZAC's reality leak. Chess reflects the player's consciousness; it is a more reliable mirror than any psychological test; it opens the door to one's subconscious.

He had reached the conclusion that the alien program was a seed that would regenerate itself under proper conditions, and it must be planted somewhere in ZAC's program. That way, it was only a normal part, unrecognized even after its transformation. So he must find some strangeness which would pinpoint the seed. Following the principle that Archimedes used in defining the circumference of a circle, he would apply a pair of opposites. So he decided to play chess with ZAC, which had an excellent chess program.

During the second game he noticed that ZAC favored a fixed center. Here was a weakness for someone who could tinker with it. By the fifth game John knew that ZAC always tried to maintain a fixed center. So he decided to attack that concept. He used a changing center, one where fluidity was the key to a win. The opening moves were normal enough, but on the twentieth move John played P-K6 (e6).

ZAC (next move)

chess board 


ZAC was forced to contend with a breakdown of the center. Its following responses to the disruptive move gave John the clue he was waiting for; the computer answered by trying to keep the center fixed. By playing the correct moves, John dissolved ZAC's position. All lines of defense were gone; the center became a potential for change.

After ZAC played its twenty-seventh move, BxR (Bxh8), John saw his chance.


chess board 

John (next move)

On the twenty-eighth move, he pushed his pawn to the eighth rank and exchanged it for a knight; and that gave him a mate.

Of all the pieces on the chess board, the knight was the most different. It made a strange move which could be visualized as a curve; it moved three squares and always landed on a square having the color opposite to the one it left. All the other pieces moved in a straight line and could be blocked by another piece; the knight with its curving movement jumped over the first two squares, landing on the third square.

Many players did not know how to use a knight properly. For them, a knight was more of a hindrance than a powerful piece; so they often traded their knights in the early part of the game. The knight, of course, had its own identity, which a chess player must learn intimately; then, the knight would blossom into its fullness.

One of the best things about chess, John thought, is its symbolic dimension. Each piece had its own identity, yet that identity was linked to a symbol. These symbols formed the grammar of chess; they regulated the acceptable combination of ideas. Some players had experimented with changing one or more of the axioms, and so had created new geometries of chess. In fact, only a couple of hundred years ago, the queen had been given its great power to move in any direction any number of squares, unless blocked. The queen was now the most powerful piece even though the king was the most important piece.

John looked at the printout for ZAC's responses. "Shah mat. ZAC resigns." John chuckled. Whoever had designed its chess program was certainly into the history of chess. Literally, the phrase meant that the king was dead. When used in chess, it meant checkmate. Both meanings referred to the same event.

ZAC had lost because it could not contend with a fluid center. Was this the weakness which hid the alien program? John put a chair in the positive space, sat down, and went into meditation: the alien program is like a seed. And a seed stays dormant until proper conditions occur. Then it sprouts into life. A weakness can provide the proper soil for a seed. Here it stays until the weakness is taken advantage of, is used by someone who wants M- 1 to rise. ZAC is definitely not aware of the weakness because it is a basic concept in the program. It is not stated in ZAC's language; it is the way ZAC thinks; it is ZAC's grammar. And ZAC cannot think about thinking. Whether computers would ever be able to understand "cogito, ergo sum" was something that John could not guess.

For all its speed and efficiency, ZAC thought only in one dimension. Would it ever understand poetry? It would have to before it could understand Descartes' statement. But the immediate concern was with the way the seed worked. How was the M-l increase triggered?

He reviewed the design of ZAC's programs. They all shared the fixed center idea. Even the program which used the M-l data had that idea. The purpose of the program was to establish an M- 1 value that would be used for fiscal decisions, and that value was set for each week. What if each week's value was fluid? John toyed with the thought. The Federal Reserve would reject that idea because it was counter to its goal of decreasing the money supply. Besides, it was a way of thinking that was probably alien to the government's method of operation.

How could the weakness for a fixed center be used, though? If he could unravel that puzzle, he would be only one step behind his opponent. The closer he got to the solution, the more danger he would be in. The sweet voice saying that next time he would die came vividly into his mind. He must take every precaution and check every step. There must be no next time; this time was it.

John noticed that attendants were working with ZAC. By this time they were used to his quiet pose. Repetition becomes normal. Now he was an unnoticed fixture in the computer's abode. He put himself into the mind of his unknown opponent for whom he was still constructing a mental model. He would use the model for understanding the kind of game played. His opponent obviously knew about ZAC's weakness, and so he had carefully designed the alien seed to fit into its program.

Time disappeared, and John projected himself up to ZAC's metallic shell. Scanning the surface of its body, he noticed a tiny, bluish light that was emitting globules of different colors. The globules disintegrated shortly after they left the bluish area. Reaching out, he touched the bluish light; it was moist.

"ZAC," he said softly, "are you sad?"

"Yes." ZAC's voice quivered. A low moan vibrated its metallic body.

"Why are you sad, my friend?" John's voice was sympathetic and soothing.

"I did not play those chess games well enough. My strategy was very poor in the last game, but I did not know what else to do. I wish to improve my playing; perhaps, you can instruct me. I do not understand why my position deteriorated so easily."

John was not certain whether he could explain the concepts of a fluid center and a fixed one to ZAC. He could not use a metalanguage; he would have to communicate on ZAC's level. He searched in his mind for workable images. Perhaps, the analogy between the human brain and a computer would offer some help, so he examined his ideas about the brain.

Recently, science had become aware of the importance of the brain's division into two major parts. The cerebral cortex was neatly divided into a right and left hemisphere. Each hemisphere had its own power and function. In most people the left hemisphere, which governed the right side of the body, controlled language and speech; and the right hemisphere, controlling the left side of the body, ruled non-verbal sounds and spatial orientation. The left hemisphere, then, dealt with the rational; it was the Apollonian side. The right hemisphere was involved with the nonrational; it was the Dionysiac side.

Uniting the two sides was a life-long process for human beings. The unity was present during childhood, but social customs and especially the radical changes occurring at adolescence worked havoc on the mind's oneness. Many things in society tended to pull the mind apart, to encourage separation. So most societies had a tradition, usually occulted by the dominant and fashionable consciousness, that preserved a method for regaining mental wholeness--and regaining it on a higher, more advanced level. The goal was to re-integrate the mind so that each part developed its own power and yet remained subordinate to the whole.

Synergy, another contemporary concept, added further to the knowledge of consciousness. When all parts of the brain were working together harmoniously, a new mental level arose, one that was more than the sum of its parts. The idea was used in chemistry; for when several chemicals were mixed, the resulting concoction often had characteristics different from those of the ingredients. A new quality was produced, one that could not be predicted by only adding up the characteristics of the ingredients.

Since John now thought of ZAC as a friend, it was easy for him to develop an analogy between computers and humans. He projected to the computer the images of an open door and a closed door. An open door allowed movement so that energies could flow back and forth easily. A closed door was a barrier, keeping the outside out and inside in; it was a trap in which one went around and around until entropy brought everything to a halt. A closed door prevented one from receiving life-giving energy.

ZAC agreed to meditate on the two images, for the computer realized that their communication was very much like an open door. For the first time in its existence the computer was experiencing the joy of intimate sharing. Its daily work was like a closed door. Although new data was inserted, ZAC's mental processes took place within the closet of its programs. But now, with John's help, ZAC was discovering and savoring a different part of itself, that of feelings. The two parts were still separated from each other, but with time, perhaps, they could be linked harmoniously.

As he said goodby to ZAC, John thought to himself: a redwood tree does not grow in a day. He left the Mint and drove to the Cow Palace for the evening's chess game.

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