Nature Future Conditional

Guest post by Stewart C Baker: the story behind the story

It is rare that an instruction manual appears in Futures, but this week we have been sent information that is so important for all of you who have purchased a quantum disambiguator that we really needed to get it out there. And fast. If you are thinking about using your new toy,  you really do need to read How to configure your quantum disambiguator, as failure to do so could have difficult and dangerous consequences. We are indebted to author Stewart C Baker for bringing this important information to our attention and for his detailed explanation of how he found it. You might wish to review the published text before reading the additional information below:

Writing How to configure your quantum disambiguator

The author, according to Roland Barthes, is dead, and writing is more a matter of multiple, conflicting sources coalescing in the mind of each reader than it is of any individual genius.

As an author myself, I am happy to report that the rumours of our collective death are exaggerated.  On the other hand, the idea of multiple, conflicting texts appeals to me.  I’ve always been drawn to stories like Stanislaw Lem’s Memoirs found in a Bathtub, and the surreal, absurdist existentialism of Kafka’s The Trial and The Castle.  To stories that build themselves up and tear themselves apart at the same time, and that peel back the essential strangeness of this thing we call reality.

For How to configure your quantum disambiguator, I wanted to see if I could reach that Kafkaesque space while making people laugh — or at least chuckle.

The inspirations of the story are definitely multiple, and they definitely conflict.  Here are just a handful:

• An American cartoon from the 1990s called Ren and Stimpy, which was definitely not intended for children.  In one episode (“Space Madness”), there is a big, shiny red button called the ‘History Eraser Button’, which does about what you’d expect.  The narrator spends about two minutes describing how dangerous it is, and how shiny it is, and how lovely it might feel if one were to push it, with results that are not too surprising.

• Popular conceptions of the many-worlds interpretation.  Goatee-wearing evil twins and all.

• Exquisitely murky technical writing.  As a writer, I take a sort of perverse enjoyment out of manuals that seem to contradict one another and that were apparently written section by section and then smashed together to form a not-too-coherent whole.  It takes a special kind of skill, I think, to make a document that’s supposed to be helpful into something that’s more frustrating than no instructions at all.

• Wikipedia, specifically for the ‘disambiguation’ concept.  And, of course, for the idea that a text might not be quite as authentic as it claims, and might have been altered by people with an axe to grind.

Regardless of how my sources coalesce in your mind, I hope you enjoy How to configure your quantum disambiguator.  And do please mind the button.  Although … maybe a little push wouldn’t hurt?   Just a tiny one?


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