Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Jiffy

This week’s Futures story is Jiffy, by George Zebrowski and Charles Pellegrino. The story takes a look at our Universe from a fresh perspective — a perspective that offers a somewhat disconcerting view. Here George and Charles explain the thought processes behind the tale. As ever you should read the story before diving in.

Writing Jiffy

George Zebrowski: Jiffy emerges from a certain kind of imaginative perversity, an impulse that I am sure many scientists and science-fiction writers feel, that the Universe might be otherwise than the one we know, that perhaps something may go wrong with the vastness in which we swim. I’m reminded of Ernst Mach’s idea that gravity may be due to some large acceleration of the Universe as a whole, or that once it seemed that ships might sail over a vast torrential falls at the Earth’s edge.

Our story refers to the world below our senses, in the microverse, for which we devise measurements useful in our perceptual realm, to suggest a final threat to our existence, to face our human emotions with an inescapable ending that our senses cannot experience even while our intellects comprehend.

Curious, that we can say this much — something but not everything, to recall Richard Feynman’s view of the sciences.

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Charles Pellegrino: George started this abstract fantasy of the ‘flicker’, observed down at the quantum level of manifolds and ‘Branes’. Sometimes, when George and I are on the phone or thrown into the same room, it’s like throwing hypergolic propellants together and one never knows where the explosions of scientific speculation will end up. If you read between the lines of Jiffy — a fun thought experiment on the size of things — and if you consider the approach of a universal tragedy rendered directly observable in 11-dimensional space-time, think back again to the old question about the observer influencing the observed.


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