The ocean moved out in the dark. Coming down the beach, I heard it and it got louder and louder the further from the city I walked. It felt like the end of everything: darkness, waves emitting all frequencies known by the neural system in our heads, and underneath it a force older than language applied right to the scared human heart.
"Cliff -- it feels like the end of the world."
"It feels like manifest destiny, to me." Across the sand I saw Cliff's cigarette, a orange button in the dark. "Our own personal manifest destiny."
We had just finished driving from Long Island to San Francisco. I was about to start school in LA and he was going back to Cambridge. That's where he would work in the lab with Thomas Chen, and start his work on generative deep learning algorithms. We would lose touch.
Today we were at Ocean Beach. The coast was dotted with bonfires with kids and adults come to be by the Pacific in the dark. I felt a similar when we were in Alaska, looking at the raw young mountains by the harbor. Then I said it was like looking at where the world was born.
"But maybe the world is born inside the brain and the rest is a conversation," he said. "Between whatever's outside -- some limitless, undifferentiated lump -- and how the wet particles inside carve it up."
"I don't know."
"How can you not think about it?"
"I do. But the more I think about it, the more I don't know."
The shot didn't kill him. Dr. Klein was coming to, and first the world was bright and gauzy and then he could see a dumpster. He smelled garbage, and something tasted like copper on his tongue. His right side, under his arm, was bandaged and the bandage was bloody. It hurt in a way that made him worried.
Dr. Klein got to his feet. Where was he? Outside the alley the street spilled into Market Street and then towards City Hall. It was Philadelphia. He didn't know this yet. Meanwhile Cliff was in the basement lab. The computers were producing heat with every calculation. Everything has its price. They were learning, and the wires strapped to Cliff's skull gave them the pattern of information they needed. Cliff taught the machine to learn how to learn. They did not need to be told what they were learning. From the massive amount of data that came from his skull, transmitted electrically into a digital signal, the machines monitored the amplitude and frequency of the sampled pulses. From there, higher level features were extracted, and Cliff did not need to tell the machines what they were. They knew how to organize the data, like a statue waiting inside a block of marble. They waited, and then they dug.
"I don't want to go back. I like it here."
"Yeah, that's easy to say when you're here with no work and nothing to do but get high and look at things."
Cliff inhaled deeply.
"That's true, that's true." He passed me the joint. "But when I'm out here, it feels like the rest of my life back there is a dream. This feels much more real."
Now I inhaled.
"It's the weed. It has a way of making me feel like the world is more itself when I'm on it." I exhaled. "That's why I can't keep doing it, not after this."
Cliff looks thoughtful.
"Enjoy it now, my friend. Cheers."
"What about Shaina?"
"What about her?"
"She's back there... does that feel like a dream?"
"That... I don't know what that feels like. I don't want to think about it right now. Right now I am looking at the those stars over the Pacific and I am thinking, the mind is wider than the sky, right? Because it can hold the sky inside..."
"The sky is holding me. And God is holding the sky."
"My mind is holding God."
"No, God is what your can't hold."
"I know. Give me another hit."
I forgot my ATM card so I have to go back, but the streets are confusing and I keep taking the wrong turn. Everyone around me is in a good mood, it's Christmas time in Little Italy, it looks like. I see all the lights and someone says, "What a year for love!" But I am getting nervous, I hope my card is there so I pick up the pace. Then all at once I turn into a street and it's totally empty. At the end is a light and I think that it's the ATM so I go towards it but someone is after me, I can feel him. I know he has a knife and if he get close I'll get stabbed. I keep moving faster and then start to run but I heard footsteps and they are moving fast. I am almost at the ATM when I realize it's not an ATM at all, it's a glass house full of Christmas lights. I open the door and inside it's so bright, I can barely see but I think I hear my name and then Cliff is there, he tries to stab me but he's moving slow like he's stuck in molasses so I can get around him. I wonder why he's moving so slow and then I realize that this is a dream. I decide if I am dreaming I can do anything and so I fly up and away from Cliff and straight through the roof of the glass house. Then I wake up, alone and sweating.