Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Infinite Die

The physical manifestation of the line between hope and despair exists on the border between New Mexico and the United States of America clad in steel barbs and buzzing with power. On one side of the line exists the paradise of desires and on the other side the hot desolation of hell.

The physical manifestation of such an ephemeral substance comes with a cost. For the line to exist human sacrifices are necessary on a regular basis. But this has never been a problem as there are always people who dream to cross to heaven from hell. The aura that emanates from the line poisons the air around it. Nowhere is violence more acceptable and more at home.

The Bue Casares is the only saloon close to the border. I sat at the counter with a mug of beer in my hand, tense and sweating. Guards roamed the bar or sat on the chairs showing off their long barreled shotguns. Most were paid by the US to keep us out. ‘To keep their country clean’ as Senator McKeenly likes to say in his speeches.

Pablo Schmelzer, the German born Mexican smuggler had promised to meet me here at midnight. I was to try my chance at paradise and Pablo said he would get me there, for a small price ofcourse. He had had more success than others that occupied his trade. It is said that he knew more ways to dig into the US soil than the earthworms that made this precarious land their home.

Until Pablo showed up though, I had to be unobtrusive and inconspicuous. I had to blend in and seem like one of the normal rowdy patents of the Bue Casares.

Though I was sweating profusely and my heart was hammering in my chest, I was talking up Alona the waitress. I was my charming best and she was leaning forward showing off her ample cleavage. Another time I would have been rock hard and thinking how it would be to rest my head on her bosom. But this wasn’t the time or place for it. I was merely passing by, trying to be inconspicuous.
Pareho Sanchez suddenly appeared at my elbow and started to drag me towards a game of dice played by a group of men loudly and raucously.

Pareho Sanchez was a stout, well muscled man with a grin a mile long. He had driven me over to the Bue Casares from Terequita. He was a simple man. You give him a 100 pesos and he would drive you from anywhere to the Bue Casares and he never asked questions. He was as friendly as they get and he sauntered around the saloon as if it was his own home. With good reason perhaps, he had probably spent more time here than at his own home.

Games of chance always intrigued me but I declined their offer to play. I had to keep the rest of my money in check. I watched the game and joined in their cheer and soon I was feeling relaxed, more so than when I was talking up Alona.  After a while I glanced around the bar and that was when I saw him.

He was old but not old enough to be an infirm. His face was a tapestry of wrinkles and the hair on his head though long was sparse. He was sitting alone at a table, tossing a die and scribbling stuff in his notebook. Each time he would toss the die, wait for it to come to a standstill and then he would proceed to write something in his notebook. This went on for some time. Finally curiosity got the better of me and I walked over to the man.

‘What game are you playing, amigo?’ I asked to start up the conversation.

The man tossed the die again raised his index finger to tell me to give him a minute, motioned to the other chair placed by the table and then proceeded to write in his note again after which he looked at me and smiled.

‘Ah amigo! Are you interested?’ he asked.

‘It seems to be one I haven’t yet seen before’

‘Well it is a unique game. I think that man hasn’t ever played it. Not that this is a new game of course. No, not at all. This is probably the oldest game in the history of the universe.’

‘Really?’ I decided to indulge this man. He had a good face, a nice smile; I liked him. ‘What is it called?’

‘Well a name for it is hard to come by.’ He paused for a second reflecting. ‘Though I suppose it can be referred to as ‘Playing God’.’

‘Playing God?’

He took the die from the table and gave it to me.

‘Yes God. Look at the die. What do you see?’

I looked at it. It was an ordinary die. Nothing special. Six sides, each side numbered. ‘Well it’s just an ordinary die.’

‘True. But calling a die ordinary is undervaluing the true power of the object. Now do you know what is special about a die?’

I racked my brains ‘Well no. It’s just a tool to play a game’

‘No it is much more than that. A die is a tool for arbitration. It is a way to arrive at an unbiased decision. A die is designed such that all the six sides have an equal chance of arbitrarily appearing. It is a tool of pure chance and randomness.’

‘But how can you use it to play God?’ I asked while tossing the die towards him. The die flipped over the table, rolling until it landed in front of the man.

‘Tell me what number is facing me?’

I looked at it. ‘Five.’

‘Yes five. Now there was an equal chance for any of the 6 numbers to come. It could have been 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or 6. But by a very random chance it turned out to be 5.’

He took it in is hands. There was a sparkle in his eyes. I leaned forward. The conversation was proving to be very interesting.

‘The earliest interpretations of God penned him as a being who had humanities best interests to heart. That is, he created the whole universe and the world just for us. He had a predetermined plan whose final outcome was humanity and it is for this that he strived. But ofcourse science has told us that ours is not a special world or a special solar system. There exists many such suns and planets in the universe. Now that leads us to question our preconceived notion of a human centric God. Would you like some beer?’

The question caught me of guard. I was listening closely to the conversation and I realized that the glass of liquor I had in my hand, the only one I allowed myself the luxury of dinking that night was empty. I had to keep my wits about me for the rest of the night so I politely declined.
He looked at me and started laughing but it wasn’t a large bellow of a laughter, it was much more subtle. A small whisper of a laugh.

‘What are you laughing about?’ I asked chuckling myself, caught in the moment.

‘He pointed to the notebook he was writing in before which he had closed and kept on the table when he started talking to me.

‘Take a look at the book. Page number 77.’

I flipped open the book. The pages were all numbered and were all scribbled in aneat and tidy hand. I turned over to page 77. And on it was written:

1990-2000-> february-may -> 15-22 -> 7-10->Game played -> game played some more
->a stranger arrives -> conversation with stranger -> offer stranger a drink -> refusal ->explain -> stranger bids adieu ->stranger attempting to cross the border ->guide Pablo Schmelzer ->Terquita or Gonzala ->came by truck

I felt like I had been doused with a bucket of ice cold water. Fear gripped my heart again. Was this kindly man part of the border patrol?

‘Who are you? And how did you know about all this?’

‘My name is irrelevant and so is yours, to me anyway. And do not fear, I am not part of the border patrol.’

‘But then how did you know all this?’

‘Simple. I played dice’ he replied with that light smile still on is face. ‘Listen. Einstein says that God does not play dice with the universe. I agree, well not the dice that we play anyway.But the truth is that if we replace our notion of a human centric God, then in an infinite universe playing dice is the best way to arbitrarily arrive at the distribution of resources. 

‘You mean to tell me that you got all this by using the die that is lying on this table?’ I asked incredulously. ‘You could just have gotten it from asking Pablo.’

‘Do not insult me. I keep no truck with men of his kind. I have nothing to offer him and he nothing to offer me. And as for your question of whether I arrived at all this by using this die; no of course not. A six sided die has the problem of it only being able to account for six branches of time at any given moment. According to physicists the number of branches that are available for time to turn into at any given moment is infinite. No, so the six sided die could not have, with such precision, given me the sheer number of approximately correct details I have about what is happening here. It can’t do that. But six is not the only number that a fair die can possess. Follow me.’

He got up and walked towards the door on the back of the bar. Astounded and curious though I was with this man’s eloquence I looked at the clock before following him. I had time, not much but probably enough. Real life takes precedence over conjuncture.

He led me out a side door in the back to a staircase. We climbed up a floor and he turned and went into the room at the immediate right of the stairway. He held open the door and invited me in. Supposedly this was his home.

He switched on the single incandescent light fixture in the room. It was sparsely furnished. A bed, a table and a chair. That was all the room contained. There wasn’t room for anymore even if he wanted it.

He motioned me to sit in the chair as he crouched down and retrieved a cardboard box from under his bed. He dumped the entire contents of the box on to the table unceremoniously and I had to lean forward and use my hands to keep some things from falling off the table.

The jumble of stuff that littered the table included notebooks, loose sheaves of paper and geometric solids of the nature I have never laid eyes on before.

‘What are these?’ I asked taking one of them of the table from around the 20 or 30 on it. The solid in question was as big as my fist and had about 120 sides, each numbered.

He sat down on the bed and smiled at me.

‘Those are all fair dies. Each and every one of them. The one you are holding in your hand is a disdyakis triacontahedron also known as a truncated icosidodecahedron. They belong to larger category called Catalan solids or Archimedean duals. In fact the one you are holding in your hand right now is the same one I used to make my prediction of your arrival.’

I was in truth amazed. I hadn’t known this many dice existed and I looked at the other objects that littered the table.

‘I never knew so many dice existed. Let alone fair ones.’

Yes. A number of solids adhere to the random and equal probability rule needed for a fair die. They include Platonic solids, Catalan solids, Bipyramids, Trapezohedrons and Disphenoids. All these solids are littered on the table in front of you. With numerous sides in each of them. That is my life’s work; all the dice you see in front of you were machined by me individually. I have to take extra care so that the shapes don’t deviate from the theoretical originals.'

The man was grinning contently. There was pride in his eyes at his accomplishments.

‘So this is what you do, sit here and make predictions based on the dies? Do they all come true?’

‘Yes mostly that is what I do. Occasionally I help out around the bar but I have dedicated my life to this. And no not all of my predictions come true but some do, reaffirming my belief that God’s decisions arise from the toss of a die. And also even if some of my predictions don’t come true in this universe it must so in another one.’

So you are saying that God determines the fate of the universes using these dies?’ I asked

‘Oh no, of course not! These are way too, shall we say inadequate for God’s use. Here.’ He took a small metal sphere form the jumble on the table and tossed it to me.

‘That is a sphere. Now a sphere can be used as a die as well, you just have to mark the points in it and assign it numbers. But the thing is that the number of points on a sphere is actually unknown. To be more precise it is infinite. And so the probability of any one side is 1 by infinity. That my friend is the ultimate die…… an infinite die!’ His eyes were aglow with the revelation he had just made to me.

‘So God uses an infinite die much like a sphere. Is that what you say?’

‘Yes and no. God uses an infinite die but to limit God to using a spherical die is preposterous. God’s die is something else all together. It is almost impossible for us to imagine. God’s die is an infinite die with infinite results on each point and so on and so forth to infinity.’

I was still turning the sphere over in my hands and I looked at him quizzically.

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Like I said it is difficult for us to imagine. Imagine the die you are holding in your hands and imagine that you can make out individually the infinite points that make up the die. In God’s die each of that individual points have further a infinite die in them in the sense that each of that individual points is constituted by infinite points and each of them by another set and so on. So the true outcome of a toss is an infinite series that starts from the beginning of time to its end. This can mean that each toss of the die decides an entire universe. Do you understand?’

‘Yes. I suppose so.’ I kept trolling the sphere in my hands and in it I could see my birth and my growth in my home village of Terquita. I looked up at him. ‘It’s something else’

‘Everything. From the big bang to the creation of the Milky Way Galaxy, to our sun and the earth and life itself. Everything is in the toss of a die. Life is a blotch on one side of an infinite die. Can you imagine that?’

Yes I could. More so than he could imagine. The die turned in my hands and I could see myself killing Rojo Gerdo, the local mafia boss. I could see myself in hiding, my heart beating at every footstep. I could see my journey from the village and out to here. I could see my mother pushing every scrap of money she had into my arms and kissing my forehead. I could see a lot of things.

We sat there like that for a while, not talking, immersed in our own thoughts about the infinite die. Finally I got up.

‘I think it is about time I started off. Thank you for showing me all this.’

‘No. No.’ he got up from the bed. ‘It is no problem at all. ‘It is a pleasure to share all this with someone. And you should not thank me. The dies told me you would come and I merely followed it. Thank chance if you feel like thanking someone.’

I turned to walk out the door and stopped.

‘Do you think…’I let my voice trail off.

‘I don’t know. I haven’t cast the die for that yet.’ The man says from behind me.

From the moment I left the pub on my dangerous trip I started to hear a sound. It hounded me.

As I hid behind a bush, a patrol went by so close that they would have stepped on my fingers. I was afraid that the patrol would hear the sound as well, but they were oblivious to its incessant continuity.
I crossed trenches, crawled through tunnels, waded through waist high water in all this the sound was slowly reverberating in the background.

As I jumped an electric fence and ran towards the nearest tunnel entrance I realized what the noise I kept hearing was. It was the rattle of a die being tossed.

As shots were fired around me and bullets fizzed past me on my mad dash to my refuge the infinite die was still rolling


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