When something impossible happens

From: Gordon Worley (redbird@mac.com)
Date: Tue Jan 22 2008 - 10:47:55 MST

I wrote the following thinking it might be a post for Overcoming
Bias. Instead, I think it's more appropriate for SL4.

What would you do if something impossible happened? Not "impossible"
like when something unlikely happens and you say "Wow, that was
impossible!" but something that has so little chance of happening that
it shouldn't happen. The following story presents one possible

Ideally most readers here won't need the epilogue, but I wrote it
after I finished the story since I thought someone, especially the
average OB reader, might need it. Comments and suggestions welcome.

by Gordon Worley

John shifted one inch to his left. Naturally, he was surprised since
he hadn't meant to, and was sure he hadn't taken a step, been pushed,
or otherwise had any expected reason to find himself an inch to the
left of where he had been just seconds ago.

He was standing in the candy aisle of a deserted SuperGas convenience
store, looking for something high in sugar and fat to keep him on the
road. Tired, he thought maybe he imagined the spontaneous shift, a
product of too many hours staring at an endless stream of white
stripes. But no, that would be lying to himself. He was sure he had
moved one inch to the left.

He grabbed a candy bar full of carmel and nuts and walked up to the
cashier. She looked like a college student, working nights to pay her
way. At first she didn't notice him because her dark brown hair
shielded her eyes as she studied a tabloid article about which
celebrities had the best and worst swimsuit bodies of the summer. He
cleared his throat and she looked up.

"Find everything you need?"

"Yes," John replied.

He hesitated for a moment and then said "Did you see what just

"What do you mean?"

"Did you see what I just did? How I spontaneously shifted one inch to
the left?"

Her confusion, and a little fear, showed on her face. John knew he
must sound like a nut job, but she was his only possible witness.

"No, sorry," she said. "I was busy reading. Did you want to buy that?"

"Oh, yes," said John, having forgotten the candy bar in his left hand.

"That'll be one oh five."

John dug in his right pocket for cash. He found a crumpled dollar
bill quickly, but it took him a few seconds to find a nickel.

"Here you go," he said.

"Thanks," she said, not looking up from the register.

John turned to leave but then stopped. He knew it was crazy, but he
was sure he had shifted one inch to the left. He turned back to the
cashier, who he now noticed had a name tag with "Beth" written on it,
and asked "do you have a surveillance system in the store?"

Her fear growing, she sputtered out a "yes".

"No no, I don't mean it like that. I don't want to rob the store or
anything. But it's important; do you have one?"

"Yes," she said, agitation tinging her voice.

"Can I see the tape of myself standing in the candy aisle?"

"No, you can't," she replied coldly. "I don't have access to the
tapes, and even if I did, I wouldn't show them to you. Look, I'm sure
you think it's funny to mess with a gas clerk, but I'm really not in
the mood for it."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. It's just... I think something
impossible just happened to me and I'm very confused and a little
scared and I just wanted to see the tape so I could reassure myself
that nothing unusually had happened."

"Why does it matter," Beth inquired.

"I don't know, it just does. Some people like to go through life
accepting mystery, but I don't. I like to know the truth. I need to
know it. And if I don't find out what really just happened to me, I'm
going to spend the rest of my life haunted by the idea that something
impossible happened."

John could see her softening. Maybe she was taking pity on him.
"Fine," she said, "I lied. I do have access to the tapes. We can
watch it in the back office."

John breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks," he said. "I'm John, by the


He started to extend his hand, but his startled her and he pulled his
hand back quickly.

"Sorry, force of habit, I guess. I shake hands all day at work."

"It's okay, but watch yourself," she said. "I've got mace and a
taser, so don't try anything funny."

John was going to apologize again, but before he could she gave him a
"come on" hand motion and walked toward the back of the store. John
followed and they met at the end of the counter. She led the way,
taking him to an unmarked door just past the beer freezer. She held
up a key she must have kept behind the counter and unlocked the door.
She opened it, turned on the lights, and didn't look back as she went
in. John caught the door as the spring-loaded hinge swung it shut and
followed her in.

The office wasn't more than a closet with a desk and two chairs. The
desk was covered with a mess of paperwork. On the corner of the desk
was a small TV that was displaying in black and white the surveillance
video of the store. They each took a seat.

Beth dug through the papers and eventually found a remote. She aimed
it at the TV and rewound the video. They wanted John walked backwards
to the candy aisle, stand there for a while, and then walk backwards
out of it. She hit the play button and John leaned in to make sure he
soaked in every detail.

He only had to wait a few seconds. Sure enough, at time mark 4:15:86,
he could be seen to spontaneously shift one inch to the left.

"Holy shit!"

John turned to look at Beth.

"I didn't really believe you," she said, "but it actually happened.
You were in one spot and then just popped over an inch."

"Yeah, it did," John said flatly.

"What? Why do you seem so troubled? When I took freshman physics we
learned that just this sort of thing can happen. It's called quantum
tunneling, I believe."

"Yes," said John, "but do you remember what the odds of that happening

"Sure. Our teacher said that the chances were small, but that it was
an observed effect."

"On the particle level. The chances of a single particle tunneling
are small, but not so small that it never happens. But a larger
object, even something as small as a sugar cube, is made up of so many
particles that even if one particle tunnels away the sugar cube
appears unaffected. In order for the entire sugar cube to tunnel,
every particle must simultaneously tunnel exactly the same distance in
exactly the same direction."

"Right, but it's still possible."

"Not really. With millions of particles, such an event is already so
unlikely that we may as well say that it will never happen. The
chance of a human tunneling even one inch is so remote that you would
sooner expect to win the lottery and then be struck by an asteroid
being ridden by a rubber chicken on your way to collect the prize."

"Yeah, but it could happen."

"You don't get it, do you. The great 'mystery' of the universe is
that not one unusual thing has ever happened...ever!"

"So," said Beth, "I guess that makes what happened to you a miracle."

"But miracles don't happen. At least, they shouldn't. Not unless..."


"Not unless we're living in a simulation."


Beth made a copy of the tape and sold it to the local TV station. The
network took interest, and soon the entire country was watching John
shift one inch to the left, late at night, in a SuperGas convenience
store. John appeared on national talk shows where he explained what
happened. Soon, he was getting calls from foreign stations asking him
for interviews. Each time he appeared he told the same story, about
how something impossible happened. And each time, when asked why he
thought it happened, he explained how it implied that we were living
in a simulation.

Religious groups claimed it was a miracle. Some scientists admitted
it was possible and chalked it up to chance. Other scientists took it
to mean that their theories were wrong and set to work trying to
discover a better model for the universe. And a very few people
realized that John was right.


Meanwhile, at Glork's workstation, an amber light flashed, indicating
that Simulation 19,845,658,304 had a bug, causing its inhabitants to
realize that they were in a simulation. Glork sighed. This would
mean the loss of billions of years of computer time, but he had no
choice, and flipped the reset switch.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
                Gordon Worley
e-mail: redbird@mac.com PGP: 0xBBD3B003
   Web: http://homepage.mac.com/redbird/

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