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Chapter 8: Night

‘You know what you were saying the other day about how maybe the universe is part of a brain, or something?’ TM asked. Aster nodded. She was sprawled out on TM and Veggie’s couch, Michel Furcoat lounging on her chest.

‘Yeah, vaguely.’ She opened one eye to look at him, blowing strands of hair so fair that it was almost silver out of her face. TM liked being able to see her face. She had small, neat features, placed just the right distance from each other, and sharp teeth that showed when she gave the wicked grin that had first attracted TM to her.

‘I was just thinking about it, I guess.’

‘Good for you.’

‘How do you think that would work?’

Aster propped herself up on her elbows. Michel Furcoat slinked down the incline of her torso and settled himself in her lap. ‘What, like, mechanically?’

‘Intellectually, I guess.’

‘As in, how would something like the universe be able to generate something like intelligence and consciousness?’

‘Yeah, that.’

Aster thought about it. Michel Furcoat looked as if he might be considering the matter too, but was probably just sleepy. TM found himself wishing Maurice Meow-Ponty were around; it was a cold day, they could never afford heating, and the feline occupant of Aster’s lap looked like he might serve as a reasonably effective hot water bottle. ‘I don’t know if there’s an answer to that,’ she said slowly, ‘but I’m not sure it’s a question that makes sense to ask, either.’

‘How come?’

‘I think it might be one of those things you just have to run with,’ she said. ‘I mean, you’re welcome to try to work out how the universe could give rise to a mind, but you haven’t really got a starting point because there’s no real way of saying how something like a brain can give rise to a mind either.’

‘That’s kind of debatable, isn’t it?’

‘Well, yeah, but the debate’s never going to be won definitively. We’re using our minds to try to learn about our minds. It’s self-reflecting. It’s never going to get beyond itself. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, necessarily,’ she added, seeing TM’s look of thoughtful dismay. ‘What I’m trying to get to is that we haven’t really got a hope of understanding how an assortment of electrical signals and neurons and basically just matter come together to generate something as unique as consciousness. Yeah, we can map parts of the brain to what they do, but that’s changing the paradigm and looking only at the constituent parts, forgetting that sentience is totally unlike anything else that exists.’

TM listened quietly.

‘So there’s no way we can say that a different assortment of bits of matter, arranged in such a way that forces between them acted on each other – electrical signals, or gravity or electromagnetism or nuclear forces or whatever – there’s no way we can know whether a mind could arise out of that. So we can’t say it definitely couldn’t.’

‘It wouldn’t be the same sort of mind as the one we have, would it? If it was different matter and forces that were… making the framework.’

‘Who knows?’ Aster shrugged, gently so as not to disturb Michel Furcoat. ‘Who even knows that every person has the same sort of mind as every other person?’

‘I guess… you can’t put minds into sorts anyway, right?’ TM said carefully. Aster never made him feel dumb, or judged him for saying something, but she did have a way of coming out with stuff that was so far over his head that he felt self-conscious trying to articulate any sort of idea in case it fell short of the high bar she had set. ‘Every mind can only really know one mind, and that’s itself.’

‘Bingo,’ she said, snapping her fingers. ‘You can’t categorise minds, because nobody has any idea whatsoever what anyone else’s mind is actually like.’

‘So it’s basically meaningless to say that the universe could have the same or different type of consciousness that we do.’

‘Or to say that it couldn’t.’

TM scratched his head. ‘Do you just think about this stuff all the time?’

‘Pretty much,’ she admitted. ‘Don’t you?’

‘I think I might vaguely wonder about it, but I don’t think I often get very far.’

‘Nothing wrong with being occupied with doing life,’ Aster said. ‘I don’t get things done as quickly as most people, so maybe spending too much time thinking about the world and forgetting to live in it isn’t always practical.’

‘That reminds me,’ TM said suddenly. ‘We’re out of cat food.’

TM awoke suddenly to see Ziggy’s face peering down at him.

‘Er,’ he said, blinking.

‘Hi,’ said Ziggy. Then she closed her eyes – TM imagined that he could feel the ever-so-light brush of her eyelashes displacing air, a tiny breeze winding its way to his face – and leaned in.

‘Whoa, whoa whoa,’ TM spluttered, putting his hands firmly on her shoulders. ‘What are you… er…?’

Ziggy looked down at him, wide-eyed. ‘I thought…’

TM sat up. She shuffled back, sitting on her feet at the end of the sofa. ‘It’s okay,’ he told her. ‘Just… why did you think..?’

Ziggy rubbed her forearms as if trying to keep all of her limbs as close to her as possible. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. TM couldn’t see well enough through the darkness to be sure, but it sounded as if she were biting her lip.

‘Hey,’ TM said. He rolled out from underneath the Bedsheet-Tablecloth-Whiteboard and draped it around her with one arm, sidling up beside her. ‘It’s okay.’

‘I just thought this was what people did,’ Ziggy said quietly. ‘To say thank you, or to show some sort of feeling, to let you know how much I appreciate how good you’re being to me…’

TM sighed, rubbing his face with his free hand. ‘It’s more complicated than that,’ he said slowly. ‘People… do this together… when they really love each other. They really want it to mean something.’

‘I want to have that,’ Ziggy said, staring off. ‘To be a person, with another person.’

‘I get that,’ TM said, and pulled her closer. ‘I think wanting that might be one of the most human things you could feel. But it’s got to be the right person, and the right time, and I don’t think me and right now constitute that, you know?’

She nodded.

‘I don’t want you to think it’s because I don’t like you or something,’ TM said quickly. She rested her head on his shoulder and looked up at him; strands of her hair fell down the neck of his T-shirt, tickling his skin.

‘Oh, I know that,’ she told him. ‘I think you and Veggie might like me more than anyone else in the world ever has.’

TM grinned. ‘I reckon we might do.’

‘Thanks for not letting me do something that’s meant to be meaningful without really thinking about it,’ Ziggy said. ‘And thanks for everything. You two are my first friends, I think.’

‘So you’ve got no other experience of friends to compare it to, meaning we could be the worst friends ever.’

‘I doubt that. Anyway, I think I might have made three more today.’

‘Oh, well, you can compare us to Derrida, then.’

Ziggy made no sound, but TM felt her shoulders bob gently. He thought that meant she was laughing, which was probably a good thing. ‘Oh, hang on,’ he said. ‘You didn’t… try to do this with Veggie, did you?’

‘I did, actually,’ Ziggy said. ‘He said no, too. Think he was considering it a bit more than you did, though.’

‘He’s alright, really,’ TM said.

‘He is,’ she agreed.

When TM looked down at her again a minute later, she was asleep on his shoulder.

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