Sunday
Mar022014

Spielberg's Unified Theory of Everything

James Brubaker


 

Because this character, this boy, is not the Spielberg, simply a Spielberg, he will not grow up and make movies called Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., and Saving Private Ryan. Even if the boy named Spielberg grew up to make films, he would not make those films because the Spielberg has already made those films. This is immaterial, though, because the boy named Spielberg will not make movies at all. The boy named Spielberg will do other things that do not involve making movies. When he is eleven, the boy named Spielberg will win a spelling bee when he correctly spells the word "gallimaufry". When asked for a definition, the moderator says, "a hodgepodge, a jumble," and Spielberg knows exactly what that means. When he is sixteen, the boy named Spielberg will be mugged while delivering pizzas and his boss will not believe him, will think he stole the money and blackened his own eye. When he is eighteen, the boy named Spielberg will have sexual intercourse with a twenty-four year old college senior whom he does not love, and who does not love him back. After that, the boy named Spielberg, who by then will be more the man named Spielberg, will study mathematics and physics, earn degrees in those fields, and teach at universities for most of his life. When he is sixty-one, Spielberg will present a paper describing his Unified Theory of Everything.

 

When the boy named Spielberg is six, I have made it so that he will become the boy whose mother died in a car crash when he was six years old.

 

As I am the creator of the character named Spielberg, and am responsible for the circumstances of said character's life, I am worried that it is cruel of me to end the boy's mother's life when he is so young. While I'd argue that the death of the boy named Spielberg's mother is a crucial beat in his development as a character, I feel a profound sense of guilt at the invention of her demise. I know this is an absurd notion because the boy named Spielberg is a fiction, and fictions aren't sentient. They have neither feelings nor thoughts of their own, do not mourn on their own time, do not miss the people they have lost unless made to do so by their authors. So, why do I worry?

 

When the teenager named Spielberg is fifteen, he will meet a girl named Amber with whom he will begin a relationship. Amber will feel sad for Spielberg because she cannot imagine what it would be like to grow up without a mother, and so she will try to take care of Spielberg by bringing packed lunches to school for him and doing his laundry. After Spielberg and Amber date for two months, they will make out at a park and, with a surprised grunt and a sigh, Spielberg will come in his pants. Amber, knowing that this isn't uncommon among fifteen-year-old boys with little to no sexual experience, will try to comfort him, but Spielberg will be too embarrassed, will run away, leaving Amber alone, angry at being abandoned. After a month of profuse apologies and penance, Spielberg and Amber will make out again, this time in the basement of Amber's parents' house. Spielberg will be determined not to prematurely ejaculate again, but after twenty minutes of kissing, Amber will pull slightly away and lick Spielberg's upper lip and the boy's body will involuntarily jerk and he will curse. When he stands up, Spielberg will look down at the wet spot on the front of his pants and be angry at himself for having so little control over his body. Spielberg will leave Amber's basement and not talk to her ever again.

 

In the year 2040, the man named Spielberg will work with a group of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider beneath the border of France and Switzerland. Decades before Spielberg begins his collaborations, researchers at the Collider will have already discovered the Higgs boson, and several other particles of the Higgs family, including the Wade boson, the Sisk boson, the Cat-Burglar boson, the HAL boson, the Volpe boson, the Tlön boson, the Uqbar boson, and, with the help of Spielberg himself, the Spielberg-No-Not-That-Spielberg boson. Using this information, the man named Spielberg will prove the existence of supersymmetry, which will help him formulate his hypothetical Theory of Everything, based on Edward Witten's M-theory. Subsequently, Spielberg will apply supersymmetry to Witten's theory, which posits that other versions of string theory represent specific behaviors within a larger set of ideas. Spielberg's tests of M-theory will reveal the existence of as many as eleven dimensions—seven of them curled, obscured from perception—temporarily "proving" that his Theory of Everything is correct. Spielberg will demonstrate M-theory's ability to predict the vibrational patterns and behavior of the various strings that make up String Theory, meaning that the behavior of every particle in the universe can be predicted. Once Spielberg's ideas are tested and, as far as Spielberg can tell, confirmed, he will marvel at the elegant simplicity of the system he has discovered: "We have deciphered the raw material of nature's craft so that we might begin to unlock the truth of the grand narrative that is our universe." There will be opposition to Spielberg's claims, both from religious extremists, who reject the notion that science could explain mysteries for which only God can be credited, and from other scientists, who will question the accuracy and thoroughness of Spielberg's predictive tests, some even claiming that there exist far more than eleven dimensions, meaning that Spielberg's theory doesn't even begin to describe the depth and breadth of our existence. Still, the majority of physicists and popular media outlets will champion Spielberg's theory, proclaiming that science has finally solved the mysteries of our existence. The New York Times will even go so far as to publish a headline that reads, "Spielberg Solves Universe."

 

When the boy named Spielberg is twelve, he will believe in ghosts and lose sleep. After an older math teacher, a woman named Booth, scolds the boy for sleeping in class, he will tell her that a ghost lives in his house. "The ghost is my mother," Spielberg will say, "She comes to me when I'm in bed and can't sleep." Booth, who won't yet know that Spielberg's mother is dead, will initially interpret this as a possible sign of abuse, until she talks to the guidance counselor and learns that Spielberg's mother has been dead for six years. The next time Spielberg falls asleep in class, Booth will not disturb him until the bell rings. When Spielberg doesn't stir, despite the bell's clangor and the additional commotion of his peers packing their bookbags, Booth will shake the boy's shoulder. Spielberg will raise his head, wipe sleep from his eyes, and look at Booth. He will say, "The ghost." And Booth: "You know that ghosts aren't real." And Spielberg: "Of course ghosts are real. They are dead people with unfinished business." Booth will tell Spielberg that ghosts are just stories in books and movies and in sensationalistic shows on cable television designed to scare people into having fun and make them less scared about dying. "I saw her," Spielberg will say. And Booth will ask: "What is the ghost's unfinished business, then?" And Spielberg: "She's my mom." And Booth: "You're not unfinished business." To which the boy will say, "She needs to finish raising me." Then Booth will ask if a mother raising her son, who wants the best for her son, would scare that son into staying awake at night so that the son can't sleep or concentrate on his homework or stay awake in math class. Spielberg will be confounded, will not know how to answer Booth's question because the ghost itself is already an answer to a different question that the boy is too afraid to ask. After the encounter with his math teacher, the boy named Spielberg will stop believing in ghosts.

 

For much of his life, Spielberg will intuit, but not explicitly know, that there is a hole at the center of everything, with everything being the sum of his life's parts. If Spielberg understood this hole better, perhaps he could discern the thing's true nature, its shape and origin, and recognize his resulting behavioral patterns. But Spielberg is too busy trying to fill his warped idea of that hole with stories and theories that explain the universe and its happenings to understand that those things can only ever describe but never fill that hole. If Spielberg were narrating this story himself, we would think of him as an unreliable narrator and tease meaning from the subtext created by the gap between his attempts to make meaning of the world around him and the original source of his pain. Since I am narrating this story, though, this disconnect should be readily apparent.

 

Shortly before the boy named Spielberg's mother dies, she will show him E.T. by that other, famous Spielberg. When E.T. is sick and Elliot feels the things that E.T. is feeling, the boy named Spielberg will struggle to understand what is happening until his mother explains the empathetic connection between the two fictional characters. When Spielberg's mother dies, though he won't remember the exact words she used when explaining E.T., the boy will think he is experiencing multiple empathetic bonds with those around him, and that the sadness he feels is everybody else's, not his own. Spielberg will think this because it will be the first time he experiences so intense and sustained a sadness, and so he makes, or rather borrows, a story to explain it.           

 

When the young man named Spielberg is twenty years old and studying math and physics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he will get stoned in the middle of the day with a townie named Kelly and the two will lie down in a small, secluded park to mess around and watch the sky slowly change shape. When planes fly overhead, Kelly will point to the contrails, those thin, white lines trailing behind, and tell Spielberg that they will be the end of all things. Spielberg will laugh and Kelly will become deathly serious, slide her hand down Spielberg's pants, and tell him that those trails—chemtrails, she will call them—are seeding Earth's atmosphere with conductive materials that will be used by HAARP to turn the skies into an enormous electromagnetic weapon. Spielberg will ask, "What is HAARP?" and Kelly will tell him all about the High-frequency Active Aural Research Program. She will tell him about the grid of antennae in a secluded part of Alaska that, in pictures, looks like a field of metal crosses poised to set the sky on fire. Even though this sounds absurd, the combination of the young man named Spielberg's predilection toward filling mysterious absences with narrative, the effects of the weed, and the surprisingly long handjob Kelly gives him—she's not used to stoned young men needing quite so much stimulation before finishing—while telling him about chemtrails and HAARP, makes the web of intrigue seem not just plausible but comforting, and a little bit sexy, too. After that, Spielberg will get stoned, daily. His class work will suffer, but not enough to cause him any real trouble. He will lie in the grass outside of his dormitory, sometimes alone, and sometimes with Kelly, and watch the chemtrails seed the sky. Spielberg will imagine himself swimming in the chemtrails, drinking the chemtrails, breathing the chemtrails, becoming the chemtrails.

Before long, Spielberg will begin telling his friends that government fluoridation of water supplies is an attempt to make people less intelligent, that MK Ultra is still happening, and that peak oil is a hoax. Using photographic evidence—the ways shadows fall, the positions of stars in the sky—he will convince his friends that the moon landing was faked. He will never come out and say it directly, but the young man named Spielberg will sometimes insinuate that September 11 was an inside job. Whenever somebody challenges any of Spielberg's conspiracy theories, especially the one regarding September 11, Spielberg will cite Northwoods to show that, even though Kennedy prevented the plan from coming to fruition, human beings are fully capable of devising and implementing complex plots at the expense of others. While the potential existence of said plots is troubling to most, Spielberg will find them reassuring because the young man cannot abide by chaos, and prefers to believe his fate is being twisted and shaped by the machinations of shadowy government agencies. At least then the wild events happening around Spielberg will have purpose, will have meaning.

During this time, the young man named Spielberg will take particular interest in conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana of Wales. If the great Lady Diana could be undone by MI6 and the Royal Family with a bright flash of light and faulty seatbelts, Spielberg will reason, who is to say that other car accidents—his mother's, for instance—might not have been purposefully orchestrated? For most of his undergraduate years, the young man named Spielberg will hypothesize that his mother's death was the result of a conspiracy, even when, after years of careful consideration, he can identify neither an motive for nor a perpetrator behind the accident.

After Spielberg receives his degree from the University of Michigan and begins his graduate work at MIT, he will stop thinking about conspiracies, shifting his theorizing, instead, to explaining how our universe works.

 

In the time between Spielberg's discovery of a Theory of Everything and that theory's debunking—and yes, it will be debunked—science and religion will exist in a comfortable stasis. Physicists will know, or think they know, why particles behave in particular ways, which will make it possible for them to predict and understand why certain events happen. As one might expect, the application of Spielberg's Theory of Everything to the practical world of human behavior will be fast and comprehensive. Teams of predictive physicists will analyze large groups of data and make predictions about particular events based on Spielberg's theory. Using meticulously designed equations rooted in the theory, planes will be rerouted to avoid calamity, city-planners will redesign major metropolitan areas to decrease homicide rates, sporting events will be cancelled to avoid tragedies, people will be told exactly when they are going to die, and marriage licenses will be denied to couples who, according to the math, will eventually divorce. For their part, the world's various religions will adapt by interpreting the Theory of Everything as a manifestation of their chosen gods.

Of course, most of the aforementioned predictive models will be uncheckable, and there will be occasional errors in expected outcomes: a town will be evacuated to avoid a tornado that never arrives; a couple will be allowed to marry only to divorce in two years; a man will be told he will die at sixty only to die at thirty-two instead. During the reign of Spielberg's Theory of Everything, these errors will be attributed, when dealing with living people, to the incalculable effects of free will, or, when dealing with non-living entities, to mistakes of mathematics. It will be the slow accumulation of these mistakes that eventually will drive a team of physicists to investigate the increasingly shaky foundations of Spielberg's theory, which ultimately will lead them to the discovery of one thing that the equations could never predict: the black hole that will end the theory, and, for the time being anyway, confirm a more chaotic, less comprehensive rule of law throughout the universe.

 

The man named Spielberg will never marry. Outside of his brief high school romance with the girl named Amber, a brief, largely sexual entanglement with an older college girl when he is eighteen, and his occasional encounters with the townie named Kelly when he is an undergraduate, Spielberg will have very little interaction with women, choosing, instead, to work at explaining the inner workings of things that may or may not have inner workings to explain.

 

Perhaps I do not give the character named Spielberg enough credit. Who am I to say that he does not understand some of the fundamental facts of his existence? It is not as if the correlation in question is difficult to discern, after all, as even I worry that the cause-and-effect relationship between the death of Spielberg's mother and his obsession with narrative are too simple and easy. Why wouldn't Spielberg himself see the connection unless he is simply willfully refusing to understand? Or maybe something else is happening here, and maybe that something else is the answer to a different question I am too afraid to ask.

 

Shortly before the old man named Spielberg dies, a team of astrophysicists working with NASA will discover, definitively, that there is a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Once this supermassive, and utterly literal, black hole at the center of everything, with "everything" being our galaxy, has been mapped, astrophysicists will realize that the object's mass is infinite. This will begin a ripple effect that ultimately undoes much of Spielberg's Theory of Everything. In fact, this black hole's effects on physics will be so profound that it will undermine even the possibility of the existence of a theory of everything to exist. Those closest to Spielberg, former colleagues from before he retired and his live-in caretakers, will work tirelessly to prevent the old man from learning of this development. This is no small feat since, as with Spielberg's Theory of Everything, the discovery of this supermassive black hole and its implications on string theory will be heralded as a major event in both the academic and popular scientific communities, leading to internet documentaries and an unprecedented number of articles in digital periodicals. Spielberg's day caretaker, a young man named Roy, will go to painstaking lengths to screen every electronic publication that passes through Spielberg's inbox. Roy, along with Spielberg's other caretakers—Henry, who works overnights, Amy, who works evenings, and Gertie, who works weekends—ill tirelessly monitor what Spielberg watches on his internet television. They will often orchestrate distractions—bath time, a game of dominoes, or a walk through the neighborhood, for instance—to keep Spielberg away from his computer.

None of Spielberg's caretakers, however, will think to open physical letters addressed to Spielberg, and it will take only a single, passionate letter from a young man unwilling to give up on Spielberg's Theory of Everything, despite the scientific evidence, for Spielberg to learn of his theory's refutation. As Roy prepares a turkey sandwich for Spielberg, the old man will enter the kitchen, place the letter on the counter and ask why he wasn't informed of the most historic discovery in the history of astrophysics. Roy will try to explain why he and the other caretakers—at the insistence of Spielberg's surviving colleagues, who said, "Spielberg must be protected; his mind is fragile and weak from age . . . has returned to the universe"—tried to shield him from the truth, but Spielberg will ignore the young man and walk away. Later that afternoon, Roy will find Spielberg at his computer watching a documentary about the supermassive black hole. Roy will try to apologize for his subterfuge, and Spielberg will say only, "I thought I understood, before." Because Roy was told that Spielberg would be devastated to learn of the black hole's discovery, and because Spielberg will appear agitated, Roy will believe that his employer is talking about said discovery, and will try to explain to Spielberg that there was no way that he could have understood anything having to do with the black hole because, until recently, the technology hadn't been developed to detect its existence. Spielberg will respond by saying only, "That's not what I meant."

 

I designed Spielberg's figurative hole in everything as an attempt to describe a second hole, not of my design. I can't tell you what this second hole is because I can't name it, only describe it. I know the hole is shaped like a story, and that the absence it surrounds aches with a longing for some sort of meaning or order. This is why I invented Spielberg, to describe that hole, to try to fill that absence by telling a story about a character trying to tame a void of his own. I am more likely to find success than Spielberg, though, because, even though Spielberg has developed organically on the page—whatever that means—I stacked the deck against him, killed his mother and instilled in him a wild, searching desire to understand that for which no understanding exists, while the hole toward which I'm writing will, at the least, be partially filled by my creation. I suspect that if Spielberg were aware that he was being written he would be angry about the decisions I have made with regards to his life. That said, I also believe that he would be grateful to learn that the seemingly disjointed moments of his existence had been carefully arranged by an outside force, thus confirming his core beliefs about the way the world around him works. Even then, though, learning the truth of his circumstances would not fill the hole in Spielberg's understanding of the universe. That hole is a different shape. If Spielberg knew that he was a character in a story, he would look up off the page, instead of at Roy, and say, "I thought I understood, before."

 

As an undergraduate, after the young man named Spielberg delivers a particularly impassioned argument that Hurricane Katrina had been caused by government weather control, one of his friends, another student named Jacob, will ask Spielberg why the government would do such a thing. Spielberg will say, "To make money for themselves and their friends, and to show the rest of the world that they can do it." Jacob will say, "Then why didn't they announce that they caused the storm?" To which Spielberg will say, "Because they can't make it known that they were sacrificing their own citizens in the name of profit and power." Jacob will say, "Why does there have to be a reason? Why can't a storm just be a storm?" And Spielberg: "There was too much to gain for too many people for this to be a coincidence." And Jacob: "Even if I believed that the technology existed to make this happen, which I don't, I am utterly incapable of believing that human beings would be so evil as to use it on other human beings in such a way." And Spielberg, "Stop being so naïve." And Jacob, "Sometimes things just happen." And Spielberg, "But only because they are made to happen."

 

After the second time Spielberg prematurely ejaculates with Amber, he will read on the internet about ways to increase his sexual stamina. When he urinates, he will start and stop his stream. When he masturbates, he will pinch the base of his penis just before ejaculation. Spielberg will train his body so that, when he is eighteen and has sexual intercourse with a twenty-four-year-old college senior whom he does not love, and whom does not love him back, he will not come in his pants. He will have actual sex and not ejaculate until the college senior has either orgasmed, or pretended to orgasm—Spielberg is not certain one way or the other. Spielberg will be proud that he made his body respond to the demands of his mind and overcome the mysteries of sex that once caused him so much embarrassment. Spielberg knows that this newfound control will not undo his previous embarrassments with Amber; still, for the time being, the eighteen year old named Spielberg will be glad to understand this one thing.

 

When the boy named Spielberg is six, on the night that his mother dies in a car crash and Spielberg becomes the boy whose mother died in a car crash when he was six years old, the boy will embrace his father while his father cries. The boy named Spielberg will not cry. When Spielberg's father asks, "Son, why aren't you crying?" Spielberg will say, "I am angry, not sad." And as Spielberg continues to hold his father, his father will hold the boy back so they are holding each other, and the boy will say, "This isn't fair." The boy will say, "No god would let this happen." The boy will say, "There is no such being as God."

 

I wonder if maybe I don't know what the old man named Spielberg meant when he said, "I thought I understood, before." Perhaps he knows more than I previously thought. Maybe Spielberg knows he's a character in a story. Maybe I created Spielberg such that it was inevitable that he would eventually understand his true nature. Maybe I shouldn't have killed Spielberg's mother, or made him quite so obsessed with ordering the world around him. Maybe I shouldn't have named him Spielberg. Or maybe the invention of a previously undiscovered black hole at the center of the Milky Way was a step too far, made my authorial machinations too apparent. Could Spielberg's words have been directed at me? Maybe I'm being paranoid. Maybe Spielberg himself is the answer to a question I am too afraid to ask.