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Short Story: "Forced Inquiry"

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The balding man in khakis and a Hubble t-shirt seated across from her flipped a switch and leaned towards the two-headed mike hovering over the center of the table. "Welcome back to 'Unconfirmed Citings', listeners. I'm Arvin Daugherty, and we've been speaking with Paula Isikov, whose research paper sparked a tsunami of controversy when she posted it on the Internet a few days ago."

Paula, who felt a bit overdressed in the navy suit she had originally intended to wear to the conference where her paper was supposed to have been presented, glanced at the tech in the sound booth. The guy

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was staring at her like she'd just admitted to being a space alien, and it wasn't helping her mood.

"Before the break," the talk-show host said as he laced his stubby fingers, "Ms. Isakov told us about the call she'd gotten from the conference coordinator, who not only refused to accept the paper she had submitted, but cancelled her pre-paid membership in the event as well. They really didn't want to take any chances with your findings getting out, did they?"

"Apparently not," she agreed, studiously focusing on Daugherty. "Of course, the conference committee was under the impression that if they blocked publication, that would be the last of it. I guess none of them has ever heard of the Internet."

"Judging from the lights on my phone," he said, punching one of them, "some of my listeners have. Hello, you're on the air. Got a question?"

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"Damned right I do," the caller said angrily. "What the hell right does this ditz have to accuse Republicans of being mentally defective?"

"That's cutting right to the chase, caller. Let's give Ms. Isakov a chance to respond."

Paula made a fist of her right hand, and then flattened it against the table to relieve the stress. "I realize that my findings have been characterized like that in several incendiary blogs, but we are talking about cutting edge neurological science here, and it's easy to get lost in the possible implications."

"See?" the caller snapped. "She's not denying it. Well, all I've got to say is that she'd better watch her --."

Daugherty cut him off. "If you can't be civil, caller, we'll have to address your question without you on the line." He gazed coolly at his guest. "So, was he right? Are you really implying that Republicans are sick?"

"If you really want an answer to that question, I'm going to need a few minutes to explain my findings. But first, I'll have to describe the experiment."

He turned his palms up. "By all means. Take as long as you'd like. There's almost three hours left of my show."

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Paula's brow furrowed momentarily as she agonized over how to present the science without completely losing whatever audience there might be. There was no point delving into the details of quantum mechanics; that would only sidetrack the discussion. Still, she'd have to present the essence of that field in order to make sense of her conclusions. Sensing a solution, she smiled and relaxed.

"As long as people have tried to figure out how the brain works," she said, "they've used some bit of cutting-edge technology as a metaphor to explain it. First they said it's like a precision clockwork, then, when they ran into mechanical trouble, they changed their minds and said it's like a super-fast computer, and so forth. Meanwhile, biologists and surgeons, the people who actually poked around in all that gray matter, were busy trying to map out which part of the thing did what. They ran into similar problems when they tried to identify exactly where an experience or a memory lived, and what it might look like. The thing is, all of these approaches had one thing in common: they made the assumption that the mind and the brain were the same thing, which drove them to conclude that some combination of neural connections and electro-chemical signaling meant the color blue, or the sound of middle 'C', or the memory of where you left your keys."

Daugherty, who had been nodding agreeably, said, "I take it you didn't buy into that assumption."

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Ever since I learned to speak binary on a DIGIAC 3080 training computer, I've been involved with tech in one way or another, but there was always another part of me off exploring ideas and writing about them. Halfway to a BS in Space Technology at (more...)

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