Saturday, July 3, 2010

[USS Charon] SD241007.03 || Joint Log, "The Weight of a Question", Sakarra and Savant

Colin Pinnell <> wrote to

[USS Charon, Deck Three]

Charon's Chief of Operations was an interesting character. Most saw
Savant as a hologram, some sort of fancy auto-Officer that automated the
division of labour and resources on the ship in the most efficient means
possible. This wasn't far from the truth to be honest - Savant had a
large library of optimization routines for starship operations and was
not shy in applying them to every facet of the ship's function. Still,
to most the program was simply that, a program, as real as a Holodeck
character and as morally responsible as a toaster oven. Savant didn't
seem to combat this fact either, which only reinforced the impression.
The other members of Operations had unified under the assistant
Operations chief and considered Savant to be an interesting experiment
in automation.

A few were convinced that Savant was something more, but the deck was
stacked against them - there were huge volumes of studies showing how an
anthropomorphic face with vaguely lifelike behaviors and features would
be confused for an actual living being by a large majority of the
population. It was considered a naive and cute position to think of a
computer program as "alive." Few took the thought seriously. How could a
completely understood mathematical process be alive, however complex?

This made a curious position for Charon's Executive Officer. Sakarra had
the Operations Chief Hologram perched on the corner of her desk like a
secretary - no, perched two -point-three centimeters *above* the desk -
and taking notes on their informal meeting on a holographic PADD.
Sakarra had just caught a glimpse through the hologram as a brief
flicker passed through the surface; she saw the wall and the hollow,
light-filled insides of the display, and the spell had been broken. She
was having a discussion with a dissociate cone of photons and gravitons.

Silently, the Vulcan experienced a brief flicker of amusement that even
she should begin to associate the lifeform Savant with this image of a
dark haired woman, rather than the much more complex and fascinating
being she was.

Forgivable, perhaps, since likely the very reason Savant summoned this
hologram was to relate to what she called 'organics' – or allow them to
relate to /her/. Still, …

"Are you alright, Commander?" The hologram asked pleasantly, pausing in
her writing, "Are we going too quickly?"

The Vulcan blinked twice and her head reset from its slight tilt. "No,
Savant. Please, continue."

Savant put the stylus into its holder on the side of the PADD, her
synthetic smile softening with imaginary sympathy. "It's good enough for
now, I think, Ma'am. You seem distracted."

Distracted …

To allow her thoughts to drift, to lose the perfect focus that was not
only hallmark of her race but her duty in times like these…

Fatigue was an unacceptable excuse. Her youth however might be, perhaps,
and the fact she had never truly been one to flourish in positions of
command. Raised with the knowledge that she not only might one day be
called into a position of responsibility but was in fact expected to,
Sakarra had spent her life this far successfully avoiding such an

This far.

The Vulcan resisted the urge to rub her temples and put aside the
exasperation. The universe's sense of humor was unique indeed.

With a brief apologetic nod to the avatar hovering over her desk Sakarra
walked to the replicator to retrieve yet another glass of spice tea.
Rather than sit back down, she silently moved towards one of the
windows, looking into the inky starscape beyond.

No, she did not doubt herself. Vulcans rarely do. But like most of her
race, the dark eyed woman clutching her tea had a philosophical streak.
One that like the inherent insatiable curiosity tended to surface with a
vengeance at the most unexpected of times.

"If you had to assign value to knowledge, and then weigh it against the
loss of life it took to gain that knowledge, how would you do it?" the
low, musical voice floated into the polite silence.

To the Vulcan's surprise, Savant didn't skip so much as a beat in her
reply, "The calculation is rather simple, Ma'am; they're equivalent
units." Sakarra just raised an eyebrow at that, so the program
continued, "The sum differences between individuals are their histories,
a totality of their experience. This is stored in their brains as
information. All other facets of an individual can easily be replicated
without issue and can be canceled form the equation. It's a simple
matter of balancing the equation."

The brief fluttering of ebony eyelashes would have told any other Vulcan
that there was silent, gentle laughter echoing behind those deep black

"The response of an immortal. Or one who might as well be, yes?"

Slowly, mildly, Sakarra shook her head.

"Reasonable. Even logical. Until one remembers that knowledge for its
own sake is a luxury afforded only the wise … and the immortal. Most of
us, Savant, are neither."

It was one thing to understand you were but a tiny part of a vast
universe, to accept your place in it, your value and your insignificance
both. Quite another to not feel the pain, the loss, the sense of
emptiness when chances were lost, potential not realized.

"The question however remains. How does one weigh the one against the
other? The sum of one person's knowledge and memories… against what may
be gained?"

Savant had by this point cocked an eyebrow, looking confused. "How is
knowledge a luxury? Knowledge, be it classical knowledge or simple
functional experience memory is a function of novelty, bounded by
recollective ability and the degree of internal synthesis. It can be
calculated as Shannon information and limited by Hawking's maximal
entropy derivation." A complex formula briefly lit up around Savants'
head like a halo; a digital Saint of science. "I will grant you that
the calculations are not easy to make, and a good deal of effort needs
to be spent on the inference model. But it's no more complicated than,
say, global weather prediction."

The hologram paused briefly as she examined the Vulcan. Savant could
tell that Sakarra wasn't satisfied with the answer, though the Vulcan
stoicism was making it difficult to read further into her frame of mind.
She applied a few more threads to the task of predicting the Executive
Officers' processes, concerned. Savant was obviously missing some vital
clue to the question and wanted to find an answer. "You don't think this
is a sufficient description. What am I missing?"

It was astonishing. And yet, Sakarra knew she should not be surprised.

How could a being so unencumbered by mortal concerns truly comprehend?
And yet Savant wanted to, looking to a lifeform so different from her
for answers. So small by comparison, so limited by thoughts that were
glacial … and still in some ways, out of reach.

Savant, the creature that lived as shimmering, sparkling thought, free
and unfettered and poking her proverbial nose into the secrets of the
universe itself for the joy of it, was beautiful to a Vulcan's eye for
that reason alone. And she knew, as a simple, indisputable fact, that
she, too, was part of the grater whole, another spark that made the
universe what it was. But did she ever … /feel/ it?

Shannon information. Logic. Clear, simple.

Sakarra took a small sip of her tea, looking at the hologram but seeing
… the being Savant. The processes racing, seeking references to help her
understand, information dancing, weaving, merging and drifting apart.
Some perhaps pausing, waiting for the input of new information which
then would be evaluated, catalogued, integrated … become part of the
vast network that even now was engaged in more activities than the body
of flesh and bone could ever handle.

"Nothing, Savant." The Vulcan said mildly "You are missing nothing.
Unless you believe that a single healer's knowledge, compassion and
wisdom must weigh as heavily as unraveling the secret of why a star will
die. Unless you know in your very being that a mother's grief will not
be measured by the memories lost, nor whether the child was valuable by
any definition but her own."

How did one such as Savant experience loss? An emptiness, perhaps, an
absence of something that should be there? Nuisance? Inevitable entropy?
Or did it indeed cause … sadness?

"You asked how can knowledge be a luxury. Consider a mortal discovering
a marvelous secret, gaining an understanding of the forces that have
shaped this galaxy perhaps, a pattern within the seeming chaos that
makes it all the more glorious. What joy, and what terrible grief if
there were none to share this insight with. There are those who would be
content if this knowledge died with them, dispersed and lost but not
ever truly lost, for if the knowledge exists … it is real. And what is
real, must remain. And in the end, if they were granted a glimpse of it,
they feel the joy and no more. Those, Savant, are the wise. Or the

The scent of the tea tickled her nose and Sakarra realized she had been
quite close to allowing her lips to curve upwards.

"I do not know you well enough to say whether this desire lives in you,
the wish to share, to see the delight in another when knowledge is
passed on. I can only tell you that for most of us, knowledge that
cannot be shared is empty, useless, … illogical."

If the Vulcan would have had to describe the avatar's facial expression,
it would have been along the lines of 'mildly puzzled interest'. But
whether this was an automatically generated image to convey Savant's
current state or a calculated impression to encourage further
information to be shared … was even more difficult to determine. Still,
it hardly mattered.

"The wealth of knowledge gained … weighed against the sum of memories of
one living creature, thirty years or a hundred, the equation will
inevitably lead to the same conclusion. Always. Then why do we hesitate,
Savant? Why do us short-lived, limited creatures shy away from getting
one glimpse of the great marvel if it means one existence that has so
much less value would end? The only answer I have for you is that
knowledge without understanding is meaningless, reason without wisdom
merely an empty shell. And so we weigh, and question, and weigh again,
seek the answer to that which by its nature defies definition. What is a

A small, elegant had briefly waved towards the window, the breathtaking
vista of darkness dotted with lights. "Does the universe care? Does it
feel even a single /Katra/ perishing? If we are all part of it, then
logic says it must. Must know not only the loss of knowledge, of memory,
but the grief, the end of something unique and therefore irreplaceable."

Savant had adopted a placid, thoughtful expression, hands on a knee,
eyes unfocused. She had left her avatar on automatic, and it responded
to the heavy processing cycles of the program as she pondered the
Vulcan's reply. Layers of metaphor and poetry piled one atop the other
liberally in those words, and dissecting the syllables into real meaning
was one of Savants' most arduous tasks. This was the theme of her life.
What was difficult for an organic being was effortless for Savant; what
was effortless for that organic was pain-staking for her.

Did the universe care? "To care" was a transitive action verb reserved
for use by a sentient entity - it was questionable whether Savant
herself could be said to "care" about anything. Could a universe?
Classical logic gates failed the pass, leaving Bayesian probability to
determine truth from the inchoate fuzz of the poetry. They were
inconclusive, as they always were when considering these sorts of
problems. Fallacy searches came up with several hits, but Savant knew
better than to state such. She had been around organics far too much to
make that sort of a mistake. Pointing out the flaws of an argument with
an organic tended to do little but create resentment, and that was far
from the point.

"I have a lot more thinking to do on this problem before I can make an
adequate response, I'm afraid, Sakarra," she replied without the
embarrassment that a human might show in such a situation, "you aren't
using classical logic in your statements, and my probabilistic reasoning
is weak in this area. Your definitions are so fuzzy." She smiled.

"It is in the nature of questions such as these to defy what you
referred to as 'classical logic', Savant." Unperturbed, the Vulcan
returned her attention to the tea. "Consider however that science and
mathematics not only acknowledge axioms but in fact the need for them.
In absence of demonstrable proof, one must accept the 'fuzzy' and
discover the self evident at the core of it … or decide."

Sakarra could not deny being curious how a being like Savant would
approach the matter of c'thia. However, she could well comprehend the
difficulties this very concept might present.

"Maybe we should move on." Savant lifted the PADD in her lap like a
clipboard again. "our serpentine friend appears to be secreting some
sort of an organic compound that is diffusing into the area around it.
It would be worthwhile to send a probe out to take a sample - given its
unique physiology, we are bound to find something interesting..."

Commander Sakarra Tyrax
Executive Officer, USS Charon