Short Story: Theoretical

Note: This story borrows the character of Doc Labyrinth from Philip K Dick’s fantastic short stories. For the real thing, check out “The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford” or “The Preserving Machine”.

“What is it, Doc?”

Doc Labyrinth furrowed his brow and tapped his desk pensively. “That’s the trouble! I can’t remember.”

Sighing, I pulled out a chair and sat down. My friend was brilliant — no question about it — but more than slightly scatterbrained. I’m still not sure exactly what sort of doctorate he has.

“How do you know there’s a problem if you can’t remember what it is?”

“Well, I know what the problem is, in the general sense. I just don’t have any specifics.” He paused with the momentary hesitation that precedes all of his technical explanations. “You are aware that I have been studying Taoist philosophy?”

“Well, yes, but I must confess that I haven’t understood half of what you’ve been–”

“No matter!” He interrupted, “I only know myself because of all the Zhuangzi around my house. There’s a particular story or parable that I seem to have been studying.”

He paused to organize his thoughts again, and I seized the opportunity to get out paper and pen.

“Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.”

“Huh. I might have heard that before.”

“Yes, it’s widely quoted… but not quite so popular as this.” He produced an old manuscript with WACHOWSKI — MATRIX printed at the top of each page.

I half leapt out of my seat. “Doc, where on Earth did you get that?”

“Ah, sorry, I don’t remember.”


“So, this and other evidence around the place indicates that I must have been investigating philosophy of mind, metaphysics — something to do with the boundaries, or lack thereof, between Thought and Being.”

“Can’t you just check your notes?” Doc Labyrinth’s home was crammed with filled notebooks and empty pens.

“Well, that’s the trouble. I found two well-worn notebooks in my bedroom, but the pages have been completely erased! It’s as if some force erased my mind and my notes at the same time, but only concerning this, well, whatever it is. That’s why I called you over; I hoped you might remember some exchange we had regarding this.”

“I’m afraid not,” I replied. “All I can recall now is something you said about — what was it? — some sort of theoretical creature. I just know I remembered more than that yesterday! I’m not being any use at all, am I?”

“Oh, quite the opposite!” the Doc cried, jumping up and pacing. “That thing about a creature, it rings a certain bell. You seem to have escaped the radius of the, er, whatever it was!” He paced in silence for a minute or two before speaking again. “Alright, I’ve got this figured. I was trying to work out whether a creature could transfer from Thought to Being — escape the realm of the hypothetical, so to speak. To that end, I studied and thought and wrote and studied, and finally worked it out: a complete, working theoretical model of a being that could make the jump.”

I stood up. “I get it. It had the power to become real, so it did.”

“Exactly! And it took all my thoughts and notes with it.”

“Incredible! But… one last thing, Doc. This creature isn’t dangerous, is it?”

He furrowed his brow. “Unsurprisingly, I can’t remember.”

Endnote: Would you believe I had the idea for this story before this comic was published?

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