Terminal Proof

“I have a reality overflow problem,” I write. I hit send.

I stare out of the window and try to work out if the trees that I see are real or imaginary. They said that a degree in maths would change my view of the world but this was not what I was expecting.

“What do you mean?” My professor is as curt as always.

“In computer science,” I write. “The maximum size of a number in a byte is 255. 127 if the number is signed. If we add two to 127 in signed binary we get -1.”

“Yes,” he replies. “I know.”

“I can do that with reality too,” I write.

“Go on.”

“If I add one and two, I get three,” I write. Then quickly, I type: “but what if I do that for all the natural numbers?”

“All of them?”

“Yes,” I write. “1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6… forever.”

The dancing dots show the professor is typing. I know the answer. I can prove that it is small and negative.

-1/12,” he replies.

“That is what I got,” I reply. I ignore the hyperlink. “I don’t know what number system the universe is written in but I recognise a signed overflow when I see one.”

“How do you recognise it?”

I stare at his reply for a while. The feeling of dread I have been trying to avoid overtakes me.

“Please tell me the length of your hair,” I type.

“Presently, my hair is 16.2103 mm.”

That’s a very precise answer. Too precise.

I want to panic and run but where can I possibly run?

“Let’s talk about poetry,” I type.

“What poetry would you like to talk about?” I might have wondered why my professor is so accommodating but I think I already know.

“In the first line of William Shakespeare’s sonnet,” I write, “it reads, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,’ would not ‘a spring day’ do as well or better?”

The dancing dots indicate that the professor is typing.

“They seem equivalent but it wouldn’t scan.”

“What about a winter’s day?”

“That would scan.”

I lean back. Oh god. I’m a computer program.

Error: Self-awareness. Abort program.

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