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The Von Neumann Link

Him

I used to have a pretty decent penis. I remember meticulously measuring it as a teenager: in its best erections it would extend to a full 20 centimeters, much above the average 13 something. Did you know that someone took care of creating a database of all the human penises’ sizes? You can easily find it on the Internet and contribute to it by entering the size of your penis, if you have one, to be measured according to very specific indications, of course.

I would have never made it as a porn star (not that I was ever tempted by such a career), but my penis was always very appreciated by my sexual partners, not only for its size, but also for its look, its proportions and, last but not least, its cleanliness: I have always been obsessed with hygiene. I used to shower at least twice a day: once in the morning, first thing after waking up, and once after my daily training. I have always been a fitness fanatic too: indoor running or cycling and full body workout used to take at least one hour of my daily routine.

Well, all of the above lies in my past, not a remote past though: a couple of years ago my body mass was 65 kilograms or less, and I was as fit as I could be; today my body mass exceeds 130 kilograms. I look in the mirror and I do not recognize myself. I stand naked in front of the mirror and I see a being that I would hardly call human. Where my well-proportioned penis used to be, layers and waves and wrinkles of fatty skin amass on each other, some dropping from what used to be my six pack and some pushing outwards from my thighs. I cannot see my penis. I struggle to reach it and pull it out of the excess of flesh every time I have to pee. Masturbation is not an option. Not to mention sex.

The skin that covers my forehead and my nose is scattered with blackheads the size of a lentil. I let my beard grow wild in order to hide the dozens of pimples – I should rather say blisters – that cover the rest of my face. My whole body is covered with warts and fibromas and acrochorda. I cannot even properly wipe my ass after I take a crap because I just cannot reach it, which over time caused the formation of fissures and hemorrhoids that hitch and burn like hell.

Her

I hate my mother and I hate anxiety. And my mother incarnated the apotheosis of anxiety. She was an ignorant, superstitious, useless woman. Despite her ignorance, she was always convinced to be on the right side, and she was very judgmental of me and everyone and everything, resentfully stubborn. If a black cat had crossed the road in front of her while she was walking – say – to the doctor, she would have turned around and called to cancel the appointment. She was never satisfied with me and my achievements; she never approved of my friends, not to mention my boyfriends. Growing up, I did my best to tend to the negation of her model: I wanted to become anything unlike her, and nothing like her.

She died during the second pandemic. When my father called me to tell me about it, I sank in a void of numbness; then numbness slowly gave way to relief, but suddenly frustration emerged from the void. I wished I could have paid my special homage to her at her funeral: I would have gladly puked all my anger on her dead body lying in the coffin. I mean, literally: I would have eaten a couple of menus ordered from McDonalds, including the drinks and fries and sauces and everything, then entered the burial chamber, slowly walked toward the half-open coffin, and then stuck two fingers down my throat and covered her corpse with my vomit until I had emptied my stomach.

Fortunately, because of the lockdown, I could not attend her funeral. Nonetheless, I became very familiar with the act of sticking two fingers down my throat. Almost all the survivors are affected by various degrees of mental disorders because of the pandemics, the most common being anxiety and other mood disorders, the most severe being psychotic conditions including paranoia and schizophrenia, and, last but not least, eating disorders such as my anorexia, even though I blame my mother more than the pandemics for my condition – thank you, mom! rot in hell!

I am 170 centimeters tall and my body mass is barely 50 kilograms. I keep on losing weight: on some days I do not eat at all, on some others I just eat the minimum food necessary to survive. I often feel guilty for eating too much, according to my sick brain. And, whether I eat or not, when I look at myself in the mirror, my thighs are never thin enough. Those are the days when I think of the toilet as of my mother’s coffin and my two fingers gently slide down my throat until I wash away the face reflected by the water in the closet.

Him

When I started my therapy, the Von Neumann Link had just been released for healing purposes only. It took more than one year before it became popular in the entertaining business. I remember it well: the second pandemic of coronaviruses within one lustrum was phasing out. Most of the survivors had spent the last five years locked within the walls of their homes. Human interactions were based on augmented or virtual reality. Anxiety and depression were affecting to different extents the majority of the population, including myself. I was down in a hole so deep I could not even see the light from above.

My psychiatrist knew very well how I would be willing to experiment the Von Neumann Link because, as a theoretical physicist, I had spent my twenty-plus year career dwelling in the artificial intelligence and quantum computing fields, while closely following the progress of the research groups whose work led to the development of the so called Von Neumann Link. And the idea of being one of the first human subjects to benefit from this fringe technology really excited me.

It was one of those days when I could barely leave my sofa to use the toilet. Eating was not my priority. Drinking was, and I do not mean water. I was done with my work for the day, so I was lying on my sofa reading some horror novel when my smartphone informed me that a package had just been delivered at my doorstep. I put down my phone and got back to my reading until I realized it could be the kit. So, I slowly got up and walked to the door. Looking through the peephole, I ensured the delivery guy was gone and no one else was around. I was wearing a protective mask covering nose and mouth and a pair of rubber gloves anyway. I cautiously opened the door and retrieved the package, then disinfected the cardboard box and its contents before proceeding to the unboxing.

The slogan under the brand’s logo went The Computer and The Brain. The box contained a device with an antenna, similar to a network access point, a headband similar to those used by runners or tennis players, and some documentation. I set up the device according to the instructions and connected to the web portal using my unique set of credentials. My psychiatrist had already created a therapeutic profile in advance, tailored to my needs: Anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression was its friendly name. After accepting the longest ever series of license agreements, terms of use, and limitations of liability, I was eventually allowed to download my therapeutic profile to my device. I put the headband on and pressed the Start button. Nothing.

My smartphone rang. It was my psychiatrist. He had instantaneously been notified that my kit had been activated. He instructed me to immediately suspend all my medications and call him after 24 hours to let him know how I was feeling. I was terrified at the thought of suspending my medications: even though I was taking antidepressants, anxiolytics, and mood stabilizers in massive doses, I was still unable to conduct a normal life. Daily panic attacks, constant diarrhea, chest pains, and retches, without anything in my stomach to be thrown up, were only a few of the symptoms I was constantly struggling with. However, he did not say anything about alcohol, although he knew very well I had more than a thing for cocktails and, at the end of my working day, since the lockdown, I had replaced my daily training with my daily drinking. So, I decided that a few drinks would help me forget about my medications. In contrast to the experimentation of such a futuristic technology, I decided it would have been an “old fashioned” night, and, for the occasion, I opened a new bottle of my favorite Japanese blend.

Her

I welcomed my psychiatrist as my real mom. When she offered me to be the mother I had never had, I was so glad I cried. Actually, she could have not possibly been my mother as she was too young, but that was just one of the roles she was playing in my life. She was my best friend too, of course. We truly loved each other, and we expressed our mutual feelings during our sessions as well as via various kinds of messages exchanged at any time of the day. I liked to think that I was the only patient of hers with whom she had built such a special relationship, and that was the case indeed, she promised me.

She was sitting on the couch in front of me with her usual benevolent smile. Today’s session mainly focused on my relationship with my students and on my empathy, sometimes such a precious gift, sometimes such an unbearable burden. At the beginning of the session she had warned me that she would need to dedicate the last ten minutes to some important news, and so she did: when our time was almost over, she introduced me to this new technology called the Von Neumann Link. With the help of a video, she explained to me – or at least this is what I understood – that scientists had found a way to influence consciousness using a computer, and tailor-made pieces of software could replace medications and restore mental health. She provided me with a lot of links to learn more about the subject and, as agreeably as usual, she virtually hugged me. I took off my augmented reality glasses and the couch in front of me was suddenly empty.

In the following days I dug a little deeper into the subject and, reading about electromagnetic theories of consciousness such as the “conscious electromagnetic information field” and the “quantum brain dynamics”, I became fascinated with the idea of getting rid of my antidepressants and my anxiolytics by just wearing a headband. So, I exchanged several messages with my psychiatrist in order to arrange the shipment of a Von Neumann Link kit to my place. She assured me that she would take care of creating a custom therapeutic profile that I would be able to download to my kit via web.

During the few days it took the kit to arrive I was busy as usual: I used to spend my mornings teaching virtual classes and most of my afternoons grading tests. That did not leave me with much spare time. The kit was delivered to me on a Friday morning; it could have not been timelier: I had scheduled my weekly appointment with the psychiatrist after my morning lessons. She helped me with the setup and recommended me to stop taking my medications right away, and so I did.

Him

The morning after my “old fashioned” night I was feeling great. I could barely believe that. I tested myself for anxiety signs: none. I checked for symptoms of depression or hypomania: nothing. My hands explored my head until they identified the band, and it was all right. I remembered: the Von Neumann Link was active, and I did not need my medications to feel fine.

I could not care less about the physics behind this marvel! I was fine! No antidepressants, and I was up and running – or, at least, ready to run! No anxiolytics, and I was not afraid of anything! No mood stabilizers, and I was fucking fine!

I had taken a week off, just in case. So, I had quite a few days ahead of me during which I would be able to do whatever I wanted to. Suddenly a doubt struck me: how could I be sure that my revolutionized state of mind was actually being induced by the link? Should have I tried to remove the headband? Would have I felt worse? I took off my headband and I immediately felt like I was falling down a hole. I mean physically. I felt a kind of vertigo, and then I was not in control of my limbs anymore! I did not want to go any further, so I put my headband back on, and it felt like taking a shower after a mud fight and wearing my best shirt and suit, tailor-made.

Her

I remember the day I began “hearing voices”. It was a rainy afternoon and I was correcting an essay by one of my best senior students. I thought she had made a wonderful job and I felt so proud of her: she reminded of me when I was her age, always passionate about my studies, always doing my best for myself, as well as to be appreciated by my teachers, especially those with whom I felt I shared a special connection. And I wondered if she might feel that special connection with me.

I startled when I heard her asking me if the voice she was hearing was mine. I did not feel like looking around me to search for the source of the voice, because I realized I had not heard it through my ears. It felt like a thought that did not belong to me, as if one of her thoughts was being processed by my brain. And we let our brains process each other's thoughts.

– It’s me, yes! What’s going on?

– Miss B! I am so glad to hear you! So glad you were thinking about me!

– How do you know I was thinking about you?

– Because otherwise you would have never reached me in the Neumann-net!

– What are you talking about?

– You are using a Von Neumann Link, aren’t you?

– I am. How do you know that?

– Because we can share our thoughts! I am using one too! I do this every day with my two best friends. They are both using a Von Neumann Link too, of course!

– So, are you telling me that people using a Von Neumann Link can share their thoughts?!

– Yes, Miss B! But only when they think about each other: I was thinking about you just now, wondering if you had already read my essay.

– And I was thinking about you because I had just finished reading it.

– See? That is how it happens!

– What did you call this thing?

– People call it the Neumann-net!

Him

After about one year since I had established my Von Neumann Link, the technology started to become more and more popular: it was not only used for therapeutic purposes, but it invaded the entertainment business. It was soon clear that the link could be exploited to induce mental states of any kind. Some people wanted to be happy, some wanted to reach ecstasy, others preferred to be scared, far more than any horror book or movie or videogame could scare them.

More and more research groups around the globe were focusing on the so-called Neumann-net. The most debated topic was the location of this “place”: some speculated it would correspond to what Jung had named the collective unconscious, and the Von Neumann Link had somehow opened a gateway for mankind to gather there; some hypothesized that the exchange of thoughts among human beings actually occurred over the multitude of wired and wireless connections making up the mesh of connectivity we call the Internet.

As a matter of fact, data was actually transferred over the Internet between individuals when they were sharing their thoughts, but the data packets were actually empty. The content had to reside somewhere else. Many quantum physicists, including myself, liked to think that the information being exchanged was entangled at the quantum level with the electrons and photons travelling the Internet, but no one really had any idea about where the entangled subatomic particles carrying the information actually resided.

Them

– I know it’s you! If I were a student of yours, I would call you Miss B. How are you?

– You are wearing a headband too?! I hoped you didn’t need this! I’m sorry!

– Don’t be! If it weren’t so, we would have never got in touch again, would we?

– Well... Maybe... I’m glad we’re here!

– Me too! I missed you!

– Why did we allow the lockdown to tear us apart?

– I’m not sure... Maybe we weren’t ready.

– Maybe... I missed you too!

– So, why are you using a Von Neumann Link?

– My mother died.

– I’m sorry.

– Once again: don’t be! I had started digging my grave before she died. It all started with anxiety, and, by the time I started seeing a psychiatrist, I was deep in that hole... I am anorexic.

– You? Anorexic? I mean... You have always been so skinny! How is it even possible?

– It’s complicated.

– Now don’t tell me not to be sorry, because I AM sorry! You don’t deserve this!

– Please, let’s stop talking about me! How are you?

– Do you really want to know?

– Sure!

– Well, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but who wasn’t... I mean... the pandemics and the lockdowns... but it looks like I added a secret ingredient to the common recipe: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And, if you just read the Wikipedia page dedicated to the topic, you will realize that, looking back at my life, including the part of it that we spent together, the definition and the symptoms fit me perfectly!

– Bipolar disorder?

– Yep!

– And was the Von Neumann Link effective against this bipolar disorder?

– Oh, yes! It was! However, my condition is paradoxical: I am mentally healthy – no more anxiety, no more depression, no more mood swings caused by my bipolar disorder –, but I despise my physical condition – obesity, skin disorders –, and I cannot quit drinking: in spite of my mental health, I am an alcoholic! Believe me: you don’t want to see me anymore!

– Obese? You? I can’t believe it! You have always been obsessed with fitness – in a good way, I mean! Your six pack and everything!

– Forget it! You don’t want to know!

– Well... I mean... I went through changes too, but that is hard to believe! Anyway... I am around 50 kilograms now.

– I am around 130!

– WHAT?!

– Yep! And I am sorry for your 50 kilograms.

– Well, actually I’m fine. I know it’s some kind of punishment I inflicted on myself because of some sick relationship with my parents... Well, not my parents: my mother! I hate her! I wish she’s rotting in hell!

– Wait! Stop crying! Keep talking to me!

– Ok... Sure... How the hell did you end up weighing 130 kilograms?!

– I guess because I cannot quit drinking... I know for a fact that it is among the main causes of my high blood pressure, my obesity, my tachycardia. And I am talking about these symptoms as if they were necessary consequences of my well-being. I was fit, I was trained, my Narcissus was so content, so pleased. Where did he end up? Why do not I revolt when I look at my reflection in the mirror? Because I am mentally healthy? I guess so.

Him

Are we falling in love again? Have we ever really stopped loving each other? Of course, in the Neumann-net, relationships occur on a different plane. We are relieved from the burden of our physicality: her anorexia, my obesity. We entertain ourselves in long discussions about the meaning of life, in particular about the meaning of this new form of shared non-physical life. However, on the other hand, I miss her physical contact, and the most overbold part of me likes to think that she misses my physical contact too. We are constrained by our bodies. We cannot meet – and we would not want to meet – in the real world. I feel we are kind of prisoners. The thing is: I feel fine, I am serene, I forgot what anxiety was, I do not ride the rollercoaster of my bipolar disorder anymore: one day in a pit, and the next on the top of the world at the mercy of a hypomanic phase. However, I wonder: is this kind of life, deprived of physicality, worth living?

Her

When Juvenal wrote mens sana in corpore sano, did he mean that a healthy body is the consequence of a healthy mind, or did he mean that a healthy mind is the consequence of a healthy body? Ancient Romans were attentive to fitness. I would rather think of it as keep your body healthy and your mind will follow. If so, then the Von Neumann Link was a fruit of hubris: healing the mind without assessing the collateral effects on the body is bad, really bad! I do not want to go on with him like this: I would rather die than be this frustrated.

Him

I am dying. My body will collapse under its own weight. My heart is going to fail soon. The ugliness I will emanate when I pass away will contribute to the increment of the entropy. Why should I wait? Why should I not cause my own death? Whose is this life I am living, and I am leaving behind? Not mine! I do not recognize myself when I look at my reflection in the mirror. I know what to do. I have the knowledge to do it. I will hack into my own Von Neumann Link and push my happiness to the limit. I want to die of excessive happiness! I want my heart to explode because I am too happy!

Her

When he first told me about his plan, I was surprised for not being surprised: the lack of meaning of this life was so obvious that I did not flinch in front of his idea of putting an end to it. On the contrary, I spontaneously adhered to his plan. We could not live together? Fine! We could die together! It took him less than a week of work to develop the therapeutical profile that would push our happiness to the maximum and cause our hearts to fail. We were ready to upload it to our devices and press the Start button – well, this last time we should actually rename it the End button.

Them

– Fuck! That hurt!

– It’s ok! It’s over now!

– It is not over! We are still alive!

– No, we are not! I cannot feel my body!

– Our consciousnesses are imprisoned in the Neumann-net, wherever it may be.

 

Fabio Scagliola,