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The Intelligence Machine

by Rod Hamon

part 1 of 3

The vivid and terrifying memory from the past again invaded my mind just as it had done throughout my life. It was always exactly the same.

My mother is beating me relentlessly; tears are rolling down her face. She looks to my father sitting nearby, and cries, “That’s enough! He’s learned his lesson!”

“No!” my father shouts. “This is the only way to teach him. Beat him harder! Harder!”

I scream. ”Stop! I won’t do it again, Mom, I promise.”

My mother reluctantly continues.

Suddenly, I was jolted back to reality by the sound of a soft voice nearby. “Martin, the doctor will see you now!”

Startled, I looked up and gazed around. I was in the medical center, waiting for an appointment with my doctor. Sweat continued to cling to my face, in the same way the vision of my violent childhood continued to cling to my mind.

The doctor peered over his glasses: my weary expression told him what he needed to know. He completed his examination, then handed me a prescription. “Try these, Martin. I’ll see you again in a month.”

As I rose to leave, he spoke again but his voice had changed. He sounded... apologetic. “I recall you saying that you’re a mathematician, Martin?”

I nodded.

He coughed nervously. “You’re probably not interested, but a professor I met at a conference recently — Hungarian, I think he was — said he was looking for someone to assist him with his research. Something to do with math, I think he said.”

The doctor reached into a drawer and handed me an envelope, then shrugged his shoulders and said, “He’s asked if I’d pass this on to one of my patients. I thought perhaps you....”

I took the envelope, put it in my pocket, thanked him, and left.

As I drove home, my mind was occupied with the math problem I’d been working on for months. Just a few more steps and I’ll have it solved. Although I was excited, I was frustrated at the same time by my inability to focus, my sleepless nights. Those childhood memories always occupied my thoughts; it was like trying to study in a room full of people when all of the people were demanding your attention.

* * *

I arrived home; my only companion, a small longhaired dog, Sam, greeted me and followed me to the kitchen to be fed. Once that was done, I sat down, intending to contemplate the doctor’s suggestions, but was soon joined by Sam, who squeezed himself next to me. Remembering the letter, I reached into my pocket and began to read.

My name is Dmitri Paslov. I am a professor of neuroscience. For many years, I have been researching the human brain. I was close to completing my work, using a young man as the subject for my experiments, when he decided not to continue. In my disappointment, I have asked the kind doctor to seek another subject for me, someone with a good brain. It is important for my work that this person be intelligent.

I do not give the details of my research here, but just say this: it has been shown that the brain operates at only a minute fraction of its full capability. I have therefore set out to discover why it is so inefficient and to unlock this untapped reservoir.

I am now close to completing my work and with it, enabling humans to achieve IQ’s in the thousands.

If you are interested in helping me, please call.

At the bottom of the letter was a telephone number and the words: “See Daniel Tammet.”

The professor’s extravagant claims amused me; I chuckled, then shoved the letter into a drawer and forgot about it.

* * *

Some days later, while studying an article on math, I came across an editorial on Kim Ung-yong. At age five, Kim had amazed his teachers by solving complicated differential equations. It was then that my thoughts returned to the professor’s letter, so I Googled “Daniel Tammet.”

I discovered that Tammet, an autistic savant, was gifted in mathematics and spoke eleven languages. In a psychological test, he was asked to divide 13 by 97 in his head; his answer was checked by a computer. Within two seconds and without hesitation, Tammet began reciting the digits of the answer, one after the other.

When he’d reached seven decimal places, those conducting the test interrupted him and asked him how much further he could go. He replied, “At least a hundred or more.”

Intrigued, I looked up other references to Tammet and found consistencies in the various accounts of his abilities. I sat back and looked up at the ceiling, and wondered how it was that he could do this: the answers just flooded from his brain. Of particular interest was that he believed that everyone had the ability to do this.

I called Dmitri the next day.

* * *

The professor’s laboratory was in an old section of the university and was difficult to find. After climbing two flights of stairs, I finally located him: a short man in his mid-seventies with gray hair and bushy eyebrows. His frail shoulders were stooped, his eyes deep set into his head.

“Ah, you must be Martin. How pleased I am to see you,” he said in his strong accent. He shook my hand vigorously and invited me to sit down. “So, you didn’t believe what I had to say when you first read my letter, but now you do, yes?”

“Maybe there’s something in it,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

Dmitri smiled, then in a high-pitched voice said. “Throughout history, we see the occasional flashes of brilliance: men like Einstein, da Vinci, Galileo, and Newton. But I ask you, are these men special?”

“I suppose they are,” I replied.

“No, they are not!” he cried. “They are the tip of an iceberg: mere glimpses of what humankind can achieve.”

His enthusiasm amused me, so I humored him. “You suggest in your letter that humans are capable of IQ’s in the thousands.” I smiled. “Do you really believe that?”

“I do!” He leaned forward in his chair, “Martin, you looked up the name I gave you in my letter, yes?”

I nodded.

“What did you think of Tammet’s methods?’

I paused for a moment and then replied, “As far as I can, see he doesn’t have a method. He just thinks about a problem and the answers pour out!”

“Exactly, and this process can be developed for all types of mental deduction. A famous philosopher once wrote, ‘The definition of genius is that it acts unconsciously; and those who have produced immortal works have done so without knowing how or why. The greatest power operates unseen.’”

Then, with excitement in his voice, he said, “What I am developing, Martin, is a way to tap into this vast unconscious realm.”

I said nothing for a few seconds and then replied, “Okay, Dmitri, so where do I fit in?”

Looking me straight in the eye, he said, “You, my friend, stand to become the most intelligent person who has ever lived.”

I tried not to laugh. He’s either a genius or totally insane! As the latter was more likely, I decided I must get out of there as quickly as possible but without offending the man.

He stared at me oddly, as if he was reading my mind. I felt unnerved.

“But, of course, the work you will do for me is not easy,” he said and stood up. “Come, let me show you.”

I hesitated, struggling for an excuse to leave. Dmitri opened a nearby door. I looked in. Along the walls of the room computer consoles and monitors hummed with activity, flashing lights as they processed data. I switched my gaze to the center of the room where two metal cylindrical cubicles stood facing each other.

“You are curious, I see,” he said. “Come, have a look.”

The window-fronted cubicles were each about the height of a man. I gazed through the windows, but could see very little.

“I will show you,” he said, unfastening an electronic latch. The front opened to reveal a maze of complex equipment. Situated among the paraphernalia was a large chair.

Attempting humor, I commented, “I see you do a little dentistry in your spare time!”

He smiled. “It’s certainly comfortable enough. Try it.”

“Oh, I don’t think so.”

Dmitri looked at his watch. “Excuse me, Martin. I have an urgent call. I will only be about five minutes. Take a look around.”

I casually looked at the computer screens, then wandered back to the cubicle. I poked my head inside. More gadgets! The man’s either a fruitcake or a genius!

At that instant, the door slammed closed behind me, knocking me to my knees and thrusting my head forward into the seat. I struggled, but because of the cramped space, I was forced to turn and sit down. Two steel arms shot out from the sides of the chair — one clamping my feet, the other restraining my waist and arms.

“Hey, what’s going on? Let me out!”

Dmitri peered through the window, “Sorry, Martin, but I could see you’d changed your mind about assisting me.”

“You’re mad! Let me out, you lunatic!”

“You will soon see I am no lunatic,” he replied, then walked away.

Some minutes later, Dmitri’s controlled voice came over the loudspeaker. “In the next few minutes, Martin, you will become drowsy and fall asleep. Do not panic. This is just a temporary condition allowing me to prepare you.”

“Prepare me, for what?” I shouted.

It was then that I heard the hiss of gas and I struggled to free myself. I felt light-headed, my heart pounded in my chest. The hissing sound got louder and then I felt nothing.

* * *

When I came to, Dmitri was peering at me through the window as if examining a specimen of moth and trying to decide whether or not to insert a large pin through my abdomen. I tried to shout but my mouth was dry — nothing came out. My heart beat loudly in my eardrums. What’s happened to me?

I struggled to move, but my entire body was now even more firmly locked into position by the restraints. The only movement possible was with my eyes. I attempted to look to the right and the left, but my vision was severely limited. Because of the restraints, my breathing was reduced to just shallow movements; the resulting claustrophobia quickly turned to panic as I struggled to free myself.

Just within my peripheral vision, I noticed an intravenous drip that was feeding some unknown fluid into my veins. It was then that I became aware of a small computer monitor to one side of the cubicle. Although I strained, the limited movement of my head and eyes prevented me from seeing the screen clearly.

With further effort and considerable exertion of my neck, I was able to see it a little more. The monitor seemed to be displaying information on my pulse and breathing, perhaps my alpha rhythms, maybe even my thoughts.

Curious for a way of escape, I strained to examine the interior of the cubicle. As I did so, I felt wires against the side of my face; they were coming from my head. I thought about the data displayed on the monitor. These wires are probably connected to electrodes inserted into my skull and are registering every pulse emitted from my brain. I was also in no doubt that, at that very moment, Dmitri was analyzing these data: the very depths of my psyche openly displayed to him and being clinically examined.

The words, “Yes, I can hear you,” appeared on the screen, then faded away and replaced by the words, “System status check: all physiological systems now hard-wired and operating.”

Dmitri’s voice boomed over the speaker, forceful and aggressive. “Understand this! I am your only life support. I will continue to keep you alive only as long as you are of value to me. Do you understand?” he screamed.

When he spoke again a few moments later, his anger had gone completely: his voice was calm, but still purposeful. “The system is about to scan your brain, Martin. It will take a few hours and will be... unpleasant.”

The words, “Brain scan sequence commencing — one minute,” appeared on the monitor. My muscles tensed.

The brain scan struck me like an express train at full speed. The intense sensation continued for a few minutes and then turned to focus on my brain. It felt that every neuron and synapse in my cranium was being bombarded by high voltage alternating currents. I was convinced that I would not survive, that my brain would heat up, boil, and finally ignite. I begged for relief, but none came.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2012 by Rod Hamon

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