The Tail of Pat the Pit Viper 30-03-2011

... her nightstand, turned to page one, and this is what she read:

Patricia, or Pat for short because long names tend to distract, was a young, upstart scholar in a town whose name is inconsequential. Pat was a standout at her school, where she studied the science of computation. She was quite intelligent, albeit a tad aloof, according to her peers. Pat grasped new material exceptionally well and, combined with her remarkable ability to explain concepts in a simple manner, was particularly adept at helping her fellow students. And of course, Pat was a pit viper. Normally, this would not warrant its own mention but everyone else in Pat's town and school was of the species Homo sapiens so perhaps it helps the reader to know this fact. It is of a subjective importance.

One day, Pat became ensnared in a most precarious situation: she was seemingly stuck on the escalator leading to the next floor of the campus library. It was not as if the escalator itself was stuck, as if it were not moving. It was moving at a most ordinary rate, according to Pat's own estimates. No, Pat simply could not leave the escalator. Whenever she found herself on the verge of reaching the top and peering over the artificial horizon onto the next story, she suddenly became aware of the fact that she had, somehow, inexplicably, not gained any ground whatsoever. Reaching the end seemed to take her back to the beginning.

Making this mystery even more strange was a most peculiar sign at the top of the escalator. It read: "PLEASE EXERCISE CAUTION WHEN YOU ENTER_THE_ESCALATOR()". Odd syntactic choices aside, Pat felt the sign must somehow be tied to the seemingly endless escalation. This realization caused poor Pat to slip into unconsciousness.

Unceremoniously, Pat awoke some indeterminable amount of time later, miraculously laying just beyond the top of the escalator. She was not sure how she had escaped, much less whether she had in fact escaped, but this mattered little given the circumstances. And so Pat continued onward into the library to find what she came for: a novel within a novel. But not just any novel within a novel, a particular novel within a novel which was actually within itself. She was infatuated with the idea of self-reference and had heard rumors of a book in the library which, when opened to the first page, would itself open another book entirely within its confines, this secondary novel being the first novel itself.

If Pat were to be honest with herself, she would admit that she did not know how such a thing may exist. How could a tangible item reference itself? It seemed quite evidently ludicrous. But, the curious student that she was, Pat had to at least try. "What is a snake if not a fine-tuned hunter?" she might have remarked.

While passing into an unmarked section in the library, Pat entered into a hallway which was lined with mirrors on both sides. She peered left; and back right. Back left and right again. And she noticed that she was staring directly into the infinite. The perfectly parallel, facing mirrors created an endless procession of reflection, and Pat was suddenly caught in the precise middle of an infinite series of herself. The significance of this was not lost on her; in fact, it resonated quite profoundly (immeasurably, even).

And so Pat withdrew her notebook from a small satchel tied to her belly and began to take qualitative notes on the matter. While recording this intriguing new reality, she looked to her right and noticed that one of her reflections was taking the same exact notes. Of course, this may not seem surprising because this was in fact a mirrored reflection; but the idea that a never-ending series of Pat reflections were mimicking a never-ending series of Pat actions seemed poignant to her. So she surveyed as far into the mirrored abyss as she could, and began to record what she witnessed from her deeply reflected self:

"And as I gazed deep into the series of I, I noticed that I, that is to say one of I, and really all of I so far as I can be concerned, were taking these same notes that I am recording at this very instance in time. To prove this matter is quite trivial, as I can copy what I (that other, deeper I, that is) am writing right now. She (I) writes:

"And as I gazed deep into the series of I, I noticed that I, that is to say one of I, and really all of I so far as I can be concerned, were taking these same notes that I am recording at this very instance in time. To prove this matter is quite trivial, as I can copy what I (that other, deeper I, that is) am writing right now. She (I) writes:

"And as I gazed deep into the series of I, I noticed that I, that is to say one of I, and really all of I so far as I can be concerned, were taking these same notes that I am recording at this very instance in time. To prove this matter is quite trivial, as I can copy what I (that other, deeper I, that is) am writing right now. She (I) writes:

ad infinitum

After another indeterminable amount of time... well let's stop right there because Pat would like to explain what time means in this context. Which is to say, she would like to explain that time has zero meaning in this context (which is curious because it is not known how Pat garnered such a high level of self-awareness to allow recognition of this story).

She comments, "Time is most commonly thought of as the movement over some dimension, or combinations thereof, in the fabric of the universe (most unfortunately named space-time). As matter contorts and moves in space (which is to say, within itself, ultimately), a sensation is felt which is mostly illusory: that somehow things happen sequentially and that there exists concepts such as before and after. In my note-taking session, all events took place for a 'time' which was both forever and never, infinite and perfectly singular. In short, it is meaningless to say how long I copied notes, because there is no how long, there is only what happens. At this stage, I am simultaneously taking notes and not taking notes. It is of course debatable whether this generalizes to all being, but that is in fact a story for another day."

Moving on. For the purposes of commonality, let us assume that Pat has now finished.

Pat passed through the mirrored hallway and continued forward into the unmarked section of the library. She had never slithered into this particular area before and, frankly, was unaware of its existence. This is a rarity for someone of Pat's enormous reptilian intellect. She knew not what to look for, only that she may or may not know it when she saw it. She moved up and down each aisle of books, hoping to somehow stumble upon her holy grail. Each shelf stretched upward toward the ceiling and fit against it so perfectly that it was impossible to tell whether it in fact ended at the ceiling. This same quality could be applied to the way in which it rested upon the floor. It created the illusion of an eternally-extending shelf; whether or not this would be particularly extraordinary was lost on Pat. She only knew that this was an intimidating sight, particularly for an animal as low to the ground as a pit viper, and that she wanted to find her book and leave. But then something completely out of place caught her eye: a neon sign above an open door which read, "FORTUNE TELLING BY HOFSTADTER".

Pat questioned whether she had the time (there it is again) or even the desire to check it out. But the idea of such hocus-pocus pseudo science lying within this bastion of academia piqued her interest and so she succumbed to herself. Pat wriggled through the doorway to find an elderly gentleman sitting next to a clear orb in the middle of a massive, ornate rug.

"Welcome to Fortune Telling by Hofstadter! As you may have guessed, I am Hofstadter. Please, allow me to peer into your future."

"I'm not quite sure how you intend to do such a thing but be my guest," Pat retorted as she coiled up next to the orb across from the mysterious man. "What exactly is this?"

"Ah, an amateur to the arts of revelation! This, my friend, is a crystal ball! I can gaze into it and reveal your future. All that you must do is look into the orb and become enlightened," Hofstadter answered. He began to slowly wave his hands in regular, non-concentric, semi-circle patterns over the orb. "We will look into the sphere and you will see what lays ahead on the path of life."

"Hm. Okay, sure. Your crystal ball has my attention." A smirking mixture of condescension and genuine curiosity dawned Pat's scaly face.

"Stare deeply into the ball of truth and tell me what you see..." Hofstadter commanded as he continued his bizarre yet plain movements around the orb while Pat gathered her thoughts.

"Huh. Well, I see.... us. I see myself, and I see you and I see us sitting around a crystal ball in the middle of a massive, ornate rug. This is not the future. It is the present. It is now."

"But what is the future if not the present? What does it mean to move forward? Perhaps you will see only if you look deeper. Gaze into the sphere that you see us peering into."

"Well... I see us seeing us, and even further, seeing us once more."

"So you understand, yes?"

"I understand that I'm on the verge of slipping into some sort of endless cycle of self-reference and, to be perfectly forthright, I must remark that I've had enough of that for now. Why, I don't even know if I want to find that darned book any more..."

Hofstadter's ears perked up, as some might say, and he rapidly queried, "Book? What book?"

"I don't even know if it exists, really. I mean, what is existence, after all? I had merely heard of a book which contained itself: when you open the cover, it opens upon itself. I know it must sound silly," Pat confessed.

"My friend! You do not know how un-silly it sounds! For, you are in the presence of the author of just such an item!" Hofstadter exclaimed in pure jubilation. "I had almost forgotten it; it has been so long since I wrote the book and I honestly hadn't the foggiest notion of whether anyone had heard of it, much less cared. This is surely a pleasant turn of events!"

"Oh my! Well, would you mind if I could take a look at it? Perhaps even borrow it? I mean, this is a library."

But this latest question from the curious visitor was not met pleasantly by Hofstadter. "What makes you think that you are ready? What makes you so different from any other unenlightened charlatan? You refused to stare as far as you could into the sequence of crystal ball visions, a simple act which countless crabs, tortoises and Greek heroes had done before you! You are re-cursed, I say. Re-cursed!"

"How can I be re-cursed if I was never cursed to begin with?"

"You misunderstand. But it matters not. I ask again: why do you deserve to see my book of books? Why do you deserve anything from anyone, for that matter?"

Pat pondered this question with great care. She had never given such a question much thought. What does make her so special? Is it the fact that she adheres to a life of scholarly pursuits? Because she devotes herself so fully to truth and knowledge? Or is it that she has witnessed so much of the extraordinary? As her favorite philosopher might have said, "she had gazed into the abyss and the abyss had gazed into her." Pat had seen an infinite series of herself in something as simple as a pair of reflective mirrors. She had somehow escaped a perpetual escalator and had turned back from an endless trip into a crystalline sphere before it was too late. Yes, Pat gave this much thought. And her answer did come.

"Well, I'm a snake. And snakes slither while humans walk. And when you move in continuous curves instead of discrete steps, you observe your surroundings much more fully. This is the path to enlightenment, because one cannot understand what resides inside of the mind without first experiencing that which resides outside of the mind, whatever that may or may not be."

Hofstadter's eyes widened. His mouth opened agape, like the ravenous maw of a feeding blue whale. The few hairs on his head stood on end with petrification, as did the tufts of hair on his chin. Finally, he summoned the wherewithal to respond:

"You're a snake?"

And with that, Pat again passed out. It is entirely unknown what occurred to Pat, be it internal, external or even eternal. Some say she consumed her own tail, engorging upon her body until her mouth reached itself and she began to feed on her own feeding self until she popped right out of existence. Some say she achieved a state of pure awareness and oneness with reality. Some say she discovered that reality was a false notion, that the only reality was a lack of meaning, of purpose and of the physical entirely. Ultimately, these divergent thoughts have the same conclusion. What is known, however, is that Pat would eventually find herself perfectly comfortable in the warm confines of her home (her home being a small plastic cave in a terrarium in her neighbor's home, but the importance of this is also subjective).

Pat awoke, with no memory of what had occurred. She experienced a distinct haze and felt somehow more in tune with her surroundings. But precisely what had happened? Where had she been? Whom had she spoken with? These were all questions beyond her realm of understanding, beyond her plane of existence.

At this point Pat was no longer sure whether this was dream or reality, or whether there was really any distinction between the two that carried any meaning whatsoever. But she felt tired and she was acutely aware that reading always helped to put her mind at a relative ease before setting off to sleep. So she reached for a hefty book which she did not recognize as being one of her own, with the words "The Tail of Pat the Pit Viper" imprinted in a crystalline-like substance across the front cover. She lifted it off of...