Isaac Asimov

(Petrovich, Russia : 1920 – New-York, April 1992

 

Coma

– Part 3 –

 

Lunch was in a well-lit room, for strips of the walls, together with the entire ceiling, were electroluminescent. Boranova had pointed it out with obvious pride, and Morrison had refrained from making invidious comparisons with the United States where electroluminescence was widespread.

 

Nor did he express his amusement over the fact that, despite the electroluminescence, there was a small, but ornate, chandelier centred in the ceiling. Its bulbs, contributed nothing to the light, but it undoubtedly made the room seem less antiseptic.

 

As Boranova had predicted, a fifth person had joined them, and Morrison was introduced to someone named Yuri Konev.

– A neurophysicist like yourself, Albert – said Boranova.

 

Konev, who was darkly handsome, and who seemed to be in his middle thirties, had an air of almost gawky youth about him. He shook hands with wary curiosity, and said “I am most pleased to meet you” in creditable English, spoken with a distinct American accent.

 

– You have been in the United States – I imagine – said Morrison, also in English.

 

– I spent two years doing graduate work at Harvard University. It gave me a splendid opportunity to practise my English.

 

– Nevertheless – said Boranova, in Russian – Dr Albert Morrison does very well in our language, Yuri, and we must give him a chance to practise it here in our country.

 

– Of course – said Konev, in Russian.

 

Morrison had almost forgotten that he was underground. There were no windows in the room, but that was common enough in large office buildings even above ground.

 

The meal was not an ebullient one. Arkady Deznev ate with silent concentration, and Sophia Kalinin seemed abstracted. She glanced occasionally at Morrison, but ignored Konev completely. Boranova watched everyone, but said very little. She seemed content to leave the floor to Konev.

 

Konev said:

– Dr Morrison, I must tell you that I have followed your work carefully.

 

Morrison, who had been eating the thick cabbage soup appreciatively, looked up with a quick smile. This was the first reference to his work, rather than to their work, since he had arrived in the Soviet Union.

 

– Thank you for your interest, but Natalya and Arkady call me Albert and I will have difficulty in responding to different names. Let us all be on first-name basis for the brief time that remains before I am returned to my own land.

 

– Help us – said Boranova, in a low voice – and it will indeed be a brief time.

 

– No conditions – said Morrison – in an equally low tone – I wish to leave.

 

Konev raised his voice as though to force the conversation back into the track he had chosen:

– But I must admit, Albert, that I have been unable to duplicate your observations.

 

Morrison’s lips tightened:

– I have had this complaint from neurophysicists in the United States.

 

– Now why should this be? Academician Shapirov is greatly intrigued by your theories and maintains that you are probably correct, at least in part.

 

– Ah, but Shapirov isn’t a neurophysicist, is he?

 

– No, he’s not, but he has an extraordinary feel for what is correct. I have never known him to say “It seems to me that this must be right” when whatever he is discussing hasn’t proved to be right – at least in part. He cast a penetrating glance at Morrison as though waiting for an explanation of the remark.

 

Morrison simply shrugged it away.

 

– What I have done – he said – is to establish a new kind of analysis of the cephalic waves originating in the brain, and to have narrowed the search for a specific network within the brain devoted to creative thought.

 

– There you may be a little overoptimistic, Albert. I have not satisfied myself that this network of yours really exists.

 

– My results mark it out quite clearly.

 

– In dogs and monkeys. It is uncertain how far we can extrapolate such information to the much more complex structure of the human brain.

 

– I admit I haven’t worked with the human brain anatomically, but I have analysed human brain-waves carefully, and those results are at least consistent with my creative-structure hypothesis.

 

– This is what I haven’t been able to duplicate, and what American researchers may not have been able to duplicate, either.

 

Again Morrison shrugged:

- Adequate brain-wave analysis is, at best, a monumentally difficult thing at the quintenary level, and no one else has given the years to the problem that I have.

 

– Or possesses the particular computerized equipment. You have designed your own program for the purpose of brain-wave analysis, haven’t you?

 

– Yeas, I have.

 

– And described it in the literature?

 

– Certainly. If I achieved results with an undescribed program, they would be worth nothing. Who could confirm my results, lacking an equivalent computer program?

 

– Yet I have heard, at the International Neurophysical Conference in Brussels last year, that you are continually modifying your program and complaining that the lack of confirmation stems from the use of insufficiently complex programming incapable of Fourier analysis to the proper degree of sensitivity.

 

– No, Yuri, that is false. Entirely false. I have modified my program from time to time, but I have carefully described each modification in Computer Technology. I have tried to publish  the data in The American Journal of Neurophysics, but they don’t accept my papers these last few years. If others confine their reading to the AJN and don’t keep up with relevant literature elsewhere, that is not my fault.

 

– And yet – Konev paused, and frowned in what seemed to be uncertain thought. – I don’t know if I ought to say this, because it may be something else that will antagonize you.

 

– Go ahead. I have, in these last few years, learned to accept all kinds of remarks, hostile, sarcastic, and – worst of all – pitying. I am quite hardened to it. – This is good chicken Kiev, by the way.

 

– This is a guest meal – murmured Kalinin, almost under her breath. – Too buttery is bad for the figure.

 

– Hag – said Brezhnev loudly –. Bad for the figure. That is an American remark that makes no sense in Russian. My father always said: the body knows what it needs; that’s why things taste good.

 

Katilinin closed her eyes in quite obvious distaste. “A recipe for suicide – she said.

 

Morrison noticed that Konev did not look at the young woman during this bit of byplay. Not at all.

 

He said:

– You were saying, Yuri? About something that might antagonize me. you thought.

 

Konev said:

– Well, then, is it true, Albert, or not true that you actually gave your program to a colleague and that, using it in your computer, he was still unable to duplicate your results?

 

– That’s true, said Morrison. – At least my colleague, an able enough man, said he could not duplicate my results.

 

 Do you suspect he was lying.

 

 No. Not really. It´s just that the observations are so delicate that to attempt them while certain of failure may well lead , it seems to me, to failure.

 

 Might one not argue the other way around, Albert, and say that your certainty of success leads you to imagine success.

 

 Possibly – said Morrison – That has been pointed out to me several times in the past –.  But I don’t think so.

 

 

 

To be followed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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