Questioning My Religion: Why (not) Mars?

Photo: Mars Perseverance Rover – “Crater Floor Fractured Rough” – July 8, 2021

The following essay is a summary and response to the article, “Why Not Mars,” published by Maciej Cegłowski on January 1st, 2023. I will also be digging deeper into the logistics of sending a human to Mars, the challenges to overcome, and the ethics on whether or not we should do this. Ever since I became obsessed with Science Fiction novels during the pandemic and witnessed how humanity can’t cooperate to fight against a virus, I’ve considered a Mars landing during my lifetime a priority for humanity. I’ve joined the Human-on-Mars religion and I believe that there are compelling reasons why humans must urgently accomplish the monumental task of putting a human on the red planet as soon as possible. Cegłowski makes good arguments for why we should delay our efforts (contamination, lack of stated objectives, complexity of the challenges), but I believe the risks humanity faces on Earth and the steady destruction of our environment warrant us to act now. Despite the enormous costs and challenges of transporting a human to Mars and back, it will act as a catalyst for future generations to solve the challenges of becoming an interplanetary species. 

My argument summarized here: The risks and costs of contaminating Mars do not outweigh the existential threat we face on Earth, and while the first steps to transporting a human to Mars will be clumsy and difficult, it will usher in an era of humans thinking about the challenges that need to be solved to begin our migration across the solar system.

Logistics and Challenges:

Estimated cost: $500 billion dollars

U.S. military budget in 2020: $448.9 billion

U.S. military budget in 2021: $408.8 billion

U.S. military budget in 2022: $344.4 billion

Estimated Timing: 2050

I share the military budget to show that the U.S. government has the funds to shift towards space exploration. The U.S. military, ranked #1 in the world, spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. Do we really need more money spent on national security? In this essay I’m going to argue that landing a human Mars will open the door to not only protecting our species (call it species security), but saving more of Earth’s environment.

Cegłowski’s main argument for why humans should not go to Mars is that we will contaminate the red planet, and the robots we’ve constructed are not only 100x times cheaper than sending humans into but are becoming more and more sophisticated. The robots are so sophisticated that they could accomplish any task we can think of on Mars.

“Between 1960 and 2020, space probes improved by something like six orders of magnitude…The imbalance between human and robot is so overwhelming that, despite the presence of a $250 billion International Space Station National Laboratory, every major discovery made in space this century has come from robotic spacecraft.”

In addition, there are universes of microbes on Earth that we’ve only just discovered. “The fact that we failed to notice 99.999% of life on Earth until a few years ago is unsettling and has implications for Mars…The existence of a deep biosphere in particular narrows the habitability gap between our planets to the point where it probably doesn’t exist – there is likely at least one corner of Mars that an Earth organism could call home. It also adds support to the theory that life may have started as an interplanetary infection, a literal Veneral disease that spread across the early solar system by meteorite. If that is the case, and if our distant relatives are still alive in some deep Martian cave, then just about the worst way to go looking for them would be to land in a septic spacecraft.”

Cegłowski takes it as a given that studying microbes in an uncontaminated Martian cave and answering questions around the origin of life are more important than making steps to get humans, i.e. unpredictable, violent apes susceptible to mutating viruses and wielding nuclear weapons, off planet Earth. He downplays the existential risk of patiently waiting on Earth until our technology develops and dreams of all the interesting things we could learn in the meantime if we channeled money away from a human Mars mission into scattering probes across our solar system.

The first step of getting a human to Mars requires overcoming enormous challenges. But once we have done this, we will accelerate the process of sending more and more humans to Mars. We will usher ourselves into an era of interplanetary space travel.

The challenge of sending a human to Mars is first limited by human physiology. We must understand these limits well enough before we send a human to Mars, and this will require years of human experiences beyond low Earth orbit, or in anti-gravity chambers on Earth.

Before NASA can finalize a mission design, data must be collected concerning the physiological effects of partial gravity and the risk from heavy ion radiation. These experiments could take place on the moon. Before a Mars landing, there must be a working lunar base. The recent Artemis mission (in which the first woman and first person of color will go to the moon), is taking place to establish this lunar base where these tests can occur.

Even though testing the effects of radiation and partial gravity would be best accomplished on the moon, we can begin to test the physiological effects of partial gravity on Earth. “Various methods can be used for generating altered gravity, including orbital flight, parabolic flight, head down/up tilt, body loading/unloading, and centrifugation (Richard” We must do more of these tests before a Mars mission. A Mars mission will take about a 1000 days and the longest time a human has spent in space is approximately 437 days, by Valeri Polyakov, whose first words upon his return were, “We can fly to Mars.” (He is currently 80 years old.)

“During spaceflight, the vestibular otolith organs no longer adequately sense gravito-inertial accelerations. Animal studies have shown that otolith afferents are initially hypersensitive to tilt after return to Earth. Perhaps as a result of this hypersensitivity, astronauts overestimate pitch and roll tilt for 1-2 days immediately after landing.” There are many other effects (astronauts exposed to microgravity experience physiological deconditioning, or space deconditioning, in particular with regards to the physiological systems sensitive to mechanical loading such as cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurovestibular, and musculoskeletal systems) but basically, since humans will be spending about a 1000 days in space in order to go to Mars, we need to see how human bodies will function for a 1000 days in space. We don’t want to spend $500 billion to send a human to Mars then have them unaccountably lose their eyesight (due to some unexpected relationship between gravity and retinal attachment) while approaching the red planet. 

Concerning the risk from heavy ion radiation, you can read all about it here, on NASA’s website, but the concept is the same: we don’t know how astronauts will cope with Galactic Cosmic Radiation (GCR) for long periods of time, since the amount of radiation an astronaut receives is determined by the altitude above the Earth, the solar cycle, and the individual’s susceptibility. We need to test humans in space for long periods of time to learn more about radiation’s effects (specifically, ionizing radiation, or particles that have enough energy to completely remove an electron from its orbit, thus creating a more positively charged atom). What compounds this challenge is that we don’t know the levels of radiation astronauts will face on a Mars mission, and even if we knew the rate at which GCR fluctuated in our solar system, we might not be able to avoid it since a “launch window” for Mars (when Earth and Mars are in orbital positions around the Sun that allow for a trip to Mars to last around 7-9 months) occurs once every 26 months (the last one being in August of 2022, the next one in September of 2024). That all being said, there are materials that can shield against cosmic radiation (such as lead) but the production of secondary particles inside these materials can cause other problems. We need to experiment with a range of materials to see what works best for shielding astronauts against GCR.

Another challenge is a lack of reliable closed-loop life support. According to Cegłowski, “With our current capability, NASA would struggle to keep a crew alive for six months on the White House lawn, let alone for years in a Martian yurt.”

Many people argue that we will have technological breakthroughs if we put a human on Mars, but Cegłowski argues that the “technology program [to solve the current challenges] would be remarkable circular, with no benefits outside the field of applied zero gravity zookeeping.” I would argue that we need to expand the field of “applied zero gravity zookeeping” if we are ever going to have a self-sustaining, viable society on Mars. Yes, the challenges are circular, but they exist in a system we need to master in order to become an interplanetary species.

What makes the challenge of life support in space so challenging is that, “…all the subcomponents interact with each other and the crew. There’s no such thing as a life support unit test; you have to run the whole system in space under conditions that mimic the target mission. Reliability engineering for life support involves solving mysteries like why gunk formed on a certain washer on Day 732, then praying on the next run that your fix doesn’t break on Day 733.” Again, I agree with the incredible complexity of the problem, and it is exactly why we need to start making attempts at solving it as soon as possible. We will only solve these challenges by doing them, by mimicking the target mission, by taking risks and failing again and again out in space. If we focus too much on robotic probes, sitting safe at home while writing science blogs, we’ll never get the chance to fail and learn.

To go to Mars, we’d need two kinds of life support: spacecraft and surface, that together have to work for about 1000 days. “The spacecraft also has to demonstrate that it can go dormant for the time the crew is on Mars and still work when it wakes up.” This latter problem could be solved if we have an orbiting spacecraft around Mars and Earth that never stops functioning, as described in Andy Weir’s The Martian. What would be the costs and challenges of this project? I’ll leave those questions for another essay.

So while, “Humanity does not need a billion dollar shit dehydrator that can work for three years in zero gravity, but a Mars mission can’t leave Earth without it,” – we do need that shit dehydrator eventually if we ever want to have a society on Mars.

Cegłowski emphasizes his contamination argument: 

“Humans who land on Mars will not be able to avoid introducing a large ecosystem of microbes to the area around the landing site. If any fugitives from the spacecraft make their way to a survivable niche on Mars, we may never be able to tell whether biotic signatures later found on the planet are traces of native life, or were left by escapees from our first Martian outhouse. Like careless investigators who didn’t wear gloves to a crime scene, we would risk permanently destroying the evidence we came to collect.”

But what if we those investigators aren’t there to collect evidence in the first place? Does Cegłowski really have enough faith in humanity to believe that peace and prosperity will endure on the planet for generations to come?

He asks the question: “What incredible ability do astronauts have that justifies the risk [of contamination]? My response is: none. But again, beyond the astronauts abilities, what discoveries could we ever make on an uncontaminated planet with robots that could justify staying home and enduring the existential risk of extinction?

Cegłowski acknowledges the skeptics, saying that microbes have already landed on Mars, both on robotic landers and on the occasional meteorite. “But as we’ll see, the diverse microbiome that would travel with a human crew poses a qualitatively different threat…”

It is true that a human crew will bring a qualitatively different threat and that NASA is required by treaty to care about contamination. Concerns over contamination mean that many phenomena of scientific interest will be off-limits to astronauts, such as gullies, recurrent slope lineae, and underground water. “The crew will not live in a Martian pueblo, but something resembling a level 4 biocontainment facilities. And even there, they’ll have to do their lab work remotely, the same way it’s done today, raising the question of what exactly the hundreds of billions of dollars we’re spending to get to Mars are buying us.” My response is that we will solve the circular problems Cegłowski laid out before (i.e. applied zero gravity zookeeping, knowledge concerning the effects of long-term space travel on the human body), which are necessary to solve if we are ever going to have a living, self-sustaining society on Mars. Also, the act of sending a human to Mars, even if they will only sit in a level 4 biocontainment facility remotely controlling a probe, will act as a catalyst for research and progress in these areas. It will inspire future generations to work on the necessary challenges.


Cegłowski writes, “SpaceX has built some magnificent rockets, and their dynamism is a welcome change from the souls-trapped-in-powerpoint vibe at Nasa.” Would Elon Musk and SpaceX exist if it wasn’t for the moon landing? Elon Musk has stated in interviews that Neil Armstrong and Eugen Ceran are his heroes (even though they have disdained his space efforts). How many future Elon Musks will there be if we put a human on Mars by 2050? Maybe you don’t want more Elon Musks (I’m guessing Ceglowski doesn’t). But if we are going to leave Earth and survive elsewhere, we need them.

I don’t trust humanity. I don’t trust the viruses on this planet. In the past 100 years, a flicker in the geological timespan in which Cegłowski’s wonderful, mysterious microbes have flourished, humans have dropped nuclear bombs incinerating hundreds of thousands of people, had two World Wars, committed a holocaust, hosted genocides across the planet, had 6.83 million killed by Covid-19. Imagine if Covid-19 had been just a little more lethal? Imagine if Americans didn’t stop Germany during WWII? What’s preventing another virus from eliminating humanity? Another tyrant from rising? Today Russia is at war with Ukraine, and despite the most powerful countries in the world condemning it, the war is still going on and will likely continue into 2024. We must get off this planet and create a self-sustaining society elsewhere, so if something happens on Earth, nuclear war, an extremely lethal virus, whatever, we are still around to say, “Wow, we really contaminated the fuck out of Mars, didn’t we? Hold on a second why I go turn off the billion-dollar shit dehydrator.”

In addition, I believe that humans will keep “plugging in” to computers and virtual realities more and more. The average person spends 3.25 hours a day on their phones. The videogame industry is currently larger than Hollywood and North American sports industries combined. Add to this trend the fact that human population growth is not slowing down. We will keep growing and growing, requiring more and more resources. It is estimated that the human population will reach 11.2 billion by 2100. We need someplace to go that is self-sustaining. I imagine a future where many humans will spend the majority of their days in virtual realities. What better place to plug into a virtual reality than on the desolate, desert surface of Mars? As the human population approaches 50 billion, 100 billion, we will need to get off the planet Earth unless we want to ravage every last bit of organic life on this planet. If we don’t want Earth to become a sea of servers and concrete cities, we need to start building those elsewhere, to give people the option to go there and live in their virtual realities. And we need to start acting now, before it’s too late.

So let’s go to Mars.

The Hyper Algorithm

10 minute read

“I’ll be honest, Vance, this is going to feel like a spike being driven into the back of your skull.”


“Most patients pass out when the nano-bots are injected. Unfortunately, we can’t give you any sedatives or we’d compromise the installation. Now lean back.”

“Got it…and just to go over what you said before, this hyper algorithm will only be active when I’m wearing my genius glasses, right?”


“And if I pass out, I’ll wake up within at least ten minutes? Vincent, my son who you met in the waiting room, is participating in a bi-lingual experience at the Paris Brain Institute later this morning and I need to go with him.”

“Don’t worry. You’ll be out of here by eight o’clock. Now close your eyes…try and relax.” 

Thirty minutes later, on metro line 7, Vincent and I were jammed between bodies and automated doors (annual summer training strike) on our way to the Paris Brain Institute. Since I hadn’t read the proposal for the experiment thoroughly the night before, and I wanted to test out this new hyper algorithm, I glanced at my left forearm where my genius phone was implanted and scanned the proposal in more detail. Simultaneously I saw my hyper algorithm, customized to my personality and thought patterns, create a pop-up window in my genius glasses next to the text with links to recent developments in neuroscience, correctly measuring and predicting my ignorance and impending curiosity on the subject. Wow.  Ignoring this with a flick of my pupil (my genius glasses registering the movement and minimizing the neglected content) I turned back to the proposal and mentally summed up the academic acrobatics: the neuroscientists were going to measure how Vincent’s experience changed, using extremely detailed brain scans, as he spoke and thought in French or English. More specifically, they were going to measure changes during an eight hour window in his insular cortex, an older cortex in the brain that is folded deep within the lateral sulfus, the fissure separating the frontal and temporal lobes. My hyper algorithm seemed to read my thoughts: a pop-window and a picture re-appeared with clarification stating that the insular cortex/insula is where taste occurs, but more importantly it plays a role in visceral and emotional functions.

I returned to the recent developments with another pupil-flick and saw that in the past five years neuroscientists had also proven that the insular cortex represents experience from inside our bodies. In the 2020s, neuroscientists called the prefrontal cortex the seat of consciousness. In the 2030s, scientists confirmed that the insular cortex, a part of the prefrontal cortex, is the existential control panel, an anatomical integration hub with heavy connectivity to other parts of the brain which receives sensory inputs from all modalities.

“Dad, this is our stop right?”

“You got it.” I triple blinked to close the virtual windows as we pried ourselves out of the crush of bodies, crossed the platform, and climbed the stairs. 

“Finally,” Vincent raised his arms to the sky. “I can breathe.” We got out at Les Gobelins and walked northeast to the institute. 

It was an overcast, boiling hot day, the pavement seeming to sizzle, another summer where Paris was breaking heat records. Vincent didn’t mind the heat since he had grown up in this steadily burning urban hotbox, but I felt the baking waves and dense pollution as if they were cooking my skin and grating my throat. We passed a crumbling statue of a forgotten hero, a family of three picking through trash, and a restaurant with rows of wicker chairs and circular marble tables. Vincent said,

“Dad, I gotta piss like a race horse. Can I stop quick?”


While Vincent was in the bathroom I continued reading. I learned that other functions of the insular include autonomical and motor control, risk prediction and decision making, and complex social functions like empathy. In the proposal, the researchers wrote, If you see the person you’re in love with, attempt to listen to your own heartbeat, or desire a piece of peanut butter pie, your insular will show increased activity on a brain scan. I wondered how the human insular cortex differed from other animals, and on cue (which was starting to become a little frightening) my hyper algorithm shared a link: 

In lissencephalic species, including mice and rats, the insula lies exposed on the lateral surface of the brain above the rhinal fissure, while in human and primate brains the insula (which means “island” in Latin) is folded below the lateral sulcus and is hidden by the opercula. This shows us that the insular cortex is necessary but not sufficient for human consciousness; it cannot create consciousness on its own but consciousness cannot exist without it. I thought about how this current thought would look captured in my brain (a frozen, microscopic-fireworks-finale radiating throughout my skull?) Then I thought about how nature is overflowing with accidents on the treacherous path of evolution, but that it was unlikely a coincidence that as rodents evolved into apes, then humans, this essential part of consciousness would be tucked and hidden deeper inside the thinking apparatus if it wasn’t crucial to reality construction and manipulation. I felt a tickle in my left forearm, a sensation reserved for messages from family and close friends:

“Dad, not pissing, dumping. Will be out in a min.”

“Thanks for the update.” I continued reading. 

A unique characteristic of the insular cortex in humans (and whales, elephants, and great apes) is the presence of a special cell type called “von Economo neurons” first formally described by Constantin von Economo in the 1920s.

For over a century the exact function of this cell type was not known. Neuroscientists had only observed that these special cells, also known as spindle neurons, were selectively destroyed during frontotemporal dementia and were unique to animals with large brains and advanced socialization skills. The average human has about 82,000 such cells, a gorilla 16,000, and a bonobo 2,000. Whales have around 240,000. The large quantity of spindle neurons in whales shouldn’t be a surprise when we learn that whales communicate through massive song repertoires, recognizing their own songs and making up new ones, forming coalitions to plan hunting strategies, teaching these strategies to younger individuals, and creating evolved social networks. They also have 15 lb. brains, so the neural transport routes the spindle neuron has to travel to reach other parts of the brain are longer (average human size = about 3 lbs.). While initially neuroscientists believed that these spindle neurons were the foundations of sophisticated social behavior (orcas have complex social hierarchies with females at the top) more recent developments have shown how they also play an integral part in our conscious awareness of reality. Neuroscientists have acknowledged that you cannot separate social development, whatever species you are, from an understanding of your self, time, and space. Humans who have been in solitary confinement for long periods of time not only lose their social skills, they often lose their sense of self and their surroundings: their brains degrade as they experience memory loss, cell death in the hippocampus, overall cognitive decline, and depression. 

Justification for the importance of spindle neurons in consciousness was found in 2028 in a study on schizophrenics. In 2016 it was shown that subjects with early onset schizophrenia (and a longer duration of the illness) had a reduced spindle neuron density. In 2028 post-mortem analysis of brains of schizophrenics was able to show how the degree of delusions experienced by the subjects (measured before their deaths by interviews recording the self-reported quantity of imaginary voices/people experienced by the subject) related directly with the degree of degradation of their VENs (von economo neurons). VENs provide rapid transmission of information to other parts of the brain, and if these neurons can’t do their jobs we begin losing our grip on what’s real or not. I wondered if a future human would ever “evolve” a neuron more sophisticated than these spindle neurons and how this new neuron would alter behavior or the reality experienced. Then I refocused on the proposal and saw that the Paris Brain institute was going to analyze the activity of VENs in Vincent’s brain. 

“I’m back!” Vincent came running out of the restaurant. “Didn’t know I had to drop the kids off at the pool.” 

“I had a feeling you would.”


“I follow your eating habits and we share similar digestive tracts.”


The Paris brain institute is in a U-shaped building that has floor to ceiling black windows wrapping around the exterior. Built in 2010, it is a modern architectural island amongst rows of decaying yellow brick buildings. The structure (I snapped a picture with my genius glasses) resembles a giant, glass magnet.

We crossed a wooden bridge, pushed through the glass doors, and were greeted by stern-faced security guards. After giving us the “once-over” one of them said,

“Bi-lingual experiment?”


“Leave an I.D. at the front desk and follow me.” 

We passed a piece of artwork, a marble circle with a piece missing (I snapped another picture), were led down a nondescript corridor, then entered a cavernous auditorium.

Parents and their teenagers were already sitting in cushioned seats, reading and poking tablets. 

“Welcome, Bonjour, Vincent and Vance.” A young man with wispy, parted hair and eyes framed by round glasses approached us. Vincent turned to me.

“How does this guy know who we are?”

“I’m informed by security each time a new participant arrives.” He gestured to a genius implant in his left forearm, which was blinking with a message: arrival of new participants. “My name is Sigmundus Vetus. Pleasure to meet you both.”

The man made me uneasy. But we shook hands anyway and I let him hand us two tablets. 

“The parent fills out the release form, the child a quick survey. I’m sure you know the drill.” I didn’t, but again I nodded and took the tablets. 

We sat in two seats away from the others and started filling out the forms, clicking boxes and signing our names with our index fingers. My form only took thirty seconds, basically saying that I wouldn’t engage in legal action if anything went awry. I ignored the twenty pages of fine print, and was about to return to my research stemming from the proposal when Vincent nudged my shoulder. 

“You should really read the fine print, dad.”

“Why’s that? If they kidnap you or cut your brain out, it’ll be for the glory of science.” My generation had grown up ignoring “terms of agreement” and fine print supplements. Vincent had been warned against this, probably from teachers. He smiled, but his voice was firm. 

“No joke. It’s the same idea as that hybrid algorithm you just bought. You should really read the fine print on those things. New technology can be dangerous. Especially when your mind spent decades without it.” I faked a robotic, monotone voice, staring blankly into the distance. 


“I’m serious. I read the fine print on your hyper algorithm and there’s been reported incidents of the technology comprising other implants.”

“Appreciate you looking out for me. I’ll be careful. But I need this algorithm for work. The firm paid for half of it so I could finish a contract I’m working on before a deadline.”

“Yeah but will they pay for permanent neural damage?”

“Probably not. But I take risks so you can live your pampered life of luxury.”

Vincent shrugged and continued filling out his survey, and I looked over his shoulder at the questions. They were fairly “establishing a psychological baseline basic,” asking about diet, screen time, how many books he reads per week, how much sleep he gets, exercise, and emotional variability. I double blinked and looked back at the proposal description:

Before the observational period would begin the participants were going to be injected with a contrast material, gandolinium, a rare earth metal that when present in the body alters the magnetic properties of nearby water molecules. (Is that why the building is shaped like a magnet, an architectural wink to M.R.I. machines?)

Gandolinium improves the quality of the brain scan through enhancing the sensitivity and specificity of the images. 

In the early 2020s, when subjects received brain scans, they would have to lie in a big M.R.I machine, remaining still for +30 minutes, while a machine hummed and buzzed. (I remembered lying in one numerous times as a teenager for the 4 stress fractures I developed in my tibias from running a lot). Now the technology had progressed to the point where subjects just had to wear a bulky helmet, a mobile upgraded “head coil.” This allowed the neuroscientists to create more realistic environments and get more accurate results. Another breakthrough in neuroscience in the past five years was recognizing the importance of mobility in brain analysis and development. The participants in this study would be moving about and tasting various foods while either speaking (and thinking) in French or English. A giant machine, likely hidden in the ceiling, would be sending and receiving waves, uploading the brain scans to a quantum computer. 

When I read this part of the proposal, the fireside science critic in me immediately raised a red flag: how could these neuroscientists think that they could separate language’s impact on experience from culture’s impact? Isn’t language inextricably entwined with the cultural traditions, values, and history in which it was born and developed? Of course Vincent would experience more brain activity while thinking in French and tasting than in English, French culture is a food culture, valuing culinary experiences (in general) more highly than English speaking cultures (have you ever tried English cooking/eaten out of a dumpster?) In the past two years I’d heard Vincent have 30-60 minute conversations with his friends about food (how it was prepared, how it compared to other dishes, how it could be improved, etc.) Even though English has 6x more words than French (600,000 vs. 100,000) French has more ways to describe taste and food than any other language. (The French language’s 100,000 words has 350,000 meanings). What does culture’s impact on our identities look like in the brain? 

My hyper algorithm must have been measuring how long I was stuck on a sentence, and sensed my doubt and reflection, because the machine infiltrated the proposal (how did it do this?) and scrolled down to the bottom where the neuroscientists had already responded to potential criticisms.

We acknowledge the cultural influence on language and the challenge of separating a language’s influence on reality from the culture’s influence. We do not believe this undermines the purpose of our research nor the results.


When Vincent finished filling out the form he was called into another room with the other participants.

“See ya, dad.”

“See ya, son.” Vincent looked off into the distance, mimicking me when I did the robot voice.

“Humanity will never be the same again once they have learned what’s happening inside this brain.”

“God help us. Go get your pay check.” He smiled and left. Five minutes later Sigmundus Vetus returned to the auditorium to address the remaining parents, friends, or guardians.

“If any of you would like to observe the beginning of the experiment, please follow me.” A few of us followed the doctor out of the room, up some stairs, then into a chamber with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bi-lingual subjects. I saw Vincent being shown how to put the M.R.I. head coil on his head by a nurse while another nurse put a needle in his arm (injecting the gandolinium, I assumed). For the next ten minutes I heard Vincent and the other participants being told directions, speaking French, being offered various foods, and being observed by doctors. My hyper algorithm blinked a reminder on the edge of my vision: work. I left and went to the office.

About 7 hours later I was back at the Paris Brain Institute to pick Vincent up. In the auditorium the lights were dim and Sigmundus Vetus was on the verge of an announcement. Vincent was sitting in the back row and motioned me over to a seat.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

“Boring, but check it out.” Vincent showed me his phone with a payment accepted from the Paris Brain Institute enlarged: $680.

“Good. Now you can start buying toilet paper.”

“Do we have to stay for this?”

“No, let’s get out of here. Mom made a quiche.”

On the 7 line back home I thought about the experiment and told myself that I would follow up on the results. Vincent was reading a book. There was more space in the metro, we weren’t packed like sardines, but there still weren’t any seats available and we were standing in front of the doors. 

I’ve always believed that movement and activity stimulates and accelerates the formation of ideas. For months I had been stuck on an engineering problem at work, holed up in my office, surviving on coffee and croissants. But after going out with Vincent and being on the periphery of new research, of witnessing humanity pushing the boundaries of our understanding firsthand, something in my brain started to turn. Vincent looked up and smiled. I felt an idea begin to take shape, its contours and attributes becoming gradually clearer, like a sunrise over a rocky landscape. The answer to a structural problem appeared in my mind’s eye. The answer and path to get there was raw, uneven, and jumbled, it would still need work and tweaking, but at least I knew which direction to go, which step to take, and-

My visual field seemed to explode. I felt an excruciating pain in my left wrist, a constricting sensation in my genius implant. My hyper algorithm was filling my genius glasses with thousands of pop-windows, links, video clips, recommendations, warnings, graphs, an avalanche of images. My retinas burned, my right ankle, which was loaded with nano bots all connected to my hybrid algorithm via a health monitor, crumpled. All of this happened in a spilt second, the malfunction causing me to seize up as if having an epileptic seizure. My legs buckled, I started to fall, then I felt an arm encircle my lower back, preventing my head from smashing the metro floor. 

Vincent had somehow caught me mid-fall, taken off the genius glasses with a deft swipe, then easily lifted me back up to a standing position. The travelers around us stared at Vincent in awe. An old man with a dog even chuckled and clapped. Vincent turned the genius glasses over in his hand. 

“I knew that hyper algorithm was fricking dangerous.” I was still getting a grip on what had just happened, waiting for my implants to return to baseline, processing the previous five seconds. Before I could say anything, Vincent looked up.

“You had an idea. Didn’t you? That’s why your hyper algorithm went bezerk. It knew you were on the edge of something.”

“What? That’s…how did you know?”

“C’mon dad, I can see it in your face ten seconds out.” 

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