Lew and Pru and the Doctor's Orders

(#2 in a series)

Pru looked for him across the bustle of people waiting for seats in the busy lecture hall, spotting him quickly by his tall build and the energetic gestures by which he was describing something to some laughing companions. As she approached, she started to hear what he was saying "-- and I've given her a lot, if you know what I mean. I've corrupted her lots of times --" He saw her walking towards him angrily and stopped. "Boasting about your conquests," she said, "really, Lew. I should take you away from these people at once." He looked momentarily confused, but went off with her with a wave to the others and an irrepressible smile. "You know me, Pru. That's how I am." "You are disgraceful," Pru sniffed. He was carrying a package wrapped in brown paper. She tried to peer across him for a better look at it. "What's that you have?" she said, her nose wrinkling cutely in disapproval, "another thick book for me to take in?"

"It's a classic!" he said. "Fanny Hill. All about--" "I know what it is about," she said sternly, "I've read about the case. It was judged to 1) appeal to prurient interest, 2) be patently offensive" and Pru paused, "but sadly, 3) it could not be proven to have no redeeming social value. An error by the judge, I am sure." "Our usual arrangement, then?" he said, rubbing his hands together with glee and almost dropping the book. "Very well," she said, taking the package from him with that inexplicable slightly giddy feeling that she sometimes had. Perhaps she'd get a chance to get rid of the book later.

"Thanks for going on this outing with me, Pru. I was hoping you could get away," he said, walking along with her. "It should be very educational," said Pru. "And I am supported by a bequest. Aside from my work campaigning to improve public morality, I am a woman of leisure." "That's great--" he started, but just then the famous doctor that they'd come there to see staggered through the door, followed by a cloud of greasy black smoke. "A lab accident!" he said, coughing. "You must evacuate the building right away!" The crowd erupted into screams and a general panic, and they swirled around and she thought they were going to be trampled but Lew pulled her aside into a corner of the room. "This way!" said the doctor, and unlocked a side door just as the billowing cloud reached them. They rushed through it and slammed the door.

"My private laboratory," said the doctor, coughing again. "It has a filtered air system. We can wait here until the cloud disperses." Lew and Pru looked around curiously. "Look at that," whispered Lew, pointing at a human brain floating in a sickly-greenish liquid. "My greatest triumph," said the doctor proudly. "A human brain, kept alive in a vat, and fed artificial stimuli! The brain believes that it is a living human being, you see. I feed it a flawless simulation of reality through this input device." "Really? Gosh!" said Lew. Pru quietly put the book down on a counter. Perhaps he'd forget it in all the confusion.

But he didn't. His gaze fell on it and he scooped it up. "Hey, I know what we could do!" he said. "Let's give the brain a copy of Fanny Hill. It must be boring for it in there." "An interesting experiment--" mused the doctor. "No, Lew," Pru interrupted. "That would be corrupting this poor brain. I'm surprised that you would go back on our agreement." "But, Pru," he said, looking quizzical, "what does it matter? The brain can't actually do anything. Its world isn't even real." "That makes no difference," she said firmly. "It should be a pure brain, and not be degraded by such ideas. I demand that you give it to me instead." "Oh, very well," he said, downcast, and handed the book over again, "but I don't think that a brain in a vat could have the sort of history and interaction with the world that would allow its thoughts or words about Fanny Hill to really refer to anything, you know, naughty--" This time the professor interrupted him. "The brain-- I tried connecting it to an output device. That must have caused the fire!" the doctor said.

All three of them stood back. "What can we do?" asked Pru nervously. "I don't know," the doctor said, sweating. "I can't disconnect it. That would ruin my work. Perhaps I could tell it what it is doing, that it is a brain in a vat. Yes. We must teach the brain epistemology." Lew and Pru exchanged glances, and as the doctor fiddled with some dials, they quietly backed away. "No," yelled the doctor into the input device as more smoke hissed into the room. "I order you to stop! I order you to stop adhering to the verification principle!" Lew and Pru found that the smoke had cleared from the room they'd come in by, and rushed out.

As they emerged in the street outside, running fast enough so that Pru had to fold her arms over herself for modesty, she found to her annoyance that she was still clutching the book. Now she'd have to read it. It would probably be in an antiquated style, too, without any of the interesting developments in surrealist free association that she'd noted in those depraved Henry Miller books. And it seemed like they'd had a rather disreputable adventure again. She sighed. On these trips with Lew, it seemed like just one encounter with some strange person after another.

Well, it was better that she did the things she did to guard that man against corruption. She let him put his hand on her shoulder to help her walk away. This was the best arrangement, after all, she mused. He smiled down at her and she tightened her grip on the book she was holding in both arms. Yes, this was the optimal arrangement.

2009 Rich Puchalsky

(#2 in a series) E-mail: rpuchalsky1@gmail.com

Last modified: January 1, 2015