Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The professor entered the lecture hall at precisely nine o’clock, took off his blazer and draped it across the lectern.

Gradually the conversation in the room declined from a dull roar, to a persistent murmur, to near silence.

“Good morning.”

A half-hearted response rippled through the crowd.

“I’m not going to bore you with a description of the course you’re attending, I expect by your very presence here that you’re aware, and if you’re not then I’m not particularly interested in enlightening you.”

Sporadic chuckling.

“How many of you are familiar with the movie ‘The Matrix’?” As he spoke he paced slowly up and down the front of the hall.

Hands raised throughout.

“Specifically the green rainfall of data visible when Neo finally groks the Matrix itself and can see what the Agents see?”

The same show of hands.

“That would be a spectacularly useless interface for an advanced being to use in order to view the compositional and kinetic data pertaining to an environment, however…”, he paused, turning to look directly at the students, “as a commonly recognized bit of pop culture, it’s a passable metaphor for the purpose of discussion.”

“When you look around the room, you see your fellow students, desks, coffee cups, knapsacks, and so on, but when I look around the room I see a massive mesh of objects, each with defined and describable attributes and methods.”

A number of students turned to one another, and a low murmur of conversation started.

“Hair colour,” he pointed at a number of students in the front rows, “brown, blond, auburn…”, he paused again, tilting his head as he regarded one student in the front row. “Green.”

“Skin colour,” he pointed to several students sitting in the middle rows, “yellowish pink, medium tan, dark brown.”

“Eye colour,” he pointed this time to students sitting in the rows closer to the back of the room, “blue, grey, green.”

He resumed pacing, his hands moving in front of him as he spoke, making motions as though trying to contain some invisible ball of yarn.

“Blood type, bone density, each of these attributes are measurable, known and well defined. Each of you also have a large number of defined methods; stand up, sit down, chew your gum, raise your hand. Many of these properties and methods were scaffolded by the time of birth, some have been added since, and each have been fleshed out over the course of your life, continually being shaped by the properties and methods of the objects that surround and interact with you.”

He stopped again, turning to face his audience and stuffed both hands forcibly into his pants pockets.

“There is, however, something that is both a property and a method. Some believe it’s emotion, some the soul, but whatever word you use to identify it, it’s a thing that has a measurable quantity, some of you possess more emotion than others, and it’s a thing with methods that are observable only in how they affect other properties and methods. Were I to show you drowning puppies, your heart muscles would contract, you would feel pain, some of you would shed tears, many would audibly indicate your displeasure, all of which are observable symptoms of the emotion construct, but evidence of the presence of a thing is not the thing itself.”

He stopped speaking and stood silently, fixing each student with a stare until they looked away, fidgeting nervously in their seats. He waited until the room once again was completely quiet.

“Any sufficiently advanced being could recreate the known properties and methods of a person, and with the right resources pass such a thing off without anyone knowing it was fabricated, but one cannot reproduce what one cannot define.”

“Your singular focus while under my tutelage is to identify and define the emotion object, make known its properties and its methods. You may work alone or in groups, with or without my direct attention. You will, before you graduate from this class, as a requirement of graduating from this class, solve this mystery.”

His voiced lowered to the point where students at the back had to strain to hear him.

“Should you fail, not only will you be denied the right to graduate, I can promise you, I will not care.”

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