“The Unraffle” is a longer piece of flash fiction that examines an interesting issue in physics.
The story started as a simple misspelling of the word “unravel”. This produced the leap in imagination that led to the examination of what a raffle (or lottery) would be if reversed – in other words, if a prize was unraffled. The process was tricky to reverse and the story holds some unresolved issues. The main issue that remains unresolved is how the winner is “chanced”, but that may be part of the mystery in this piece.
In the universe where the unraffle exists, strange things are happening within the physics of the universe. The difficulty in resolving the “chanced” issue is one of finding a way to reverse the inherent entropy, or measure of order and disorder, in the particular situation of the unraffle. Here, the issue is left open to give the reader a chance to come to their own conclusion. Having said that, there is a motive in writing the story, and so some guidance seemed necessary.
The final paragraph is perhaps redundant, but it is difficult to ensure the point of the fable is made without including the possible conclusions. In the final paragraph, three of the most obvious are given, chance, a reverse universe and the divine. As “chance” is an unresolved issue, it was made a minority selection by the author, as was the opposite: a rational, or reverse-rational, universe. As there seems to be a tendency in humans to adopt a supernatural explanation for the apparantly inexplicable, this was chosen as the majority choice of the population of Tlön. Interestingly enough, this ending was enforced by an external presence to the fable, the fable’s creator, so is perhaps fitting in that way as well.
Physics necessarily contains some difficult concepts to manage, given our normal experience and the interpretations those experiences are given by most onlookers. Few people think in more than three dimensions, fewer in the many states of existence that might occur in our universe (or even our multiverse) and even fewer examine an understanding of what is meant by “reality”, let alone what that reality might scientifically be. A starter question might be “Can a concept be held without the vocabulary that might express it?” or “Is mathematics a result of the perceived universe, or is the percieved universe simply a mathematical projection?”. Then harder questions start to loom out of the mist!
These questions may be answerable, maybe even correctly, but nevertheless physics appears (to me, anyway) as an area where everyday language is put under severe tensile stress, being stretched beyond expectations. In some ways the physicist and the poet are sharing the common ground of trying to draw out, in communicable language, condensed ideas and the all-encompassing generalities of experiences in a way that they can be expanded to reproduce aspects of the universe both already discovered and still remaining to be found. Perhaps it is over-ambitious to put concepts of destiny into a piece of flash fiction.
I have been impressed by the New Zealand physicist Paul Callaghan’s thoughts expressed in the “afterword” in the collection of writing “Are Angels OK?” (edited by Paul Callaghan and Bill Manhire, published by Victoria University Press”). He states “Sometimes we try to break out of the straitjacket of precision. Most scientists long to indulge in metaphor…”. I hope this piece of flash fiction lives up to its alternative meaning of fiction that offers a glimpse of light that might not otherwise be seen.
As a partial aside, I put this world in a place called Tlön. I have borrowed the location of this fable from the rather more complete and longer “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” to be found in Jorge Luis Borges “Labyrinths”. I make no pretence to do the place justice – I am no Borges, who is a wonderful weaver of metaphor, but I am happy to lay my tribute at his feet.