“There is no such thing,” he said, his tone pedantic and smug. “To say they are ‘freakish’ is to say they are abnormal, not to be expected, but Probability dictates that all potentialities are destined to happen, and therefore expected in an infinitude of universes.”
The pen in his hand circled a sentence in the newspaper spread in front of him on the diner table, and scratched out this or that word. He adjusted his spectacles on his aquiline nose, their round lenses gleaming with the glare of the diner’s fluorescent lights, lending to his rounded, chinless features the expression of a barn owl having spotted prey. Another word in the newspaper was destroyed in a cloud of inky violence.
“As for the rapidity and proximity of these ‘freak’ accidents,” he said, “that, too, can be explained by the laws of Probability. There is nothing supernatural about them. In fact, they are routinely natural. In some other universe these accidents are not happening, or are happening with different outcomes, or happening to different individuals. The possibilities are endless when the universes are endless.”
He paused as the waitress poured more coffee into his cup.
“May I have more sugar?” he asked her. The young twenty-something nodded and went to fetch his sugar. He blew on his coffee in the meantime, his hand still dragging the pen across the newspaper column. The coffee steam whipped sideways in billowy waves before rising upward once again in their wispy tendril. The diner window fogged over, briefly, blurring his reflection into a vague specter lost amidst the falling snow and early morning dark and passing Chicago sidewalk crowd.
“As for your column,” he continued, “while you obviously misunderstood Quantum Theory and its real-world implications within the context of these ostensibly colorful deaths, I think it is salvageable as a teachable moment for the public at large. That is why I contacted you, of course. Rarely does a Chaotician interact with journalists, but it seemed incumbent upon me that I set the record straight before more bastardized ideas are propagated in the woefully misled consciousness of America.” He scratched out another sentence in the newspaper column, his thin mouth twisting to the left with distaste. “And, I must confess, I have a book coming out soon and could benefit from the exposure. ‘The Ordinariness Of The Unexpected: Chaos As Order’. Naturally, I will thank you in the acknowledgments, as well as reference this misadventure in journalism for the chapter ‘Dynamic People, Dynamic Systems’.”
The waitress brought the Chaotician another packet of sugar, which he took and gingerly tore open, sprinkling it into his coffee— white crystals dissolving into black, hot chaos. “We are none of us significant,” he said, taking a sip of the coffee and nodding to himself. Whether he was nodding in agreement to his assertion or to the flavoring of his coffee was unknowable. “Even these deaths are not meaningful, however garish they happen to be. True, they offer alluring headlines and are quite exotic for the uneducated masses. Yet, for someone familiar with the rabbit hole of Quantum Physics and Dynamic Systems such as myself these occurrences offer no more titillation than the hourly chime of a clock. It is all insignificance. When everything can happen, nothing is particularly meaningful, however exotic or unexpected it seems in our finite experience. If the clock should suddenly grow legs and crawl away, then we should accept it in due course. Mathematically it seems remote, but that is because we confine our mathematics, again, to our finite experience. True, it may seem especially unexpected for parents to lose their son to a falling meteorite, such as this case you reference— the Mattingly’s— but it is not.” He circled another sentence in the column, jotting down tiny notes along the margins. “Nor was the old woman’s death at the zoo really all that strange. There are thousands of zoos on this planet alone, and an infinitude in other universes, so death by a large anteater had to happen eventually. In fact, every person on earth presently has a parallel self killed in the exact same manner, and of varying degrees of deviation. So, no, not special or unexpected.”
Three men came into the bright white light of the diner, the early morning dark and noisy behind them. They took the booth directly beside the Chaotician’s. They were all laughing and eyeing the waitress as she came to take their orders. One of them flirted with her, though the flirtation was one-sided. She kept her mouth tightly lipped, and his mouth moved rapidly, flashing his coffee-toothed grin within his sandy beard, exploding in inclusive laughter like dynamite charges in a hillside. The Chaotician ignored their ruckus. He raised his voice and continued his diatribe.
“And it’s not as if I am unaware of how much the public craves personable anecdotes, especially those concerning tragedy. I am even contemplating using events from my personal life to illustrate the principles I will be discussing in my book. The cold, logical mathematician is never a good narrator when it comes to the masses and their predilections. But it has its advantages, even when dealing with those disinclined toward its usefulness. In fact, I like to believe that I can use my expertise in dynamic systems to benefit my sales. After all, my work is not merely theoretical. It is practical, too. For instance, only the other day I…”
The Chaotician was interrupted by the bearded construction worker slapping the waitress’s buttocks as she walked past their booth. She was so startled that she gasped and dropped the tray of food she was carrying. The scrambled eggs, grits, and sausages all crashed to the floor in a mixture of sharp clatter and wet splatter. Embarrassed and humiliated, the young woman fled into the kitchen, crying as she went. The construction workers’ coworkers berated him in hushed, hissing tones.
“I didn’t mean nothing by it,” the bearded man said.
The diner cook appeared, then, demanding that all three of the men leave. The bearded man hesitated, taking umbrage at the cook’s tone, but his two coworkers took him by the arms and dragged him out. The cook—a large, solid man with a balding pate—hunched down, grumbling as he picked up the food and piled it on the battered tray.
“People want to feel humanity in the things they read,” the Chaotician said, having lost track of his previous thoughts. “Even in Mathematics. Personally, I rather enjoy Mathematics because it is so deeply logical and impersonal. After all, that is how the universe is. Simply observe the snow outside and witness how indifferent the universe is to us in its many mechanisms. Cold snow burying Chicago beneath its indifference, enumerating its apathies with every snowflake. That is the world we live in, no matter how much we attempt to deny it with religion and philosophy and ethics.”
Grunting, the cook threw the food in the garbage, then fetched a mop and bucket. He mopped the black-and-white chequered tile quickly and efficiently, setting a wet floor sign on either side of the slick spot. The Chaotician adjusted his spectacles once again, and made a few final corrections to the newspaper spread before him. He took another sip of coffee, then handed the newspaper across the table.
“But back to your next column,” he said. “Make certain you quote me accurately in your amending column. I will be reading it with meticulous attention and will insist on redactions for any inaccuracies in my attributions.” He stood up, donning his overcoat and leaving a tip on the table. “Details, as you should know, are crucial to my field of expertise. Calculating reality depends upon them. Unlike journalists, we cannot afford miscalculations. We do not approximate reality with factoids and anecdotes. We factor reality. We trace the mundane numbers that compose the world, and use them in our equations to make very precise predictions, which is why nothing is unpredictable or unexpected to us.”
He turned to leave, stepping past the wet floor sign and onto the glistening floor tiles. His loafer slipped forward as he flailed his arms, twisting sideways and trying to catch himself on the nearby table. His other foot kicked wildly in tap-dancing desperation. He issued a shrill shriek and his hands flew down to the table, followed instantly by his head, striking its edge hard at an angle before he collapsed to the floor, sputtering blood from the pen that had somehow lodged itself in his neck.
Sadly, the journalist was too astounded by the accident to ask the Chaotician whether his parallel selves in other universes would think this specific outcome especially significant or unexpected in the overall scheme of things.