A mid-autumn morning's dream

[From Bill Powers (941107.0615 MST)]

You should not encourage people to do silly things. However:

[The Enterprise-D has encountered a distress signal emanating from a
small yellowish planet orbiting a sun well on the way to being a brown
dwarf. A being of an unfamiliar race appears on screen and speaks to
Data, who has the con.]

Being: Greet us. What do you like?

Data: I believe you wish to speak to our Captain.

Being: Good speaking, very good, very good. What do you like?

Data: Do you mean me personally?

Being: Oh, excellent. Better and better. Greet us. What do you like?

Data: Strictly speaking I do not like or dislike anything. But I prefer
some things to others; For example, I prefer the color of apples to the
color of lemons and the symmetry of lemons to the symmetry of apples. I
prefer violin music to the sound of kettledrums. I prefer ....

Being: Well done, well done [whips a violin into view a plays 2 second
snatch of Capricioso Aggravato by Salubrious]. Greet us.

Data: [Looks puzzled for a moment, then comprehends]. Ah. Greetings to
you from the Starship Enterprise. Do you require assistance?

Being: [Plays a longer segment]. Greet us.

Data: Greetings to you from the Starship enterprise. Do you require
assistance? Would you like to speak to our Captain?

Being [Furiously fiddles for 15 seconds but says nothing].

Data: [Touches com badge] Captain Picard to the bridge, please.

[Picard arrives, is informed of the conversation, and takes the
transmission in his ready room.]

Picard: What can we do for you? Are you in need of assistance?

Being: What do you like? Assist us.

Picard: What do I like? I'm not sure I follow you, sir.

Being:[Silence for 15 seconds, then] Assist us. What do you like?

Picard: One moment please. [switches his laptop to hold and goes out
onto bridge] Mr. Data, what is this -- person -- talking about?

Data: I have been consulting the records about this planet, sir. It
seems to be populated by a group from Earth that was reputed to be
extinct some 500 years ago. The people live by controlling each others'
behavior, which they do by a social process they call "shaping." If they
know what you like, they will offer it to you when you do something that
resembles what they want you to do.

Picard: Ah, I see. So we play Twenty Questions with them to find out if
they need assistance?

Data: That appears to be the case, sir.

[Picard rolls his eyes and disappears, with a sigh, into his ready room.

[It is much later. The Beings have allowed an Ambassador to be beamed
aboard the Enterprise. The Ambassador, fortunately for Picard's sanity,
has had some experience with xenoids and has practiced modes of
conversation that they find more reinforcing].

Amb: .... three million dozen glorf eggs, 24 hundred thousand 1/4 by 20
machine screws, and last but not least rewarding, 50 billion pints of
chocolate bleevis milk.

Picard: You demand a great deal, Mr. Ambassador. I doubt that our
replicator could supply anything like such a volume of goods, not to
mention the services. Isn't there some reasonable amount of assistance
that will rescue your people from whatever the present emergency is?

Amb: Actually I would do almost anything for a half-pint of chocolate
milk. But you know how these schedules go. A little dribble here, a tiny
dab there. If you will sign the agreement, we will of course not expect
to get everything at once.

Geordi: Excuse me, Captain, Mr. Ambassador, but what IS that thing?

[Picard throws Geordi a grateful glance. A blue ball of fuzz has been
floating during the entire conference just behind the Ambassador's head
and a foot above it.]

Amb: Oh. It's a pet. A BlueFuzzy.

Geordi: It seems able to support itself in the air without any effort.
My tricorder shows no unusual energy emanations, but it just -- floats
there.

Amb: It has been rewarded for doing so. In fact, it is very well
trained, if I do say so myself. Observe...

[The Ambassador pulls out a small penlight and flashes it three times.
The blue fuzzball shivers, then splits into two fuzzballs floating side
by side. The Ambassador reaches into his pocket, pulls out two small
blue worms, and give one to each fuzzball.]

Amb: Maintains the behavior, you see, after the discriminative stimulus.

Geordi: That's fantastic. How does it -- I mean they - do that?

Amb: It's just a matter of patience. At first I gave them a worm just to
come a little nearer to me. Then for obeying the verbal command to float
in one place. Then to refrain from dividing except when presented with
three flashes of this light. But watch this -- this took a lot of doing,
you can believe me:

[Flashes light in a complex on-off sequence, snaps his fingers, and
whistles a note at 500 Hz. The fuzzballs move together, begin to spin
around a common center like a double star, then suddenly merge into the
original single fuzzball. The Ambassador gives it half a worm.]

Data: That is a unique phenomenon, Mr. Ambassador. I do not think I have
every seen or heard of any organism that splits and then merges again,
and all while floating in the air without support.

Amb: [Preening]. It's all a matter of scientific technology.

Geordi: Ooooh, I see. It's an artifact. I thought for a minute there
that it was alive. I suppose you're using some sort of transporter
technology...

Amb. Oh, no, no, no. Nothing as crude as that. No, this is a perfectly
natural organism on our world. But our advanced technology of behavior
control has brought its floating, dividing, and merging behavior
completely under our control. We can make it do many other things that
are seemingly even more astonishing. Some of them are illegal, but very
enjoyable.

Geordi: Well, sure, I suppose so, but what bugs me is how it's able to
do those things. What sort of animal is it?

Amb: Actually we breed them now. You have to use a standardized strain
to get the best results. The real trick is that we keep them at 1% of
their free-feeding body weight; they'll do anything for a worm. In fact,
on a variable-interval schedule of one tenth of a worm per hour, they
will shuttle back and forth between feeding stations 500 stads apart at
three times the speed of light. We fasten little messages to them.

Riker: [looks at Geordi] That's nearly Warp 1, isn't it? On one tenth of
a worm per hour?

Amb: Well, we have to feed them a bit more the rest of the time or they
die.

Riker: [rousing himself from paralysis] Mr. Ambassador, these creatures
-- they may be a solution to your shortages. Do you realize that they
have capabilities of tremendous value that are completely unexplainable?

Amb: I just explained them. You start by offering them a worm if they
move in the right direction. Then you ...

Riker: I mean how they are able to do those things at all. Haven't you
wondered how they can float there in the air for hours and hours?

Amb: I don't understand. That is the behavior they emit. I have
explained what makes this one hover, and split, and merge. We use the
same technology to keep them on their commercial shuttle routes. I can
see that you are unfamiliar with behavioral technology. We pride
ourselves, sir, on being highly advanced in this regard. If you would
just name some act you would like to see the BlueFuzzy perform, I
guarantee you that within half an hour I will have it performing it. I
am beginning to see what you mean. Captain, do you think there might be
a commercial outlet in your Federation for services that Bluefuzzies and
their trainers could perform?

Picard: Oh, yes, I'm sure of it. But I think that my Second Officer was
raising a different point. Somehow these creatures are performing
actions that we could only simulate on a holodeck, and are doing them
with an incredibly small amount of energy. I am sure that the Federation
would consider some rather substantial grants if you were to allow us to
study these creature, without harming them I assure you, to see how they
are able to do these things.

Amb: [In conflict]. Well, all this strikes me as crass reductionism. The
point isn't how they do it, but that we can train them very quickly and
efficiently to do anything we want them to do. I could do the same thing
to control your crewmen, you know. Just tell me what they like and
pretty soon I'll have them eating out of my hand. I'll be happy to
handle any personnel problems, if you could just see your way clear to
releasing a few hundred cartons of chocolate ...

Troi: We have no personnel problems.

Amb: Just tell me what you want, Captain, I'll do anything. It's been
ages since we ran out of chocolate bleevis milk. My children are out of
control. My wife is out of control. So is my husband. [Begins tapping on
the table].

Picard: Well, Mr. Ambassador, we will certainly take your requests under
advisement.

[Ambassador taps faster and faster, on the table, his knees, his other
knees, the arm of the chair, Counsellor Troi's head...]

Picard: Oh, for God's sake. Mr. Data, will you please look up the
replicator code for choc ...

Data: On my way, sir.

Ricker: I'll come with you.

Troi: Hurry back.

Picard: Computer, tea, Earl Gray, hot. Mr. Ambassador, have you tried
this drink? It's really quite delicious and invigorating .... here, let
me hold it for you...

ยทยทยท

-----------------------------------------------------------------------
Best,

Bill P.