Sci-fi needs economists

03/11/2011 § 9 Comments

I am back to reading science fiction after a couple of decades away. I had quite liked Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (the debate pro and con about proper Bayesian updating notwithstanding). So, over the school holidays, I read The Number of the Beast. It turns out that I’m an economist.

And, yes, spoiler alert.

Some very clever people — far cleverer than any actual people you may have met — figure out a device that allows exploration of the six-dimensional multiverse. They install it in a personal jet car and go traipsing around trying to figure out how it actually works.

They reasonably quickly establish that with some clever trigonometry and judicious use of the on-board computer, they can go anywhere, anywhen, without using any energy. They have power packs on the jet car, but they want to husband them for emergencies. Once they figure out the maths, though, these power packs are irrelevant.

After sorting that out, they find themselves in Oz. No, not throw-another-shrimp-on-the-barbie Oz. Glenda-the-good-witch, hail-to-Dorothy Oz. Glenda obligingly installs an ablution block in the jet car. Like the Tardis, however, the inside is bigger than the outside. So now, there are no space constraints.

Having discovered the co-ordinates for Oz, they have an ample supply of clean air and water, which they can essentially mine for free by popping over anytime. They don’t want to live in Oz, however, because they also want to bear children. Oz’s population management policy doesn’t allow new children. So, they do away with any resource constraints.

Finally, they meet up with a multiversal, polyamorous, selective family that has sorted out the whole aging problem. Having licked the time constraint with their wondrous device, they now do away with their mortality. Time means nothing, never would again.

And that is how I discovered just how much of an economist I am. It was boring. No constraints! We can do anything! Yawn. The really interesting questions are how we work around constraints, or efficiently respond to them, or maximise-subject-to. Otherwise, it’s just rainbows and unicorns.

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