The year was 1990 and Norman “Randy” Titus finished his Sci-Fi short novel called Breakthrough.
In 2016, 3 copies of this novel ended up in a dumpster and have never been seen outside his family.
Breakthrough synopsis: Micheal Conroy is genius-level inventor and virtual reality designer, his specialty is designing “sense-suits” or human interface apparatus, which made him rich, however his real passion is his Dream Manager and Fractal Grid work. (real complex technology language goes on for pages).
Joyce Eisecks is a security systems designer and widow, with a son named Brian who is confined to wheelchair after the accident that took his father. Joyce teams up with Conroy to use his Virtual Reality program the Fractal Grid, to run a simulation on Pine trees infected by a virus spread by beetles called a nematode. She is described as a Feminist Scientist.
These two chaos loving scientists, much like a Micheal Crichton novel, are trying to use science to solve a imminent crisis and something goes very wrong. Unlike Jurassic Park where a lot of people die, Joyce and Conroy use science to not only fix the problem, their quantum computer solution forms a sort-of infinite “real-time” copy of … everything in reality! All of the world’s data is mapped into a accessible virtual reality Fractal Grid. As Randy puts it with the help of James Burke, this digital copy of the Real World is akin to the “End of Secrecy.” All lost things can be found, all secrets are available to anyone. The happy ending seems to hang on your own personal response to this bomb shell.
Editors note* Publishing this novel would be a difficult feat. Who retains ownership, who owns the content, let alone the difficulty of it’s complex language. This novel is not for the faint of heart. Conroy and Joyce share two vivid sex scenes and one could easily accuse the 1980’s version Randy Titus of being a sexist, but since he is dead, and had decades of growing maturity and spiritual work, it would be unfair to pass judgement on this particular content. This was his time and place and he captured it, his way. What matters to me, is the genius and visionary aspects of the novel. Randy Titus saw the future and recorded it’s strange unfolding.
Key philosophical ideas:
Randy Titus explores Rene Descartes “I think therefore I am” in the very first paragraph as a concept surrounding the idea of Self. Rene says that while dreaming he still maintains a sense of “I” or Self even while doing things he knows are untrue. The “falseness of dreams” in Randy’s short novel carries this theme much like a body immersed in Virtual Reality. The Artificial Intelligence type Dream Manager program created by the protagonist spends a lot of time berating it’s Creator for his obsession and narrow focus, as if Randy himself is dealing with the effects of technology on his sense of his own humanizing Self.
Randy explores the inevitable simulation of reality with his Fractal Expansion Grid. As the complexity of computers and the sensory resolution of it’s edges reach 95% in Micheal Conroy’s world, the separation between “real” and “fake” are so blurry, that he prefers reading his New York Times in Nepal looking over at Everest and recreating Lawrence of Arabia styled battles than spending time with his father, and Randy questions the wisdom and sanity of this stance with his characters.
Chaos theory and Quantum mechanics are spelled out in the novel a full 3 years before Jurassic Park introduces the concepts to the general public. Technical jargon is standard throughout Breakthrough and that’s all i got to say about that. Frankly Randy Titus was so far ahead of the technology curve that this novel is borderline prophecy.
In chapter 6, “the human commodity” Randy spends a lot of time describing the addiction Micheal Conroy had with technology. He spent so much time in virtual reality he couldn’t stand other people. He rarely ate and his behavior was erratic and sensitive. Conroy had been married once before but his work and obsession drew a wedge that ended it. Randy described the unending technological distraction (in 1990) as a coming epidemic or swimming in an “ocean of nothingness”. Conroy’s cure was love and family. Randy Titus would lament that education was too far behind when it came to the human mind and technology in his Teaching Philosophy. Click below for Randy’s Teaching theories
The greatest forward thinking in the Novel is the crux of the story, Quantum Computer simulation. A notion so advanced, that the fictional writers had not caught wind of the idea yet. In Breakthrough Joyce and Conroy are trying to solve a very real life problem using a Quantum Computer simulation. Randy lays it out quite specifically that in Missouri, Pine Trees are at risk from a certain type of beetle that burrows into the trees leaving a nasty nematode, that kills entire forests and the cash crop of the state. Our heroes are using advanced science to run simulations on solving a real life problem.
Pine Wilt Disease had been affecting the State of Missouri since 1979, and Randy Titus spent time researching it apparently for the Novel. He cites a very real Jerry White at the University of Missouri and uses a quote about the “scourge of Scotch Pines”, these microscopic worms had a way of surviving anything thrown at them. Chapter after chapter, the slow research painstakingly moves from Conroy’s lab to the forests of the Ozarks and back to a lab within a lab. Yes, Conroy was using virtual Reality to gather his team in real time, in a fake lab. To solve the problem of storage, they built working computers, with a virtual world, storing information in layered virtual hard-drives, giving them endless ability to process each individual nematode, tree and rate of infection. What comes next is the mind blowing twist.
In Randy Titus’s vision, the team is able to track the very DNA within the nematode and create variations of it’s life cycle, causing a death of the worm, leaving the tree alive. The simulation requires all the elements to be life-like, down to soil, rain, and roots. Conroy creates a “substrate” to track the nematode within the real tree, but as I understand it, the computer program he designs, doesn’t stop at the nematode, but continues to monitor the entire forest, and within weeks, scans the State and all the people in it. It keeps going, recording the storms, the contents of wallets, the movement of people, real people.
In a strange scene, Conroy puts on his sense-suits and wanders this world created by his program, like a ghost, spying on his new girlfriend. The couple, later in the novel have the weirdest sex you can imagine, as they manipulate their own body dimensions and experience a virtual feed-back loop that is erotic and frightening. The Fractal Expansion Grid becomes an exact copy of the real world, like a Chaos theory Fibonacci Sequence, spreading through out the world within months. The ending is a real whopper. The team presents their findings to the their Peers and Press of the world.
“Now we happen across the ultimate tool, a perfect copy of everything. The Fractal Expansion Grid. Models of you and me and our houses, trees, cars and the family dog. All copied as models and residing in a virtual computer data bank that can only be called a universe of information with no weight or mass. The Grid exists in the mind of virtual reality. It isn’t a thing in the traditional sense, it is a mass of symbols. A mass of coordinates of the form and position of every object it touches.” from Breakthrough.
One character refers to this as the end of secrecy. As if that twist isn’t enough, Conroy develops new uses for the technology, creating a copy of himself, and Joyce’s son, who now can walk, with full sensation. The virtual world’s have now taken over the real world and there was no separation. The final line is the most telling about Conroy and the future Randy envisioned for him.
He had become his dreams.
The full circle brings us to the end of Randy’s vision of the future. The inevitable merging of technology and sentient life. We will end with Randy’s own words.
REFLECTION: I have a personal anxiety that our culture and the world’s cultures are not yet even in a basic sense philosophically prepared for the changing demands that technology will put on education, our sense of identity, ethical standards, and the revised definitions of almost everything we take for granted currently in our nascent technological world.Randy Titus