the mechanism of grace
by Daniel Abraham
It was the flying dutchman of neuroanatomy; the structure which explained not the self
cognitive science had joined with the Buddha years before to spill the candy from the unified I's piñata
but rather the ability to intend. He spent his days searching his own physiology and others' for a ghostly
neuron whose dendrites brushed the abstract soul or a pattern of flesh that could explain how someone could choose
to walk or sit, eat or fast, could, in fact, choose anything without invoking God or Gaia or Skinner. He sought
the mechanism of will.
Andrea, his wife and chair of the department, often expressed the opinion that the task was impossible
that the structure of intention was too detailed to be comprehensible by its own instrument; that a brain was
too complex to be understood by a brain. She phrased it more elegantly.
"Sweetie. It's too hard."
He proved her wrong on the eighth of December, 2033. The wet, thick snow that fell in a soft blizzard restrained
him from running naked through the streets screaming Eureka, but his emotions were only slightly less euphoric.
Andrea was sitting on the front porch reading M.F.K. Fisher and drinking a bright citrus tea when he came to her.
He showed her the evidence. Here, a loop of neurons mixed with a cocktail of chemicals to create an unstable
output. It was this pure impulse raw, selfless, without content channeled through the labyrinth of
that produced the possibility of choice. Glowing on his screen was the blueprint of free will, and he knew as she
looked as his most intimate critic reviewed his conclusions that he would be remembered as long as anything
existed capable of memory.
"But sweetie," she said as the porch grew darker, the sun setting invisibly in the west, "this isn't a universal
structure. There's a bunch of your samples here that don't even show this loop. Look. You haven't got one."
"I know," he said and smiled because, after all, he had to.
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Daniel Abraham has published more than a dozen stories and
garnered a good bit of attention, including four honorable mentions in Gardner Dozois's current
Best Science Fiction of the Year. Look for his work in
Asimov's SF Magazine,
Realms of Fantasy, and
The Silver Web.
In his day job, he provides technical support, "helping confused, hostile people get their email."
He is working on a novel.