Monday, September 28, 2009

111. Unununium


Defining Our Terms

If -ium used as a suffix indicates that something is an element, then unium, its negative, indicates a non-element. Similarly, ununium must necessarily be the opposite of a non-element, which is to say it would be a re-existing element. So unununium, the negation of the re-existing ununium, would be …?

A non-existing element! Very good.

Only it's not that simple. Here's why: A thing's negation is not merely its absence. If that were so, any existing object—this toaster, say—would be the negation of a near-infinite number of things: an unsandwich, an unturbine, an unriver, the unchancellor of a major nonexistent university and of unHarvard, unYale, and unUCLA as well. This is an enormous burden of nonmeaning to place on a simple kitchen appliance that's just trying to do its job.

Worse, it's a terrible barrier to communication as well. Imagine saying to your spouse, "Honey, have you seen my unferret?" only to be told, "It's in the uncolander, next to the unmusketeer, where you left it." You might as well have not bothered asking!

Think rather of a thing's negation as being its exact anticomplimentary opposite. As when you look in a mirror.

You: unyou.

Note how your reflection—your unyou—has been reversed. Raise your right hand, it raises its left. And so on.

Now hold up a mirror to the entire assemblage of you and the original mirror. It reveals not you with right-left polarity restored, but the back of your head.

That's the ununyou.

Finally, to discover the unununyou, hold another mirror up to this entire mirror-you-mirror assemblage. Be sure to hold it at right angles to the normal four dimensions in which we are embedded.

Done that? Good. Now look.

Don't be squeamish! What you're seeing is just yourself turned inside-out and moving backwards through time. The unununyou doesn't mind it at all. Quite the opposite. The thought of you, as you are now, makes it want to puke.

Which, given its inverted state, would probably be a mistake.

All this explains the most remarkable property of the element unununium, which is that a mirror made of it will reflect backwards in time. Stare into it for an hour, and it will show you as you were an hour before you looked into it. With patience and the good luck to keep it unbroken long enough, you could witness the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, the charge of the Light Brigade, even Julius Caesar's assassination in the forum.

This makes it particularly unfortunate that unununium has a half-life of 1.5 milliseconds. Still, for historians of the recent past, it's an invaluable research tool.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

1 comment:

  1. rœntgenium now

    wait until the heavier isotopes come out