Lovelace 1/2 #4

This entry is part 4 of 13 in the series Lovelace 1/2

Part four of Lovelace 1/2. I’ve been enjoying the speculation of the limits of Andi’s new abilities. There’s some good meat for that discussion in this one — I think, at least. As well as the seeds of… well, what’s going to come next. Enjoy!

*** *** *** ***

Andi stared. “What did you say?”

“I said you played that guitar like an expert — like you’d been playing for years.”

“How is that possible?”

“I don’t know how,” Mister Stone continued, stepping behind his desk. “The same way I don’t know how you’re suddenly a math genius.”

Andi shook her head. “I… don’t understand why any of this is happening.”

“Me either. Which just means we don’t understand it.” Mister Stone leaned forward. “We should experiment a little. Try to figure out your limits. If you have them — I’m beginning to wonder.” He half-smiled.

Andi looked away. “I guess I’m not finding any of this very funny. I don’t know what’s going on, and it’s kind of scaring me.”

Mister Stone sobered. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Though whatever this is, it doesn’t seem to be a bad thing, does it?”

“Well, I was just called into the Dean’s office and accused of cheating, followed by being screamed at for apparently being a fast guitar study. So far, I can’t say this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Am I missing something?”

Mister Stone chuckled ruefully, shaking his head. “You’ve got another point. At the same time… Andi, something truly remarkable is happening to you. Look, I can understand why it scares you–”

Andi rubbed the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache coming on. “Mister Stone… this isn’t just weird for me, all right? I really don’t need a pep talk. I need to try and understand what’s happening to me and why.”

“All right. Well, first off, now that we know it’s happening… well, we can manage expectations. Get your teachers a little more prepared, so you don’t catch them by surprise and find yourself back in Dean Forrester’s office. Assuming this lasts and that it’s not limited to math. We don’t really know how far this extends.”

“What about the guitar?”

“Music’s mathematical, if you dig down below the surface. It’s a related skillset.” Mister Stone leaned back against his desk. “I’m trying to figure out how to approach this. Tell me — do you feel any… I don’t know. Different?”

“You mean do I suddenly feel ‘smarter?’ No, I feel exactly the same way I did yesterday. Nothing’s different inside, at least as far as I can tell.”

“Have you noticed any other… manifestations?”

“Well… my memory seems to be better. And… I figured out Ms. Seok didn’t actually like Lacrosse.”

Mister Stone cocked his head. “I… what… makes you say that?”

“Just… patterns, you know? I remembered things she said, things she’d done, I–” Andi narrowed her eyes. “You knew that. You know she wants to coach soccer.” Mister Stone and Miss Seok talking in the dining hall. A laugh. A touch of the backs of the hands briefly in the hall. Even in the Dean’s office, they locked eyes for a tenth of a second…. “…you and she, you’re a item. And have been at least all this school year. And no one knows, except you two and now me.”

Mister Stone stared for a moment. “All this from little things you remember?” he said, finally. He didn’t try to deny it.

“Well, yeah.”

“Let’s add pattern recognition.”

“You’re… not mad? That I figured that out?”

Mister Stone looked at Andi, then looked down, laughing. “Mad? No, Andi. You’re… you’re remarkable. And… I’ll ask you to be discreet–”

Andi half-smiled. “I should make you work for it.”

“Oh, like I’m not working here?”

“I know.” Andi looked out the classroom window. “You really care about us. And not in some weird stalkery teacher way. You actually buy into all this.”

“All what?”

“You know. The whole… I don’t know. The Dead Poet’s Society thing.”

“Are you kidding? No way. Robin Williams was a terrible teacher in that movie. Seriously, aphorisms and pep talks don’t teach Blake.”

Andi laughed again. Slowly, she felt herself relaxing.

“Hey, I meant to ask you. What did you do for Spring Break this past March? Go home and see your folks?”

Andi rolled her eyes. “We’re not really ‘get together over a holiday’ sort of people. I went to New York with Bell and her family.”

“Really? That’s great — so you were in New York on March 17th?”

“Well, of course.”

“What was the weather like?”

“On 17 March? Well, that was Saturday — we got up pretty early. It was cloudy and moist and a little cool in the morning. Like there’d been a fog. Still, that had burned off by eleven — we were walking through Central Park that day and it was sunny. The temperature was almost perfect, far as I was concerned. Call it twenty degrees. Sorry, I mean sixty-eight.”

Mister Stone nodded. “What about the fourteenth?”

“Wednesday? Well, the sun was out but it was about twenty degrees cooler. I’d packed my blue windbreaker so it didn’t really matter that much but still. It was good for walking, though. We kept going up and down the streets on the Upper East Side, stopping in the shops along the way?”

“What about the fourth of July five years ago? Do anything special?”

“Well, it’s not exactly a bank holiday in Britain. Still, that was a Wednesday — I was actually home. I’d been at a camp and was going to be going to another one, but there was a week where I was back in London–”

“What did you have for breakfast?”

“That day? I didn’t. I got up sort of late and I tagged along with the housekeeper as she ran errands. Still, we stopped off at a restaurant around eleven — Joe’s Cafe, on Sloane up in Kensington? Anyway, it was a bit posh but since I was with her she could pay for brunch with the house card, and I certainly didn’t mind. I had a muffin and some tea.”

“How was the weather that day?”

“Ugh. Dreary. Wet with a wind.” Andi paused. “Why are you asking me all this?”

Mister Stone smiled. “I think the real question is… how are you answering all my questions?”

“I… just… remember. That’s all.”

“You’re an athlete. What was the score of the first softball game you ever played in?”

“I never played softball. My first cricket game in the Under 9s we lost to Emley two-forty-two to two-twenty-eight.”

Mister Stone paused. “Wait… kids under nine and both sides scored more than two hundred points?”

“Yes? That’s not unusual, you know.” Andi sighed. “Of course you don’t know. You know, cricket is the second most popular sport in the world. More people watched the India versus Pakistan test match last year than actually live in your country. The least you could do is actually recognize a cricket score when you hear it.”

Mister Stone shrugged. “I’m not exactly a sports kind of guy. All right. Your memory’s pretty good I’d say. And by pretty good I mean photographic.”

“There’s actually no such thing. Eidetic memory isn’t quite the same thing, but people just kind of assume.”

“Where did you learn that?”

“Article in the Times, a few years back.”

“Of course. Last October — you remember the book we were working on?”

Andi made a disgusted sound. “Ethan Frome. It was so dull.”

“So I’ve heard. What’s the second paragraph from chapter five?”

“‘When he returned to the kitchen Mattie had pushed up his chair to the stove and seated herself near the lamp with a bit of sewing. The scene was just as he had dreamed of it that morning. He sat down, drew his pipe from his pocket and stretched his feet to the glow. His hard day’s work in the keen air made him feel at once–‘”

“Enough, enough. Dull, huh? At least you read it.”

“Skimmed it, more like.” Andi paused. “And yet… thinking about it now… I remember every page, even the ones I barely looked at. On page one sixty two there was this smudge — a fingerprint that rubbed the ink off a bit. And… you know, I’m wrong. It’s not dull. It’s not dull at all. Oh, the morals are hammered into you and the smashup’s a bit contrived, really, but…” Andi took a deep breath. “I get it now. The locket, the sled, Zeena caring for Mattie the way Ethan cared for Zeena before. Ethan’s strength of body and weakness of will compared to Zeena’s strength of will and weakness of body. The starkness of the countryside reflecting the harshness of social convention… how did I not see all this?”

“If I could answer that, I’d be teacher of the year.” Mister Stone smiled. “Well, clearly whatever’s caused your sudden intelligence boost, it’s not limited to math.”

“Clearly.”

Mister Stone got up and walked over to his bookshelf. He pulled out a thin paperback. Shakespeare’s Sonnets, it read. “You said you skimmed Ethan Frome,” he said. “Let’s test what that means. Have you read any Shakespeare?”

“No, but I’ve heard a couple of those sonnets. ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds–”

Mister Stone laughed. “I believe you, I believe you. All right, so you know Sonnet 23–”

“Sonnet 18.”

“What — are you sure?”

Andi nodded.

Mister Stone thumbed through the book, reading. “I’ll be damned,” he murmured. “Okay. Well, here.” He tossed her the book. “Skim –fast as you can.”

Andi took a breath, and opened the book. She turned the pages, glancing at each. Barely looking, though making sure to at least let her eyes run over the pages as she did so. She closed the book after finishing, and considered.

She remembered every page. Every poem. Every line.

“So what is Sonnet 23?” Mister Stone asked.

Andi responded smoothly, not simply repeating but reciting, putting some emotion into the work:

As an unperfect actor on the stage 
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart. 
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say 
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite, 
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might. 
O, let my books be then the eloquence 
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast, 
Who plead for love and look for recompense 
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
   O, learn to read what silent love hath writ: 
   To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Mister Stone listened. “You’re good at that,” he said, softly.

“I… it’s just kind of a sad poem, you know?” Andi said. “Being scared to admit your love, especially when, you know. It’s clearly… I mean, clearly the speaker’s gay. I can’t imagine that went well in Elizabethan times.”

Mister Stone arched his eyebrow. “You got that? You didn’t get that from the liner notes or an essay?”

“There weren’t any notes — it’s just a reprint of the poems. And yeah — the whole thing — first he talks to a man he clearly fancies, and he’s really — he’s clearly gay, but he doesn’t want to be. ‘A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling, much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth. And for a woman wert thou first created–”

“Sonnet 24, right.”

“Sonnet 20.”

Mister Stone chucked again. “I’m gonna have to get used to you correcting me.”

“Anyway — there’s all this lament, and then this women gets involved with both of them, and it all goes pear shaped and it wasn’t that great for the speaker to begin with. Why are these such a thing, anyway? I mean, it’s depressing.”

“They’re ‘such a thing’ because they redefined what poetry could be. The same way plays like Hamlet redefined the sense of what a tragic drama could be, and set the stage for our modern understanding–”

“Oh. So it’s more what they are in, like, the evolution of the poem?”

“Well, and some of the sonnets are pretty bloody good.”

“Sure sure. But… taken out of context a lot, aren’t they?”

“Welcome to the study of literature.” He looked at Andi. “You just read and decoded a sonnet sequence scholars have been debating literally for generations. You developed an interpretation of the individual poems and of the sequence as a whole. And it took you less than five minutes.”

“Well… yeah. I guess I did.” Andi suddenly felt very tired. “Are we done here? I’d… sort of like a chance to get used to all this. And change out of my Lacrosse uniform.”

“Oh — of course. We can talk more about this tomorrow.” He paused. “I’m going to have to call your parents, you realize.”

Andi shrugged. “If you can get them interested, more power to you.”

“You don’t think this will get their attention?”

“You’ve called them for parent conferences. You ever get the feeling anything I did would get their attention?”

Mister Stone sighed. “I’m sorry, Andi.”

Andi shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to it.”

“Yeah. We’ll talk again tomorrow?”

“Sure sure.”

As Andi was walking out, Mister Stone called after her. “Miss Gannett?”

“Gannett-Moore.” She looked back over her shoulder. “What is it?”

“I know this is all new, but assuming it lasts, you’ll get used to it pretty quickly. It’ll just be part of who you are. Something very special.”

“I’ve no interest in being ‘very special,’ Mister Stone.”

“Maybe not, but here we are.” He looked serious. “Just remember. Being able to figure out the right answers to the things that come up? That’s an amazing gift, and an amazing tool. But intelligence isn’t wisdom. Whether or not you have the right answers, you’ll also need to make the right decisions. That won’t just show up in one day.”

Andi looked at him for a long moment, then nodded. “Understood. Thank you, sir.”

He shook his head grinning. “How many times have I told you not to call me ‘sir?'”

“Nineteen.”

Mister Stone looked at her. “Right. Have a good night, Miss Gannett-Moore.”

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  • Packbat

    I vaguely suspected that she would notice a relationship between two staff members at some point, although for some reason my mind thought that the principal would be one of them.

    Mr. Stone is awesome. Just for the record.

    • cDave

      To me Mister Stone seems remarkably nonplussed unfazed by this whole thing.

      But we’d expect new!Andi to have spotted if he was trying to hide something (like prior knowledge of this sort of phenomena).

      Testing a few of the limits of this ability, not actually finding any, but being okay with that. This is clearly a completely new neurological condition, and his response isn’t to make sure she’s okay (send her to A&E!), but to let her wander off with a vague plan to talk tomorrow.

      • Eric Burns-White

        Mister Stone almost certainly had an opportunity to do some freaking out in Dean Forrester’s office. Which is generally when you try to do that sort of thing, so the students can’t see you do it.

        Beyond that… while you’re almost certainly right that the first thing they should have done was gotten her to a hospital for an EEG if not a full on MRI, when these cases don’t seem like full on crash emergencies, a lot of the time the SOP is to contact the student’s parents first, which he’s going to do.

        Beyond that x2, he really is a generally composed sort of person… and right now he’s kind of stubbornly seeing Andi’s abilities in the “neat thing one of his students” can do category. He hasn’t internalized what a monumental change this really is — she still seems like a slightly irreverent jock with the to-him cool accent he’s been teaching and advising all year. It’s just now she can do these other things. Huh. All right. Well, call the parents, discuss things with the other teachers and the team, figure out what to do next. If there were any sign of trauma or injury there’d be no question, but “this woman has improved overnight!” is hard to see as a diagnostic criterion.

        • Eric Burns-White

          Also, I’d say more ‘nonplussed.’ He’s certainly fazed, but… well, like I said. At his particular school, he’s taught the children of multi-millionaires alongside financial aid admits with almost no money to their family’s name. You (appropriately or no) learn to just cope what happens, especially in situations where there’s no immediate danger. If anything, he’s relieved there was an explanation beyond ‘Andi Gannett-Moore cheated on her math test.’ That would have been trouble.

          Not everyone is going to have this reaction, of course.

          • cDave

            Nonplussed, seemed like the right word to me, but I stuck it in Google to find out if it was hyphenated or not, and found out that until very very recently it meant “shocked into speechlessness”, so decided to strike it out.

        • cDave

          Pfht. Liberal arts majors. ;)

          I hadn’t considered him getting the freaking out out of teh way in teh head’s office. That makes sense.

          • Eric Burns-White

            Trust me — it’s rule one. “When possible, have your human reaction where students can’t see, then be a teacher/authority figure.”

            Of course, it’s one reason students feel alienated by teacher, so six of one… :)

            (And hey — HEY — no Liberal Arts bashing!)

        • nemonowan

          I think Andi should be freaking out more, BECAUSE of her abilities. She would certainly be thinking about them a lot, trying to figure what is happening to her, and one of the first possibilities her memory would dredge up is “sudden mental changes => brain tumor”.

          • Eric Burns-White

            Andi’s comparatively short freakouts are intentional.

            As for the ‘brain tumor’ thought… hrm. Honestly, you’re right. To cover my ass give a potential reason for why it hasn’t occurred to her is she may not have been exposed to that fact as yet.

            Weak? Yeah, I know.

  • Packbat

    > (And hey — HEY — no Liberal Arts bashing!)

    Especially since Liberal Arts has just provided such a lovely test of Andi’s new abilities.

    On the subject, let’s go quickly through the things we
    know for sure:

    1. She can remember everything she has ever experienced.
    2. She can, as quickly as thinking, recall any subset of facts from these data that might help her answer a question she has.
    3. She can perform basic polynomial arithmetic at a glance.
    4. She can take the cube root of 897 to more than eight decimal places in her head, without hesitation or perceptible effort. (Perhaps there was a table of cube roots in the back of a textbook somewhere?)
    5. She can, in minutes, train herself by ear to play the guitar.
    6. …and arrange music for the guitar on the fly. (Incidentally, I’m imagining something like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kS8eVFq1ZdU for that bit.)
    7. She can interpret and reinterpret literary works she has read (or even merely seen) just by thinking about them.

    Some implications of all of these:

    a. Whatever just happened to her, it’s centered on her. I say this for two reasons:
    — i. She has a complete record of everything she has observed at least as far back as when she was five-and-a-half. Human brains simply don’t record the data that she has perfect recall of.
    — ii. She doesn’t know anything that isn’t either included in that dataset or that she has already inferred from it. For example, she didn’t know anything about the position of Shakespeare in the history of English poetry — she had to be told.

    b. Any skill she has, this power lets her execute on rapidly, without error.

    c. As I previously speculated, the power applies to physical skills as well.

    d. This applies to skills that are not taught, as well — she was clearly never taught music theory beyond “push these keys on the piano keyboard”, but she was able to use the instinctive sense that anyone raised in a first-world culture has of music and how it works to tune the guitar by ear, say.

    e. When she recalls literature, she can recall it as if she had read and thought about it — as well or better than an ordinary person can recall a book they have read many times and recently — whether or not she read it carefully (or at all) at the time.

    f. The power doesn’t automatically supply inferences from what she knows — unless she actually thinks about it, she goes by what she remembers.

    g. She can ‘stretch’ skills that she has beyond what she was taught to use them for — polynomial multiplication when she was only taught binomial, for example.

    I think the shape of this is beginning to make some sense, although I could of course be on a false track.

    Incidentally, I would love to see some experiments with monitoring pupil dilation while Andi performs various tasks. According to “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, that’s a very good proxy for mental effort.

    • Eric Burns-White

      …you know, that would be fascinating.

      I’m going to need to read up on this.

      • Packbat

        The keywords are apparently “cognitive pupillometry”, according to the book.

  • Packbat

    Question: if I were hypothetically plotting to create a page on TV Tropes for this, would the correct spelling-out of the title be “Lovelace One Half”?

    • Eric Burns-White

      Hypothetically? It’s actually intentionally vague. In such a hypothetical situation if one couldn’t call it “Lovelace 1/2″ I’d lean to “Lovelace 1-2.” But that’s still….

      I’d say go with your gut.

      • Eric Burns-White

        And hypothetically I’d be very interested to see what such a thing ended up being.

      • cDave

        I always pronounced the TV series “Nip/Tuck” as “Nip slash tuck” unlike the continuity announcers, who seem to have missed that joke.

        Similarly I saw somewhere that Graham Linehan regretted naming “The IT Crowd” (prononuced) “The eye tee crowd” as a joke on the fashion magazine style “it girl”, when people read it straight.

      • Packbat

        Okay — I’ll make the page at Literature/LovelaceOneTwo with “Lovelace 1/2″ being the display name.

  • Flit

    As someone who has had near-perfect visual recall and excellent auditory and other sensory recall from early in life, then a sudden memory degradation to below-average memory, the “it feels completely normal” thing rings entirely true to me. All levels of memory felt entirely normal to me, including the slow degradation of eidetic memory to more typical forms of recall, and even the last decline, which happened along with a sickness and is definitely more noticeable because it’s frustrating and intrusive, but still feels normal, like an inherent cognitive state.

    Her abilities far outstrip my own more modest ones even at my peak (when I was younger, I could remember page by page of every book I had read) but even up until her age I was able to do such tricks as “cheat” on tests by rereading a chapter I had only skimmed, and I could read back specific paragraphs and describe the smudges and layout on pages on books I had read as a sort of party trick. Since no one pointed this out to me as unusual I assumed that everyone could do it until sometime in my teen years, when it had already passed its peak.

    My auditory recall was less perfect, but I used to read in class and irritate teachers trying to shame me by highlighting my inattention by being able to access the lecture out of my memory when they called on me with a question about it.