Friday, October 10, 2014

Quantum Leap: the Movie

Like many people, I found the ending of Quantum Leap unsatisfactory. I've long had an idea for a story that would wrap it up both more neatly and provocatively.

And by the way, if anybody from the copyright holder (or anybody who knows somebody...) happens to be reading: I disclaim all rights in this idea. Use if freely. I'd far rather see this made than get paid (although a "from an idea by..." credit would be nice.)

[fade to black]
Open on: the same set and title card that closed out the original TV series.

 Burn in: Dr. Sam Beckett never returned home.
[crossfade to]
Burn in: ...Until today

Open on Sam, emerging from a leap. He is in an anonymous office bathroom, could be anywhere in America, any time from the 1980s to the present day. POV over his shoulder, he looks into a wall mirror and sees...

…himself, as young as he looked at the beginning of the project.

Sam: Oh boy!


The story then unfolds: after many years of leaping, Sam has somehow leaped into his own body. It is 1999 [the "present day" of the project in the original series], just a few days before the experiment that launched his first leap. And Sam has just days to decide: knowing what he knows now, does he take the leap or not? If he does leap, he knows he may never get home again. This may be his one and only chance to break out. But if he doesn't leap, does he change history and erase all the good he has ever done? He has no idea... and no help (at first).

Back in his own timeline [our present day], a long-retired Al dozes in a chair. The QL project was shut down years ago. They had lost contact with Sam, and after months with no sign of him, everybody had assumed he was lost in time. The one exception: Al never gave up hope, and even though the project is mothballed, he still has the comm device gathering dust in a drawer of his desk.

And after all these years it blinks into life, and starts bleeping, waking Al.

So now Al, with the help of a grown-up Sammy Jo, tries to reboot Ziggy, contact Sam in 1999, and figure out the consequences of his decision. But the closer they get to the choice to leap or not, the more erratic and unhelpful Ziggy becomes: instead of converging, her predictions and probabilities are bouncing wildly, as every choice Sam makes seems to involve terrible paradoxes and instabilities. Whatever Sam chooses seems to be wrong...

Monday, November 18, 2013

On the fallibility of autobiographical memories

I suspect that most people who have not actively studied the subject have a fairly naive view of how autobiographical memories work. They imagine our memories of events in our lives to be little home movies, tucked away in slots in our brains, ready to be recalled when prompted by circumstance or demanded by our conscious selves.

That this model is entirely inadequate was brought home to me the other day when I was recalling a particular drive I used to take on a weekly routine in my early 20s, when I lived in England. The memory was crisp and detailed, including the undulations of the road, signposts to various villages along the route, and the appearance of the landscape at different times of year. Just one detail was wrong: in my memory, I was driving on the right and sitting in the left-hand seat, as one would in America or Europe; of course, since these events took place in England, the reverse would have been how it actually took place.

As I thought about it more, I realized that the same was true for (almost) all of my memories of England involving cars. In my mind's eye I am opening the wrong door, getting in or out of the wrong side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the road. Only by a conscious effort of will can I restore the image in my head to how reason tells me it actually must have happened.

What this tells us is that autobiographical memories are not really like a movie, but more like the script of a movie. Somewhere in my memory is stored a script about that familiar drive, perhaps associated with a high-fidelity description or image of the landscape, and a slug line such as:

EXT. DAY: CARL drives a late-model compact through winding country roads.

...and from that, like a movie director, my brain constructs the movie, using its library of backdrops and knowledge of what driving involves. Only now that I have spent more years driving on the right than I ever did on the left, it defaults to the more habitual perspective, like an American movie director setting a scene in England and forgetting that they drive on the other side there.

I said "almost" above, for good reason. A few of my English driving memories are correctly oriented, invariably ones involving some amount of drama. For example, once while driving on the M25 I was witness to a multiple-car pile-up that caused a huge back-up on both sides of the motorway. In my memory of that event, I remember every moment with great precision, including which lane I was in and how I avoided being part of the accident myself.