Dr. Immanuel Clay was found laying face down in a coma in his home on September 13th, 2019. All of his vital signs were normal for someone at rest and preliminary examination seem to indicate that the doctor had just stopped. After most other avenues of examination had been exhausted someone suggested an EEG. This showed the complete absence of brainwaves. While the doctors tried to find the cause of Dr. Clay's seemingly spontaneous brain death one of University's assistant professors,Dwayne Holland, showed up to collect notes related to the classes he was taking over. Holland was by all accounts brilliant, the sort of intense extrovert that you would expect to pursue a political career rather than a PhD in theoretical physics. He was also a bad person to tell a secret. He left Clay's house carrying much more than class notes.
It seems safe to assume that Holland was motivated by curiosity rather than avarice, given that he chose to show and discuss Clay's notes with half of the department. Clay had been working on devising an alternative to quantum gravity. It related timeless interpretations of quantum mechanics and some unexpected results from the LHC which had left most of the physics community wondering if they were going to throw out the standard model. If any of them had cared the about academic integrity they might have reported the theft but the allure of original, promising research was great and nobody wanted to be the whistle blower so the next three weeks passed without incident and those outside of the department where none the wiser. Then it hit Holland.
His fiance found him in the shower. Unlike Dr. Clay he was rigidly paralyzed in a fashion resembling Parkinson's disease. By the time the medics were performing the EEG his muscle had relaxed completely and his condition seemed identical to Dr. Clay's. The medical staff immediately doubled there efforts to find the cause of the vegetative states. Every test for toxins or biological agents came up negative. Attempts to isolate commonalities between the men led hospital staff to bring several of the faculty member's in for exams but with no idea of the cause it proved fruitless. No one ever thought that the problem wasn't to be found in biology.
Holland's fiance, Judith Pratt, came into contact with several members of faculty at this time. When asked if he had said anything regarding the Clay's notes she answered that he had been dancing around claiming Clay had discovered a unified field theory. Unsurprisingly the heads of the physics department demanded the stolen notes. Pratt handed them and several of Holland's own notes over without protest. Three members of the department; Jason Swanson, Mel Rush, and Rodney Hill, took over the project of deciphering the complex mathematics. When Swanson fell into a coma the CDC got involved and quarantined half a score of people in there panic. The notes were suspected to be contaminated with whatever pathogen was responsible for the comas and were burned. Fearing that they might be next Hill and Rush decided that the new theory had the best chance of surviving if they distributed it to people that were qualified to understand it. So the meme escaped on to the web. Time passed and within a year seventy seven people had succumb to it. It was help along by the media storm that followed it everywhere it appeared.
Maybe if someone in power had taken the threat seriously lives could have been saved. But the idea of a set of equations that killed those who comprehended them sounded like an urban legend. All and all, we're lucky that so few people where able to understand. For every person that was rendered a vegetable by the equations a thousand saw them and shrugged. The problem of course was that a different team of physicists discovered it again three years later. And again four years after that. By then physicists and mathematicians were beginning to realize that they had a real problem on their hands. More men and women passed trying to unravel the mystery. The condition was scrutinized by hundreds of neurologist but no one could offer any insight. Smart people just turned off. There was no ethical way to study the phenomena.
Some folks thought that AGI would be immune. When Hal was presented to the world in 2039 one of the first things he was contracted to do was to examine the equations. He stopped responding immediately. After weeks of trying to fix him the research team threw up there hands and loaded a ten month old backup. That didn't stop others from trying the same thing with each new cognitype seed. The Core seeds, the Intellect Series, Big Mac, all of them that were able to understand the equations would stop responding. Careful mind state partitioning yielded some success but still provided no real insight into what happened and what we could do to prevent it. One thing we did learn is that this put a cap on intelligence. After a certain point the odds that one might accidentally deduce the equations from known physics becomes high enough that it poses an ever present danger. At the time that this was being discovered it was only a concern of AGI's and researchers. Then Empirical Pedagogy and TMS showed up and the Flynn Effect began actually affecting the right side of the curve. The term generation gap took on a whole new meaning and suddenly problems that had been accessible only to scholars were being talked about by everyone. That included the equations. New mathematical tools made it easier than ever to derive them. Hundreds more hopeful young people checked out permanently trying to understand QM and Relativity. A slow but mounting consensuses put that knowledge behind barriers. Those who cried censorship tended to take care of themselves.
Except for the mad ISO formerly know as Gaia no one has ever claimed to comprehend the equations and went on to use them in the creation of new technology. Since she was destroyed or exited the universe we have no one to question. That's why I'm begging you, choose a different major. Study art, history, even engineering, but stay away from physics. I don't want to lose another promising young mind to the Theory of Everything.
RUST IS FOR THE WEAK
12/29/15 Addendum: It's come to my attention that this story bares a striking resemblances to Christopher Cherniak's short story The Riddle of the Universe and Its Solution both in content and tone. At the time that I wrote this I had not read it. This story was primarily inspired by Ted Chiang's story What's Expected of Us and David Langford's short story BLIT which both feature informational elements that cause people to become catatonic.