Understand is a science fiction short story by Ted Chiang. It concerns a man who is subjected to an experimental drug treatment after suffering effective brain death. The drug, Hormone K, restores him from a vegetative state. In a follow up visit his doctor discovers his memory has improved and follows this up with a general intelligence test. The test places him in the ninety ninth percentile. Over the following weeks he discovers that his concentration, reading speed and comprehension, and multitasking ability have all increased significantly. When the hospital asks him to participate in a study that involves giving him a third dosage of Hormone K he eagerly agrees. It goes better than he expected and he becomes super intelligent; capable of learning a new language or branch of mathematics in a day. The doctors dutifully administer test after test which the protagonist aces all the while wondering at how little the test show and how little the doctors understand of his new abilities.
It's boring until an unknown doctor shows up to administer a test that's too subjective and close to real world problems. Halfway through the test he realizes that the man administering the test is not a doctor, he's with the military. He deliberately tanks the test as convincingly as possible and quits the research program. Two days later he receives a call from the hospital informing him that a new side effect involving loss of vision has arisen. He intuits that they would not have shared that info over the phone and that he'll be declared mentally incompetent if he goes to the hospital. He drains his bank accounts, leaves his apartment, and leaves the hospital and local police with some malware that will eliminate their records of him. A hold is placed on testing with Hormone K and all samples are sent back to the lab that originally distributed it but not before the protagonist manages to acquire a sample of it. After this he gathers money enough to live and blackmail enough to discourage further attempts at capture.
The recent fugitive's new found intelligence includes not only quantitative improvements but qualitative improvements as well. Theories and facts begin to arrange themselves into gestalts of amazing beauty and complexity. The the disparate fields of science begin to fit together and the subtle underpinnings of art and aesthetics begin to reveal themselves. But the ultimate understanding always eludes him. Spurred by this harmony and the hope that it will all make perfect sense with yet more intelligence he injects the final dose of Hormone K. After a rather traumatic psychic rebirth he is truly self aware and able to comprehend his mind in all aspects, divide and control his attention without limit, and sense and control his body down to the the level of autonomic responses. His level of awareness is no less impressive and he soon becomes aware of something that poses a serious threat to anyone at his level of awareness.
Without going into detail I feel the end of Understand has something of a Diabolus ex Machina flavor and the whole story while mostly understandable falls in to technobabble in attempt to communicate what the protagonist is experiencing. That said, it is a very interesting story for anyone interested in the concept of super intelligence. It can be read here or listened to here.
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