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I am always both intimidated and envigorated by large quantities of brilliance when they are unmitigated and uncontrolled. I have found this, strangely enough, very often in the drug community.

Some of the most truly thought-provoking conversations I have ever heard or engaged with some of the most brilliant people I have known have occured in places that we would prefer for police to not be present.

Suddenly, the shifting social rules in that space allowed for rambling discussions of philosophy, religion, spirituality, and literature. We could spend hours discussing the way that On the Road changed my life or how utilitarianism was really just another way of commodifying human beings.

We could really, truly learn and speak and listen without fear or discomfort. We could finally be free to interact, to find the chemestry that fit the people in the room.

Yeah, sometimes you'd get the dull, the mundane, even the occasional inane conversation, but the gamble seemed to be worth it because, as much as the insanely dull conversations seemed to happen, sometimes you got lucky. Sometimes, you would get something bright and astonishing.

The afterlife is an interesting place in many ways. There's the wrenching realization that death is not the end, that we continue on once our flesh dies and rots, and that's usually enough to put all but the most self-destructive in a good mood for years. (How can you explain to someone that you can't give up on consciousness that easily?) And then there's the amusement the more atheistic of us get out of seeing the faces of fundamentalists once they realize the truth, and the fundies enjoy the same on the entrance of the strong atheists (You should have been there for Madalyn Murray O'Hair), but one of the best joys is seeing the discussions that happen between people of such different eras and places that it seems the range between them would be smaller if they were of a different species.

One interesting ones I've sampled recently was a conversation between Albert Einsten and Democritus. I wasn't there, but pulling up the records wasn't hard. Seems like David Brin's transparent society came around eventually, even if it is in a place you expect to see Milliways rather than the Buddha and Jeshua of Nazareth discussing religion. Democritus, for those who skipped history class, was the Greek philosopher who dubbed the fundamental unit of matter the atom, from the Greek word atomos for indivisable. He also thought they were homogenous and had no internal structure, while realizing that the different properties of elements could be explained by atoms having different sizes, shapes and mass. Not bad for an ancient philosopher whose method of discovery was restricted to gedanken experiments, but quantum mechanics are a little more accurate, and useful as a stepping stone towards an understanding of unified field theory. Einstein was tutoring him in exchange for some lessons on wormholes he'd picked up from Tsuan Noriyaka - without cash, only moral obligations exist.

Einstein ran through the basic particles of an atom pretty easily - proton, neutron and electron. He had just finished explaining angstroms when Democritus, like any good student, jumped in. "So, I assume this means atoms are indeed divisable?", he inquired.

Einstein raised his large, bushy eyebrows at him and huffed slightly. "Yees, that is true, and such is the source of fission, but I was getting to that later. Now you see, the electrons want a stable orbital configuration, so..."

"If one may split them, may one add them together?", he interjected again. His impatience was charming.

Einstein was slightly put out by the interruption, but like any teacher he took joy in Democritus' need for knowledge. "Most atoms do not fuse, but sometimes... sometimes. For example, every star is supported by this process, and humanity was weaned off its dependence upon petroleum through the mastering of the process."

His eyes opened, revealing childlike wonder. "If you're lucky, they fuse into something bright and astonishing."

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