The Devil and von Neumann

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There is nothing observable in a story. Any understanding is only a linear representation of the space between beginning and end. Consider the Devil and von Neumann.

The Devil approached Max von Neumann on the 28th of December, 1903, not long after the birth of Max’s eldest son, John. How the Devil approached Max von Neumann is uncertain, but the result is clear, as the following discourse shall show.
The Devil said, “Good evening, Mr. von Neumann.”
And Max von Neumann said, “Good evening, Mr. Morningstar.”
The Devil said, “Now that the pleasantries are concluded, I offer you this deal. In exchange for your son’s soul, I shall give his mind the brilliance of the star that bears my name. The world will be for him a window through which the universe shall shine.”
And Max von Neumann said, “Such a thing would be great, indeed. But what would I be giving in return? What is a soul?”
The Devil said, “Nothing observable. A linear representation of a life from its beginning to its end. Nothing more. Or less.”
Max von Neumann found he could not say no. The deal was struck. John von Neumann grew, and his mind flourished. He became a legend in his own time. And fifty-three years and two months after his birth, the Devil approached John von Neumann on his deathbed.
The Devil said, “Good evening, Mr. von Neumann.”
And John von Neumann said, “Good evening, Mr. Morningstar. I thought you might be coming. I’ve been practicing my Faust.”
The Devil said, “I have come for your soul.”
And John von Neumann said, “By whose authority?”
The Devil said, “By the authority of your father, who struck the deal with me long ago.”
And John von Neumann said, “What right did my father have, to bargain my soul?”
The Devil said, “He is your beginning.”
And John von Neumann asked, “And what is a soul?”
The Devil said, “Your father asked, and I answer just the same. Nothing observable. A linear representation of a life from its beginning to its end. Nothing more. Or less.”
“Ah," said John von Neumann, "but is that the same thing as the linear representation of a life from its end to its beginning?”
The Devil said nothing.
And John von Neumann laughed. “So I thought. Allow me to strike a deal with you, then, friend, by the authority of my ending. I will offer you this soul I have claim to, if, in exchange, you go to my father in 1903, offer him the deal you did, and induce him to take it. Then, my soul is yours.”
“Then, John von Neumann,” the Devil said, “I will still have your soul.”
And John von Neumann smiled. “Yes. And you will be right back here again to claim it, just to go back again. Running circles with infinite edges. Do you see?”
And the Devil saw and despaired and now forever runs the distance between a man’s beginning and end. And John von Neumann watches the infinite universe through a window fifty-three years long.

So you see. There is nothing observable in a story. Any understanding is only a linear representation of the space between the end and the beginning. Consider the Devil and von Neumann.