By Jeff Robinson (3,998 words)

Dr. Brandon Wilkes entered the conference room and placed a stack of folders at the end of the table.  All the attendees stopped talking and faced him.  Wilkes stood taller than most, but while large man he had thick dark black hair that made him look far younger than his forty-five years.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, gentlemen, but I had an important phone call,” he said.

There was a murmur from the assembled investors.  All of them were wealthy, influential men and none were used to be kept waiting.  The door behind Brandon Wilkes opened and his secretary, Miss Gentry, entered with a large tray of glasses and several bottles.  Setting the tray down on the table, she took one of the bottles and began to fill the glasses with champagne.

“As most of you know,” said Brandon, “I was notified several weeks ago that my recent bestseller, THE DAWN OF A NEW AGE, was selected to be on the short list for nominees for this year’s Pulitzer Prize.   While you were patiently waiting, I received a call from the Pulitzer committee and it’s been confirmed.  I am this year’s recipient.”

Surprise spread across faces in the room.  Jaws dropped and someone started a congratulatory applause that was picked up and echoed by everyone present.

Brandon raised his hands to quiet his guests.  “It won’t be announced officially until Friday, and I’m not supposed to tell anyone, but in light of today’s discussions, I thought this occasion deserved a small celebration.” 

Reaching over the tray, he took a glass and gestured for everyone to join him.  As his guests each took a glass, Brandon toasted himself.
“To the Dawn of a New Age,” he proclaimed, then he upturned the glass and drained it.  Setting his empty glass down, he smiled.  While normally outgoing and enthusiastic, his grin made him seem even more gregarious than usual.   As everyone finished their toast, he gestured for everyone to sit.

Always the showman, Brandon nodded to his secretary, who had quietly moved to the edge of the room, and the lights dimmed.  Pulling a remote control from the pocket of his suit coat, he stepped to one side and pressed a button.  A projector, at the opposite side of the room, blinked and the first slide of his presentation appeared on a screen beside him.

“I want to thank you all for coming today.  The principles I outlined in my book form the basis for the proposals you all received.  Let me summarize the high points.”

He clicked a button and a chart appeared.

“The starting point of the my research was an attempt to explain and understand the “Flynn Affect”.  This phenomenon is named after the New Zealand scientist, James Flynn, who discovered it in the early 1980’s.  His own studies showed that average human intelligence had increased continuously since formal tests were introduced for military personnel prior to World War One.  

“This phenomenon generated intense interest when it was first discovered and others quickly verified Flynn’s results.  His observations became widely accepted, even though no one understood the cause.  Basically, the average IQ of human beings has increased steadily by three points every decade, since the beginning of the twentieth century.

His remote clicked again and a list of citations appeared on the screen.

“For the past twenty years all attempts to explain this phenomenon have failed.  In fact, subsequent research proved that the increases weren’t due to natural selection or evolution and weren’t related to age, sex, race, nutrition, or environment.  No theory provided a satisfactory explanation until my research came along.”

At the click of a button, the chart changed.

“After nearly twenty years working in education and psychology, I decided to tackle the problem.  First, I spent six years correlating every physical and environment factor that imaginable in an attempt to explain this phenomenon.  All of my attempts to explain the trend failed, until I stumbled across an obscure article in astrophysics.”

The screen change to yet another chart.

“The work correlated new methods of measuring neutrino emissions from the Sun with the growth of crystals in newly formed rock. 

Neutrinos are generated by nuclear reactions deep in the Sun’s core and the Earth is constantly bombarded by them, but they generally go unnoticed because neutrinos don’t react with matter very much.  In fact, their interaction with matter is so low they’re almost impossible to detect. 

“In this research, a Dr. Louis Jenkins at Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico, discovered that the intensity of neutrino emissions affected the rate at which crystals form in rocks.  Later he demonstrated this effect using the new fusion reactors being developed at that facility, which produce a modest but controllable neutrino flux.

Someone from the audience raised his hand and interrupted Brandon’s monologue.  “Dr. Wilkes, I’ve read your book, but I don’t understand how this relates to your conclusions regarding human intelligence.  You’ve implied a causal relationship between neutrinos and human intelligence, but it doesn’t make sense.”

Brandon Wilkes nodded and skipped some slide.  “The relationship isn’t obvious.  Here’s a chart that shows the average grain size of rock crystals formed at the bottom of the mid-Atlantic trench.  Bore samples taken during a geological study of the ocean floor show a forty-thousand year cycle in which the Earth’s magnetic poles reverse themselves. 

“However, by looking at grain size instead of orientation, I was able to measure the intensity of the Sun’s neutrino emissions over the past several hundred thousand years.

“This chart shows the changes in the intensity of neutrinos from the Sun over that time.  Notice the variations in the pattern.  The peaks correspond to intense bursts of neutrinos from the Sun.  The valleys indicate lulls in neutrino emissions.”

Brandon moved to the next slide.  “I’ve now zoomed in to show the Sun’s neutrino emissions over last five thousand years and am overlaying it with another that shows the rise and fall of civilizations over that same time.”

The two charts merged and overlaid one another and mirror images of one another.  When the second as inverted, they were identical.

One of the investors asked, “This is what I don’t understand, Dr. Wilkes.  How does the correspondence between these two graphs prove anything?  Where did the second graph come from anyway?”

“The second graph,” said Brandon, “is an index based upon a number of factors, births, deaths, wars, new inventions, and so on.  It basically summarizes man’s progress over recorded history.

“See the high points here and here?” he said highlighting them with a laser pointer.  “These correspond to the rise of the Greek city-states and the Renaissance.  Correspondingly, these peaks in neutrino emissions match up with the Fall of Rome and the onset of the Dark ages.”
“So you’re claiming these neutrino fares from the Sun caused the rise and fall of man’s civilizations?”

“Yes, but the causal effect is a bit indirect.  I explain all this in my book in much greater detail, but I suggest that the increase of neutrinos emitted by the Sun corresponds to periods of reduced intelligence in mankind.  These, in turn match periods of increased wars and the fall of major civilizations. 

“Conversely, I’ve shown that lulls in neutrino emissions correspond to periods of increased intelligence, education, creativity and commerce.”
“But you can’t prove your hypothesis can you, Dr. Wilkes?”

Brandon sighed.  “No, that’s right.  I can’t prove it.  While we see a pattern here, we can’t verify the direct effect of neutrinos on the human brain. 

“However, because of the Flynn effect, we know human intelligence has steadily increased for the past nine decades and we think we’ve found the primary environmental cause, neutrinos from the Sun.

“Research indicates that, since 1910, there has been a significant lull in the intensity of neutrinos, the likes of which hasn’t occurred for nearly 30,000 years.  If neutrino bombardment from the Sun is responsible for the Flynn effect, it allows us to make a remarkable prediction.  If this trend continues, and Sun’s neutrino flux continues to decrease, we should expect an increase in the number of geniuses born in the next twenty or thirty years.”

“That’s quite a jump, isn’t it?” ask someone else.  “You still haven’t identified how neutrinos affect humans.”

“I don’t need to understand the cause to understand its effect.  The physical cause is probably due to how neurons are formed in the brain,  while fetuses are still in the mother’s womb.  Just as neutrinos impede the formation of cause rock crystals, they probably have subtle effects in how synapses formed in the brain.  It doesn’t really matter. 

“Statistics show these two factors correlate.  Furthermore, the lull in neutrinos we’ve experienced for the past century seems to have affected the intelligence of newborns.  This accounts, not only for the increased intelligence of the general population we’ve measured, but also for the incredible advances in science and industry that’ve occurred, as well.  Just look at the innovations in the last hundred years.  Isn’t it a remarkable coincidence that this corresponds to the lowest level of neutrino emissions in the past 30,000 years?”

“And this is the basis of your proposal to us?  This is why you want all of us to invest in your new company?”

“Yes,” Brandon said proudly.  Gesturing to his secretary in the back of the room, he waited as the conference room lights came on.  Then Brandon passed out the papers he’d prepared.

“I am giving you each a prospectus for the company I’m proposing.  My research shows the Sun’s neutrino flux is continuing to decrease.  This means we’ll have another rapid increase in the intelligence of the general population.  Therefore, in the next twenty years, we’ll have more geniuses born than have ever lived in mankind’s history.  Can you imagine the benefits to society, if we suddenly have thousands of children more talented than Leonard DeVinci, Michelangelo, or Einstein?

Brandon gave the assembled investors a chance to peruse his proposals.

“So you want us to invest in a new chain of charter schools for these geniuses you say will be born?  Why do we need new schools?”

“Because we’re not taking advantage of geniuses that are already being born.  Educational policies over the past several decades have focused on teaching to the lowest common denominator.  We have been dumbing-down our educational institutions to accommodate the poorest students.   The latent ability of our best students is going untapped.  You see, if children’s capabilities aren’t recognized and nurtured when they’re young, their talents don’t develop and are lost forever.

“If we can identify genius in children and expose them to environments that stimulate them, then we can nurture these latent talents before they’re lost.”

An older gentleman with white hair put down his prospectus and said, “That’s quite a claim, Dr. Wilkes.  However, without any substantive proof, the scale of investment you’re proposing is unjustifiable.  You’re talking about opening dozens of specialized schools, whose average cost ten times more than that of public schools.  Moreover, you want private businesses to pay for all these costs up front on the promise that they might be able to nurture a few bright kids?”

Brandon smiled smugly.  “I thought you’d want proof.  What I didn’t tell you was that I already started such a school two years ago.  I used my research to develop a technique to passively measure neuron density in children between two and four years old.  Then I tested and selected the forty best who I then subjected to a regime of education of my own design. 
“Using techniques that I developed, the forty children I selected from surrounding schools demonstrate IQ’s ranging from 165 to over 210.  Here let me introduce you to one of them.”

Brandon nodded to his secretary and a few moments later, she returned holding the hand of a tiny child, barely six years old.  His large eyes darted quickly, touching and studying everyone in sight.

Crouching down, Brandon said, “Hi, Bobby.  You remember me don’t you?”

“Yes, Dr. Wilkes.”

Brandon led the boy to the front of the room and the child looked around, fascinated by all of the adults in the room.

“Now, Bobby, I want you to ignore all these gentlemen and do me a favor.  You know those math problems your teacher’s been working on with you?”

The boy nodded politely.

“Well, I was wondering if you could do one of those problems for me now.”

“Sure,” said the boy.  But despite his confident reply, the boy stuck a thumb in his mouth and nursed it nervously.

“All right,” said Brandon.  “Here’s the problem.”  Brandon walked over to the projection screen and raised it, exposing a problem on the whiteboard behind it that had been written down earlier.  It was a word problem about water flowing into a swimming pool with a sloping bottom.  The problem wanted to know the rate the water would be rising, when it was halfway full.

The boy walked over to the board and picked up a marker.  As he set about performing some calculations, eyebrows went up, as those present realized the boy was performing basic calculus.  After a moment, Bobby wrote two answers on the board.  Then, setting the marker down, he turned back to Dr. Wilkes.

“Why do you have two answers, Bobby?” asked Brandon.

“Because I didn’t know what you meant by half-full,” he said. “I wasn’t sure whether you meant when the water was half way up the deep end or whether you meant when half the volume of the pool was reached, so I solved it both ways.”

The boy walked back over to Miss Gentry and reaching up, he took one of her hands.  Then he put the thumb of his other hand back in his mouth.

Brandon blinked.  “I’m sorry, Bobby.  I hadn’t thought of that.  You did very well.”  Brandon looked proudly at his audience and then addressed his secretary again. 

“Miss Gentry, would you take Bobby back to class and stop by the cafeteria and let him pick out a treat for himself?”

She escorted the child to the door and the boy paused to take his thumb out of his mouth just long enough to wave goodbye before the door closed behind him.

“An impressive demonstration of intelligence,” said one of the investors, “but hardly conclusive.  Given proper motivation, any of us could have found a genius or an idiot savant to parade around.  Just because you brought out your brightest student to do tricks doesn’t prove anything.”

“Ahh,” Brandon said, “but Bobby isn’t my smartest student.  As of the latest batch of tests, he has the lowest IQ of any in his class.  If you will look at the appendix at the back of your handouts, you’ll see the selection criteria we used.  From eighty child preschoolers, we randomly selected forty.  Those children then went through the accelerated teaching program I developed.  Their IQ’s are now almost off the charts. 

The other forty, who went to normal pre-schools and are now in kindergarten, and each rate near the high end of the normal distribution, but none seem to be developing their talents very well.  Not one of them has an IQ greater than 125.

“This proves my point.  If these latent geniuses aren’t caught early, their latent abilities atrophy and fail to develop.

“If I’m right, more geniuses will be born in the next twenty years than have ever existed since Man started walking upright.  If we don’t change the way we teach, we’ll waste all of that talent. 

“Here we stand at the Dawn of a New Age and we waste our greatest resources by using teaching methods that cater to the slowest students in our population. 

“Oh, we can still make progress, but it’s like being in a foot race with our best runners handicapped by having their feet hobbled.

“Gentlemen, if your companies want to capitalize on this age of genius, then you need to invest in these schools.  If you do, then you can groom the next generation of scientists and leaders to work for your companies, when they grow up.  If you don’t…well I’m sure they’ll find other companies to work for.”

Brandon folded his arms and looked smugly at this audience.  The businessmen whispered to each other and studied the data in their handouts.
“I’ll leave you to talk amongst yourselves and rejoin you when you’re ready,” he said heading back to his office.

A few minutes later, Miss Gentry called him on the intercom.

“Dr. Wilkes, I’m sorry to disturb you, but someone’s here to see you.”

“Does one of the investors have a question?”

“Uh, no.  Though I must say you’ve really stirred up a tempest in there.  The last I checked they were arguing about whether your proposal included enough schools.  Many of them want more, if they could be located near their respective headquarters.”

Brandon nodded.  Everything was going according to plan.  The research, the book, and the proposal for the new schools would net him millions of dollars in profit.  Then his eyebrows furrowed and he asked, “Um, if they’re not ready for me, then who’s waiting?”
“He says his name is Louis Jenkins, a scientist from Los Alamos.  He claims he has something that’s very important.”

Brandon frowned.  He’d been expecting this too.  He’d used Jenkins neutrino research in his studies and knew that sooner or later Jenkins would come to demand a piece of the action.  Why the proceeds from the book alone had already reached ten million dollars.  When the Pulitzer Prize was announced, that figure would double or triple. 

Sighing, he realized there was no putting this off.  His best course of action was to hope for a quick settlement, before Jenkins realized the true payback.

“Send him in, Miss Gentry, and call someone from the legal department to bring up that settlement I prepared last month.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied. 

A few moments later, the door opened and a tall, thin man with blonde hair and thick wire-rimmed glasses entered.

Brandon rose and extended his hand.  “Dr. Jenkins, so glad to finally meet you after, all this time.  I am, of course, quite familiar with your work.  How can I help you?”

Jenkin’s handshake was weak and soft.  Brandon squeezed firmly and then took his seat.  The scientist smiled and drew a nearby chair over to Brandon’s desk.  As he sat down, he pulled some papers from a folder he carried, handing them to Brandon.

“Uh, I read your book and was impressed with what you did with my work on neutrino flares,” he said.

Brandon nodded.  This was going just as expected.  First, he’d validate the work.  Then he’d congratulate Brandon for his conclusions, and then he’d demand compensation for his contributions.  Brandon remained silent, waiting for the drama to play itself out.

“I must say I was amazed at how you tied the geologic record of neutrino emissions to the rise and fall of civilizations.  That connection showed remarkable insight.  I have to confess I performed some calculation and independently verified your conclusions.  That’s the bulk of the printouts I’ve given you.”

Brandon nodded politely, but declined to look at the printouts.

“I only have one issue with your studies,” Jenkins said.

Here comes the demand, thought Brandon.

Jenkins opened his papers and pointed at a chart.  “Your problem is that you only used geologic core samples for your analysis, which means your most recent data only goes back about ten years.  At Los Alamos I have been baselining neutrino emissions using new instrumentation in underground mines in New Mexico.  We’ve accumulated data that goes back twelve years and some of it confirms the trends shown in mid-Atlantic trench core records.

So he’s offering independent collaborative evidence, Brandon mused.  Probably to justify his demand for a bigger piece of the pie.

“So how much do you think it’s worth, Dr. Jenkins?” he asked preemptively.

“Huh, I don’t understand,” said Jenkins.

“But surely you do.  How much do you want?”

“Ah, I don’t know what you mean,” said Jenkins.  “I only wanted you to see the recent data we got from our neutrino detectors and let you know about the new trends.”

“What?” said Brandon, as he took the chart from Jenkins.

“Our studies indicate an increase in neutrino emissions that began three years ago.  You can see from the chart that after nine years of continuous operation, our detectors measured a substantial increase in neutrino flux. We haven’t published our results yet, because we don’t have a model to explain the change.  The data, however, indicates an almost exponential rise in neutrino emission from the Sun.  It still hasn’t peaked yet, but your correlation to the geologic records helped us calibrate our sensors. 

“Based on your studies, we predict this flare is going to be the largest in more than a half million years.  Also, the geologic record suggests the duration of these types of flares are proportional to their intensity so, this one should last five or six centuries, longer, if the intensity continues to increase.”

Brandon sat slack jawed.  This meant intelligence wasn’t going to be increasing.  It was going to decrease, dramatically.

“But… ” Brandon stuttered.

“Exactly,” interjected Jenkins.  “If you’re correct, then the average intelligence of children is going to drop over the next several years and stay low for several centuries at least.”

“But, that’s disastrous,” said Brandon.  His mind raced with possibilities and he envisioned all his potential profits evaporating like smoke.
“I know,” said Jenkins sadly.  “That’s why I thought I should come.”

“There has to be something we can do,” said Brandon.  “This flare-up will cause tremendous damage to the brains of developing fetuses.  Can’t we put up shielding to protect pregnant women or something?” 

“If you ask that question, then you don’t understand how neutrino-matter interactions work.  Matter is almost completely transparent to neutrinos.  Why, to build a shield that would have a fifty percent chance of stopping a neutrino, you’d need a sheet of lead as thick as the distance from the Sun to the orbit of Jupiter.  Almost nothing interacts with neutrinos. 

“Our detectors consist of tons of liquid photo-emulsion deep underground.  Not even X-rays or gamma-rays can reach that deep.  But even if a neutrino interacts with an atom, it only generates a single photon and our sensors only detect a handful of interactions a day.  The only things in nature we’ve ever discovered, which seem sensitive to neutrinos, are developing rock crystals and, thanks to your work, neurons in the developing human brain.

“But this means my conclusions are wrong,” said Brandon.  “Instead of an era of genius’ we’re going to be facing an age of…of…”

“Morons,” said Jenkins.  “I know.  I wanted to ask you if we could use your research, when we publish our paper.  Can we quote you?”

“Uh, uh…sure,” said Brandon almost absentmindedly, as he stared Jenkins’ data.

After a long silence, Brandon looked up.  “Is… is there anything else?” he asked.

“No,” said Jenkins shaking his head sadly.  “I just wanted you to have a copy of our data.”  The scientist held out his hand to say goodbye, but Brandon’s eyes were locked on the charts before him and he didn’t respond.  Finally Jenkins went to the door and let himself out.

After a long time, Brandon put his head in his hands. 

Instead of the dawn of a new age, mankind was going to be facing a twilight that heralded a night darker than anything experienced before. 
  This dwarfed, by far, the neutrino flare that had triggered the Dark Ages.  If Jenkins was right, they were facing a Dark Age that would last nearly a millennium.

Brandon closed his eyes and said a prayer. 

So deep in thought was he, that he did not hear when Miss Gentry knocked on his door to tell him the investors were ready for him.





If you like what you have read or would like to send me your comments on this story, please feel free to contact me by clicking on the following link robinson_ja@q.com