It’s the year 2033. A team of four scientists discovers a substance in the blood of newts that obviously generates empathy. Its name is Empathol. The antidote is salt, which, consumed in large quantities, turns people into egoists. The discovery makes its way into the public arena and becomes a fashion drug among the powerful who abuse Empathol for manipulating people. The four researchers eventually fall victim to their own discovery. But one day, this nightmare finally ends.
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An awsome story about the curse of Discovery
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- gekürzte Vorschau -
Hunting & Gathering
Night of Empathy
The Day after
In the Cockroach Bunk
In the Worm Bunk
Roger's Ego Trip
In the Rainforest
Hunting for Yellow Subs
Salt, Salt, Salt ...
Reflections of the author
It’s the year 2033.
Jan Odd, an ambitious young researcher from Europe, sits in a Boeing 797, lost in thought, looking down through the porthole at the ice desert of the North Atlantic. Hours later he drives in a silver-grey Van on Highway 95 North to his destination, the famous Think-Tank on the American East Coast.
Meanwhile, Jan finds research dull.
For several years now, day in, day out, Jan has been researching on kidneys, more precisely on newt kidneys. In the morning, he catches a newt from the water tank, kills it, cuts out a kidney and puts it under the microscope. Now and then, he takes notes in his lab book, half-sentences like filter closed or channels open or urine flow low - and that was it. He doesn't really know anymore, what he's after. At 11 o'clock in the morning at the latest, he is overwhelmed by a violent tiredness, which he does not shake off until noon, when he bites into the tuna sandwich he eats daily in the canteen. Then he disappears again for a few hours in his narrow research bunk, poking around with needles in the newt kidney until only a heap of dead meat lies in front of him, which he then tips into the trash can at about 5 pm.
Actually, he never wanted to do any research on these urinary organs. Somehow he slipped into it. Now he's in there and meanwhile too slack to free himself from it. He travelled to the Think-Tank with great expectations, and in his emotional exuberance he accepted everything they demanded. Only late, too late, did he realize that the most boring research object, the newt kidney, had been assigned to him. But by then, his initial passion was long gone. In the meantime, he has realized that it can also be quite convenient to do research without a goal. There is then no beginning and no end, in discussions one behaves quietly, nods now and then, and in order not to endanger the existence, one supplies from time to time a data salad, which then, probably because of its irrelevance, gets moldy in some drawers. Jan still remembers well, when he arrived at the Think-Tank and got his research topic from the top management. It was worded vaguely, which is typical for the alleged excellence and worldwide reputation of the Think-Tank,
Salt - a newt killer?
This topic was thrown at him like a morsel of flesh; he was put into a research bunk and then left alone. For better or for worse, he had to explore the kidneys of these animals, because it was believed that the root of all evil - salt damage - was to be found there. This hint had been given to him on his way into the dark. And that way he still walks, tired and aimless. But one day something happens that takes Jan out of his lethargy.
Jan spends a lot of time observing his newts through the glass of the fish tank before fetching an animal and working on it. In the course of time he has set up two water tanks, one with fresh water and a second, right next to it, with salt water. The newts in fresh water he calls Sweeties, the ones in salt water Salties. So in the morning he certainly sits half an hour in front of the two water tanks and watches the silent newt life behind the glass wall while he sips American coffee from his paper cup. From time to time he throws a few chunks of frozen chicken liver into the water and watches the animals eating. He knows that these newts live more or less in brackish water in the wilderness, and therefore decided to use these two extremes - fresh and salt water - to test borderline situations. And so, he, Jan the short-sighted, looks into the lidless eyes of the newts from a few centimeters away and tries to read something out of these eyes, probably out of pastime rather than scientific interest. These are quiet moments in which Jan's gaze crosses with one of the newts and something like a silent message is exchanged. Jan has already achieved quite a skill in this, so he thinks he can recognize their current state by a new kind of eye diagnosis. Yeah, he even makes short notes in his lab book:
Salty looks hungry
Sweety looks sad
Salty looks saturated
In the course of time his entries become increasingly differentiated:
Sweety looks begging
Salty looks arrogant
Salty looks cheeky
Suddenly, almost out of the blue, he notices that Salties generally look cold. Unlike the Sweeties. They, it seems to him, look warm. Rather amused, he writes in his lab book:
Salties look cold
Sweety look warm
At first, he thinks that this is delusion and that it depends on his daily mood. But the more frequently he looks into the two fish tanks, the more he is convinced that this is indeed so: the Salties's eyes are cold, the Sweeties’s eyes are warm. He also notices that the Salties stay away from each other while the Sweeties cuddle.
And there, in this seclusion, far away from any external interference, a thought suddenly appears out of nowhere in Jan's head that won't let him go,
… salt destroys empathy.
Voice from Off
Superficially seen, Jan's thought is not comprehensible, it's implausible and bizarre. To read empathy from newt's eyes seems 'sick'. Jan, however, is not sick, but rather shaped by experiences that led him to this quick diagnosis. They are experiences of his early childhood, of which he is no longer aware. They slumber in him and steer his thoughts without him noticing. Sometimes, he is surprised that all of a sudden he sees things very clear, and that he makes a judgement which he often cannot justify himself. His diagnosis salt destroys empathy is probably based on an experience when Jan was five years old.
For weeks, his mother had been talking about it. She will fulfil Aunt Elsa's long-awaited wish and visit a salt mine together with her, she said. A subterranean mountain in which there is a labyrinth of tunnels connected by wooden slides. And if you were at the bottom of the tunnel, its narrow walls made of salt shimmering pink in the light of the pit lamps mounted on your head, you would reach a salt lake after a long march through dark corridors. It was black and the only noticeable sound would be the water dripping from the invisible salt ceiling. There, they would pause for a while, surrounded by hot and humid air and then make their way back. They would reach the earth's surface only in the evening and therefore spend a night in a small inn near the entrance to the tunnel. This overnight stay was necessary, his mother explained to Jan, because the descent into the interior of the Salt Mountain and, especially afterwards, the ascent over thousands of steps was very exhausting, as the salty hot air in the tunnel would make breathing difficult.
For weeks, Jan wanted to hear this story over and over again, mostly in the evening before falling asleep by begging his mother until she finally caved in. Again and again, she has to tell him the story and every time she arrives with it at the black salt lake, she falls silent for a few seconds and squeezes Jan's arms. And every time she describes in a muffled voice how the big drops of water from the invisible salt ceiling splash into the black lake, she pinches him slightly in his loins while he nestles happily against her body. When Jan's eyelids become heavy and he gradually sinks to sleep, wrapped in his duvet, dreams follow, which often end abruptly, with him straight upright in his bed and looking at the familiar window cross on the other side until he has the certainty of where he is, in his room, his bed, together with his teddy bear. Then he crawls under the blanket again, the teddy tightly pressed to him and falls asleep. This happens several times during the night, and only when morning light penetrates through the window, he finds his inner peace. Then, finally, comes the day when the mother leaves. Aunt Elsa, who travels from far away, would meet her directly in front of the tunnel entrance of the salt mine. Jan is left behind with his nanny Frieda and his father. The latter is hardly noticeable for Jan, a 'workaholic' who spends his spare time with a whisky glass in his hand. Frieda belongs to the kind of a nanny who is physically present, but whose mind is mostly wandering in spheres far away from children. Jan spends the night when his mother is gone, mostly sitting in his bed. Again and again, the image of his mother appears to him, as she wanders through the underground corridors of the mine, hears the salt trickling from the ceiling, and she and Aunt Elsa covering with a sticky crust.
The next day Jan sets up a place by the window of his children's room so that he can see the street below him where his mother was supposed to come back. And finally, she comes. But her first glance is not at his window and her first words are not directed at him. Through the door he hears her talking into the phone with a muted voice and then she disappears into her room without looking for him. In the evening she reappears, sits opposite him at the table in the small kitchen-living room and tells him about her experiences in the mine. The stories are very much like the stories he already knows. Only the warmth is suddenly missing, the devotion that would be necessary to dispel the fears of five-year-old Jan.
Jan never learns that Aunt Elsa was just a phantom and the trip with her to the salt mine was an invention to conceal a rendezvous with a stranger. But in his childlike imagination, Jan combines the sudden loss of affection, the cool glances of his mother, who wander restlessly around the room during her report, with the salt that trickles down on her, yes, he perceives salt as a demon which lives in a mountain and has robbed his mother of the most important thing, the warmth.
Jan lounges at the kitchen table of his apartment and designs the menu. No more food in the canteen, no more pizza, no ham, no cheese, no bread. Instead, oat flakes, nuts, fruits, fresh meat, vegetables - all largely salt-free. Fortunately, he thinks, he is single, he can act ruthlessly, only has to worry about himself, nobody gets in his way.
His surroundings respect his no-salt whim. If he's invited to a friend's house, they cook salt-free. The salt shaker then circulates as inconspicuously as possible bypassing him like an obscene fetish. In the restaurant, Jan goes into the kitchen and asks the cook to prepare his meal salt-free. In order to emphasize this request, he drastically describes the acute shortness of breath that would afflict him if even a grain of salt were in his meal. He grasps his throat and opens his mouth wide, astonishingly similar to a newt's mouth. Irritated, the cook goes to work grumbling as he prepares the salt-free meal. After visiting a restaurant, Jan sweats repentantly in the sauna or torments himself on the treadmill to get rid of the most hidden restaurant salt, the most hidden salt crumbs, the very last salt atoms as, he calls them. Jan has moments of happiness when he puts his soaked T-shirt on the clothesline or sees the white spots left by the salt crystals on his dark-blue shorts. In this salt-free phase Jan is unusually busy. He sits at the computer for nights on end, browsing the net, searching in a hurry for methods to measure his own empathy.
Finally, he opts for a test developed by an international consortium of recognized psychologists. The test consists of ten questions. The empathic feeling rises from 1 to 10.
1. Have I looked my fellow men in the eyes?
2. Did I try to recognize their feelings in them?
3. Have I felt the need to share their worries with them?
4. Have their sorrows haunted me in dreams?
5. Does their fate occupy me more than my own?
6. Will I be discouraged if they are discouraged?
7. Do I get depressed when they're depressed?
8. Do I feel the need to act like them?
9. Have I already given in to this need once?
10. Is their fate my fate?
Jan asks himself these questions daily and records the answers in his laboratory book.
Jan's salt-free life doesn't stop him from experimenting. Quite the opposite! He finds it exciting, and fair to experiment with newts as well as with himself, even though his fate is less dramatic than that of the animals.
So, a headless newt lies backwards in front of him on a cork plate, the abdominal cavity is open, in the depth the kidneys are shining. The heart's still beating. He has tied off the torso with a thread so that the blood flows through the headless rest of the newt's body. Under the microscope he observes the life in the depths of the open torso. Blood flows through a widely ramified network of veins, similar to the road net of a big city, viscous and pulsating, in the rhythm of the heart. There, he notices how filthy-yellow streaks run through the bloodstream and suddenly disappear without a trace. Jan's gaze wanders back to the origin of these streaks. He discovers yellowish spots on the upper poles of the kidneys that melt away like calving glaciers. On closer inspection, he realizes that the meandering stripes consist of thousands of tiny particles that eventually vanish into the depths of the kidneys. Jan is stunned, his face is petrified.
… Swimming through the bloodstream and submerge like tiny yellow submarines …
The head of the decapitated newt is still in a small linen bag, the sack directly under the axe of the miniature guillotine. He pulls it out with two fingers and looks at it. The lidless eyes of the Sweety look at him, their expression is warm. A full empath, it shoots through Jan’s head.
That night Jan guillotines dozens of Sweeties and Salties. He finds the yellow streaks (from now on he calls them Yellow Subs) only in the former. He places the newt heads in two opposing rows on the laboratory table, on the left the heads of the Sweeties, on the right the heads of the Salties. Warm eyes here - cold eyes there, empaths left, sociopaths - right. Jan makes notes in his lab book in the neon light of the windowless research bunk. They end with a question mark,
... Yellow Subs - Physical Empathy?
When Jan is not experimenting with newts, he sits in front of his monitor feeding the computer with data that he collected about his empathy. He designs graphics, calculates statistical significances, and in his lab book he makes page by page notes about incidents that seem worth mentioning in the course of his salt-free period of life.
- Had heart palpitations after sauna, which only calmed down after hours.
- Standing in front of the fridge in the morning and didn't know why.
- Had to sob at night without knowing why.
- Had put on the sweater the wrong way and didn't notice it until evening.
- Got a sore throat after Trudi told me about her angina on the phone.
- Since I know that Roger has hip joint plastic surgery, I've had dragging pain in my right thigh.
- After Yuma told me that he was going to Tokyo for an indefinite time because his father had leukemia, I spontaneously had myself entered in the stem cell donor registry.
Using a complicated scoring system, Jan determines his Empathy Factor (EF). He reads it from a scale ranging from 1 (sociopath) to 10 (full empath). At the beginning of his salt-free period he determines for himself an EF of 4. A good starting point for his self-experiment, he finds, there is air upwards and downwards. Over the course of his salt-free time Jan gradually feels changes. At first, very subtle but later on, increasingly clear. His EF's rising. By the time it exceeds 7, he stops the daily testing.
- Ende der Buchvorschau -
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Wurm sucht Buch
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Miss Foxy Reads
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Mikka liest das Leben...
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