A Mysterious Appearance

On the night of January 2, 2009, I was passing through our living room, where my wife was watching a classic film on television. I was about to make a chiding comment about her addiction to old movies when I noticed a small coin in front of the TV set. I picked it up absentmindedly and then realized it was a very small coin, a shiny copper disk, much smaller and thinner than a dime. It was a USSR kopek, dated 1965. But why did it look so new, and where had it come from?

I have never collected coins, but I have a few stashed away from trips to Europe decades ago. I hadn't looked at them in years. I located them in an old and undisturbed box on a shelf in my bedroom. I found another kopek therein, also dated 1965, but worn and brown with age.

My two-year-old grandson had recently visited us. But little Jonah had been (as was always necessary) under constant surveillance and had not been allowed in our bedroom. Moreover, if he had come upon so small and attractive an object as a shiny little kopek, he would have promptly swallowed it, probably without the slightest ill effect. On the basis of past experience with Jonah's gastric juices, I was sure that any coin he regurgitated would have been corroded beyond recognition. Therefore, I could exclude that possibility.

We had received no other visitors in several weeks, nor had we received any packages that might have contained the little kopek. Since the chaos of Christmas, which had been cleared by a thorough housecleaning, we had not opened any drawers or boxes containing old mementos. There was therefore no conceivable occasion or place from which the coin could have come.

I had run out of explanations when I remembered that, when I found the kopek, my wife had been watching Doctor Zhivago. Such a coincidence could not be easily ignored. So, feeling foolish, I consulted the IMDB website. Doctor Zhivago was produced in 1965! My wife did not recall having seen any specific coins in the movie, but she admitted that there were scenes where money was handled.

No reasonable explanation could account for the astronomically improbable coincidences of (a) this particular coin being a 1965 kopek, (b) my happening to find it beneath our TV set, and (c) finding it while Dr. Zhivago was playing.

I was therefore compelled to follow Sherlock Holmes' dictum that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Since there was no other possible source, the coin must somehow have come from the movie. This seemed unimaginable until I recalled that, having an old TV set, we had just installed one of those digital-to-analog converters.

I was reminded of a recent remark by a scientist that all of the marvelous gadgets that Captain Kirk had at his disposal in Star Trek are now either practical realities, like the beam-me-up-Scotty cell phone, or under development, like invisibility cloaking. The scientist claimed that the only exceptions -- warp drive and teleportation -- have not been proven impossible. Suppose that the TV converter manufacturers, in their haste to bring us digital TV, had stumbled upon primitive teleportation.

According to string theory, material objects are nothing but complex wave motions in multidimensional space. These wave patterns are not unlike the wave patterns that form the visual signal in an analog TV set. Let us therefore suppose that in converting the digital string corresponding to an object in a TV frame into an analog signal, the converter introduces some overtones that the antiquated electronic circuitry of an old TV set distorts and amplifies into unforeseen new wave patterns. In virtually every case, these new patterns would be ineffectual and inconsequential. But suppose that once in a trillion times, the new wave pattern has a structure resembling the string-theory wave pattern of the material object that caused the digital signature in the first place? Wouldn't that constitute a crude form of teleportation?

But why would such a process happen only to a little kopek? I'd venture to guess that teleportation is such an energy-intensive process that the tiny coin was the only object in the movie small enough to pass through the converter without overloading it.

I admit that this is all far-fetched speculation with no theoretical justification whatever. But how else am I to account for the shiny little copper disk that sits next to my computer as I type?

You may offer any alternative explanations you wish; I have ceased to speculate. However, being a cautious man, I instructed my wife to avoid watching any TV shows or movies involving guns, killer bees, or the like. She willingly complied. Since that night, our set has been on day and night, tuned constantly to the Jewellery Channel.

Postscript: By now, you will have remembered that this is April 1, and that anything you read today should be taken with a pinch of salt. As of tomorrow, I will be prepared to concede that little Jonah must be at the bottom of this mystery. But for one wild moment, on that night, standing in front of a TV set with a bright little kopek in my hand, I was prepared to believe anything.

Magical moments, however improbable, are never impossible. We dare not hope for them, but if they come, we should be ready to gape and enjoy. The same holds true for improbable catastrophes: we must not live in fear of them, but if they come, we should be prepared to cope as best we can. Both possibilities make life exciting. I would not have it any other way.
On the night of January 2, 2009, I was passing through our living room, where my wife was watching a classic film on television. I was about to make a chiding comment about her addiction to old movies when I noticed a small coin in front of the TV set. I picked it up absentmindedly and then realized it was a very small coin, a shiny copper disk, much smaller and thinner than a dime. It was a USSR kopek, dated 1965. But why did it look so new, and where had it come from?

I have never collected coins, but I have a few stashed away from trips to Europe decades ago. I hadn't looked at them in years. I located them in an old and undisturbed box on a shelf in my bedroom. I found another kopek therein, also dated 1965, but worn and brown with age.

My two-year-old grandson had recently visited us. But little Jonah had been (as was always necessary) under constant surveillance and had not been allowed in our bedroom. Moreover, if he had come upon so small and attractive an object as a shiny little kopek, he would have promptly swallowed it, probably without the slightest ill effect. On the basis of past experience with Jonah's gastric juices, I was sure that any coin he regurgitated would have been corroded beyond recognition. Therefore, I could exclude that possibility.

We had received no other visitors in several weeks, nor had we received any packages that might have contained the little kopek. Since the chaos of Christmas, which had been cleared by a thorough housecleaning, we had not opened any drawers or boxes containing old mementos. There was therefore no conceivable occasion or place from which the coin could have come.

I had run out of explanations when I remembered that, when I found the kopek, my wife had been watching Doctor Zhivago. Such a coincidence could not be easily ignored. So, feeling foolish, I consulted the IMDB website. Doctor Zhivago was produced in 1965! My wife did not recall having seen any specific coins in the movie, but she admitted that there were scenes where money was handled.

No reasonable explanation could account for the astronomically improbable coincidences of (a) this particular coin being a 1965 kopek, (b) my happening to find it beneath our TV set, and (c) finding it while Dr. Zhivago was playing.

I was therefore compelled to follow Sherlock Holmes' dictum that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Since there was no other possible source, the coin must somehow have come from the movie. This seemed unimaginable until I recalled that, having an old TV set, we had just installed one of those digital-to-analog converters.

I was reminded of a recent remark by a scientist that all of the marvelous gadgets that Captain Kirk had at his disposal in Star Trek are now either practical realities, like the beam-me-up-Scotty cell phone, or under development, like invisibility cloaking. The scientist claimed that the only exceptions -- warp drive and teleportation -- have not been proven impossible. Suppose that the TV converter manufacturers, in their haste to bring us digital TV, had stumbled upon primitive teleportation.

According to string theory, material objects are nothing but complex wave motions in multidimensional space. These wave patterns are not unlike the wave patterns that form the visual signal in an analog TV set. Let us therefore suppose that in converting the digital string corresponding to an object in a TV frame into an analog signal, the converter introduces some overtones that the antiquated electronic circuitry of an old TV set distorts and amplifies into unforeseen new wave patterns. In virtually every case, these new patterns would be ineffectual and inconsequential. But suppose that once in a trillion times, the new wave pattern has a structure resembling the string-theory wave pattern of the material object that caused the digital signature in the first place? Wouldn't that constitute a crude form of teleportation?

But why would such a process happen only to a little kopek? I'd venture to guess that teleportation is such an energy-intensive process that the tiny coin was the only object in the movie small enough to pass through the converter without overloading it.

I admit that this is all far-fetched speculation with no theoretical justification whatever. But how else am I to account for the shiny little copper disk that sits next to my computer as I type?

You may offer any alternative explanations you wish; I have ceased to speculate. However, being a cautious man, I instructed my wife to avoid watching any TV shows or movies involving guns, killer bees, or the like. She willingly complied. Since that night, our set has been on day and night, tuned constantly to the Jewellery Channel.

Postscript: By now, you will have remembered that this is April 1, and that anything you read today should be taken with a pinch of salt. As of tomorrow, I will be prepared to concede that little Jonah must be at the bottom of this mystery. But for one wild moment, on that night, standing in front of a TV set with a bright little kopek in my hand, I was prepared to believe anything.

Magical moments, however improbable, are never impossible. We dare not hope for them, but if they come, we should be ready to gape and enjoy. The same holds true for improbable catastrophes: we must not live in fear of them, but if they come, we should be prepared to cope as best we can. Both possibilities make life exciting. I would not have it any other way.