Lee Wilson--Summer 2003

What follows is a re-imagining and continuation of Copenhagen by Michael Frayn. In this telling Werner Heisenberg has succeeded not in creating the atom bomb, but a device infinitely more powerful; it enables its user to move through space and time. Heisenberg and Bohr will debate the nature of existence, the meaning of life, the ethics of physics, and myriad other topics while journeying through Einstein’s Dreams, No Exit, White Noise, Akhenaten, Cosmopolis, Life of Pi, Wild Thorns, and the world of present day New York City. We begin at the end of Copenhagen, because all beginnings begin from an ending.

Bohr: So, Heisenberg, tell us one simple thing: why didn’t you do the calculation?
Heisenberg: It was worthless, it was pointless, it was a stupid calculation, why should anyone do it?
Bohr: Frisch and Peierls did it, why didn’t you do it?
Heisenberg: Why didn’t you calculate it?
Bohr: Why didn’t I calculate it?
Heisenberg: Tell us why you didn’t calculate it and we will know why I didn’t.
Bohr: It’s obvious why I didn’t.
Heisenberg: Go on.
Margrethe: Because he wasn’t trying to build a bomb.
Heisenberg: Yes. Thank you. Because he wasn’t trying to build a bomb. I imagine it was the same with me. Because I wasn’t trying to build a bomb.
Bohr: But what became of your work?
Heisenberg: I created something much greater, more ambitious by far.
Bohr: What is it?
Heisenberg: It is wonderful
Bohr: What, what?
Heisenberg: And terrifying.
Bohr: Werner, what did you do?
Heisenberg: I built a machine.
Bohr: What sort of machine?
Heisenberg: A simple one really, it is only a few atoms large, a nanomachine, but when the reaction starts…. You must understand that I did not intend to create this. I knew what the Germans were doing – how could one not? And I tried to stop them from within. To be the vial of cyanide in their system. And I created that for which no theory exists. A machine to bend time and space; I can go anywhere Nils – I can stop this before it begins.
Bohr: You couldn’t have, how could you, how did you? No. I can’t allow you to change anything.
Heisenberg: To bring Christian back.
Bohr: But, no it is not natural. What would I remember if you could save him? Would I still remember him dying, would I still be haunted by the memory, and hear the tiller clanging over, fall to my knees every time a doorbell rings or a church bell chimes?
Heisenberg: But he would be with you Nils. You would remember things you never experienced. His first day of school, his friends, conversations that never happened, he would grow, vacations, his first day of school. You would remember all of these, as though you were there, because you were, in an alternate world.
Bohr: But I could not. No I cannot bring him into this vicious world.
Heisenberg: But we would stop it Bohr. Think of it, the trains, the camps, they would never exist.
Bohr: But it would change too much, no, millions of alternate realities, Heisenberg what would you create?
Margrethe: The danger is what he would uncreate.
Bohr: You cannot change what has happened, it is too drastic, the physics of it are … the physics have not been calculated, they have not been imagined.
Heisenberg: But who has not imagined having the power to change the world?
Bohr: But this is the world that is, you must learn to live with it in all its brutality.
Heisenberg: But does this world really deserve to exist? If one can change it with theoretical physics, doesn’t one have an ethical obligation to do so? To undo the damage our physics has caused.
Bohr: But at what cost?
Heisenberg: No cost is too great. I must do this.
Bohr: I cannot let you.
Heisenberg: Stay back, no get away from me Nils, for your own sake!
Bohr: I will not let go!
Heisenberg: Where are we?
Bohr: This is not Copenhagen, or…
Heisenberg: It could be anywhere.
Bohr: It is a street, like any we see everyday.
Heisenberg: But look at the people, they live without passion.
Bohr: No, without originality. Everything that will happen has happened already. And everything that has already happened will happen again.
Heisenberg: Where time is a circle, how long is time? How long is a lifetime? How long does a memory last? How does time know when to begin and when to end?
Bohr: How can technology develop? How can a species evolve? How can people learn? There is no such thing as unique experience, no revelations, no epiphanies. Just life.
Heisenberg: Scripted.
Bohr: Like characters on a page. They cannot escape the whim of the writer.
Heisenberg: We are leaving.
Bohr: This is odd.
Heisenberg: Where are the cities, villages?
Bohr: Look, there, in the mountains, on all the ridges and peaks, cities. Life.
Heisenberg: This is peculiar, we must investigate, but how will we ascend the mountains?
Bohr: Heisenberg, couldn’t we use the, um…
Heisenberg: Oh yes the machine, yes I suppose it could.
Ah, here we are.
Bohr: These buildings are all on stilts.
Heisenberg: Glacial flooding.
Bohr: No, look at the people, the higher the altitude, the younger they appear.
Heisenberg: The flow of time must be directly proportional to your distance away from the center of the Earth.
Bohr: And invariably those who live the longest, are the ones who can most afford to.
Heisenberg: And what is the difference over a lifetime, a few seconds, a minute?
Bohr: What about space then, is there no time in outer space? Will the wealthy soon depart this planet in search of immortality?
Heisenberg: No, because they cannot leave their possessions behind.
Bohr: You can’t take it with you, to death or immortality.
Heisenberg: Let us leave.
Bohr: Look, there is a man.
Heisenberg: He looks like any other. He is wearing a long leather coat, standing looking over Kramgasse.
Bohr: He imagines what is, what he would like to be, and what will be.
Heisenberg: All three happen at once, all three are equally real, all will be experienced, but only one will be lived.
Bohr: A red mitten lies in the snow.* * *

Heisenberg: In the first world we leave, and go home, and we don’t change the world.
Bohr: No, the world stays the same, physics stays the same, nature stays the same, the way it was intended. We live in one time, one perpetually elusive moment.
Heisenberg: Always in the present, yet always in the past.
Bohr: Always yearning for nostalgia, looking back with fondness on the way things once were; but always on the brink of progress. Every day, progress, moving forward, we hurtle through time like the planet through space. Wanting what it next; tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow. But it is not enough. There is no place to go to, and so there is no place to get to.
Heisenberg: And so we hurtle but never go anywhere, just stay here, in this moment, that is gone.
* * *
Usama: These people are sheep, they must be woken up to the truth.
Heisenberg: Are you their shepherd?
Bohr: No he is the wolf.
Heisenberg: Worse than that, he is a cannibal. He kills his own people in the guise of protecting them.
Usama: They must wake up to the injustices the system they support is perpetrating! Who are you! What are you doing here! Israelis, you must be Israeli spies; I must kill you before you reveal my plan.
Bohr: He is a man ready to explode.
Heisenberg: But what significance do his actions have? Who does he save?
Bohr: He will only lead them to slaughter.
Usama: Stop talking about me like I am not here! Better to die quickly by your own doing than committing suicide every day for a lifetime.
Bohr: Let us take him with us, show him more, show him the truth.
Usama: No! I will stay here and die for my people, I have been to the prisons, nothing you can show me will make me waiver. What, where is this, we haven’t gone far.
Heisenberg: Haven’t we? This is the land of your ancestors.
Usama: This city is magnificent, what is this place?
Bohr: Their king approaches. This man says he seeks the truth
Ahkenaten: Do you accept the one and only as your god?
Heisenberg: There is no truth except that which one wants to hear.
Usama: No, I will not put my future in any faith. The way of survival is to fight against your oppressors.
Ahkenaten: There are armies building at my borders, but they will not be victorious against the will of the one and only.
Usama: I can no longer believe in any god I do not see.
Heisenberg: I would ask the same thing
Usama: What has he done for my people? What does their faith give them? Nothing except the illusion that things will magically get better. They expect nothing of themselves.
Bohr: But we believe in these things ourselves; who has seen a proton, a neutron, an electron?
Ahkenaten: The one and only, only expects the truth, and that is what he delivers to believers.
Heisenberg: But we can prove the existence of such things, we know what they will do.
Usama: God is what blinds my people to the truth, the pray and pray, but that will not help them. Faith cannot feed you, faith cannot give Adil his fingers back.
Bohr: But we have faith that they will act in a reliable, predictable way. What is life without mystery?
Usama: This is useless.
Ahkenaten: Quality of life does not denote sanctity of life.
Heisenberg: What do you want for your people, they live poorly, but they live.
Usama: But they do not live fully…
Bohr: One cannot live partially, you are either alive or you are dead, this is physics.
Heisenberg: Come, let me show you what money brings…. Here look at this man. He is chauffeured everywhere he wants to go. He has so much money he needs men with guns to protect him.
Usama: Better than men with guns trying to kill you.
Eric: I can see the future. I get information in terabytes, by the nanosecond. Are you still there? How could I see you leave before you have left? How can I see myself die before I am dead? Why does the Yen keep going up, this is not sustainable, this is physics.
Heisenberg: He makes a point, what goes up, must come down.
Bohr: Unless acted upon by an outside force.
Eric: This is not natural…
Heisenberg: The man changes nature and does not realize it.
Eric: I have an asymmetrical prostate.
Bohr: This is how his money has isolated him. He can trust no one.
Ahkenaten: The one and only can always be trusted.
Eric: Shutup! (gunshot) Ahkenaten lies dead. He has been killed, by a bullet meant for my body guard.
Bohr: The implications will change everything.
Eric: Not really, I have more. (gunshot Usama falls dead)
Bohr: He truly died for nothing.
Heisenberg: I think we had better leave.
Bohr: Heisenberg, help I cannot swim!
Heisenberg: There is a boy on the boat, we must swim to him if we want to live.
Pi: Don’t move. This is Richard Parker, he will not harm you, but you must not make any sudden movement, the instincts of the wilderness have not faded.
Bohr: God save us.
Pi: I have three gods, I can loan you one.
Heisenberg: This boy, how does he survive?
Bohr: He will not, the tiger will devour him.
Pi: You must rescue me, take me and Richard Parker with you.
Bohr: We cannot take a tiger, what sort of boy makes that request?
Heisenberg: It is obvious he has survived for sometime Nils.
(the tiller clangs)
Bohr: This is Christian in another world.
Heisenberg: Nils, no.
Bohr: Yes the resemblance is uncanny look at him.
Heisenberg: Nils, he looks nothing like …
Bohr: Well obviously he will have taken a bit of a tan. We must save him.
Heisenberg: The boy can come with us, but the tiger cannot.
Bohr: We must save him Werner whatever we do!
Heisenberg: Nils I tell you this is not who you think it is, I must get you away from here.
Pi: Do not leave, you will not like the life that awaits you.
Bohr: What is this place?
Heisenberg: The room smells of death.
Estelle: Finally some men, hopefully there is more to them than to our Mr. Garcin.
Inez: This can’t be right, who are you what do you mean by coming here?
Garcin: More torturers obviously. Look at them…
Bohr: I cannot turn off the light.
Heisenberg: You cannot turn off the lights in a dream.
Garcin: This is not a dream.
Inez: Or in hell.
Bohr: This is a nightmare.
Inez: No, there can be no dreams or nightmares here, there can be no hope, there can be nothing except other people.
Estelle: But your tormentor is also yourself, and everything you have done.
Garcin: You cannot escape yourself here.
(the tiller clangs)
Bohr: Heisenberg I tell you we should have saved the boy, it would have undone so much, cured so much.
Heisenberg: (incoherent)
Bohr: what are you saying, no, we must go back. (the clanging becomes louder) where are you all going, what is this, Heisenberg do not abandon me. (the clanging is now a church bell)
The bell stops tolling, Nils Bohr wakes up at his desk. He gives Margarethe his papers. It is his theory or Fission.
There is a knock on the door. It is Werner Heisenberg, come to Copenhagen, and the results of the meeting will resonate throughout space and time.