Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Spoonful of Sugar

Time does not have quanta, Ben tells me, and I have to admit that it sounds quite deep at first. But then, how can we tell? How can we tell if anything does not have quanta for that matter? For isn't human perception, and even consciousness, quantized, just by definition? I mean, everything eventually boils down to that one synapse inside the brain, and that is a discrete, individual unit; which then, in turn, quantizes pretty much any and every human experience.

In fact, as I think about this, it seems to me that this is a version of Zeno's third motion-is-impossible paradox, which basically claims that an arrow cannot move from point A to point B because, in order to do so, its motion has to be both discrete and continuous at the same time. Examined at one instant in time, an arrow in flight would appear to be no different from one that is stationary. What is it then that gives one object motion and the other one stillness?

Which actually brings up what to me is one of the most fundamental and profound problems of human philosophy and science: the reconciliation of the basic dichotomies of the Known Universe. Discrete and continuous; particle and wave; body and soul; matter and energy; form and content. Diametrically opposite and yet irrevocably linked.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Prolix, Pretentious, Shapeless?

Mark Haddon has followed up his heartbreaking work of staggering genius, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which was named the 2003 Whitbread book of the year, with a collection of poetry, and the Guardian recently carried a scathing attack (I almost hesitate to call it a review) on it. Now while I will certainly be among the first to admit that The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea is at best a minor work, not much more than a hurried sketch done in a somewhat playful but pensive mood by an acclaimed master, I was nevertheless not a little surprised by the amount of vitriol in the aforementioned piece by Ranjit Bolt. I, for one, being firmly of the opinion that the possibility of genuine nonsense should surely be a cause for celebration, would like to respectfully disagree with Mr. Bolt. I definitely do not regret the time I spent perusing this slim volume, and I believe that admirers of Haddon's stark and sparse prose will, at the very least, discover in this book a voice that is rather different from the one that had so pleasantly surprised and delighted them.

Here are two poems that I have selected from the book. Tongue-in-cheek? Yes. Occasionally somewhat affected and sometimes mediocre? Perhaps. But tendentious and ghastly? I think not.

Dry Leaves

Odes 1:25

Young men stumbling home from parties

don't throw pebbles at your windows now.

You sleep till dawn and that busy door

of yours now hugs the step. No one

asks how you can sleep when they are dying

all night long for love of you. Times change.

You're old and no one gives a damn.

You'll weep at all the men who have deserted you

as gales from Thrace roar down

that empty lane on moonless nights.
The hot lust which sends mares mad

will flare around your ulcerated heart

and you'll cry out at the young men

who love the ivy and the dark green myrtle

but who throw the dry leaves

into the East wind, that bride of winter.

The Facts

In truth, the dwarf worked at a betting shop

and wore an orthopedic shoe.

The ugly sisters were neither sisters nor, indeed, women,
nor were they remotely interested in the prince.

The plain librarian looked better with her glasses on,

the bomb had not been fitted with a clock

and when the requisitioned farm-truck shot

the as-yet-uncompleted bridge it nose-dived into the ravine
and blew up
killing both the handsome sheriff
and his lovable but stupid sidekick, Bob.

Karma Chameleon

Ryan snapped his Achilles tendon last week putting his leg temporarily out of commission; he has already had surgery and is hobbling around on crutches with his leg in a cast, and it will probably be months before he can start putting any pressure on his right foot again. He is in excruciating pain, and even a little movement tires him out. So I am picking him up on my way to work every morning, and the plan is for me to also drop him back most days starting next week, when he will be able to manage a longer workday without being exhausted. 'Think of all the karma points you will be earning', he told me.

So that got me thinking. About those points.

How does this whole point system work, anyway? Do I get more or less, depending on how I go about it? What if I drive him to and from work, but don't hide my irritation at the time and distance it adds to my already long work commute? What if I feel the irritation, but don't quite make it public? Or, on a different note, what if I really, truly, sincerely want to help him, but can't, because of some genuine reason? Do I still get karma points?

I guess almost every belief system tries, in one way or the other, to get its followers to do good; but to what extent does the actual purpose factor into the calculation? What is the difference, if any, between doing good just because it is the right thing to do, or in the hope of a reward, or to avoid some kind of divine punishment? Can we just be happy with the action, or do we need to explore intent?

I will have to mull on all this for a while. But in the mean time, if Ryan (or some higher power) is reading this, I need to make it perfectly clear that my motives are completely and purely altruistic. So bring on those points!