MW Cook

An illiterate scribe

Something to watch with the kids: Kubo and the Two Strings

I was impressed with the humour and melancholy, and how they both fit so well together in a children’s movie that managed to get both the honest bitterness and sweetness of real life into a myth for our times.

Damn, that sounds good.

And it should, because it’s a beautiful movie. No, not a movie. I’d go so far as to call it a film. A film that accepts the starkest realities of loss and death, while still laughing once in a while and learning to live meaningfully without the things you wish you could keep.

Kubo is a one-eyed boy who takes care of his mother while earning a living storytelling in the marketplace. He’s good at stories, because he can make origami heroes and monsters fight when he plays his shamisen. Looks awesome. Everything is more or less great until he stays out too late one night and his scary aunts show up and try to steal his eye. From there, it’s myth-making at its finest.

Go watch it with your kids. Though there’s a scary skeleton or two, so be advised about that.

Time Travel and the Grandfather Paradox

You can totally go back and kill your grandfather. The universe won’t stop you; it doesn’t care if things don’t make sense. Bang, he’s dead. You’ll never be born.

So when you travel forward to the time you came from, you’re out of place. It’s not that you were never born–of course you were born; you’d remember it if your brain had been wired for it back then–but you were never born here. You arrive at a world in which you’ve never existed. You are utterly alone, with no birth, friends or connection to the world. No one exists who can look at you and say, “Oh hi, I know you.”

So don’t go back and kill your grandfather. You wouldn’t like it.

Though it seems a great premise for a sci-fi about assassins.

Asha Cook on Epistemic Boundedness

Asha came in while I was working. I took a break to ask about her day, and what she was working on. A comic about a vampire named Lucas. A book about a superhero named Smirk.

“Good stuff,” I said. Then she asked what I was working on.

“Oh, you know, just trying to figure out if humans are epistemically bounded.”

“What’s that?”

I took a breath. I was tempted to wave it off. After all, how could a seven-year-old engage with this? Then I thought, hell, give it a shot.

“Well, it’s the question of whether or not there are some ideas that we just can’t have because of how our brains are.”

Her brow furrowed as her mind lingered over my words. Then her eyes slowly widened. Her mouth dropped open a little.

“Wow,” she whispered through a smile. “That’s … that’s hard. And cool!

I grinned at my little philosopher. “It sure is.”

A Good Day for Cog Sci

The rain had ended during my lecture and the sky was warm and blue. I looked north on my way to the library and stopped to let out a worshipful gasp. Behind the old chapel, past the campus and half-finished condos, great low-flying clouds pushed their way across the sky. It was as if the city itself were flooding above the world, a  developing babel basking in the sunlight.

I would have stayed to watch, but I had an essay to write.

When I sat in the library, covered in artificial lights, I was tempted for a moment to regret being indoors, missing the view. Then I remembered my discipline was Cognitive Science, and my goal the Hard Problem. I chuckled. Surely this will hold at least as much wonder as the clouds.

David the Romantic

King Saul found out that his daughter was crushing hard on David. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. The current #1 song was about the plucky shepherd boy, and everyone was singing it. You’d think, since Saul wanted David dead, he would have tried to discourage his daughter. But like any good James Bond villain, Saul smelled opportunity.

Saul offered to marry his daughter to David. This was the second time he’d made such an offer, and David gave the same dodgy answer that he didn’t feel worthy to be the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul mentioned the dowry he’d want, should David change his mind: One hundred freshly-harvested Philistine foreskins. Suddenly, David very much like the idea of being the king’s son-in-law.

David grabbed a sword, a few friends and an empty backpack. He struck out to the nearest Philistine town, where Saul hoped he’d be killed by locals who would be understandably hesitant to part with their foreskins. Saul wasn’t counting on exactly how badass David could be.

Always willing to go the extra mile, David and his buddies collected not one, but two hundred sweaty foreskins. When he brought them back and some poor servant counted them out for the king, Saul had no choice but to hand over his starry-eyed daughter.

And you thought you had a cool engagement story.

Purposeful

You want purpose? You wouldn’t know what to do with it. But, fine, I’ll show you what purpose you may grasp.

You are the mind, consciousness emerged from an intricate mass of cells because said mass survives longer and procreates better with a mind caring for it. You are a shepherd for the flock you ignobly call “body.”

Probably you’re already fulfilling your purpose, then. Or maybe not. But if you are, there’s a delightful side-quest to work on until the flock returns to dust. Someone called it “Procreation in a  beautiful medium.”

Get to it.

Anything is ever enough

When did breathing in and out become not enough?

After you’d breathed for a while and it bored you. Then you became hungry.

And when did eating and drinking become not enough?

After you’d had your fill and food bored you. Then you grew cold.

And when did a roof over my head and blankets on my bed become not enough?

After you’d lived in your house a while, and from a warm room watched the snow fall until it bored you. Then you were restless.

And then nothing was ever enough.

Until you decide to be done with boredom.

Then anything will be enough.

Pounding at Robarts

Sitting in the crowded but nearly silent Silent Study Room at Robarts. Nothing on the air but light, scents of coffee, and the sounds of scholasticism: papers rustling, pens scratching, keyboards going tippy-type.

Then there’s this guy. He’s a pounder. I fear for his keyboard as he thuds against the silence. His Spacebars sound double-fisted and when he smashes Enter I see concentric circles in my coffee, as if the T-Rex lumbers toward me on halting feet. The message of it all, if I decipher the anxious pounding correctly, is something like “IM WORKING IM WORKING IM WORKING.” All caps, of course, and free of punctuation.

An uplifting Dhammapada for writers

Quieten your mind.
Reflect.
Watch.
Nothing binds you, you are free.

You are wise.
You are free from desire
And you understand words
And the stitching together of words.
And you want nothing.

I want nothing.
I am free.
I found my way.
Whom shall I call teacher?

Adapted from Dhammapada 24

Marvelous wiggles

And you’d have seen the universe crack and the inter-dimensional tachyon fireworks that accompanied it, had your eyes been wired that way. But they aren’t. They don’t notice inter-dimensional tachyons. They only notice certain wiggles of light. Not many. But what a marvelous world we paint with those few wiggles.