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Of Holes
2007-08-27 13:53
by Ken Arneson

My baby daughter turns two months old today. For the first six weeks of her life, she didn't do much of anything; she was like a cute little simple robot that was programmed to just eat and sleep and fill her diapers. Lately, however, there have been signs of sentience. If I sit her on my lap, she will stare intensely down at her own bare feet, studying them as if they were the two most interesting things in the universe.

* * *

I woke up yesterday morning and found my seven-year-old daughter in a state of hunger. Of course, she didn't tell me this, I had to deduce it from her attempts to pick a fight with her older sister. When she's hungry, she gets cranky and loses all ability to reason. She feels like nothing can ever possibly make things right (save food, but she'll never admit that): she's unhappy, that's the way it is, and that's how it always will be, and everyone else around her might as well be unhappy along with her.

Come to think of it, that behavior is not too much different from the two-month-old, minus the foot fetish. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose:

Me: What do you want for breakfast?
7-year-old: I don't want breakfast.
Me: You need to eat. What do you want?
7-year-old: I don't want breakfast.
Me: OK, let's skip breakfast and go straight to lunch. What do you want for lunch?
7: I don't want lunch.
Me: Dinner?
7: I don't want dinner.
Me: How about dessert?
7: I don't want dessert.
Me: You must be sick, if you don't want dessert. Shall I call the doctor?
10-year-old daughter (sensing an opportunity): I want dessert for breakfast! Let's have chocolate-chip cookies!
Me: I was kidding. You can't have dessert for breakfast.
10: What about donuts? Can we have donuts?
Me: We don't have any donuts, and I'm not going out to buy any.
10: How about chocolate-chip pancakes?
Me (sighing defeatedly, heading towards the kitchen): Oh, all right. I'll make chocolate-chip pancakes for breakfast today...

* * *

Reason is an elevator to Enlightenment. But Enlightenment is a just a small, lonely bus stop on a long journey to a chocolate-chip beach. Enlightenment is nobody's final destination. Dessert, on the other hand...

* * *

Josh Wilker, as a young man, took a Greyhound bus to California. He found a hole in a grocery store security system. He stole some cream cheese. But there's a hole in his story. Where did the bagels come from?

The bagels fell from the sky, into the ocean, and washed up on the shore. Barefoot people with tans combed the strand, gathering the bagels into baskets, and drove the baskets away in a vintage VW bus painted with all the landmark tourist attractions of the world.


(You got your loaves, your cheeses, your walking on water, and then the topper--Wow! Look at the front of that bus! What a header! Who was that--Jesus or David Beckham?)

* * *

Francis Strand, many years ago as a young teen, took an airplane to California. Did he see any landmark tourist attractions? In a way. His story makes no mention of the Golden Gate Bridge, but he does tell us that he saw a drag queen in a donut shop. And he saw an amazing house with a secret room hidden behind a bookcase. The house was an elevator shy of perfection.

Today, Francis Strand is married, living on the other side of the world, in a vintage apartment building in Sweden that was built before elevators were invented. The building has an elevator, anyway. Presumably, they carved a hole in the building to make room for the elevator. It's a vintage elevator, the kind you see in black and white movies, small and cramped, with a gate you have to pull shut.

* * *

My mother, as a middle-aged Swedish woman, got married one day and moved to California. The new family had a child. They moved to an ordinary tract house, with no elevators and no secret passages, in a fully unmiraculous suburb. But they did, at least, buy a vintage VW bus, and visit many nearby tourist attraction landmarks.

* * *

My co-ed indoor soccer team is on an unbelievable streak right now. We play every week, against teams that are equal to, if not better, than us, but somehow we've gone nearly six months without losing. In one game, one of our women players hit a two-point shot with just seconds left to give us a miraculous one-point victory. In another, a mis-kicked pop fly from midfield somehow landed and bounced perfectly over the goalie's head for a late, tying goal.

After a while, you begin to expect these miracles. Last Friday, we had a nice 5-2 second-half lead, when a opposing player hit two two-pointers in a row, and we were suddenly trailing with six minutes left.

I never doubted that we wouldn't win. The opposing team had been leaving a huge hole in their weak side defense all game long, and I decided to start attacking that hole aggressively. The plan worked, my feet cooperated, and in the next three minutes, I scored two goals and assisted on another, and we won, 8-6. Afterwards, I felt like I had decided to win the game, and sheer willpower had made it happen. I wondered, did I really just "make my own luck", or did I just get lucky--again?

* * *

Scott Adams, as a young college student in upstate New York, had a dream one night the he would move to California and become famous. Later, he moved to California and became famous. After becoming famous, he came up with a theory to explain our universe: we live in a gigantic spacetime donut, and our consciousness is like an ant walking toward the hole. From our ant's point of view, the universe is infinite, but in fact, we could be walking in a straight line towards our destination, and we always end up where we started. The universe recycles itself.

* * *

Three days ago, astronomers announced they had found an enormous hole in the universe. It's a billion light-years across, about 10 billion light-years away from us. There is nothing inside the hole--no matter, no gas, no cream cheese--nothing. It's as if the universe were indeed a donut.

So first, Scott Adams' dream came true. Then his absurdly silly theory came true. So naturally, he came up with a theory about why his predictions and premonitions keep coming true: he's just a hologram of himself, in a computer simulation he wrote himself in an alternate universe.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times published an article about an Oxford philosopher who estimates that there's about a 20% chance that our universe is a computer simulation of some sort. The reasoning is this: we're almost technologically advanced enough to create such a simulation ourselves, and it seems rather inevitable that we will. And if we could create such artificial universes ourselves, how do we know some human-like society hasn't already done so to us?

* * *

Questions arise. The hole. Is it there to serve some unknown purpose, or is it an oversight? Do the laws of physics make the hole necessary? Could this inexplicable hole in the universe be actual proof that our universe is indeed a simulation? Perhaps this hole is just a section that the programmers simply forgot to populate with data.  Or more optimistically, what if this hole is part of a programming interface, like a portal between universes? What a landmark tourist attraction that would be!

There's a new Disney film coming out this fall called Enchanted. A fairy tale princess, living in a cartoon world where people burst into song at any moment, is thrown by an evil witch into a hole from her universe, falls into a void towards our galaxy, and emerges through a manhole in the "real" New York City, where people sing and dance a lot less spontaneously than in hers. Will she live happily ever after?

* * *

The answers all depend on the writer. Perhaps Scott Adams is right, and the programmer of our sim-universe is an original-universe Scott Adams. Who knows?

One thing we can be sure of: this universe was not created by original-universe version of either me, or Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane. Well, perhaps it is me, considering the ongoing soccer streak, but you'd think in either case that there'd be a few more pennants flying over Oakland, California, and fewer instances of things like injuries, and injuries, and runners forgetting how to touch home plate in the playoffs, and injuries. Erubiel Durazo would have been a better DH to acquire in 2003 than David Ortiz, Bobby Crosby would have been a better player than Miguel Tejada, Dan Meyer would have been a cheaper version of Tim Hudson. Beane's stuff would work in the playoffs, and we'd be celebrating the triumph of reason over emotion, of science over art, and of planning over chance. We'd live happily ever after.

Instead, we find ourselves leaning up against the Bay Bridge; humming Tim Curry's "I Do The Rock" to ourselves ("I could never whack a ball with such velocity..."); contemplating the fact that if you took a photo of a pitcher's arm throughout a pitch and a batter's bat throughout a swing, both the arm and the bat would look like donuts; and trying to find some sort of communion with our failures by eating the very symbol of it:

My leading suspect to be our sim-universe Creator is an original-universe of the artist of the above and following pictures, Eric Joyner. There's something about his pictures that penetrate my soul, far beyond reason:

I am both fascinated and disturbed by these images. I can't stop looking at them. I despair: I don't want to be a robot, programmed to do what I do, oblivious to the world burning beneath my feet. I want to know what my feet are doing. I want to know where the holes in my life are, and why I keep trying to fill them, over and over. I want to accomplish great feats. I want to see and create beautiful things. I want to have amazing experiences.

I want to ascend a great glass elevator into outer space, watching intensely as the shape of the earth slowly becomes clear beneath me. I want to hop on a spaceship and visit the ultimate tourist attraction, the Restaurant on the Shores of Nothingness, and eat the trans-fattiest donut that ever was made. I want the freedom of choice to leap off the donut any time I want, and to leap back if it doesn't work out.

* * *

California did not end happily ever after for my mom. My parents divorced, and my mother jumped back across the ocean to Sweden, where she now lives, sans VW bus, in a modern apartment building with a modern elevator. She turned 80 in May. And while she had been to California, there was still a hole in her life's story: she had always wanted to go to Paris, but had never been there. So as a birthday present, off we went, she and her two sons, to fill her holes.

We saw mighty cathedrals. We saw great works of art in great museums. We saw elegant clothing in elegant shops windows along elegant boulevards. We sat at cozy sidewalk cafes in cute neighborhoods and watched the people go by. We sampled the most delicious chocolate mousse ever devised by either man or rat. We ate fabulous pastries, and smeared smooth, soft cheeses over freshly baked baguettes. We stayed in a hotel in a old building that was built long before elevators were invented. It had a vintage elevator, small and cramped, with a gate you had to pull shut.

It felt, if only for a short period of time, that it was indeed possible to write the story of our lives, to weave a perfect tale, and that we'd do it more often if only we were better writers.

* * *

Francis Strand, he of the movie-style elevator in his building, was trying to go on a diet when suddenly pounds and pounds of chocolate fell from the sky, and washed up in his apartment. What to do? Sometimes, you fill one hole in your story, and another opens right up. He says it's like being in heaven and hell at the same time. A tale of fantasy come to life, only there's a big, fat, flaw in the middle of the script: life's one, huge unanswered question. Got milk?

* * *

My baby daughter's story is simple, for now. She's got milk. She doesn't care that we're stuck on a blue-green planet, with billions and billions stars above, amidst billions of galaxies, clumped into gigantic galactic clusters, with at least one strange, inexplicable hole in the middle of everything. She's never imagined a robot. She doesn't know what a bus is, or how elevators work. She's never experienced the flavor of pancakes or chocolate chips or pastries or bagels or cream cheese or donuts.

When I lift her onto my lap after a good meal, just before she rediscovers those fascinating bare feet of hers, she sees me and smiles. I smile back. We stare into each other's eyes, as if they were portals into each others' souls. Deep inside her baby blues, a brand new universe is taking form.

Comments
2007-08-27 15:42:00
1.   D4P
When she's hungry, she gets cranky and loses all ability to reason. She feels like nothing can ever possibly make things right (save food, but she'll never admit that): she's unhappy, that's the way it is, and that's how it always will be, and everyone else around her might as well be unhappy along with her

Sounds like my wife. I get grouchy when I'm hungry too, but the difference is that I make a point to eat when I'm hungry, knowing it will make me feel better.

2007-08-27 15:44:50
2.   Cliff Corcoran
Also note on the VW van, that the Statue of Liberty appears to be holding an early laptop, which likely has some connection to the desktop PC near Jesus Beckham's groin.
2007-08-27 15:49:02
3.   Eric Enders
"She's never imagined a robot."

Says you.

By the way, I also wondered where Josh's bagels came from.

2007-08-27 15:55:23
4.   Strike4
There is no defeat in a morning filled with chocolate chip pancakes.
2007-08-27 17:36:20
5.   For The Turnstiles
Josh writes that he ate the cream cheese with flour tortillas. A very east coast/west coast multicultural meal. He doesn't mention where the tortillas came from (or whether they had holes in them).

It's also perhaps worth noting (or perhaps not) that if Adams's ant (not to be confused with Adam Ant) walked in a straight line with an irrational slope (with respect to the shape of the donut) it would never end up in exactly the same place.

2007-08-27 17:44:12
6.   Josh Wilker
Great piece, Ken.

3 : It was actually a summer of all hole and no bagel. Once I'd pocketed the cream cheese I dipped into my thin wallet to buy cheap flour tortillas, which I used to make cream cheese filled anemic burrito type things.

2007-08-27 19:06:36
7.   mehmattski
Well, the internet is over, this post won. Thanks for playing, everybody.
2007-08-30 08:34:06
8.   jUbe
Of your seven year-old's hungry-cranky-reasonless behavior: Many youngsters exhibit this behavior, believe me. She doesn't have a corner on the market. I'd be willing to bet you or your wife/significant other (I'm wingin' it here) might just exhibit same. She does have your genes, after all. And, as I'm sure you're aware, more 'surprises' await. Enjoy.

'Reason is an elevator to Enlightenment'. Everyone - and I mean everyone - has their own version of this. But I've never thunked so hardly over your definition of 'enlightenment'. Nothing personal but, man ..... I'd hate to be you having nightmares .....

The image on the bus looks nothing like David Beckham. That is .... unless you saw him on the news the other night, head in hands nursing his oowee'd knee .....

I dislike soccer. Any sport determined by penalty kicks shouldn't be allowed. Bad, bad, bad. On the plus side, it's good to get those kids on their feet and runnin' .....

That hole in the universe is the same as that little red blip that never, ever disappears on your computer screen. Hmmmmmm, that might require a bit more thought .....

While it's professional, it's not really baseball. The American League, that's what I'm talkin' 'bout, Willis. Nine men on the field, same nine men up to the plate. Though, I still applaud your Oakland A's devotion - misplaced as it may be.

Yes .... while never having done so, I can see myself leaning against the Bay Bridge and humming Curry's 'I Do The Rock' .....

I think your fascination with Eric Joyner's art lies in the clouds, not in the images themselves. There's mystery in them there cummulseses. That's where the eye is drawn. Pardon the pun, but the donuts are all fluff and the robots are soulless. The clouds - that's where it's at.

And your final paragraph is where you need to keep it. Couldn't this post have been as succinct as that? (There I go ... verging toward the left side again. Sorry.)

yeeesh I'm exhausted and I need a nap ..... jUbe

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