Because all experiences are valuable.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Lie, The Truth

Not everyone, not by half of half, was blessed with a mother like mine. This post isn't about her, or mothers, but often I think most of what I am today, at least the me in the flesh, started with my mother.

You laugh. OF COURSE I started with my mother. I laugh, too. But what if I told you that my mother was real. Just that, for our purposes here. Later when she became ill with the virus that eventually took her, she became odd, but that wasn't her.

She stands out in my mind like a statue of the Buddha, serene, smiling, and waiting zen-like with always the right advice, always the right mixture of sympathy, empathy, practicality, and mid-western perseverance.

That said, she was dynamic, and innovative. Back when High School was not a lockstep gestapo march to the podium, my mom actually got to design and teach some interesting elective English courses. (these days... if it ain't on the state mandated tests...you ain't gonna learn it.) She taught history of the Detective story, where I learned that Edgar Allan Poe is the Father of all Detective Novels. It all started with his story Murders In the Rue Morgue. Remember that one? It ended up being an escaped orangutan or something, all an accident.
I came to love Hercule Poirot, Ellery Queen (remember how the books stopped and let you try and figure out the ending??), Miss Marple, and Sherlock Holmes, with all
the picky little details and facts you'd never know, but won't forget after reading one of those stories. I will never forget that Foxglove is digitalis, a deadly poison used in small doses as a heart medication. (This also is used in the Count of Monte Cristo.)

She also taught a Science Fiction course. It was there that I read the story of EPICAC. I have never forgotten this story by Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1952. EPICAC is a super computer, artificial intelligence. His human counterpart is shy and dull, but desperately in love with a fellow worker, Pat. She thinks our narrator isn't romantic enough for her. Through the story, our narrator asks EPICAC to help him write poetry for Pat, but he has to teach the computer about Love, Women, Poetry and such first. EPICAC produces some lovely poetry that does bring Pat around, but EPICAC falls in love with her in the process and decides he wants to marry her. Our narrator tells EPICAC that Pat cannot love a computer, because "he" will eventually rust and fall into disrepair, while a human being will live forever. The next morning, EPICAC is found dead, totally burned out, having produced 50,000 years worth of poetry for our narrator to use, as a wedding present. I really haven't done this story justice. I can't express the tenderness Vonnegut treats his computer creation with, the genius, but childlike outlook on love and humanity that EPICAC evinces. If you don't understand the relationship people can have with their computers, read this story. What if your computer loved and trusted you?

I am a huge Star Trek fan, and no character will ever top Commander Data, the android who wants to be human, in my personal fan book. I think that may be because I fell in love with EPICAC first.

It is a weighty thought to me. To burn oneself out, exhaust oneself to death, producing a work of love enough to last more than 800 lifetimes. Consider this:

If the last 50,000 years of human existence were divided into lifetimes of about 65 years each, that would make about 800 lifetimes.

Of those, the first 650 lifetimes were spent in caves.

Only in the last 70 lifetimes has it been possible to communicate through the written word.

Only in the last 6 lifetimes have we had the printed word.

Only in the last 2 have we had use of the electric motor.

And within our current lifetime (the past 65 years or so) have we seen part of the world pass from agrarian to labor in factories and to so-called white-collar labor of communicators, computer specialists, and so forth.

I always hated the narrator of that story. The lie he told that doomed poor EPICAC. But now I wonder if he lied at all. The energy of the human soul is not mortal, and 50,000 poems will not go to waste.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you're right, but I fear for us humans...we seem to be more likely than ever to wipe ourselves out. On the other hand, maybe we'll just whittle ourselves down to a lucky few living on a despoiled paradise and poetry will go on and on.