Category Archives: Literature

Schrödinger’s Cat in Russia

image of Schroedinger's catYou have probably seen the news that some physicists think they have a new twist on Schrödinger’s cat. In the famous example, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time inside a box. Maxim Osipov has a fully Russian variation in a story called “The Gypsy.” It involves a doctor going to an airport in Sheremetyevo and a conversation the doctoro has with the “security” guys:

Now he’ll hear – for the nth time – their story about an American girl who traveling with a kitty cat –  they put them in special carriers, for the belly of the plane –  and the kitty cat died. The baggage handlers at Sheremetyevo didn’t want any trouble, so they threw the carcass in the trash and replaced it with some cat they caught near the airport. The American girl got into a huff and insisted it wasn’t her kitty –  because her kitty had been dead, and she was taking her home to bury her. She was returning from some town, maybe Chelyabinsk. Last time the story was different: the American with the dead cat had flown in from Philadelphia. Today’s version was more believable, but it was still a lie, of course. The “security” guys call Americans “Americunts” and “Amerifucks” –  ridiculous words, and they’ve never been to America –  but he still laughs every time.

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“Good Omens” and the Truth of Temptation

Coincidences sometimes bring illumination. “Good Omens” made it to Netflix at the same time the Pope decided that an old prayer needed to be changed to make God look better. The Pope decided that we couldn’t have a prayer that said God leads people into temptation (“lead us not into temptation”). It’s a familiar picture of God that forgets about the prohibition given to Adam and Even about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, about the flood, about Sodom and Gomorrah, about the temptation of Jesus in the desert. Meanwhile, The Guardian publishes a story about “Good Omens” in which Neil Gaiman tells us that the beauty of “Good Omens” is in the way it doesn’t attempt to depict authorities, including God, as utterly benevolent.

[Gaiman] talks with relish about finding out, on a 2010 visit to mainland China, that his children’s books weren’t available there because, according to his publisher, “you show children being wiser than their parents and you show disrespect to authority and you show children doing bad things and getting away with it”. In response, he decided “to write a book which has all of those things in it”, not least “disrespect for the family unit.”

photo from Netflix series Good Omens

Quotation of the Day

From Ted Chiang’s story “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”:

New technology doesn’t always bring out the best in people.

photo of handshake

Quotation of the Day

From Ted Chiang’s story “What’s Expected of Us” in Exhalation:

Pretend that you have free will. It’s essential that you behave as if your decisions matter, even though you know they don’t. The reality isn’t important; what’s important is your belief, and believing the lie is the only way to avoid a waking coma. Civilization now depends on self-deception.

Holiday Reading

graphic that says My Weekend is all Booked

In the U.S., Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and I have great reading on the horizon. Finishing up Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead. After that, it’s Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, and then Maxim Osipov’s Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Stories. Regarding that last work, you might have seen the article about Osipov in The New Yorker.

 

Quotation of the Day

I grew up in a beautiful era, now sadly in the past. In it there was great readiness for change, and a talent for creating revolutionary visions. Nowadays no one still has the courage to think up anything new. All they ever talk about, round the clock, is how things already are, they just keep rolling out the same old ideas. Reality has grown old and gone senile; after all, it is definitely subject to the same laws as every living organism — it ages. Just like the cells of the body, its tiniest components — the senses, succumb to apoptosis. Apoptosis is natural death, brought about by the tiredness and exhaustion of matter. In Greek this word means ‘the dropping of petals.’ The world has dropped its petals.
— Olga Tokarczuk, “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead”

photo of cherry blossom petals

Who is Hans Blumenberg?

The editors of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association, particularly Nathan Oseroff, have been kind enough to publish my essay about Hans Blumenberg. The piece is intended for those unacquainted with the man and his works. The online publication of the essay serves also as an opportunity to thank the people working in the Interlibrary Loan department at the University of Texas at Arlington Library. They provide the treasures of research.

photo of Hans Blumenberg