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Endlessly Rising Canon

This post will serve two purposes. The first is to subtly notify the world that I’ve finally finished Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. OK, so maybe I’ve blown the subtle part. While I found the book very interesting, enlightening even, it was hard to get through all 700 or so pages before I found something else to read. It just didn’t hold my attention. Every few months, I’d pick it up again. After years of episodic reading, I read the last page in the wee hours of Sunday.

The second purpose is to note an odd bit of synchronicity. This morning, I stumbled upon an example of a striking audio illusion that I had seen mentioned toward the end of Gödel, Escher, Bach only a few days ago.

You can find an even more striking example at the Wikipedia article on Shepard tones.

Canon 5 of Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer is an example of a spiral canon which ends a tone higher than it starts. The canon can then be played at that higher pitch and end one tone higher yet again. This could be done ad infinitum leading to ever higher pitches, though we would eventually be unable to hear the music.

Hofstadter suggests that this audio illusion could transform Bach’s canon into a piece which would only sound as though it were ever rising.

Interestingly, Gödel, Escher, Bach itself takes the form of an endlessly rising prose canon which I suppose means that I’m not finished reading yet.

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Bébés à la Carte

Our oldest daughter asks us to tell her a story as part of our bedtime ritual. Last night, she wanted to tell me a story after I finished telling mine. She and I collaborate on our stories. I pause at certain points and ask her what a character should say or who they meet and so on. She asked me who I wanted the main character of her story to be. I thought it would be fun to hear a story about a crocodile.

The very first thing my precious little girl had the crocodile do is eat a baby! I stifled an involuntary chuckle at this unexpectedly violent plot twist so early in the story. My daughter went on to tell a gruesome tale (which would surely make international headlines if it were true) of this crocodile hunting and eating baby after baby after baby. I lost count of the babies who ended up down his gullet. The crocodile apparently didn’t like the taste of diapers so it looked for naked babies. It also preferred dead babies. Luckily for him, he found one in a trash can. With each baby ingested, the crocodile got bigger and bigger until finally fell over in torpid, satisfied exhaustion. The story ended with the crocodile playing with a ball as if this was just another day.

I wasn’t horrified so much as shocked that my four-year-old child had come up with such a cruel story. In trying to find the seeds of this story, I’ve thought of two candidates: the story of Abiyoyo, a giant who eats people, and Spirited Away where one character swallows other characters and gets bigger and bigger.

Some parents would reflexively ban these stories from their household. They obviously taught my daughter violence. Instead it made me think about the horrifying things that happen in fairy tales: Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother swallowed whole by a wolf, the eyes of Cinderella’s stepsisters pecked out by birds, Snow White’s stepmother forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes at her daughter’s wedding until she dies. These brutal tales were the stuff of childhood not so long ago.

Is the lack of violence in our modern children’s stories a sign of our enlightenment or of our separation from the brutal facts of reality? Life is an act of violence. Each living thing exists at the expense of some other living thing. Each life ends in death.

Yet we try our best to hide from these facts. Gone are the days when we slaughtered our own animals, or sat with the corpse of our recently dead in our own homes. The violence that we see in our entertainment is idealized, pornographic violence. The problem with what we watch isn’t that it is too realistic, but that it isn’t real enough. It obfuscates the realities of death so that it can be more appetizing and entertaining to our paradoxically effete yet brutal tastes.

Are we doing our children a favor by isolating them from death and violence, and therefore from life? Obviously overexposure would also be bad, but there must be some middle ground where children can come to terms with death and violence from the safety of their beds under the supervision of loving parents. It seems that children are more prepared to deal with death than we may imagine.

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The lazy, white puff of tree seeds floating across the window; the butterfly flying against the wind in the opposite direction; the flavor of the nameless, spicy dish recommended by the waiter at the Indian bistro where I stopped on a whim; the soft, exotic music playing in my ears; and the sun playing on the windows of the tall downtown buildings were all a perfect accompaniment to the words of Jorge Borges tickling my thoughts from the book I had been reading as I waited for my food.

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Love, Mormon Style

I just read a lovely little story called Love, Mormon Style by Bob Bringhurst over at Main Street Plaza. The author creates very believable characters who struggle to find love in Mormon culture. I look forward to reading more Mormon literature in the future. Why did no one tell me that here was more to Mormon letters than The Work and the Glory and Charly? ;)

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