0. Intro 🎯
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.
~ Arthur Schopenhauer
If ever a quote blew my mind, this one it was.
I am no genius—as some of my regular readers will be rushing headlong and tripping over each other to confirm—but I sure can appreciate genius when I see it. And this gem of a quote from Schopenhauer had me catching my breath on hearing it for the first time, recently. I scribbled it down in longhand: Speaking of which, if you peer intently enough into the stuff littered across my reading desk in the pic above, you might spy in the foreground the two bright-green, landscape-oriented sticky notes plastered onto their outsized cousin, the purple sticky note, the one that’s kind of curled up convexly.
Okay, let’s do it: Taking a cue from the theme of genius—and here I invite you to visualize imagination meeting engineering meeting poetry—it is with unalloyed joy that I introduce to you a fine new book, one that’s hot-off-the-press:
The Coevolution: The Entwined Futures of Humans and Machines by Edward Lee (The MIT Press)
Published to acclaim a scant two weeks ago, you’re going to find between the two covers of this book the gripping story of our time, told inimitably by Edward Lee, who is Robert S. Pepper Distinguished Professor in the EECS Department (UC Berkeley). More about the author in a sec, including a picture that he (Edward Lee) sent me from the book-launch party, which featured him as all of the one attendee on hand—navigating our lives as we nowadays all are through the unprecedented times of COVID-19—and whom you’ll see in the picture below, holding aloft a copy of The Coevolution with justifiable pride.
1. Launch Party (Take One) 🎉
A million young poets
Screamin’ out their words
To a world full of people
Just livin’ to be heard
Ridin’ on the highways that we built
I hope they have a better understanding
~ John (Cougar) Mellencamp (lyrics from his album The Lonesome Jubilee)
So the brief parenthetical note coming right up is for the author of The Coevolution, the book that’s the raison d’être of this essay: Edward, when you read this essay, please know that I thank you, both on behalf of my readers and, of course, me, for giving us all another illuminating page-turner.
It’s not since the publication of his previous gem—my regular readers will immediately know which book I’m talking about—that I’ve been so excited to lay my hands on a book, at least in a corporeal way (I’ll clarify why in just a minute, if you’ll kindly hold on to your horses. Sheesh, some people; always getting ahead of themselves. Just kidding; love you all, especially you, dear Reader).
Speaking of Edward Lee’s previous book (Plato and the Nerd), it took me no less than crafting a handful of essays—the following three, to be precise—before I was convinced that at least some justice had been served to convey its gist:
So yeah, that book—Plato and the Nerd—sure is a keeper, as is this one, written for the general reader: The Coevolution.
Released recently to acclaim, with, for example, the ACM SIGBED (Special Interest Group on Embedded Systems) having launched a blog for which The Coevolution serves as the inaugural poster, it is, IMHO, a landmark book.
And to its evolution while it was still a manuscript—the theme of “evolution” sure is going like gangbusters, isn’t it?—I’ve made some contributions over the past two years in my free time, through innumerable, detailed conversations with the author, helping nudge the arc of the narrative a bit, helping reformulate the presentation, refining the choice of the book-title, etc.
There you go, especially all of you who’ve managed to hold on to their horses—remember how I said a minute ago that it is with much joy that it’s only recently that I’ve laid my hands on a physical copy of the book—I’ve had my hands on copies of (digital) manuscripts over the past two years, as they’ve evolved, tending to the kind of stuff I mention above.
So that’s plenty, I think, to serve as introduction to the book we’ll begin exploring in a minute, amirite?
2. Launch Party (Take Two) 🎈
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
~ Shunryu Suzuki (author of the most beloved of American Zen books)
Boy, was I ever wrong!
Folks just like you wouldn’t have anything of my concluding the introduction (to The Coevolution) as I thought I’d finished doing a minute ago… Oh no, now they want proof—something like a Good Housekeeping Seal of approval or something—that I actually ever made any contributions whatsoever to the fine book. Sheesh.
Naturally, my jaw dropped at the brewing insurrection, as did Tintin‘s—judging at least by the expression on the face of a replica of our intrepid friend, the renowned detective pictured above on my programming desk—so I’m in good company, I think.
Anyhow, to quell the rebellion and satisfy any skeptics who may have questioned my name making it into a book from the venerable publishers of The Coevolution (The MIT Press), I present the admittedly makeshift Exhibit A, the one pictured above.
So if you would be so kind as to squint a tad, you’ll see in that pic my (physical) copy of The Coevolution, propped up against one of my computer monitors—it’s all open source software preening up there, so not to worry—with the pages of the fine book opened to the Acknowledgments section. Bro, I’ve highlighted my name with a dab of my bright-yellow highlighter. On top of that, I’ve even put a Captain America shield right next to my name.
Ergo, this ain’t no fake news.
Seriously, though, it’s an honor. I thought I was going to faint when I saw my name mentioned in the same breath as luminaries such as Stuart Russell, Patricia Churchland, Judea Pearl, and Max Tegmark. Kind of related to how the late Richard Feynman must have felt—way back during his Princeton days as a graduate student—on being told about the luminaries of Physics who would be attending his very first lecture. It’s humbling.
That’s enough of me, and this longwinded intro is something I don’t do very often. But sometimes, one’s gotta share one’s joy. And who better to share it with than you?
So let’s get started.
Yep, next up, we get our bearing and ourselves a lay of the land. We make a dash and get straight to assembling the pieces of an especially oversized jigsaw puzzle, watching it all come together—the theme running through The Coevolution, chapter-by-chapter—watching it come into focus.
All I ask is that you bring a childlike curiosity and an open mind, reminding us both—in the memorable Zen words I quote above—that “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
3. Essay Arrangement (Sans Derangement) 🎬
I wanna make a jigsaw puzzle that’s 40,000 pieces. And when you finish it, it says “Go outside.”
~ Demetri Martin
Let’s do this, for your sanity as well as mine: We’ll hit the highlights of each chapter—fourteen in all—and once we’re done, we’ll call it a wrap. Cool? So let’s settle down into a comfortable sofa (or hammock, futon, or your fav furniture) and treat ourselves to a greatest hits in the fine books we got on our hand.
A heads up, too, in that I’ll be taking the liberty of sprinkling a quote or two in each of the sections that follow—each section devoted to capturing the gist of a given chapter, along with highlights—preceded first by an emblematic picture such as the one coming right up of a… bionic bee!
Ooh, that sure looks like a bionic bee on a stealth mission—something right out of the Skunk Works that brought us the world’s most gorgeous aircraft ever designed, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
And while the tessellated wings of our bionic bee may not quite fuse together like the SR-71 Blackbird’s—forget Salvador Dali’s melting watches and instead recall how the Blackbird’s exterior, tessellated tiles would melt, fuse, and just get better and better aerodynamically with each flight?—it sure looks like our bee’s got some zip (and zing).
So get your bug repellants out, just in case, and we’re all set.
4. Half a Brain (Chapter 1) 🐌
What is design? It’s where you stand with a foot in two worlds—the world of technology and the world of people and human purposes—and you try to bring the two together.
~ Mitchell Kapor
To kick things off, Chapter 1 (Half a Brain) introduces us to the metaphor of “living digital beings”—nope, we’re talking neither cyborgs nor any far flung dystopian future. So go ahead and drop your incipient plans of popping some popcorns in the microwave and settling down to a replay of Blade Runner 2049. Sorry to dash your hopes. One more time, no cyborgs—or cyborg hunters, for that matter—in these nether regions.
Despair not, though; we’re onto some really good stuff here. You see, all those digital artifacts we love and have come to depend on—Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, Google Home, you name it—have already changed us, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down the pace of change as our very lives continue to transform and mutate, as if propelled by powers that we neither understand nor control.
I’m telling you: Forget all about Rick Deckard (him of Blade Runner fame) hunting down rogue replicants. Get ready, instead, for those digital artifacts—yeah, innocuously enough named as they are—in which we find our lives awash, and how those artifacts are going to take us on the ride of a lifetime.
5. The Meaning of “Life” (Chapter 2) 🐢
Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.
~ Henry David Thoreau
Following on the heels of all those brainy considerations, Chapter 2 (The Meaning of “Life”) socializes the reader, so to say, with the metaphor of the aliveness—both in degree and kind—with which digital artifacts are imbued, and how this metaphor can aid our understanding of our (human) relationship with technology. Didn’t I tell you this stuff was going to be, like, heady?
Oh, and my making mention of “aliveness” above nearly made me fall for hauling in at least a tangential consideration of the crucial role that “liveness” plays in taming software concurrency—check, for example, Java Concurrency in Retrospect, one of my earliest blogs posts, one that’s admittedly wet behind the ears—but I pulled back at the last moment. So much cool stuff out there; it’s hard to not digress.
So yeah, back here with what’s happening in Chapter 2 is that, in a nutshell, our digital artifacts share none of the biology that underlies all other living beings, so what’s up with even deeming digital artifacts to be living in the first place?
Well, guess what? While our digital artifacts seemingly lie around dormant, they are first-class processes and quite the factories of tingling, frenzied activity:
- Those processes respond to stimulus (Hey, don’t poke me now)
- They grow (yikes, ask me if ever I’ve seen those deeply-nested function calls in computer programs, especially that pesky one, many moons ago, the one which was nested seven levels deep in the call stack?)
- They reproduce (ever witnessed UNIX processes spawn other UNIX processes spawn yet other UNIX processes, ad nauseum?)
- They inherit from their ancestors (gotta grow love those for baroque inheritance hierarchies, right?)
- And they have structure analogous to cells (self-referential data structures, anyone?).
Plenty more good stuff follows in this chapter, including the quest within the guts of digital artifacts to maintain stable operating conditions: Ever paged that poor soul the system administrator at two in the morning, right after the system stopped humming? So yeah.
Oh, and don’t miss Lee’s intriguing take on a digital artifact that could well go down in history as the most universally loved one: We’re talking about Wikipedia!
6. Are Computers Useless? (Chapter 3) 📉
I dare not call them fools;
but this I think,
When they are thirsty,
fools would fain have drink.
~ William Shakespeare
I must confess that, more than any other chapter in the book, it’s Chapter 3 (Are Computers Useless?) that serves as proof positive in lending credence to Winston Churchill’s observation that “We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us“.
Goodness, look around and you’ll begin to see digital technology as cognitive prostheses, veritable extensions of our own minds. But do they make us smarter, perhaps turning us into the next Leanardo da Vinci? Or, do they make us dumber?
Or is it that, if I may add, it depends? Fess up now, which one is it! (You surely remember how that proverbial—and infuriatingly tantalizing—handwaving-inspired answer that we’ve all heard at one time or another would have us believe).
So yes, it’s actually both, and Lee makes a solid case in speculating that while technology may be making us dumber (individually), it sure seems to simultaneously be making us smarter (collectively).
Read on to find more.
7. Say What You Mean (Chapter 4) 📣
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.
What unit testing does for us software technologists in the realm of providing feedback on the quality of the software that we engineer into existence, Chapter 4 (Say What You Mean) does for digital technology inasmuch as tech is to be considered alive and kicking.
Historically speaking, we humans as a species would have been toast, and simply not survived—let alone thrived—were it not for the round-the-clock services rendered by the feedback mechanism which permeates our natural makeup.
Being what we are, though, and not satisfied with feedback serving as the vital feature that it is to our existence, we humans continue to seek ways to better imbue our software tools with the same quality—Case in point is the introduction of feedback in AI software, particularly in the form of deep-learning algorithms, which has led to much uncannily human-like perception in machines.
8. Negative Feedback (Chapter 5) 🎤
One should act in consonance with the way of heaven and earth, which is enduring and eternal. The superior man perseveres long in his course, adapts to the times, but remains firm in his direction and correct in his goals.
~ I Ching
Were it not for Chapter 5 (Negative Feedback), I might have walked away from this fine book just a tad satisfied. Here’s why: We get to see a simple idea explored with great finesse, revealing the power of ideas. In this case, that seemingly simple idea is that we (humans) make mistakes and, importantly, correct them.
So yes, this act requires an ability to first sense an error, and then to make a correction so as to reduces that error. Done quickly—and effectively—enough, a system can function swimmingly well, even compensating for sloppiness in its design. You got it: There’s your (negative) feedback mechanism at work, compensating for sloppy design
Now I know why, back in the day, my fine, MIT-trained engineering professor—that’s you, dear Professor William Schneider, control engineering maven—was wont to toss around the word “error” during his spirited lectures (on feedback mechanisms in all their varieties) with such liberality as has perhaps not been witnessed in a classroom anywhere else in the world.
But yeah, and as Lee drives home the point, it is feedback that makes our tech systems eminently adaptive, even imbuing them with a measure of intelligence.
We got this one down.
9. Explaining the Inexplicable (Chapter 6) 👽
Knowledge: The small part of ignorance that we arrange and classify.
~Ambrose Bierce (in the contrarian tome of hilarity, The Devil’s Dictionary)
The study of all things enigmatic abounds in Chapter 6 (Explaining the Inexplicable), which reminds me of a quote that I’m wont to, well, quote. It goes like this:
Explaining Metaphysics to the nation–
I wish he would explain his Explanation
~ Lord Byron (from Don Juan: Dedication)
But I digress.
I can’t pad this section because, in full candor, we’re talking about an ever so brief chapter. But it’s a good one, looking as it does at the problem that while deep-learning algorithms can get pretty darned good at classifying stuff, the underlying reasons for the classifications they achieve remain shrouded in mystery.
On top of that, some certain classifications are not even ethically usable without some explanation for the classification, and, as Lee rightly points out, how to come up with an explanation remains an open problem.
Given all that, this chapter sure had, as you can imagine, a lot of explaining to do. And it does it well.
10. The Wrong Stuff (Chapter 7) 🐙
Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
~ George Bernard Shaw
What, are you telling me that Chapter 7 (The Wrong Stuff) is the alter ego or something of that terrific movie, The Right Stuff, the 1983 American epic historical drama film? Look, relax. And please put down your copy of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book (of the same name) about the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots who were involved in aeronautical research. I know you got this.
All I’m saying is that this chapter isn’t trying to be cute—or contrarian, for that matter—and simply playing devil’s advocate by taking an opposing view to the one we got in Chapter 2, arguing that silicon and metal, acting as they do in a digital and computational way, typify a process that’s rather different from organic and biological ones.
I’m going to need to read this chapter one more time, just to be sure, as I confess getting lost initially when grappling with Putnam’s multiple realizability principle… Just stringing those words together was a good start, heh.
Seriously, though, and as Lee rightly points out, the advocates of embodied cognition—those who claim that cognition is inextricably tied to our flesh and blood—do seem to have a valid point.
Whoah. Was that a whack on the side of my head or what?
It turns out that we humans frequently do things with our minds that simply can’t be done by the brain alone; channeling Patricia Churchland. Plus somebody please pass me a can of that jolt cola. Hey, just kidding.
All I’m saying is to read this chapter a tad slower than the others in the book. And genius that you are, you may very well zip through it; in that case, please remember me when you’re rich and famous.
11. Am I Digital? (Chapter 8) 🔮
My apartment was robbed and everything was replaced with exact replicas… I told my roommate, and he said, “Do I know you?”
~ Steven Wright
Way back as an undergraduate in Houston—and yes, we’re actually talking about Chapter 8 (Am I Digital?) here, sheesh, some people—I used to listen to a song on the radio, which went like this:
What I am is what I am
Are you what you are, or what?
What I am is what I am
Are you what you are, or what?
~ Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians (lyrics from What I Am)
Thank you, 93.7 FM, K-Lite (Houston) for powering my commutes to the campus through the gridlocked traffic of the sprawling metropolis. Plus those lyrics sounded like the embodiment of reason; at least back then they sure did. But yeah, this chapter’s all about examining the question of whether a cognitive being, particularly a human, can be replicated by a computer. It looks at what it means to be a digital, algorithmic system.
So all you who relish logical conundrums—for example, if the altogether pedestrian premise “that human cognition is fundamentally digital and algorithmic” is not a fact, then it is unlikely to be true, that it can never be proven to be true, or false, for that matter?—you’ll rub your hands with glee with the stuff going on in this chapter.
What do you say: We got the mojo now, yeah?
Wait. Who let those cheeky robots in? On top of that, exactly who had the cheek to give them my fav Nike swoosh-emblazoned soccer ball?
12. Intelligences (Chapter 9) 🚀
It is… axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.
~ W.H. Auden
To be, or not to be, that is the question which Chapter 9 (Intelligences) sets out to answer. In particular, we get to see an examination of the question as to whether a cognitive being, particularly a human, can be replicated by a computer. What, exactly, does it means to be a digital, algorithmic system.
For all you Star Trek fans, there’s even some talk of digital, algorithmic systems that can be teleported at the speed of light, backed up, restored later, and made immortal—in principle anyway.
More coolness ensues, such as questioning the premise that human cognition is fundamentally—you guessed it—digital and algorithmic.
Keep the mojo going. We can do this, you all: People in the know have predicted that our mental muscles get flabby without regular exercise (Hey, I’ll even make sure my darling spouse reads this, knowing full well that her eyes will glaze over at the sight of all else that’s tech and transpiring elsewhere in this essay).
13. Accountability (Chapter 10) ⏰
I repeat… that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that, from the people, and for the people, all springs, and all must exist.
~ Benjamin Disraeli
Above all, “to thine own self be true,” or so the sages advise us. And Chapter 10 (Accountability) takes the adage up. Such weighty matters notwithstanding, Lee first argues that human-like AI may not be a reasonable goal.
C’mon guys, we know that machines already exhibit distinctly nonhuman forms of intelligence, forms that vastly exceed our own cognitive capabilities. And in the spirit of being true to our own self, we find a comrade in Lee, who helps us navigate our way through various aspects of intelligence, including adaptive goal seeking, acquiring and using knowledge, and—not to be shushed by the specter of the so-called wicked problems—he even takes on the “hard problem,” the problem of fathoming consciousness.
I recommend reading this chapter only while sitting down. A cup of coffee will only help.
And wait till Lee grapples quite masterfully with some of the more extreme positions of trans-humanism and the singularity. Seabiscuit, wake up, it’s off to the races now for us.
14. Causes (Chapter 11) 🎲
He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others.
~ Samuel Johnson
While revisiting Chapter 11 (Causes) as I was putting together this essay, my mind—for reasons unbeknownst even to itself—turned to this hilarious quote from the physicist David Deutsch:
Easter Island in the South Pacific is famous mainly–let’s face it, only–for the large stone statues that were built there many centuries ago by the islanders 🗿
~ David Deutsch (The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World)
As an avowed devotee of the em-dash—I can hear some of my regular readers already groaning at the mere mention—the Deutsch quote above, what with peerless wisdom wedged between those two beautiful em-dashes above, had me in stitches. That was pretty direct there; no sparing the sensibilities, no nothing?
But I digress.
Maybe it’s the irresistible pull of some naughty wittiness—at once sardonic, witty, and delightful as it was—which took me there, I still can’t say with any certainty. At any rate, and with that under our belt, not to mention the grin on our faces, we now come to a chapter which addresses a deeply troubling line of reasoning, dating back to Bertrand Russell.
Whoah. What’s up this time?
Here’s what: We’re talking about the line of reasoning which questions the very notion of causation, claiming that it’s a human cognitive construct, and not a property of the physical world.
I don’t know about you, but me, I say we play that song from my long-gone undergrad days one more time, this time if only to get past some existential angst—what with an exploration of a boatload of troubling reasoning weighing us down—and make a resolute effort to lift our collectively flagging morale:
I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean
Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box
I’m not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean, d-doo yeah
~ Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians (lyrics from What I Am)
Seriously, though—and it’s pretty cool, actually—Lee taps into and leverages the insights of Turing Award winner Judea Pearl to show that causal reasoning is fundamentally subjective and that interaction enables reasoning about causality. This, Lee asserts, is the first step toward assuming responsibility for our own actions.
I think; therefore, I am. Yeah. Wait, or was it that I am, therefore, I think?
Something like that, anyway.
15. Interaction (Chapter 12) 🎓
Things that are very common and observed all the time, and which appear perfectly obvious, are quite different in this world: It turns out that what we thought was obvious is wrong, and it’s much more complicated—or not more complicated but just different! In fact, sometimes it’s simpler and more beautiful.
~ Richard Feynman
Let’s hop right along to Chapter 12 (Interaction), which delves more deeply into technical concepts to show that interaction is more powerful than observation. The cool thing here is following the reasoning of how computers—as they increasingly interact with the physical world around them—will be endowed with capabilities that, in turn, will increase, possibly dramatically so.
Thought experiments—anyone remember Einstein’s Gedankenexperiment?—abound in this chapter, so I would recommend ingesting this one gradually. You’ll also find explorations of how, if humans ever build an AI that is conscious and has free will, it may be impossible to know with one hundred percent confidence that we have done that.
And with that, we got only two more chapters to go.
We got this.
16. Pathologies (Chapter 13) 🌀
Learn from the moth what to do with fire.
When the king has returned to our city,
why would we wander ruins on the outskirts?
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (in the translation by Coleman Barks entitled The Essential Rumi — Published by HarperOne)
Oh boy, gotta tell ya, for the penultimate Chapter 13 (Pathologies), I sure spent a long time looking (in the public domain, of course) for just the right picture with which to convey the theme of this section. So if the pic above reminds you of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath—known for its merciless realism and poignancy in portraying the story of the Joads, trapped in the Dust Bowl, setting out for California to seek jobs—then that’s where it’s coming from.
This chapter, then, brings us back to earth, as Lee points out, to address the practicalities of how to live with technology so we all don’t end up in a ditch.
The essential claim in this chapter is that as technology evolves, Murphy’s Law is bound to kick in sometime, probably sooner than later: Yes, things can—and likely will—go wrong for humans at some point in time. But we should treat these unfortunate developments as pathologies, not as a War of the Worlds.
And this is not sour grapes; this is the real, unvarnished, deal.
17. Coevolution (Chapter 14) 🍄
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
~ George Bernard Shaw
And so our trek comes to an end with Chapter 14 (Coevolution), which ends the narrative of the book with a bang. It focuses on the question of whether human culture and technology are evolving through a constant feedback process of mutation and natural selection. Hey, that—the confluence of culture, software, technology, and engineering—reminds me of the very theme which runs eye-balls-deep through our blog, and which would be… Programming Digressions, but of course!
But, yes, I digress. I get it.
All right then. There is, in this chapter, some dipping into recent developments in the theory of biological evolution, which show that the sources of mutation are much more complex than Darwin envisioned: In particular, the sources of mutation in technology look more like these newer theories than the random accidents that Darwin had posited.
Finally, Lee underscores his argument that human culture and technology are evolving symbiotically and may be nearing a point of inevitable symbiosis; one cannot live without the other. Think blended paradigms, think conjoined, Siamese twins.
And with which, “That’s all, folks“, as our beloved Daffy Duck—him, of course, of Loony Tunes fame—would unabashedly pronounce, skidding gloriously across the theater stage, with the blazing spotlight shining on his tufty, feathered finesse.
18. Coda: Outside, Looking In 🔬
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
So how are we all doing? Gotta keep our spirits up during these understandably trying times as the specter of COVID-19 tests the soul of humanity—its mettle—as a whole. If I’ve managed to bring a smile to your face, I’ll know that I’ve at least tried to do my bit to help us all weather these turbulent times.
The good stuff we’ve looked at in The Coevolution, chapter-by-chapter, is assuredly brainy when it comes to wrapping our head around its intellectual heft—and heady when it comes to grappling with its far-reaching import for our sensibilities. My hope through it all is that you got something out of this journey.
Discovering new vistas can be fun. As the writer Marcel Proust once remarked, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
So yes, I’ve been on the inside. Now it’s your turn to come in, read the book, and join the dialog. With that, I’m being told to inform you in the immortal words of Loony Tunes’ Daffy, of course: “That’s all, folks“.
19. Launch Party (What, Take Three?) 🎉
If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
~ Sir Isaac Newton
Aha, evidently, that wasn’t all, after all.
Look, I couldn’t have left you hanging, leaving you to wonder what happened to our intrepid sleuth Tintin, who, last time we had checked, had his mouth agape. Actually, it’s still agape.
Fear not, though, because this section is nothing less—and nothing more, actually—than an honest to goodness retake, this time with the flash on my smartphone turned on, the better to bring out the Batman sign (up, top-left) in stark relief, as you’ll gather from the pic above.
With that, we find the launch parties winding down. All good things come to and end. Oh yes, and as only the British music group Dire Straits —powered by their genius song-writer and vocalist Mark Knopfler—would have the ingenuity to observe how those grimy “prehistoric garbage trucks have the city to themselves.”
In sooth, “I don’t know how it happened, it all took place so quick.”
It’s time to take a bow.
Remember, though, that it helps to stand on the shoulders of giants, especially if you wish to launch yourself into the stratosphere. So let’s not reinvent the wheel: We don’t want to come into the purview of the inimitably sobering—and altogether ominous—words of George Santayana, the influential 20th century American thinker, when he remarked that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
But that won’t be you, or me, amirite?
20. All The Right Moves? 🏄
I gained it so,
By climbing slow,
By catching at the twigs that grow
Between the bliss and me.
It hung so high,
As well the sky
Attempt by strategy.
~ Emily Dickinson
In the end, where does this all leave us? Are we immersed headlong in a Harry Potter-like game of chess where our moves can make the difference between life and death? Or have we been dropped into the unnerving landscape of Tron, kind of like Flynn’s adult son Sam, who, according to this blurb from Wikipedia—yep, the selfsame Wikipedia we earlier saw quoted in The Coevolution—responds to a message from his long-lost father and is transported into a virtual reality called “the Grid,” where they must stop the malevolent program Clu from invading the real world.
Now that sounds ominous. Get me out of here. Like, right now.
I kind of fancy the more relaxed environs such as those coming right up, lined with gleaming white flowers in the fore, and a castle in the distance.
If you enjoyed this story, please come right back next time, won’t you? Readers, friends, acquaintances, and all, often ask me, “Akram, what is the secret of your writing? What gets you, and keeps you, into writing?” I dutifully—and truthfully—reply, “I cannot not write“.
So there’s a pretty good chance—assuming I’m not hit by a crepuscular meteor anytime soon—that I’ll be at it again, and have something new cooked up for you. And for me.
Till next time.