Kenny in sonnet form; Absent Reality

When I defended my PhD dissertation, one of the readers suggested it read like haiku, a very long haiku at nearly 300 pages.  So when asked this weekend to do a poetry reading I thought I’d take up the challenge, but rather aim for the sonnet form.  Try this:


Absent Reality


Click your wine glass, ring a bell – any sound at all

will resound.

First you anticipate the sound.

You are going to make a sound; it is not sounding yet.


Then there is the sound you’ve made, present,

Seemingly present, but even as you hear the sound

Synapses firing, it takes a nanosecond

And the reverberations – past tense


when your brain registers the vibrations.




Everything we call ‘now’ is history  —

our personal and communal idea, a measured sequence:

we do indeed measure it.

It rules our days, how we schedule our work flow,


plan vacations, anticipate an encounter with our beloved

or remember last night with said beloved,

or our childhood.

We vaguely, reluctantly acknowledge it’s a story we’ve made up.


It might not have even happened.

We could make something else up.



We could organize our lives according to the speed that our hair grows,

or by the sun, to shift with the seasons

as it generally, in fact, does

and we generally, in fact, do.


We hold these contradictory facts as true at the same time:

every day is twenty-four hours yet days are longer

in summer than in winter in the northern hemisphere,

the opposite in the south.


You might protest, “but this is just a confusion of the term ‘day’, semantics”

To which I reply, “exactly.”



So what about Kenny?

This two-D animated character created in 3-D – digitally –

Always was just flickering pixels, code,

Never drawn as we think of drawing, never pen to paper


That’s an after-effect,

a look that we call Kenny

who dies in one episode just to live again

next week, no explanation


this quirky little guy discloses contradictory facts we hold

with little difficulty in our four dimensions, fifth dimension:



Life goes on, death is not so final.

Indeed, death might not much matter.

So much for time’s arrow;

it can be dismissed as a cartoon figure.


A black hole, a photograph.

You breathe, I breathe.  You go on and on

I go on and on and on.

Kenny, just flickering pixels, goes on and on.


You might protest, “Parker and Stone just made that shit up”

To which I might reply:  Exactly.

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Trey Parker and Matt Stone – Mystics in Cyberspace

Next to me are two books: Kind of Minds by Daniel Dennett, and The Essentials of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill. The twelfth edition, water damaged, makes claims tentatively offered and supported by ancient mystics qualifying everything, as if they might be saying too much by saying anything at all.

Contrast that with Dennett’s claim, “You great, great…. Grandmother was a robot! Not only are you descended from such macromolecular robots but you are composed of them: your hemoglobin molecules, your antibodies…”

Both volumes fall apart in my hand, literally.

(‘Literally’ – as if writing something down, making it literature, which certainly must be the underlying assumption of the expression, makes it really true.  The expression ‘literally’ entails so many implicit assumptions regarding the primacy of mental activity and expression over the thing itself, but I digress.)

Dennett uses robots metaphorically here.  The biological being who created robots is now described as that which is created, the terms of the metaphor becoming an odd example of circular reasoning.  This is not at all what he is talking about.  He is pointing beyond the expression, and that extension of meaning is precisely the point.  It’s not that we can’t get there from here; here is all there is.  Dennett’s insistence on this point makes me aware that I have given short shrift to the here and now.  Focusing on Kenny’s out-of-body experiences of death and rebirth, I missed Kyle’s moments of wisdom and failed to follow Trey Parker and Matt Stone into the twenty-first-century gaming world.  Here.  Now.

Here. Now in Toronto two brothers are sitting on a couch fighting over the console while I help their grandmother set up for dinner.  They are having some difficulty keeping up with their cousin who complains, “That isn’t fair.  I’m not … What are you doing?”  The cousin is playing with them from Mexico City.  The oldest of the three, eight years old.  He’s going to quit if they don’t start playing fair.

Distances are diminished in this gaming world that is as familiar to these three boys as the four-square painted on the asphalt in playgrounds of yesteryear, and today.  These three cousins get together apart from cyberspace and might play four-square, their physical world seamlessly integrated across North America and through cyberspace.  These boys are not robots.  Robots are just their tools, not unlike the spoon I use to serve soup.  Dennett’s reductionism isn’t helpful in figuring out what is happening here. The cousin in Mexico is now thoroughly annoyed.  “I’m hanging up now!”  Felt-space is bigger; for these boys it’s the entire continent and their playground.

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A third way, not the middle ground

We are too used to thinking in binaries: black and white, true and false, here and there.  I particularly enjoy ‘here and there’ because it’s clearly a position.  You’re standing here, and then you walk over there, and then that’s suddenly ‘here’.  I’m not espousing relativism:  there is truth, and I would say an absolute truth (that is as absolutely unknowable) as nevertheless true, and absolutely other (Levinas).

Perhaps the operative word with the third way is ‘way’ for mere humans.  And you have to walk it to know what it’s like, what’s to be found.  I’m sounding like a new age yogi when, in fact, I don’t even do yoga, though that would be a good idea.

I’ll get up and turn on a yoga Youtube video now – will probably just watch it, not actually do the exercises – but instead watch Trey Parker and Matt Stone discuss how they proudly ruined television:

We’ll have to come back to this and speculate as to why South Park becomes a movie, a puppet animation, and now video games – they really are artists, and artists will try anything – but now I want to focus on the nature of mysticism, to what neuroscience has to offer to our understanding of what is beyond our understanding.

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