Saturday, August 13, 2005

Poems from the heaven

Let me change the topic dramatically for a while to something very serious, sad, philosophical, and human: death and poems. I guess that you are thrilled by this change; the main focus will be on a guy whose nickname was Thriller.

The well-known people who recently died in the U.S. and in the Czech Republic seem to be "nicer" than the average; one could almost be afraid that the world is becoming a worse place to live in. Pavel Dostál, the Czech minister of culture (for the Czech Social Democratic Party), died of cancer. In comparison with some of his colleagues, he was a good man of culture and a former dissident. The Czech actor Jiří Kodet was a good guy, too (incidentally, he was a friend of the president Klaus and that's apparently enough for Kodet's daughter to be disciminated by various groups of Czech artists and bureaucrats in the culture). Finally, Miss Ellie Ewing who died of lung cancer was one of the better members of the Ewing family, too (although I don't know what was the actress like in the real life). I could continue for a while.

But what I really want is to look 10 years into the past. How did the internet look like in August 1995? While the first web pages started to appear on the servers of Academia (with many discussions whether the commercial sector was gonna be allowed to join the Internet; you can see my oldest March 1995 web page here), there were no blogs, so what the hell were the people like me doing instead of blogging?

Well, as a student in Prague, I was spending hundreds of hours of free time with BBSes (Bulletin Board Services), especially the Liane BBS located in the Bohemian city of Liberec. We used to connect to the server using telnet. Most of the discussions were in Czech (this includes most discussions in which I participated); the sysop MadGeorge (Jiří Randus) always planned to internationalize his BBS but these plans were never quite successful. Some of my postings could have been about string theory but the overall structure of the topics was more primitive (for example, neverending debates about science vs. paranormal phenomena and postmodernism but also some Czech poetry).

The most successful English board was Poetry. And the most impressive contributor to that board was nicknamed Thriller, a very gentle and talented guy. How did his moral standard differ from others? For example, he was one of the four candidates for the first ChatOp, or a chat moderator. Later it was revealed that three of these four candidates, including me, have voted for themselves. Only Thriller had voted for someone else (namely me). In real life, I only met Thriller once: during the first BBS session in Liberec.

In August 1995, Thriller's plans to commit suicide were completed. Everyone could read them on the board in advance. At that time, I really did not care about English poetry much although I knew he was pretty good. Among many other poems, Thriller had submitted six parts of his "Invisible scar"

What do you think about these poems?

Well, after he submitted these poems, he joined the family of those who had jumped from the Nusle bridge. Exactly ten years later, I find it amazing that no one could have stopped him even though his plans had been known in detail for a month or so. Why did he do it? The answer should not be unexpected: the main reason was a girl. He obviously loved her a lot and she did not seem to care.

Thriller's was a very delicate mind. On the other hand, I would guess that the girl from his dreams became an average, superficial, aging woman. However, while she is not presented as the ultimate hero, she is probably alive. The message is that if you care about the 2015 articles about you at The Reference Frame more than you care about your life, you should love others more than they love you, and you should write deep poems about it (and about other issues).

Incidentally, the rating of nuclear physicists among their randomly chosen girlfriends is just a little bit better than the rating of poets like Thriller as shown in a story that Feynman liked to say:

  • One of the men who discovered this [how stars burn] was out with his girlfriend the night after he realized that nuclear reactions must be going on in the stars in order to make them shine. She said "Look at how pretty the stars shine!" He said "Yes, and right now I am the only man in the world who knows why they shine." She merely laughed at him. She was not impressed with being out with the only man who, at that moment, knew why stars shine. Well it is sad to be alone, but that is the way it is in this world.

Incidentally, did you see the Perseids yesterday?

As far as I know, Thriller probably believed neither in the heaven nor in reincarnation, and neither do I. The best hope I can offer is a duality transformation based on string theory that transforms your degrees of freedom before you die into a new kind of matter. But don't forget: it is just a hope. ;-) Incidentally, have you ever wondered whether there is any chance to survive the scary journey into the black hole singularity? Can you T-dualize yourself and appear elsewhere? Can there be a new dual description "after" the space-like singularity of the Schwarzschild? We (with Mukund) have not found the answer when we discussed it in Berkeley but I personally find it very unlikely.


  1. Be careful about propagandising your late friend, he could get a TV documental and his poetry substituted by his life legend.

    I saw this recently happening with a friend of a friend, Iris, who got a film about her altzeimer, almost without touching her work.

    (conspiracy theory: there are some poets, singers and philosophers that -almost- never get into TV because there is an implicit agreement to protect them.)

  2. A neurone has come late to the previous post: For another example of legend superseding work, think Simone, the sister of Andre Weil. Er, and speaking of Bourbakians, Groethendiek of course (but who can read it after all?).