Thursday, May 8, 2008
A Brief Story from Yesterday's Class
Yesterday in Sufi Storytelling, the instructor surprised us by telling us we were each to deliver an impromptu 3-5 minute story, off the cuff. Here is a version of what I came up with.
How many of you have heard the story of the Robot at the Spelling Bee? [Of course, some wiseacre answered "I have"...] Well, this story might be a little different than the version you've heard. Here it is.
There was once this society of people who lived underground, because they didn't fit in with human culture. They were freaks (a term I generally use endearingly) in a way -- see, they were part eagle, part ox, part lion, and part orangutan. I'll leave you to try and picture which part is which, and you'll probably be able to come up with a visualization sufficiently freaky to get the picture.
Anyway, they lived underground, and ostracized, because the human people didn't know how to appreciate or understand them. But they wanted to get the chance to be outside in the sunshine, so they built a robot with the fanciest, shiniest, newest artificial intelligence (not just with solid logic and heuristics, but also with dynamically-reproducing seeded algorithms) they could come up with and sent it to the humans. The robot happened to arrive on the day of the spelling bee, and decided to join up.
When it was its turn, they gave it a pretty easy word. Can somebody give me a somewhat easy spelling word? [from audience: kumquat] Kumquat, well,... the robot heard the word and had not a clue, having not ever really learned anything about the human culture and its language or spelling, so it just sat there until the people said "Stupid robot, go away." And it was kicked out of the spelling bee in the first round.
It went back to the eagle-ox-lion-orangutan people and told them about the language of the humans and how they had this spelling bee ritual, so they found out a bit about it, and the robot processed what had happened, until it felt ready to go the next year. The next year, it went back and signed up again for the spelling bee. Can somebody give me a more difficult spelling word? [from audience: chartreuse] Hmm, chartreuse. Well, the robot had deciphered a little bit about the ways of the spelling bee during the last year, and learned the language, but only had a vocabulary of about 5000 words, so it didn't know "chartreuse." It asked the judges for the etymology and for it to be used in a sentence, and then said, "Well, I don't know how to spell that word, but I do know a word from our culture that apparently is quite similar." And it proceeded to tell them all about the eagle-ox-lion-orangutan word for chartreuse. Upon finishing, the judges thanked it and rang the bell to indicate that the robot was again kicked out of the spelling bee.
And every year, the robot came back for the spelling bee, knowing more and more about human culture. Each time it got to a word it didn't know (from the third year on, it was able to even advance a few rounds), instead of guessing at words it didn't know, it would teach the judges and the audience words from the eagle-ox-lion-orangutan culture. After many iterations of this process, the humans finally knew enough about the eagle-ox-lion-orangutan culture that they began to appreciate it. And when the robot reported back, the eagle-ox-lion-orangutan people were able to come above ground into the light of the sun, and live together with the humans in harmony.
lyrics: "Here we are in the parking lot, getting ready inside our heads." -The Helvey Brothers, from Heavy Metal Parking Lot
colors: Not brown. I just (finally) found my summer chaplaincy internship at a state health facility just north of here.
mood: pretty good, tired.
chant/prayer/mantra: bless the freaks
agape to all,