Friday, October 7, 2016

Dawn of Doom

Last year, the Dawn or Doom take-away for me was the term wisdoom. I never did figure out if it was an unintentional misspelling or an intentional pun; but either way, it captures the intertwining essence of Dawn or Doom -- in much wisdom is much sorrow; in much dawn is much doom (to extrapolate from Ecclesiastes).

This year's winning moment occurred when Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor for The New Yorker Magazine, glanced over his introductory notes with a quizzical look and said, "I just now realized that the title of this conference is Dawn or Doom. I thought it was Dawn of Doom!"

Mankoff went on to define various theories of humor such as nonsense, bisociation, and incongruity resolution -- reminding me of a long ago Humor & Satire class in which we learned Aristotle's theory of frustrated expectation and Plato's theory of derision and superiority. He explained how an A.I. editor could be taught to sort for key words and length of punchline, even if it was not endowed with a sense of humor.

But what I kept coming back to throughout the day was that little misreading: Dawn of Doom. It was kind of funny but also worrisome. Have we been keeping watch all through the night in anticipation of the Dawn of Doom? I carried that potentially gloomy revelation with me for the remainder of the conference.

As we used to say when studying Keats, "After dark vapors -- dark vapors." In this mostly optimistic dawn - foretelling sonnet, the poet predicts sweetness after sorrow, a "long dreary season" followed by the "calmest thoughts":
After dark vapors have oppress’d our plains
For a long dreary season, comes a day
Born of the gentle South, and clears away
From the sick heavens all unseemly stains.
The anxious month, relieved of its pains,
Takes as a long-lost right the feel of May;
The eyelids with the passing coolness play
Like rose leaves with the drip of Summer rains.
The calmest thoughts came round us; as of leaves
Budding—fruit ripening in stillness—Autumn suns
Smiling at eve upon the quiet sheaves—
Sweet Sappho’s cheek—a smiling infant’s breath—
The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs—
A woodland rivulet—a Poet’s death.

John Keats, English Romantic Poet (1795 - 1821)
Aside from the sadly accurate prophecy of the "Poet's death," Keats opts for a vision of Dawn; but back in the day, we graduate students took a gloomier view. Forget all that sweetness and light! The first line of the poem was all that we needed: "After dark vapors -- dark vapors." We shared the sardonic grad school humor of

1. Woody Allen: "Mankind is facing a crossroad -- one road leads to despair and utter hopelessness and the other to total extinction -- I sincerely hope you graduates choose the right road."


2. Jorge Cham, roboticist and cartoonist, who entertained us at Dawn or Doom16 with his books and movies, particularly The PHD Movie and The PHD Movie 2 (watch both).

Thanks to Jorge Cham ("1. Never 2. Probably Never 3. Maybe In A Million Years" ) and Bob Mankoff ("How About Never--Is Never Good for You?") and so many others who spent a day at Purdue exploring the spectrum from Brave New A. I. World to Techno - Apocalypse.

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