Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!

slightly geeky  slightly geeky

Case 127

State Change

The young master Kaimu was sifting through his inbox when he came upon a message from an unknown sender:

My body is ugly, my limbs awkward, my face unseemly—
thus no one looks upon me and desires my companionship.
I have lived many years alone.
My heart sits heavy for I have no one to lighten it—
thus I pass each night coding in the solitude of my quarters.
Drink and forgetful slumber are my only escape.
My soul is ever in pain—
thus misery follows wherever I tread.
Each day can be no better than the one before.
My mind is dulled from meaningless employment—
thus I have achieved nothing of worth or renown.
When I die, only dust will remain.
My life is friendless, joyless, hopeless, pointless.
What wisdom can you offer?
- - -

Kaimu took the letter to Suku, saying: “I am but a theoretician, and know nothing of being a prisoner to ugliness. You have mastered the achievement of sublime beauty through incremental change. What wisdom can you offer?”

Suku replied: “I, too, suffer imperfections of the flesh, though they are hidden from view. If the body is an application, then its source code is uneditable and we must bear the ungainly user interface as with any legacy system. Alas, I cannot refactor it.”

Kaimu bowed and went out.

- - -

Kaimu took the letter to Bawan, saying: “I am but a theoretician, and know nothing of the burden of solitude. You have mastered all physical representations of the Loneliest Number. What wisdom can you offer?”

Bawan replied: “I niggle over zeroes and ones because when I look up from my screen the darkness closes in. If the heart is half an equation that must be balanced against an equals-sign, then I too peer across the divide into emptiness. Alas, I cannot solve for your x when there is an unknown y.”

Kaimu bowed and went out.

- - -

Kaimu took the letter to Yishi-Shing, saying: “I am but a theoretician, and know nothing of souls in pain. You have mastered the inner workings of machines. What wisdom can you offer?”

Yishi-Shing replied: “What is a machine, but an artifact meant to give us the illusion of control, when in truth we cannot control even our need to draw the next breath? If the soul is a machine, then its case is the blackest of boxes and its keyboard forever hidden from the sight of mankind. Alas, I cannot administer it.”

Kaimu bowed and went out.

- - -

Kaimu took the letter to Banzen, saying: “I am but a theoretician, and know nothing of a life of futility. You have mastered the ways of attaining perfection in code. What wisdom can you offer?”

Banzen replied: “Do not mistake obsession for ambition, or reputation for accomplishment! Perfection is my purpose only because the lack of it is my pain. Yet what can be perfect when even number theory is incomplete? What can endure when the Universe itself is destined to unravel? And here am I: a miserable wretch who will not be content until his brush has come to rest upon the last digit of pi! If the mind is a fractal from which infinite futures might blossom, still we are all Cantor dust in the end. Alas, I cannot say how to make something from what must eventually become nothing.”

Kaimu bowed and went out.

- - -

Kaimu happened upon the monk Shinpuru, pruning his vines in the greenhouse. As the monk was older than he, Kaimu told Shinpuru of the letter. “No master is equal to this matter. What wisdom can you offer?”

Shinpuru thought a moment, and said half to himself:

“If the body cannot be modified, then its form must suffice. If the heart cannot be balanced, then it must stand alone. If the soul cannot be directed, then we must yield to it. And if the mind is destined to be lost, then all that matters is the present.”

Then the monk thought a little more, and said to Kaimu:

“Begin your reply thus: When the great wolf Desire pulls your sledge across the ice, its cub Disappointment will surely nip at your heels. You must therefore yoke yourself to yourself...

“Then advise your correspondent: Find within your heart any things that give you a measure of joy, no matter how ridiculous they may seem. Fill every moment possible with these little joys. If they can be shared, so much the better: go to distant places, meet unfamiliar people, but take care not to seek companions among them. Seek nothing except to share your craft with those who ask it of you. Every moment spent thus will be your legacy.”

Shinpuru resumed his pruning. “If we seek to change the inner state of an application but we cannot change its code, then we must change its inputs and hope for the best. It is not by whim that I became a gardener! Alas, I cannot know what will bear fruit for others.”