In the Cool of the Morning III: Bigfoot Among UsBy Bobby Neal Winters
Jean will tell you that I am a slave to routine. When I am working, it is up at 6am; shave; shower; clothes; coffee and breakfast; then off to work. In an attempt to get back to normal, I’ve been trying to mimic that routine. This morning it was cooler than usual, however, so I remained in bed a bit longer than usual. When I got up to turn on the water for my shower, I found the water handle on the shower was broken. The downside of this was that I didn’t get my morning shower, but the upside is that I now have a problem to organize my day around.
This is important and good.
Yesterday, I spent the bulk of the morning being a Facebook DJ. Yesterday afternoon I spent six hours building a civilization in Civilization IV that I ultimately didn’t like. It was all wasted time, but it was also a sign that I am becoming more energetic. When you are energetic, you have to be doing SOMETHING, but it is important what that something should be.
For time not to be wasted, there should be a plan.
I talked to my big brother on the phone this morning.
One of the ways my brother spends his energy is in his bigfoot hobby.
It would be easy to make fun of it, but I have to honestly say that it’s no worse than some pure mathematics. In the bigfoot crowd, the working proposition is that there is a large humanoid that inhabits the deep woods and wild places of this great country of ours. Casts have been taken of large footprints; marginal film footage has been shot; audio has been recorded.
But no specimens, living or dead, have been provided.
The bits of evidence found have been woven into a narrative that includes American Indian Folktales. It is all very impressive. There is a subculture out there that is big enough to market souvenirs to which is more than I can say for almost any branch of pure mathematics. “Almost” is just a wiggle-word there.
The subculture is so large that there is even debate whether Bigfoot is a part of the human species. This with no actual specimen having been found.
It reminds me of a story about a mathematical dissertation from a doctoral student in a third-world country. He was studying compact Banach spaces. If you are not a mathematician, then you don’t see anything wrong with that. A mathematical neophyte--who has heard the words but does not understand them--knows that Banach spaces are things that mathematicians study and that “compact” is an adjective that is often applied to spaces. No big whoop there.
However, a mathematician knows that there is exactly one compact Banach space and it is the set that contains the number zero.
The third-world math student did get his doctorate studying the number zero.
Scholarship is a practice. What separates the good from the bad is a community that has standards. In mathematics, where we spend a lot of time creating stories in our heads about abstract objects, the rule of thumb is to have at least one nontrivial object that fits the abstract axioms. Sometimes the creation of such examples has given birth to areas of endeavor, i.e. the construction of non-simply connected homology spheres.
In some sense, the bigfoot crowd is in an extended period of looking for an example.
On the other hand, one could simply believe this goes on because it’s fun. It gives folks a chance to go out into the woods, be with nature, and breathe fresh air. It provides occasion to hoist a beer and tell a scary story. It gives an opportunity to put cool decals on your truck rear window behind the gun rack.
The only moral objection to any of this is the question of the best way to spend one’s time, and, golly, everyone needs a hobby.
For my part, I need a plan. Today that plan is putting a handle on the shower. I wonder if I can make that last all day.