A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia

So, Middlebury College has banned citing Wikipedia as a research source.

Now, I’m a fan of Wikipedia. I adore it and the promise it represents. But, the college is right in banning an encyclopedic source as a reference.

An encyclopedia is not something you can cite. It is an amalgam of information from other sources. Therefore, essentially, it’s a road map but not the end destination. Use it to get to the other areas.

However, for the Wikipedia-bashers out there: Instead of whining about inaccuracies put your money where your mouth is and start editing the articles you think need work. That’s the only way Wikipedia works.

Watching “Big Fish”

I’m a big Tim Burton fan (though I will readily admit when he’s done some screwy stuff, like Planet of the Apes), but I see Big Fish as his masterpiece. And it hits home for me.

Now, in one regard, there is the question of my own relationship with my father, which is strained (to say the least). As I’ve been doing research into my writing, and I look into father-son relationships in literature, myth, religion, etc., there is a clear need for around 25–35 for a son to come to terms with his father’s interaction in his life. I’ve actually observed this in my co-workers and friends, though it’s not really something I’ve noticed before this time last year or so.

Like the mother/daughter relationship, the father/son also has a massive impact on both the father and the son and what each of them sees of themselves in the other.

Big Fish, while striving to entertain the audience, attempts to bring the father/son discourse into the light, mostly from the son’s point-of-view. I think it does it well. And, as we’re dealing with my grandfather’s (my maternal grandfather, by the way, not my father’s late father) terminal cancer, I find solace in something like this.

The story is simple: A son, about 30 or 35 (as the son is facing starting his own family), is trying to come to terms with the relationship he had with his father (a man who enjoyed telling tall tales of his own experiences to his son), who is now dying from cancer. The son believes he needs to find out who his “real” father is before the old man dies. The father makes the point that he has always been real and has never done anything to be anything other than real to his son.

That’s a massive point in a father/son relationship. Even a father-figure/son relationship, like the one I had with my grandfather (and, to an extent, still have… the scene with Edward Bloom drinking the Ensure is reminiscent of me trying to get my grandfather to eat), is one that comes into question. I think those of us who had fathers in absentia and needed to look to surrogate fathers ask ourselves the questions even further than the sons who are just pondering their relationships with their fathers. 

So, as I watch Big Fish, I see both my relationships with my father and my grandfather reflected. They are two different relationships, and they manifest themselves in two different ways, but they are both similar as the son tries to come to terms with his father and/or surrogate father’s life and how they passed lessons to the son.

I’m rambling, I know. Most of this is just for me to get a few thoughts down.

Needless to say, I find Big Fish a moving experience, and one that brings some important questions to the relationship sons have with their fathers and surrogate fathers. It’s a difficult ending to deal with, but it’s still fulfilling and gratifying to think of all of your family and friends coming to wish you a happy voyage, as opposed to collapsing in a sobbing, grieving heap on the floor…

AN amazing film with a lot to think about.

Does sentience mean there is a soul?

According to Wikipedia:

The soul, according to many religious and philosophical traditions, is a self-aware ethereal substance particular to a unique living being. In these traditions the soul is thought to incorporate the inner essence of each living being, and to be the true basis for sentience. In distinction to spirit which may or may not be eternal, souls are usually (but not always as explained below) considered to be immortal and to exist before their incarnation in flesh. (emphasis mine)

So, keeping with the canonical definitions of “sapience” and “sentience” (see my earlier post about this) the basic consensus of what makes a soul is sentience, not just life (which, of course, cuts the anti-choice movement’s arguments against abortion when they attempt to make the argument that life begins at conception). Even St. Augustine, in “On Exodus,” wrote that a human soul cannot exist within a body that hasn’t been completely formed.

One of the last things to fully form during pregnancy are the brain’s Thalamic connections (around the 33rd week). That would allow for sentience (and sapience), which is why a baby born prematurely (around week 28) might survive, but it’s more likely it won’t. The brain isn’t fully developed, and if it cannot handle any of its sensory input, how can it become a sentient being?

Therefore, if sentience is not just a but THE prerequisite for a soul, then Augustine’s fully-formed argument makes perfect sense. The soul is predicated upon sentience.

The next question would be: Am I actually talking about the soul or the spirit? Hmmmmmmmm…

Yes, it is a slow day at work.

Make a little birdhouse in your soul…

So, my grandfather is now in a nursing home.

He’s in much better spirits, and much more cognizant of what’s going on.

What’s going on is simple: His liver cancer has now spread to his lungs. At this point it is nothing more than a matter of time.

But, he’s at least much more lucid than he was, and he’s not in major pain or discomfort. And today mom was able to convince him to let me bring Liza’s old TV in so he has something to watch. He was watching some NASCAR race when I left.

I am hoping that the doctors will talk with Grandma over the next few days and we can find out what we can expect… that’s the roughest part of all of this.

More…

My grandmother and the doctors have decided to go ahead and drain the fluid from my grandfather’s lungs.

When I asked her what the next step is she told me that she isn’t sure.

This is the most difficult part: Not knowing how to feel, or how to react, or what to do, reminds you how powerless you actually are in this sort of situation.

I don’t know how some people can go for years, or even decades, watching loved ones go through these sorts of things…

Man of the Hour

The second funeral is coming… my grandfather is dying.

And it isn’t fast. It won’t take years, no, but, being the only family member on this side of town other than my grandmother (who doesn’t really leave the house any more), it falls to me, and sometimes Liza, to sit with him in the ER and visit him in the hospital. That makes the time go by slower when it’s just you staring at this man who was once larger than life collapsing in upon himself. He’s like a star that can no longer sustain itself and now is lashing out violently in its death throes, consuming itself even faster.

His lungs are filling up with fluid, oxygen is not making it to his brain, so he is confused and delusional. It’s not an easy sight to take in.

No, this isn’t the slow death that takes years. I suspect it will only be a matter of days now, if not less. It will just feel like years to me. It feels selfish for me to write it in those terms, but that’s how I’m feeling.

I keep coming back to Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, especially “Man Of The Hour”and, to a lesser extent, “Come Back.” I would like to think the sentiments in the songs would fit the relationship I’ve had with my father, but they don’t. However, it’s interesting to see how these fit the one with my grandfather.

He and I were not immensely close. It was always difficult to find things to relate to him with. I didn’t like the sports he liked, I outgrew my interest in trains at a young age (but kept the Star Wars interest… who woulda thunk?), I read books he had no interest in… that must have been difficult for him as I was his only grandson. The girls… my sister, my eldest cousin, my youngest cousin… it had to have been harder for him to relate to them. It’s amazingly difficult for them to have anything to talk about, and he can be a stubborn man when he doesn’t want to think about something.

I was able to say good-bye to him, however. And I have a sinking feeling that I may be the only one in the family that may be able to do so. I hope I am wrong about that.