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If computers were sentient, the processing of binary code would be an exemplar of mindfulness meditation — focusing on one thing without judgment, a paragon of equanimity. An open laptop would be the lotus position. Big Blue would be the Buddha. Fortunately, our machines are not conscious, for I suspect many science fiction writers are correct to assume that if computers were truly intelligent they would probably dispense with entities as messy and incalculable as human beings.
It resonates with me that I was working with machine language when I heard that Kennedy was shot. I had little concept of the implications of either computers or a president’s death. Fifty years later, our society is at risk of anarchy and mass death if a cyberattack mangles our software. In 1963, creating such chaos would have required a nuclear strike.
As for JFK’s demise, Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court and head of the eponymous commission that investigated the crime, said, “We may not know the whole story in our lifetime.” I don’t believe I do. It bugs me a little, and even more so when I realize that given the morass of information, speculation and opinion — all magnified by the ones and zeros, switches open and switches closed — it seems possible no one ever will. The oasis-islands have washed out with the tide.
Shortly after the assassination, Marguerite Oswald, mother of Lee Harvey, said, “If my son killed the president, he would’ve said so. That’s the way he was brought up.” Maybe, maybe not. We all understand parents can be delusional regarding the character of their children. But a half-century on, her words stand in poignant isolation. Are they true? Well, at least she didn’t start a blog.
Six centuries ago, an English theologian and philosopher called William of Occam, who contested the worldly power of the pope and who “claimed that purely intellectual abstractions are not valid knowledge and that reasoning must be based on experimental proof,” stated a principle that gained fame as Occam’s razor. He wrote: “Entities [means employed to explain phenomena] should not be multiplied beyond what is needed.”
The Warren Commission was officially satisfied with the simplest explanation of the assassination: Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Are many of us not satisfied because it’s too simple? How could a lone, flawed commoner bring down the King of Camelot? A screen writer would never buy it.
Peter M. Leschak, of Side Lake, Minn., is the author of “Ghosts of the Fireground,” “Letters from Side Lake” and other books.
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