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The Galilean Algorithm
The Gailiean Algorithm Small.jpg


The patient attempted to conceal his anger as he slouched in a beige chair beneath one of many abstract prints which adorned the walls of the empty waiting room. Oblivious to the soothing music sounding faintly in the chamber, he read from a small grey book and occasionally glanced at a clock which had been discretely placed behind a vase filled with a large spray of softly tinted dried flowers. When his appointed time had passed, he grew agitated and threw the book aside. Anxious to begin the therapy session which obliged him to leave his home in the country and submit to an hour of the doctor's analysis, the patient fumed at the doctor's disregard for punctuality.

A waste of time, the fretting young man had reasoned as he had driven into town to visit the psychiatrist. A sorrowful romance, he had decided when the trouble began, was his difficulty. Only when he had been unable to shake the heavy sadness, had he reluctantly made the phone call. Still unconvinced of the need, he arrived in the late afternoon hopeful that the doctor's methods would release him from a lingering love for a beautiful young weaver named Sharon.

When the doctor eventually stepped into the waiting room, he greeted the patient with a professionally mellifluous voice. "Hello. How are you?"

Rising abruptly, the patient approached the doctor. "Fine," he replied flatly, "how are you?"

"Ok," said the doctor as he entered his somber office. "Care for a cup of coffee to take the chill off?  You know, if that snow starts to stick, we're going to have trouble getting out." When the patient nodded in approval, the doctor poured coffee for them. Patient and doctor softly curled their hands around their coffee cups like combatants hefting their swords.

"The most difficult aspect of a first meeting is getting started," the doctor said routinely, "so I always begin by getting generally acquainted. Tell me about yourself."

"I now work as a computerist for the university. I was a professor of philosophy there until enrollment in my classes dwindled and I was dismissed from the faculty. I have a small house near the river and since I write software at home, I am able to keep a large garden and still have plenty of time for my other interests--philosophy, reading, fishing and exploring the woods."

"Ah, Thales among the turnips," the doctor said with an encouraging smile.

"Something like that," the patient said warily. "I was quite happy until my girlfriend, Sharon, gave me the boot. No warning, no fighting, no growing apart. She just told me we were through. She said her love for me had just died."

"And your second loss--how did you lose your students?" inquired the doctor gently.

"I think the Galilean algorithm turned them away," the former professor replied sadly.

"Which is?" asked the doctor solicitously.

"I'd have to draw it," the patient said apologetically.

The doctor handed the patient a pad of paper and a pen.

The former professor quickly drew an arrangement of symbols.


"This is the original Galilean algorithm," the patient began when the diagram was complete, "an ancient idea popularized by the prophet from Galilee as the solution for managing human existence. The truest reality was a spiritual realm, a heaven. The soul was to be revered because its noblest passions were a portal on that realm. The pursuit of love, honor, beauty and truth was deemed the natural occupation of man, distinguishing him from the clever beasts because such pursuit manifested a more profound reality than mere animal existence. Life without those intelligent passions would be pointless--at least in this model."

Turning away from the doctor’s calculating scrutiny, the patient drew another set of symbols.

"However, the legacy of Galileo profoundly changed human affairs. The failure of his charmed telescope to reveal a heaven among the myriad lights of the universe gave rise to the doctrine that the truest reality was assuredly physical. As you can see from the second Galilean algorithm, spiritual reality is logically unattainable so, the passions of the soul, once the means of comprehending human existence, are unimportant and may be reduced to mere sentiment."

"I see," the doctor replied thoughtfully as he discreetly wrote a brief note regarding the patient's demonstration.

"Of course," the patient continued, "the trivialization of the human soul would be natural if the second Galilean algorithm were correct and in that case, we would be quite justified to think that such spiritual manifestations as art, music, philosophy and ethics were inappropriate and ridiculous.

"Unfortunately, this algorithm is in error. Humans are spiritual creatures. Since we have mistakenly devalued our existence, but have failed to alter the profound nature of human existence, we suffer from a peculiarly modern anxiety: we fear the lack of meaning we have assigned to human existence. But, as a psychiatrist, I'm sure you see this affliction of the soul all the time."

The doctor's pleasant mood was disturbed by the probing remark. He stared at the patient with a puzzled frown. "Do you know what you have just been describing?'

"The fall of heaven," offered the patient.

"The loss of Sharon," proclaimed the doctor impatiently. "I see that it is snowing harder now and I am sure that neither of us wants to get stuck in town, so perhaps we should begin," the doctor said authoritatively.

The session with the patient exceeded the allotted time and as soon as the young man had departed, the doctor quickly wrote a brief summary of the encounter, packed his briefcase and hastened to leave the office; but, as he was about to close the shades, the doctor paused to watch the streaming snowfall.

The city was besieged by the enveloping snow. Municipal asphalt bounds and concrete edges were submerged beneath the raining snow and the jutting skeleton of wires, poles and buildings which remained seemed nonsensical and fragile, as if the jumble of structures had been heedlessly tossed upon the pure, white earth. A lone stoplight pointlessly flashed its colored commands above the abandoned streets. There was no one left to obey--save himself.

Against the hill on the edge of town, the doctor saw the patient's truck creeping through the snow. As he watched, the truck ploughed over the rise and disappeared on the highway which led to the computerist's hermitage in the country. They had made good progress, the doctor surmised as he put his papers in order. One or two more sessions, he concluded, and that young man will not have to interrupt his ponderous life by the river for further analysis.

As the doctor mused upon the city, the empty buildings assumed an air of ruin, as if sinking into an ancient white dust. Doorways and windows were darkened. The streets were vacant: the motive life of the city had been forsaken.

Yet, the doctor cautiously discovered as he studied it, there is no failed grandeur in that ruin, no elegiac regret that some glory of man had perished here. He felt nothing of sorrow at the imagined death of the town. There was only an empty city awash in snow. He thought of the patient's curious jeremiad on the soul of man.

Suddenly, the roaring engine of a car laboring through the deep snow jolted him from his reflections. Reminded of his own desperate situation, the doctor snatched up his briefcase and fled into panic.