RIP robin williams. reflections on some personal/ math/ CS angles to his movies

Good-Will-Hunting-quotes-4hi all, a sad day yesterday as summer creeps to its end (by one basic measure its now over as many kids back in school already). my sig other is a big robin williams fan and have enjoyed/ admired him myself also over the years. however, brutally honestly/ truthfully (and there is some physical, emotional, spiritual brutality to this event/ tragedy), his manic energy did not always rub me the right way. something seemed a little off.

early on in his career, even in my teenage years he was cited zestily in moments of shared movie reviews/ comparisons and play/ frivolity by my humorous friends who somewhat unlike me were well-versed/ connected/ plugged in to movies, tv shows, hollywood & pop-culture. others cited his mythical connection to Boulder in his famous Mork and Mindy show, near where I grew up (some brief scenes/transition shots from that show are the real Boulder).[19]

he was extremely talented, a brilliant comedian and performer, but hollywood is the land of facades and masks, and it is now seen he was in some ways an archetype and poster boy of that. he was a court jester and a clown, and now the facepainted frown and tears are seen as more real than anyone imagined, in the dragon-eating-its-tail case of art imitating life, and life imitating art… 😥

suicide is a dark flip side of life. recently somewhat coincidentally was re-researching existentialist philosophy after running into an se user who practices “existentialist psychology” (does anyone know what that is?) & was re-contemplating a quote that jumped out at me. existentialism with all its subversive and bordering-on-dark qualities somewhat appealed to me. a high school english teacher brought it alive. we read Camus “Stranger”; liked it but can barely remember it now. Camus said:

there is only one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide

(in the book Myth of Sisyphus. had some affinity for that story also. had heard about the greek philosophy of Cynicism and thought/ felt there some parallels… or was it Stoicism? its hard to remember/ keep track!)

williams has an amazing metaphysical movie called What Dreams May Come, one of the most remarkable hollywood movies Ive ever seen. its concepts match with many wild metaphysical books Ive read over many years, a subject of deep personal curiosity. it deals with themes of spirituality, depression, bereavement, suicide etcetera and now can be seen to have many uncanny parallels to his own life story.

intense depression coupled with suicide has touched my own personal family four years ago this summer. thats another long story. the pain lingers, the emotional scars persist. emotional scars are not only personal. families can have emotional scars. what in psychology is known as “the family system”. suicide is one of the ultimate scars. hard to describe, to communicate. it can be even more raw and permanently, ever-presently stinging than a “mere” death (an oxymoronic phrase, but the wrought-subject inherently twists logical thought into knots).

textbook psychology says that in suicide sometimes or even often, “the family blames themselves”. it sounds so basic & obvious, but even the fact and knowledge seem to not be an antidote or effective preventative/ innoculation wrt 1sthand experience. in tragedy emotion especially inundates/ overwhelms reason/ logic. even “overwhelm” seems a bit of an understatement, it can even be a sort of mental/ psychological blindness. or a PTSD type fixation/ projection/ or near-delusion.

empathy aka “emotional intelligence” (pushed to extremes again an oxymoron) is the great antidote to tragedy. we are human, but empathy is not guaranteed. trauma, fear, selfishness, self-centeredness all interfere with our natural/ healthy empathetic capabilities sometimes in dysfunctional or extreme ways.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

now, fitting with the committed blog theme, lets turn the page on some heavy thoughts to some actual math and science angles. yes, there are some! thereby celebrating the flip side of life! williams was such a diverse and vibrant performer, literally full of life as the expr goes, he touched on all great aspects of life. in this way his life has a great shakespearean aspect to it.

Good Will Hunting won williams an oscar for best supporting actor. the movie was such a big deal for me, that years ago, bought the script in book form. the low budget, surprise/ breakout hit movie won young writers affleck/ damon best writing oscar, an astounding feat for hollywood newcomers, and generally launched their own illustrious careers. where did the idea come from? not so much from their backgrounds. they seemed to have a direct line to channeling the mass unconscious, the zeitgeist of the time. did they research the writing? still have never understood how they pulled off their feat, it seemed somewhat like pulling a rabbit from a hat.

the movie Good Will Hunting has many remarkable thematic/ conceptual parallels to my own life. it was part of the inspiration for me to create an online math group about a year after the movie came out. it reflected ideas, passions, themes, frustrations I had in my own life. its a long story, but basically I wanted to pursue scientific, mathematical, and algorithmic research but felt stymied by larger forces not under my control. deep cultural, sociological, or even more abstract structural obstacles one might say. some of this tension and struggle is reflected in this movie.

the protagonist, something of a malajusted loner with some psychological issues, struggles with how to express or find some outlet for his extraordinary intellectual/ cerebral gifts. in his amazing genius and struggle to “fit in” and cultivation by a mentor, there is a bit of a glimmer of the old great story of Ramanujan.

the embryonic genius protagonist is an exceedingly highly self-motivated, self-taught individual, a total anomaly and misfit wrt to his outside environment. there is an intense shearing between his internal brilliance and outside reality’s recognition/ accomodation of it, which starts out as painfully negligible, almost excruciatingly so.

the movie also has a remarkable scene where the protagonist is at an NSA job interview. its a brief scene, but startling in its prescience. especially in historical retrospect of post-Manning, post-Assange, and post-Snowden revelations. all young men who crossed very dangerous boundaries due to extremely rare/ burning/ intense/ risky idealism, personal conviction, ethics, and sacrifice to challenge the “security industrial complex”[20] and NSA in even far more dramatic/ monumental ways in real life. David vs Goliath in the cyber/ warmachine age.

the NSA and surveillance state have been a concern of mine from a very young age, early 20s. even in mid teens, heard about NSA from a well-informed, intellectual, curious friend and it bothered, startled, even dumbfounded me at the time.

there is even some confrontation of the ethics of science and mathematics vs surveillance and warfare which might normally and over ~1½ decade ago seem a strange, unorthodox mix. there is a hint the NSA has a connection to spying and warfare. this was rather unprecedented at the time. some small synchronicity, that was the same topic of a short but unusual/ evocative collection of links in my recent post on datamining almost exactly a month ago, in fact was thinking and making a mental note of profiling this movie at some date in the future on the blog (also eg after creating a new “movie” category).

the movie captures elements of the intensely human aspects and driving struggles of higher mathematics, the austere and inspirational beauty, in a personal way.

the protagonist is an expert at graph theory, an area of amazing new prominence wrt computer science (see earlier post on Erdos etc) and a very excellent choice by the movie, maybe even bordering on near-visionary.

the movie takes place in Boston/MIT campus. as a teenager attempting to select a college, the legend of MIT did not escape me. was toying with the idea of ivy league colleges at high school graduation. it was not for me. had to be content with years later reading a great book on the subject that helped me feel it was the right choice for me anyway.[10]

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

other at-least-slender/ notable/ theory-brushing CS angles to Williams career: he starred in two movies about artificial intelligence, one directed by the legendary/ masterful Spielberg, a great/ influential/ mesmerizing auteur of my youth. both released right around the turn of the century/millenium when technologism thinking and even some fever was at a height.

didnt even realize the following until just now searching the web…! he also did voiceover in the great Robots movie which is from the same creators as Ice Age, a talented and creative raytracing studio something like a mini-Pixar, Blue Sky Studios that was born out of special effects work for one of the great CS geek movies of all time, Tron. (ofc speaking briefly of Pixar, that massive empire deserves an entire other post at the bare minimum…. did you hear about the new insider book? saw a great documentary on them too once…) (following plot summaries from imdb.)

  • AI — A highly advanced robotic boy longs to become “real” so that he can regain the love of his human mother.
  • Bicentennial man — An android endeavors to become human as he gradually acquires emotions.
  • Good Will Hunting — a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.
  • Robots — In a robot world, a young idealistic inventor travels to the big city to join his inspiration’s company, only to find himself opposing its sinister new management.

further notes…. free-associating-surfing the web a bit, the bios of Blue Sky company founders not surprisingly have some great CS-oriented flavors:[17]

  • Dr. Eugene Troubetzkoy had a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Columbia and worked as a nuclear physicist to create computer simulations of nuclear particle behavior. He is credited with helping develop the amazing technique for capturing 3D scenes with remarkable realism called Raytrace rendering.
  • Carl Ludwig was an electrical engineer who worked for NASA on the tracking systems of the Apollo mission’s lunar module.
  • Michael Ferraro was an accomplished programmer with a Masters degree in Fine Arts who worked for the US Navy on early virtual reality simulations.
  • Chris Wedge was a classically trained animator with extensive experience in stop-motion puppet animation as well as a Masters degree in computer graphics from Ohio State University.

the hardcore-theorist-purist crowd may be loathe to fully admit it,[18] but TCS interpreted broadly has really hugely/ deeply impacted our culture in many ways! (yours truly got to go to Siggraph/LA in the early 2000s and it was a huge treat as one of the most amazing computer conferences around at the time, roughly comparable to say E3 from a few years ago.)

a. robin williams

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