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Can clouds think?

April 17, 2012

Sometimes I have trouble falling asleep. Especially if I’m riled up thinking about the newest stealth bank bailout, or wondering how to model rare, fat-tailed events, I’ll toss and turn, unable to get these problems out of my head.

Luckily I have a husband who is kind enough to tell me his stories at moments like these. I really appreciate his ability to draw out a story. He starts out slowly, and gets slower. He ends up at such a leisurely pace that I get completely distracted from my work-a-day concerns simply wondering what he’ll say next, when he’ll say it, or if he’s just fallen asleep.

It’s not just the slowness of the stories that do the trick, either, it’s also the content. He’s the master of the boring relaxing, abstract, science-fictiony story with exactly one idea. He’s seriously considering starting a blog for his stories which he’d call `Stories that put my wife to sleep’. I honestly think it would work great for lots of people- a public service, really, especially if he made very very very boring podcasts.

It’s efficient too, he’s mentioned to me that he’s told me the same story sometimes 5 or more times but I can never last through to the point of understanding the plot, and it always seems new. I never know what’s going to happen next, if anything.

My favorite story, which I have probably heard 17 times, is the story of whether clouds can think. It’s unresolved, the answer, but it’s wonderful to imagine, very slowly, the decisions a cloud could make, things like very slight changes in its luminosity or which winds to take rides on or how high to fly.

Categories: musing
  1. N Leger
    April 17, 2012 at 10:12 am | #1

    When I have trouble falling asleep I listen to BBC radio 4′s In Our Time, a panel discussion of academics about, for instance, Spinoza, or the history of the Roman Wall, or Darwin’s Beard. The ideas are intriguing, I follow, and thusly relaxed, drift off. I guess that I’ve never even made it to the half way mark of a program nor bothered to listen during the day. Someone ought to suggest do clouds think– how wonderful– to Melvyn
    Bragg.

  2. Susama Agarwala
    April 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm | #2

    Ahh… this is all too familiar a bedtime ritual in our family. Though stories told to me are usually non-fiction, and those told to our son are fiction. Hurrah for partners with loving, soporific and relaxing voices.

  3. Deborah gieringer
    April 17, 2012 at 5:49 pm | #3

    Clouds spend most their day impersonating ideas. They’re very good at this.

  4. Becky Jaffe
    April 17, 2012 at 6:12 pm | #4

    I wandered lonely as a cloud
    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
    When all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of golden daffodils;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine
    And twinkle on the milky way,
    They stretched in never-ending line
    Along the margin of a bay:
    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
    Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they
    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
    A poet could not but be gay,
    In such a jocund company:
    I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie
    In vacant or in pensive mood,
    They flash upon that inward eye
    Which is the bliss of solitude;
    And then my heart with pleasure fills,
    And dances with the daffodils.

    - William Wordsworth

  5. April 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm | #5

    I’d be a very rich man if I had a dollar for every time I started out reading a bedtime story to one of my kids and ended up falling asleep myself!

  6. April 19, 2012 at 8:59 am | #6

    I love this post. Can’t wait for J’s blog—or jump straight to a book.

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