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Rated: E · Fiction · Philosophy · #1514563
Essay about some notes about a journal about a mathematician and Bigfoot. Got that?
Though Dr. Matthew’s obituary detailed the late geologist’s five-year chairmanship of the American Geological Society, his frequent appearances on PBS, numerous volunteer projects and leadership in a local Boy Scout troop among his most significant accomplishments, no mention could be found in the post-mortem praise of the professor’s last, great work: his notes on the Cue Text. This oversight, however, has utterly failed to quell public interest in the legendary (mythical, the faithless claim) Cue Journal.

These notes lit up certain corners of the Internet several days ago, and their significance will likely remain a matter of debate for decades to come. The Cue Journal was a first-hand account of a meeting between the mathematician Jacques Cue and a Bigfoot on the slopes of Mount St. Helens just prior to the volcanoes historic May 18, 1981 eruption. The Cue Text, as will be explained, was a computer copy of The Cue Journal; Dr. Matthew’s notes are the professor’s remembrance of that text. It was Dr. Matthew, then a graduate student at Washington State University, who transcribed The Cue Journal into a computer file.

The Cue Journal has long been the stuff of legend among Bigfoot researches and enthusiasts. Prior to the release of Dr. Matthew’s notes, the only mention of the journal could be found a letter from Jacques Cue to Dr. Winfred Mark, professors of Anthropology: “I intend to keep a journal of my search so that the good news, of which I have every confidence of receiving, can be spread upon my return.” Cue did not return from his trip into the wilderness, however, and any good news he intended to deliver was buried, along with his body, under the tons of mud and ash Mount St. Helen’s vomited across the landscape.

From Dr. Matthew’s notes we have learned that The Cue Journal was recovered during a geologic dig near the Toutle River in Washington in 1984. Dr. Matthew had been a graduate student when he and his classmates extracted a plastic bag from the wreckage of a backpack encased in a mudslide. Inside was a red, spiral bound notebook. The professor in charge of the dig glanced over the first few pages before giving it to Matthew for cleaning and documentation. Yet, instead of doing as instructed—particularly, to take pictures of the pages—Matthew typed the notebook’s contents into the department’s new computer.

Not more than one day after receiving news of the discovery, Cue’s mother arrived in Pullman, Washington, having caught the first plane from Boston, to take possession of the notebook. WSU administration records confirm the transaction on June 6, 1984; however the surviving members of the Cue family have consistently denied ever receiving such a journal. The computer file was destroyed along with the computer in a fire over the following Christmas holidays. As such, Dr. Matthew’s notes, written twenty years after encountering the original, represent our best recollection of what transpired between the mathematician Jacques Cue and the Bigfoot.

Can we trust The Cue Notes? No. Questions of age-related memory impairments, ulterior motives and a profit incentive have already been raised. In a blog entry two days ago, the Vietnamese author Tao Tang Thomas, notorious for his scathing denunciations of Sasquatch sightings, claimed Dr. Matthew fabricated the discover of TCJ in order to bolster his fading public image. If the TCJ is a fabrication, however, if it was merely some ploy by the late professor to garner attention, if, as Thomas asserts, we will never be sure of the existence of Sasquatch until we touch one, how do we account for the discrepancy between the WSU records confirming Cue’s mother took possession of the journal and the Cue family’s steadfast claims to the contrary. Furthermore, how do we account for the testimonies of the other members of the dig, and the professor in charge of the Toutle River excursion, that a notebook was recovered in 1984, and that Matthew took the notebook with him to WSU? To answer these questions we must return our attention to one of the characters sharing the center of this mystery: Jacques Cue.

Born in Lyon, France, on April 14, 1948, and immigrating with his mother’s household to the U.S. in 1950, Jacques Cue displayed an alarming affinity for mathematics from his earliest years. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics from U.C. Berkley at the astoundingly age of 17, having already published ground-breaking work on Riemann functions in distinguished international journals. The progeny seemed destined for great things, but abandoned academia soon after finishing his doctorate and took a job as an actuarial at one of the largest insurance companies in the U.S.: State Farm Insurance. While Cue buried himself in the bowels of the corporate giant and happily (by all accounts) chewed through premium calculations and statistical analyses, the mathematics world scratched their heads in dumbfounded confusion, unable to understand why anyone of such great genius would neglect both monetary rewards and status.
Though Cue never divulged reasons for his choice, he may have presented an answer, anonymously, in an essay published in an obscure journal devoted to pseudo-scientific theories: Minutia. These essays, published in October, November and December of 1966, argue that through intensive calculation, it is possible for actuarial to not only predict the future possibility of an event, but to make the event actual. The author cites extensively from various interpretations of the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics, particularly the explanation that since the best picture of the position of sub-atomic particles must be expressed, mathematically, in terms of probabilities—probabilities which, no matter the theoretical distance of the particle from its most likely position, never equal zero. That is, even though a sub-atomic particle’s position, express probabilistically, is most likely in a laboratory on Earth, there nonetheless exists a probability, though astronomically small, that the particle can be found near Jupiter, for example. The author, who I assert to have been Cue writing anonymously, makes a great deal of the mathematical description of subatomic particles as “smears of probabilistic positions” that only come into being—only manifest themselves—at the moment of their observation.

“Indeed,” the author writes, “it is an inescapable conclusion that though the potential for their existence is everywhere and everywhen possible—even in the elsewhen of Einstein’s time—these particles, and thus the fabric of the observable universe, exist through their observation and collapse of the wave function of their probability. As if this simple truth, verified in numerous experiments, wasn’t astounding enough, we understand now that the type of experiment chosen determines not only the position but also the nature of the particle.

“Mathematics predicted the existence of antimatter. Why? There was never any physical evidence of this once seemingly impossible element, but following the relativistic symmetry of his mathematical version of the Schrödinger wave, Paul Dirac predicted the possibility of antimatter—a possibility that became reality with the first observance of positrons in 1932. How can we account for this? Why does nature conform so beautifully to mathematical descriptions? Why were scientists able to predict, mathematically, the existence of the Omega quark? Because it fit the formula. It was if John Dewey completed his system for the categorization of books, checked on of the numbers, and said there must be a book detailing the fauna of Mars because there was a number for such a book—and then we find the book.

“We cannot ignore the implications. Actuaries calculate the probability of future events—accidents, primarily. But can how can these events truly be referred to as ‘accidents’ if the probability of their occurrence is foreknown? And even as I write ‘”Undesirable events”’ seems a more fitting designation,’ I am struck by how arrogant, how short-sighted—indeed, how human—is the word ‘undesirable’. The hubris manifest in this term: a wind believing it can predict a future unfolding from a single event, and judge that future as undesirable. Let us leave philosophy.

“Let us return to the true work of an actuarial: to make the possible actual, to calculate as precisely as possible, through multiple permutations, taking into account the multitude of variables, a multitude compounded by a relationicity and statistical irreducibility excluding variables from atomistic considerations of ‘single event,’ or ‘individual occurrence.’”

The series of essays ends with this call to arms. “This should be our great Experiment.” I believe it is with this declaration that the Liminal stage of Jacques Cue’s life began, a stage of his life almost entirely hidden from society, briefly glimpsed in a few, spare letters of correspondence exchanged with other mathematicians and, increasingly, with anthropologists. Of what interest could an anthropologist be to a mathematician concerned, apparently, with making the potential actual? Anthropology provided Cue with data concerning the possibility of a primate having migrated to North America.

In 1967, a brief, shaky and grainy film purporting to show a Bigfoot walking through a clearing in Northern California riveted Cue’s attention. It is an incontrovertible truth that the Patterson-Gimlin film prompted Cue to research all previous stories, claims and evidence about the possible existence of Bigfoot, a research that, once started, consumed him. Cue had found a subject worthy of his Great Experiment. He then assembled the single most comprehensive database of Sasquatch sightings, gathering the various data from a serious researches, professional anthropologists and primatologists, armchair enthusiasts and laypersons who’d “accidentally” sighted a Bigfoot. Employing a collective, rather than selective, research methodology, Cue included all types of data, attributing equal statistical weight to hard data as to hoaxes and allegorical accounts. Cue focused exclusively on a statistical approach that seemed divorced from the interests of his fellow researchers.

Oregon State University anthropology professor Crane John writes: “Cue believed that advanced statistical methods would resolve patterns in the data pointing towards the verifiable existence of a single, repeating source for these sightings. But he was careful never to refer to this source as a Bigfoot.” In all of Cue’s correspondence, there is not a single instance of Cue referring to the subject of his search as a Bigfoot or a Sasquatch; indeed, he assigned no proper name to this elusive phenomenon. What do we make of this reluctance to name the object of his quest? Could we assert that, somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite all his efforts and the risk they posed to his professional reputation, that Cue was not a true believer? Or was it the opposite? That he somehow felt the subject to be too sacred for a name (as claimed by numerous bloggers) seems totally implausible given the scientific rigor exhibited in his earlier published works and the fact that Cue, in two separate letters, wrote that he had no belief in Bigfoot; he sought only to locate patterns in the data. This quest he pursued with single-minded obstinacy, supporting himself through the most minimal efforts to appease his employer, efforts which, nonetheless, amazed his supervisors, managers still unable to understand how they had managed to retain the skills of this obvious mathematical genius, and, most importantly, garnering him unlimited access to State Farm’s mainframe.

Robert Paul, a podiatrist by profession and an avid Bigfoot hunter from Virginia, wrote in his journal on May 2, 1981: “J.C. called about a breakthrough. Recovered a pattern. He said he’d go to some location (he wouldn’t tell me where) to make his observation and thus collapse the wave function—whatever that means.” Paul, one of a handful of people to have maintained regular contact with Cue, died in 1996, but in an October, 1981 letter to Professor Joseph Hull, Paul wrote: “Jacques never told me the details of his analysis, so I’ve no idea what he found that would’ve caused him to go that mountain at that time. Maybe there’s a copy on the computer?” The computer Paul refers to is, of course, the mainframe buried in the bowels of State Farm, and the mountain Mount St. Helens.

Professor Hul confirms that he contacted the insurance company five months after Cue’s death and was informed that Cue’s coworkers had found a large, encrypted file stored in the mainframe but, being unable to break the encryption, realized that Cue himself had devised the security, considered the file unrecoverable, and so deleted it, and with it any chance of viewing the work that had consumed most of Cue’s life. The file could have contained nothing except Cue’s actualization work on the Bigfoot data. Why else would Cue keep an encrypted file at his workplace? Cue knew this work would ruin his reputation. He published the papers theorizing actuaries could create actual events without putting his name to them. He knew that every person who has claimed to have seen a Bigfoot has met with open derision at the hands of a supposedly neutral news media. We don’t need to know the contents of this lost file to know that Cue assumed public declaration of his work would be career suicide: to be a prominent mathematician performing statistical analysis of suspected Sasquatch sightings—either to prove or disprove their sincerity—smacks of insanity or, worse, gullibility. Any scientist who has allowed for even the remote possibility of Bigfoot’s existence has seen their career suffer as a result.

Cue discovered some pattern in the sightings—perhaps it is more accurate to say that he read some pattern into the sightings—and thus understood the potential migratory pattern of the creature. All that remained for Cue was to travel to the location and intercept that path, to observe for the event his own calculations ruled would manifest itself, to collapse the probability wave.

For the remainder of this narrative, we return to those entries of TCJ Dr. Matthew, the geologist, recreated in his notes. Before we do, though, we must note that Dr. Matthew wrote that the first three days of the journal detailed nothing more than Cue’s miserable efforts to hike through the deep forest surrounding Mount St. Helens, to light a fire with damp matches, and to pitch a tent that resented the touch of this long-time city dweller. We turn to The Cue Notes.

Before we begin, we must also note, with some alarm, that days four through six are missing. Several possibilities exist for their omission. The most likely reasons are a) Dr. Matthew forget their contents, b) Dr. Matthew chose not to include them, and c) Dr. Matthew believed himself familiar enough with their contents as to preclude notation before inclusion in his proposed book. Thus, our story begins on day seven, with Cue having entertained some surprisingly vocal company:

Day 7: Today’s visitor sat across the fire for an hour before rumbling his question: “Why are you here?” His name is Weh, as near as I can tell—their English is broken and guttural, so very difficult to prehend. It seems they’ve been watching me for days. I asked if there were others besides him and Yah (the one who appeared in camp yesterday and beckoned me to sit and wait). Instead of answering, Weh asked I wanted to return home. Imagine my dilemma! Stay and learn more about these incredible creatures or return to spread the good word of their existence? Surely, that would bring hoards of hunters and the curious to these woods. No. I can’t go back. Not yet. Must make the food last.

Day 8: He returned this evening. I’m not sure. I think it was Weh. It is difficult to tell them apart—Yah and Weh. He brought me a salmon and asked why I came looking for him. I couldn’t find an answer. He asked if I had always believed in him. I admitted I hadn’t. I asked if there were more his kind. Again, he didn’t answer. I asked why he’d chosen to speak to me: wasn’t he afraid I would bring others? He only shrugged. We talked for hours. But I am too tired now to record all we spoke of. I must sleep.

Day 9: Yah (possibly) brought me another salmon. And he spoke! I’d told him his life must be ideal. He smiled and asked why I thought so. He then went on, his few words revealing the wonders (and horrors) of Nature, and divulged the secret to living in harmony with her. When I return, this good news, too, I will spread.

Day 10: No Weh and no Yah. Why have you abandoned me?

Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18th, taking the life of Jacques Cue and 57 others. Yet, before Cue died, he sealed his journal in a plastic bag, providing us with a brief glimpse, enough to make out something of his remarkable life.

Almost thirty years later, a costume manufacturer claimed that he made a gorilla suit for Roger Patterson prior to the famed Patterson-Gimlin film of the Bigfoot in northern California. The manufacturer says he didn’t know what the costume was for, but he recognized his own handiwork in the film. When questioned about why he didn’t come forward sooner, he said he was afraid of damaging his store’s reputation. That a costume maker would worry about his inadvertent part in a world-renowned hoax being revealed is suspicious, to say the least. One would assume that anyone capable of make a costume that fooled or baffled expert scrutiny for so long would expect a reputation of excellence, not scorn. Regardless of the suspicious nature of this claim, we must view it simply as a return to the old argument: underneath all the fur and all the stories lay a man.

The question as to whether TCJ existed or not, whether the Patterson-Gimlin film was a hoax, whether the dozens of footprint castings and the thousands of sightings were all part of some mass hallucination is mute, speaking of no point to which any answer can be given in the wide expanse between Yes and No. TCJ both exists and doesn’t exist: any serious study of the Sasquatch is incomplete unless both the possibility of existence and possibility of non-existence (whatever that might mean) are included in the description. In the general economy of Sasquatch/Bigfoot studies, then, the real Sasquatch cannot be considered apart from the numerous hoaxes. TCJ has entered this same general economy, marking with its absence a privileged position in the ongoing dialectic, but threatening also to erase the same dialogue with the threat of the original’s return—a return against which this essay may not prove sufficient. It is up to the reader to go back to the beginning and remove all the re-
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