For My Father. Eulogy 5/7/2011 for 5/4/2011

[Up to "Buscalaterre" was delivered in a tony British accent; other things I meant to say are in curly braces {...}.]

My family, my friends, and my relatives: It is a sad fact of the noble life that ascendancy always comes with deepest sorrow. Today as we mourn the passing of my late father, Robert the First Earl of Nussex, I as his eldest son speak to you for the first time as the Second Earl of Nussex. Across Middlesex from Sussex, west of Essex and east of Wessex, my inherited domains include the Manse of Erehwon and all of Buscalaterre. [Normal voice] And also an Internet domain, nussex.cse.buffalo.edu, from which I do all of my work.

The point is not that Dad got us to extend an old joke into the new millennium, but rather that his unforgettable wit and infectious humor induced some Royal Navy contacts, long after their service, to go to a London print shop and create it---for a 19-year-old kid! Leave it to the Irish to bring out the best in the English. And English he was---by avocation. You've already heard how he middle-named us all after British generals. He was as English as Bob Hope, {Cary Grant,} Charlie Chaplin, and Rex Harrison. He made me want to go there, and I did: it's where I did my doctorate and met my wife.

But first I had to own the jokes, such as how "God and Schwartz" became Lord & Taylor, though I can't tell them as well. Many waitresses were advised to mail the check to "Navy Fleet Post Office #2 in Topeka, Kansas". Many rounds of golf we played featured---at the 19th hole or at the 1st---Lord Buckinghurst hitting his third straight ball into the water. As his caddy watches, he flings his clubs and bag and hat and clothes into the lake, and then declares: [reedy accent again] "And now I shall drown myself, and at last be rid of this calamitous game!" [Devon farmer accent] "You can't, sir." "What do you mean, `I can't', you blithering bumpkin...!" "You can't keep your head down, sir."

My college roommates and co-best-men, in remarks I'll read in full at the luncheon, appreciated the wit and jokes right away---when I asked one how he remembered so much he said, "Easy---it's seared into the memory." I've carried the humor with me, and have heard much more of it these past few days from his friends and associates.

But now I will be serious for a few minutes. You may wonder, why is this in a eulogy? what does it have to do with Bob Regan? The answer is I want to put something on the line that I really care about, as context to move from the humor to how much I loved him and was made by him.



Science has recently been changing basic questions we ask about existence, life, and destiny. Our Big Bang may have been not all creation, but just a so-called "bubble nucleation" in a larger cosmos. New cosmological models assert that there are innumerable "parallel universes", all displaced from us in a manner called "spacelike": light and hence information cannot go from here to there. A research article in Scientific American---not a gee-whiz rag---began with the words, "Is there a copy of you reading this article? ... [According to] astronomical observations, [models predict] you have a twin about 10 to the 10 to the 28 meters from here." Famous string theorist Brian Greene surveys nine multiverse theories, most of which imply the actual existence of copies of us and every other possible human and non-human existence---even a planet on which we are gathered as today, but at the funeral of a pope. If it is not a logical impossibility, then whatever can happen, does happen: Murphy's Law on steroids. This happens in directions of time as well as space.

Robert Mann, Chair of Phyisics at the University of Waterloo and a Christian, says we should put aside the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?", and ask instead, "Why is there something rather than everything?" And another question I submit should change is the one we naturally ask at funerals: "Is there life after death?" We should ask instead: "Is there more of me?"

Is there more of me? Amazingly, science is trending to answer Yes, in both spacelike and timelike directions. Whereas the common-sense answer is spacelike-No, timelike-No: we know our bounds in space and time, that's all there is.

The answer of Christians and many other believers is: spacelike-No, timelike-Yes. In particular, we assert the later existence of a being that's recognizably `me', with enough of our memories of this life to say so, that will come in contact with elemental forces without the shielding that we graciously have on Earth. We call it the Resurrection Body. And light can go from here to there.

If you subscribe to an unrestricted multiverse theory, then you believe the cosmos is littered with your resurrection bodies. They even have a name, "Boltzmann Brains", used in the New York Times. But here's a challenge to any copy of you: If the copy is not you, then what about you is different from your material makeup? By definition, the difference is the soul. But if the copy is you, then you have a communion of your being across spacelike intervals. As Einstein himself concluded from relativity, the communication for this requires a personal God. Hence if you subscribe to such a modern theory, then you may not deny both the soul and God---and this is a matter not of faith but of logic.

Let me take you back to the real world, the world of faith, where we hold that our life is unique. A condition for us to have a soul, s-o-u-l, is that we be sole, s-o-l-e. Instead of starting with the question, "when does the soul enter the body?", let us first ask in science, at what point in conception can we say the life is unique? Well, if uniqueness is the beginning of grace, then my father had grace in overplus. And for this world, we here have the proof: there cannot exist in the cosmos a copy of him!



[I cut the following a little short, and I'd left the "Wingate" part off my bulleted list. But I hit most of the rest.]

Now to how he made my world. Many parents impart to their children the knowledge of the natural world, but what he brought into our house was also the Otherworld. Shelves with books on natural mysteries: UFO's, ghosts, ESP, von Da"niken, Bermuda Triangle, and also human mysteries such as the JFK Assassination, were in easy access. St. Paul writes in I Corinthians 13 that "the power to understand all mysteries" does not confer love, but it sure does help when your vocation is a mathematical mystery. In my case it's the P Versus NP Problem, one of the Millennium Prize Problems which are officially humankind's deepest purely intellectual riddles.

He gave me books on math and science, a lot more of which I found in libraries, and these presents continued right up to now. {And sheaves of clipped newspaper articles; I told him the ones in March were especially useful.} But what he imparted what the ability to write, even that humble copy-editing is important. This is the role that I began with for a very distinguished professor of computer science, Richard Lipton of Georgia Tech, on his weblog, Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP. Now I am right-hand man and often responsible for content, and our blog is not only read by random technical people I meet but was also the focus of research collaboration by the world mathematical community to a referee a claim to have solved P vs. NP last August. I am glad he had the chance to see me come full-circle and act as a high-tech journalist in his footsteps.

A passion for stories was also there, and poetry---my sister Audrey has mentioned the Rubaiyat, and the "Myself when young..." verse has special importance for me. He also taught me to interpret movies and books---such as Moby Dick which he made a special present for my son. But most of all, what he and my mother brought were games. Games of strategy, even the long nights of bridge we had, teach mathematics with more involvement than textbooks. I learned chess at age 5 not from a book, but because I saw him playing with his brother. It took six months of games for me to beat him, and this launched me on a chess-playing career that was most important for my early engagement with and comfort in the world of adults. I trace my ability to do research and give lectures even as an undergraduate to this. And as with the jokes, it was key not to be embarrassed in public.

[In the church I ended by noting he had been my best e-mail pen-pal, same for my sister, and closed on a stock note of how we all could live someone's legacy---forgetting an intent to tie that back to "earldom". But I'd really intended to include a note on spiritual influence and then end as follows.]

For someone who'd already decided to be avocationally Jewish at age 12, it was a later revelation to grasp the full import of being middle-named for Orde Wingate, who was called "Ha Yedid" for his missional support of Israel in the 1930's. Thus I don't have to defend points of Catholic or ELCA Lutheran theology on Judaism; I just have to be myself. His complaint about people who say, "God told me to tell you ...", has shaped my modes of spiritual communication and respect for others. And: "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a metaphor?" (heaven for): for him a pun, for me vocation.

When I was 5 to 7 or so, per his request I would scratch his hair as he drove---kids were allowed to stand in the backs of cars then. The Bible's guarantee of uniqueness and love is expressed in the words of Jesus, "Every hair on your head is numbered." I patted his hair once more yesterday, and though the numbers are on the follicles, every one of his hairs was still there. I miss all of the time from then through our last father-son lunch after Christmas and talks and e-mails, and I miss him.