We're All Mad Here

Alice's back facing us, she staring up at the Chesire cat in a tree

How do you know I'm mad?

You must be, or you wouldn't have come here.

Alice was off to see her good friend Foo, a lanky grasshopper whose penchant for chewing tobacco and permanent wry grin made him out to be yet another sleepy weekday patron of the local pub. Nevertheless, this was the third time this month Foo had sent Alice post beseeching her to come back to his hovel for a visit. A solitary creature, this was quite out of the ordinary for Foo, especially considering that his most recent letter seemed a bit frenetic.

A pleasant half hour stroll past the houses of the March Hare and the Hatter landed her at Foo's doorstep, right upon his dirtied doormat, which simply read: "GREETINGS, WORLD." She made a couple knocks and waited a couple moments before Foo opened the door and welcomed her in. The brief look she got of him revealed a distraught expression about his face, his furrowed antennae resembling the caterpillars he kept in a jar beside his desk.

"I invited you here once again because there has been something gravely troubling me these past months that I ought to be forthwright about." he remarked in a glum tone.

"Is the Queen troubling your research again? I've already chastised her for interrupting the inventions of a veritable mammal among insects and she's promised to keep her cards away."

Charmed by Alice's obstinance, Foo conceded a slight smile before replying, "No, no, she's been a doll this past week, actually. What is really troubling me is in fact something I can't entirely put to words. It's..." he trailed off a bit, the pained look returning, "it's something up with my mind, dear child. Please, let me just attempt to show you." Foo motioned for her to join him at his vast oaken desk and pulled up a squat fig-branch stool for the petite Alice to sit on beside him. Scrawled in shaky longhand on a solitary scrap of paper was the following:

"Do you know what this formula does, Alice?"

She scrunched her nose and thought for a minute, "Well, it looks like an infinite series of some sort. Since I see pi there, it's gotta be doing something related to it. Perhaps it's calculating each digit by itself?"

"Wonderful! For a lady so young you've been gifted with quite remarkable deductive reasoning. I've known mayors and businesspeople more than quintuple you're age who are stumped at the most basic of arithemetic." Foo, delightened at Alice's acumen, continued, "I was taught this by a smart fellow who called himself Gibbons1 — don't mind his name, he's an advanced ape like yourself — who was frustrated that all other equations could not calculate the digits of pi ad infinitum, so he wrote this out himself."

"Foo, what can one do with this formula?"

"Exactly where I was headed! In my research, I came upon the work of another of your kind. His name's Montfort,2 and using the equation on this piece of paper he created code to be executed on a mechanized calculating device which would write out a poem based upon every digit of pi for all of time."

"That's quite the creative blending of two disparate topics."

"Precisely. After reading through both the code and output of his machination, it dawned on me this medium would be perfect to express the curious illness that's been getting at me for some time now. I've had the March Hare over a fair amount of times to check me over. Owing to his vast medical knowledge and gumshoe predisposition, our dear friend diagnosed me an obsessive-compulsive."

"My Heavens, Foo, that sounds terrible... but what exactly does it mean for you?"

"It means, basically, that within the gooey mass confined inside my skull is an innate feedback loop where my thoughts, once they drift to the dire and dreadful, end up reinforcing themselves. I am driven to conniptions by this and reach points where I am unable to do anything at all because I'm so caught up trying to fulfill the compulsions in order to subdue the obsessions." Foo took a deep breath, paused, and began again, "You see, Alice, these thoughts are anything but coherent; to you, and most other 'normal' folk, they in fact look both benign and asinine. It all ends up sputtering out of control, totally irrationally, much like pi."

"I see now what you mean, then."

"As I hoped you would, child. The irrational nature of pi is the perfect recourse for illustrating my own irrational nature to those who have no experience with it. Here, let me show you the output of the program I wrote myself influenced by Mr. Montfort's approach." Foo reached to the far right end of the table and yanked over another scrap of paper. On it was written:

torments my me my more has mind than more torments more ever has reality has torments mind torments ever me than mind than me torments torments ever torments mind reality has more

mind ever ever me my has reality my than has torments has has torments reality more my

more ever mind

has reality me has me me more has mind torments

reality ever my than me

than mind ever than mind

ever has has ever than mind ever

torments me ever mind more torments me mind my my reality

Alice strained her eyes and analyzed the words carefully, remarking, "The output is totally nonsensical as you said, so much so that I'm having a hard time trying to understand what it's trying to say."

"Now it must be coming together for you! The full phrase, each word mapped to digits one through nine, attempts to say my mind torments me more than reality ever has, which is entirely true of my disorder. My conscious thoughts implode into a dark recursion, and so the meaning of whatever precipitated the ordeal ends up becoming lost anyways. It only seemed fitting, then, to dub the program (unbound-obsessions)."3

"I'm sorry your head functions that way, Foo."

He chirped, humored by Alice's apology, "Dear, you need not be sorry for me. The reason I invited you here was so I could be honest with my close friend, not to seek pity or condolences for how my neurons fire. Besides, I've been told that us grasshoppers are a fairly neurotic bunch, that we're more predisposed to it than the average insect." Foo smiled, before exclaiming "Oh, I mustn't forget! I've got an elixir you positively must try."

Foo went to go fetch yet another of his potions, while Alice sat on the fig-branch stool twiddling her thumbs, pleased to know such a curious critter.