Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dr. Chuck Johnson: RIP

I bet they don't mention his fireworks. There should be a verse about them:

The finest rockets ever seen
They burst in stars of blue and green
Or after thunder, silver showers
Came falling like a rain of flowers

Oh, that doesn't do them justice by a long road.
--Sam, The Fellowship of the Ring (film, extended edition)

By now, most of you know that my favorite college professor, Dr. Charles W. Johnson, passed away last week. Many of you knew him, and a lot of you who didn't have heard me talk about him. Chuck was an exceptionally wise, hilariously funny man. Please allow me to share a few memories with you.

I've always been a thin guy, and I was exceptionally skinny during the first few years of college. I think it was a combination of the stress and the bad cafeteria food. One day after one of Chuck's classes he came up to me and asked me if I was eating well. It wasn't until that moment that I realized exactly how deeply Chuck cared about his students.

Chuck was a fan of the Chicago Bears, the Army football team, Star Trek, and Jim Morrison. He had a poster of the Clockwork Orange in his living room, where he used to play Tomb Raider. He would tell jokes about dreams in which he had a jolly time with Michelle Pfeiffer. He said that he was hard of hearing because of his time in the drum corps and the artillery. When he was writing on the board and he couldn't remember if there was one "l" or two in a word, he would say, "Here, have some extra" and draw a bunch of "l's" above the word.

His favorite philosophy was Ludwig Wittgenstein, a brilliant but incredibly difficult philosopher. Chuck genuinely believed that Wittgenstein's philosophy could help people, so long as those people were stuck in philosophical quandaries. I agreed with him. Almost every philosophical conversation I have with friends becomes a game of "How long can we go before Benny mentions Wittgenstein?"

He was a skeptic when it came to the supernatural, but he was patient with students who held firmly and stubbornly to their religious beliefs without being willing to think about them. He believed that artificial intelligence could be just as sentient as humans, quipping that the only difference between the two is that AI is made by skilled labor, while humans are made by unskilled labor. The way Chuck saw it, if there was a God, He would be willing to give souls to man-made machines. This says a lot about Chuck: even his God was more generous than everyone else's.

We had all known for some time that Chuck was very sick and unlikely to ever get better. Still, his death is a blow, and doubly so because I had been meaning to write or call but never did. I was foolish and selfish and put it off until it was too late. So, in case it needs to be said, I love you all: my friends, my family, and my darling lady. And for those of you who never met him, you would have liked Chuck, and he would have liked you too.

Are you happier than you've ever been?

1 comment:

bluefish said...

You have paid him better tribute than I ever could. RIP.